Authors: Jennifer Peel
Women of Merryton
by Jennifer Peel.
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To my Harry. Life
has never been the same since you left this world. Thank you for being the best
grandpa a girl could ask for, and for telling me I was perfect, on a regular
basis, even though you knew I was anything but.
Table of Contents
With every heavy box I
lifted and carried into the quaint two-story rental home, I asked myself,
in the world did I move back here
? Twice I had sworn I never would, and
twice, because of him, I found myself back in my hometown, Merryton, Colorado.
It sounded like such a happy, wonderful, merry place. And I suppose for many,
it was. Most people would be envious of life nestled in the beautiful Rocky
Mountains, but for me, the beautiful landscape masked the pain of all that had
been lost here.
I set down the small but
heavy box of books, placing it near the built-in bookcase in the living room. I
stretched my back and lamented the late arrival of the movers. I probably
should have waited for them to arrive, but if I didn’t start without them, I
would only think, and I didn’t want to think. If I thought too much, I would run
back to what I considered my real home in Birmingham, Alabama. I would run back
to Harry and Grams, the most wonderful grandparents and people on the planet. But
I knew I couldn’t, because the most important person came with me, and she … she
wanted to stay.
I guess after all these
years it was only right for Ashley to get to know her dad, other than by phone
calls and brief, sporadic visits over the last fourteen years. Now, at sixteen,
she was practically a woman, and very close to leaving home herself. That thought
pierced my heart and made my eyes well up with tears. I didn’t know what I was
going to do in two years when she graduated from high school. I’ve teased that
I’d go with her to college and get that Master’s degree I’ve always talked
about, but for some reason she’d roll her eyes at that. I guess living in a
dorm room with your mom would be very uncool. I’d compromised that I would buy
a house near the campus of her choosing, but it was still a no-go with her.
This summer I would get a
little taste of what was in store for me—I had agreed to let Ashley spend most
of her time at her dad’s home, watching her nine-year-old half-sister, Emmy,
while he ran his family medicine practice. I still didn’t know why I had agreed
to it. Easton, in my estimation, could have made a greater effort to get to
know our daughter over the last several years, but he had been too busy with
his newest ex-wife, Kathryn, and their daughter. I would have liked to say I
wasn’t still bitter about it, but that would have been a lie. It’s not that I
dwelt on it often anymore, but when the man you love leaves you for another woman,
it’s a hard pill to swallow. And once you do swallow it, it’s hard to keep
down. Especially when the new woman made it difficult for your daughter to be
part of his life.
That’s the part that killed
me the most. Ashley deserved to be part of her dad’s life. I guess I thought he
would have fought harder to make sure that happened. Even though I tried not to
think of it, at least not his part in it, I still remembered the day she was
born and how undeniably happy he’d been. I still remember his tears as he
kissed my forehead and thanked me for making him a daddy and telling me how
much he loved me. And how much he loved our Ashley Lauren. I had no idea two
years later—after being married for seven years—it would all be over.
I shook my head to clear
my thoughts and walked back out to the large semi-trailer parked in front of
the house that held all of mine and Ashley’s belongings. I reminded myself to keep
moving and to quit thinking about the past. Then my past showed up, at least
part of it. Easton wasn’t the only ghost this town held for me.
Easton rolled down the
passenger window of his black truck, where his daughter Emmy sat in the back
“Taylor, you made it.”
I looked past his young, wary
daughter to see him smiling tentatively at me. I hadn’t seen him in a few
years, but from what I could tell, time had been good to Dr. Easton Cole. At
forty-five, he was still handsome. He still had some golden blonde hair left,
but his hair was darkening and graying slightly, above his ears and on the
sides. And maybe his hairline was a tad off from where it used to be, but he
still looked like Easton.
“We drove in late last
night,” I called back. We had stayed in a hotel.
“Oh, I thought you would
I didn’t know why he
would think that, so I shrugged my shoulders and turned my attention back to
the myriad of boxes waiting for me. I grabbed the nearest one to me that I
thought I could carry and turned to walk it back down the ramp to the house. I
found that my ex-husband had parked across the street and he and his daughter
were walking my way. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. I knew moving back
here meant I would have to face him and deal with him again, but I wasn’t sure
I was really ready for it. Honestly, I was great at running away from my
problems. I was great at running away from him, but here he was, and with him
came his little girl. The one he apparently loved more than my little girl. Or
maybe he loved her mother more than me. You know what? It didn’t matter. I needed
to quit thinking about it.
He hurried over to me. “Here,
let me carry that for you.”
“It’s okay. I got it.” I kept
on walking toward the house.
He followed alongside,
looking frustrated. I remembered seeing that look often during our last year of
marriage. This was a bad idea. I didn’t want to remember or deal with all of
I let him hold the door
open for me. He smiled at me as I walked in. He and his daughter followed. I
set the box marked “dining room” down in the appropriate room. Then I had no
choice but to look at father and daughter. I had to admit she was darling. She
was pretty, like her mother, right down to the long, lanky legs. She had long
brown hair that needed to be combed, and she had brown eyes, like Ashley. Those
eyes looked at me with interest.
Easton looked between the
two of us. “Emmy.” He looked adoringly at his daughter. “This is Ms. …” He
caught his faux pas.
We all shared the same
last name. I had kept Cole so Ashley and I would have the same last name, and
for some other reasons. Yes, I had issues.
I held out my hand to her
to cover Easton’s mishap. “You can call me Taylor.”
She slowly reached out
her hand to me. I took it, squeezed it gently, and smiled at her. After all, it
wasn’t her fault her daddy chose her mommy over me and her over Ashley. She
smiled briefly before turning into her daddy. She seemed awfully shy. Easton
put a reassuring arm around her and smiled at me.
“I suppose you’re here to
see Ashley. She ran to the grocery store for me.”
“I can’t believe she
drives already,” he responded.
“Yep,” was all I could
think of to say. It was weird for me that my baby girl was that old, but she’d had
her permit and license for well over a year now, so I was used to it. And since
he hadn’t seen her since she was thirteen … I was a little touchy about it.
“Well,” he said
nervously, “we can help you bring in boxes.”
“No. I hired movers; they
should be here soon.”
“Oh. Okay.” He looked
around the old house that had been newly renovated. “So you still like older
“Yep.” I guess that was
going to be my word for the day. Not the most intelligent of words, but
definitely southern and definitely ex-husband worthy.
I decided ignoring him
was probably the best way to go at this juncture. “So, Emmy, what grade are you
going into after summer?”
She looked up from her
dad’s side. “Fourth.” She spoke so softly I could barely hear her.
“That’s a fun grade. Do
you like school?”
She seemed uncomfortable.
Her answered surprised
me. Ashley loved everything about school, from the academics to the sports to the
social interactions. She embraced it all. It was one of the reasons I was so
surprised when she said she wanted to move here. She was quite the popular
girl, and I had thought she wouldn’t want to leave her friends and school
“Well, tell me your
favorite thing about school.”
“I love to read.”
I smiled kindly at her.
“Me too. What’s your favorite book?”
She thought for a moment.
Bridge to Terabithia
I was surprised by her answer.
That was a heavy book to be a favorite for such a young girl. I looked up at
Easton to confirm her choice. I was expecting Harry Potter, or maybe even The
Chronicles of Narnia.
Easton nodded his head
yes, but he looked concerned. I wondered why and then I remembered it wasn’t my
“Ashley has lots of books
and she likes to read too. I’m sure she would be happy to bring some over with
her when she watches you.”
She didn’t respond, other
than to turn back into her daddy. I got the feeling something wasn’t quite
right, other than the fact that her parents were recently divorced and her mom
ran off with her personal trainer. I felt sorry for her. At least Ashley never
remembered us being married. It had only been her and me since she was two; and
even before that, it was a whole lot of me and her. That’s what you get when
you marry a doctor and have a baby while he’s doing his residency and starting
up his own practice—a lot of lonely days and nights.
Again, I wasn’t thinking
I heard a car door slam. The
connecting piece in our lives was back, and even better, she was back with
food. I was starving. From the window, I watched my beauty walking up the
sidewalk, burdened with grocery bags, looking as lovely as ever. She was naturally
beautiful, with her olive skin, dark brown hair, and big brown eyes that looked
a lot like Emmy’s. To me she was perfection.
“Momma,” she called out
in her southern accent as she came through the front door.
Both her dad and I walked
in her direction.
Ashley looked surprised
by our company. “Dad …”
Easton stood a few feet
away from her, still holding onto Emmy as he looked her over.
I went to her and
relieved the bags from her hand.
“Ashley,” he muttered.
“How are you?”
It was kind of a lame
thing to say to your daughter that you hadn’t seen in three years, but who was
I to judge?
I stayed to watch the
interaction between the two.
She smiled. “Fabulous.”
Oh how I loved that kid.
She was always happy.
Easton looked relieved
and smiled in return. I guess he didn’t know what to expect from her. She could
have easily hated him, but that wasn’t her. Not that she thought he was the
best dad ever—far from it, in fact—but Ashley never hated anyone, and it was
her decision to be here. She wanted to know her father and her sister. And I
wouldn’t deny her that opportunity, even though it meant I was going to have to
finally deal with my past.
“So, Ashley, this is Emmy
… your sister.”
It was so weird for me
that Ashley had a sibling that wasn’t mine. I knew it was weird for Ashley,
too. It was a shame they hadn’t met before now, but Kathryn hadn’t wanted
Emmy cautiously looked
up. Ashley grinned at her and realizing her hesitation, approached her, knelt down
and hugged her. Emmy didn’t reciprocate right away, but after a moment she put
her little arms around Ashley.
Easton beamed at the
sight. I took that as my cue to turn and take the groceries back to the
kitchen. It was the perfect cottage kitchen, complete with antique white
cabinets, wooden butcher-block countertops, and a farmhouse sink. I adored it;
at least I would for the next two years. After that I was hightailing it back
to the south to my own home that I was currently renting out. This was a
temporary situation. One in which I would probably go temporarily insane.
Easton joined me in the
kitchen as I began to put the groceries away, and he was alone. “Do you need
help?” he offered.
“No thanks, I’ve got it
covered.” I kept my back to him as I loaded up the stainless steel
“I cleared my whole day
so I could help Ashley and you settle in.”
I shut the refrigerator
and turned to him, surprised by his statement. “Well, like I said, I hired
movers and we’re pretty self-sufficient.” I didn’t want to be out-right rude
and tell him to leave, but I didn’t want him here all day. We weren’t the kind
of exes that claimed to still love each other and be the best of friends. I never
believed anyone when they said that anyway. Seriously, if you’re still the best
of friends and you love each other, you would still be married. I knew I would
be. I used to be. But we were not friends, and there was a whole lot of love
lost between us. More love than I cared to remember because it ached me to my
center. It left a hole in me that had never been filled.
But again, I wasn’t
thinking about it.
He stood there looking at
me, unsure of how to proceed. He looked uncomfortable as he ran his fingers
through his curtained hair that parted down the middle. He’d had the same
hairstyle for over twenty years. It was so odd to think I had known him that
long, although much of it was spent apart.