Lemon Meringue

Lizzie Patterson knew this was a bad idea. Even before her mother and Chris were killed in that ‘accident,’ she had not been a drinker. She had never even tasted the stuff. Just the smile of beer on her step-father was enough to turn her stomach. Not that Chris Monroe was a drunk or anything. The man usually has one or two beers to ‘unwind’ he claimed after they got home from the diner.

Sure, in college, she had gone to a couple of parties. She even took a plastic cup of whatever was offered. But she never drank it. And she had never been in a bar before. Although this wasn’t strictly speaking a bar. It was a bit of everything. The casino was the main attraction. But there were also a dozen or so rooms, for those high-rollers, which were as close as Sebida came to a hotel. And the restaurant was the only competition for her diner, but all they served was burgers, fries, and snack-type foods.

Then this place. Tucked into the corner at the back. A half a dozen booths and a few tables where drinks and food were served. Their group had taken the largest booth. Not that there were that many of them. Just the Reynolds women, her, and Abby Jean. One of Laura’s friends, the wife of her fiancee’s cousin, if Lizzie had it right, had popped her head in for all of two minutes. Until her husband had come and dragged the woman back to the room they were staying in. The man was right too. A woman who had just given birth less than two weeks ago did not belong in a bar. But neither did she…

“Lizzie, how are things at the diner?” Elena Reynolds-Williams was as out of place here as she felt.

“Good,” but what more was there to say? Small talk had never been her thing. And after a whole day of ‘that’ smile and forced politeness, this was the last thing she wanted to do or be. She had other things on her mind. What had she been thinking? Just showing up at the man’s office like she did today.

She had arranged for her small staff to cover the diner today so she could once more show her support to her friends. The swearing-in ceremony had been just another political show, and she had never gotten into such things. She had her own motives for going this time. But that had not worked out so well either. When she had cornered the local paper editor about writing a retraction of her editorial, the man had refused, saying that was old news.  

With that door for reconciliation closed to her, she had somehow convinced herself that she should plead her case for forgiveness to the man himself. The courthouse was half way to Bryan, after all. So, after a quick call to check in on the diner and a search for the address of the man’s office, she had taken off.

She should have planned it better. Like he said, made an appointment. Rehearsed what she was going to say rather than break down in the man’s office. That was just it. She never broke down like that. Never. Not even at her mother’s funeral. Or through any of Garth’s surgeries. Well, she cried. Once or twice, even with her friends. But never like that. And before a stranger too. That man. Perhaps, she should have just written him a letter? But it was too late for any of that now.

She refused to delve deeper into this quagmire of emotions. She did not feel something when the man put his arm around her. Not That man. Okay, so maybe she had gotten her story about the whole thing a bit wrong, but even he admitted he was drinking in a bar. That was not the type of man she ever wanted. Right?

If she had wanted someone like that, she would have taken Jack up on his offer. Probably not. She could have never done that to Abby Jean. That girl had been in love with the boy for as long as she knew her.

She and Abby had just been natural allies in that generation of Sebida’s street children. Though she was almost four years older than the girl, they had both been new to the group. Abby Jean because her grandmother had been stricter than many local parents, not allowing the child to run the streets before she could even read. Not that was judging those parents, especially not the single mothers like Stacey Reynolds. But still…

Of course, she was new for a different reason. Her step-father had just brought them back to this place to open the diner. Lizzie was never sure what the man was thinking, ripping them from their middle-class Houston neighborhood that had been their home her whole life. But she was just a teenager; she didn’t have a choice. And making friends in this town was not easy. The place was in some ways as tied to class or caste as Medievil Europe or India. And Chris might have been a Monroe, but she and her mother were not.

Still, she supposed she and Garth were better off here than they would have been back in Houston if… If… She had been living with those words for a decade. And sometimes, just sometimes, she wished she could do like Abby Jean was now and drown them all out. She watched her friend grip the jukebox tighter. Maybe not with alcohol. That was the girl’s fifth shot.

“Excuse me…” She used ‘That’ smile on the young preacher’s wife as she slipped out of the booth. Mercy gave her one of those looks. She knew it well by now. The one that said she was over-reacting. That she needed to loosen up. It was the same argument they had been having for more than fifteen years. But the Reynolds and Monroes weren’t the only ones with family secrets.

As usual, she did the right thing, leaving Mercy to fume with the others as she walked over to their friend. What were they thinking of having this bachelorette thing anyway? Whatever happened to dignified bridal showers? What was wrong with those? Why did equality have to mean doing the same stupid things that men did? Like getting behind the wheel of the car when your blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit? And destroying other people’s lives as well as your own and your family’s.

Lizzie felt the anger rising inside of her. Usually, she kept a tight lid on it. Anger and self-pity didn’t get you anywhere. They didn’t bring back your mother or make your brother walk again. It didn’t keep the diner open and money coming in during these troubled times. And they certainly didn’t fill your arms with the baby you had been longing for since you were barely out of high school. Or make a man look at you the way those two in the corner were their women across the room.

No, life was about making the best of things. When it gave you lemons making lemonade or lemon meringue pie. It was about getting up every morning, even the ones you wanted to just pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep. It was about doing the right thing for the people you love. Putting them first. She’s been doing that even before that horrid night. If Lizzie had ever known what it meant to be that child running free and wild, it was so long ago that she had forgotten. But this world had enough of those types of people. It could do with a few more who put other’s first and did their duty…no matter what.

And if that duty meant she’d never have a bachelorette party or a wedding, a husband or the baby. If it meant she cried every single month when she got her period because that was another egg gone, another child she would never have. If that duty meant her destiny was as the crazzy cat lady of Sebida, then she’d be the best damned crazzy cat lady this town ever saw. And she’d hold her head high. Keep her friends safe, do everything she could to give Garth the best life he could have, and feed this whole damned town that lemon meringue pie. Starting with Abby Jean right now.

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