Rustling from the small bedroom off to the left of the living room drew Ellie’s attention. Her mom shuffled into the living room with more spunk and speed than she normally had, which meant she was still having a good day so far.
Ellie hated to darken a good day with her mess, but if Jesse thought she’d be safer at The Arsenal, she wouldn’t argue. Phil terrified her.
Her mom froze. Her widened gaze settled on Riley first, then Jesse. “What are you doing bringing them here?”
“We need to go and stay at The Arsenal a few days.”
“No.” Her mom’s lips thinned. “You wanna abandon me and go live out there, just say so, Ellie-belly. Don’t drag me into it. I’m perfectly fine here.”
She should’ve called Brant first. The doctor had a way of getting her mom to cooperate when no one else could because he was kind. Patient.
“Someone shot my tire out. Phil showed up, dragged me out of the truck, and threatened me.” Speak straight and leave nothing out. It was the best way to handle Mom on most days. Her mom halted her progression toward the recliner across the small room.
“Phil.” She spat his name like a curse. “You never had any sense when it came to men. Worst taste. I thank God everyday your daddy didn’t live long enough to see the mistakes you’ve made.”
Jesse growled. Riley gasped. Ellie squeezed her eyes closed and willed patience. She and her mom had always had a somewhat strained relationship, but the cancer had made it worse the past few years.
Since the marriage. Then the divorce.
“What’s he want with you now?” The woman sat in her recliner. “I’m not hiding out with those damn Masons ’cause you hooked up with that yellow-bellied weasel.”
“You’ll have a place to yourself. None of us will enter or bother you,” Jesse promised.
“You after my girl again?”
“No, ma’am, but she needs to be protected. We can do that easier at our place.”
The quick reply pained Ellie. She glanced away and gave Jesse the lead because dread cemented her tongue and filled her throat. It’d been years since Jesse and her mom fought. He wasn’t a kid or a young man any longer. He was a battle-hardened warrior. She was a cancer-ravaged woman.
Ellie loved them both.
“It’ll be easier on Ellie having you out there. She’ll be on the road less and out of danger,” Riley said. “She really is in danger, Ms. Travers.”
“Why’s he messing with you? What’d you do this time?” Her mom glared.
“I have no idea, but we’ll find out and get it sorted. Then we can come back here. Please, Mom. I don’t want him coming here while I’m gone and messing with you.”
“I suppose it couldn’t hurt to be closer. Lord knows she spends enough time out there and flitting back and forth,” her mom said. “You’ll keep my girl safe?”
“I will,” Jesse promised.
“I’ve never had much count for you Masons and I’m not gonna turn into one of those Mason-loving locals. But I’ll go.” Concern rushed across her mom’s face as they locked gazes. “Are you okay, Ellie-belly?”
“Yeah, Mom. I’m good.”
“I’ll help you pack,” Riley whispered.
Ellie replied as the woman was already pushing her into the small bedroom.
“We can hear them from here. You have a suitcase?”
Ellie nodded and grabbed it from her closet, along with a duffel. Her mom’s supplies alone would take a lot of room. She ran her hands down her jeans and looked around at the shambled mess of a life— one she’d kept closed off from anyone seeing. Sometimes Brant came into the bedroom to look at Mom, but in typical doctor mode, he never saw anything past his patient.
Or pretended not to.
She couldn’t pack everything up and haul it to The Arsenal compound. Whittling it down was… impossible. Where did she even start? The weariness she battled every day struck hard. Her mind blanked, refusing to process an action plan.
Someone had shot her tire.
Phil threatened her.
“You two should go,” Ellie said. “I’ll get packed. Send someone back for us.”
“We aren’t in any hurry.” Riley touched her arm. “It’s okay, Ellie. Let me help you.”
“There’s too much to pack. I don’t even have enough suitcases. Mom needs her supplies and lots of clothes. Then there’s the other stuff.”
The bedside toilet her mom peed in. The bed, which was more of a cot than a medical bed was against the wall. Boards raised the head of the cot because they couldn’t afford anything expensive but needed something more positionable than a standard bed. Embarrassment crawled through her as she glanced at Riley.
“It’s okay,” the woman said as she studied the bookshelf of supplies. “You have everything so organized.”
“It helps keep Mom…” Ellie halted the excuse. In truth, the carefully placed items were more for her sanity than her mom’s. “It’s the one thing I can control with Mom’s illness.”
“I’ve got an idea.” Riley pulled out her cell and punched a button. “Hey, Logan. It’s Riley. I’m over here at Ellie’s picking up her mom. Could you call Brant and coordinate equipment and supplies with him? I’m thinking we already have most of what we need on hand. I know we have the bed and a few other things.”
The woman listened a minute and smiled, as if the doctor on the other end could see her. “Thanks.”
Ellie blinked. Logan Callister was The Arsenal’s doctor. He was a nice man she’d chatted with a few times, but he tended to keep to himself in the medical ward. “He’s too busy to deal with this.”
“None of us are too busy.” Riley locked gazes with her. “Remember the night of Mom’s first surgery? The day of the accident? Remember when you went into our home and started bossing everyone around? You moved the table out of the dining room and called Burton Construction to alter Mom’s home?”
“I didn’t mean to overstep. I was just helping.”
“Now it’s our turn.” Riley touched Ellie’s shoulder. “You’ve been doing this alone?”
Ellie nodded. “There’s a nurse. Connie. She works a few hours a week.”
“Then you come to work and handle my six brothers, all their team leads, and operatives. The geek squad. The visitors and demanding idiots on the phone. Then you took on teaching DJ and TJ.
“You do all that and then come home to this.” Riley squeezed her shoulder. “You should’ve told us. We could’ve helped.”
Riley’s lips thinned.
“She’s been hurting a long time. Pain does things to people, makes them meaner than they intend to be.” Ellie slid the defense out from the recesses of her mind where it lived. How many times had she muttered it? Hundreds? Thousands?
“They aren’t going to let her stubbornness put you at risk.”
“It’ll blow over. Phil will move on. He always does.”
“One way or another you need help with her. What if she fell while you were at work? What if she got into her medicines and took too much?” Riley’s gaze softened. “I have a friend whose aunt was really sick. I know it’s hard.”
Ellie nodded. She’d spent many restless nights worrying about her mom. The what-if trail was endless with ten thousand forking paths to even more what-if scenarios. Affordable elder care was impossible to find in Marville. Palliative care? Pft. Impossible times a thousand. Add in her mom’s surly attitude toward everyone in general and it’d been a vicious rollercoaster Ellie couldn’t get off.
“I promise we won’t interfere too much, but you need help. Let us be there for you the way you were for us.”
Cara Carnes. Battle Scars (Kindle Locations 539-603). HeartScape Publishing, LLC.