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“She’s not upset at the lack of a grandchild?” He did not relish the thought of having that kind of talk with his mother.

“She’s more upset at being taken advantage of by April,” Zoe said. “But momma said would pray for April—bless her lying heart.”

Suddenly, the door opened and April came storming out, suitcase in hand and cursing a mile a minute. Not bothering to say good-bye to him (which suited Carter just fine) or Zoe, she got in her BMW and squalled tires.

“Oh man, I didn’t get to do the obligatory ‘Y’all come back now’.” He thumped his chest with his fist. “Hurts so bad.”

His sister snorted, then joined him at the porch railing and leaned against his shoulder. “So…”

“So,” he echoed, waiting for her to bless him out.

“You’re an asshat, Carter.”

“That I am,” he agreed.

“And you need to go after Melanie, but not right now. Give her time—”

“Told her I’d be texting her later this week.”

Zoe sighed. “Please don’t say that you also told her she needed to be in a better frame of mind and willing to actually listen to you?”

Ears growing hot, he gripped the railing. “My lips are sealed.”

“Good Lord, Carter. How could you?”

“You were there when I said that my mouth gets in gear before my brain does.” He sliced his hands through the air. “But I actually thought I was being nice and for lack of a better word, thoughtful.”

She slapped a hand over her eyes. “How can men be so clueless when it comes to a woman’s heart?”

“If I had Melanie’s heart, I’d treat it like the treasure it is.”

“Now that was poetic.” Turning to face his sister, he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “Quick. Write it down before you forget it. She needs to hear that from you.”

He tapped his head. “Don’t need to.” But it wasn’t in his brain. The words were written on his heart, signed and ready to be delivered to Melanie.

Of course, whether or not she threw it out with the junk mail was a whole other matter.

***

Carter followed his sister inside, stopping in the kitchen while she went upstairs. His dad stood at the sink, rinsing dishes and placing them in the dishwasher.

Sidling up to him, Carter said, “You rinse and I’ll load.”

Wordlessly, Lawton began handing Carter dishes. They worked in companionable silence, lapsing into a familiar rhythm that gave Carter much needed breathing time. And thinking time.

“Is this going to be a usual Sunday event?” his dad asked, drying his hands.

Carter grunted, then closed the dishwasher. “I hope to God it’s not.”

“Meant this, not what happened earlier.” Lawton leaned against the counter, arms crossing over his chest. “You haven’t been around much lately.”

“Yeah, well, some of the houseguests you’ve been having lately—”

“Way before then,” his dad said. “Look, it’s a good thing that you’re your own man, making your own decisions, and I’m mighty proud of you.” Carter braced for the ‘but’. There always was one after any kind of compliment Lawton doled out. It gave balance and didn’t let any of them get too big for their britches, his dad would say. “Sometimes you need to remember who’s on the receiving end. Your momma’s not perfect but she means well...and there’s no changing her.”

“Melanie deserved better from you, son. She’s part of our family and you ought not have let her leave like that,” he added.

Carter felt the dressing-down clear to his toes. It was rare that his dad had an opinion about anyone’s relationship. But what could Carter say? He couldn’t defend himself from the truth.

Lawton moved past Carter, patting him on the back. “Let’s go watch some football.”

Now for that, Carter had the perfect response. “Yes, sir.”

***

“All packed up?” Louis asked as Melanie zipped her suitcase.

Taking a deep breath, she looked around the room, then smiled at her dad. Things weren’t completely resolved between them, but Louis was Louis. What else could she do, besides finally move out. “Yep.”

Her dad didn’t move from the doorway. “It’s going to be awfully quiet without you here.”

“You’ll be fine, daddy.” Smiling became downright hard to do. “I bet Mrs. Gregory comes over this afternoon with a lemon pie.”

“God save me,” he muttered, then moved to her bed and picked up the suitcase that had belonged to her mother. “This all you’re taking?” He motioned to the bed and her large duffle bag.

“Nothing else belongs to me.” Not the dresser, the bed or the nightstand. The mattress had been new, twenty year ago, but her aunt had a bedroom for her. She sighed. All she was doing was trading one rented room for another, but at least Aunt Bethany wouldn’t kick her out.

Louis thrust out his hand. “This is what I owe you. I shouldn’t have taken it, stolen it, really, from you.”

Only her daddy would walk around with almost five thousand dollars in hundreds in his pocket. “I can’t,” she said, closing his fingers over the roll of cash. “You might need it.” Besides, her dream of owning the house on Persimmon Lane had been completely destroyed, with her daddy’s actions and Carter moving away. She didn’t want the memories of taking him there, of baring that part of her soul to him.

Moving to Palm Beach would give her the fresh start she needed. Plus, she’d made an appointment with one of the course advisors at local community college. Something that she was equal parts nervous and excited about doing.

“Thanks, sugar.” He tucked the money into his side pocket just as her cell phone rang. A quick glance told her that it was Carter—again. She frowned and chucked the thing into her purse. “Not easy to leave the one you love.”

“Easier than finding out they don’t love you,” she said. “Sorry things didn’t work out with Raylene.”

Her dad chuckled. “You’re a terrible liar, Melanie Ann.” He walked with her to the living room. “It was for the best though.”

“I know you don’t want to hear it, but think about finding a nice, single woman, like LeeAnne Parks.” She opened the door and followed her dad outside. “Less drama.”

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