Read the first chapter of ALL SHE WROTE right now!
Read this 3-book in the A MAIL CARRIER COZY MYSTERY SERIES, set in SUGAR CREEK GAP, Kentucky where more than mail is being delivered!
“Bernadette Butler, I never figured you to be a hot-pink-and-bright-blue-yarn gal.” Leotta Goldey, the owner of Social Knitwork yarn shop, stood over me. “Lily Sugar ’n Cream Yarn is a nice brand too.”
“Thank you.” I picked up the hot-pink yarn and wagged it in the air. “It’s not my color of choice. It’s Julia’s favorite, and with them redoing the farmhouse to match their style, I’m guessing from the bright-colored palette and patterns they’ve been picking out that there’s going to be some hot-pink and blue shades. I thought it would make a nice housewarming gift since Julia loves to cook now that she’s on a leave of absence from her job until the baby comes.”
“You can never go wrong with these basic yarn washcloths. And for a beginner, I’m sure you’re going to make lovely ones.” Leotta moved behind me to check on the other students in the beginner knitting class. “And for the record, I think you’re right about her colors. The blanket she was making here a couple months ago had hot pink and blue in it.” She tapped me on the shoulder as she passed completely by me. “I’m glad you’re taking the class now. Something the two of you can have in common.”
Something I didn’t want to sign up for, but my best friend Iris Peabody insisted I find something to do with the extra time on my hands now that I gave the farm to Grady and Julia and moved into town.
Iris was right. Not about taking knitting classes, because at various times during the one-hour-long class, I’d had irrational thoughts of stabbing Leotta in the eyeballs from my pure frustration of trying to knit six purl six. . .or was it the other way around? Regardless, Iris was right about filling my time.
When I lived in the farmhouse, there was plenty to do. Cut acres of grass, weed the garden, plant the garden, tend to the garden and all my flowers. Then there were the few farm animals we still had that needed to be cared for.
After I’d become a widow and gone back to being a full-time mail carrier again, long workdays didn’t leave a whole lot of time for the chores on the farm, which made me behind on a lot of it.
Moving to town to a much smaller house with a teeny-tiny yard that was a hop and a skip away from the post office did give me a few hours to myself at night. After I made the final move a couple of months ago, I enjoyed coming home to Rowena, my ornery cat, and Buster, the inherited pooch, and just sitting on my front porch, yelling down to the other ladies sitting on their porches, but it wasn’t something I could do the rest of my life.
I was only fifty years old, and I needed a little more stimulation. Not that Mac Tabor, my boyfriend, didn’t keep me company, but sometimes he would work late at Tabor Architects, his own firm, and we didn’t need to spend all our spare time together. We were in what I called a companion relationship, no matter what other people thought.
“I’m hoping I’ll have time to finish this. We are going to have so much love for my grandchild.” I looked down at the knitting needles in my hand and tried to remember where I’d left off before Leotta interrupted me about the yarn. “Ummm. Leotta, I don’t know where I’m at.” I glanced over my shoulder and past Harriette Pearl.
Harriette Pearl glanced over the top of her readers and eyeballed me from the seat across from me.
“Don’t look at me for help,” she grumbled. “I’ve got my own issues over here.” Like me, Harriette wasn’t a knitter, but the rest of our friends were.
“You’ve got more than your own issues.” Ruby Dean, Harriette’s neighbor, snickered. Her hands were moving her knitting needles a mile a minute. She could whip out a complete knitted outfit in an hour. Not that I’d ever wear a knitted outfit, but you got the idea.
“I’ll look.” Gertrude Stone, another neighbor, laid her project on the table. Before she could get up to come help me, Leotta stopped her.
“Let me see.” Leotta swept past the back of us, her crocheted shawl fluttering behind her. Her blond and brown hair was in a messy bun on the top of her head, with knitting needles criss-crossed in it to keep it up.
I wondered if she did that after having her long hair down all day or if it was a cute marketing or image hairdo. Either way, Leotta was a very artsy-looking older lady. She mainly wore the items she made with loose-fitting pants and Birkenstock sandals. Her look was beautiful, and I would look like a bag lady if I tried to wear what she did.
“It looks like you are in the middle of the purl stitch.” She used her long fingernail to peel apart my stitches from my tiny seven-by-seven-inch washcloth. “Yes. You need to finish the purl.”
“Oh-kay.” I sighed and concentrated on finishing the stitch before I decided I needed a break.
“Bernie,” Harriette called, “you know that lovely scented letter I got in the mail today?”
Ruby, Gertrude, and Millie Barnes popped their heads up from their projects.
“Mmhhh,” I ho-hummed.
“It was the nicest letter from Zeke Grey,” she said, gushing over the very single elderly gentleman that all the Front Porch Ladies fought over.
Ah…the Front Porch Ladies were what I lovingly called the four women who lived along Little Creek Road in the middle of Sugar Creek Gap, now the street that I lived on in our tiny mountainous town in Kentucky.
“He wanted to thank me for the wonderful gift I’d given his granddaughter for her wedding present.” Harriette knew the other ladies would have their ears wide-open to hear what she had to say. “He followed up by congratulating me on becoming a board member of the nursing home and president of the beautification committee.”
After Zeke Grey had announced he was going to be hosting a bridal shower for his granddaughter, the Front Porch Ladies wore me out about why they’d not received their invitation when I dropped off their mail. They thought for sure that I’d left it at the post office or lost it along my route.
“Not to mention the smell of his cologne he must’ve spritzed on the envelope.” Harriette looked over at the other Front Porch Ladies. “You do know that amazing smell?” Harriette pulled her knitting project to her chest and took a long, deep inhale, clearly wanting Gertrude, Millie, and Ruby—the Front Porch Ladies—to hear her. They’ve all been trying to get Zeke’s attention for a while now.
The looks the other ladies gave each other didn’t go unnoticed. Maybe a few eye rolls were given, but nothing was said out loud, even though I knew that tomorrow when I delivered their mail, they would question me about if there was any sort of thank-you card from Zeke Grey.
“Ah oh. Looky who’s coming in.” Millie Barnes elbowed Ruby, who was sitting next to her.
“What?” Ruby Dean’s lips curled. “What did you say?”
“I said you need to go get your hearing aids checked because you can’t hear a darn thang.” Millie Barnes groaned. “I said, look who is coming in.” She nodded toward the storefront side of the knitting classroom that faced the sidewalk on Main Street.
All the heads turned to the left to look out of the classroom and into the shop where Florence Gaines was walking in with a young woman.
Florence was a wealthy widow here in Sugar Creek Gap. She lived in the more affluent subdivision behind the old mill, which still had running water and a working wheel that ran right in the middle of downtown. And it just so happened, Florence and Zeke were neighbors.
I was the mail carrier for all of the downtown shops, the nursing home, and the one little row of homes behind the shops, which was where I lived along with the Front Porch Ladies and Mac. I also delivered the mail for Florence’s fancy neighborhood. I had three mail loops in all.
It was nice they were all downtown so I didn’t have to drive a mail truck. Especially since the post office was located downtown. I was able to do a loop then go back to the post office to get the next loop. It made for a long day, but now that I lived in the downtown area, it was not too bad, and my back felt the difference.
Florence Gaines always looked like the million bucks she had. She kept her silver hair nice and short, which was very sophisticated. She mainly wore blacks and grays. Today she had on a pair of gray trousers, cream flats, and a lighter gray t-shirt. A black belt with a big silver buckle completed the outfit.
She and Leotta spoke near the register, keeping all of our attention. Then the young woman with Florence shook hands with Leotta. When Florence looked into the classroom, all five of us nearly broke our necks when we turned back to our knitting projects so Florence wouldn’t see us gawking at her.
“Hello, ladies.” Florence walked into the room. “Very cute little projects.” She eyeballed everyone’s project one by one. “My niece has moved to Sugar Creek Gap, and I wanted to bring her around to introduce her while we have a few minutes to wait for Zeke.”
“Zeke?” Harriette jerked up. “Zeke Grey?”
“Mmhhmmm. Unless you know another Zeke in Sugar Creek Gap.” Florence’s eyes narrowed, and a devious smile twisted along her lips. “Zeke is dying to meet Courtney. Ever since she decided to move here, it’s all I’ve been talking about over dinner.”
“Dinner?” Harriette asked. “With Zeke Grey?”
“Why yes. I had the most wonderful time at Roddy’s wedding. We got to talking, and we didn’t realize how much we had in common. He really is a blessing from above.” Florence lifted her hands in the air. The gold bangles fell toward her elbow and jingled like a sound from above.
“Hi.” The young woman popped into the room. “I’m Courtney Gaines, Florence’s niece.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” I immediately recognized the name. “I’m Bernadette Butler, your neighbor.”
“Oh. Hi!” Courtney’s big brown eyes widened with excitement. “I haven’t seen you. Did you see me? I’m sorry if you did and I didn’t say anything.”
“No. Bernie delivers the mail to your street, and she dates your landlord,” Florence chimed in. “But we must be going. Zeke probably has our table ready at the Wallflower Diner. I’ll be sure to tell your mom and dad hello.”
“I’m your neighbor Harriette Pearl.” Harriette introduced herself to Courtney when it was apparent Florence was not going to. “This here is Ruby Dean, Gertrude Stone, and Millie Barnes, your other neighbors on Little Creek Road. When did you decide to move here? And what do you do?”
Harriette wasn’t about to let them leave until she figured out how long Florence and Zeke had been spending some time together, especially since she mentioned how excited Zeke had been to meet Courtney since she’d decided to move to Sugar Creek Gap.
“I took an open home-economics teaching position at the local high school a couple months ago and wanted to move here this summer so I can spend some quality time with my aunt.” Courtney looked lovingly at Florence.
“Yes. Quality time.” Florence lifted her brows to them. She touched Courtney on the arm. “We need to go. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from these ladies more often than you want,” Florence didn’t do a good job of whispering, her chin turned away from the group.
“It’s so nice to meet all of you. I’m happy to be living here.” Courtney was around five foot six and built exactly like her aunt. She resembled Florence so much that they might’ve even passed as mother and daughter if I’d not known Florence never had any children.
“Ladies.” Florence stopped shy of the classroom door and turned around. “Be sure to be at the church scholarship meeting tomorrow. We will be picking out the winner of the college scholarships from the applicants. Noon sharp.” She threw her head back. “And Harriette?”
“What?” Harriette asked in a snide tone.
“Congratulations on your new board appointment…um… president of the beautification Committee.” Florence gave a slight laugh. “God help Mother Nature,” she said to Courtney on their way out the door.
There was an awkward pause until Florence shut the door behind her, then the flood gates opened.
“Noon sharp,” Harriette mocked. “Can you believe she had the gall to come in here when she probably just walked by and saw us? She only wanted to show off her lunch date with Zeke and threw her poor niece in the mix.”
“Students apply for the scholarship in my name because I’m so wealthy and I donate to the church so much money.” Millie Barnes put her hand to her chest and did her best Florence impression.
Everyone in Sugar Creek Gap knew Florence donated a lot of money to various organizations, though she took full advantage of getting recognition for it.
“Okay.” I felt uncomfortable listening to them, not to mention poor Leotta. She was a business owner, so she really tried to make everyone happy and stay neutral.
I was the mail carrier for all of them, so I had to make sure I stayed silent.
“We need to look on the bright side. One of Grady’s students will be able to afford college with the scholarship.” I loved when one of the less fortunate kids could benefit from Florence’s pride. In the grand scheme of things, Florence’s need for recognition was so small compared to the long-term value of her generosity to one person’s life. A young person.
“It’s not just her money.” Gertrude nodded and looked around at the other Front Porch Ladies for confirmation. “We all put extra money into the tithe to fund it.”
“Trust me, these families are very grateful. Including me. If it weren’t for the scholarship fund, Grady would have a huge student loan to pay off.” I reminded them how Grady was awarded the church’s scholarship when he was a senior, the same year his father had been killed in a car accident.
Just talking about that time brought back the memory of the night I was cheering on the Sugar Creek Gap Grizzlies football team. I was in the stands as the proud mom of the Grizzlies’ mascot, who underneath the bear costume was my Grady. I was cheering on the cute bear when a Kentucky sheriff showed up at the game. After he asked around about where he could find me, Bernadette Butler, he told me Richard had had an awful accident.
Not only had I felt like my life had been ruined, but I knew Grady’s senior year and the life Richard and I had spent years planning for him had been ruined as well. Thanks to the church, Grady was awarded the scholarship.
I picked up the knitting needles and looked at the washcloth, clearly forgetting if I was in the middle of a knit or purl.
“That’s why Grady decided to come back to Sugar Creek Gap after college. He knew he could give back to the community that had given him so much love and support by taking the teaching position at the high school and becoming the head football coach.” I was very proud of my son.
“Yeah. Y’all need to listen and take a lesson from Bernie.” Harriette, the ringleader of the Front Porch Ladies, had a sudden change of heart.
“What about that niece of hers?” Ruby Dean leaned over the table and down at me. “She gets a lot of packages in the mail.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen you dragging that cart around with you for the past few days now. And I know I didn’t get no smell-good letter from Zeke Grey.” Gertrude’s brow twitched. “Apparently, you’re not getting anything special from Zeke either.” She looked directly at Harriette.
Trying to hold a conversation with these four women was like being in a room full of squirrels. They changed subjects more than a high school student’s class schedule. Though this particular subject of the packages Courtney Gaines had been receiving was a much-needed change of subject. I couldn’t tell them what was in the packages—I had no idea—but I did know where they were coming from.
“Don’t you be going and telling me nothing about me and Zeke.” Harriette didn’t bother looking up from her knitting needles.
“Well, I’m just saying.” Gertrude let out a long sigh, lowering her shoulders.
“Just say nothing,” Harriette mumbled and continued to work the needles and the thread. “How’s Julia?”
“My Julia?” The thought of becoming a grandmother made my heart soar. “She’s fantastic. She’s been such a trooper for a first-time pregnancy. Mac said he’s missing her so much. Now that she’s into her third trimester, she’s not as sick anymore. I’m doing all I can to help. Poor thing is so big with baby.”
“Have they moved out of the Wallflower apartment?” Ruby asked about the little apartment above my parents’ diner, where Julia and Grady lived.
“They were still sleeping there while the farmhouse is being painted, along with those remodels Mac is doing for them.” Seeing Mac and Grady work side by side was a dream for me. “But going to sleep there for the first night tonight. That’s why I’m trying to get this cloth completed.”
By the size of my square knitting project, they would only be able to wash a baby spoon with it.
“Mac has really been busy there. You sure are lucky, Bernie.” Harriette didn’t bother looking up at me. She knew it was a touchy subject I rarely liked to talk about.
Mac was Richard’s, my deceased husband’s, best friend and had been around Grady all his life, so they were already close. After Richard had died, Grady and I learned of a secret life Richard had kept hidden our entire marriage. Mac had kept Richard’s secret. It took a while for me to forgive Mac, but not Grady.
Mac had become somewhat of a father figure to Grady, and I was forever grateful for that. That feeling had turned into a love for Mac that I couldn’t shake off.
“I can’t wait to see it.” Leotta had rejoined us in the classroom after she’d taken a few phone calls and helped a customer while the five of us sat yammering on. “Julia is very excited because Grady keeps telling her about all the wonderful memories he’d had growing up in the farmhouse.” Leotta looked out the window and watched as Zeke Grey greeted Florence with a hug on the sidewalk before they began to walk down past the yarn shop toward the diner. “It just goes to show that love is in the air this summer.”
“Not if I’ve got something to do with it.” Harriette’s eyes narrowed. “If Florence keeps fluttering them eyelashes, she’s gonna start a windstorm.”