"Mom, how much longer?"
"Hours. It's been hours."
As the twin whines rasped her eardrums, Liz Jordan's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Forty-five minutes isn't hours. We'll be there soon."
"Don't know why we have to move to some hick town."
"Yeah, we'll be bored."
Their voices inched toward supersonic wails. She glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw twin scowls. Justin and Brandon had inherited their father's handsome features and his hazel eyes, but their hair was dark brown like hers. "Guys, why not give
a chance? You lived here for two
"We were babies,"
said. "How we
gonna remember anything?" Brandon
"Yeah, babies know nothing," Justin added his comment.
They had celebrated their fifth birthdays in
Now they were nine going on two or forty-two depending on their mood. Maybe
they didn't understand why she'd made the decision to return here, but her
reasons were valid. In the city, they'd been prey to pressure from a gang of
boys headed for juvenile hall. This move was right for them. And her? Eastlake
As the car rounded a bend, she saw a shopping mall that hadn't been here four years ago. What other changes would she find? She knew the hospital had expanded. The unit where she'd be in charge had been opened just three years ago.
When this fact popped into her thoughts, once more she wondered if making a lateral move had been the right choice. Being nurse manager of the ortho/neuro unit at
had to be less
stressful than the same position at a city hospital. Here she wouldn't have to
cope with nursing students from three different programs or with interns and
residents. What about prima dona surgeons? She chuckled. That breed came with
the territory. Eastlake Community
she'd be with the friends she'd made during the two years at .
She'd been the oldest of their clinical group and the one they'd come to for
advice. Three of them lived and worked here. How great it would be to be with
Jenessa, Laurel, and Megan again. Grantley College
What about the unit's neurosurgeon, Dr. Jeff Carter? She remembered golden hair and summer blue eyes, broad shoulders and a lean body. She recalled memories of a dark night and the scent of wild roses. Don't go there. As the memories surged, her cheeks heated. That evening she'd made a foolish mistake, one she'd never make again.
"Mom, why do we have to live here?" Justin asked.
"Because I have a new job, and it's here."
"If it ain't that far from our home, why can't you drive every day?"
"Yeah. Then we coulda stayed with our friends." Resentment filled Justin's voice.
And I would have gone gray from worry. "Enough. You'll live in
and like it." Eastlake
"Or lump it," the boys said in unison.
"Is Pop still behind us?" Justin asked.
"If he gets lost, we'll lose all our stuff 'cept our collection."
thumbed the box on the seat between Justin and him. Brandon
"Your grandfather's there," Liz said. "Justin, sit down and fasten your seatbelt." Would he ever learn to think before jumping into action?
"Just had to check."
"He's always doing dumb things."
She heard a grunt. "Guys, enough. Do I have to pull over?" She had to stop them before they came to real blows, something that had never happened. Though they were identical in looks, their personalities were opposite. Like his dead father, Justin plunged into action without thinking, while
plodded and planned. Brandon
The noise from the back seat ceased. Liz spotted the sign announcing their arrival in
and released a sigh of relief.
"We're almost there." Eastlake
She saw her sons turn in their seats to look out the windows. The sight of houses with lawns instead of blocks of tall apartment buildings made her smile.
"Is our house like them?"
"Maybe a little bigger." She turned the car into
Many of the shops she remembered were still there. "There's the Hot
Doggery. We'll go there for dinner some evening. Best chilli dogs I've ever
"Tonight?" the boys asked.
"No. Some of my friends are coming by after work to help us get settled."
"That's not fair," Justin said. "We had to leave our friends."
"Do they have kids?"
"Laurel and Alex have a son. I think he's six."
"A baby," Justin said. "Who wants to play with a baby? Not me."
"Your choice," Liz said. "You don't have to play, but you will be nice to him."
"Where's the hospital?"
"When we come to the next corner, look up the hill. The brick building at the top is the hospital."
"Wow," Justin said. "Think of coming down that hill on a bike."
"Think, but don't do," Liz said.
"You're no fun."
"Not supposed to be. I'm your mother."
Three blocks beyond the street to the hospital, Liz made a left turn and pulled into the driveway of the house her friend had bought just weeks before her wedding. Lucky for me, Liz thought.
had agreed to rent
with the option to buy. Laurel
Since her husband's death, Liz and her boys had been apartment dwellers. Sometimes, she resented the loss of the house she and Derek had bought, but the sale had allowed her to attend Grantley for a BS in Nursing. Once again her old resentment flared. Volunteer firemen who were determined to be heroes seldom left their families large legacies.
As soon as the car stopped, the boys jumped out. When the rental truck pulled behind her car, Justin nearly plowed into the fender. She stifled a scream. He turned and grinned. She closed her eyes. He was all right. Thank heavens they weren't marking their arrival with a trip to the Emergency Room. She left the car and grabbed him.
Her father-in-law leaned against the side of the truck. He wiped his ruddy face with a bandanna. "I thought . . . . Don't ever scare me like that again."
Justin toed the grass. "Sorry, Pop."
The elderly man ruffled the boy's dark hair. "So like your father."
"What about me?"
The hot humid air made Liz feel sticky. She wiped her hands on her navy shorts, and then walked toward the house. The red bricks had faded to a rose color. She climbed the steps to the wide front porch. Bamboo shades on the side openings shielded the white wicker furniture from the afternoon sun. She unlocked the door and stepped inside. The highly polished oak of the foyer floor gleamed. Cool air kissed her skin.
Justin pushed past her. "Where's my room?"
"Look at the big TV,"
cried. "Is it
Liz nodded. "If I decide to buy the furniture from
"Let's keep the TV."
put the box he'd
lugged from the car on the stairs to the second floor. "Where does this
Liz laughed. "As if you didn't know." The box contained the boys' baseball card collection and other treasures. "Come with me, and I'll show you the room you and Justin will share."
"Do we have to?"
"There are three bedrooms, mine, your grandfather's, and yours, plural. Be thankful. I have my own bathroom. No more make-up and sissy smelly stuff."
When they reached the second floor, she opened the door of the room where the twins would sleep.
dropped the box on the lower bunk. He
ran his hand over the smooth wood of one of the two chests of drawers.
"Neat. This why we didn't bring our old stuff?" Brandon
She nodded. Their beds had been the ones they'd slept in since they'd outgrown their cribs, and they'd shared a second-hand dresser she'd refinished. "Thought you might like these."
He looked up. "They gonna cost a lot?"
She hugged him. "Don't worry about the money. You know I sold most of our old furniture."
Justin charged into the room. "I get the top."
"Just don't wet the bed again,"
Justin scowled. "Didn't."
Liz put a hand on his shoulder. "He had an accident months ago. Stop picking on each other."
Justin grabbed his brother's hand. "Come outside and meet our neighbor. He's cool. Doesn't believe I have a twin."
"Can we go?"
Liz nodded. "You're free until my friends arrive. Then it's to work."
"You can come and meet his mom," Justin said. "She's a nurse, too."
As Liz followed the boys downstairs, she wondered if the woman worked at the hospital or in one of the local doctors' offices. If the neighbor worked at
she might know things Liz's friends would neglect to tell her, especially about
hospital politics. Liz glanced into the living room. Pop had stretched out in
the charcoal gray recliner. "You okay?" she asked. Eastlake
"Just tired. Heat's a bit much, but here with the air conditioning it's fine. Need me to do anything?"
"Later. The boys are taking me to meet a neighbor.
Then I'll bring in the groceries and the suitcases."
"I can do that."
"I know, but take it easy. The work crew should be here by four thirty. Your job will be to direct traffic." She walked to the door. Was her father-in-law ill? These days, he seemed to tire easily. As
she stepped onto the porch, the twins waved. They were across the street where a blonde woman and a boy stood beside a sporty sedan.
"Mom, hurry up," Justin yelled. "They're going away."
Liz crossed the street. "This is our mom,"
The woman smiled. "I understand you're a nurse."
Liz nodded. "Liz Jordan. Pleased to meet you." She saw something she couldn't define in the blonde's light brown eyes.
"I'm Delores. I heard Mrs. Carter rented the house. You know, she bought it just a couple of weeks ago. Why she wanted a house and even moved in when she was shacked up in Alex Carter's house doesn't compute." She laughed. "Guess she knew what she was doing since she snagged him."
Liz drew in a deep breath. Sour grapes flavored her neighbor's voice. "I'm glad she decided to rent. Saved me from a frantic search for a house and a commute from the city until I found one."
"There is that." Delores bent to pick up a small suitcase. Her tight red shorts slid up to reveal a bit of her buttocks.
Liz looked away. "Especially since I needed three bedrooms."
"Guess your boys have their own rooms."
"They have to share. "My father-in-law lives with us."
"Thought he was your husband." The eyes that had been friendly hardened. "Guess your husband works in the city and decided to commute."
"No husband. He's . . . ."
"Another deadbeat like my ex. Guess we'll have a heart to heart one of these days and discuss straying men." She opened the car door. "Chet, let's go. Was nice meeting you."
Liz returned to the house. Her neighbor's assumptions bothered her. She wasn't sure she liked Delores, and she hadn't learned if the other woman worked at the hospital. Too late now.
called. "Chet says he'll show us
around town." Brandon
"He knows all the neat places." Justin raced up the steps.
"His friends are wheels."
tugged on Liz's
She frowned. The boy seemed older than the twins.
"How old is he?"
"Twelve. He's gonna be thirteen in November."
Liz wasn't sure she wanted the boys to hang around with someone three and a half years older. Their ideas of neat and cool differed from hers. There'd been enough problems in the city with their choice of friends. Would this be another mistake? "I plan to sign you up for some programs at the Y where you can meet boys your own age."
Justin jumped down the steps from the porch. "Dorks."
"Don't make judgments before you meet them."
"But Chet said . . . ."
She sucked in a breath. If she forbade this friendship without a good reason, Justin would rebel and
would argue. "I'll give you a
week or two to settle. As long as you don't give Pop a hard time, I'll let you
hang out here." Brandon
"We won't," they said.
"Let's unload the trunk. I want to make lemonade and iced tea for this evening."
* * *