Bringing Home the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon

“Gone,” his whisper confirmed.

That’s when the tears choking her throat pulsed against her eyes. That’s when Russell took the phone from her hand. And that’s when she knew.

Rae Lynn Downey, her very best friend, more like a sister than her actual sister, wife to the long-ago besotted Evan Downey, and mother to a dimpled three-year-old Lyon Downey was… gone.

It took five days for that fact to settle in.

For her to see Rae’s physical body in the casket, for her to notice Evan’s formerly bright eyes weary and bloodshot, for her to witness firsthand the devastation of Rae’s parents and the somber expressions on Evan’s family’s faces.

For her to accept what “gone” meant.

Gone was permanent. Gone was forever.

Gone was unfair.

Standing over her body, Charlie vowed to Rae she’d watch over her family. She kissed her fingers, placed them on her best friend’s cold cheek, and whispered to the woman she’d never see alive again, “Sorry, Rae.”

Wheels crunched along the gravel outside her house, bringing Charlie out of the memory clouding her head and back to her living room. She dropped the open magazine she’d been staring unseeing at for the last however many minutes and swiped a single tear from her eye.

Then she cleared her throat, closed the magazine, and bucked up. Because Evan and Lyon couldn’t arrive and find her mourning Rae. There was no reason to darken this occasion with melancholy. Them moving here was a good thing. The best thing for them all. Their coming here had reminded her of the promises she’d made, the pain they’d gone through. The loss they’d endured.

She peeked between the curtains and confirmed the tires on the gravel did not belong to Evan’s SUV. Releasing a pent-up breath, she watched a blue pickup climb the hill and vanish into the trees.

Not them.

Evan had texted her—she checked her phone, then the clock—forty-six minutes ago, to say they were ten minutes away and since then she’d sat anxiously by the front window. Knowing him, and she did, he probably stopped at Dairy Dreem for an ice cream the moment they set foot in town.

She snapped up her iced tea, frowning at the ring on the coffee table. Where was her head today? She swiped the water ring with one hand and turned for her back porch, pausing first to slip on a pair of flats.

Charlie’s house was the most modest on her street—she liked to tell herself it was because the house was built before Evergreen Cove had become a vacation destination. She and her boyfriend, Russell Hartman, had purchased the small, white clapboard because of its view of the lake and the fantastic porch. At the time, she believed that buying a vacation home as a couple was a sign of permanence.


But she had no regrets about the house. Since she worked from home, she’d outfitted the family room facing the lake at the back to hold her desk, computer, and a few shelves for her supplies. She’d kept the couch, and yes, the television, in the room. Her office connected to the kitchen where she had a small table and chairs, but the real prize of her home was the porch. The wide, covered expanse, befitting of a Georgia plantation five times her home’s size, was where she ate most of her meals, entertained, or just sat and enjoyed the view.

Rather than stare out the window for the arrival of the Downey boys, she tracked out back to the swing hanging by a pair of chains, smoothed her dress, and sat.

Resting the tea at her feet, she sucked in a breath and took in the view. While the front of her house offered up traffic and trees, she preferred the back—the lake and the hill that rose behind it, a jagged skyline designed from pointed pine trees. This view was why she and Russell had purchased on the private beach.

When he left her two years ago, he’d kept the huge new-build with the cherry tree in the backyard. Rae had always told her a man who was unwilling to marry her was a man who would walk away. At the moment when he’d delivered her morning coffee in the enormous white kitchen with gleaming granite countertops and told her he was leaving her, Charlie thought of Rae’s words first.

Sad, but true.

He let her keep the vacation house in Evergreen Cove, and the Subaru they’d recently paid off. “I’d pay alimony if we were married,” he’d told her, assuaging his guilt. “The house at the Cove, the car, it’s the least I can do.”

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