Home > The Hope Chest

The Hope Chest
Author: Carolyn Brown

Chapter One

It’s a good place to be from,” Flynn O’Riley muttered as he looked at the bright-red T-shirt printed with “Where the heck is Blossom, Texas?” that was hanging on the wall. He scanned Weezy’s Restaurant for his two cousins, but evidently he was the first one to the meeting that afternoon.

The mixed aromas of burgers, grilled onions, and coffee filled the place, bringing back memories of his childhood when his mother would pick him up at the local diner in Blossom. He always spent two weeks with Nanny Lucy, and even as a toddler he would cry when it was time to leave his grandmother’s house. Stopping for a hot dog had started out as a ploy to keep him from crying when he left, but as he grew older, it became a tradition. One that he’d wished had never started after he was fifteen. That was the year his mother was killed in a terrible car wreck on her way to pick him up in Blossom.

He crossed the room, found an empty booth, slid into it, and tried to shake off the memory of the last time he’d sat in that same booth. Weezy’s had only been open for a little while, and he and Nanny Lucy were meeting his mother there for the first time. Before, they’d always met at a different café in town. He still remembered the smell of the steaming coffee that Nanny Lucy had ordered. He looked at the table in front of him and got a visual of the half-eaten hot dog sitting before him that day when the policeman came in and whispered something to his grandmother.

Nanny Lucy told him bluntly that his mother had died in a car wreck that morning on the way from Austin to Blossom. “I loved that woman as much as if she’d been my own daughter, but your dad didn’t appreciate a good thing when he had it.” Matthew, Flynn’s father, was her estranged son.

Nanny Lucy was a tough old girl, and Flynn had never seen her cry, not even that day to sympathize with him. He wept until he had no more tears, and then Nanny Lucy told him that his life would never be the same, but that he was strong and would endure whatever got thrown at him.

“You can stay with me until the funeral is over, but then you have to go live with Matthew,” she had said. Flynn knew better than to argue with Nanny Lucy, but anything—living in a cardboard box under a bridge—would be better than living with his dad, who Flynn was sure didn’t want him. He could count on the fingers of one hand the times he’d seen his father from the time his folks divorced until his mother died.

“But Nanny Lucy,” he argued with tears streaming down his face, “Daddy doesn’t even want me for weekends or a couple of weeks in the summers.”

“You’ll have to learn to get along with him,” Nanny Lucy said.

The next three days were a blur. The graveside service was held at the cemetery in Blossom. Only a handful of people were there. His mother had been the only child of parents who had been only children, and they were gone. The only family he had were his two cousins, April and Nessa, and then Nanny Lucy and his father, neither of which had wanted him. His father came to pick him up the very next morning. That was the year that Matthew had filed for divorce from stepmother number three, so for the next couple of years, it was just Flynn and Matthew in a fifth-floor apartment down near Bay City, Texas.

“I’m not changing my lifestyle one bit, boy,” Matthew had said when he’d shown Flynn the bedroom he would be using. “You can earn your keep around here by taking care of this apartment and learning to cook, and you are responsible for your own laundry. As soon as you’re sixteen, I’ll get you a job in the oil field business doing odd jobs after school and on weekends. Good hard work will keep you out of trouble.”

“Yes, sir,” Flynn had said, and he had borne his grief alone. He blinked away the past, coming back to the present. According to the sign on the wall, they still had coconut pie like Nanny Lucy had ordered that day. He imagined that hot dogs were on the menu, but he still gagged at the thought of biting into one. The taste always took him back to that terrible moment.

“Flynn O’Riley?” a masculine voice asked from the end of the booth.

“That’s me,” Flynn said, glad for the interruption that put an end to the sad memories.

“Paul Jones, Lucy O’Riley’s lawyer.” He stuck out one hand, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose with the other.

Flynn shook with him. “Pleased to meet you. Nessa and April should be here soon.”

“I’m a little early,” Paul said, “and I’ve got a lot of papers for you grandchildren to sign. Would you mind if we moved to that table”—he nodded toward the other side of the café—“to give us more room?”

Flynn slid out of the booth and followed the short gray-haired man across the room. Paul took a seat at the head of the table, pulled one of the extra chairs around to sit beside him, and put his briefcase on it. He flipped it open and began spreading out papers in three stacks.

A waitress came from a booth full of ladies, laid two menus on the table, and asked, “What can I get you guys?”

“Coffee and a cherry fried pie,” Paul answered, but he didn’t look up.

“Just coffee for now,” Flynn answered. “Maybe something to eat after we take care of this business, and we’ll need another menu or two by then.”

“Sure thing.” The young girl left smiling and returned in a couple of minutes with their order and extra menus.

“I’ll wait until your cousins get here to go over all this”—Paul motioned at the stacks with a flick of his wrist—“but I can tell you that Lucy’s son Isaac didn’t have a leg to stand on when he protested this will. All he did was prolong this day for six months. It had to be tough on Vanessa to take the stand against her own father. I wondered why you and April didn’t show up then. But most of all, I’m wondering why you’re here today, since I’m sure Vanessa told you the details of the will and the court proceedings.”

“I don’t know about my cousins, but I need a month away from my lifestyle to get some perspective. But if you’d have asked me to testify back then, I would have been there. Nessa and I couldn’t find April at that point, so she probably didn’t even know there was a will or that Uncle Isaac had contested it. He probably thought being a preacher put God on his side.” Flynn chuckled.

He’s not on my side, that’s for sure. I need this month away from women. Away from my father. Away from myself, he thought.

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