A Bucks County short story [revised and retitled] by Meg Sorick.
Nobody was expecting him. After all who in their right mind drives to Florida from Pennsylvania on the spur of the moment? Kerry Donovan –that’s who. Although the part about him being in his right mind was questionable. It had taken him eighteen hours to reach St. Martha’s Cove, the tiny Gulf Coast town where his parents had moved after retiring a few years ago. Back home in Bucks County, Kerry and his brother Leo had taken over their father’s construction business.
The sun was just lightening the sky as Kerry pulled into his parents’ driveway. He had thrown some clothes in a duffel bag and taken off without telling anyone where he was going, not even Leo, and chances were pretty good he was going to be pissed.
Ryan Donovan was sitting on the front porch with his coffee and the newspaper. He tossed it aside and stood when he heard the crunch of gravel. Kerry saw him open the front door and yell inside. No doubt announcing to his wife, Sophie, their son’s unplanned arrival. Kerry cut the engine and got out. His muscles were stiff and his back was sore from sitting so long. He barely had time to stretch before his dad was on him.
“Kerry,” his father said, striding over and putting a hand on his arm. “What the hell’s going on, son? You ok? Is it Leo?” He gripped Kerry by the shoulders and stared at him hard. “Brianna.” He muttered a curse. “What happened?”
Kerry gave him a shaky smile. “I took her over to see the house.”
“What? She didn’t like it?” Ryan asked. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Sophie Donovan ran outside, still in her pajamas and bare feet. “Sweetheart! What on earth…?” she began. “Come inside, you look exhausted. We can talk over coffee.” She held Kerry’s arm and led him to the house, peppering him with questions the whole way. Ryan got Kerry’s bag from the truck and followed them inside.
Sophie directed her son to the kitchen table and set a cup of coffee in front of him. “Now, tell us what’s going on,” she ordered.
Kerry covered his face with his hands, resting his elbows on the table before speaking. “She called off the wedding.”
“What?!?” Sophie cried. “With only three weeks to go? Oh, sweetie, why?”
Kerry rubbed his eyes. They felt like sandpaper. “She’s decided she can’t spend the rest of her life with me.”
“Why the hell not?” Ryan growled. “You guys have been dating for over two years and it took her this long to figure that out?” He shook his head in disgust. “At a minimum she shouldn’t have said yes when you asked.”
“I know, Dad,” Kerry sighed. “I’ve been asking myself why I didn’t see it coming for the past eighteen hours.” He gave them the whole story, detail by sordid detail. “That’s it. We’re finished.”
“Did you tell your brother?” Ryan asked.
Kerry shook his head. “No.” He paused and blew out a breath. “Not ready for the pity party.”
“Well, you can stay here for as long as you like, dear,” Sophie said patting his hand. “But you have to call Leo and tell him. He’ll be worried.”
“Yeah. Not right now, ok?” He drained his coffee cup and stood. “So can I bunk over the garage or do I have to squeeze into that closet you call a spare room?”
“The rooms over the garage are all yours, sweetie. Let me go get you some towels and sheets,” his mother said, rising. “Then I’ll fix you breakfast.”
“Sounds good, Mom.”
The setting sun shining through the west-facing window finally roused Kerry from his slumber. He trudged into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. His dark stubble was past the five o’clock shadow stage but he couldn’t have cared less. On returning to the bedroom, he checked his phone. There were three missed calls, all from Leo, and one voicemail. Maybe he’d try and sweet talk his mom into calling Leo back for him.
He pulled a pair of cargo shorts out of his duffel bag and tucked the phone in one of the pockets. His parents’ bungalow was quiet when he entered through the lanai in the back of the house. “Mom? Dad?” he called out. No response. He found a note in the kitchen, ‘Kerry, we ran out for some extra supplies. Shouldn’t be gone too long. Help yourself to whatever you find in the fridge. Love, Mom.’
He opened the fridge, didn’t see anything that caught his fancy. He felt like a big greasy burger and about a gallon of beer. He ran back upstairs for his wallet, left a note for his parents and walked toward the town, looking for a bar.
He found a place facing the beach, right on the edge of town, called Martha’s Tavern. At first, he thought it was named for St. Martha’s Cove but as he got closer, he saw in smaller letters beneath the sign: ‘And this Martha ain’t no saint’. He chuckled. This was just what he was looking for. He poked his head in the door and saw a few customers sitting at the bar, a few more playing pool in a small room off to the side. It looked like a mix of locals and a couple of stray tourists. Perfect. He found an open seat at the bar and sat down.
A mountain of a woman came over to take his order. She must have been six feet tall and built like a line backer. She had a mass of black hair pulled back in a braid and the tattoo of a snake coiling from her thick wrist to her impressive bicep. She smirked at Kerry’s shocked expression. “Somethin’ a matter, sugar?” she drawled.
Kerry blinked and mentally smacked himself. “Uh, no, no. Nothing’s the matter.”
“Aw, a Yankee boy. You down a visit, honey?”
“Uh, yeah, my folks live here,” he replied.
She cocked her head to the side, swinging her long dark braid behind her. “You sure they ain’t nothin’ wrong, darlin’?” she asked. “Lemme getcha a drink and you can tell me ’bout it. Whatcha havin’?”
Two shots and two beers later, Kerry’s head was spinning. He hadn’t eaten anything since his mother had forced breakfast on him that morning. Martha had matched him shot for shot and didn’t seem fazed in the least. Before she set his third beer in front of him, she went back to the kitchen and returned with a big burger on a kaiser roll, a pile of fries and a pickle. “Chow down, honey. Else I’ll have to call your daddy to come getcha.”
Kerry shook his head to clear it. “How’d you know…?”
She laughed and patted his hand. Kerry dug into the food while Martha moved down the length of the bar to take care of her other customers. He nearly groaned with pleasure – this might be the best burger he’d ever had. Getting a little food in his belly helped to clear his head somewhat, too. When Martha had refilled everyone’s drinks she came back to Kerry and leaned in close. “You wanna talk about it?” she asked gently. “Might help.”
Kerry found himself pouring out the whole story. How he’d bought an old run-down house and remodeled it for his soon-to-be bride. The time and attention he’d put into restoring every detail in the beautiful Craftsman-style bungalow. Hardwood floors, wood trim, tile in the kitchens and bathrooms. Stained glass in the window of the front door. It was his wedding present to her and she’d dumped him on the front porch.
“That girl be crazy, let a handsome young fella like you get away.” Martha patted his cheek. “She don’t deserve ya. That’s what. You better off without her.”
The phone in Kerry’s pocket vibrated. It was probably his mom worrying that he wasn’t home yet. He answered without looking at the caller ID. “Hello.”
“Kerry, it’s me,” Brianna said quietly. “Can we talk?”
Kerry’s stomach knotted and the shock must’ve shown on his face because Martha frowned. “What do you want Bri?”
“Kerry, I’ve been thinking… Maybe… maybe you were right, I was just getting cold feet. I’m sorry. I’ve made a huge mistake. Can you forgive me? Will you please let me come over so we can talk?”
“Forgive you? Come over?” Kerry repeated into the phone. “Just like that?” He swallowed hard. “Bri, I’m in Florida at my parents’ house.”
Across the bar from him, Martha mouthed “That her?” and Kerry nodded. Martha snatched the phone away from him and hung it up. “Hey!” Kerry protested.
“No good’ll come from that, sugar. She just sweet talk ya into takin’ her sorry ass back.” She pushed a fresh beer in front of him. “You’ll find the right girl, doncha worry none. In the meantime, set a spell and keep ole Martha company.” She grinned wickedly and gave him a wink. “Who knows, maybe you’ll meet somebody here.”
Kerry drank deeply from his pint glass and shook his head. Then for the first time in the last thirty-six hours, he smiled. Yeah, he would be all right. He could stay here, fish in the gulf, get himself a tan and help his Dad fix up that old boat he’d bought. Leo could manage without him for a while. Winter was coming and business would slow down anyway. Besides, the weather here was beautiful. And even better, Brianna was eleven hundred miles away.
Kerry was concentrating on his burger when someone slid onto the stool next to his. He turned his head, intending to be polite and found himself face to face with a stunning brunette. He managed a smile and forced himself to keep his eyes from drifting south to her sinful curves. With thick black hair, huge dark eyes and full kissable lips, she was breathtaking. She smiled and Kerry went weak in the knees. Martha cleared her throat, “Sugar? Lemme introduce you to my baby sister.”