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The Words by Heart Saga series: Mercy, book 2

By M.L. Bull All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Drama

Blurb

Eldest son of the Savage family, BJ, has been appointed to mentor two teenage boys from Houston who were convicted for shoplifting. But only one of the boys, Alan, intends to cooperate, and because of Tom, Alan's older brother, the act of racism becomes a challenge which affects both BJ and his wife and family. ​Meanwhile, Jessica goes away to therapy at the psychiatric hospital for six weeks, only for Demetrius to realize just how much he loves her more than a friend, while Veronica discovers Hector Watson, despite their slight age difference, may be her 'Mr. Right' after all.

1

Forty-two-year-old BJ Savage loved his wife Hazel, but not her bad attitude. For fourteen years their marriage had been a wonderful and fraught adventure of ups and downs ever since the day they said, “I do,” and after a certain call from Captain Bud Sullivan, he knew this summer would be like any other. He was appointed to take part in the Boys Mentoring Program sponsored by the fire station—and again—he found himself making another exception to volunteer.

Getting promoted sounded good to him, especially after all the hard work, sweat, and effort he had put into becoming a fireman in the first place—and a dyslexic fireman at that. He had a few trainers doubt his abilities along his career journey, that he wasn’t smart enough to pass the fire exams because of his below-average high school grades and learning disability.

Juvenile Delinquents.

They were the assignment of boys to be mentored by the fire crew this summer. It certainly wasn’t the same as a kid who got suspended for putting a whoopie cushion in his teacher’s chair. That was for sure, and a brisk jog in the warm sun around the encircled road of the housing park didn’t seem to help calm his apprehension to his wife’s reaction.

BJ paced his breathing during his last lap around, sucking humid air in his lungs. He scraped his sneakers on the concrete at the end of the lap and cupped his hands on his knees. His heart pumped rapidly, rising his body temperature that much more with the already ninety-eight degree weather outside.

BJ stood upright and swallowed a gulp of his saliva to wet his dry throat. He strolled toward the two-story, tan house with cream molding and light and dark brown roofing, and in the row a few homes away from where his parents and little sister lived. BJ walked across the patio and entered through the screened slide door to the kitchen.

He wiped his sweaty, dark brown face with the towel wrapped around his thick neck and inhaled the familiar Rise-and-Shine scents of freshly brewed coffee and toast. It never mattered whether it was summer or winter, Hazel always had to have her coffee in the morning. His wife hadn’t long got up, still dressed in her soft, pale yellow robe and slippers. He came over to her while she gathered their kids lunches from the refrigerator for the last day of school.

“Good Morning, Angel Eyes,” BJ greeted pleasantly with a smile.

Hazel placed their teenage son’s paper bag lunch on the marble counter and looked at her big-boned husband. His burgundy sweat suit with Saint Vincent Fire Dept. initialed on it was soaked with damp spots on his stocky chest and underarms. She gave a tender smile. “Good Morning, honey—” she scanned her eyes over his strapping physique— “looks like you got a good work-out in.”

“Yeah,” BJ said. He grabbed a glass from the top cabinet above the stove light and filled it with cold water from the kitchen sink. “I wanna make sure I’ll be in good shape to keep up with the boys I’ll be mentoring this summer.”

Hazel’s expression looked like she smelt skunk. “Oh, that again.” She put Stephanie’s Hello Kitty lunch box on the same counter next to Lamar’s bagged lunch.

BJ nodded. “That’s right. I’ve been preparing for all the physical activities that will be taken place. I’m not exactly a young lad anymore.” He swigged the water down in loud gulps, then placed the empty cup in the sink.

His wife closed the refrigerator door and put a plastic container of butter spread beside the coffee maker near the counter microwave. “You are to me.” She inched a couple steps forward in front the double-basin sink, then wrapped her arms around his waist. “No matter the outward change, you’ll always be the handsome, teenage boy I watched play football in high school. Always.”

BJ studied Hazel’s face, her golden-brown eyes glimmering in a shower of sunlight piercing through the curtained window above the sink. “Thank you, Angel Eyes.” His lips quirked up in a smile and his heart warmed with gratitude for Hazel’s kind words, but he still had some explaining to do. If he was going to participate in the summer mentoring program, he usually told Hazel ahead of time, not wait to inform her when school lets out.

“So . . . why didn’t you tell me sooner?” his wife asked.

“Tell what?” BJ planted a smooch on her lips and smiled.

“BJ . . .” His wife pinned him with her hazel eyes, looking up at him. “You vowed to be honest with me, remember?”

BJ sighed and cocked his head. “I know.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me? You usually do.”

“Captain Sullivan phoned me a number of weeks ago—”

“Are you gonna answer my question?” Hazel said

“The boys are juvenile delinquents,” BJ confessed.

The finished bread popped up from the toaster.

“Juvenile delinquents? Oh, no! No way, Jose!” Hazel dropped her arms from her husband’s waist and turned her back toward him.

“Aw, come on, Hazel. It’ll only be for two months,” BJ said, heartbroken.

She took a plate from a dish rack, pinched the hot, crispy bread from the metal toaster, and tossed it on the plate. “I know, but you’ve gotta understand, BJ. I’ve dealt with smart-mouth, know-it-all kids for almost 200 days. After today, I’m on vacation, and I do not need two teenage criminals added to the quarrelsome duo we already have, and neither do I trust them. It’s way too much headache, honey.”

“Can’t you have a heart? I thought you loved children.” BJ’s wide forehead puckered.

“I do!” A muscle in Hazel’s jaw twitched. She drew a knife and slammed the silverware drawer.

Her husband puffed out his chest and crossed his arms. “Then what’s the problem?”

Hazel threw BJ a swift, frosty look, spreading butter on her toast. “You! The problem is you.”

“Me?” BJ looked appalled, pointing his large hands on his chest. He always thought that Hazel liked and supported his desire to do a good cause for the community, but now it seemed like she was totally against his committed involvement.

“Yes, you!” Hazel stuck the knife in the container of margarine and placed her bread on the plate for a moment. She sighed and massaged the cobwebs of stress from her temples, releasing a series of exhales. How could he not understand what she needed from him? She has always supported everything he’s ever done, but since he never said anything about the program until now, this summer she had hoped for something different. That he would spent more time with her and their kids than with his teenage mentees and fire crew of friends.

She tucked her auburn, chin-length hair behind an ear and gripped the countertop, staring outside at the treehouse in the backyard BJ built years ago for Lamar. “You act like you’re in the Boys Scouts of America. This community program is not part of your job as a fireman. It’s only charitable work, which you willingly volunteer to do. I mean, do you have to take part every summer?” She closed her eyes a second and slowly opened them, facing her husband with a weary look.

BJ stroked his bearded chin and ward off his eyes from his wife. He knew it would be this way, especially for convicts, but he questioned whether Hazel was pretending her support of him in the mentoring program to make him happy. This would be wrong of her to not be just as honest to him as she wanted him to be to her. He treated her well and encouraged her through her tough school days all year around, and she could spare two months of the summer? He pursed his lips with a shake of his head and turned around, strolling out of the kitchen.

“Honey, where are you going?” Hazel angled her head, knowing she hit a nerve. “BJ!” She slumped her shoulders and watched him race up the shortcut carpet stairs in the kitchen that lead to the second floor of the house. Hazel picked up her toast and tore a bit, shaking her head during the last of BJ’s heavy-footed steps. She switched off the coffee maker and added spoons of sugar from a canister to her pink Mother’s Day mug. Stirring her coffee with an overwhelmed sigh, she reflected on the confrontation she had with her husband.

Having juvenile delinquents in their home didn’t seem like a good idea, especially around a flexible teenage boy like Lamar, who had to have or do almost everything he’s seen by his peers. She couldn’t help but think they could be a bad influence on their own son, and maybe even Stephanie. That was the last thing she needed, not to mention, being the wife of a fireman was a frightening thing, the uncertainty of whether her beloved spouse would come out of a life-threatening fire alive. She loved BJ very much, but sometimes she felt he bit off more than he could chew, like his perfectionist sister Clara-Marie.

The president of the church’s outreach and a fireman, he was always on the go. If he wasn’t rushing to help put out a fire, he was taking phone calls in his office of people in the community who needed food and clothing assistance, and with this mentoring program on his shoulders, it only added a load of more stress and work. Their wedding anniversary was one of the only times he gave himself a break and relaxed. Aside from that, he’d give quick greetings and note-written presents on birthdays, making Hazel often feel like he was more committed to his fire department than his own family. However, convincing him of this was as hard as finding a polar bear in the Sahara Desert.

He was as stubborn as her mother-in-law, not willing to change his routines and rituals. Hazel took a careful sip from her mug and glanced at the time on the electric stove.

7:15 a.m.

The school bus would be coming their route in Crystal Grove House Parking soon, and she hoped the kids were up and at’em. At least, they ought to be. Today was their last day and they would have two weeks and a two months of summer vacation, before their dreaded return of a new school year.

“Stephanie! Lamar! Are y’all up yet?” Hazel shouted at the ceiling above.

“Yes, Mom! I’m making my bed,” her nine-year-old daughter said.

“What about your brother?” Hazel asked.

Stephanie’s sweet, little voice came through the ceiling again. “I don’t know. I think he’s still sleeping.”

Hazel rolled her eyes and put her mug down, when she overheard banging on a door and BJ’s muffled, drill sergeant voice, hustling their son out of bed. “Come on, Lamar! Get up! Let’s go, go, go!” her husband said. She chuckled and drank from her mug. Stephanie rushed down the carpet stairs into the kitchen, dressed in her green junior scout vest embellished with colorful button pins.

“Good Morning, Mom,” Stephanie said, smiling.

“Good Morning, Princess.” Hazel kissed Stephanie’s cheek and handed her daughter the Hello Kitty lunchbox.

“Is Daddy taking me to my Girls’ Scout meeting this afternoon?”

Hazel twitched her mouth. “Hmm, I don’t think so, sweetheart.”

Stephanie looked down with a hopeless sigh.

Hazel placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey, but apparently your father’s in the—”

“Boys Mentoring Program, I know. He does the same thing every summer,” Stephanie said drearily. She wilted and strolled through the entryway to the left of the kitchen into the family room, going from the living room to the front door of the house. Hazel’s heart broke at her daughter’s sad mood. There wasn’t a doubt that not only Hazel, but their children needed BJ to spent a little more time with them than he did too. If only she could get him to see that, it could change their whole family structure, making them closer and more unified than ever before.

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