alexis morgan



Alexis Morgan
© 2023.


After leaving Abby, Tripp returned to his place and paused on his front porch to breathe in the fresh evening air. He loved the damp, cool feel of a Pacific Northwest evening, so different from the weather back where he'd grown up. Too bad the peaceful moment would end the second he stepped inside the small cottage that had been his home since moving to Snowberry Creek.

He loved its cozy space, but he loved the woman he'd just left so much more. He loved his parents, too, but they'd definitely crossed the line today. First by deciding to follow him home with no warning. Second by refusing to understand that his home was now here in Snowberry Creek. It as like they thought he still a teenager and subject to their rules. And finally, by not accepting what he'd made clear to them on multiple occasions that Abby McCree was far more than his landlady. That they'd also been less than welcoming to his friends who had approached them at the restaurant was just the icing on the cake.

What was going on with them? Because he needed to find out why they were acting this way—and somehow put a stop to it without destroying their relationship completely.

The front door swung open behind him, and his mother stepped out onto the porch. "There you are. We wondered where you'd gone."

"That should have been obvious, Mom. I was with Abby. Even if you couldn't figure that out, you could've called or texted me if you needed something."

Rather than respond to that, she switched gears and changed the subject. "When we planned to surprise you, our father and I didn't realize you didn't even have a guest room. That means we're going to have to stay at a motel. We've made reservations for two adjoining rooms to make it easier for the three of us to hang out together."

Without giving him a change to respond, she kept right on talking with an edgy smile on her face. "At least none of us have unpacked since we got here, so that makes it easy. We can leave at any time."

He briefly considered if it would be better to let his parents stay somewhere else and give them all some breathing room. However, that wasn't going to fix the problem. His gut said that it could create a divide between them they might not ever be able to bridge.

It was time to take a stand. "No, Mom, I have a better idea. You and Dad can stay here in my place while I crash over at the main house. Abby has the room and won't mind."

Her lips pursed in disapproval. "I'm sorry, but I think we would all be more comfortable at the motel. There's no reason to inconvenience your"—she hesitated as if reconsidering what she'd been about to say before continuing—"friend."

His tenuous hold on his temper slipped just enough to put some serious growl in his voice. "Okay, here's another thought. I'll drive you to a hotel if that's what you want. But before we leave, you'll need to change your reservations to one closer to the airport. That will make it easier for you to catch the next flight back home."

Then to make sure she understood he meant business, he dangled his keys in front of her. "I'll be waiting in the truck. Lock the door on your way out."

He'd only take a handful of steps toward the truck when she caught up with him. "No, Tripp. We'll be glad to stay here."

That obviously wasn't true, and it was tempting to refuse the peace offering. But the truth was they were all tired, and he didn't want to hurt them anymore than he already had. He was also pretty sure Abby would think he should give them another chance. They were his parents, after all, and he loved them.

"Okay, Mom. I'll grab my bag and head over to the house. It's been a long day, and a full night's sleep will do us all some good. We'll talk in the morning. Text me when you're up and about, and I'll make breakfast for everyone over at Abby's. I obviously haven't had a chance to restock fresh groceries and certainly wasn't expecting company. Abby won't mind if I raid her fridge. It will have to be early, though. I have a meeting in the morning that I don't want to miss."

He suspected that he already had plans didn't make her happy. "Okay, I'll let your father know to cancel the reservations. I'll text you in the morning."

Then she lifted her arms and took a hesitant step forward as if unsure of her welcome. As frustrated as he was, he couldn't bring himself to refuse his mother a simple hug. He gave her a quick squeeze and stepped back. "Love you, Mom. See you in the morning."

"We love you, too."

"I know."

The trouble was that they loved an image of Tripp that no longer reflected the man he was now. That hurt more than he could say. As she disappeared back into his house, he knew it was going to be one of those nights where he and Zeke would be out walking patrol until Tripp ran out of energy and outdistanced his regrets.


In the time that they'd known each other, Abby and Tripp had been in some pretty tough situations. She would go so far as describing several incidents as both dangerous and life-threatening. Having said that, she'd never seen him on edge like this. He was a highly trained Special Forces soldier and normally handled any crisis with icy resolve.

That definitely wasn't the case this morning.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

He shook his head as he flipped the bacon in her favorite cast iron skillet. "Nope. I've got this. They'll be here for breakfast any second."

She remained seated at the table, sipping her coffee with one hand and stroking Zeke's soft fur with the other. Normally the dog would be mooching for extra snacks, but this morning he was keeping his focus on his best friend. She wasn't the only one picking up on Tripp's edgy mood.

"I wasn't talking about cooking breakfast, Tripp. I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help with your parents."

He sent her a bleak look over his shoulder. "Honestly, I don't know if there's anything that can be done with them. They're trying to treat me as if I'm still a teenager instead of a grown man. They actually booked adjoining rooms at a hotel for the three of us last night, which was idiotic on so many levels. For starters, I'm not a kid who needs to know his mommy and daddy are right next door."

With that, he pushed the lever down on the toaster hard enough she was afraid it would snap off. Zeke whined at the same time Abby sighed. "Would it be better if I left while you feed them? I'm sure Bridey could use some help this morning."

The panic in his eyes put an end to that thought. "Can I at least set the table for you?"

He froze briefly, his shoulders slumped. "Good idea."

She stopped at the sink to wash her hands since she'd been petting Zeke. If it had been just her and Tripp, she wouldn't have bothered. But since she had no idea how his parents felt about such things, she decided to err on the side of caution. A movement outside the kitchen window caught her attention. "Showtime. Your folks are on the way. Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah, even though you probably already know Zeke and I didn't get much rest last night. He wanted to patrol with me. Don't worry, though. I've operated in worse situations on far less sleep."

As he said that, Tripp loaded the bacon onto a small platter and set it on the table while she made quick work of setting the table and getting out the various condiments that they'd need. By the time his parents reached the door, everything was pretty much ready.

Zeke was already standing ready to greet their guests. Abby took the precaution of holding onto his collar when she opened the door. "Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Blackston. Come on in. Your timing is perfect."

She stepped back out of their way. "I should also introduce you to my roommate. This is Zeke. He's very gentle and well behaved. He also loves to meet new people. Having said that, I can make sure he stays in his bed in the other room while we eat."

Mrs. Blackston sidled past Zeke, but her husband stopped to introduce himself. After letting Zeke sniff his fingers, Mr. Blackston grinned. "Don't banish him on our account. I'm guessing he's got a lot of mastiff in him."

"He's a rescue dog, so we don't know much about his history, but the vet agrees that he's mostly mastiff." She covered Zeke's ears and whispered, "We don't know what the other half is, but it's probably the reason he's not as big as a lot of male mastiffs are. He's sensitive about that, so we don't like to talk about it in front of him."

Mr. Blackston smiled again as he stroked Zeke's head. "He's a handsome fellow, regardless. I'm guessing he makes a good guard dog."

"He does." Abby tugged Zeke farther away from the door. "Please come in and have a seat at the table."

Before doing that, Mrs. Blackston joined her son at the front of the stove. "You didn't have to go to all of this trouble, Tripp, but it all looks delicious. Is there anything I can do to help?"

He handed her a bowl heaped with scrambled eggs. "You can set this on the table for me. I'll get everything else."

In short order, they were all seated at the table and passing bowls and platters. Mr. Blackston set the last bowl down and picked up his fork. "Son, this is quite the spread. And Ms. McCree, thank you for your hospitality."

"Please call me Abby, and you're welcome."

Tripp slipped a piece of bacon to Zeke. "I told Mom last night that I have a meeting this morning. I was wondering if you'd like to tag along with me, Dad."

"What kind of meeting? Is this the one that Owen fellow mentioned?"

"Yeah, he'll be there, too." Tripp stirred cream and sugar into his coffee. "You also met Pastor Jack at the restaurant. He and Owen are both former military like me. Jack formed a veterans support group not long after he became the pastor at a local non-denominational church here in town."

Mrs. Blackston looked concerned. "Are you talking about some kind of mental health program?"

Tripp shrugged his shoulders. "That's part of it. Jack offers counseling to anyone who needs it, but the group does a lot of different things. We have outreach programs to help homeless vets, but we also volunteer as a group to help with all kinds of projects here in town."

He nodded in Abby's direction. "Abby and one of our members organized a 5K run awhile back, and we helped with that. She's a member of the city council, and they put on the first Snowberry Creek Arts and Crafts Fair. We helped with the setup and the teardown afterward. When the city decorates for the holidays, we get involved with that as well."

His mother frowned. "Sounds like a lot of work. I'm surprised you can do all of that and keep up with your classes."

"I make time for the important things. Those of us who served in the various branches of the military are used to being part of a team with shared goals. Studies show that transitioning back to civilian life is easier if veterans find a way to serve. I know it's helped me. There are a lot of military bases in the general area, so it's not surprising that our group has grown substantially in numbers. We have members from every war since Vietnam."

Abby wasn't surprised that everyone went silent and concentrated on eating their breakfast. Tripp had given his parents a lot to think about. When his father's plate was empty, he was looking pretty serious. "I think I'd like to come to the meeting with you."

Tripp looked happier than he had at any point since his parents had followed him home. "That's great, Dad. The business part of the meeting won't last too long. After that, we hang around for another couple of hours. There is always someone looking for a chess partner. Several of them would give you quite a run for your money. I'd bet you'd enjoy that."

"It's a deal."

Tripp checked the time. "We'll have to jet out of here to get there on time. Abs, I'm sorry to leave you with this mess, but I'll take care of it when I get back."

His mother waved him off. "You and Dad go have fun. I'll take care of the kitchen."

Tripp kissed her on the cheek on his way toward the door. "Abby, I'm going to take Zeke, too, if that's okay. He has a lot of friends at the meeting, and I get a lot of complaints when he doesn't show up."

"That's fine."

As soon as they were out of the door, Mrs. Blackston started gathering up the dishes while Abby loaded the dishwasher. With both of them working, it didn't take long to restore order to the kitchen. Mrs. Blackston wiped her hands dry and hung the dishtowel back on the rack.

"Well, I should go back over to Tripp's place so you can get on with your day."

The idea of leaving the woman sitting alone in a strange place didn't sit right with Abby. She might regret what she was about to do, but she'd feel guilty if she didn't.

"Actually, I was going to go to the local quilting shop this morning. I'm looking for fabrics for a baby quilt I want to make. I tend to dither when I'm surrounded by so many choices and could use a second opinion if you'd like to come with me. Afterward, I'd also like to stop at the coffee shop in town. My friend owns it, and she is very, very pregnant. I've been helping out several days a week, and I'm going to take over all of her shifts soon and after the baby comes."

After only a brief hesitation, Mrs. Blackston offered Abby a small smile. "If you're sure you don't mind, I think I'd like to join you. I do a little quilting myself, and I always love checking out a new shop. Just don't let me get carried away. My husband might not appreciate having to buy another suitcase to lug a bunch of fabric back home."

Abby laughed. "Don't worry, I have a suitcase you can borrow."

"Then by all means, let's go!" Mrs. Blackston rubbed her hands together with greedy glee. "I'll get my purse and meet you by the car in ten minutes."