alexis morgan



Alexis Morgan
© 2023.

alexis morgan

Each step that took Tripp farther away from Abby required far more energy than he had right then. But as tempting as it was to turn around and head right back to the sanctuary of her kitchen, he forced himself to keep moving forward. Even so, he drifted to a stop just shy of his front porch. It struck him as crazy—and maybe a tad cowardly—that he felt any hesitation at all about entering his own residence.

Of course, the reason for that had nothing to do with the cottage itself. Instead, it had everything to do with the two people waiting for him inside. He loved his parents. He really did. It was their judgmental attitudes about his life choices he didn't much appreciate. But if they wanted to move beyond the hurt feelings and anger, the three of them were going to have to find some way to get past all of that.

If that was even possible. Yes, he wanted to make peace with them, but not if the price was him giving up the life he'd built for himself here in Snowberry Creek. Honesty had him admitting that the problem was likely his fault. There was so much of his life he'd never found a way to share with them. Maybe he'd been wrong to try to protect them from some of the long term effects that his time on active duty had had on their son. Regardless, that didn't excuse them for believing that they could order him around as if he were still a kid instead of a grown man.

It was definitely time for some frank talk and laying out some ground rules they would all have to follow from this point forward.

There were details about his missions he couldn't legally share with civilians even if he wanted to, but similar scenes were shown on the news all the time. There were even some pretty realistic movies that portrayed what the life of a combat soldier was like. Whether fact or fiction, the specifics might differ, but the effects on the men and women who wore their country's uniforms were the same.

He stepped up on the porch and then hesitated, trying to decide if he should knock or simply walk on in. His father saved him having to choose by opening the door. He looked every bit as grim as Tripp felt.

"We've been expecting you."

Tripp nodded. "I figured. It's time we have a talk. One that's long overdue."

His father looked past him toward the other house. "Is Abby coming?"

"No, I thought it best to leave her out of it this time."

His father had the grace to look a bit chagrined. "Yeah, she's probably had enough of the Blackston family drama for one day."

He wasn't wrong about that. Tripp had, too, but unfortunately the next episode was about to start. Again, it seemed weird to feel like a guest in his own home. To get past that, he headed into the small kitchen. "I'm going to have a beer. Does anyone else want one?"

His father nodded just as his mother stepped out of the bedroom. "Thank you, but I think I'd rather have a cup of tea."

"Have a seat, Mom. I'll make it for you."

All too quickly, the three of them were seated in the living room. His parents took the loveseat while he parked his backside on one of the chairs at the small dropleaf table. "Why don't I start?"

Instead of launching right in, he sipped his beer and contemplated where best to begin. "When I came home from the army after my last enlistment was up, I tried to draw a sharp line between my life in the military and my return to civilian life. That included not sharing much about what my time in the service entailed. I wanted to focus on what came next."

He'd been staring down at the floor, but he forced his gaze back up to look at his parents. "The thing is, those kinds of experiences and memories aren't that easy to leave behind. They have a way of dogging your footsteps no matter how hard you try to ignore them. And after being gone for most of twenty years, my hometown was more like a place I'd visited on vacation several times. I sort of knew my way around, but it wasn't really home anymore. The people there had moved on with their lives just like I had, and it was hard to find any common ground. As time went on, it got harder and harder to pretend to be the kid you used to know and obviously wanted back again."

His mother gasped as if his words hurt her. "Tripp, we never…"

But his father stopped her from finishing that statement. "No, he's right. I'm afraid that's exactly what we did. Maybe not in so many words, but the effect was the same. We both kept asking him when he was going to pick up the pieces of the life we had always envisioned for him and get back on track."

The tightness in Tripp's chest eased just a little. Maybe they could get through this after all. "Look I always understood why you felt that way. I know you just wanted me to be happy. The problem was I had no idea what that looked like. I just knew I wasn't finding it back there."

It took a long drink of beer to clear the way for more words to pour out. "I realized I needed to go someplace where I could maybe find some peace of mind and a renewed sense of purpose. When I was stationed here in the Pacific Northwest, I fell in love with the whole area. I also knew there were some veterans here I'd served with at some point. Men and women who understood what I was going through because they'd been there, done that, too. It felt odd to be going to college with mostly kids, but finishing my degree became a primary mission for me. I needed something to work toward to help keep my focus on the future instead of the past."

His mother nodded slowly, maybe to encourage him to continue. He swallowed hard and kept going. "I originally rented this cottage from Abby's aunt. She let me do work around the place, partly because she needed the help and partly because I needed to feel useful."

For the first time, he felt like smiling. "She was quite the lady. I was really sad when she passed away. Anyway, she left everything to Abby, including Zeke. That's how the two of us met. In a way, we were both starting over when we moved here. I'd left the army behind to return to school, and she'd gone through an ugly divorce. In fact, when Abby moved into the house, she wasn't sure if she was going to stay or just get it ready to sell."

"What made her decide to stay?"

Tripp huffed a small laugh. "I'd like to think that I played some role in that decision, but this town has a way of claiming people's hearts. Once you start making connections with a bunch of folks, it starts feeling like home. The chief of police and I served together back in the day. Pastor Jack served in the military, too. His own struggles led him to start the veterans group. We have members from every war since Vietnam. The older guys really stepped up to help the rest of us. In a similar way, three elderly friends of Abby's aunt took her under their wing."

He chuckled again. "One of those ladies shows up at my door periodically with one of her 'special' tuna fish casseroles. Evidently Jean thinks I need someone to fuss over me. I could go on and on, but it's enough to say that I belong here now. I'm sorry if that hurts you, but I'm hoping you will come to accept my decision to build my future here with Abby."

There was nothing but silence for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, his mother spoke. "I won't lie, Tripp. I would really love to have you living closer to us. But having said that, all we've ever wanted was for you to be happy. If that means living here in Snowberry Creek, so be it."

Tripp hated the tears that streamed down her face, but he had no doubt that she meant every word she'd just said. His father had his arm wrapped around her shoulders, holding her in close to his side.

"I'm sorry I made you cry, Mom. I never meant to hurt you."

She shook her head and then swiped at her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt. "And we're sorry about whatever we said or did that made you feel that you couldn't just be yourself with us. We love you, Tripp, we're proud of the man you've become."

The weight of guilt he'd been carrying on his shoulders slowly faded away. "Thanks, Mom."

His father looked markedly more relaxed. "So tell us more about your plans. If I understood Abby correctly, you want to become a counselor specializing in helping veterans."

Then he nudged his wife. "And I suspect your mom will want to hear a lot more about your wedding plans."

Tripp bet she did. "We haven't gotten around to making plans. For one thing, I still haven't officially proposed to her yet. She said she wants a lot of razzle dazzle when I do, so I've got to figure out what that entails. At least she did assure me she'll be saying yes."

His mother sat up straighter. "Of course she will. Abby strikes me as an intelligent young woman, too smart to let a catch like you slip through her fingers."

"Not that you're prejudiced, Mom."

"I'm just telling it like it is."

He checked the time. "Before I forget, Abby invited us all over for dinner tonight. She has a casserole in the fridge, or we can order in. Whatever sounds good. I should give her a heads-up about what sounds good."

His dad cleared his throat. "It's not one of that lady's tuna casseroles, is it?"


"Then a casserole sounds fine to me."

"I'll let her know."

Feeling better than he had for ages, Tripp pulled out his phone to text Abby. Hey, there. Good news! We talked things out, and we're on much better footing. We'll be over for dinner soon. Be prepared for less than subtle questions about wedding plans.

His phone pinged a few seconds later. I hear Las Vegas is nice this time of year. 😀