“Brady? Is that you?”
Brady Bowers lifted his eyes from the can of soup he was holding when he heard his name. A wide, slow grin spread across his face as he saw the source. “Lexi!” He returned the can to the grocery store shelf to give her his full attention. “You’re back in town?”
Lexi nodded, smiling. She was so pretty. Her long, black hair hung to the middle of her back in soft curls, and her blue eyes were just as mesmerizing as the last time he saw them.
“Staying with your mom?” Brady asked.
A shadow passed over Lexi’s face, and the corners of her mouth drooped. “Mom passed away a little over a month ago.”
“Oh, God,” Brady faltered. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t hear about it.”
“It was a car accident,” Lexi explained. “It was all very sudden.”
“I’m so sorry,” he repeated.
Brady was beginning to ask another question when the pounding of little feet up the grocery aisle distracted him.
Two little girls, both with long, black ponytails swinging behind them stopped next to Lexi. “Can we have these?” The smaller girl held up a package of cookies.
Lexi nodded, and turned back to Brady, “These are my nieces—Taylor and Sidney.”
“Hello,” Brady grinned at the girls. “Nice to meet you. I’m Brady.”
“Hi,” Taylor responded. Sidney just giggled.
Turning to Lexi, he asked, “Michelle’s girls?”
Lexi nodded, her mouth pressed into a tight line.
“Do you know our mom?” Sidney asked.
“I used to,” Brady answered. “A long time ago. She was a couple grades behind me in school.”
“We don’t live with our mom,” Sidney volunteered. “We lived with Grandma instead, but now we live with Aunt Lexi.”
Brady couldn’t hide his surprise. Before he could respond, Lexi spoke to the girls, “We need milk. Go see if you can find a gallon.”
As the girls ran off, Brady said, “You took in your sister’s kids?”
“Yeah.” Lexi nodded. “I was the only one who could.”
Brady raked his fingers through his short, brown hair. “That must be a big change for them. Losing their Grandma and then moving to Birmingham.”
“Actually,” Lexi sighed softly, “I don’t live in Birmingham anymore. I moved back to Little River so the girls could have a little bit of constancy. Losing Mom has been so hard on them. They’re just now starting to be okay.”
Brady didn’t know what to say. He would never in a million years have imagined that Lexi Jones would ever move back to Little River. They had gone to school together from kindergarten until high school graduation. Brady had a crush on her the entire time, but she never gave him the time of day. It wasn’t until he ran into her about six months previously when she was visiting her mom during the summer that he had finally talked her into having a drink with him. They had enjoyed the date, but she had returned home to Birmingham the next day. Other than seeing each other on Facebook, he hadn’t spoken to Lexi since he dropped her off at her mom’s house after a couple of drinks. Now, here she stood in the soup aisle telling him she was back in Little River to stay.
“Where are you living?” Brady finally managed to ask.
“I actually bought a house in the old part of town . . . on Montgomery Street.”
“I know several people who have bought and renovated houses over there,” Brady said. “You remember Dave Daughtery?”
“Maybe,” Lexi looked unsure. “Red hair?”
“Yeah,” Brady nodded. “Graduated the year after us. He’s flipped three houses over there in the last couple of years. They sell fast.”
“My house hasn’t been renovated,” Lexi sighed. “It needs some work, but I got it for a really great price. We could have stayed in Mom’s house, but I just didn’t think I could.”
“I understand,” Brady said softly. “That would be hard.” He then added, “If you need any help with getting the new house in order, let me know. I’d be happy to give you a hand.”
“Really?” Lexi looked relieved. “That would be great. There are a few things I know need fixing, but I don’t have a clue how to do it myself or who to hire.”
Brady held a hand over his heart and feigned insult, “That’s hurtful.”
Lexi looked confused. “What?”
“Brady Bowers . . . general contractor.”
Lexi looked blankly at him.
“That’s what I do,” he laughed. “I remodel houses. Fix things. It’s my job.”
Lexi blushed and apologized, “I’m sorry. I totally forgot what you did for a living.” Squinting one eye, she asked, “Did I ever even know what you did for a living?”
Brady shrugged. “You have my number, right? Just call me when you want me to come over and see what needs done.”
“Okay,” Lexi nodded. “I totally will. You’re a godsend.”
Brady smiled, “I like to think I’m God’s gift, but you may be the first woman to agree with me.”
Lexi rolled her eyes, but laughed despite herself. “Well,” she said, “I’m really glad I ran into you.”
“Me, too,” Brady agreed. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. Let me know if I can do anything else to help you while you get settled.”
“I will.” Lexi gave her friend a quick hug, and said, “I better go find the girls.”
After they said goodbye and Lexi walked away, Brady pulled out his phone and texted his best friend, Titus. Life in Little River is looking up, Man.
Brady tossed a couple cans of soup into his cart and was walking toward the checkout area when his phone buzzed with his friend’s response. Yeah? How come?
Brady tapped out a reply with a huge grin on his face. Sexy Lexi just moved back to town, and guess who is helping her fix up her new house?
He paid for his groceries and was climbing into his truck when he got Titus’ reply. He laughed out loud as he read, I guess I owe you ten bucks now, huh? I should have put time limits on high school bets. You’re the man.
As Brady pulled onto the highway, his thoughts were consumed with Lexi Jones. He had bet Titus in high school that he would get Lexi to invite him over. Nevermind that it had taken him ten years to make good on the bet.
Brady turned up the radio and sang along. He had been having a string of bad luck for months, but it felt like things might finally be going to swing his way for a change.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.