Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods


“Then explain,” Will said, sitting down and regarding him patiently.

Mack knew that as a shrink, Will was perfectly capable of sitting there exactly like that for the rest of the evening, waiting him out. “Lost my job,” he said eventually. “I’m not taking it well.”

Neither of his friends reacted with shock, which proved that they, too, had seen the handwriting on the wall.

“Why would you be expected to take it well?” Jake asked. “Nobody likes being fired. I’m really sorry, man.”

Mack sighed at the sympathy. It was exactly what he’d been hoping to avoid, but now that he couldn’t, it felt good knowing that his friends were in his corner.

“I loved that stupid job,” he told them mournfully. “I was good at it.”

“And you’ll find one that’s even better,” Will said. “Like you said, you’re good.”

“Newspapers are a dying breed,” Mack lamented, taking another sip of scotch. “If I stay in the business, I’ll just be prolonging the inevitable.”

“Now, that’s a cheery attitude,” Jake said, this time without a hint of sympathy. Taking his cue from Will, he’d apparently gone into booster mode, as well. “Can I tag along on your first job interview?”

“Bite me,” Mack retorted, smiling despite his sour mood.

“You have any more of that scotch?” Will asked.

“Why?”

“If you’re going to sit here and get drunk, we’re not going to let you do it alone,” Will insisted. He found two glasses, then poured the drinks.

Jake took a sip and grimaced. “I hate this stuff. Tastes like medicine. Do you have any beer?”

“Of course,” Mack said. “Why do I suddenly feel as if I should be playing host? I’m supposed to be sulking.”

“Was the sulking helping?” Will asked.

Mack shrugged. “Not that much.”

“Then leave it to us to cheer you up,” Will said. “Or would you rather we call Susie? I’m sure she’d be happy to come over if she knew what was going on.”

“Absolutely not,” Mack said at once. “I don’t want her to know about this.”

Both men regarded him incredulously.

“That’s crazy,” Jake said. “You can’t keep a secret like this, not in Chesapeake Shores.”

“I want to have something new lined up before I see her,” Mack insisted. “I will not have her pitying me or hovering over me. Besides, she’s been predicting something like this for a long time now and, in her own less than subtle way, trying to get me to plan for it. I’m not up for the gloating.”

“Gloating?” Will shook his head. “Do you really think that would be Susie’s response?”

“Probably not, but even gloating would be better than pity.”

“Has it occurred to you that Susie has a pretty level head on her shoulders? She could help,” Jake said. “I think she’d want to.”

“No,” Mack said flatly.

“How are you planning to avoid her?” Will asked reasonably. “You two have practically been joined at the hip for a very long time. If you check your messages, I’m quite sure you’ll find that several of them are from her. I’m sure she’s already worried. She’s called both Jake and me to see if we know what’s going on.”

“You could let her know I’m okay,” Mack suggested. “Tell her I had to go out of town or something.”

Jake immediately shook his head. “I don’t think so, pal. The way I hear it, Mick is inviting you to the family Thanksgiving next week. Turn him down at your peril.”

“Why?” Mack asked, feeling panicked by the thought of his news coming out amid all those well-meaning O’Briens. “I mean, why me? Why this year? I’ve never been invited before.”

“Bree’s theory is that Mick’s decided it’s time for you and Susie to get off the dime and move this relationship forward,” Jake said, obviously quoting his wife. “Bree thought Mick ought to wait for Jeff to do it, but you know how Mick loves trumping his brother on anything. Sadly, you also know what Mick’s like when he starts matchmaking. His tactics have as much finesse as a bulldozer.”

Mack moaned. “Can I get out of this? Maybe I really will go out of town.”

Will chuckled. “Bad idea. I don’t see how you can get out of this, at least not without offending Susie, which I don’t think you want to do.”

“If she knew what was going on, she’d understand,” Mack said, a note of desperation in his voice.

“But you don’t want to tell her,” Jake reminded him. “You’re pretty much between a rock and a hard place here.”

It was a catch-22, all right. If Mick officially issued that invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, Mack would have to be there. And while everyone else was counting their blessings, he could be praying that his news didn’t leak out with a serving of humble pie for dessert.

Or he could bite the bullet, call Susie and fill her in. Maybe she wouldn’t hover over him as if there’d been a death in his family. He supposed in some ways losing a job could rank right up there with the loss of someone important, but he didn’t need pity or well-meant advice right now. He didn’t know what he did need, but it wasn’t that.

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