Read An Excerpt
NEVER LET YOU GO
Lexi and Grant had met in high school, became pregnant with Molly as soon as they graduated, and did the shotgun thing. But those drugs got in the way of their happily-ever-after. There were Grant’s drugs and then her sister’s murder, and misery came at Lexi like an unavoidable, slow-motion car wreck. Two years after the wedding, she followed Grant out of their little one-room bungalow, clutching a wailing toddler while her meth-cooking husband tried to explain why he couldn’t stick around anymore.
To this day she couldn’t recall what he said.
What she did remember was how quickly it became clear that she was the only sane Grüggen living and breathing in their little town. Her father’s descent into mental illness was more like a free fall, and her mother created a tidy little fantasy world of her own to deny what was happening to their picture-perfect family. Alice ran away, taking up life as a traveling food critic.
Lexi had not forgiven her mother for abandoning her father, no more than she had forgiven Grant for abandoning Molly. If either departure had been about her, Lexi would have put it all behind her. She would have handled it, or at least turned her back on the offense. But her father, Barrett Grüggen, didn’t deserve his wife’s neglect. And Molly . . . Grant might have thought the little girl would forget him. Lexi knew the truth firsthand, though: no daughter ever, ever forgot her need for her daddy, even if she couldn’t remember his face.
Because Lexi was such a daughter, she believed Alice should never have turned her back on Barrett, no matter how much it hurt to see him change. He’d never done anything to deserve that. Alice’s pain wasn’t his fault.
Lexi tried to hold them all together, for a few months. She told herself repeatedly that her failure was not worth revisiting. Eventually she gave up. There was only so much a daughter—a wife, a mother—could do or be. So she put all her eggs into a basket called Molly and faithfully visited her father down in Riverbend.
That she had coped at all, even in this unremarkable, my-life-is-still-limping-along kind of way, was due in large part to Gina. And Jesus. Gina and Jesus. Lexi thought the two went together like Ben and Jerry, like Fred and Ginger.
“Lexi and Jesus” didn’t roll off the tongue as nicely, but at the time, she figured that was to be expected. Gina introduced Jesus to her the day Barrett was given permanent residency status at the mental hospital, the day Alice listed the home Lexi grew up in, the day Lexi had to admit she’d failed. At everything. Jesus didn’t mind that, Gina said. He was all about second and third and fourth and fifth chances.
Lexi needed another chance. Because she loved Molly and Barrett so much.
It was this same love—Lexi was convinced of it—that today spun her away from Alice and Grant and propelled her into the kitchen, where she dumped her load of dirty dishes into the bus bin so carelessly that one of the plates chipped. She took a deep breath, almost not caring if Chuck noticed.
How dare they come here? Here, where she worked, on the busiest night of the week, where enough witnesses would recognize Grant to keep the gossip mills churning out stories for months?
How dare they?
She decided to let Simone seat them. Lexi headed back to take care of the customer who’d been waiting.
It was impossible not to see them from the corner of her eye when she reentered the dining room. Lexi felt the skin of her neck warm up. Those faces, eyeing her like a specimen in a jar, were the portrait of gall.
“Get you something to drink?” she muttered to the man in booth eleven, fishing in her pocket for the notepad. She glanced back to Alice and Grant, who seemed to be deciding whether to seat themselves. Simone was headed in their direction.
“I’ll have me a Blue Devil,” the man said.
The voice. The drink. Lexi’s gaze snapped to him.