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State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 10
Monday morning found Teddy doodling in his notebook during a boring history class. His notebook was full of drawings that ranged from cars to city skylines to city streets. However, Teddy realized he was drawing a person. A girl, as a matter a fact, and he blushed as he realized the girl he was drawing was sitting two rows down. Austin Ray Moore. She looked lovely, he thought, as he watched her scribble down the notes. Teddy needn’t worry he was missing important notes by staring at Austin. He was naturally intelligent- his report cards were always straight As and he never missed the honor roll.
            As the teacher droned on, Austin looked up and caught Teddy staring at her. She smiled at him and he grinned goofily back. She was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and Teddy thought she couldn’t look better. What was he doing torturing himself? She was with Bo; it was the biggest news this morning. But then again, why was she smiling at him? Who does that? It was clear he liked her; why did she have to torture him?
            A ball of paper hitting his desk interrupted his thoughts. As he unrolled the note, the bell for the end of class rang. The note, written in a girly script, said one word: Sorry. As he exited the room, Austin gave an apologetic smile but before Teddy could make his way over to her, Bo came and stole her away.
            “You look terrible,” said Hank, as he walked up to Teddy with Jonah at his side.
            “Come on, Hank, leave him alone. He really likes her, don’t ya?” said Jonah. Teddy shrugged and Hank laughed.
            “I liked her too! Why don’t you feel bad for me?” he asked, but he faltered near the end as Teddy’s face darkened.
            “Man, you got it bad. What are you gonna do?” asked Jonah. Teddy felt relief. His friends, his very best friends, understood what he was going through. He didn’t have to go through this alone.
            “I can’t outshine Bo, especially here. He’s the role model of the country boy’s life. No offense, Jonah, but I really hate him for being so darn perfect.”
            “None taken. I feel that way everyday. If you think Bo’s great, you should meet my older brothers. They’re superstars compared to this guy.”
            “At least you don’t have to see him except school, right?” asked Hank.
            “Don’t you remember? My Uncle Luke hired him to work, so I’ll see him everyday,” sighed Teddy. Just then, Bo was coming closer to their group, Austin nowhere in sight.
            “Teddy! Hey, I got a question for you,” he called.
            “Uh oh…” muttered Hank, as he and Jonah disappeared into the rushing crowd around them.
            “Look, this is gonna sound dumb, but I didn’t drive to the party the other night. I wasn’t the designated driver, if you get what I’m saying. Where exactly is your family’s land?” Teddy was so relieved. He gave instructions on which back roads to take to get out to his uncle’s farm and got to his next class before the bell. 
Personalization - please type your monogram in the order of first, Last, middleStStThe next morning found Grace ridding her yard of plastic solo cups before the sun rose. Then, she was getting the kids up for church. Then, driving to church and then to the diner to meet her family for brunch. Luke was nowhere to be seen. At brunch, her mother was quiet. Her father was making forced conversations. Teddy, Ryan and Annie were politely ignoring the situation, as were Luke and Annie’s parents. Only Sarah and Nick were happily eating their way through stacks of pancakes.
           State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 9
The next morning found Grace ridding her yard of plastic solo cups before the sun rose. Then, she was getting the kids up for church. Then, driving to church and then to the diner to meet her family for brunch. Luke was nowhere to be seen. At brunch, her mother was quiet. Her father was making forced conversations. Teddy, Ryan and Annie were politely ignoring the situation, as were Luke and Annie’s parents. Only Sarah and Nick were happily eating their way through stacks of pancakes.
            Halfway through brunch, Luke sauntered in.
            “Sorry ‘bout that,” he said. His eye was swollen shut and he hadn’t taken off his hat when he entered the building like he normally would.
            “Luke, I hate to bring this up now, in front of your children and mine, but where the hell have you been?” asked Ryan, his voice angry.
            “Wait, Teddy, can you take Sarah and Nick out to the car? Please?” begged Annie, “And maybe Grandma, Mrs. Taylor, and Mom-Mom, too, to help you out.”
            “Oh no,” Grace’s mom said, “I want to hear this myself.” 
“Me too, young man,” said his mother. Luke actually looked scared. As the kids were leaving, Grace heard Sarah ask, “What happened to Daddy’s face? He looks scary.” Luke apparently heard too because he flinched.
            “Go on, boy, start talking,” said Grace’s dad. It took a while for Luke to talk but when he did, his voice was small and tired sounding. His drawl was more pronounced then ever.
            “Look, ya’ll, I’m real sorry but I don’t have an explanation for why I abandoned my pregnant wife and two kids. I just was so mad, so I drank. Then, I drank some more. I woke up in a hayfield this morning with a black eye and a busted up chin. I didn’t even get to church,” he said.
            “Luke, that’s not how we handle things when we get mad. We talk it out. Now talk it out, I’m going to pay and take the kids home. Be safe, Grace,” said his father. The rest of the group left the restaurant leaving Grace alone with Luke.
            “Gracie,” he begged but she held up her hand.
            “Lucas Taylor, I am beyond upset right now. I waited up for hours for you. I wasn’t even mad at that point; I was worried sick about you. There’s the river and the highway and crazy cattle farmers with guns thinking you’re some thief. How dare you do this to me? You never act like this anymore, this is high school stuff.”
            “You’re absolutely right,” he said, and then quietly, “When can I come back?” He gently touched her hand.
            “Today. That is if you’re willing to stay home for once and play with your children. You’re too damn busy anymore, they don’t see you,” she said, but Luke knew that she included herself in that as well.
            As they were walking out to her truck, he spoke up again, “I found a way to be home more. I hired Bo Jackson last night as a farm boy.”
            “Oh thank God we don’t have a daughter that age.”
            “What’s wrong with dating farm boys?” asked Luke, and he winked. She pushed him away but laughed all the same. 
State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 8
Outside, Teddy was star struck. Austin knew everybody- or so it seemed. She hadn’t let go of his hand as she pulled him along, Jonah and Hank following in their wake. All of sudden, she let go of his hand.
            “Whose that?” she asked the group. She was pointing at a tall guy in jeans and a t-shirt with a baseball cap in the center of a large group of high school kids.
            “Bo,” mumbled Jonah. Bo was his older brother, a junior in high school. There was nothing wrong with Bo, really. He was star quarterback, good in school and generally nice to everybody. He harped on Jonah and his buddies only a little bit. He was also extremely good looking.
            “Excuse me,” said Austin, “I’ll be right back.” Then the three amazed freshmen watched as Austin walked up to the crowd and tapped a girl on the shoulder. The girl listened, giggled and whispered back. Austin smiled and strode back to the boys.
            “Bo is no good, Austin, I know he’s my brother,” said Jonah. He looked concerned.
            “He’s your brother? No wonder you’re so cute!” she smiled. After that Jonah put forth no more warnings about Bo. Bo noticed his brother then and started walking towards them. Austin smiled again.
            However, Teddy watched his Uncle Luke intercept Bo’s path. They watched as Bo shook his hand and engage in conversation. After a while, Luke left Bo and made his way back into the dark. He staggered slightly.
            Bo came up to his brother and punched him lightly on the shoulder. Jonah still flinched.
            “Guess what? I got a job here! For Mr. Taylor, helping him out, isn’t that awesome?” said Bo. Then he blushed as he noticed Austin. “Oh, hi. I didn’t notice you there.”
            “Hi,” said Austin, suddenly shy. Teddy’s heart dropped in his chest.
            “I’m Bo, Bo Jackson. You new here?” he asked her. It was like Teddy, Hank and Jonah didn’t exist anymore.
            “Austin Ray Moore, nice to meet you. I just moved here from Georgia,” she said.
            “Georgia? Wow, tell me what it was like there?” And the two were off walking into the darkness just like Teddy’s Uncle Luke had, taking along Teddy’s source of happiness. 
State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 7: Part 2

            “Stay away from him,” muttered Luke. The darkness of the night, plus the brim of Luke’s hat, cast a deep shadow on his face. His arms were crossed and he was breathing heavy.

            “Excuse me? Stay away from him? I didn’t date him!” she whispered vehemently. It took Luke three strides to get right in front of her. She could see the rage flashing in his eyes. His face was a cold mask.

            “You think that I would…that Ashley…that I could do…what?” he managed to get out without strangling his words too much. He stepped back and put his hands up in surprise. She was about to get in his face when a hand on her shoulder stopped her. She turned and saw her dad’s kind, old face. He had a warning in his eyes.

            “Sarah’s wondering where Mommy is, and there’s nothing Mom-mom or Pop can do for her” he said, talking quietly into Grace’s ear, “Relax, go get your girl. I’ll handle Luke.” She kissed her dad on the cheek and hurried to find her daughter.

            Sarah was sitting in the kitchen with Grace’s mom. Sarah looked dead on her feet. She was insisting, however, that she could stay up later and wasn’t tired at all.

            “Ready for bed, Sarah?” asked Grace. She could see the fight go out of her daughter. Just then, the kitchen door opened and May flew in. She raced to her friend’s side and whispered in her ear.

            “I know they’re here, I just met them,” said Grace. May had whispered the news about the Moore family but Grace was way ahead of her. She picked up Sarah and went to head up the stairs.

            “Whose here?” asked Grace’s mother. She looked curious and worried. May took Sarah from Grace’s arms and headed out of the kitchen. As the door swung closed, she called, “Fill her in and I’ll put Sarah May to bed.”

            Grace began to fill in her mother with the gossip when her father came in the kitchen carrying Nick. Grace looked at the clock; it was 9:45, way too late for little kids.

            “Let us put him to bed, okay?” said her dad. Grace nodded and headed back outside. 

State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 7

Grace had watched the truck pull up, letting the spunky red haired girl out. She had been focused on the exchange between the girl and her nephew and his friends. She was surprised when she heard her name being called and even more surprised when Luke stepped out in front of her and blocked her behind him. She peeked her head around and found herself staring at John Moore.

            He looked older but handsome all the same. He wore nice causal clothes and had filled out his frame since high school. He was holding his wife behind him the same way Grace was tucked behind Luke.

            “Grace Parker! Or Grace Taylor now…I saw the newspaper clippings when you two got married! Never would have guessed it! Luke Taylor and Grace Parker! This is quite a place you have here,” he said, his accent thicker than Grace remembered. Luke grinded his teeth and gave John a stiff nod.

            “Oh this is ridiculous, Luke, let me out. I’m not a child,” she whispered. Reluctantly, Luke lowered his arm to let her out. “John Moore? Well welcome back! I heard you moved back from Georgia, what the heck are you doing back?’

            “Business is booming and I missed my old town. Meet my wife, or re-meet her….” Said John, as his wife stepped out from behind him. Grace gasped; she couldn’t help it.

            “Ashley?” cried Luke, incredulous. He strode forward and pulled her into a hug.

            Ashley Smithson, the beautiful red-haired ex-girlfriend from Luke’s past. They had dated for most of junior year in high school and into the summer. After they broke up, Grace only knew she moved away after graduation. Grace couldn’t believe it. John and Ashley—married? If they were married, then was the spunky red head their daughter? Grace didn’t have to wait to find out; the girl was dragging Teddy right up to the crowd of adults.

            “Hi! Austin Moore, pleased to meet you,” she said. She smiled brightly at them all. She was gorgeous. No wonder Teddy looked thrilled that she hadn’t let go of his hand.

            “Wow you look like your mother,” murmured Luke. Grace rolled her eyes. He was down memory lane with Ashley Smithson.

            “Thank you, Mr. Taylor. Is that your kid?” she asked, pointing to Nick as he ran by the group.

            “Yes, he’s mine,” Luke said, proudly. He scooped Nick up as he ran by again. “Say ‘Hi’ to some friends of mine, okay, bud?”

            Nick smiled shyly, a first thought Grace, and said his hellos. As soon as Luke put him down, he was off running again.

            “I was just telling Teddy I knew all about him,” said Austin. She smiled brightly at him.

            “And I was wondering how…” Teddy finally spoke up. Annie got to her feet and joined the group.

            “Austin’s momma and Uncle Luke dated in high school, Teddy. They were classmates with Aunt Grace and Mr. Moore.”

 “In fact, Aunt Grace and Mr. Moore had a bit of fling too,” said Ryan, smirking. Luke’s smile vanished.

“And here we are, Grace, back at a bonfire!” joked John. He smiled slightly, looking slightly scared by Luke’s face.

            “When did you two get together?” asked Ryan, as Austin and Teddy went to join the throng of teenagers that passed by.

            “To be honest, I was pregnant with Austin way before graduation. We moved to Georgia and got John a job at my daddy’s car dealership,” said Ashley. The rest of the group took this information in. Teddy was born the summer before senior year, so Austin must be a year behind him.

            “We sent Austin early; she’s a freshmen actually. She’s bright for her age,” said John. He looked uncomfortable.

            Then Annie, always the saving grace in Grace’s life, spoke up, “Want something to eat or drink? Come on, we’ve got plenty.” The Moore’s were whisked away to the refreshments, leaving Luke and Grace alone.

State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 6 

            By the time Teddy and his parent’s showed up, the party was in full swing. Kids, teenagers, adults and the elderly were all enjoying a beautiful September evening. His parents were whisked away by their friends and it took Teddy a few awkward minutes to find Jonah and Hank.
            “Hey guys what’s going on?” he asked, shaking their hands. Hank pulled at the collar of his golf shirt and Jonah kicked his boots in the mud.
            “What’s wrong?” asked Teddy, looking concerned. His friends never acted like this.
            “Well, dude, we don’t know how to tell you this but your aunt…she’s really hot,” said Hank. He blushed and Jonah looked down at his feet.
            “That’s disgusting she’s pregnant.”
            “Well, you can’t blame us! I mean your mom is hot too,” pleaded Jonah.
            “Alright, alright that’s enough. I don’t mess with your momma, Jonah,” Teddy said sternly, but he knew they were just messing around with him.
            “Speaking of hot, did you meet the new girl yet?” Jonah asked his two friends. They both shook their heads. At that moment, headlights shone upon the spot they were standing. When the lights from the truck shut off, the boys watched as the door swung open and black boots hit the ground. Long legs in black jeans and a girl in a red flannel with dark red hair followed the boots. She smiled radiantly at them all. Her parents joined the fray of the party as the girl made her way over to the boys.
            “Hi, I’m Austin,” she said in a drawl that reminded Teddy of his Uncle Luke. She stuck out her hand and Hank was the first one to take it.
            “Hank Williams. Not junior though,” he said while he laughed. He loved the joke but no one else found it funny. The girl laughed politely and turned to Jonah.
            “Jon-na-nah,” he stuttered as he shook her hand. He was the most shy of the three.
            “And your Teddy Parker,” she said turning to Teddy. He looked dumbfounded. “Well ain’t I right?” and he nodded.
            “I’m sorry but how do you know who I am?” he asked her. He couldn’t get over her.
            “My pa went to high school with your aunt and uncle. He remembers when you were born. He knocked up my momma that same time.”
            “Who are your parents?” Teddy asked her, intrigued.
            “That’s them,” she pointed to a couple standing near his family. Grace looked worried and Luke had his arms crossed and a frown on his face. Austin’s dad hid Austin’s mother behind him and Teddy couldn’t make out what she looked like.
            “Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it!” Austin said and she grabbed Teddy’s hand and pulled him over. Her hand was like fire on his and he never wanted to let go. 

State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 5
Grace was exhausted. Nick refused to leave his father’s side all day and wouldn’t get a bath before the bonfire. Sarah threw a tantrum that she had to leave the party early to go to bed. Grace had cooked and cleaned all day. At four, she took Sarah to find the timber and logs for the fire. At five, she bathed an unwilling Nick and a grumpy Sarah. At six, she showered and got dressed.
            Luke found her at quarter after asleep on their bed. He hadn’t noticed her when he walked in to get a shower. In fact, he was about to leave their room when he heard her snore. He was half tempted to join her. These days, they didn’t get enough sleep. It was harvest season and he was running behind. He had been meaning to hire a helper for a few years until the kids were old enough.
            “Gracie,” he whispered gently nudging her awake. She bolted upward and looked around widely. Luke laughed and she swatted him with her hand.
            “I’m sorry but your hair is like a…and the way you sat up,” choked out Luke between his laughter.
            Grace rolled her eyes but giggled when she saw herself in the mirror. “Fair enough,” she agreed, “Let’s go start this party.”
            “Wait, wait, we have time. Cuddle with me,” he pleaded. He missed her; they hadn’t had a date night in ages. With the kids, and the chores and the work, they were just exhausted. She nestled into him and closed her eyes. They were relaxed only for a moment when she spoke again.
            “Are we lame?” she asked.
            “Not at all! We got us a party soon.”
            “Oh yeah since bonfires always go our way…” and they both laughed.
            “I’d still beat him to a pulp if he so much as looked at you,” said Luke. If you didn’t know him, Grace thought, you might think he was only joking. However, Luke was dead serious. He wasn’t possessive but he was protective of her and his children. His whole family knew that, especially his little sister Ella. Grace hesitated before she spoke again.
            “The Moore family moved back here again, actually just this week.” She could feel his grip around her tighten but after a moment it loosened up. He stroked her inflated belly and let out a long, slow breath.
            “It was a long time ago. Relax, Gracie, I won’t hurt a fly tonight. Let’s go find those kids and get this party started.”
            But they didn’t have to look very far. Their bedroom door flew open and Nick and Sarah raced in. Their faces were alight with the kind of joy they got around holidays. Their bad moods of the day had vanished. They jumped on the bed and Nick pounced on his dad. Sarah snuggled up next to Grace and felt the bump of her stomach.
            “When’s the baby gonna come?” she asked.
            “Going to, Sarah,” corrected Luke, “and its coming real soon.” Grace rolled her eyes. They had told her the exact date but she wasn’t good with time yet. She kept thinking it was the next day or the next week. Nick jumped off the bed as quickly as he jumped in it.
            “Let’s go!” His bright blue eyes shone with excitement. A lot of the families coming had kindergartners as well. Grace grabbed a blanket and a flashlight for the kids and their family of four headed out to light the night. 
State of Grace: The Sequel 
Chapter 4

The next day found Teddy pacing his bedroom room early in the morning. His dad didn’t need him until about nine out in the fields. Teddy was in a dilemma. Who to invite to this bonfire? It was a small town and Teddy had a handful of good friends. Except, they were outsiders like him. His best friend, Hank, lived in the rich section of town and couldn’t drive a tractor if he tried. His other best friend, Jonah, was one of eight and had no desire to live on a farm anymore. Teddy hung out with some of the farm kids near him; he could fit in if he tried. He understood everything they discussed; he just didn’t enjoy it. He dreamed of wearing a suit to work, taking the subway everywhere, and living in an apartment. He could work in an office, even a cubicle…. he didn’t care. He needed to be free of the open fields and wide, blue sky.
            He had texted Jonah and Hank yesterday and gave him the Taylor’s address. Wow, he thought, two whole friends. A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts.  Teddy’s mom entered the room.
            Annie Parker was gorgeous. She was a petite dark haired beauty who could do work boots or high heels, a ratty old t-shirt or a designer gown.
            “Aunt Grace called me this morning,” she said softly, sitting on his neatly made bed. “She wanted me to let you know that word got out about the bonfire and the whole town is coming, or so it seems.”
            “The whole town?” asked Teddy, his palms sweating.
            “Essentially. She said you don’t have to come but she’d really like it if you did. It’s the first of the season and you know how fun they can be.”
            “I guess I’ll go…are you and Dad coming?”
            “We were planning on it but if you don’t want us to come, we won’t,” said his mom.
            “No! Of course you guys can go, I was just wondering,” he said quickly.
            “Good,” and she kissed him on the cheek, “Now, about your birthday.”
            Teddy would be turning 15 in November, two months away, but his mother was an early planner. Last year, he got his first gun. It was useful when the kids at school invited him to go to the range but he couldn’t stomach the thought of hunting. His dad, uncle, and grandpa went all the time and they stopped asking him after his second trip, and his third time throwing up.
            “Mom, I don’t want a party I’m going to be 15,” he sighed.
            “I wasn’t offering you a party! I wanted to know if you wanted to go somewhere special with us and maybe a friend or two? How about the city? Or a different state?” she asked. She seemed nervous.
            “You mean like a road trip?”
            “Well, your Dad said that’s a lame term but I think it’s a perfect way to describe it.”
            “Hey, what does Dad know about cool anyway?” Teddy smiled as his mom laughed. Maybe his family wasn’t so bad. He grabbed his boots and headed outside to join his dad in the yard. Yeah, he thought, it wasn’t so bad. 
State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 3
It was Friday afternoon and Nick and Sarah were contently eating their ice cream and swinging their feet off the high bench at the Dairy Queen. Teddy and Grace were watching them and talking.
            “So you don’t like it here?” she asked him. He looked surprised.
            “I love Alabama and I love this town but I just don’t belong, you know?”
            “Have you told your parents this?” she asked. She skipped any formalities with him.
            “Yeah,” Teddy started, “Because they would understand.” He scoffed and kicked the ground.
            “You never know…” Grace began but Teddy cut her off.
            “They live on a farm! Always have, and we always will. We’re farmers not city people. The city…it’s never beckoned to them.” Grace sighed. It wasn’t her job to tell him the truth about his parents. They had gotten married and ran off to New York City and came back pregnant with Teddy. It was in all their blood but Teddy didn’t know that story.
            “You should try talking to them. Maybe it’ll get better,” she said as she attempted to clean up her kid’s faces.
            “What will get better?” He asked. He was clearly in another world, “High school?”
            “Teddy, I went through high school too,” said Grace, gently. She was growing more and more concerned for her nephew.
            “You had May and Uncle Luke with you though!” Grace could feel his jealousy. Grace laughed.
            “Uncle Luke and I despised each other in high school.” Grace was imagining all that Luke had put her through back then. There was always an attraction between them; it just wasn’t always love. He was their farm boy; her daddy hired him when Ryan and Annie ran off. He had irritated Grace so much she couldn’t stand him meanwhile her parents adored him. Perhaps they had always seen the chemistry between Grace and Luke but up until the end of their junior year of high school, Grace despised him and he, her. Grace thought about all the times she had gotten right under the brim of his hat to yell at him and how he’d push her right back. Then her thoughts changed to him calling her ‘darlin’ even before they were together and how he kissed her in the pouring rain once…
            “Um…Aunt Grace? You still there?” Teddy asked, his face showing his embarrassment. He also looked skeptical.
            “Yes, sweetie, I’m sorry. I know you don’t believe me but you’d be surprised at how much you don’t know about us adults in the Parker family.”
            “I highly doubt my parents have done anything rebellious, or cool…or remarkably interesting in their entire lives,” scoffed Teddy.
            “Like I said, you’d be surprised. Now, are you coming to my bonfire tomorrow? You best be bringing some of your friends,” she said. Teddy nodded his assent and she smiled. “Let’s get these two monsters home.”
            Both Nick and Sarah were still covered in ice cream. 
State of Grace: The Sequel
Chapter 2
(This part was not added to the beginning of the last post. My apologies.) 

The next day, Luke was gone before Grace woke up. Somehow still exhausted, she got up and began to make breakfast. Her two kids slowly trekked down into the kitchen by following the smell of bacon, eggs and sausage. This was one of Grace’s favorite moments of the day.  Her sleepy kids would sit patiently at her table, not talking but smiling at their mother. Then just as Grace laid down the food, Luke would enter the kitchen quietly and watch his family. It was also one of his favorite moments of the day. He never failed to take them by surprise. Usually Sarah would shout, “Daddy!” and they would all smile at him. Grace would give him a kiss and their breakfast would commence.