Thirty-One and a Half Regrets

By: Denise Grover Swank

Rose Gardner Mystery #4

Chapter One

I had no idea how my life had gotten so complicated.

Sitting in an overstuffed chair in Jonah Pruitt’s living room, I stared out the window as a steady rain beaded on the glass and rolled down the pane. The weather reflected my mood. Dark and gloomy.

“How often do you think of Joe?”

I swiveled my head to look at Jonah, my friend and now therapist. He offered me a warm smile. When I found out a few weeks ago that he’d been a practicing psychologist in Texas, I asked him to consider listening to my problems. We had been meeting twice a week ever since. I had offered to pay him, but he’d responded by saying that because I’d saved his life, he would forever be the one in my debt.

Shifting my gaze to my lap, I picked at a loose thread in the hem of my shirt. “Not as often as I did a couple of weeks ago. Working helps, but the weather has been horrible this past week. I’ve had more free time, which means I’ve been seeing a lot of Violet.”

“How are things going with your sister?”

Now wasn’t that the million dollar question. When Joe walked out of my life a month ago, Violet had been more than eager to step in and coddle me. But I’d found it difficult to step back into our childhood roles—Violet as the protector and me as the helpless victim. I was tired of playing the victim, which meant Violet didn’t know how to relate to me anymore. But more importantly, the night before Joe broke up with me, Violet had confessed that she’d let half the town think I’d stolen her inheritance from our mother’s estate and used it to open our gardening nursery, forcing Violet to work for me without pay. In truth, I’d financed the nursery and allowed her to be co-owner with little investment of her own. Worst yet, she’d let people think badly of me to help hide her own indiscretion—an affair with Henryetta’s mayor, Brody MacIntosh.

I’d forgiven her, but I couldn’t forget.

“Things are still rough. We don’t see each other much except for what little interaction we have at the nursery. Until the rainy weather hit, I was away a lot working on landscaping jobs with Bruce Wayne.”

“Does she seem contrite?”

I shook my head, looking at the window again. “She says she is, but she still sneaks calls to Brody.”

Jonah sat up straighter. “What do her phone calls with Brody have to do with it?”

Closing my eyes, I heaved a sigh. Jonah knew about Violet’s affair with Brody and how her soon-to-be ex-husband Mike had threatened to take their children away if he found evidence of it. But he didn’t know everything.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“No.” While I knew I could trust Jonah with my secrets, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell him the real reason for my breakup with Joe. It was too horrible to think about, let alone talk about: Joe’s father had blackmailed him into running for a state senate seat by producing false evidence that not only had Mike bribed county officials to grant him favors in his construction business, but that I had hired Daniel Crocker to kill my mother, and that Violet had been conducting an affair with Brody. Only Joe didn’t know the evidence his father had on Violet was real. And while I knew that Mike and I were innocent and could clear our names, my sister would pay for her crimes with her children. She’d told me that she and Brody wouldn’t see each other until things died down, but she talked to him in hushed tones on the phone multiple times a day.

Some days, I resented her. I resented how she’d pretended to be so perfect all these years when really she was as flawed as the rest of us. Her mistake had been colossal, and yet she only seemed to regret getting caught.

But I kept my mouth shut, because while I knew that Jonah would never tell a soul, he’d know. He’d look at her differently and treat her differently, and Violet would figure it out. I couldn’t deal with the fallout of that.

But most of all, I kept quiet to protect myself. Resentment ran like a river through my soul, deep and ugly. Jonah was a man of God, and what would he think of me if he knew that?

“I just think she should feel more guilt over having an affair is all.”

“You’re not responsible for other people’s feelings of guilt or lack thereof, Rose. Even Violet’s. You can only be responsible for yourself.”

“I know. I’m just not sure who I am anymore. The person I was before Joe is so different from the person I am now.”

“Rose, you aren’t Eliza Doolittle and Joe wasn’t your Henry Higgins.” His toothpaste-commercial smile reminded me why he was such a success in televangelical circles. “Sure, he played a part in your transformation, but you have to take ownership too.” He paused. “Your past doesn’t have to control your future. You are in charge of your future. Not your mother. Not Joe. You.”