a hanover falls novel
Eighteen months after the tragic Grove Street Fire took the life of her husband and four other heroic firefighters, Susan Marlowe thinks she's finally beginning to heal. But then she discovers that David carried a secret to his grave-a secret that changes everything she thought about their marriage. For the sake of their sons, can Susan forgive the unforgivable?
Deborah Raney's After All is a poignant story of betrayal, forgiveness, and love. If you've ever felt betrayed by someone you cared about, Raney has created a story that offers hope for your heart. After All portrays the freedom found through forgiveness, and the joy found in the courage to love again.
–– Ginny L. Yttrup, author of Words and Lost And Found
Susan stacked clean mugs in the cupboard above the snack counter in the shelter's commons area and dumped the dregs of this morning's coffee into the sink. The aroma, stale as it was, revived her a little.
It was after eight o'clock. Almost dark, and the first-shift volunteers still hadn't shown up. She blew out a sigh. She always sent out e-mail reminders to the shelter volunteers at the beginning of each week, but made it a point never to call anyone who didn't show. They didn't owe her anything, and it was their own time they were sacrificing. That was just one downside to running a homeless shelter that depended almost solely on volunteer staff.
"You're still here?" Charlie Branson rolled his wheelchair out of the men's sleeping quarters and gave her a look intended to make her feel guilty.
"We're shorthanded tonight."
Charlie was technically a resident of the shelter, a disabled Vietnam vet who'd been relocated to a shelter in Springfield after the original Grove Street shelter burned down. But once it was up and running at this new location, Susan had persuaded Charlie to return to the Falls, and offered him room and board in exchange for some light housekeeping duties and an unofficial title of assistant manager. He took the title very seriously, and the other clients respected his authority.
The shelter operated as overnight only, which served to keep the population to a manageable level. What David had called the "chronically homeless" usually migrated on to Springfield where there were full-time shelters. Here in the Falls, local churches took turns serving a light dinner each evening, and provided breakfast fixings for anyone who got out of bed in time. But the shelter was vacated at eight sharp every morning and they locked the facility during the day until Susan or Charlie opened the doors again at five p.m.
Charlie worked at the library downtown shelving books and doing odd jobs, but he was always back in time to open the shelter, and Susan had given him permission to be in the building during daytime hours.
Susan helped Charlie set out leftovers for breakfast and for those who'd be packing lunches tomorrow. Fortunately, they were under capacity this week, with eleven men and a family of five. Two of the guys who worked the night shift hadn't checked in yet, and the rest of the men were either in bed already or in the dayroom watching TV.
Charlie took the dishrag from her and finished wiping off the serving bar. "I've got everything under control here. You go home."
"I will in a few minutes. But I think I'll go catch up on some paperwork first." She could probably trust Charlie to keep things under control until the night shift showed up, but sure as she did that, something would go wrong. She unplugged the coffeemaker and checked the stove one more time, making sure everything was off.
The fire––a year and-a-half ago now––had made everyone extra cautious.
She settled in at her desk, but a minute later Charlie wheeled into the office holding up a bottle of red liquid––cheap wine, by the looks of the label.
"What on earth…?"
Charlie wore a triumphant smirk. "Found this behind the refrigerator."
"Well, it sure ain't mine." He looked offended.
"I know that. But you're sure it's not just––"
Before she could finish her sentence, Charlie had the lid off the bottle. He waved it under her nose.
"Whew… Okay, okay… It's the real deal." Great. Now she had to deal with it. This was the part of the job she hated.
"You know whose it is, of course."
She eyed him. "I have my suspicions."
He harrumphed. "You'd almost think that jerk wanted to get caught."
"Sorry." He waved a hand. "I'm just sayin'."
"I'll handle it." She took in a deep breath and blew it out.
Thankfully, Charlie wheeled out of the office and headed for the dayroom––no doubt to a spot where he could still listen in on the altercation that was sure to ensue.
She slid her chair back and went to find Earl Eland. If he failed the Breathalyzer test, it was three strikes. She couldn't afford to look the other way, but if Charlie hadn't been watching to see how she handled this, she would have quietly discarded the bottle and pretended she never saw it.
She didn't think Earl would give her any trouble if she asked him to leave––especially if he was drunk. But on the off chance he refused, she did not want to have to call the police. The Courier would love nothing more than a juicy story about trouble at the shelter.
Earl was in the dayroom, glued to a sitcom with the other residents. Being careful not to make eye contact with Charlie, Susan cleared her throat. "Earl? Could you come here for a minute?"
He pointed at himself and gave her a questioning look, as if he hadn't heard her.
She nodded and motioned for him to follow her. He eased out of the shabby recliner and shuffled to the office.
She closed the door and looked him in the eye. He didn't look drunk, but then she wasn't sure she'd ever seen him completely sober. She walked around her desk, picked up the wine bottle, and held it up.
His face gave away nothing.
She unlocked a desk drawer and retrieved a Breathalyzer kit. "I'm sorry, Earl, but I need to have you take this."
He looked away. "Rather not."
"Earl, you're putting me in a tough spot here. You know the rules."
"I know… I know."
"Is this yours?"
He looked directly into her eyes. "I can truthfully tell you that it's not." His impish half-grin gave him away.
She almost laughed. He was probably telling the truth––because he'd stolen the bottle. Or "borrowed" it from one of the lowlifes he hung out with. She replaced the Breathalyzer kit in the desk, closed the drawer, and locked it. She'd probably be sorry, but if he failed that test, she'd be forced to kick him out. She simply didn't have it in her tonight to deal with the fallout.
"Okay, Earl, here's the deal." She looked at him hard, hating how often this job made her sound condescending and snobbish. "I'm going to trust that you're technically telling me the truth. This bottle is going into a random Dumpster in an unidentified town on an undisclosed date"––that earned her another grin––"and you are going to recognize that you've been given a chance you probably didn't deserve, and you're going to appreciate it and not blow it because unlike God, I do not have an unlimited amount of grace to offer. Is that understood?"
"Understood." He grinned big enough to reveal the gaps where important teeth were missing.
"And I'll be mentioning this incident to your social worker and you'll have to work something out with her. Okay?"
He nodded, looking only slightly penitent. "I think I'm gonna hit the hay, if that's okay with you, Blondie."
"I think that's a very good idea." Before I punch your lights out. She'd let him get away with calling her "Blondie" before, so she couldn't very well say anything about it now. Though it hadn't sounded so disrespectful before.
Earl reached for the door just as the night shift volunteers came through.
Susan glanced at her watch. "You guys are early."
"And you're still here," Garrett Edmonds said. "When do you ever sleep?"
"The early shift didn't show."
"Susan! You should have called," Bryn said. "We would have come earlier."
"I know, but that's not what you signed up for."
Garrett and his wife, Bryn, were newlyweds who often volunteered for the overnight shift. Bryn had served many hours of community service for claiming responsibility for the fire that killed David, along with Bryn's first husband, Adam, and three others, including Garrett's first wife, who was also a firefighter. It had been a careless accident––Bryn had left a candle burning in the upstairs office.
But Susan had never blamed Bryn. That act of negligence had changed so many lives, but it could have happened to anyone. If anything, Susan blamed herself for not having had stricter rules in place.
"Well, we're here now." Bryn put her purse in a drawer of the file cabinet and shrugged out of her jacket. "So would you please go home and get some sleep?"
Susan gave her a grateful smile.
"Everything calm here tonight?" Garrett asked.
From Howard/Simon & Schuster
© 2012 Deborah Raney
Do not reproduce without permission.