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|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
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HE SHOULDN'T BE HERE.
A diner in some little tourist town in Michigan was no place for Grady Benson, but here he was. From the second he walked in the door, it was clear he'd made a mistake. Eyes found and followed him all the way to this table, conspicuously located at the center of the space.
A girl with glasses and wild, curly hair rushed over and set a glass of water in front of him.
If he had to guess, he'd say tourist season was over and this place was filled with locals. He didn't even catch the name of the diner when he walked in, but when Wild Hair handed him the menu, he read Hazel's Kitchen: Harbor Pointe, Michigan on the cover and figured that's where he was.
Where he definitely should not be.
So much for staying under the radar.
"Did you see the sign on your way in? It had all the specials written on it." Wild Hair wore a nametag that read Betsy. Now that he looked at her, she was cute, in a small-town, innocent sort of way. Not like the girls he was used to dating. They were anything but innocent.
"I didn't." He opened the menu and kept his head down, but the whispers started despite his best efforts to disappear. Apparently Harbor Pointe had noticed him.
"Can I just get a cheeseburger with everything, fries, and a chocolate milk shake?"
Betsy's eyes went wide. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
He glanced up at her, and she quickly swiped the menu out of his hand.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"What do you think I should eat?" he asked.
She looked away, visibly ruffled. "Grilled chicken with a big plate of roasted vegetables and a glass of water?" There was a question in her voice.
He pretended to think it over for a few seconds but shook his head. "I'll stick with the cheeseburger."
She scribbled something on her notepad, then scurried away like a mouse. Grady sat for a few long minutes, feeling too big for the chair she'd put him in. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened Twitter.
Grady Benson needs to learn the art of knowing when to quit.
Benson chokes again. Time to hang up the skis, buddy.
Kiss the Olympics good-bye, GB. You'll be lucky to land a job training little kids with a run like that. #crashandburn
He clicked the screen off and flicked it on the table with a clunk.
The race in Vermont would follow him all the way to Colorado with Twitter comments echoing in his head. He should've just gotten on a plane like everyone else. A solo road trip to clear his head suddenly seemed like a ridiculous idea.
Betsy returned with his milk shake, half of it in a tall glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, the other half still in the metal mixing container. He ate healthy most of the time — it was one of the few rules he actually followed — but he didn't feel like making wise choices right now.
He wanted to do whatever he wanted to do.
Grady glanced up as the door opened and a pretty blonde woman walked in. She wore ripped jeans rolled at the ankles, slouchy and a little too big for her, along with a gray T-shirt underneath an army-green jacket that cinched in at the waist. Like him, she looked out of place, like she didn't belong here, but judging by the welcome she received when she walked in the door, she absolutely did.
He couldn't tell, but it seemed the crowd at the front of the diner was congratulating her about something. Not his business. He went back to his milk shake, and a few seconds later his food arrived.
Betsy stood beside the table for an awkward beat. "Need anything else?" she finally asked.
"I'm good, I think," he said. "Thanks."
She nodded, then skittered away, leaving him to eat in peace. He took a bite of his burger and washed it down with a swig of the shake. While so many of the people around him still seemed on high alert that he was sitting there, several had gone back to their own meals, their own food, their own company.
"Hey, aren't you Grady Benson?"
Grady turned in the direction of the voice and found a booth of three guys, early twenties, off to his left. He swallowed his bite and gave them a nod.
"I remember watching you at the last Olympics, man," one of the guys said. "Tough loss."
"He didn't lose, you idiot; he came in fourth," another guy said.
He didn't need the reminder. The first guy was right. He'd lost. Fourth place had never been good enough, not when he was favored to win the gold. Not when he only had himself to blame.
"Don't beat yourself up, man. Hard to come back after something like that."
"I'm fine." Grady set his burger down.
The guy laughed. "Dude, you're done."
"Jimmy," one of the other guys warned.
Grady gritted his teeth.
Jimmy laughed again. "What? You saw what happened in Vermont. He didn't even finish. Washed-up at thirty, that's gotta suck."
He should stand up and walk away. He should pay the waitress, get in his SUV, and keep driving to Colorado, where he could get ready for the next race. He should ... but he didn't.
He'd been listening to commentators talk about his skiing, his messy technique, his disregard for the rules for years — but now they'd started using terms like washed-up and retirement, and whenever he heard them, something inside him snapped.
Grady turned toward the table. "You got a problem with me?"
Jimmy's expression turned smug. "I'm just not a fan, is all. You're not as great as you think you are."
Grady reminded himself he didn't know this guy, didn't care what he thought. And yet something about Jimmy was really getting under his skin. He looked around for Betsy so he could get his check and leave.
But Jimmy didn't let up. "We all watched the races the other day. Guy choked. He choked, man."
"Dude, shut up," his friend said.
"Supposed to be the fastest guy on the slopes, but my Aunt Frieda could've skied better than him. In her sleep."
"You don't even have an Aunt Frieda." The other guy sounded as irritated with his friend as Grady was. Grady's knuckles had gone white around the edge of the table.
"Heard he got his girlfriend pregnant and then tried to pay her to keep quiet. Not like he's got a squeaky-clean image to protect or anything."
That was it. How that lie had ever picked up steam, Grady didn't know, but he was sick of hearing it. Grady spun out of his chair and lunged at Jimmy, pulling him out of the booth by his jacket. A plate crashed to the floor, but Grady barely noticed.
Jimmy tried to fight him off, but he was several inches shorter and not half as strong as Grady. Still, he managed to squirm from Grady's grasp, falling into a table and knocking over more dishes.
The guy didn't know when to quit. He smirked at Grady. "I forgot you've got a temper, too. Is that why nobody wants you on the team?"
Who did this punk kid think he was? Grady didn't hold back as he hauled off and punched Jimmy square in the jaw. Jimmy's body shot backward into a wall of framed photos, which shattered when they hit the floor.
Grady stepped back to catch his breath when out of nowhere, Jimmy lunged toward him, catching him off guard and ramming Grady's body into the long counter on the other side of the diner. He was scrappy, Grady would give him that, but this kid didn't have nearly the fighting experience Grady did. He'd grown up fighting. He practically enjoyed it. He knew how to handle himself.
Grady wrestled him to the ground, his only focus to keep him there. Jimmy yanked himself from Grady's grasp and landed a punch across his left eye. Anger welled up inside him as the sting of pain zipped through his body. Grady's mind spun; long-buried grief demanded to be felt. He had Jimmy's comments to thank for that.
Washed-up at thirty.
Injuries beyond repair.
Embarrassed. Frustrated. Ashamed.
Someone grabbed him from behind and pulled him off Jimmy. Only then did Grady realize he'd unleashed the full force of his rage on the man, who now lay beneath him, bloody and moaning.
He shrugged from the grasp of the person who'd pulled him away and wiped his face on his sleeve. He scanned the diner and found pairs of eyes darting away from him. All but one. The blonde's. She stood off to the side, unmoving, watching him.
He looked away.
He didn't need to be judged by Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes.
Jimmy's friends pulled him to his feet as two officers in uniform yanked the front door open. Grady glanced at Betsy, who wouldn't meet his eyes. He should apologize. He'd made a huge mess of the place. Tables were overturned, at least one of them broken. The glass from the shattered picture frames crunched underneath his feet, and there was at least one place where they'd put a hole in the wall. Oh no, make it two.
He didn't even remember doing that.
Before he could say anything to the wild-haired waitress (or anyone else), one of the cops — an older man with a wrinkled face — grabbed him by the arm. "You'll have to come with me, son."
The other officer did the same to Jimmy, who immediately launched into his side of the story, spouting about how Grady "freaked out for no reason" and "I'm the victim here, man."
Grady let the older cop lead him through the small crowd, avoiding the stares of the people who'd just witnessed yet another of his colossal mistakes. The blonde stood near the door, arms crossed over her chest. She said nothing, but her eyes never left his as the officer pushed him through the door and into the street.
"Do I need to cuff you, or have you calmed down?" the cop asked.
"You don't need to cuff me," Grady said, wishing he'd never stopped in this ridiculous town in the first place. What was it that made him pull off at the Harbor Pointe exit? He wasn't particularly hungry — he was just tired of driving. He should've kept going. If only he could rewind the last hour.
Who was he kidding? He'd have to rewind a lot further back than that to undo the mess he'd made.
The second officer was shoving Jimmy into the back of a squad car parked at the curb.
"Look, Officer —" Grady turned toward the older man — "I'm sorry I lost my temper back there. I'll pay for the damages to the diner."
"I'm sure you will." He opened the other back door of the car and motioned for Grady to get in.
"There's really no need for this," Grady said. "I screwed up. I get it. But I'm fine now, and I'll make it right."
"Well, your version of 'making it right' might not be the judge's version of 'making it right.'" He eyed Grady. "There's still time for the cuffs."
Grady let out a stream of hot air, anger prickling the back of his neck as he leaned down and got into the car. Jimmy sat on the opposite side, sulking. At least he'd shut up. For now, anyway.
Through the windows of Hazel's Kitchen, Grady saw the people who'd witnessed the fight picking up overturned tables and chairs and sweeping broken plates into a dustpan. What a mess he'd made.
The main stretch of Harbor Pointe was made up of cotton candy–colored buildings neatly stacked together on either side of the street. As they drove, he saw a bakery, a flower shop, a couple more diners, antique stores. Old-fashioned lampposts shone on alternating sides of the street, casting a warm yellow hue over the brick road in front of them.
They drove in silence for several seconds until finally the older officer turned around and looked at Grady.
"I know you're not from here. What kind of beef could you possibly have with Jimmy?"
"He's crazy," Jimmy said.
"I'm not talking to you," the cop said.
"No beef. Just don't like people with smart mouths."
The cop laughed. "That I understand."
"It's not funny, Sheriff," Jimmy protested. "I'm pressing charges. Assault and battery. And I want a lawyer because I didn't do anything here." Jimmy was still riled up, and normally Grady would be too, but he'd been here before. He knew exactly what would happen next. He'd be arrested. Booked. Pay a fine and be on his way.
Though, sadly, this time, he wasn't even sure where he was on his way to.
Excerpted from "Just Let Go"
Copyright © 2018 Courtney Walsh.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
A charming story about discovering joy amidst life’s disappointments, Just Let Go is a delightful treat for Courtney Walsh’s growing audience.