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Deuce (The Jacksons Book 2)

Deuce (The Jacksons Book 2)


Second chance or a new beginning? Dr. Deuce Jackson had loved Kelsey Channer all his life, but she left him and married his former friend, Dale Julius. But now, Kelsey was back and determined to prove that she has changed for the better and that a relationship between them would last. Deuce couldn’t help thinking that it may be too little too late since things were getting interesting with his text pal Dani. He had met Dani on a Christian dating site, and he genuinely thought that they had something worth exploring. He just needed to meet her face to face, and then they would take their cyber love into the real world. Except things weren’t happening so smoothly. First, he lost contact with Dani, and then Kelsey stepped up her campaign to win him back.

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Chapter One

Some people are meant to be together, and I now know that you and I are destined to be….
Deuce read the first part of the message incredulously.
I was wrong and stupid to let us go. Throwing away fourteen years of memories was foolish. Please can we meet?
Deuce reread the message and fought the urge to reply with a terse, no. He wouldn’t entertain her; he would not respond at all.
Kelsey was writing as if they had just broken up, and she didn't have three years and marriage to another man under her belt.
So she was back. Good for her. And she was single and ready to mingle. As usual, he was her pit stop on the journey to finding herself.
This is how it has always been for them. They would break up, usually because of Kelsey’s desire to see other people, and he would hope for her to come to her senses, and they would pick up where they left off when she claimed that she did.
When they had broken up the last time, Kelsey had sent him a similar text, except it had read, some people are meant to be together, and I now feel within with my heart that it's not you and me. Dale Julius is the man that God has ordained for me, I hope you understand.
Now all of a sudden, she wanted to give their relationship a try again. He felt resentful, but he also had a perversely happy feeling. She was no longer with Dale Julius, the other DJ.
He looked at the message again and wonder if he should respond. How's Dale, your husband? Well, ex-husband, the one that God was supposed to have found for you?
However, that would be showing some sort of emotion, and he did not want to reveal any of himself to Kelsey Channer Julius—freshly divorced from his best friend from med school.
He knew the marriage would not have worked between Kelsey and Dale. They had two vastly different personalities.
Dale was a quiet, and unassuming fellow, and Kelsey was an extreme extrovert who couldn’t sit still, and always up for an adventure. Dale was not equipped to put up with Kelsey's dramatics. Only someone who loved her would put up with that. Someone who knew her from they were kids and loved her despite all of her quirks.
He was that person, had been that person, he corrected in his head, but he didn't know if he still felt that way anymore. What he felt for Kelsey now was more along the lines of apathy and indifference. Still, she was not in his vicinity at the moment, and her bid to win him back had just started.
He had been in this position before, where he thought he had well and truly moved on, but she wheedled her way back in his life.
He got into his car, feeling thankful that for the next couple of months, and the foreseeable future, he would be working regular hours. His stint at the children's hospital was over, and he was back to his practice where he set his own hours.
His phone pinged, and he saw that another message had come in. He picked it up before starting his car. He wondered if it was a new text from Kelsey. He had no doubt that the message that he received this morning was just the start of her campaign to woo him back.
He wouldn’t be surprised if she sent him a picture of her face with a tear in one eye. He wished there was some way to inoculate himself against her, because without fail, he would fall for her 'sorry I didn't mean it' story.

When he checked the message it wasn’t a picture from Kelsey, it was a message from his text pal, Dani.
She had taken her clients on tour the day before.
He imagined that she was a tour guide of some sort, but he did not ask.
It was a picture of the sunset. A beautiful swirl of pink and red swaths surrounded the dying sun as it sunk into the sea.
He texted her back. Where is this?
Her reply: Crimson Hills, Trelawny. It's a beautiful place. We picked up a passenger, still trying to figure out what to do with her.
Interesting, Deuce texted back. Who is this passenger?
A woman running from something. Dani texted back. She won't give us any information, had a cut on her forehead. We have a doctor looking her over. Are you a doctor, DJ?
Deuce grinned. For all their going back and forth in the past year and a half, they were both careful not to give away specifics about each other.
Asking him if he was a doctor was a blatant violation of their unspoken rule— don’t get too personal.
He didn't know if he was ready to meet her or if he even wanted to. His time with Kelsey had hit him hard, and he was still wary of getting close to anyone.
Technically, he knew that not all women were like Kelsey. He knew that it was not all drama all the time and that he didn’t have to work so hard to protect himself from all the women he came into contact with.
He contemplated Dani's question. Are you a doctor, DJ?
Maybe it was time they changed the rules and found out more specific things about each other, including their professions.
Maybe she was the one who would break his Kelsey spell. The spell where he had found himself embroiled in thinking that Kelsey was the only one for him.
His fingers hovered over the phone for a while as he contemplated this next step. He typed in, yes.
And then, he typed, what do you do?
The die had been cast; he was moving forward.


Danica looked at the text and grinned. He was a doctor. It meant that they had moved along their relationship. Her next question should be what type of doctor, but maybe she was pushing too hard.
She texted back her response. My official job title is recreation director, but I have too much fun to be calling this a job. My clients are delightful, and they are always up for an adventure.
"Why are you stopping?" Stella panted. "Is it that text-pal of yours again?"
Danica looked at Stella, a smile playing about her mouth. Stella was now her regular hiking partner and lunch buddy.
She was looking at Danica curiously as she paused to stretch her legs on a tree stump.
Danica had now been working at Golden Acres for three months, and already she felt as if Stella was a good friend. She reminded Danica of her cousin, Elsa. They had similar personalities.
They had clicked from the moment that they had set eyes on each other when she went to Stella’s office to be briefed about her new position.
They had lunch together that day and had lunch together ever since. They even lived beside each other in the staff accommodation.
"Yup," Danica said. "I just found out that he's a doctor."
"Well then that narrows it somewhat," Stella mused. "Did he say, medical doctor specifically or just doctor? If he said medical doctor, then I could research all the medical doctors with the initials, DJ in Jamaica. Then we'll know who this DJ is or at least narrow it down and then we call his number and see if he answers."
"Why do you want to know so badly?" Danica asked Stella. "You are making me anxious to know too."
"As you should be," Stella started stretching her arms, "no matter what you say it is not normal to be talking to someone for a year and some months and not know how they look or even how they sound on the phone. Looks are important, it gives you context and the sound of a voice too, I can bet his voice is a high soprano."
Danica laughed out loud. “I don’t think so. I think it is deep, and smooth like honey.”
"Good grief," Stella muttered. "Next, you'll say he writes as if he is handsome."
“I was thinking it,” Danica huffed, “but it sounds too ridiculous to say out loud. I am glad you said it and not me.”
“I am sure if this guy knew how you look, he would have found you already." Stella murmured. "Therefore, I am going to assume that he really doesn't want to be seen. He is desperate to stay hidden."
Danica grinned. "So you think I'm pretty, huh? You think DJ will take one look at me and swoon?”
Stella laughed. “I would be lying if I say no. You know, you remind me of Mona from the comedy Half and Half. You don’t look exactly like her, your hair is lighter and wavier and your shape, superb.” Stella looked her over. “I think it’s your shape that will make this DJ go hmmm. I hear the young people are calling it slim-thick.”
“Oh stop,” Danica grinned. “Aren’t you just four years older than I am, what do you mean the young people?”
“I think like an older person, I grew up with my grandparents.” Stella grinned. “Anyway, we digress. You have the booty I am killing myself with squats in the gym to get. I pointed out your butt to Lee Wiley and told him that’s exactly how I want mine to look, and he said it is achievable.”
“You showed Lee Wiley my butt?” Danica widened her eyes. “You two stood by and admired my butt?
“Yep, you were in jeans, and sauntering past the gym, we both agreed that some women would go under the knife to have your perky posterior, and he bragged that he could sculpt my body to look the same.”
Danica looked around at her butt and then giggled. “I hated it when I was younger, I thought it was too big.”
“We always hate some part of us that others envy.” Stella mused. “The food here is so good. If only it could go straight to my butt and not my thighs, I would be so happy. However, the women in my family gain weight firstly in the thighs and then our neck or arms never in the right places.”
"The food is really good," Danica said dreamily. "I am constantly tempted by the ice cream. I wish I didn’t have that to deal with. Why do they have a twenty-four hours ice cream shop opened for senior citizens?"
"Because somebody requested it, and what the residents want they get, no questions asked. You know Ace and Quade aim to please.” Stella sighed. “They should restrict staff from visiting these places, and then I wouldn't have to exercise."
"They do restrict staff," Danica gave her the side-eye. "You are the one with the staff vouchers. How often do you write one for yourself?"
"Too often," Stella grinned. “As the gatekeeper to the cream I get giddy with power. Do you want a voucher for this evening?”
"No." Danica looked out at the view. “I said I was tempted, but I can’t give in, if I eat ice cream my skin breaks out into welts and my face puffs up like a frog, it’s not pretty.”
“It’s hard to imagine your skin looking crappy, it looks so perfect now," Stella said. “Like honey gold.”
“That's because I now know what gives me flare-ups, and I have to keep stress to a minimum. You should have seen me as a teenager.” Danica grimaced. “I looked awful. They called me floral face in high school.
“Floral Face?” Stella chuckled.
“Yes,” Danica nodded, “and I wore braces. So some days I was Floral Face and other days Metal Mouth. One day I was in the store, and I overheard one of my mother's customers saying to the other, ‘her mother is gorgeous, her father is good looking what happened to her, mixed children are usually pretty, does she have a skin disease or something’?”
“Really,” Stella gasped. “Mixed children are not always pretty, and I can’t believe some people, they have no tact or diplomacy and say things without thinking.”
“I have gotten that same train of thought for most of my teenage life.” Danica shrugged, “it didn’t help that my parents are above average in the looks department. My mother, in particular, is swoon-worthy, and she has never had a pimple in her life. Well, not any that lingered.”
“And you are an only child?” Stella asked.
“Only child. Only girl. To a woman who still gets catcalls in the street. Random strangers offer to marry her, boys come to my house just to see her, she’s the one I got the shape from.”
Danica swiped away from her conversation with DJ and held up a picture of her mom for Stella to see.
“Your mother is lovely,” Stella said, “and young!”
“Yep,” Danica nodded, “she married my dad on her eighteenth birthday, and she had me when she was nineteen.”
“Some people start their families early, don't they?” Stella grimaced. “At eighteen, I was torn between going to college or start working to earn some money. I ended up doing both, I had no time for relationships, much less marriage.”
“My mother’s adoptive family, all married young.” Danica shrugged, “it’s a thing with them, my grandmother constantly bemoans the fact that I am an old maid.”
Stella chuckled. “She needs to get with the times.”
"Because my mother grew up with that mindset when I was at the grand old age of eighteen, she started to panic that I had never had a boyfriend or had any prospects.
“I didn’t even have a date to go to my senior prom, so my mom paid one of the church elders’ son to take me. It was supposed to be a secret, but he told me when we got there, and he found somebody else to his liking. I demanded a refund for my mother. The idiot gave me back the money and told me sorry, he wasn't that into me.”
“Oh, honey,” Stella looked at her sympathetically. “Is that why you are content to be speaking to strangers on a dating site because you can’t get over your dismal teen years? Do you still think you are floral face, Danica, with no date to the prom?”
“No!” Danica gasped. “It’s not that. And I looked good for the prom. I used a lot of makeup to cover up my spots. Of course, the day after that, I had breakouts on top of my unhealed breakouts because I was allergic to the make-up, but I know I looked good that night. My date just liked someone else who went to my school.”
“So help me to understand,” Stella folded her arms and looked at Danica, “why would a lady who looks like you, with such a pretty face and a great bod’ have to resort to Christian Singles several years after high school?”
“There was an incident a couple years ago.” Danica looked away from Stella. “I don’t want to talk about it. Needless to say, because of that incident I stopped dating. I actually went to a therapist.”
“A couple of dates in my past would send me to therapy.” Stella murmured.
Danica chuckled. "My therapist said I was ready to get back into the dating world and suggested that I should join the site. There was no pressure, there were no pictures, and I would just talk to people who shared the same interests as me.
“I didn’t have to meet them if I didn’t want to, I could tell them as much or as little about myself as I wanted. That appealed to me.”
“Ah,” Stella nodded, “it is all making sense to me now. So Christian Singles is really for people who are damaged and in hiding.”
“No,” Danica said in exasperation. “Not everyone is damaged or even hiding. I think this started because people couldn’t find someone in their church to date, and they wanted to talk to people who had the same value system. In the dating world, it's a mixed bag. With Christian Singles, you can only be referred by someone with a verifiable affiliation to a church body, so I guess that simplifies matters somewhat. Even though I am well aware that people in the church can be as bad or even worse than people outside.”
“So, this DJ person, you read his profile and instantly liked him?” Stella was skeptical, it dripped from her every word.
“Yes,” Danica nodded, “basically.”
“Let me see his profile,” Stella said, “and I’ll tell you if he is a fraud. I have the fraud sniffer right here.” She pointed to her nose. “I have narrowly missed trouble because of this sniffer. It never lets me down.”
“Well, his profile is not public anymore.” Danica smiled. “We went private a couple months ago, when we exchanged numbers, but I saved it. I liked it. While I was scrolling through, it caught my eye. I contacted him and said hi, and we took off from there.”
She held out the phone to Stella, who took the phone from her gingerly. She had her critic face on. She started reading out loud:
Hi, my name is DJ. I am a fun-loving guy who is pretty laid back. I live in the tropics, Jamaica to be exact. My friends would probably describe me as cool and calm. My feathers are not easily ruffled. I am very big on family. Mine is tightly knit. I love children and animals. My job is pretty demanding. However, I find time for swimming, tennis, and hiking, and I dabble in music. Of all my hobbies, I find that hiking clears my mind and gives me some quiet time to put things in perspective. I love spicy foods, and I am always up for a cooking challenge. This year, I am trying to perfect some Indian recipes. If you know how to cook with garam masala. Hit me up, and we can chat.
Stella stopped reading and looked at her. “What’s garam masala?”
“The English translation is hot spices.” Danica grinned. “Doesn’t he sound perfect?”
“Humph.” Stella handed the phone back to her. “He doesn’t sound too bad. What made you choose him?”
“He said he was from Jamaica; I have been coming back here since I was five. I have a little obsession with everything Jamaican. He is big on family, and he loves to hike, all his hobbies are basically my hobbies, and I adore Indian food. It felt right when I read his profile.”
“I see,” Stella said. “He does sound legit. I wish you had a picture though.”
Danica sighed. “I guess I can’t argue that out of you.”
She yawned widely and then looked at Stella. “Sorry, I still feel a bit sleepy. I think I’m going to forego our obligatory lap around the field.”
“Ah yes, I heard about your adventure yesterday evening with the girl who hopped a ride on the tour bus.” Stella nodded. “I am sure Lily or Quade will be calling me about it this morning as soon as I sit at my desk, but unlike you, I slept like a baby last night. I think I have a lap or two left in me.”
Stella headed off to the field, and Danica sat on one of the spectator benches, “I might convince myself to join you.”
She glanced at her phone. She could do with one more text from DJ. She hadn't gotten a lot of rest last night after she had unwittingly picked up a passenger when she had taken her group on tour.
One of her clients, a sweet octogenarian who had lived in the hills of Trelawny, had begged her to swing by a place called Crimson Hill so she could see how the place had changed.
On their way back from Crimson Hill, they made a rest-stop at Falmouth, the capital of the parish. That must have been the place where they picked up their stowaway.
They only found out that she was on board when they arrived at Golden Acres. She had walked out of the bus with a busted lip and a cut on her forehead. The top of her clothes had been bloody from the head wound. Apparently, she had crouched down at the back of the bus and had hidden quite well behind the picnic gear.
She had shocked everyone with her presence when they had alighted the transport.
The stowaway said her name was Grace, and she was hiding from something so terrible she couldn't tell them.
It was a good thing Ace Jackson was still on call that evening. He had looked over Grace, dressed her wounds, and put her up in one of the staff accommodations. She hoped Grace would find refuge here, and this would be the beginning of a better life for her. She figured that eventually, Grace would be willing to tell her story, she just needed time.
Danica looked over at the slowly rising sun in the distance. She loved this time of the day; everything was so fresh and new.
She checked her phone for the affirmation of the day, which was faithfully sent to her every morning by her friend Miranda from college, who was now a clinical psychologist.
She read it and laughed out loud. It was so accurate.
She usually sent it off to DJ because she shared her daily affirmations with him.
Stella ran past her and panted.
“That’s one lap, lazybones! What are you laughing about?”
Danica grinned. “You know what the affirmation of the day is today?”
Stella didn’t slow down to hear her. “You are going to have to catch me and tell me!”
Danica got up and ran beside her. “Today’s affirmation says: I am starting over, a new pattern of thoughts, a new wave of emotions, a new connection to the world and those around me. I am now ready to accept a happy and fulfilling relationship.”
Stella stopped running. “You sent that to DJ?”
“Yup.” Danica nodded, “and I meant it too.”
"I just hope he is not some kook," Stella muttered before she started running again.

Chapter Two

I am now ready to accept a happy and fulfilling relationship. Deuce read the affirmation that Dani had sent him. Did she mean it, or was this just one of those everyday ones that she usually sent?
She had put a smiling emoji beside it and a thumbs up, which meant it was personal, it was almost as if she was reading his mind.
He wanted to meet Dani. It was time he met her face-to-face, and they could finally explore something that he thought could last.
He didn't want to be waiting around when Kelsey stepped up her campaign for them to get back together. He wanted a happy and fulfilling relationship this time around, and he wouldn't get that from Kelsey. Deep down he knew that he and Kelsey were never going to work.
They had tried so many times at having a relationship, but it always imploded.
This time he wouldn't be the pathetic sod that Kelsey could wrap around her finger. He had Dani in his life, and he wanted to start over as that affirmation said.
Six months ago, Dani had told him she was in Jamaica. She had come at a time when he was filling in for his friend at the children's hospital, and he had no time to pursue a romantic interest, at least that is what he told himself.
That was then, and this was now. He now had time. He was back in regular practice, which meant he had time for himself, and he didn't want Kelsey on his mind.
He texted Dani, I am going to take this one to heart, we’ll talk about it later, have a nice day.
It was time to head to work. He had a packed schedule.
The complex where he worked was pragmatically called the Medical Complex. More than fourteen doctors with different specialties had their offices there.
There was a pharmacy, a lab, and a gift shop. He shared his building with an obstetrician, Amanda ‘Mandy’ Mohan. They also shared a receptionist. Their building was a bright and cheerful space. Deuce loved pediatrics because he enjoyed working with little people.
Beside their building was Dr. Cleveland Parks’, a dentist, his upstairs area was empty, Cleveland was actively looking for someone to split the rent with. Deuce parked beside Cleveland’s Ferrari. Their designated parking space was beside each other, but it always gave Deuce a little jolt of anxiety to pull up beside the expensive car. Once Cleveland had gotten a scratch on the thing, and it had cost him an arm and a leg to fix.
"Hey man," Cleveland called to him. He was just getting out of his car too.
"Hey, Cleve," Deuce nodded, "What's up?"
"I'm getting company," Cleveland said. "Didn't you hear? Dale Julius is going to join me here. I am going to have an orthodontist. We are a perfect fit, don't you think? Like you and Mandy."
Deuce let the news sink in. Everyone knew about his history with Kelsey and Kelsey's unexpected marriage to Dale Julius and their subsequent divorce.
Cleveland probably expected him to spontaneously combust at the news that his supposed love-rival was going to be next door.
"Dale will make an excellent addition to your practice," Deuce said, "you've always wanted a complimentary specialty, you should be happy.”
He didn't prolong the conversation, though Cleve looked like he wanted to say more. He entered his building. The reception area was empty for now. Mandy was standing at the desk, peering at the schedule.
"Welcome back, handsome," She looked up. "I wish I had a welcome banner. It would say something along the lines of, welcome back to full-time practice. Now you can sleep at night."
Deuce smiled. "I doubt that. I'm afraid the sleeping part might not be true. I'm going to be haunted by the ghost of Kelsey and her ex-husband. Dale is going to be next door, and Kelsey is already talking about us getting back together."
"She doesn't waste time, does she?" Mandy widened her eyes. "I never liked that girl."
Deuce sighed. Mandy was an old friend, and she knew all the drama with him and Dale and Kelsey. When Kelsey left him the last time, Mandy was the one who encouraged him to sign up for Christian Singles, because that is where she met her husband.
"I spoke to Dale this morning," Mandy said. "He came in very early. I helped him to bring in a box or two. He said he couldn't wait to erase the last few years from his mind, and he's hoping that you two can be friends again."
"I don’t know about that," Deuce grunted. “I would find it a little awkward.”
"Well, you two do have Toxic Kelsey in common." Mandy looked at him assessingly. "You're not planning to go back to Kelsey, are you?"
Deuce didn't answer. He couldn't predict the future. It was not the first time Kelsey and he had broken up, and he had gone back to her after one of her other relationships fizzled out.
"Don't!" Mandy said warningly. "It won't work. What does God have to do? Send an earthquake, lightning, thunder? Why don't you stop hiding behind the screen and find that girl you have been talking to on Christian Singles? Isn't she in Jamaica?"
Deuce frowned at Mandy. "Imagine you saying that. Today she sent me an affirmation about accepting a happy and fulfilling relationship, and I was thinking the same thing. I think it is time we took this to another level."
"Good!" Mandy said. "I never understood why you were so hooked on Kelsey. It's not even as if she is all that. Behind that baby doll-face and that serine smile, is a viper. God help us all now that she's back."
"I'm not going to bash Kelsey," Deuce said. "As a matter of fact, I'm not going to talk about her any at all."
By and large, Deuce kept to his word. Kelsey did send him a picture of herself with a tear in one eye and a message that said, I'm sorry for all the things I've done. He deleted it before he could weaken.
At the end of the day, he was in the parking lot, contemplating what he was going to do next. He had a group practice with his brothers in half an hour. And he was invited to one of his patient's, birthday party.
He would drop in and leave a present. The patient in question had beaten cancer two years running, and his parents thought he had something to do with it.
Deuce went to the gift shop. He knew exactly what to get his patient. The little boy loved puzzles. He headed to the puzzle aisle and ran into Dale Julius.
Dale Julius was the same height as he was. They had about the same complexion, and they were about the same size.
Obviously, Dale had not let the last three years of doing his fellowship, mess with his physique. But that was where their similarities ended. Dale Julius had a broader face, wider nose, and enviably straight white teeth, naturally perfect teeth. It had not been a major surprise when Dale Julius had chosen orthodontics as his specialty.
He smiled at Deuce, flashing his teeth. Deuce had been prepared for a certain coldness between them, but Dale Julius was not transmitting that vibe.
“DJ,” he said warmly. “It is nice to see you.”
"What's up, man?" Deuce nodded.
Dale Julius walked over to him and shook his hand, pumping it fiercely.
"I've wanted to talk to you in the past three years, but I was afraid."
Deuce frowned at him. "Why?"
"Because I married Kelsey," Dale sighed, “and we all know how you felt about Kelsey and she about you. I shouldn't have put myself in the equation. I should have waited until you two did your breakup makeup dance instead of insinuating myself in something that I had no business being in. I had no clue what I was getting myself into."
Deuce was fascinated by the outpouring of honesty. When they were in med school, Dale had never been so open with him. Dale always gave off the vibe that he was hiding something. He had a secretive personality. What you got from Dale was usually given after many months of him keeping it hidden, even if it was nothing major.
So this openness was new, and despite him saying that he didn't want to know anything about Kelsey and her relationship, he was eager to hear more from Dale.
"What do you mean?" Deuce asked Dale. "And why did the two of you break up anyway?"
"We broke up because she is crazy," Dale said. "Besides, I think she married me because she wanted you to feel jealous or something. I went along with it because I had always liked her. It was the biggest mistake of my life. It almost drove me crazy," Dale said. "We didn't even stay married for two months. We moved to Canada to do our fellowship together. You know, she did hers in Rheumatology?"
"No, I didn't," Deuce said. "I haven't been keeping tabs on her like that."
"Good for you." Dale looked around the store and looked over to the other aisle and came closer to Deuce.
"Kelsey has issues. That is all I'm going to say about that. I thought I was a good enough friend to you that when you heard that we were going to get married, you could have said something to me."
"What are you talking about?" Deuce asked.
"Kelsey is selfish, narcissistic, and obsessed with you."
“Really?” Deuce raised an eyebrow. "How obsessed could she have been? She had me but was always leaving me, and how can you be a narcissist and obsessed with a person. Shouldn’t one cancel out the other?"
"It’s weird," Dale said, "and maybe I am not using the right terms. After all, I am no psychiatrist, but I rue the day I ever said I do to that woman. After the fellowship, I was hoping that she would stay in Canada, I would return to Jamaica, and we would be a continent away from each other."
"Wow." Deuce shook his head. "I had no idea you had it so bad with her. I have never seen Kelsey as an obsessed narcissist."
"And you were her neighbor growing up?" Dale asked incredulously. "They say love is blind, Deuce, but you're taking this to another level. Or maybe you're the one person Kelsey has never shown her true self to."
"But you liked her," Deuce protested, "you liked her when we were in med school, didn’t you?"
"Because I didn't know her," Dale said. "I thought she was outgoing and fun. I thought you were stupid for letting her go all the many times she left you. It turns out I was wrong."
Deuce cleared his throat. He didn't want to discuss this anymore. Obviously, he was speaking with a bitter ex-husband, and there were always two sides to a story. He headed to the games section of the store and picked up a jigsaw puzzle.
"Mandy said you joined Christian Singles." Dale followed him.
Deuce turned around. "Why would she tell you that?"
"Because I asked her about the dating scene around here," Dale said. "I want to join. I don't even mind the fact that they don't use profile pictures. After the sort of relationship I'm coming out of, I'm thinking that I wouldn't even mind dating an unattractive woman. She could be big and sloppy; I don't care. Anything would be an improvement on what I had with Kelsey."
"Jeez, Dale," Deuce said. "You're making me think that I dodged a bullet with Kelsey."
"You did," Dale snorted. "Being married to Kelsey should have come with a warning. And no, I am not just saying this because I want you to stay away from her; this is a genuine warning."
Deuce picked up the puzzle. "Okay. Consider me warned. I met someone on Christian Singles that I think I have chemistry with. I imagine she's a lovely person in real life. I've never met her, though."
"Hmm," Dale said. "Well, I'm going to ask Mandy to recommend me. As I said, I want to move on, and this is probably a good steppingstone."
Deuce nodded. "Well, I'll see you around, Dale."
"Yes," Dale said, "See you."
Deuce paid for the gift. His mind was racing as he went outside and headed to the car. In all his time with Kelsey, he had never thought of her as an obsessed, narcissist. And he had been her ex more often than anybody else.
Dale sounded bitter and a little unhinged if you asked him.
He went into the car, and for a brief moment, indulged himself in the Kelsey that he knew. He had met her when they were twelve years old…

Sometime in the past…

It was a typical Wednesday evening. They were just driving back from church when they saw a moving van in the driveway next door. Deuce had been sitting between his brothers, Ace and Trey. Ace was two years older and acting bossy. As usual, he had taken the window seat, though Deuce wanted that seat. He couldn't play the count-the-cars game properly if he was in the middle. Trey was on the other side of him. He would kick off a tantrum if he didn't get the window seat, and nobody wanted to go through that.
Trey at eight was spoiled rotten and knew how to get his way—the brat.
While Deuce was resentfully thinking these things about his brothers, his father had slowed down.
"I heard the new couple has two children," his mother was saying, "a girl Deuce's age, and another one Trey's age," his mother was saying under her breath. "I heard that the wife was a model, but now she is a caterer. Can you believe that? We're going to have a celebrity right beside us?"
"Which model?” His father asked.
"Amelia Fagan. She has graced the covers of Vogue and all these other magazines."
"Interesting," his father said, his voice sounding less than interested.
"I hope she's into gardening and flowers," his mother said wistfully. "I feel as if she and I are going to be great friends."
His father stopped the car abruptly and exclaimed, "What on earth!"
When Deuce looked through the windscreen, he saw a little girl. She was about his height, standing in the driveway glaring at them. "I could have hit her," his father mumbled, "And why's the brat glaring at us?"
"Oh, she's pretty," His mother said, "What a pretty little girl, she looks like a barbie doll. She makes me yearn for a girl."
His father had looked positively apoplectic at the suggestion, but Deuce had concurred, she did look like one of the dolls in his mother’s doll collection. She had a smooth milk chocolate complexion, a cute as a button nose and deep brown doe eyes.
Kelsey had crossed her arms and was standing under the floodlights in the driveway, glaring at them. She was wearing two pigtails on either side of her head, she flicked one over her shoulders with an attitude that would be comical, if she didn’t have tear streaks on her face.
They had all gotten out of the car. His father was forced to park in front of their driveway.
"Good night, little girl," his mother had said. Kelsey had looked at them all. Her look of defiance crumbling.
"I want to live over here. I don't want to live with Mommy and her new man."
"Kelsey Channer!" A cross looking lady had come out from the house that was rapidly being filled with furniture and boxes that the moving crew was bringing in. "Get over here this instant!"
"No!" Kelsey said. "I'm living with them. They seem like a nice family. Our family is not right, not without Daddy!"
And then her eyes had zeroed in on Deuce. He may have pushed out his scrawny chest a little. She smiled, her red lips turning up in a bow.
"I'm going to be your friend," She had declared.
It had been the beginning of their friendship; he had convinced her to leave their driveway by promising that she could come and play with him in the daytime.
Kelsey had been a handful for her mother and stepfather. She was a daddy’s girl and blamed her mother for the divorce from her beloved daddy. She never got on well with her stepfather, their quarrels were legendary. Everyone knew Kelsey as the girl who would shout, ‘you are not my father, you can't tell me what to do,' at the top of her voice in the neighborhood.
The poor man could do no right in Kelsey's eyes, and she hated living with them. She had been the same with her father's new wife too when she had demanded to go and live with her dad, and her father had sent her back to her mom. She had been too disruptive in that household too and her parents were at their wits end to pacify her heartbreak.
One day when she was about fourteen, Deuce found Kelsey sobbing on his veranda. She had probably slept there too. She had taken to sleeping on his veranda just so that she could worry her mother and have her assume that she had run away.
She had looked at him, her eyes red and swollen. "I have no one, I belong nowhere. I hate them all. I only have you, DJ."


He had been protective of her ever since, and even now, after hearing Dale's scathing review of Kelsey, he was feeling sympathetic to her. Maybe if he didn't know her back story and her turbulent years of feeling rejected, he wouldn’t feel as if he needed to be the only stable influence in her life.
But he was moving on, wasn’t he? His history with Kelsey didn’t matter anymore.