Mary Elizabeth Jacobson answered the doorbell. “Yes, ma’am, may I help you?”
“Ms. Jacobson, I’m Grace Thomas, Judson’s literary editor,” the well-dressed, attractive woman said.
“Mary Elizabeth will do, Grace, and please come in. I’m happy you came.”
“Thanks for calling and letting me know about Judson’s problems. I hope I can help.”
“So do I. Like I told you on the phone, he hasn’t written anything for over three months, ever since Marion died.”
“Is Judson available?” Grace asked as she rolled her suitcase into the foyer.
“His being available can be debated; he’s still in bed.”
“At ten thirty in the morning? That’s not like him.”
“You got that right,” Mary Elizabeth said.
“Where is he?”
“In his bedroom on the second floor.”
“Did he go to bed drunk last night?”
“Seems to be a common occurrence nowadays.”
“Mary Elizabeth, why don’t I wake him up? He’ll be surprised to see me.”
“You can have the pleasure of poking the bear. Maybe he can focus his mind this morning.”
“Please get me a pitcher of ice water. Then, you can lead me to the bear’s den.”
“Oh, Lord. Just how well do you know Judson?”
“We once were close friends in addition to being colleagues.”
“Please follow me to the kitchen for the ice water. I’ll stand outside the bedroom door in case you need help.”
Grace went into the bedroom with the water pitcher and stood by the bed. Judson opened his eyes and sat bolt upright. “What the hell, Grace? Do you intend to pour that water on me?”
“If necessary. Get out of bed. We have things to discuss.” Grace called to Mary Elizabeth, “What does Judson have for breakfast?”
“Not much. He’s usually too hung over to keep food in his stomach.”
“Are you responsible for meal preparation in this house?”
“I am, for the next few days.”
“Please prepare a real breakfast for Judson. We’ll keep feeding him until he quits throwing up.”
“Grace, do you want something to eat?”
“I’ll have some of whatever you put in front of Judson. It’s almost lunchtime for me. I left New York very early this morning.”
“I’ll fix a super big breakfast then, and I’ll have a throw-up pan at the table. It might not be pleasant.”
“Is Wild Turkey still his poison of choice?” Grace asked.
“Been that since he was a misbehaving teenager.”
Grace smiled at Mary Elizabeth. “Please have two ounces of Wild Turkey ready for him before he eats.”
“For medicinal purposes?” Mary Elizabeth asked.
“Yes. If everything goes like I have planned, that will be all the alcohol he can have today, until he writes five hundred good words.”
“What the hell, Grace? Who gave you permission to come here and try to run my life?” Judson asked.
“Mary Elizabeth called and said you were in trouble. I’m here as your concerned friend and editor.”
Mary Elizabeth laughed. “Grace, do you intend to stay with us for a while?”
“You want to sleep in this bedroom or in a separate room?”
“Let’s discuss those circumstances later.”
“I’ll get breakfast ready.” Mary Elizabeth left.
“Out of bed right now or I’ll splash you with this ice water,” Grace threatened Judson.
“Give me some privacy.”
“No way. You probably have a stash of booze in this room or in the bathroom. I meant what I said: A single drink of Wild Turkey before breakfast and no more today until I see five hundred good words from you. Perform your morning ablutions with the bathroom door open, dress yourself, and let’s get this day underway. You’ve already wasted too much time.”
“You intend to watch me?”
“Until I can trust you.”
Judson went to the bathroom; Grace sat in a chair watching him. She tried to keep herself from laughing. After a few minutes, Judson came back into the bedroom. “Are you at least going to look away from me while I dress?”
“Why should I? First of all, if you’re not too fuzzy in your mind, you’ll remember that I’ve seen all of you before. Secondly, I doubt that you can use that appendage between your legs for anything other than urinating, considering the state you’re in.”
“Damnation,” Judson said. He took off his pajamas, chose some clean clothes from the walk-in closet, and dressed himself. “Let’s eat.” He walked out of the bedroom.
“Lordy, Lordy,” Mary Elizabeth said when Judson and Grace entered the dining room. Mary Elizabeth gave the Wild Turkey to Judson.
Judson sat at the table and drank the beverage. Mary Elizabeth placed orange juice; plates of scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, and toast; and cups of strong black coffee in front of Judson and Grace.
Breakfast passed uneventfully, the Wild Turkey apparently having settled Judson’s stomach. Judson slowly drank his third cup of coffee. “Exactly what do you have in mind, Grace?”
“Help you complete the manuscript. I’ll continue to be your editor from here instead of in my New York office.”
“Does Gerald know what you’re doing?”
“He does. Gerald wants another bestseller for the company. How many words have you written?”
“Sixty thousand as a first draft,” Judson answered.
“That’s a start.”
“The rest of the novel is in my head. I need to get the words into the computer.”
“Then, that’s what we’ll do. I’ll read what you’ve already written while you get back to work.”
“I’m not sure I can write like I did before Marion died.”
“Of course you can. Her death was a tragedy but, if you stay sober, the words will come.” Judson started to speak but Grace cut him off. “Trust me. You’re a natural storyteller. The new book will help you deal with Marion’s death much better than booze.”
“Let’s go to my writing den.”
Mary Elizabeth had been listening to the conversation. “You want a pot of coffee, Judson?”
“Strong and black. Mugs for Grace and me.”
* * * * * *
At five o’clock, Judson found Grace on the screened-in porch at the back of the house overlooking Lake Hartwell. “OK, five hundred and fifty words, like you ordered.”
Grace took the printed pages. “Do you want your reward, a drink of Wild Turkey?”
“Not yet. Did you bring one of your jogging outfits?”
“Let’s change and go for a short run. I need to get back into good shape.”
An hour later, Grace and Judson sat again on the porch. Judson drank Wild Turkey; Grace sipped Kendall-Jackson chardonnay. “It’s good to see you again, Grace,” Judson said.
“The same for me.”
“Do you think my son and daughter know about our past?”
“I’m not sure. They certainly know about me as your editor, which is public knowledge.”
“I never revealed anything to her. I told Marion there was no reason for me to leave home anymore, that you and I could conduct our business via email.”
Grace smiled over the rim of her glass. “Women always know or strongly suspect infidelity. She must have realized our affair was over when you quit coming to New York for our editorial meetings.”
“I know I hurt you when I remained with Marion.”
“I never thought we would be together for a long time, except as friends, author, and editor.”
“It would have been contrary to your basic character. Any discerning individual would have realized that you deeply and abidingly loved Marion and your children.”
“I did, that is, I do love you but I couldn’t bring myself to leave my family.”
Grace refilled her glass from the bottle of Chardonnay in the ice bucket on the table. “I loved you.” She took a large swallow of the wine. “Hell’s bells, I still love you.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
“Like I said—you need to finish the book you’re working on, and you need to write more books. Writing will be your salvation.”
“Are you open to staying here, being part of the process?”
Judson looked deeply into Grace’s eyes. She did not look away. “I loved you then,” Judson said. “I’ve loved you ever since. Should I propose to you?”
“If you keep writing and stay sober.”
“I will meet your requirements.”
“You already met the primary requirement when you said you love me.”
“How do you envision our future?” Judson asked.
“The future is open. I’ll move in with you, and be your editor.” Grace smiled. “I’ll also be your lover.”
“Should I tell Mary Elizabeth to bring your things into my bedroom?”
“Will you have any psychological problems making love with me in the bed you and Marion shared?”
Before Judson could answer, Mary Elizabeth spoke from the doorway to the porch. “Grace, you and I will keep Judson’s head on straight. Might be difficult but won’t be impossible. Making love with you will help him be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And, it’s damn well time.”