Unconditional, p.3

Unconditional, page 3



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“You know, the thing is with guys like him, you gotta settle things the old-fashioned way.” Aaron Dunovant was saying as he fidgeted with a measuring tape. “Give me five minutes with him. We got a problem, him and me? Five minutes. Problem solved.”

  Josh kept his attention riveted to his work, which at the moment was helping another worker to put up drywall. He knew those words—and the threat attached to them—had been spoken specifically about him. Dunovant stood with his legs spread apart, fixing a strong glare on Josh.

  Lord, please help me to let that roll off my back, he prayed silently. I can’t afford to get into a fight with him. I fight, I lose my job. Period.

  Luckily, the foreman, Steve Cipriani, passed by right then.

  “Coffee break, fellas?” he asked. “If not, let’s get back to work, all right? Not getting paid to drink lattes and shoot the breeze here.”

  “Okay. Sorry about that, boss.”

  Evidently, the apology wasn’t very sincere. The minute the foreman turned his back, Dunovant mouthed a cuss word at him.

  Aaron Dunovant didn’t like him. Why, Josh had no idea, since he’d never done or said anything to the guy. Elliot swore it had to do with the fact that Josh, even being new, was well liked by most of the guys on the crew. Dunovant, to put it bluntly, was thought of by the crew as a bit of a jerk.

  I’m not here to make friends, just so you know, Dunovant had told Josh when he was first hired for the job. I come in, do my job, get my paycheck, and I’m outta here.

  Josh had assured him that he wasn’t there to make friends, either. But that was contrary to his nature. Even before he accepted the Lord, he’d always been a friendly guy. His personality was amiable, and people were easily drawn to him.

  “So we can count on you tonight? You and Elliot?”

  He was still working on the drywall, using the nail gun, but turned to face John Delvecchio, who everybody just called Del.

  “Yeah. Yeah, sure, I’ll be there. That’s the place down by the beach, right?”

  “Yeah, it’s just a little dive. Not too expensive.” Del shrugged. “Burgers are great, though. Drinks are cheap. They got live music Friday night. Girls that hang out there are hot.”

  Josh chuckled. “Ah, well, I’ll be there, then.”

  “Cool. Looks like it’s you, me, Elliot, Sonny, and Manny. Be there at seven. Whoever gets there first gets the table for everybody.”

  “That’ll probably be me and Elliot.”

  “Great. See ya tonight.”

  Seven. That was later than he usually ate dinner, but he could always grab an apple or something to munch on ahead of time. Elliot would probably drink with the guys and Josh would have an iced tea or something.

  Girls that hang out there are hot.

  That was his real reason for going—besides hanging out with his friends.

  Maybe Valerie will be there tonight. That’d be nice, Lord. Actually, that’d be more than nice. It’d rock if she was there.

  His prayer was interrupting by Elliot stepping up beside him. He was wearing his work boots and gloves and pushed his safety helmet up further on his head.

  “Now the lady from the medical office is saying,” he reported in a low voice, “that that’s not the counter they wanted for the reception area. I love these people, don’t you, Coleman?”

  Clicking his tongue, Josh agreed. “That’s what was in the plans. They wanna change it now, they gotta pay.”

  “Uh-huh. Hey, you think your girlfriend’s gonna be there tonight?”

  “I got a girlfriend? That’s news to me.”

  “Wise guy. You know who I’m talking about.”

  “This is the Jersey shore. It’s a big place. I doubt we’ll see each other again.”

  “You saw her friend, didn’t you? At the coffee place? What’s her name, Kylie? So what’s to stop Valerie from showing up at the Wave Crest?”

  “That’d be great. But she’s out of my league…according to you.”

  “You are, but we’ve already established the lady has bad taste in men.” He patted Josh’s back. “Hope she shows up.”

  “If she does, she does. I haven’t really thought about it.”

  “Oh, no? Well, just in case, you’d better move fast. Before Del does. You’ve never been out with him before. This’d be your first time. Guy’s a ladies’ man.”

  Elliot was stepping away and Josh was stepping back to collect his tools. From behind him he felt a hand on his back, then a rough shove forward.

  “Watch where you’re going,” Aaron snarled.

  Josh’s expression darkened. Elliot moved in closer to him, protectively.

  “Forget it, ignore this big goofball,” he told Josh.

  Dunovant glared at him. “Who you callin’ a goofball, you skinny little scarecrow?”

  Josh stepped between them and squared his shoulders.

  “Do me a favor, Dunovant. Don’t ever put your hands on me again,” he ordered.

  “Or what?”

  Dunovant’s mouth pulled into a smirk. He was about Josh’s height, maybe twenty pounds heavier. Behind him, Josh heard his friend telling him to back off, to stop before going any further.

  “Or we can take this to the boss,” he replied.

  “Take it to the boss?” Dunovant repeated, making his voice an octave higher, girlish. “Really? You don’t wanna handle this like a man? I thought you were a tough guy. How’d you make it through prison without being tough?”

  Lord, I don’t want to go into all that with him. I don’t know how he found out about that and I don’t want to know right now. Help me before I get myself in trouble.

  “Just leave him alone, man,” Elliot told him.

  “‘Be at peace with all men.’” Swallowing hard, Josh added, “I don’t know the exact scripture, but that’s what I’m trying to do right now. ‘Be at peace with all men, if at all possible.’”

  “Oh. What’s that? The Bible?”

  “Yeah. I kinda mangled that scripture, but that’s the gist of it. Pretty much.”

  Dunovant was staring back at him as if trying to figure out how to respond to those words.

  “Okay, so you’re one of those Bible guys,” he said finally. “Buncha hypocrites, from what I’ve seen. That’s right. Anyway, Jesus Boy—you wanna try to be at peace with me? Then staying outta my way. ’Cause if you don’t, I guarantee it’s not gonna be very peaceful for you.”

  Josh made a noise in the affirmative. Right then he was struggling inwardly, mentally sizing up his opponent.

  I could take him. Very easily, Lord. I can flatten him.

  That was his pride talking. Certainly, it was true. Aaron Dunovant wouldn’t fare quite as well as he assumed in a fight with him. Still, Josh knew just how dangerous one moment of satisfaction could be, so he passed on it.

  And he said nothing. He only stood his ground, tall and straight. Dunovant moved on, seemingly more unnerved by Josh’s silence than he let on.

  “He thinks he won that round,” Elliot murmured.

  “He did. By his standards.” With a nod, Josh returned to his work.

  Not by Yours, Lord.


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