Read Wishing Lake Online

Authors: Regina Hart

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #General Fiction, #African-American storys, #Fiction

Wishing Lake (8 page)

“No, but I think it’s a good one.” Doreen shrugged into her coat.
“I don’t.” Darius wrestled back his residual reaction to kissing Peyton. “I don’t need any help with my personal life. I don’t want help, either.”
“We want you to be happy, Darius.” Doreen squeezed his forearm.
“I’m fine. I’ll be even better when everyone respects my privacy.”
Doreen released him. “All right.”
Darius let the matter go, though he didn’t believe for a second that Doreen and the others would stop meddling in his private life. He chatted a few minutes more with the soon-to-be-mayor before Doreen hustled off to Books & Bakery. Darius remained, hoping to get comments from other residents, not just Peyton.
Lei slammed back into the gym, bringing the cold front with her. Her petite form was bundled into a black winter coat that seemed three sizes too large for her. She shoved back her hood and shook her shoulder-length raven hair free. “It’s colder than a witch’s—”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cold out there.” Darius cut off the photojournalist’s trademark vulgarity. “That’s why I’m waiting in here.”
“Lucky you with your cushy reporter’s assignment.” She marched toward him, pausing to deliver her scorn. “I had to get shots of the voters arriving, up close and personal. Do you expect me to shoot that shit through the glass doors?” She nodded toward the entrance behind her.
“No, I don’t.” Darius struggled to keep the laughter from his voice. He was used to the surly artist. “We’re lucky to have your expertise.”
“Damn right.” Pleasantries exchanged, Lei stomped back into the gym.
Darius crossed the corridor to lean against the wall opposite the gym’s entrance. He glanced toward the rear doors leading to the dark parking lot. During the May primary, he’d waited outside to interview voters. Not today, though. Lei was right. It was too cold.
But the cold clime didn’t have a negative impact on voter turnout. The midterm ballot issues were enough to lure people to the polls. In addition to the mayoral election, there were several county, state, and federal considerations, including U.S. Senate and Congressional races.
Darius straightened from the wall as Jackson and Audra emerged from the gym. “A few words for the press?”
Jackson wrapped an arm around Audra’s waist. “I don’t think the newspaper’s publisher should be quoted in one of its articles.”
“Then don’t speak as the publisher,” Darius offered him a solution. “Speak as a member of the town’s founding family.”
“Nice try but we can’t separate the two.”
Darius shrugged. “I can. I’m sure other residents can, too.”
“I don’t want to influence anyone.” Jackson glanced at Audra.
“Go on.” The songwriter nudged Jackson in his ribs with her elbow. “You’re not going to influence anyone. The article won’t appear in the paper until tomorrow morning.”
Jackson shook his head. “It’ll appear online this afternoon—along with the hundreds of photos Lei seems determined to take.”
“Just give Darius a quote.” Audra smiled up at Jackson. “Don’t make his job harder than it already is.”
“Thank you, Audra.” Darius gave Jackson a pointed look. “Listen to your better half.”
Jackson sighed. “OK. As a member of the town’s founding family, I’d like to say that Trinity Falls is fortunate the candidate who chose to run for mayor is as dedicated to the town as Doreen Fever has always been.”
Darius’s pen raced across his notebook. “Thanks, Jack. Anything you’d like to add, Audra?”
“Me? I wasn’t expecting to be interviewed.” Taken aback, Audra looked from Jackson to Darius in surprise.
“You’ve just moved from L.A. to Trinity Falls. From the perspective of a new resident, what do you think of our ballot issues?”
Audra considered the question. “Los Angeles has a much greater population, but the issues are similar—funding for education and other necessary community services.”
Darius transcribed Audra’s quote as she and Jackson left the high school.
It was a while before Nessa emerged from the room. Her expression was pensive. Darius approached her, pen and reporter’s notebook at the ready. “Congratulations on being elected council president.”
“Thanks.” Nessa looked at him as though she was emerging from deep thought. What was on her mind?
“What are your plans for the second half of your term?”
“I’m going to continue the good work the council already has done to get the town back in shape, fiscally as well as physically.”
Darius wrote down her response. It hadn’t escaped his notice that Nessa had given the council credit for the town improvements Doreen had claimed Ramona had accomplished as mayor. He kept those thoughts to himself. “Do you have any comments on the ballot issues?”
“I wish the town had options.” Nessa straightened as though preparing for battle—or a mayoral run. “The residents of Trinity Falls deserve to have a choice of mayoral candidates. For too many years, our candidates have run unopposed. That’s not a democracy.”
Nessa’s words nudged Darius’s memory. “That’s almost the exact response my father gave me when he was considering challenging Doreen for mayor.”
“Your father and I aren’t the only people who feel this way. We’re just two of many.”
His eyes held Nessa’s. “I’ve wondered who talked my father into running for mayor. Was it you?”
CHAPTER 8
Darius waited for Nessa’s reaction. The new town council president needed to know she couldn’t scheme in secrecy. Trinity Falls was a small town with very nosy neighbors.
Nessa didn’t blink. “As I said, Simon and I aren’t the only ones who feel this way. There are hundreds of people who could have planted that seed. I’m only sorry he dropped out of the campaign. If it weren’t for the skeletons in his closet, he would’ve made a good mayor.”
Darius doubted that. “Why didn’t any of these hundreds of people run for office?”
“I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are people in Trinity Falls. But I’m hopeful things will be different in the future.” Nessa straightened her shoulders as though once again preparing for the campaign trail. “Single-candidate mayoral races put an additional burden on the council. Now we have to ensure that the mayor doesn’t abuse her position.”
“Doesn’t the council have to do that regardless of how the mayor gets into office?”
“Yes, but this is an added burden because . . .” Nessa’s gaze swept the corridor as though seeking inspiration. “Well, if the candidate is uncontested, she may think she’s entering office with a mandate.”
Darius didn’t buy that, but he recorded her words anyway. “What about you, Nessa? Will you run for office in 2018? Is that the reason you became council president?”
“I accepted the position of council president after CeCe Roben stepped down for personal reasons. My focus is on serving the town as council president and continuing the good work the council has accomplished to date.” Nessa attempted to look down her nose at him. It was a difficult maneuver, considering Darius was half a foot taller than her.
“Thanks for your time, Nessa.”
“Of course. You can call my office to schedule an interview about my becoming council president.”
“Already done, Madame President. I’m just waiting for you to set the date.”
Fleeting surprise replaced Nessa’s arrogant expression. “I’ll have my secretary call you after he’s checked my calendar.”
Long, jerky strides carried Nessa down the hall and into the parking lot. Was Nessa’s secretary about to hear his boss’s displeasure with his delay in scheduling media interviews? Hopefully not.
Darius looked at the notes from his exchange with the council president. Doreen was in for a challenging term. Despite Nessa’s protestations, which were typical of politicians, Darius knew Trinity Falls would have a two-person mayoral race in 2018.
“The next four years are going to be interesting.” Peyton’s lily-of-the-valley scent alerted Darius to her presence just before her words.
He faced the professor. “You read my mind.”
“Something tells me that’s not often done.” Peyton’s winged eyebrows took flight. Her caramel eyes sparkled with humor. “Will I find my way back out?”
Darius struggled against a smile. “What did you think of your first experience voting in Trinity Falls?”
Peyton’s expression told him she was claiming victory in this exchange of wits. Darius let her.
“It was definitely different.” Peyton secured the strap of her dark purple purse onto her shoulder.
“In what way?” Darius pulled his attention from her full, moist lips, and readied his notebook and pen.
“I’ve only been here five months.” Peyton shrugged a slender shoulder. “I’m used to having at least a year to consider the pros and cons of ballot issues and candidates.”
“Some people would consider that too much time.” Darius wrote quickly.
“I’m in academia.” Her eyes twinkled again. “No one makes quick decisions in academia.”
“I’ve noticed.”
“I’d rather be oversaturated with information than feel as though I’m cramming for an exam.”
“An exam is a good analogy to voting. What did you think of the test?”
“It was a little strange having only one candidate for mayor.” Her eyes dropped to Darius’s notebook, then returned to his face. “But even if there’d been ten or even twenty candidates on the ballot, I still would’ve voted for Doreen. She’s the right person for the job.”
Her answer impressed him. It was a reporter’s wet dream. He should return to his office and file his story. Now. But he couldn’t bring himself to leave. He wanted more time with Peyton, more time to look at her, breathe her fragrance, remember their kiss.
Darius cleared his voice. “Why do you think she’s the right person?”
“I’ve benefited from Doreen’s warmth and generosity. She’s made me feel like a part of the community since I moved here. And I’ve seen how much she cares for the town and its people. I can tell how much she cares about you.”
Darius paused with his pen over the paper. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve seen the way she treats you, Quincy, and Ean. It’s as though she has three sons, not just one.”
“Quincy and I spent a lot of time at Ean’s house.” Darius smiled as those childhood images sped across his mind. “You’re right. Doreen’s a very generous person. Her house felt like my second home. It couldn’t have been easy for her or her late husband, Paul. The three of us were loud, messy, and always looking for food.” Ethel and Simon had never allowed that kind of unruly behavior in the Knight household.
“Those sound like great memories.” Peyton’s smile was wistful.
“They are.” Darius stepped forward, pulled toward Peyton by an invisible thread. “We’ve been friends since elementary school, almost thirty years.”
“That’s amazing.”
“Don’t you have friendships that long?” Darius breathed in Peyton’s soft scent.
“Over the years, my friends and I have drifted apart.”
What would have happened to him if he, Ean, Quincy, and Jackson had lost contact over the years? He would have lost his anchors.
Darius shook off the thought. “Hopefully you’ll make those kinds of friendships here.”
“I’d like that.” Her eyes were wistful. “I’d better get to work. Good luck with your article.”
Darius blew out a breath. His reaction to Peyton wasn’t going away. If anything, it was growing stronger. But could he risk acting on these feelings? He was his father’s son, and Simon had made a mess of every relationship he ever had. Could Darius avoid making those same mistakes?

 

“Darius!”
The sound of his name being gasped in horror startled him. Darius spun away from his computer and was surprised again to find his mother standing in the entrance of his cubicle. Ethel looked as though he’d mortally wounded her.
“Mom? What are you doing here?” Darius’s eyes dropped to the picnic basket in her fist. His confusion grew.
“I brought you
lunch
.” Ethel hoisted the carrier. “Although that seems to have been a wasted effort.”
Darius glanced at the paper bowl of chicken stew in his hands, and the still-wrapped turkey, bacon, and pepper jack cheese sandwich on his desk. “Why?”
“I thought you’d be
hungry
.” Her eyes snapped with impatience. She lowered her arm. “Today’s the election. I know how busy you are, covering it for the newspaper. I wanted to make sure you had something for lunch.”
“I didn’t know you were going to do that.” How could he have known? In the seven years he’d worked for the
Monitor
, Ethel had never acknowledged his work nor had she ever visited his office. And she hadn’t said anything to indicate her interest had changed.
“I wanted to surprise you. I guess the surprise is on
me
.” Ethel took the few steps into his cubicle, setting the carrier on his desk with a thud. Her movements were a study in displeasure. “I didn’t expect you to eat so early.”
Darius checked his watch. “It’s almost one o’clock.”
Ethel’s jaw clenched. “It takes
time
to put together a decent meal. I can’t cook all of this at the drop of a hat.”
“You didn’t need to go to the trouble. I bought my lunch.” Darius watched her pinched features warily.
“Where did you get
that
?” She made it sound as though he’d gone Dumpster diving. They both knew from where he’d purchased his soup and sandwich.
“The café at Books and Bakery.”
“Doreen Fever has her own son to take care of. She doesn’t need to feed
mine
.” Jealousy bit into Ethel’s words.
She began unpacking the basket. Darius swallowed a sigh. He spun his chair back to his monitor, then pressed a couple of keys to save his work. Nothing less than his full attention would appease his mother now.
Plastic containers filled with salad and pasta covered Darius’ story notes. Ethel placed a thermos beside the dishes and unwrapped bread.
She offered him an apple and a banana. “I couldn’t remember
which
you preferred.”
He’d never liked either fruit, but this wasn’t a good time to remind his mother of that. “I’ll take the apple. Thank you.”
“For what?” She shoved the apple at him. “You’ve already
eaten
.”
The next few minutes were critical. His mother thought nothing of punishing innocent people for her disappointments. Her reaction to Noah was an example of this. Darius didn’t want Ethel taking out her resentment about lunch on Doreen.
“The meal looks wonderful, Mom.” He took the apple from her hand. He’d offer it to Jackson later. “You obviously went to a lot of trouble. Thank you. It’s going to be a long day. I’d like to save your meal for dinner.”
Instantly, Ethel’s scowl disappeared. “That’s a good idea.” She wrinkled her nose at the soup and sandwich that comprised Darius’s lunch. “You’ll probably be hungry again in a couple of hours.”
No, he wouldn’t. Doreen’s cooking seemed light but would stick to his ribs until this evening. After one of her lunches, he wouldn’t need as big a dinner as Ethel had prepared. Again, not information he’d share with his mother—right now—if ever.
Darius considered Ethel’s satisfied expression as she repacked the picnic basket for him. What was behind her unprecedented mothering? Darius glanced around his cubicle. It wasn’t the ideal location for such a personal and personally dangerous mission. But this couldn’t wait.
“How are you adjusting to being on your own now that Dad’s moved out of the house?”
“He didn’t move out.” The storm clouds returned. “I
threw
that cheating snake out on his ass.”
OK. Well, that was much more restrained than he’d anticipated. “Now you have more time to dedicate to things you’ve always wanted to do. You can put yourself first instead of tending to Dad. Or worrying about me.”
“What does that mean?” Ethel’s dark eyes narrowed. “You prefer Doreen’s cooking to
mine
?”
How had she made that leap?
“What I mean is you can pursue your own interests. I can take care of myself, Mom.” He’d been doing so for decades.
“Oh,
really
? Well, then, I won’t go to the trouble of cooking meals for you, and you won’t have to go to the trouble of eating them.” She collected the picnic basket from his desk. You can just keep filling your face with Doreen Fever’s cooking.”
Darius stood, putting a detaining hand on Ethel’s shoulder. He should have anticipated his mother’s scorched-earth response. “I never said I preferred Doreen’s cooking to yours. This isn’t a competition. And I never said I wasn’t going to eat the meal you cooked.”
“Then
what
did you mean, Darius?” She raised her chin to a combative angle.
Her eyes demanded he beg her forgiveness. He just wanted this emotional torture to end, preferably without innocent victims.
“I meant exactly what I said.” Darius rubbed his eyes. “If you’re bored without Dad—”
“I’m not bored without Simon. What makes you think
that
?”
“The fact you packed my lunch.” He gestured toward the picnic basket. “You haven’t done that since I was five.”
They locked gazes for several tense moments. Darius wasn’t backing down. If she wanted to take out her anger and resentment for Simon on him, then fine. She’d been doing that even before he was old enough to understand it. But he didn’t want her blaming Doreen for anything.
Ethel lowered her eyes. She placed the repacked picnic basket back on his desk. “If you want my dinner, you can have it. I’ll try not to trouble you in the future.”
“Thank you.” Darius masked his relief.
“I’ll leave you alone now.” Ethel left his cubicle with her head held high.
Drained, Darius sank back onto his chair. He wheeled it around to brood with his computer monitor. He wasn’t fooling himself. He may have won this skirmish, but the war wasn’t over. What would boredom drive Ethel to do next?
Hours later, Jackson wandered into Darius’s office. “Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” Darius saved his document, then swung his chair to face his boss. He gestured toward the fruit on his desk. “Do you want an apple?”
“Thanks.” Jackson took the apple, examining it. “I’m making some management changes. Nothing will be announced until after the new year.”
So why was he here now? “What kind of changes?”
“I’ve officially promoted Faye Liu to executive editor.” Jackson settled onto Darius’s guest chair. He’d left his navy suit jacket in his office. Newsprint marred the sleeves of his white dress shirt. “She kept the newspaper going while I was away.”
Darius nodded. “Faye’s promotion is very well deserved.”
“She suggested you take over as managing editor.”
Darius stared. “What?”
Jackson set his right ankle on his left knee. “Faye said you helped shoulder a lot of the responsibility without being asked and without asking for recognition. She appreciated that.”
“I wasn’t after a promotion. I was just trying to help.” Darius was still surprised.
“I know and I appreciate what you did for me. But I need to make these changes.” Jackson shrugged. “I can’t perform all the tasks I had now that I’m renovating and managing Harmony Cabins.”

Other books

Gravedigger's Cottage by Chris Lynch
Faith by Viola Rivard
Love Sucks and Then You Die by Michael Grant & Katherine Applegate
Where Do You Stay by Andrea Cheng
The Reckoning by Carsten Stroud
Little Secrets by Alta Hensley, Allison West