Ten Bucks and a Wish
by Janina Grey
Excerpt 1 – The Call
Trish and Pike were going to lose the house. Her house. The house she loved and grew up in, played in, had sleepovers in. The house where she learned to ride her first bike, where she played with her first Barbie and Ken dolls. The house where she brought her first and only boyfriend home. Where she got her first kiss. Her first broken heart. Where her parents had died, and were buried, out in the old cemetery where her grandparents, great-grandparents, and their great-grandparents were buried. Where she always believed she would be laid to rest, in the family plot, beside her parents. Even if she’d never moved back, she knew her heart was there and that’s where she wanted to end up at the end of her journey.
And now that lazy good-for-nothing brother-in-law of hers was going to ruin everything her ancestors, her parents, and even she as a young child and teen, had worked so damn hard to secure.
There was little she could do but help. Some sort of effort had to be made. She had to come up with at least some of the money, come hell or high water, she told herself as she grabbed her cell phone and hit the star key and the number three. After three rings, Deanna listened to Trish’s voicemail message, then waited for the beep.
“Hi. It’s me. I got your email.” No lectures. Breathe. “I wish you’d let me known sooner. I can’t come home, but I think I can get my hands on some money—”
“Dee? Is that you?” The woman’s voice was breathless, delicate, and fragile.
“Oh, Dee. I knew I could count on you. You’re coming home?”
“No. I said I’d try to get you money.” Deanna rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Wait ‘til Pike hears. He’s gonna be so relieved. You don’t know how horrible it’s been. How worried we’ve been . . . Hold on.”
Deanna started to speak, but Trish wasn’t listening.
“Pike. It’s Dee. She’s coming home.” Then she continued breathlessly, “Hold on a minute, he’s got the TV so loud he can’t hear me.”
Deanna heard the phone clatter, followed by Trish’s muffled voice. Deanna bit her lip, feeling her anger rise.
Trish’s voice filtered once again through the line. “Pike wants to know when.”
“I said I can’t—” Deanna waved her hand at her empty apartment.
“You’ve got to. We need you here. It’s not like you’re two hundred miles away.”
“I’m going to try to send you a check.”
“A check? I don’t think so. Besides, you’ve got to be here for the hearing. And, you’ve got to talk to Cord.”
“Whoa. Hold on a minute. What hearing?”
“Didn’t you read the email?”
“Yes, I read your email. All you said was that Cord was interested in the farm. You didn’t say anything about a hearing.”
“Oh. I thought I did? The town wants to change the zoning code and take away our farming rights. Cord and his dad want to buy the farm so Cord can develop it. They already offered me and Pike $450,000. As far as the mortgage goes . . .”
“Four-fifty? What mortgage? Patricia. That was paid off back in ‘97. What are you talking about?”
Silence crossed the phone lines momentarily, until Deanna prodded. “Trish?”
Excerpt 2 – The Reunion
Unlike the bedroom window in her apartment, Deanna’s bedroom window in her old home offered a glorious view of the Easter morning dawn. Lavender, rose, and aquamarine ribbons laced across the horizon like splashes of Easter egg coloring dye, before the first crest of the morning star broke through a splash of clouds.
With a quick yawn and stretch of her arms, Deanna threw back the sheet and quilt and jumped from her bed. Within minutes she tiptoed out the front door, clad in shorts, tee shirt, and sneakers. Pausing for a moment, she stood on the porch and took in the peeling paint, the threadbare lawn, and the shiny red pickup Deanna knew had to be Pike’s. He’d had an old red pickup forever. Trish had said he bought a new truck.
A sense of familiarity crept into her body, but she still felt a bit alienated. She’d done this every morning throughout her high school days and throughout the year and a half she’d lived home after college. Even when she was sick with the flu, or had her period, she ran. Now she smiled broadly, eyeing two squirrels as they scurried across the drive.
It was still so much the same. Same buds peeping from the limbs of the oak trees that within a month would be shading the front lawn. Same gravel. Same tree stump with the flower box built around it. Same birdbath. Same crack in the bird bath where Dad dropped it the day he unloaded it from his truck. Mom had only chuckled, saying it gave the thing character.
Same view of the highway. The salon across the street where Trish said she worked. The gas station down on the corner, right next to the deli, where Pike used to work. The post office was now a pizza place, she noticed, wondering where they’d put the post office. She took a small hop down one step. Then another, another, and another, until she hit the gravel at a slow trot. Slow. Rhythmic. Thut, thut, thut, thut. Her breath came evenly, without effort. By the time she reached the highway, the blood was flowing through her legs. Her calves and thighs tingled with life.
Unconsciously, she made a right turn onto the highway, heading east, toward Cord’s house. Again, the memories flowed like the blood through her veins. The pavement beneath her sneakers took her back to another time, when she was younger and in love. Every morning she and Cord ran together. Together until their bodies were soaked with sweat. Until their muscles and tendons quivered and flexed with unchecked energy.
The sun still had not risen completely above the horizon as Deanna jogged toward the light. With her hair caught up in a ponytail, little tendrils had started to escape, curling about her forehead and temples and down along her nape. She now brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes, blinking for a moment, refocusing on the image of another jogger heading toward her. Her heart skipped a beat or two as a feeling of dèja vu swept over her. She blinked.
The next 30 seconds lasted an eternity as Deanna forced her legs to continue to move forward. She wanted to turn and run the other way. She wanted to cross the street, or run into the woods and take the old short cut home. But by the time she decided to do that, she was in front of the McCord Heavy Equipment lot, all fenced in and inaccessible to her.
They were close enough now for Deanna to see he wasfocused squarely on her, and she wanted to melt into the pavement. They would nod and continue their own ways, she decided. But maybe not, she thought, as he came closer and his lips slowly softened into an easy, wide grin.
“Figured I’d find you out here,” Cord said as he greetedher with a huff and a smile. “Looking good, Drake.” He slowed to stop, but when Deanna kept going, offering only “Hey,” he made a sharp turn and came up behind her.
“Wait up, Dean.”
“Getting slow in your old age, huh?” Duh!
“Hardly. Just better.” A slow smile chiseled the lower part of his face, etching dimples in his cheeks. He laughed when a blush crept across her face.
Excerpt 3 – An Invitation
Cord was standing at the perfect angle, Deanna noticed, enabling him to watch her every move while she spoke with Tammy. He stared openly as she headed toward him and his parents, Trish, and Pike. She felt a bit more confident now, her hair done, makeup on. Although, she was sure she could have used a touch up of lipstick. She wet her lips with the thought, then pursed her lips tighter. He smiled as his gaze locked on her mouth.
As she approached the group, she called out to his parents and totally ignored him. “H’lo, Jane. Hiya, Mike.”
“Why hello, young lady. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you sitting in front of us. I had to put my glasses on, didn’t I, boys?” Jane said as she reached her arms out, welcoming Deanna into her embrace.
“She sure did.” Cord smiled broadly, putting one arm around his mother’s frail frame, and the other around Deanna.
“Trish was telling us you’re in for the week?” Jane turned to Deanna for confirmation.
“Maybe?” Deanna offered a feeble smile and a shrug as she tried unsuccessfully to extricate herself from Cord’s arm. He tightened his embrace ever so slightly and smiled down at her in an almost brotherly fashion. She wanted to kick him.
“You’ll be by for a visit, won’t you?” Jane’s voice was stern as she offered an invitation that most definitely sounded like an order.
“Well, I’ll try,” Deanna said, shrugging her shoulders in another failed attempt to free herself from Cord’s casual embrace.
“Of course you will.” Jane smiled as Deanna and Cord fidgeted for control.
“Mom?” Cord asked. “Why don’t we have them over after Easter dinner for dessert?”
“Why, Michael! That’s a wonderful idea. What do you say, kids?”
“Oh, no. I mean, thank you, but—” Deanna tried to move away from Cord again, glaring openly at him.
“We’d love to,” Trish said, and her response brought a gasp from Deanna that everyone ignored.
“Thank you, Jane, but we don’t want to be an inconvenience on such a short notice,” Deanna said. The thought of dessert with Cord turned her stomach.
“Mom’s pleasure. You know how she likes a crowd on holidays. And with only Matt’s family, and me and Dad here, she’s a little lonely. Aren’t you, Mom?”
As if the whole scene had been rehearsed, Jane nodded and immediately extended the invite from dessert to the full meal to all three of them. “Long Island Duck. Mint jelly. Sweet potato pie. Homemade corn bread.”
Pike spoke for the first time all morning. “Sure beats Trish’s turkey.” That comment got him an elbow in his gut, a wave of chuckles from the crowd, all but Deanna, and then an awkward silence.
Standing there, on holy ground, Easter Sunday morning, Deanna tried once again to pray for that miracle. No. Please, no dinner. Dessert would be bad enough. But dinner? Seconds later, Deanna realized that God must have been busy making his own dinner plans.
“Fine, then. Dinner it is. How’s three o’clock sound?” Jane beamed broadly at the two girls, then at her son.
Deanna slipped a side glance at Trish, but Trish only smiled and shrugged, her blond hair bouncing freely in the bright sun. “We’ll bring the wine.”
“Great. See you at three. Mom, Dad. Catch you later.” Cord turned to Deanna, and for the first time she noticed he was wearing the suit he’d worn to Dad’s funeral. She remembered because the thin pinstripe was the same color blue as his eyes.
“Can I give you a ride home?” The amusement had left his eyes, and he now held her gaze, as if he could will her to say yes.
Shoot. All he had to do was catch her eyes and she was putty in his hands.
Excerpt 4 – Southaven Park
The shade was cool and the air smelled damp and woodsy as Deanna and Cord strolled together beneath the lush canopy provided by the tall pines at Southaven Park.
They headed toward the lake, the call of the geese giving them direction. It was quiet otherwise, and the air was sweet with the scent of pine. Each step was muffled by the soft bed of tawny pine needles carpeting the forest floor. They made it halfway through the dense forest before Cord wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer to his side.
“For old times’ sake,” he almost pleaded, and in silent agreement she did not step away.
It was all Deanna could do to keep from grabbing his hand and entwining her slender fingers around his. But she didn’t. It seemed like the thing to do. But, instead, they walked silently, the concept of rebuilding lingering between them, but neither knowing where to lay the first brick.
“What have you been up to lately?” Cord asked.
“Working mostly, at Courtney Davis,” came Deanna’s reply.
“Impressive. Good for you,” Cord replied with a quick squeeze of her shoulders.
“How about you?” she asked.
“The same. The industry is finally picking up again. New housing starts are up over last year.”
“Yeah.” He focused on the ground, studying their footsteps.
“Too bad we didn’t bring any bread. For the ducks.”
“Yeah,” he repeated.
Memory kicked in and they veered off to the left as they came to the horse stables. They fell silent and she became lost in memory of the last time the two had come here. They had broken up.
Cord walked beside her until they neared the clearing, and then finally he spoke. “If I could do it all over again, I would. No lie.”
Instead of warming her, his words unleashed an anger from deep within. She wanted to scream, wanted to hit him, yell at him. Make him hurt. From the sound of his voice she didn’t need to do anything to cause him pain.
They stood beside the lake, a murky green body of water filled with algae and grass and duck poo. “This is so sad. We used to swim in this water. Now look at this. What a mess.”
She shook her head in disgust, mesmerized by the slime and scum coating the shore water.
She heard him gulp a swallow. Then exhale.
“You think they could do something to fix this,” she continued, almost inaudibly. “To clean up this mess. They’d have to work at it though. It’s probably too far gone.”
“Things never stay the same, do they? You know? ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay?’ You wonder how the ducks can live in water this dirty?”
“Deanna, forget the water. Listen at me.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and drew her close.
“Can’t you give me another chance? Us? Give us another chance. Life hasn’t been the same without you. It will never be the same. I miss you. Damnit.” The urgency filled his voice and pain glimmered in his eyes. “I need you. Don’t you understand?”
For a moment, Deanna almost did. But only for a moment. Then the understanding was gone, replaced by wariness. “Need? You don’t need me. You need the farm. You think I’m that stupid? I can’t believe you’d stoop this low!”
She jerked away, but not quickly enough. Firm and unyielding, his hand caught her upper arm. “That’s not it, Deanna.”
She yanked free from him not even bothering to glare, and headed back to the lot where she would find his green truck, her ride back to home, and her sanity.
Excerpt 5 – Dirty Dishes and Dessert
“That was the best duck I’ve eaten in a long time, Jane.”
“Why thank you, Deanna. You are a sweetheart.” Jane fished around the sink full of soapy water as she searched for the next plate to wash.
“No. Thank you for having us,” Deanna said as she took the plate from Jane and rinsed it off before placing it on the drying rack.
“You set the table so pretty. I love that centerpiece,” Trish offered as she towel-dried and stacked the dishes on the kitchen table. “And the duck wasn’t greasy at all. Any time I’ve ever made duck it came out chewy and greasy.”
“Sounds like you’re cooking it too long and on too low a setting.” Jane wiped her hands on her apron, then picked up a stack of dishes and disappeared into the dining room, leaving Trish to wash the next round.
“You want to tell me what in hell is going on?” Deanna hissed under her breath as her sister came to stand beside her.
“You all are acting like it’s old home week, which isn’t exactly the picture you painted on the phone or in your email. Now, what’s the real reason you brought me out here?”
“You want them to rezone the farm?” Trish waved her dishtowel at Deanna.
“You want to sell out to Cord?” She smiled sweetly and batted her eyelashes.
“Not if I don’t have to.”
“Have you come up with any of the money?”
“Hey, ladies.” Cord appeared behind them from out of nowhere, placing an arm around each of their shoulders.
“This sure beats a Maytag or Whirlpool.”
“Cord, you pig.” Trish slipped out from under his embrace and took a dishtowel and swiped Cord across his behind. “That’s it. I quit. I don’t have to take this abuse.”
“Trish? We’re not done,” Deanna said, her voice sounding agitated and high-pitched.
“No sweat. I’ll help you finish. Move over.” He grabbed the dishtowel from Trish and tossed it on the counter.
“I’ve got it. I guess we were almost done after all.” Deanna stiffened her shoulders as he moved behind her.
“Ridiculous. It’s not every day I offer a hand in the kitchen.” His voice was low, tinged with humor, and unbelievably sexy.
“Then why start now?”
“To show you what you’re missing out on.” He placed a hand on either side of her on the sink countertop and bent to whisper in her ear. “I’d be in the kitchen every night if you were there beside me.”
She turned her head to escape the touch of his lips, but there was little space for her to move.
“Cross my heart,” he whispered again, sending shivers throughout her body.
“Cord?” Deanna’s attempted reply was barely audible.
“Um-hm.” He nuzzled against her skin. “Wouldn’t this be good? A man could get used to doing dishes like this.”
Deanna rested her hands at the bottom of the sink full of soapy water, closed her eyes and swallowed thickly. “Th-Th-This is sexual harassment.”
He sighed and straightened up as Jane spoke from the doorway.
“That was not what I planned on serving for dessert. But you young kids know best on how to keep the calories off, I suppose.” Jane chuckled behind them. “It sure is good seeing you two get along again.”
First Kiss –Second Time Around
“All I’m asking is for another chance.” His eyes bore into hers beneath the veil of night.
“I can’t. I can’t right now.” She drew back, needing the cool night air to clear her head.
“Why not? Is there someone else?”
“No.” This was happening way too fast.
“No, what? No, you don’t want to try again? or no, there isn’t someone else.”
“Oh, Cord! Why do you have to push? Why? Why do you have to have everything your way? You haven’t changed one bit. You want things your way and you want it yesterday! How do I know you’re not going to—?”
“I won’t. I’m older. I was a kid then.”
“I should leave,” she said, but stayed by his side.
Again, she didn’t move. She wasn’t ready for the night to end, but she didn’t want it to go where she might not be ready to go. It was dark, but for the light of the moon.
She didn’t want him to see how troubled she was, how unsure, and how nervous she was.
Whispering his name, she turned her face upward, searching his eyes and finding his lips. His kiss came lightly at first, a soft fleeting caress. She shivered, straining her neck as Cord hesitated, waiting for her reaction.
He bent his head lower and captured her mouth in an all-consuming kiss. She responded, despite her vow, despite her unwillingness to trust him, to forgive him completely. I need you. Her mind screamed, her body screamed, her heart screamed. Damn you, I need you.
Every cell of her body was blossoming like a moon flower at midnight. It was as if the last five years had not happened. They were young again, back when times were good, days were carefree, and love was theirs for the taking.
Excerpt 7 – Business Only
It was 12:50. Deanna had been home for half an hour, rushed through a second shower, blew her hair dry, dressed, and now sat by the front window, waiting to hear from Cord.
He hadn’t left a message on the machine while she was gone, and he hadn’t called her cell phone at all.
Did he forget? Had he been toying with her yesterday? Did something else come up? Were her palms ever going to stop sweating?
She stood before the hall mirror, assessing her reflection once again. Cool, calm, and collected—like that old baby powder commercial. Confident. Not too professional. The skirt and blazer were navy blue, the silk shell a cool white. Around her neck rested a blue and white choker of glass beads to match. She’d french braided her hair, curling it into a knot at her nape. Blue and white glass-beaded earrings dangled from her lobes, accenting the line of her neck.
Her makeup had been applied with the utmost care, almost as much care as she’d taken in picking out the matching pumps and purse. Now she hesitated, and wondered if she should have chosen a more feminine style. More seductive.
No. She was going to beat him with her brains. And she was going to enjoy every minute of it. She bent forward, seeing a mark on her cheek and panicked at the thought of getting a zit. Not now! But as she peered closer she realized it was a smudge on the mirror.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Cord called from the porch, where he had pressed his nose up against the screen door and was busy studying Deanna study herself in the mirror.
She jumped at the sound of his voice, yelling at him for startling her.
“Ready?” He held open the door with a gallant sweep and ignored her chastisement.
Grabbing her purse, she turned to follow him, telling herself she was not disappointed when he didn’t ask her for a kiss hello.
Not that he would have gotten one.
With a wave of his hand he moved away from the wooden screen door, inviting her to follow him. But as he turned to her once again he paused, his eyes hinting at his
appreciation and the smile his mouth refused to offer.
With great difficulty, she forced herself to walk toward his green SUV, refusing to acknowledge him, even though he had unabashedly savored every inch of her. She watched his eyes travel up her body, as if she were a straw and he was taking a long cool drink. Slowly he studied her, from her new pumps (the bottoms hadn’t even been scuffed) to the navy blue skirt and jacket (a power color, according to all
those self-help books) to the twist of her hair, where oddly his gaze lingered. She felt her cheeks blush a soft pink under his scrutiny and she sucked in a deep breath, clinging to his promise that this would be a strictly business lunch.
He held her door as she climbed into his SUV, then swung it shut and sauntered around to the other side. Only now she covertly took a moment to check him out; the way
his suit molded to his body, the crisp whiteness of his shirt against his tanned skin.
Her heart fluttered.