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Authors: Tracy Kelleher

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Company You Keep
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“Me, too. I don’t want anything to get in the way of the mounds of salt.”
Press stuffed the bag with his food under his arm. “Listen, you guys, I just got this text about meeting some friends. They’re free shortly. So, I don’t want to cut your personal reunion short, but I’d like to get a move on if possible.” He motioned with his car keys to where they’d parked across the street.
Mimi stood there, hugging her hoagie to her side. “I’ll need to get my wallet out to pay Vic.”
“No, don’t bother. It’ll be my treat,” Vic offered. “Anyway, I don’t want to hold you up,” he said to Press.
“Don’t worry about me, Press. I’ll find my own way home,” Mimi blurted out. “Whenever you get a chance, just leave my suitcase and stuff in the foyer. It’s not like there’s anything I need right away.”
“If you’re sure?” Press asked.
Mimi wasn’t sure of anything—especially where Vic Golinski was concerned. Why had she told her brother to take off without her? More to the point, why wasn’t she quite ready to say goodbye to Vic? Was it guilt for what she’d done the last time they’d crossed paths? Or maybe her hormones were sputtering to the fore after a long, bleak period? Or maybe she just needed to set the record straight before their next public showdown. Yes…that was it. She just needed to set the record straight—not that she intended to back down from her principles, but just to let him know that she wasn’t looking for a fight.
“Okay, then,” Press said breezily, seemingly unaware for the mental gymnastics Mimi was going through. “And nice meeting you,” he said as a farewell to Vic before stepping off the curb, his head already half-buried in a bag of fries. A Land Rover made a quick stop, missing him by a few inches. But Press munched away.
“Were we ever that oblivious?” Mimi asked in relief.
“I thought you people were born that way,” Vic replied.
“What?” Mimi turned back to him.
“Oblivious to others. Using words like
foyer.

“Foyer?” She was completely lost now.
“Yeah, you told your brother to leave your suitcase in the foyer of the house. Who uses words like that? Who even has a house with a foyer?”
“What’s wrong with
foyer?
You want me to say
entryway
instead?” She shook her head. “Listen, I didn’t stick around to argue. I wanted to make sure that since we’re going to be sitting on that panel again that we should bury the hatchet.” She set her jaw.
“You think I need to bury the hatchet? I could point out that you were the one who spilled the water.”
“Which you just did. And I could point out that you were the one with the flagrant head-butting violation.”
“That was different. That was a onetime occasion,” he argued.
“And you think I just go around dousing people with water whenever it strikes my fancy?” She stared at him.
Vic seemed about to speak, then looked away. After a moment, he turned back. “Shall we agree to try to be civil? Or at least put up the front of being civil?”
Mimi peered around and saw that several people were slanting them nervous looks. She stood up straighter. “I don’t see why not. Besides, it’s not as if we really know each other to get all riled up anyway. And I’m sure that since I last saw you you’ve changed and…developed in many ways. I mean, you look…” Her voice trailed off. Yes, she had already noticed just how physically developed he’d become.
“Older?” he suggested.
“Settled,” she said instead.
“You make that sound like a criticism.”
Mimi shook her head. “On the contrary, over the years I’ve grown to appreciate stability. It’s like something isn’t missing in your life.”
He studied her face. “You think you know me?”
She touched the top of her hoagie bag. The burst of energy she had felt when first seeing him was slowly seeping away. And she could almost feel her eyes darting back and forth, studying the people passing by on the sidewalk or going in and out of Hoagie Palace.
Stop it!
she reprimanded herself.
This is bloody Grantham, after all!
The biggest criminal threats were bored teenagers shoplifting from the drug store.
She squared her shoulders and fixed a smile on her face. “Let’s start again. So, are you living nearby or did you just come in early for Reunions?” The Reunions festivities didn’t begin until Friday evening, so there were a few days to go.
He studied her some more, then visibly eased off. “I live in town now. Actually, my whole family does. In a small town house development behind the shopping center.”
Mimi nodded. “I think I know the one you mean. Brick? Kind of a Georgetown re-dux? Very exclusive. I bet you even have an aesthetically minded owners association.”
“So you heard about the no clothesline rule, then?”
“You’re joking?”
“Could I make something like that up?” he asked. A smile twitched the corner of his mouth.
“No, I guess not.” She chuckled then gazed into his face. “So you think we’ll be able to be civil to each other?” She cocked her head.
“Only with immense amounts of restraint.” He shifted his bag of food to the other arm and cradled it like a football.
How fitting,
thought Mimi. She was actually starting to relax again. Weird, the one person in Grantham who had vexed her the most now seemed capable of putting her best at ease. “If you want, we could eat our hoagies together?” She held up her paper bag.
“I was going to take it home.” He hesitated. “Of course, you’re welcome to come.”
Why did she feel he was just being polite? And anyway, even though he had bought food for only himself, who was to say he wasn’t meeting someone? For some reason, the prospect of having to make polite conversation with Vic Golinski’s current squeeze was more than she could bear at the moment.
So, instead, she glanced down at her oversize wristwatch—not the sturdy Rolex from her mother, that one was gone forever—and started to back away down the sidewalk. “Thanks for the offer, but on second thought, I should probably head home.” She held up her wrist and tapped the crystal of her black Swatch. “My family’s probably wondering what’s happened to me.” Like that was really going to happen, Mimi thought. Whatever, it was as good an excuse as any.
“So, I’ll be off, then.” She pointed vaguely toward the center of town. Her family’s house was located on the west side about a half-mile past the commercial stretch, in the Old Money residential section. Even the rhododendrons on that side of town could boast aristocratic lineages.
“I can give you a lift if you’re in a hurry.”
She shook her head. “Not to worry, I’m fine. Besides, I wouldn’t want to take you out of your way.” The ride in from the train station with Press had not totally been knuckle biting, but it had probably been enough to tax her stamina for one day. “It’s not personal. I prefer to walk.” Now
that
was the truth.
“Don’t worry. I don’t take it personally.”
From the scowl on his face, she wasn’t so sure.
“On the other hand, I’m parked in a spot down a ways—right in the direction you’re headed. If you don’t mind, I’ll just tag along that far. That way you’ll get the chance to meet my girl. She’s waiting in the car.” He seemed very chipper all of a sudden. “She’s the hot sauce fanatic actually.”
Was it too late to run?

CHAPTER SIX

 

CONRAD LODGE SAT in his usual leather armchair in the study of the Lodge mansion on Singleton Road, the thoroughfare that led into the “right” side of town. One-hundred-year-old sycamores shaded the sidewalks. Tall brick and stone walls and wrought-iron fences with security boxes guarded the magisterial homes, including the residence of New Jersey’s governor.
“So how does she look?” Conrad asked. He cupped a cut-crystal tumbler with the finest single malt whisky, resting on a coaster featuring the Grantham University crest. In his other hand, he held a newly lit cigar. A red circle of flame shone around the gray ash center.
“How does she look?” Press repeated wearily.
How about how do I look?
This was the first he had laid eyes on his father since coming back to Grantham. His flight had gotten in around three in the afternoon. And by the time he had caught the train down and gotten a taxi home, it was after five. After five—but still several hours before Conrad’s train was due in from Manhattan.
He had no sooner gotten home than he’d received a message from his father’s assistant to pick up Mimi at Grantham Junction station.
So, there Press stood, zonked out from jetlag and the crazy fourteen-hour time difference between the U.S. and Australia, enduring a cross-examination from his father. Did the old man think to ask how
his
flight was? If
his
planes had been crowded? On time? Let alone how his work was going in Melbourne?
Of course not.
His father had never asked him about anything that Press cared about. Business and Grantham—that’s all he could talk about. “Why don’t you go out for football at Grantham, the way I did?” his father had instead asked critically. “Why don’t you talk to my friend at such-and-such investment firm about a summer internship? Do something real with your life.”
All his life, Press figured he’d been a failure to his father’s way of thinking. No, it was worse than that. It was more like his father didn’t think of him at all.
Though Press had never gotten the impression that Dear Old Dad cared one whit for Mimi, either. Still, it had been on his father’s marching orders that Press had returned for Reunions and to come and visit his sister. Truth be told, he would have returned anyway, but he wasn’t about to admit that to his father. One, because Press didn’t like to give him any satisfaction that they might be thinking along the same lines.
God forbid!
And two, this way his father had paid for the flight. Considering the cost of living in Australia, not to mention the sky-high price of the airfare, Press would have had to forego food in order to pay for the trip.
So he just rubbed his bloodshot eyes and mumbled, “She looks like you’d expect.” Press might not be a “real Lodge man,” but he had learned over the years that mouthing off provided only temporary satisfaction at best.
“Speak up, Prescott,” Conrad ordered.
Press looked up. “She’s kind of jumpy, but otherwise not too bad.”
Conrad rested his cigar in a green Venetian glass ashtray. “No outbursts of anger?”
Press shrugged. “No more than usual. Mimi’s never been exactly nonconfrontational.”
“She didn’t mention difficulties sleeping, eating, show difficulties concentrating, did she?”
“If I had known that my job involved making clinical observations, I would have taken notes.”
“There’s no need for insolence. You don’t seem to grasp the severity of the traumatic situation your sister’s been through.”
“I know she had it pretty rough. I’m not totally insensitive, you know.” He dug his hands in his jeans pockets. He felt his phone, a reminder that he was already late to meet Amara and Matt.
Anyway, like he’d ever admit to his father how he’d scoured the internet during his half-sister’s captivity. He’d even joined chat groups with Eastern European members with the hopes of obtaining some inside information that didn’t make it to the regular news media. That involvement, though, had scared him more than anything.
Just before his graduation last year, Mimi had told him that she was setting up an interview with some Chechen rebel. He’d known it was important to her—even more important than the other stories she’d covered. This one had been personal. Family. Her mother’s family.
Then he had waited—for her to return from her interview. Only, she hadn’t. He’d been worried sick for her. But he’d also felt sorry for himself. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t help it. Because he realized—if he lost Mimi, he’d lose the only touchstone he had to a real sense of family.
Now, standing in his father’s dark paneled study, he caught his father gazing off into space. If he didn’t know better he’d say the man appeared consumed by his own demons. Though the more likely explanation was indigestion or alcoholic haze.
Whichever, he wasn’t about to stick around. “So, if there’s nothing else? I came home to grab a shower before I meet up with some friends.” Press fisted his hands.
Conrad took a healthy swallow from his drink and returned his gaze to his son. “God forbid we get in the way of your social life. So, if I may be so bold as to ask—where is your sister?”
“We stopped off at Hoagie Palace because Mimi wanted to, and she ran into someone she knew from college who lives in town.”
“Not Lilah Evans? Noreen told me this morning that she and Lilah were involved in some kind of Board meeting today for Sisters for Sisters, their nonprofit organization, and then a dinner afterward. That’s why I have made arrangements to eat at the Grantham Club this evening.” He hesitated. “Though perhaps Noreen got her dates confused, in which case I wonder where she might be.” He nervously turned his cigar in the glass tray, knocking off the burnt ash.
BOOK: The Company You Keep
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