Read The Way Home Online

Authors: Irene Hannon

The Way Home (3 page)

BOOK: The Way Home
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Don't put yourself out.”

Cal frowned. She sounded miffed. And she had a right to, he conceded guiltily. As Cynthia had said, she'd paid good money for their date, whatever her motivation. He took a deep breath and forced a more
pleasant tone into his voice. “I'll be happy to pick you up. Just give me your address.”

She hesitated, and for a moment he thought she was going to refuse. But in the end she relented and they settled on a time.

“I'll see you Friday, Mr. Richards. It should be interesting.”

That wasn't exactly the word he would have chosen, he thought grimly as he hung up the phone, reached for his coffee and shook out two aspirin from the bottle he kept in his desk drawer. On second thought, he made it three. Amy Winter was definitely a three-aspirin headache.

 

As Amy replaced the receiver, she realized her hand was shaking. The strain of keeping up a breezy front with the recalcitrant assistant prosecuting attorney had clearly taken a toll. She'd always been out-spoken and assertive, but “pushy” wasn't her style. Which was unfortunate, given the career she'd chosen. Though she'd learned to be brash, she hadn't yet learned to like it. The in-your-face approach just wasn't her. But it
was
part of the job, and she figured in time it would get easier. The only problem was, she'd been telling herself that for years now.

Amy took a sip of her herbal tea and gave herself a few minutes to calm down. Cal Richards didn't like her, and though she knew she shouldn't let that bother her, it did. She liked to be liked. But she'd chosen the wrong business for that, she reminded herself wryly. Investigative reporters didn't usually win popularity contests. Acrimony went with the territory.

For a fleeting moment Amy wondered if she might have been happier using her reporting skills in some other way. But she ruthlessly stifled that unsettling thought almost as quickly as it arose. It was way too late for second-guessing. She'd invested too much of her life and energy building this particular future to question it now. She'd very deliberately set her sights on a career as an anchorwoman, and she knew exactly why.

First, she liked the glamour. She enjoyed being in the spotlight, relished her pseudocelebrity status.

Second, she liked the big-city lifestyle. Unlike her sister, Kate, who had actually enjoyed small-town farm life, Amy had always dreamed of the bright lights and the excitement of the city. If the lights were more garish than dazzling up close, well, that was more a reflection of the nature of her work—which often took her to seedy areas—than of the actual city, she assured herself.

Third, she liked the money. Or at least the freedom it gave her. The freedom to travel to the Caribbean on exotic vacations, the freedom to live in an upscale town house, the freedom to walk into any store in Atlanta and buy whatever designer outfit she chose without having to give up something else to do so. Money had always been tight on the farm. Her parents had done their best, but she had vowed to put the days of homemade prom dresses and hand-me-downs far behind her.

Fourth, she liked feature reporting, especially human-interest stories that uplifted and inspired and made people feel optimistic about the goodness of the
human race. True, those rarely came her way. Someday, though, when she made her mark, she would be able to pick and choose her assignments, decide when and if she wanted to come out from behind the anchor desk. But that was still a long way down the road. In the meantime, she did what she was told and worked hard to get the best possible story. Including bidding on a date with a man who clearly disliked her.

Amy sighed and took another sip of tea, trying to find something positive in the situation. She thought back over their conversation and suddenly recalled Cal's comment about her not needing to buy a date. So he thought she was attractive, she mused. It wasn't much, she acknowledged, but it was a start.

 

“Hi, Gram. How's everything at home?”

“Cal? My, it's good to hear your voice! We're both fine. Jack, it's Cal,” she called, her voice muffled as she apparently turned her head.

Cal smiled and leaned back, resting his head against the cushion of the overstuffed chair as he crossed an ankle over his knee. Just hearing the voices from home made him feel better.

“Your dad'll be right here, son. How's life in Atlanta?”

“Okay.”

“Hmph. I've heard more enthusiasm from old Sam Pritchard.”

Cal smiled again. Sam Pritchard was legendary in the mountains for his blasé reaction to life. As usual, his grandmother had tuned right in to Cal's mood.
Probably because she was one of the few people who knew of his growing dissatisfaction with city life.

“Sorry, Gram.” He modified his tone. “I can't complain. The job is demanding and stressful, but it's worthwhile work, and I've been blessed in a lot of ways.”

“Are you taking any time for fun?”

Cal pondered that question. Fun? The only time he really had any fun was when he went home, and that wasn't often enough. When he was in the city, he was too busy for much socializing. His job ate up an inordinate amount of his time, and most of the little that remained he spent at Saint Vincent's.

“I get out once in a while,” he hedged.

“You need to take some time for yourself, son,” the older woman persisted, the worry evident in her voice. “A body needs more in life than work and responsibilities. You meet any nice women lately?”

For some reason, his social life—or lack thereof—had become a hot topic over the past year. His grandmother seemed to think that if he got married and had a family, many of his doubts and issues would be resolved. Frankly, he thought a romantic entanglement would just complicate matters. He needed to get his life in order, make some decisions about his future, before he got involved in a relationship. That was only fair to the woman. And it was that sense of fairness, not lack of interest, that kept him from serious dating. In fact, in the past couple of years he'd begun to long for the very things his grandmother was suggesting, had become increasingly aware of an emotional vacuum in his life. He'd lain awake more
nights than he cared to admit yearning for warmth, for a caring touch, for someone who would listen to the secrets of his heart and share hers with him. He
wanted
to fall in love. It was just that now was not the time.

“Cal?” his grandmother prompted. “It wasn't a hard question. 'Course, if it's none of my business, that's okay.”

“Actually, I have a date Friday night,” he offered, to appease her.

“Well! Now that's fine.”

He could hear the surprise in her voice, could tell she was pleased, and he felt a twinge of guilt. He should explain the situation. After all, it wasn't a real date.

“It's no big deal, Gram. Just dinner.”

“Everything has to start somewhere. Where did you meet her?” she asked eagerly.

He felt himself getting in deeper. “At the courthouse. But Gram, she…”

“Is she a lawyer, too?”

“No. She works in TV. Actually, that's how…”

“My! That sounds interesting. What's her—oh, your dad's ready to talk to you. We'll catch up some more later. You call us again over the weekend, okay?”

Cal sighed as the phone was passed on. He'd certainly handled that well, he berated himself. Now his grandmother would get her hopes up, jump to all sorts of wrong conclusions. But he'd be better prepared when he called the next time. He'd use the old “we
just didn't click” routine, and that would be the end of that.

“Cal? How are you, son?”

Cal settled deeper into the chair. “Hi, Dad. Fine. How's everything there?”

“Same as always. Quiet. Things don't change much in the mountains, you know. But tell me about you. I know there's a lot more going on in Atlanta than there is here.”

Cal relayed some recent events that he knew his father would enjoy hearing about—the black-tie dinner, though he made no mention of the auction part of the evening, a meeting he'd had with the mayor earlier in the week, the publicity the Jamie Johnson trial was receiving. As usual, his father ate it up.

“My, son! You sure do lead an exciting life. But you deserve all your success. You worked hard for it. And I'm proud of you. I was just telling Mike Thomas about the governor's commission you were appointed to. He was real impressed.”

Cal felt the old familiar knot begin to form in his gut. His father was a kind, gentle, decent man who'd never had a break in his entire life. He'd spent his youth and middle age barely scraping by, handicapped by limited education and limited opportunity as he struggled to support a son and an ailing wife. He'd worked with his hands all his life, accepting that as his lot but dreaming of better things for Cal. Now he was living Cal's success vicariously. If his son returned to the mountains, in whatever capacity, the older man would be sorely disappointed, Cal knew. But there had to be a line somewhere between re
sponsibility to his father and to himself. He just wasn't sure where it was.

Up until now he'd done everything that was expected of him—by others and by himself. He gave his job one hundred percent, and did his best to make a contribution to society. He'd provided well for Gram and his dad. They'd refused his offer to move to Atlanta, both reluctant to leave the only home they'd ever known, but he made sure they lived comfortably, that neither had to work anymore. By choice, Gram still put in a great deal of time at the craft coop she'd founded. His father, however, who had always disliked working the land, had walked away from his job without a second look, content to spend his time helping out at the church or reading, a pastime he'd had little opportunity to indulge in most of his life.
They
were both happy. Unfortunately, the vague discontent that had been nagging him for years had intensified dramatically in the last few months, leaving
him
restless and searching.

“You coming home to visit soon, son?” His father interrupted his thoughts.

“I hope so, Dad.” The sudden weariness in his voice reflected the burden of decision he was struggling with, and he tried for a more upbeat tone. “It's hard to get away, though. Things are pretty busy.”

“I understand. You have an important job. I'm sure they need you there. But your room is always waiting, anytime you can get away. You'll come up sometime later in the spring, won't you?”

“Of course. Have I ever missed spring in the mountains?”

The older man chuckled. “Can't say you have. One thing about you, son. You're reliable. We can always count on you.”

The knot in Cal's gut tightened. “I'm not perfect, Dad.”

“Maybe not. But I sure wouldn't trade you in. You take care, now.”

“All right, Dad. Tell Gram I said goodbye.”

Cal replaced the receiver and wearily let his head drop back against the chair. He needed to make some decisions, and he needed to make them soon. There were rumors that he was being considered for a promotion to the coveted position of prosecuting attorney. He should be happy. It was what he was supposed to have been working toward all these years. Instead, it just made him feel more pressured, more trapped. If he was going to make a change, this was the time, before he got so deeply entrenched in his urban career and lifestyle that he couldn't get out.

Cal closed his eyes. He wanted to go back to the mountains, back to the place where he felt more in touch with nature, with himself and with his God. Cal hadn't let his spiritual life slip since coming to the city. It was too important to him to neglect. But it was harder here to retain a sense of balance, to stay focused on the really important things in life. There were too many distractions, too many demands, too much emphasis on materialism, power, prestige and “getting ahead.”

Cal's priorities had always been different. Position and money meant nothing to him personally. Their only value, as far as he could see, was that they gave
him the means to help others who were less fortunate. In his job, he did his best to see justice served, which helped humanity in general. That, in turn, provided a good income, which allowed him to make life better for Gram and his father. And he was able to contribute both time and dollars to the causes he believed in, such as Saint Vincent's. So plenty of good had come from his career choice. Was he being selfish to consider changing the status quo?

Cal rose, walked restlessly over to the window and stared pensively out at the city lights. In his heart, he wanted to go home, back to the mountains where he could spend his days free of the confines of concrete and steel and glass. There was a part of him deep inside that had always yearned to share the beauty of nature with others hungry for nourishment for their souls. Though he had no specific plans for it, he'd completed a degree in forestry last year by going tonight school. It was just something he'd wanted to do, and he'd shared the accomplishment with very few. Even Gram didn't know.

Cal sighed. He knew that few people would understand his feelings about the mountains. Certainly no one in the city, and very few at home. Gram did. But not his father. And the last thing he wanted to do was disappoint the man who had sacrificed so much for him. As his father saw it, Cal was his one success in life. If Cal scaled down his lifestyle, gave up his high-profile job and moved back home, his father would feel that all his efforts had been for nothing, that he was a failure after all. And Cal didn't know if he could do that to the man who had given him life
and love so abundantly. Nor was he sure he should walk away from his present job, knowing he was good at it and that he did, sometimes, make a difference.

Cal jammed his fists into his pockets and looked up at the sky, trying to discern the stars that shone so brightly in the mountains but here were dimmed by the glare of city lights.

BOOK: The Way Home
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
The Captain Is Out to Lunch by Charles Bukowski
Blood Runs Cold by Alex Barclay
Seduced by a Scoundrel by Barbara Dawson Smith
Frisky Business by Tawna Fenske
Lucky Breaks by Patron, Susan