The Exception(12)

By: Adriana Locke

I made my way through the building and to my old office. It had been rearranged by the last occupant, but it still felt like mine and I was relieved. Who says you can’t go home?

I tossed my things on my desk and opened my blinds, gazing out at the small grassy patch behind that building. Kari and I played on that growing up, racing around, practicing gymnastics and playing tag. Mom would pack picnic lunches on the weekends if Dad had to work. We would bring food and a quilt and eat lunch out on the grass.

The wave of nostalgia hit me unexpectedly. I had been gone for so long. I had been so caught up in my life that I had forgotten about those little moments—the moments that made me who I was.

My throat constricted as the memories flooded by, comforting and saddening me at the same time.

“You got this, sweet pea.” I closed my eyes as I remembered the line Mom always said to encourage me. I wished so hard that I could hear her say that to me one more time, to assure me as I started this new chapter in my life. Will I be okay this time? Do I have this? I wasn’t sure, but I had to keep plowing forward either way.

“It is so nice having you back,” Alice said, bringing me out of my reverie. “You were very missed around here. But you know that.”

I turned and smiled at her, pushing my memories away. She looked remarkably the same as she did when I left, her greying hair pulled tightly back into her signature bun. “Thank you. It is really nice to be back.”

“Well, everything feels right now that you are home—where you belong.” She pushed her eyeglasses up on her nose, giving me a motherly look. “Your father wants to see you when you get a chance, by the way. He has a bounce in his step this morning that I haven’t seen for a long time.”

She turned to leave and I followed her out of my office and down the hall. We reached my father’s door and she gave me a pat on the shoulder and a small smile before disappearing around the corner.

Alice had always been more to Kari and me than just Dad’s secretary. We had always seen her as a family friend or an aunt of sorts. But after our mother’s passing, Alice stepped up to the plate. She took care of everything, but gave us all room to grieve—especially me.

The seventh day of March, my birthday, would always be a rough day. There would be no celebrations, no parties, no festivities from my fourteenth birthday on. It would always be a sad day for me.

It would always be the day my mother died.

A stay-at-home mom that made homemade dinners, played Candyland, and volunteered her time at a local women’s shelter, Anne Stanley was the ideal mother; Kari and I were the center of her life. Not having her left a tremendous void, but Alice tried to fill it as best as she could. Not in a disingenuous way, but because she had loved our mother, too. She baked cookies for our bake sales, picked us up from school when we were sick, and I’m fairly certain she wrapped our Christmas presents every year.

She kept things from spiraling out of control.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up?” I looked across the room at my father. He was handsome, with rugged features and a charismatic smile. He was an astute businessman, but always a father first. There was never any doubt that Kari and I were his first priority.

“Good morning, Jada.” He looked up from a stack of papers in his hands. “I hope you are ready to jump in head first.”

“Is there any other way?” Excitement started to build inside me as I took my seat across from his desk. I loved work and the challenge of making things happen. It was in my bones.

“That’s my girl.” He smiled proudly. “We had a call come in this morning about listing a property in Scottsdale. It’s a commercial building for a new client. It’s known as Solomon Place. They asked that we get up there today and get the ball rolling.” He sat the papers on the desk. “It’s a good thing you showed up to work today instead of next week.”

“And why is that?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

“They asked for you.”

“They? Asked for me?” I was baffled. “That makes absolutely no sense, Dad. No one even knows I’m in town.” I racked my brain for a connection, but came up short.

“Do you know someone named Max Quinn?”

The fog began to lift. “I think so.”

“Well, Mr. Quinn asked for you to meet him at the property this morning. I typically like to handle new clients and accounts this expensive myself, but I trust you.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “If you are ready, of course.”

“I’d love to do it. That’s why I am here, right?”

“Here’s the address,” he said, scooting a piece of paper across the table. “Alice has the rest of the information you’ll need.”