Legacy of Love(5)

By: Donna Hill

“Hey, how was lunch?”

Zoe blinked, gripped the armrests of her chair and forced herself to focus.

Mike stepped in. A frown drew a line between his brows. “You, okay? You looked frightened.”

Zoe swallowed and ran her tongue across her dry lips. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She made herself smile. “Frightened?” She sputtered a laugh and turned on her computer. “Of what, you?” she teased.

Mike checked her out for a moment more. “Yeah, okay.” He shrugged. “I signed off on the schedule for next week and Linda has a problem with it. Linda always has a problem. If it’s not the schedule, it’s taking inventory or whatever it is she’s supposed to be doing. If I say something to her to then I’m a bully. So maybe you want to talk to her. If it were up to me, she’d be pounding the pavement.”

He leaned against the door frame, looking too enticing for words.

Zoe cleared her throat. She knew Linda’s real motive. Linda had a thing for Mike and rather than be upfront about it, she used her energy to give him a hard time. Very junior high school as far as Zoe was concerned, but it wasn’t her place to say anything to Mike about Linda. But her behavior was affecting her work, and that was a problem. “I’ll have a talk with her before I leave. And speaking of leaving, I’m taking Friday off. I’m driving down to see my family.”

“Cool. For how long?”

“Just the weekend. I’ll be back on Monday. Sharlene is going with me.”

Mike nodded. He pushed away from the door. “Please talk to your girl.”

“I will. I promise.”

“See you later.” He turned and walked away.

Zoe folded her hands on top of her desk. Could it be Mike? she wondered. She shook her head. Now she was starting to think like her crazy family and her even crazier best friend. But as much as she tried, it was getting harder to ignore the feelings.

Jackson returned to his two-bedroom town house following his early evening run and went straight to the living room to turn on his 52-inch flat-screen television. It was his biggest purchase since moving into his new space. How many mornings had he awakened on the used leather couch, having fallen asleep in front of the flat screen?

There was a time falling asleep on the couch would have never happened. Instead of being eager to settle down in front of the television with a stack of papers to grade, he would look forward to undressing Carla and loving every inch of her body.

He pointed the remote at the television, kicked off his sneakers and stretched out on the couch. Carla was in his rearview mirror. It had been more than two years since they’d seen or spoken to each other. “It was him, not her,” he’d said to the woman he’d thought he would marry. He’d tried to explain, to erase the look of hurt and disbelief from her eyes. The truth was he couldn’t explain it to himself.

In the months leading up to their breakup, he’d felt himself pulling away from Carla as if drawn by some unseen force—the same force that brought him to Atlanta. The same force that filled his dreams at night, clouded his thoughts during the day and the scent that wafted under his nostrils when he least expected it. Like today.

He surfed through the channels and finally settled on MSNBC. He was still bummed by the changing lineup, but it was still one of the best cable news channels on the air. He crossed his feet at the ankles, but instead of concentrating on the latest developments in the Middle East, his thoughts segued to the strange feelings he’d experienced at the restaurant and the brief glimpse of that woman. He exhaled a deep breath. The woman he thought he had to see. He pressed his fingers over his eyes. Whatever was going on with him seemed to have escalated in the past few weeks. But in the midst of all the weirdness, he knew somehow this was where he was meant to be. For what, he wasn’t sure. At some point it would all work itself out.

He was between dozing and half listening to Rachel Maddow when the vibrations of his cell phone broke into the lazy rhythm that was lulling him to sleep. Groaning, he turned to his side and dug his cell phone out of his sweatpants pocket. He held the iPhone up in front of him. His sister’s name and number were lit up on the screen.

“Hey, sis.”

“Did I wake you?”

“No. Just watching a little TV. Whatsup?” He stifled a yawn.

Michelle chuckled. “You were always such a bad liar. But since I woke you up, how are you?”

He tucked his hand behind his head. “Aw, now why do we have to start off with the name-calling?” he teased. His twin sister was more than a sibling. They were best friends. Jackson often felt bad that he didn’t have that same level of connection with their older brother, Franklin. But Franklin was fifteen years older than his twin brother and sister and they were as much a surprise to him—upsetting his status as the only child—as their arrival was to their stunned parents. In their years growing up, Franklin was more of a father, rather than an older brother. Long before they were out of grade school, Franklin was off to college, and then marriage with children of his own.

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