Not in Her Wildest Dreams(10)

By: Dani Collins

“Did you have your things put in storage?” his mother asked, as they followed his father past the dark, empty open office with cubicles. “Or is it already en route?”

She was pretending to joke, but she wasn’t. Not hardly at all.

Nothing ever changed here. The fabric on the cubicles wore the odd strip of duct tape. The walls in the hall needed fresh paint. The floor begged for new carpet. He passed a yellowed memo that instructed how to use the fax machine.

“I’m not moving back, Mom,” Sterling said, laconic but firm as they entered the quiet factory. His voice was amplified by the large expanse of concrete floor and high, tin ceiling. The distant patter of rain was the only sound except for the scuffs of their footsteps.

His mother stopped walking so he and his father did, too. Sterling looked past the silhouettes of equipment, into the tall shadows of the building’s interior. It always smelled the same here. Cedar and pine, cool metal and fresh, Pacific Northwest air. Familiar.

Not like home, he reassured himself. Not anymore. But familiar. Nostalgic.

“How will you run the factory from North Carolina?” his mother asked.

“I don’t intend to. I told you that on the phone.”

His father jangled his keys. “It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here. We can go.”

“Dad.” Sterling appreciated that small towns like Liebe Falls were relaxed and had low crime rates, but they’d called him here on the pretense of a security concern. The least they could do was play it out. “I’ll make sure all the doors are locked. It will just take a minute.”

“You’re spending too much time in cities, son.”

Sterling shook his head and started toward the nearest door.

“Never mind. I’ll do it,” his father said gruffly, and walked over to rattle the bar. It held.

Sterling watched him, trying to figure out why his father was so reluctant to do something so basic. Plain old age?

“You’re not saying anything. Are you thinking about it?” his mother asked.

“I have my own company to run, Mom.”

She made an exasperated noise. “What company? Where?”

His father was making his way around the inside perimeter, but Sterling wasn’t sure he’d checked the last door he’d passed. Sterling steered his mother in that direction. “You know. Patty and I run a consulting firm.”

“You don’t make anything.”

“Just money.”

“You run around telling people what to do. You can do that here. It’s your heritage, you know.”

“Telling people what to do?”

“Honestly, Sterling.”

Sterling smiled. It didn’t hold, though. This company had been his father’s heritage until Grady Fogarty had bought in. Sterling still felt responsible for that and it had nothing to do with Paige. She had said she wasn’t nursing any ill-will so he ought to be able to leave, confident his father would own the company, but he wasn’t confident. He was worried.

“Your father needs you, Sterling. He can’t run the company while running for Mayor.”

Sterling frowned at his father as he came through the darkened space behind a stack of lumber. “Since when are you running for Mayor?”

“That’s just an idea your mother has.”

“He’d had enough of working with Grady. I suggested it.”

“If Grady retires, I’ll be needed here,” his father pointed out.

“Not if Sterling comes back.”

“Sterling’s not coming back.” His father wound behind the planer to check another door.

Strange. His father used to want him here almost as badly as his mother did. He missed another door, too. Sterling went to check it himself.

“The Liebe Falls Business Association has offered their support,” his mother said, keeping pace and reaching for Sterling’s arm as she stepped over an oil stain.

“Heavily influenced by the wives of the LFBA, of course,” his father added, his big voice bouncing around the hollow space.

“Walt, you put food on half the tables in this town. Don’t downplay how important that makes you to people.”

His father tucked in his chin and shot off to the next door.

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