Daryl looked down at the lottery ticket in his hand. Not one number. Not one number on the screen from the four o’clock drawing matched.
He was out of favor with Lady Luck this week. She was snapping up every good thing that could have come his way. He tossed the ticket away in the wastebasket beneath his desk.
He wanted to come home with something tonight, since his regional manager Quincy hadn’t pushed his annual bonus through or called about the big promotion to management he was waiting to hear about. And he was too afraid to make the call to follow up on either account—certain the answer would be he was passed over for one of the newer, younger guys who pulled long hours. Daryl used to be the first one through the door and the last one to leave, but that was before Fern broke her ankle and had to be carted around to countless doctor appointments and he had taken over drop off and pick up duty with the kids. Thank goodness she was out of the cast now, but that didn’t make up for all the time lost over the last two months.
He was concerned all the time off was having a visible impact on his work. Why else wouldn’t he his bonus have passed out by now. For the first time since starting at his company, he wouldn’t be celebrating his anniversary—which was tomorrow—and bonus in tandem. He hoped Fern wouldn’t be too disappointed.
He missed his wife. All the hours the two of them divided between the kids and their jobs left precious little for the two of them to be together. The days of tucking the kids into bed and curling up on the couch with a glass of wine and a movie were gone. Fern was so tired when she got home. Weekends were scheduled to the hilt with football games, basketball games, sleepovers, and birthday parties that by the time Monday rolled around Daryl couldn’t wait to get back to the office—to the peace and quiet of his chair and his desk.
His phone rang. “Daryl Evans,” he said.
“Hi honey, it’s me.”
His wife. His best friend. “Hi.”
A pause stretched between them before Fern continued. “Can you make the run to the airport? Something has come up.” Code for, I have to work late. “I’ll make sure the kids get home if you can do this for me, okay?”
“Sure,” he said. Yep, luck was toying with him, turning him into the taxi driver for Martha VanStuven—his mother-in-law.
He and Fern would be celebrating eighteen years of marriage this weekend. And her mother was coming. It didn’t get much worse than that.
Daryl shut down his computer and grabbed his keys. How do you celebrate your anniversary with your wife after the lights turn out with your mother-in-law snoring on the other side of the wall? You don’t.
The next five days were going to be full of cold showers and tip-toe walking as they all tried to do everything perfectly, just like Martha expected. Her eyes never failed to catch every little slip up that happened under his roof. Every time one of the children forgot to say thank you, or he forgot to put the toilet seat down, or Fern overcooked the chicken, they all got to hear about it from Martha the Perfect.
She hated Daryl. His name was put on her bad list the moment he moved Fern out of state for his job in Portland. And she never missed an opportunity to tell him how big a mistake it had been.
Well, he was ready for it. Rubber armor on, and every insulting word that came out of her mouth would ricochet off.
He saw Martha in her navy blue wool coat waiting for him and pulled to the curb. He hopped out, motor running, and opened the trunk.
“You’re late,” she snapped, handing over her suitcase.
Boing. Let that one go he told himself, forcing the scowl he wanted to shoot her into a tooth-baring smile. “How was your flight, Martha?”
“Overcrowded, noisy, and turbulent,” she said as she climbed into the car.
He shut the door behind her before she started complaining about the food or the coffee. It was always something with her. Back in the driver seat he pulled into traffic and fought to get in the correct lane that would take him home.
“Fern says you didn’t get a bonus this year.”
Boing. He didn’t answer her. Instead he put all of his attention into squeezing between two hotel shuttle buses.
“Have you heard about that promotion yet?”
Boing…that was more for her tone than the question, but the answer was going to take more boing power to deflect. “No, I haven’t.” He braced for impact, knowing what would follow.
“You know it’s a pity Fern has to work so hard to help your family make ends meet.” Martha shook her pin-curled head. “You know I didn’t have a choice. I had to work after Jeremiah died, and I raised three children on my own with one income. I don’t know why the two of you can’t make it work. Maybe you should look at getting another job so she can stay home. I’m afraid her work is going to kill her.”
This was one thing he did have in common with his mother-in-law. He didn’t want Fern working either, but she was set on helping out the family’s bottom line. Fern was the one who wanted to remodel the kitchen. Fern was the one who wanted to take the big family vacations to Hawaii and Florida and New York before Erika left for college. And Fern was the one who wanted to help pay for the kids to go to college so they wouldn’t be saddled with student loan debt like she and Daryl were for the first fifteen years of their marriage. This is what Fern wanted and Daryl supported her.
“I hear Erika has a boyfriend,” Martha said.
Boing. Caden was a friend from school. If his baby girl had a boyfriend he would know. Wouldn’t he?
“She’s too young for that you know.”
“I know,” Daryl said, thinking he should get to the bottom of this himself. “They are just friends.”
Boing. He wasn’t going to let her think he didn’t know his own daughter. His little Erikat.
Martha kept her eyes on the road ahead of them and Daryl chanced a look her way in the dimming evening light. Her mouth was drawn down in a wrinkled frown, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Traces of Fern popped out at him. Since she’d started working she’d been trying so hard to keep everything perfectly together. Her mouth had started doing that wrinkled frown thing more often and her body had gone taut, keeping all her stress inside. Briefly, Daryl wondered if this was what he would be waking up to in thirty years. This same uptight, frowny face.
Oh, how he missed his smiling, happy wife.
He pulled off the interstate taking the exit that would bring them downtown to his apartment building.
“I don’t know why you two never bought a house with a yard for the kids,” Martha snapped.
Boing. “There is a park across the street where they can play.”
“You mean where the gangs hang out?”
Boing and sigh. “Gangs don’t populate every park in the city.”
“But there are still gangs here.”
Boing again. Daryl pulled into the parking garage and shut off the engine. He got out of the car and was surprised to see Fern’s van parked near the elevator. She must have just gotten home. At least he was off the hook for entertaining Martha until she got home.
His cell phone rang when they were almost to his front door. It was Quincy.
“Hello,” Daryl said. He put his key in the door and stepped back, forcing Martha to let herself in and carry her own suitcase. He knew he’d hear about this later. But, if this was the you-didn’t-get-promoted call, he wanted to take it in private.
Martha went inside and he heard Fern’s voice but Quincy’s was louder. “Sorry, I didn’t call sooner. As you know we’ve been short staffed and I’m just now getting around to making the calls about the managerial position. You got the promotion.”
Did he just hear that right? With all of his time off and his lost hours, he was still being selected for the promotion. “That’s great,” he said, trying not to sound stunned.
“Your experience will be a great addition to our management team. I’ll get all the paperwork, including your new compensation, on your desk Monday morning.”
“Thank you.” Daryl hung up the phone. What a turn of good luck! Now if only he could think of a way to speed through this weekend and get his mother-in-law back on a plane before her scheduled flight on Wednesday that would be even better.
He pushed open the door and saw Fern standing between two suitcases. Not Martha’s, but theirs. Her face lit up with the same brilliant smile he fell in love with all those years ago.
“Surprise!” she shouted and sprang forward hugging him.
“What’s the surprise?” he asked, holding her close. He didn’t understand all the parts in the equation.
“We’re going away. To River’s Edge for a weekend of wine tasting and relaxing. Isn’t that fabulous?”
“Yeah.” He smiled at her, thinking this would be an interesting family vacation.
“Mom’s going to stay with the kids until we get back on Sunday.”
Sunday? No kids? No Martha? Oh yeah, his luck was changing. “How?...When did you plan this?”
Fern shrugged. “I didn’t do much. One of Abigail’s clients has a vineyard there with a bed and breakfast. She was the one who set it up for us.”
“Really?” Was this Abigail, the same she-devil, Fern worked for?
“I guess she’s not a bitch after all, is she Mommy?” Shelby asked as Martha came out of the bedroom and Daryl picked up the suitcases. He was going away with his wife for a whole weekend. He still had two more days until he’d have to hear the lecture from Martha on how their six year old had turned into a foul mouthed child. Lady Luck!
If you'd like see more of River's Edge check out Meg's new release, The Road Home. Join Meg's Insider Club to get all the latest on her new release and a sneak peek excerpt.
Meg writes clean contemporary romance novels, featuring strong female characters. As a mom to two young girls, Meg is passionate about creating stories centered around female empowerment. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest where she still lives today with her husband, daughters and crazy pets. She splits her time between homeschooling her girls and writing in the hours after she has put her husband and children to bed.