There was only one other person on the planet who’d known how Monique felt about Niko during those years, Monique’s college roommate, Emma White. They’d gotten along famously during those years. After graduation, Mo continued on to law school while Emma married her college sweetheart. Distance and lifestyle kept them from regular meetings, but they maintained a close friendship through phone calls and emails. Emma was quiet, smart and filled with a good dose of small-town Midwestern common sense that made her wise beyond her years. Monique felt she could use that type of wisdom right now.
She looked at her watch. Thirty minutes before my meeting with the farmers association. She pulled into a parking lot and dialed up Emma. Hearing her good friend shout at children in the background made her instantly feel better.
“Sorry about that, Monique. The holy terrors are placing their emphasis on the last word today.”
“Ha! In the throes of some imagined story line, no doubt.”
“You know them too well.”
“Who are they playing today?”
“Thor and Odin, this week’s superheroes. I’m trying to convince them to move their battlefield from my living room to the backyard before something gets broken!”
“Sounds like a plan, and they sound like a handful. How are you, Em?”
“Currently, I’m under the belief that I’ve lost all semblance of sanity and control.”
“Why?” Monique asked, with concern.
“Because as crazy as these boys have made us, we’ve decided to do it again.”
“Do what again?”
“Uh, that wasn’t a trick question, Ms. Attorney. Surely you can follow that clue.”
“Bingo! Now there’s the brain that helped my friend pass the bar first try.”
“Okay, I’ll admit I’m sometimes slow when it involves family business. Plus, you and Steve swore that you were… How did you guys put it?”
“Two and through.”
“And we meant it. But looks like a little sperm wiggled its way past my totally tied tube, joined forces with an errant egg and now Hunter and Cody are about to have a sibling.”
“Boy or girl?”
“Don’t know yet, but we’re hoping for the latter.”
“I’m happy for you, Em.”
“Thanks, Monique. But enough about me. What’s going on with you?”
“I guess you could say I’ve lost my mind, too. I took a leave from my job at the firm and am running for mayor.”
“Oh, my gosh! You’re running for mayor of Los Angeles?”
“Ha! My goals are lofty but not quite that high. It’s a small town of almost four thousand people in Northern California, called Paradise Cove.”
Silence. Crickets. For a full five seconds.
“Em?” Monique looked at her phone. “You still there?”
“I’m here. And this is the first time I’ve been speechless since Steve proposed to me at the top of a Six Flags roller coaster.” Monique could hear Emma bustling around and imagined that she chewed her lower lip, something her friend was prone to do when thinking. “Okay, first question. Where in the heck did you get such a cockamamy idea to quit your job and run for mayor, and secondly, where is Paradise Cove?”
“Long story short, it was my godfather’s dying wish. He ran for mayor twice and lost. During one of our last conversations before he passed, he asked if one day I’d give it a shot. To appease him I said yes, but didn’t take the request that seriously. Margo, my godmother, did. When the man who’s been mayor for the past twelve or more years decided not to run for reelection, she called and reminded me of my promise. Paradise Cove is a small yet impressive community in Northern California, a little more than an hour southeast of San Francisco.”
“What’s the name again?”
“Why does that name sound familiar?”
“Because over the years it’s one I’ve probably mentioned a time or two as the place where Niko Drake was born and still resides.”
“Right.” The word came out slowly and dripped speculation. “Very interesting. Do tell me more.”