So…there’s no girl. Elijah is on edge because there’s a journalist following him.
And he doesn’t want to be seen in the same place as me.
It was so easy to pretend we were keeping our friendship a secret because that’s how we wanted it. Like it was our choice. But it’s not. I’m a liability to this man’s career. Worse, my mother’s past and my lack of blue blood make me a liability to his respectability and standing in the community.
My pulse pounds in my temples. “Oh, right,” I push past numb lips. The reporter lifts his cell phone and I turn away fast, already walking in the opposite direction. “You know what? I’ll just go out the back. Make your own pasta.”
Elijah’s sigh of my name follows me up the aisle, but I don’t look back.
He doesn’t come over tonight, either.
I’ve known my friend Chris since we went through the Citadel together. Sophomore year, he started dating his now-wife, Lydia, so I’ve known her almost as long. Chris supported me when I returned from overseas and everything seemed unfamiliar, because he’d gone through the same thing after his own two tours of duty.
Because I grew up as the mayor’s son, I had an easy inroad to popularity. When I was very young, I took that road, only to realize quickly there are two types of friends in this world. Those who become your friend thinking you’ll give them an advantage. And friends who expect nothing but your honesty. For you to show up and have their back.
Chris and Lydia are good, solid friends and I don’t have many, besides them and Addison. In my position, it’s better to have acquaintances that don’t expect me to compromise myself in the name of a favor and I’m more than good with that.
Chris, now a Charleston police officer, stood up as my best man at the wedding, their six-year-old daughter, Sonia—my goddaughter—all dressed up to be the flower girl. He’s been suspicious as hell over me turning down dinner invitations, but he’s been letting me slide on the excuse that I’m busy with the campaign. Lydia, not so much.
This afternoon she marched into my office and informed me I was coming over for dinner. All morning, I’d been too distracted to work, the words make your own pasta, ringing in my head like hourly church bells. But that’s when the idea hit me.
I’ll bring them to Addison’s.
“Here we go, Sonia,” I say, taking hold of the little girl’s hand to guide her up the stairs. “I seem to recall your daddy telling me you love Christmas. Is that right?”
“Yes. I’m asking for a phone this year.”
I glance back at Chris where’s he’s guiding his wife up the stairs. He shakes his head.
“Now why would you need a phone? Who are you going to call?”
“My friends’ moms.” She blinks up at me. “To set up play dates.”
“I see. You’re cutting out the middle man.” I bite back a laugh. “Maybe I should give you a job in my office. You’d be able to afford your own phone.”
“Mommy, can I?”
“Someday, maybe.” Lydia catches up and flicks my ear. “Stop encouraging her.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” I say absently, noticing a shadow move beneath the door of the apartment. I’ll be lucky if she didn’t change the locks after last night. Until that moment in the supermarket, I’d managed to keep Addison stashed away in a box only I get to open. Then there she was. Standing right in front of me with her fresh basil, glitter-covered clothes and running sneakers. I’d been more panicked over sharing Addison with the world than I was about exposing a relationship between us, friendship or otherwise. She’s my respite.
Christ. I’ve been a selfish prick to my best friend. A worthy friend would have escorted her to the checkout and paid for the groceries, compromising photos be damned. But I don’t have the freedom to do that. I’m ten points ahead in the polls and my competitor continues to schedule press conferences and campaign door to door, neither of which are my strong suit. I’m focused on plans—big ones. Ones I think can bring change to a broader number of people in Charleston, instead of directing taxpayer money toward programs that have more than enough. I want to win this race. If I don’t, necessary actions won’t be taken to redirect resources where more people stand to benefit.
In addition to keeping the wheels moving on my campaign, my father is breathing down my neck, the press never leaves me alone—and I’m not dragging Addison into the storm.
I’m not losing her, either, though. By bringing my friends to meet her, I’m making her a part of my life. As much as I can without distracting or possibly jeopardizing the upcoming election. Or more importantly, bringing her every move under scrutiny.