Fallling for the Prodigal Son (9 page)

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
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The camp did a lot for these kids, Lucy reflected. But there was always more that could be done. Douglas and the counselors had only enough resources to barely scratch the surface of what these kids really needed. And there was always a handful of kids who needed a day or two to just decompress from their gritty lives back home, to acclimate to the slow pace of St. Caroline, even to just let go of their constant alertness for danger. One summer, Douglas had brought in the local yoga teacher to help the kids relax, empty the tension from their bodies and minds. But then she'd gotten married and moved away.

"I have to get back to my office, Lucy said quietly to Derrick. "But you have free rein of the place, as usual. Sterling is in New York all day. I know it's going to be a bittersweet story this year."

Derrick shrugged and smiled slyly. "You're giving up too easily, Lucy. I didn't get off the streets by letting rich people push me around."

 

Lucy spent the rest of the day sequestered in her office, staring at her computer screen, staring out the window, willing some grand, magnificent idea to appear before her. She'd been sending revised marketing plans to Sterling all week. He'd shot down every single one.

She'd emailed him her latest iteration last night at 8 pm, as she was eating dinner at her desk. Less than a minute later, he was in her office,
leaning against the doorjamb.

"You don't follow directions well, do you?" he said.

"What you want can be accomplished without getting rid of the camp."

"No. No, it can't. What I want is to use that land for more profitable activities. Any other use of that land would be more profitable than a charitable use. One thing you had right—the Inn has to up its game and be even more upscale. Can't do that with a bunch of underprivileged ragamuffins running around."

Lucy felt like she'd just been punched in the gut. Ragamuffin? Was that what he thought of her? Was that what he thought of her back then?

"No guest has ever complained about the campers. Not in my time here."

"That's not the point." Sterling was clearly exasperated, and tired. Purplish-gray shadows darkened the skin beneath his brown eyes. "You know, I get the social good of the camp. And I'm sorry we can't afford it any longer. But the Inn simply can't."

"You aren't sorry one bit."

He made a show of rolling his eyes at her. "And another thing, Ms. Wyndham. The campers don't come back as adults, as paying guests."

"How do you know that?"

"Do you have any proof that they do?" he challenged.

"I came back," she said. "My husband and I booked our anniversary weekend here. Is my ragamuffin self an embarrassment to the Inn?"

"So you're the exception."

"Actually, there are other former campers working at the Inn. And others who live in St. Caroline. Who can afford to live in St. Caroline. But you can't recognize them just by looking at them. Many of us are proud of our time at the camp. It might be nice if the Inn could return the favor."

"The Inn is in the business of making money, Ms. Wyndham, not rehabilitating people. I'm not a social worker."

Not a human either, apparently.

It wasn't until Lucy was back home last night and getting ready for bed—replaying the scene with Sterling over in her mind, thinking of better things she might have said—that she realized he hadn't been the least bit surprised when she'd revealed her past as a camper.

 

Just before three o'clock in the afternoon, Lucy heard someone say, "Knock, knock."

She looked up to see Derrick standing in her doorway. She waved him in. He closed her office door behind him.

"So how was your day?" she asked.

"Great. The more kids change, the more they stay the same, don't they?"

"Yeah, isn't that funny? They dress differently than we did—better probably—but underneath it all they're still just kids. How did the skipjack race go?"

"Several of the kids got some really great shots, as in h
ang-those-things-on-the- wall great. One of the boys is a top-notch sketch artist, too. You never know what you're going to get with these kids."

Derrick's face brightened suddenly, to Lucy's surprise. "Guess who else was a camper here? I learned this just recently, when she was in DC for a concert."

Lucy shrugged. "I have no idea."

"Simone Adkins."

"The singer Simone Adkins? Grammy award winning Simone Adkins?"

"The one." Derrick looked proud of himself for unearthing this information. "What has Sterling Matthew done with his life? Compared to what so many of us have accomplished?"

"Nothing. But then he doesn't have to accomplish anything. He was born rich."

Derrick dragged a side chair over to Lucy's desk. "So, Douglas and I, we've concocted a plan," he said conspiratorially.

"Oh yeah?" Lucy was interested.

"Oh yeah. I was thinking about how I was going to write this story. Because if the camp is ending, then I don't need to ask people to donate money, right? But then I thought, well why not ask people to donate money to save the camp?"

"Ahhh ... I'm not sure if he'll be swayed by that." Lucy recalled the ragamuffin conversation from the previous night.

"I'm going to propose to my editor a weeklong series on the camp, a retrospective of the camp's history and all the people who have been touched by it. Both famous people and the not so famous."

"What are the odds your editor will sign off on it?

"She will. I'm the great Derrick Jones, right?"

Lucy wished she had one-tenth the confidence and charm that Derrick had. If she did, they wouldn't need to be having this conversation right now. Sterling Matthew would already have acquiesced.

"But that's not all. I'm going to call up all the camp alumni I know and hit them up for money, personally. Or have my summer intern do it." He smiled. "You know you've made it when you have your own unpaid minions. But seriously, over the years, people who went to the camp have contacted me because of the articles I've written about it. I've kept a list of those people, Lucy. I never really knew what to do with all the names, other than call a few up each summer for good quotes. But I've got hundreds of them by now."

"Do they have money to give?"

"The ones who call me do. They call because they want to tell me how well they've done in life. Or they want free publicity for their businesses or careers, which I'm happy to give when I can. But I'm always amazed at how well so many former campers have done in their lives. Most haven't won a Grammy or the Heisman, but lots own businesses, became doctors or professors."

"Or reporters," Lucy added.

"Well, I'm the only one of those so far. If pretty boy wants to get rid of the camp, that's his prerogative. But I feel obligated to let camp alumni know that this is the final summer. Having talked to so many of them over the years, I know they'd want to know." He smiled that sly smile again.

Lucy's smile matched Derrick's.

"When do you think the story might run?" Lucy asked.

"Well, it'll take me a week or so to run down some of these folks. They're busy. You can't get them on the first try, usually. And then I'll need to coordinate with my editor, see when there's space to run it."

"I ask because I'll be out of town all next week. I've been signed up for a marketing conference in San Francisco."

"
As a speaker?"

Lucy snorted. "Right. My reputation as a marketing expert isn't that lofty around here at the moment. No, Sterling and his paid minion believe I need some remedial coursework in marketing 101."

 

Chapter 12

 

 

Lucy's cell phone vibrated on the pristine white tablecloth of the hotel ballroom. She silently prayed that it wasn't some business emergency back at the Inn—or Sarah calling with the news that John's condition had taken a turn for the worse. She closed her eyes for a moment, giving them a rest against the harsh, overly bright lights of the ballroom. Behind a lectern at the far front of the room, a speaker droned on and on about market
ing in the age of distraction.

When she opened her eyes, she swiped her finger across the screen of her phone. It was a text from Douglas that had triggered the vibration.

How's San Fran?

Dont know. Trapped in hotel.

Bummer. Go 2 Lombard St. Promise?

Will try. Time not my own.

Outside the hotel was San Francisco, a famous city Lucy had heard much about but had never visited. She doubted she was going to see much of the city on this visit. Elle Scott-Thomas waited for her in the hallway after every session, to review the business lessons Lucy was supposed to be learning. Lucy was more than mildly insulted that they had insisted she come to this event. She wasn't clear on Elle's professional background but Sterling certainly didn't have as much marketing experience as Lucy did. She wasn't sure he was even seriously considering her ideas anymore. He just wanted the Kids Kamp gone, pure and simple.

She hadn't seen much of Sterling this week, and it was Thursday already. For all she knew, he wasn't even staying in the hotel. Maybe he had left Elle to lurk around every corner and monitor her. Were her phone and room bugged, too?

She wished she knew what Sterling was doing while she was being followed around the hotel. Conspiring with more bankers? Negotiating a big sale? He hadn't said anything to her about his trip to New York, either. Not that Lucy particularly wanted to see him, but his mysterious absence was preventing her from paying much attention in the conference sessions. It worried her. Sometimes no news was good news and other times, it just gave one's imagination a longer leash. Maybe this conference was really a cover for something else he was doing out here, something he didn't want anyone else to know about.

Sheesh. My imagination is getting the best of me.
The less she saw of Sterling Matthew, the more, it seemed, she thought of him.

Her phone vibrated again. This time the text was from Derrick Jones.

Big news. Call me.

Lucy glanced at her watch.
Call u in 15.

Lucy's stomach rumbled loudly; she hoped no one sitting near her heard it. A city filled with great restaurants just outside and Lucy was stuck eating standard hotel fare. The salmon entree one day. Chicken the next. Sugary continental breakfasts. Reception finger food. Working at the Inn had spoiled her. She was used to grabbing lunch or dinner from the great chefs who worked there. Gina had printed out a long list of restaurants in San Francisco that she recommended; Lucy would have to stay here six months to try them all.

The speaker was finally, mercifully, winding down. A young woman dressed in an ill-fitting suit was walking through the audience with a microphone, taking questions for the speaker. Lucy looked anxiously back toward the exit. She needed to get out of here without Elle seeing her so she could call Derrick back. She needed to know exactly when his first story was going to hit the street. She had to read it before Sterling or Elle did.

Fortunately, a few other people were quietly slipping out of the ballroom already. Lucy slipped her conference handouts and netbook into her purse and followed suit. The large open area outside the ballroom buzzed with conversation. A cart of water glasses clinked as a waiter pushed it past, expertly threading his way through the
clumps of people milling about.

Lucy held her breath as she casually glanced around, looking for a flash of Elle's red hair. When she didn't see her, she exhaled a sigh of relief and began walking as fast as she could—without breaking into a flat-out run—toward a door at the end of the hallway. She knew there was an outdoor courtyard on the other side.

She pushed through the heavy metal door. A few groups of smokers, some of them hotel staff, clustered around the stone benches. Lucy let herself relax. The coast was clear. She headed for the furthest corner of the courtyard and sat down on a low stone wall, behind some exotic-looking potted trees. She hunched over and dialed Derrick's number.

BOOK: Fallling for the Prodigal Son
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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