Book Two of the Silverweed Falls Series
(Just getting here? Start with the Prologue here)
One Month Later
“Twenty. Million. Dollars.”
Harvey, Joy’s boss, looked around the conference room table, a big grin on his handsome face. “Congratulations, everyone. The donation from the Gradios Corporation for a new Engineering Hall is in the bag. Everyone here contributed to this, and I want to thank all of you. Good job, team.”
There was a smattering of applause from the dozen people seated around the table. Joy smiled politely at Harvey, trying to share his enthusiasm.
She had played a significant role in obtaining the Gradios gift, which was the most substantial single donation that she’d been involved in during her career at Falls State. She should have been ecstatic, but instead she just felt … flat.
Her daughter would be graduating high school soon and leaving home.
She still reeled from the humiliatingly public end of her marriage.
And Victor, one of her dearest friends for over a decade, wasn’t likely to live through the summer.
Twenty million dollars wasn’t enough to make up for any of it.
Harvey went on. “Taylor, “ he nodded to the office’s administrative assistant, a sharply dressed young woman who, Joy thought, looked barely older than Charlotte, “will be planning a reception in honor of Gradios for next Friday evening. I hope to see all of you there. Now,” Harvey put his hands on the table and leaned forward for emphasis, “before we get too comfortable resting on our laurels, the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences reminds me on a regular basis that Lawrence Hall is desperately in need of a new roof as well as several major other structural repairs. The whole building could use a facelift. We’re probably looking at five to ten million. A good cause—but, alas, not a sexy one, and unfortunately, as far as I know, we don’t have any liberal arts alumni worth as much as Jeff Gradios.”
Taylor instantly raised her hand. She reminded Joy of the smart kid in class who always knew all the answers. Joy sighed internally. She’d been that ambitious once, she was pretty sure. Now that ambition in others just made her feel tired.
“What about Chris McPherson?” said Taylor.
Joy looked at her sharply, her heart jumping at the sound of the name.
Harvey looked thoughtful. “The actor? He’s been on our radar since he starred in that TV show. He looks like he’s going places, but I doubt he’s worth ten million yet. And he’s not technically an alum since he never graduated.”
“Bill Gates has given over $260 million to Harvard even though he never actually graduated,” Taylor said quickly. “Anyway, you’re right, Chris McPherson probably isn’t worth ten million, or even five. Yet. But he’s starring in a summer blockbuster that’s due out in July. He got paid less than half a million upfront, but if projections are correct, he stands to make millions off the back end deal. And this movie is probably just the beginning for him.”
Harvey raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly, looking impressed. Joy didn’t blame him. Taylor had obviously done her research. She wouldn’t be an administrative assistant for long—she clearly had bigger plans.
Taylor went on. “Chris was majoring in environmental studies before he dropped out, but he did take several drama classes while he was here, and the drama department is in Lawrence Hall. So there’s potential for a good fit. If not a large gift, then maybe he could be the figurehead for a campaign.” She sat back triumphantly.
As Assistant Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, Joy wouldn’t have been expected to study up on Chris’s eligibility as a donor, but she felt a twinge of embarrassment that she hadn’t even thought of him first. Falls State had many successful alumni, but she wasn’t aware of any others who could lay claim to actual stardom.
Then again, even if she had, trading on her former friendship with him to impress her boss or rebuild Lawrence Hall would have felt tacky. She was glad to leave research like this in Taylor’s hands.
“Good thinking, Taylor.” Harvey nodded approvingly. “Why don’t you set up a file on him for us, everything you can find out. Maybe even track down some of his old professors, see if they can shed some insight on what might appeal to him.”
Taylor nodded brightly. Joy frowned. The last thing Victor needed right now was people badgering him about Chris. And Simon didn’t need people badgering him about Victor. She made a mental note to talk to Taylor privately about him.
The meeting went on. Joy took a few notes but said little, and finally Harvey released them to go back to work.
A couple of hours later there was a gentle knock at her office door. She looked up.
“Working through lunch?” Harvey stood in the doorway, a file in his hand.
“Yeah. You remember I’m leaving early today, right? Charlotte and I are going into Portland to look for a prom dress.
“That’s fine. Sounds like good mother-daughter bonding time.”
Joy laughed. “Or arguing time, depending on what kind of dress she wants. What can I do for you, Harv?”
Harvey stepped in and took a seat in front of her desk. He was a handsome, well-built man in his mid-fifties, with silver hair and a broad smile. Like many people who worked in fundraising, he was professionally charming, able to approach billionaires and ask them for money, but he was also personally charming, as interested in the janitor’s weekend plans as he was in the Chancellor’s. Joy had worked for him for almost six years and liked him immensely.
“You did a great job on the Gradios account,” he began. “In fact, you’ve done a great job ever since you started working in this department. So please understand that what I’m about to suggest isn’t a criticism in any way.”
Joy’s smile started to feel a little forced. “Okay …”
“You have almost four months of vacation time saved up. Are you saving it for anything in particular?”
Joy pressed her lips together for a moment before speaking. “Well,” she said, “at one point, Scott and Charlotte and I were going to try to go to Indonesia for a couple of months, so I was saving vacation time for that.”
Harvey nodded slowly. He was too tactful to point out that she’d been formally divorced for a year now, but he knew as well as she did that a family vacation anywhere, let alone eight weeks in Indonesia, wasn’t going to happen.
“I guess I just got into the habit of not taking vacation,” she said with a slight shrug.
“No plans for over the summer?”
“Maybe a long weekend or two. Charlotte’s going to be working, and I’m sure she wants to spend one last summer with her high school friends before they all go off to college.”
Harvey gave her a gentle smile. “And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“What do you want?”
“What do I want?” Joy repeated stupidly. “What do you mean?”
Harvey uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, placing the file on her desk. “Like I said, Joy, you’re doing a great job. This isn’t a complaint about your performance at all. But over the past year or so, I haven’t had the feeling that your heart is really in it.”
Joy pressed her lips together for a moment before answering. Her heart wasn’t in it, not anymore. She’d move into Development from Corporate Relations several years ago. Initially, she’d enjoyed the challenge of raising money for the university, a delicate dance of matching big donors with worthy projects. Since the scandal that had blown apart her marriage, however, she’d lost her appetite for it. She could no longer bring herself to care if Engineering got a new exhibit room or if Lawrence Hall got a new roof.
These things didn’t matter to her anymore … but she wasn’t sure what did.
Still, she needed the job. She sighed. “The last year and a half have been a bit rough, Harv. You know that. And maybe I’ve been a bit distracted with Charlotte about to graduate. But she’ll start college soon, and then no more distractions. I can focus on the job 100%.”
“Because you won’t have anything else to do?”
Joy stared at him, unable to think of a response.
“Joy, I’m talking to you as your friend right now, not your boss. I can tell that right now you’re not here because you really want to be. You’re bright and talented and have a ton of skills, but you’ve lost your spark.” He paused. “And now I am talking as your boss, and in strictest confidence. Linda told me the other day that she’s going to be taking early retirement. I’d love to see you step into her shoes as Director of Annual Giving.” Joy looked at him in surprise. “I know you’re qualified … but I want to see that you really want it.”
Joy nodded slowly. A year ago, the thought of stepping in Linda’s shoes would have thrilled her. Now …
But then, maybe this was what she needed: a new role and a new challenge.
Harv straightened up in his chair. “Let me show you something. Taylor put together a file on Chris McPherson. I guess she’s been working on it for a while. Look what she found online.” He opened the file.
Joy picked up the picture that lay on top. It was a grainy computer print out of a photograph that had appeared in the local paper thirteen years ago, but she recognized it immediately. She stared blankly at it.
“I gather you and Chris McPherson played the lead roles in a Shakespeare production together.”
She looked up at Harv, hoping her face wouldn’t betray her. “Oh, honestly, Harv, I’d completely forgotten about that. It was ages ago.”
He raised his eyebrow slightly. “Forgot that you’d spent an entire summer with Silverweed’s most famous son? Even when he came up in conversation this morning?”
She pressed her lips together, trying to think of a tactful response. “I’m in corporate and foundations, Harvey. I leave individual donations up to you and Linda. And now Taylor, I guess. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t think of him. But I doubt very much he’d remember me anyway. I’m sure someone else could do a better job approaching him.”
Harv tilted his head thoughtfully. “Possibly. Linda won’t be retiring for three more months. I’m here for the long haul. But if you were to step into Linda’s shoes, you’d be working closely with, if not Chris McPherson himself, them people a lot like him. I want to know that you’ve got the …” he groped for the word, “energy for the job, and right now, you’ve got burn-out written all over you.”
She let the photo fall. “So you’re going to make me take a vacation this summer?”
“I’m not going to make you do anything. I’d just like you to seriously consider taking a break. A week, a month. Maybe long weekends every week. I don’t care. But I get the sense you’re running on fumes, and I want the old Joy back. If vacation is what it takes, then take a vacation.”
She shuffled the papers in the file in order to avoid Harvey’s eyes, but the sight of Chris’s name over and over again only flustered her further. Finally she looked up.
“Fine. I’ll think about it.”
Harvey smiled and stood up. “I can’t ask for more than that.” He picked the file up and tucked it under his arm again. “I hope you and Charlotte find the perfect dress.”
She smiled at him as he left the office, then glanced back down at her desk. Whether he’d done it accidentally or on purpose, she wasn’t sure, but Harv had left the photograph behind. She picked up and studied it. There they all were, Simon and Victor, Jennifer, Brice, Luke and the others. Even Charlotte, the unofficial mascot, had made it into the photo, and was sitting perched on Chris’s lap.
Joy’s mind slipped back to that strange, magical summer thirteen years ago when she’d been given an eight-week reprieve from ordinary life and entered a world of dress-up, drama and the easy camaraderie of a play. She was still involved with the Players, mainly thanks to her friendship with Victor and Simon. She had done a lot of fundraising work for them, had even taken on a few smaller acting roles over the years, but it had never again been like it had been that summer …
Now Victor was dying, the actors had scattered to the four winds, and it was unlikely that the Silver Scene Players would ever perform again.
She stared at the photo for another few seconds then shoved it under a pile of papers and went back to work on the email she was writing.
From somewhere in the depths of her desk drawer came a chime alerting her to a text. She huffed in frustration—she really needed to finish this email before she left—but she pulled out her phone anyway in case it was Charlotte and glanced at the text.
It was from Simon, of all people.
Any chance you could drop by the house Saturday morning around 10:30? Vic and I have a proposition for you.
Acting on Impulse, Book Two in the Silverweed Falls Series, will be available October 12, 2017.