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Finding Our Forever(2)

By:Brenda Novak



She hoped this would help. Her boyfriend—ex-boyfriend since she’d broken up with him last month—claimed it was her personal problems that’d destroyed their two-year relationship. He said she needed to let go of her past and move on, that she could be opening Pandora’s box.

He could be right. But it was too late to change her plans. She’d already made a yearlong commitment to New Horizons. Today’s meeting with Aiyana was merely a formality—an orientation, of sorts. Cora had given notice that she’d be vacating her condo at the end of the month, at which point her friend would get a new roommate and she’d move to Silver Springs, a town of only 5,000 people located slightly east of Santa Barbara.

After spending her whole life in the big city, Cora wasn’t sure she’d like living in such a rural area, but if she had to pick a small town, this one wasn’t bad. Known for its robust arts community, the renovation of its downtown, its clean water, green energy, recreation and quaint small businesses, there was a lot to recommend it. Life was just slower. Those who didn’t grow up here came to retire, raise a family in a “safe place” or enjoy the beauty of the surrounding mountains—

“Ms. Kelly?”

Cora’s heart jumped into her throat. The drone of the voice she’d heard coming from the inner office had fallen silent. This was it! The receptionist was about to tell her she could go in...

“Yes?”

“Ms. Turner will see you now.”

For a moment, Cora’s determination faltered. But when she didn’t move, the receptionist—Betty May, according to the placard on her desk—stood expectantly. “It’s right through here,” she said with a puzzled expression.

Swallowing to ease her dry throat, Cora nodded. “Right. I was just...” About to run the other way... Letting her words fall off, since she couldn’t readily lay her mind upon a good excuse, she threw back her shoulders and crossed the room to step inside an expansive office with several rows of pictures on the wall—every graduating class of New Horizons.

Those pictures melted into the background as soon as Cora’s eyes landed on the diminutive woman with long black hair that fell in a braid down her back. This was where she’d gotten the golden color of her skin, Cora thought as she stared. That detail hadn’t been quite so apparent in the grainy picture she’d seen with that newspaper article, but her mother appeared to be part Mexican, South American or maybe Native American.

Wasn’t that something she should’ve had a right to know without having to go to all the trouble and expense she did?

Cora had always been conscious of the difference in her skin tone compared to the Kellys. Lilly had blond hair and blue eyes and, like many of her friends, had indulged in a fair amount of Botox and cosmetic surgery. Aiyana, on the other hand, didn’t look as though she’d ever altered anything.

“Ms. Kelly, I’m so sorry for making you wait. That call was about another candidate for the school. Considering the mischief he’s been in, I figured I should handle it as soon as possible. His poor grandmother, who’s raising him, is beside herself.”

Cora blinked rapidly, battling a sudden upwelling of emotion. She’d longed for this day. And here it was. She was looking at her mother.

But she couldn’t act strange or she might give herself away. What had Aiyana just said? Something about the wait and the reason for it... “Of course,” she managed to respond, dragging what she’d heard out of short-term memory before it could disappear into the ether. “I understand that the welfare of the boys has to come first.”

Aiyana’s smile as she gestured toward the chair on the other side of her desk suggested she appreciated Cora’s response. “Please, take a seat.”

Cora could hardly pull her gaze away long enough to sit without missing the chair.

“Eli tells me—”

“Eli?” Cora echoed.

“Elijah,” she clarified. “My son.”

“Oh right.” Aiyana was talking about the incredibly handsome but imposing man who’d interviewed Cora two weeks ago. If only Cora could think clearly, she would’ve made that connection as instantly as she should have. He’d certainly left an impression.

“He told me you graduated from the University of San Diego with a BA in art education six years ago.”

“Yes. I love art, and I love teaching, so...putting the two together seemed like a natural for me.”

“You’ve been working as a substitute since then?”

“That’s right. When I first graduated, I was grateful for the flexibility subbing gave me, because I was doing a bit of traveling with my parents. Since then it’s been difficult to find a full-time position, given that so many schools are cutting back on their art, music and sports programs.”

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