Heart to Heart. Kayla Perrin
released the bottle, but she couldn’t as easily release the painful memories that plagued her.
Deanna saw Kwame waving enthusiastically as she approached the doors to his school. The same school she had attended as a child.
It was weird being here after all these years, like a definite step into the past. The building looked so much smaller than Deanna had remembered. Funny how when you became an adult your perspective changed.
It was two days after Kwame had asked if she would come talk to his class, and he had called her over the lunch hour to say that his teacher would like to meet her to discuss the idea. Deanna had promised that she would come at the end of the school day to speak with the teacher, which she guessed would be a meeting to determine how best to incorporate her visit with whatever studies the children were doing.
Kwame was beaming now as she approached, clearly thrilled at the fact that his idea of her talking to his class was one step closer to coming to fruition.
Deanna couldn’t help but smile in return. A child’s energy and happiness were infectious, and giving just a little bit of her time was clearly worth it. Just seeing how happy it made her nephew was already repaying her in leaps and bounds.
Kwame opened the door as she reached it, saying, “Auntie
Deanna! I already talked to the principal about it, and he thinks it’s a great idea. And he wants to meet you, too. Actually, he says he knows you already but that he wants to see you again.”
Kwame was speaking in a rush, and Deanna quietly shushed him. “Whoa, you’ll have to slow down. Your principal wants to meet me?”
“Uh-huh. He said he knows you.”
“He knows me?” Deanna gave Kwame a skeptical look. “Or he knows who I am?” She would bet that it was the latter. Given that she had grown up in Cleveland, most people here knew that she was the Deanna Hart who had made a name for herself in the music industry.
“He knows you,” Kwame stressed. He took her hand. “Come this way. He’s in the office.”
“I’m sure he means that he knows who I am,” Deanna said as Kwame led her toward the office doors.
Kwame stopped mid-stride and faced her. “Uh-uh. He said he was excited about seeing you again.”
“You mean he knows me knows me?”
“Yeah. He said he knew you before you got famous.”
Deanna frowned slightly, now curious. Had she known any principals?
Before she even thought to ask the man’s name, Kwame was opening the office doors and leading her inside. And that’s when Deanna stopped dead in her tracks.
Eric Bell. Good Lord in heaven, was it really him?
His lips curled in a smile—the same room-brightening smile she had seen many times years ago—and Deanna was absolutely certain. Just over six feet tall, with that flawless golden-brown complexion—yep, it was definitely Eric Bell.
Her former boyfriend’s brother.
“Eric?” Deanna said cautiously, though she knew it was him. He was more muscular than he had been before—most notably in his chest and his shoulders. And unlike years ago, he now had a neatly trimmed goatee framing his mouth. A decidedly sexier look, Deanna couldn’t help thinking.
“Deanna.” He stepped toward her, his dimples evident as he continued to grin. His smile always did exude warmth. It had brought her comfort in the aftermath of Marvin’s betrayal. “You’re back in town.”
“I can’t believe you’re here.” Though where she had expected him to be, she wasn’t sure. “I can’t believe you’re the principal at this school.”
“Is it really that surprising?” Eric asked. “I’d just started teaching when I knew you, and I used to say that I planned to become a principal one day.”
She nodded, remembering now. But the truth was, she had forgotten about Eric’s ambition. She had been so absorbed in her own drama at the time that his career goals hadn’t been at the forefront of her mind. He had been her friend—the brother of the boyfriend who had done her wrong—and a person who had given her many pep talks and tried to help her get over Marvin. He had been a great support for her during her problems with Marvin and her sister Natalie—the sort of guy who could uplift anyone’s spirits, and Deanna had known that he would be the kind of teacher kids would love.
“A teacher, yes,” Deanna said. “I guess I didn’t think you’d be a principal already. I mean, I thought a person would have to be a lot older to be a principal. I turned thirty this year, so that’s got to make you, what, thirty-three, thirty-four?”
“Thirty-four in a few weeks. Good memory.”
“But isn’t that young to be a principal?” Deanna asked.
“Let’s just say I dedicated myself to the pursuit of my career,” Eric explained. “I was promoted to principal a year ago.”
“Ah,” Deanna said, nodding. That was something she could understand. Putting yourself completely into pursuing your passion—she had done the same.
She found herself glancing at his ring finger and noting that it was bare. Had he, like herself, lost out on relationship opportunities because he was so determined to succeed in his chosen field?
Why was she even wondering if he was married?
It was just that she wanted to know more about him. He had been her friend, and when she’d left town, she had dropped him like a hot potato. In part because her breakup with Marvin was such a hard experience for her at the time, and she hadn’t wanted to relive those memories by staying in touch with Eric.
“I told you he knew you,” Kwame said.
Deanna glanced down at her nephew. “Yes, you did.”
“I think an old friend deserves a hug,” Eric said.
When Deanna returned her gaze to him, she saw that he had opened his arms and was closing the distance between them. She walked into his embrace, noting as he enveloped her in a warm hug that he felt and smelled incredible.
Easing back, Eric said, “Why don’t we go to my office?”
Both she and Eric turned at the sound of someone clearing their throat. Behind the counter in the office sat a biracial woman with long, tightly curled hair held back with a red headband.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Eric said. “Deanna, this is Michelle, the school secretary. Michelle, this is Deanna Hart.”
“I know.” Michelle beamed. “I’m a fan.”
“Is that right?” Smiling, Deanna approached her and extended her hand. Michelle pumped it heartily. “Nice to meet you,” Deanna added.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” Michelle told her.
Deanna glanced around the large office space. “This looks almost the same as it did twenty years ago,” she commented. “Obviously it’s had a paint job or two, and some of the furnishings are different, but other than that it hasn’t really changed.”
“The building’s been updated in terms of repairs and fresh paint, but the idea was to keep it looking as much the way it did when it opened in 1955.”
“And it does,” Deanna said. “This is like a blast from the past.”
Eric gestured to the open door about ten feet away. “My office is this way.”
“A trip to the principal’s office,” Deanna said. “Should I be as concerned as the day I got in trouble for fighting Jenny Lawrence on the playground?”