The Promise of Change
Author:Rebecca Heflin

The Promise of Change - By Rebecca Heflin

Part I

Chapter 1

Sarah was in the middle of a mid-life crisis, and she had the shiny new Porsche to prove it.

Chin in hand, she stared out the window of her twenty-first floor office, pondering her current state of mind. Divorced, bored, and twitchy. That about summed it up.

A clap of thunder startled her from her one-person pity-party. A storm rolled in, turning the sky battleship gray and churning up the waters of the St. Johns River.

Afternoon thunderstorms were a common occurrence in summer, building in the warm, muggy Florida climate, only to unleash the accumulated energy just in time for evening rush hour.

The predictability of the afternoon thunderstorms had always been comforting to Sarah, but not today. She felt as charged as the atmosphere.

“Excuse me, Sarah,”—Carlos gave her a sympathetic smile—“but I have another contract here from the radiology department.”

Ugh. If she had to look at another contract she was going to run screaming from the building. After seven years of legal work, she was beginning to question her sanity for persisting in her apparently dead-end career. Could she do this another twenty years?

The phone on her desk rang, momentarily saving her. “Sarah Edwards.”

“Yes, Dr. Davids.” She rolled her eyes at Carlos, who smiled in return.

“Sarah, I’ve been waiting for that medical services contract for a week. When do you think your review will be completed?”

“I’ve reviewed it and my assistant should have the revisions to you by the end of today.” She looked at Carlos, and he nodded and left her office to take care of her request.

“Oh. Well. Thank you.”

That deflated his attitude in short order, she thought. “You’re very welcome. Have a good weekend.”

Working as in-house counsel in a small health system, contracts were as common as palm trees in Florida. She’d lost count of how many she’d reviewed today. It wasn’t as if contracts were the only legal matters the small office handled, they were just the most tedious.

The rain pelted the window like pebbles. Lightning popped all around the city, attracted to the abundant television towers that stabbed the sky from atop the skyscraper rooftops.

Rain notwithstanding, Sarah was considering blowing this Popsicle-stand when Ken, her boss, poked his head in her door. “Hi, Sarah, were you just leaving?”

Feeling a guilty flush creep up her face, she sat back down in her chair as she shook her head.

“Do you have a minute?” He stepped into her office.

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I’d like to discuss an office matter with you.”

Oh God. She swallowed the lump that suddenly formed in her throat. Was he upset that she was leaving early? Was he unhappy with her work product? Not that she would blame him. She hadn’t exactly pursued her work with gusto lately.

“Okay.” She tried to sound composed.

He took a seat in one the chairs across from her desk. “You know I’ve been here since before the steam engine, and I’ve been thinking it’s time to retire. Maybe Cindy and I’ll sail around the world, something we’ve always talked about. I’ve worked hard all my life, and it’s time to enjoy the wind in my sails.”

Ken and his wife, Cindy, had a fifty-foot Catalina sailboat, hence he often spoke in sailing metaphors.

“Retiring?” Sarah hesitated, unsure what to say. She had mixed feelings about his announcement. “That’s great. I mean, that’s great for you and Cindy. You both deserve it. But of course I’ll miss you terribly. Do you have a date in mind?”

“As soon as they can find my replacement.” He waited a beat. “I’d like for you to be that person.” He let that sink in a minute.

This was totally unexpected. The lump of fear turned into a smile of gratification.

“You’re the best lawyer in the office. You’ll be able to take the helm right away, without any downtime or steep learning curve.” Ken stood and paced, his hands in his pockets. “And, a promotion has long been overdue, so I’m recommending you to the board as the next Vice President and General Counsel.”

When Sarah didn’t speak, Ken continued. “Of course, you’re free to take the time to think about it. It will mean increased responsibility and workload, but with a commensurate increase in salary.”

Ken took a seat again, waiting patiently for a reply.

“Ken, I’m sorry, I’m . . . speechless. This is a great honor, really. I don’t know what to say,” she said, faltering.

“Just say you’ll think about it and let me know. I hope you’ll say yes. You’ll make a great captain.” He stood, but before leaving he turned and said, “Go, on. Get out of here. I’m sure you’re anxious to start your weekend, and perhaps share the news with your family.”

“Thanks, Ken. And I’ll think about your offer.” She hadn’t really set her sights on general counsel, but maybe this was exactly what she needed, a new challenge, a new focus.

Before leaving the office, she called her sister.

“Brighton Beach Antiques, Rebecca Kent.”

“Hi, Becca. I’m on my way.”

“You’re leaving early. What gives?”

“I’ve wrapped everything up for the week, and I could use a walk on the beach. Is it raining there?”

“No. Clear, sunny, and breezy.”

It wasn’t unusual for downtown Jacksonville to be covered under a blanket of storm clouds, while the beach stayed clear and sunny. The strong easterly sea breezes often held back the western-born thunderstorms, with the intra-coastal waterway acting as a dividing line between sun and rain.

“Great. Have time for a walk before we meet Ann for dinner?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you at the house as soon as I finish up these invoices.” Becca owned a successful antiques business specializing in English furnishings. Her husband, a retired financial planner-turned-author and part-time professor, served a silent partner in the business, with an emphasis on silent. Becca was a very savvy businesswoman, with an eye for beautiful, tasteful home décor.

“Perfect.”

Sarah picked up her purse and turned off the lights, looking back at her office. Maybe soon she’d be moving to the big corner office with a spectacular view of the River City and its many bridges.

On her way out, she stopped by Carlos’ desk. “Carlos, can you give this contract to Kim to handle? I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Sure. Have a nice weekend.”

“Thanks. See you Monday.”

He wore an odd expression, like he wanted to say something.

“Anything else?” she asked.

“No. Good night.” He watched her walk down the hall, an expression of yearning evident to any who cared to notice.

In the hospital parking garage, Sarah slid into the delicious buff leather seats of her ruby-red metallic impulse buy. Too bad it was raining. She’d like to put the top down.

Shifting the car into gear, she pulled out of the garage. Maybe leaving early she’d beat the rush hour traffic. Anna Nalick sang on the radio entreating everyone ‘to just breathe.’ Sarah took her advice and drew a deep breath and let it out on a sigh.

Impulsive. That wasn’t an adjective commonly associated with her. Dependable, steady, deliberate. Those were more common. Some would even consider her cautious. She’d always considered herself a planner. Until recently.

Was she too cautious? Well, this sleek sports car that now called her single-car garage home was anything but.

She cringed when she thought about what her best friend, Ann, and Becca would say when they saw it. Ann would likely think it was cool. Becca, on the other hand, would likely lecture in her give-me-strength mother-of-teenagers tone. Becca took her older sister role a little too seriously at times.

She could also imagine their elation when she told them about her meeting with Ken; and their frustration at her need to think about it.

The offer was a testament to Ken’s faith in her legal skills and abilities. A little nervous butterfly fluttered in her stomach.

The job would mean a lot of change, something she wasn’t very good at. She preferred the familiar, the routine. Taking another deep breath, she told herself she would just establish new, higher-paid routines.

After crossing the intra-coastal, Sarah pulled over to let the top down for the remaining few miles to Becca’s beach house. The sun shone in a brilliant blue sky, the steel-gray clouds she’d left behind reflected in the rearview mirror.

Never mind that her too-public divorce left her shying away from public attention, heads turned at the beautiful brunette in the sexy red Porsche.

The wind tangled her hair, blowing away the remaining stress of the day. Cool wet sand massaging bare feet, accompanied by the soothing aromatherapy of the Atlantic’s salt tang, was almost in her grasp. Nature’s most perfect spa treatment.



“I ran into Adrian yesterday,” Becca said with some hesitation, as she and Sarah walked on the beach. “Honey, he’s getting married again.”

“Oh. Well. Wow.” Sarah stopped in her tracks, and bent over as if inspecting a shark’s tooth, so Becca wouldn’t notice the tears that sprang into her eyes.

“Congratulations to the happy couple, I guess. That didn’t take long,” Sarah continued. “Is it his nurse?” Adrian’s cliché affair with his operating room nurse was the proverbial final straw in their short, troubled marriage. Today marked the six-month anniversary of their divorce.

Becca reached down and took Sarah’s hand, pulling her up. “No. She’s a pharmaceutical rep he met at the hospital. Pretty, if you like that perfect plastic Barbie look.” She gave her a wan smile.

Apparently Adrian was going through women like he did luxury sports cars. Sarah had heard he’d dated several women since their divorce, well, since before their divorce, actually. “It must have been a whirlwind romance . . . kind of like ours,” she muttered.

“I’m sorry to spoil our beach time, but I didn’t want you to find out from someone else.”

“No, it’s okay. I appreciate you telling me.”

They walked along lost in their own thoughts. The cooling breeze that had kept the thunderstorm at bay had died abruptly. With the absence of the breeze, the Atlantic flattened out, waves barely lapping the shore. The only sound was the laughter of the gulls and the occasional squeals from kids playing along the ocean’s edge.

“So she’s pretty. What does she look like?” Sarah couldn’t resist torturing herself.

“Well, she’s tall, statuesque, really, long bimbo-blond hair, blue eyes, ‘chicklet-tooth’ smile. You know the type.”

The exact opposite of her. At five foot four inches, Sarah certainly couldn’t be considered tall, and her petite frame was nowhere near statuesque. Her chestnut hair, which was currently pulled back into a messy ponytail, was thick and wavy. When it wasn’t pulled back, it fell in layers to just past her shoulders. Adrian had always been after her to get it cut in a more sophisticated style.

“What’s her name?”

“Brie something-or-other.”

“He’s marrying someone named for a cheese?” she asked, with a dash of snark.

Becca giggled. “I never thought of it, but now that you mention it . . . . It could have been worse. Her name could have been Muenster.”

They both chuckled.

After a long pause, Becca asked quietly, “Do you still love Adrian?”

“I’m not sure I was so much in love with him, as I was in awe of him.” She shrugged. If she was totally honest with herself, she didn’t miss Adrian. It was sad to say that in the almost three years of their marriage, she’d never developed a genuine connection to him.

Nevertheless, the failure of their marriage was something she was having a difficult time getting over. Failure didn’t sit well with her.

An impetuous act, and look where it got her. She gave herself a mental shake. Kind of like the one yesterday that led to the purchase a car that screamed mid-life crisis.

“Okay then, why does his remarrying bother you so much?”

“It’s just that . . . he’s moved on . . . already found someone else. Am I that easy to forget? And why is it so easy for him to find someone else?” She sighed. “My old romantic notion of soul mates is so foolish. If it weren’t for you and Mark, and Ann and Rob—”

“You forgot Mom and Dad.”

“And Mom and Dad.” She smiled sadly as she thought of her parents, and the recent death of her mother. “I’d completely disregard the concept.”

“First, you are not forgettable. Just because Adrian is selfish and shallow doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Second, I don’t think he’s looking for a soul mate. Third, how do you expect to find someone, when you won’t even date? Soul mates don’t just drop into your lap you know. You have to date a few duds before you find the right guy. Remember Bob?”

“Oh dear.” Sarah laughed.

“Exactly.”

Becca had dated ‘Bob the Snob’ in high school. Bob was a member of one of Jacksonville’s wealthiest families, and he never let anyone forget it.

“I wish I had a dime for each time he talked about his ski trips to Switzerland, or his family’s vacation house in the Caribbean. What you ever saw in him, no one will ever know.”

“Hey, he was good-looking.” Becca shrugged.

“Thank God you finally came to your senses, and stopped thinking with your hormones.”

“Only because he went to Stanford, two thousand miles away.”

“What’s ol’ Bob up to these days?”

“According to his Facebook page, he’s an accountant.”

“Probably so he can count all his money,” Sarah said with a smirk.

“And he’s bald and fat.”

“No kidding?” Sarah turned to look at her sister. “Now aren’t you glad you didn’t marry him?”

“No doubt.” Becca put her arm around her sister’s shoulders. “Never mind my youthful indiscretions, back to you. I think your upcoming trip to England is just what the doctor ordered, uh sorry, no reference to Adrian intended. Maybe you’ll meet your soul mate there, and we’ll all visit you at his family’s ancient estate.”

“Right,”—Sarah rolled her eyes—“the mistress of Pemberley.”

“Keep your mind and your heart open. It will happen. You’re too terrific not to find that one person who will feed your mind, your heart, and your soul. And speaking of feeding, let’s go eat.”



“You bought a Boxster?”

There it was. ‘The tone.’ Choosing to ignore it, Sarah said, “Yes. Do you like it?”

“What’s not to like? But what on earth possessed you to get rid of your safe, reliable Volvo and replace it with this Cougar Car?”

“It’s not a Cougar Car.” Sarah’s defenses went up. “It’s an intelligently-designed, precision-engineered sports car.”

“Good grief, Sarah, you sound like a car salesman.” Becca waved her hand in the air dismissing her sales pitch. “Don’t you think it’s a bit flashy? Red? Really?”

“You’re the one who’s always saying I should step out of my comfort zone.” Sarah shrugged nonchalantly, but she was definitely second-guessing her purchase under the weight of Becca’s scrutiny.

“The key word there is ‘step.’ Step. Not leap.” Becca whispered her hand across the sleek, curvy lines of the car. “What will the Admiral think?”

Sarah cringed. Admiral George Stovall Edwards, U.S. Navy, Retired, a.k.a. Daddy.

“Sends chills down your spine doesn’t it?” Becca replied with a grin, before Sarah could form an answer.

Avoiding the rhetorical question, Sarah replied, “Do you want to ride with me to the restaurant, or are you just going to stand there being judgmental?”

“Are you kidding?” she said as she opened the passenger door. “Of course I want to ride. But I reserve the right to be judgmental again once the adrenalin wears off.”



The trendy new restaurant was in an old warehouse district that was undergoing gentrification, but it could still be a rough area. It would be light until nine o’clock, so as long as they left before dark, Sarah, Ann, and Becca felt safe.

Parking on the street a block from the restaurant, Sarah put the top up while Becca worked the tangles from her blond hair.

“Okay,” Becca conceded, “that was fun, I’ll give you that, but not very practical if every time you arrive at your destination you almost snatch yourself bald trying to repair your coiffure.”

Sarah laughed as ran her fingers through her curls. “It gives you a nice wind-blown look.”

“So does hanging your head out a car window, but I wouldn’t do that either,” Becca groused as they walked to the restaurant.

The two spotted Ann already seated in a cozy booth. Ann looked up from her Blackberry with a frazzled smile. Between her husband and her two kids, she constantly shuffled her schedule to accommodate their many obligations.

Sarah and Ann Parham had been friends since their freshman year of high school. They’d been through the awkward teenage years, the dating, the crushes, the break-ups, and Sarah’s agonizing career change.

She and Becca were her Gibraltar when she went through her divorce. She couldn’t have made it through without their love and support . . . and their occasional well-intended nagging.

“Hey, Sarah, Becca.” Even though Ann had lived in Florida since the age of twelve, she’d never lost her molasses-sweet Alabama accent.

“What’s up?” Sarah asked as Ann stood up to hug first her then, Becca.

“Oh, Rob just texted me that he wants to invite some potential clients over for a cook-out this weekend. He’s apparently forgotten that the kids have a soccer tournament on Saturday, and we’re spending Sunday with his parents.” She tucked a strand of corn-silk hair behind her ear and tapped out a quick reply.

Although she married rather young, she married well. Despite her husband’s busy international travel schedule, they’d been happily married for over twenty years. Maybe that was the secret to their success, Sarah thought with a wry grin.

“I don’t know how you keep up with everyone’s schedules. Thank goodness I only have my own schedule, and Carlos handles that for me,” Sarah said with a shrug as she turned to her menu.

Ann gave her a sly look. “How’s it going with Carlos? He still giving you puppy-dog eyes? Not that I blame him. After all, you’re a gorgeous thirty-eight year old divorcee, and you know what they say about divorcees . . . .” A grin spread over her face.

Stunned by her comment, Sarah dropped her menu. “What?”

“You know, about divorcees being—”

“That’s not what I mean, the part about Carlos—”

“Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed. He’s got a first rate crush on you.”

“It’s true,” Becca piped in. “He does. I’ve seen it.”

“Ann, that’s not true! Where did you come up with that?”

“It’s as plain as the egg on your face,” Ann said, shaking her head.

Ann always mixed her metaphors, confused her clichés, and generally mangled the English language. Sarah usually found it funny, but not at the moment.

“He’s my assistant, and he’s seven years younger than me. I’m no cougar.”

Giggling, Ann said, “Oh please. According to Wikipedia, you have to be at least eight years older than him in order to meet the definition of cougar.”

“You looked it up on Wikipedia,” Sarah stated flatly. Turning to Becca, she said, “Do you believe this girl?”

“Yes. That sounds about right, and I trust Ann.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know that’s not what you meant. I just like aggravating you,” Becca said with a grin.

“Hey, I was curious,” Ann inserted, “and you never know when that information might come in handy. Like, for instance, now.”

“Well, anyway, he is definitely not my type.”

“Who is your type, honey?” Ann asked sarcastically.

Sarah chose to ignore it. “Carlos is a great assistant, and takes great care of me, but—”

“I bet,” Ann said, as she rolled her sapphire blue eyes and looked over the menu at Becca, who snickered in response.

The waitress came over to take their orders before Sarah could respond. The girls made their selections and handed over their menus.

“Anyway, I don’t want this,”—Sarah waved her hand as if shooing a pesky fly—“whatever you’re alluding to, to cause a problem with our professional relationship.”

Frowning, Sarah wondered if she should say something to Carlos. Talk about awkward. ‘So, I hear you have a crush on me.’ Then what? ‘If so, get over it. If not, please excuse my over-inflated ego for thinking it in the first place?’

No. She was better off taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Speaking of cougars . . .” Becca said, “you’ll never guess what Sarah bought. A bright red convertible Boxster—”

“You bought a Boxster?”

“See,” Becca said, turning to Sarah, “that’s exactly what I said.”

“Cool.”

“Okay, I didn’t say that.” Becca gave Ann a stern look. “Don’t encourage her.”

“Sorry. But I think that’s, well, cool. Will you take me for a ride?”

“Of course.”

“I think it’s a replacement for sex,” Becca interjected.

Sarah and Ann turned to look at her.

“Well, I do.”

“Who are you, Sigmund Freud?” Sarah scoffed. “Sometimes a car is just a car.”

“Except when it’s a lipstick-red convertible Porsche.”

“It’s ruby-red metallic.” Sarah’s glare indicated she no longer considered this exchange good-natured teasing.

“Red. It’s red.”

“So,” Ann said, as the waitress brought bread and salads, “have you decided what course you’re taking at Oxford?”

“Why, Jane Austen of course. A whole week of Jane Austen!” Sarah sighed, her eyes wistful, then laughed at herself. She was attending a summer adult education program at Christ Church, one of Oxford University’s thirty-nine colleges.

Ann laughed too, shaking her head. “I don’t know what you see in the dull and proper novels of Jane Austen. Give me a nice racy novel complete with a gorgeous, bare-chested hero and I’m in heaven.”

“I’m with you,” Becca said, dipping her bread in olive oil before popping a piece into her mouth.

“Jane Austen’s heroes are gorgeous . . . look at Mr. Darcy,” Sarah argued.

“Yeah, but Lizzy never saw him bare-chested.” Ann took a sip of her wine. “Speaking of gorgeous, a guy at the bar has been looking at you since you came in. No, don’t look, he’s coming over.”

“Oh God.” Sarah could feel the flush creeping into her face. She turned around. Talk about tall, dark, and handsome. He stood right next to the table.

“Hello,” he said, first looking at Ann and Becca before finally turning to Sarah. “I hope you don’t mind, but I asked the waitress what you were drinking.” He placed two glasses of wine and a Cosmo on the table. “I’m Derek. I’ve seen you here before, but couldn’t get up the courage to talk to you.”

“I’m Sarah.” He had a nice smile, but . . . “Thank you for the drinks,” she said, as she raised her glass.

“Would you like to go out some time?” he asked quickly, as if he didn’t want to lose his nerve.

Sarah’s right hand went self-consciously to her now-bare left ring finger. No way to use marriage as an excuse. Times like this she wished she’d continued to wear her wedding band.

Before she could stammer out a response, he said, “We could just meet here for dinner or drinks if that would make you more comfortable than going out with a total stranger.”

She glanced over at Ann, who wore an impish grin. She didn’t dare look at Becca.

She smiled awkwardly, her blush deepening. “Derek, I really appreciate your invitation, but I’m not ready . . . I mean I’m not really . . . thank you, but I have a rule . . . I don’t date strangers.”

“Well, if you decide to break your rule, I’ll be over there.” He pointed to the bar and walked away, shoulders stooped slightly.

Ann hunched over the table and hissed, “Are you crazy?”

Sarah closed her eyes. “It must be so difficult to work up the nerve to ask someone out. God, I hate turning men down.”

“Then why did you?”

“You know why. I don’t date strangers. Besides, I’m not interested—”

“How do you know? He might be a great guy. Honey, when you fall off the bull, you have to get right back on. At least he didn’t try some lame pick-up line.” She shook her head.

“Cut it out, Ann. You’re my best friend, and best friends are supposed to support each other, not nag each other. And you,” she said, pointing her finger at her sister, “don’t start.”

“Sometimes nagging is supporting,” Ann argued.

“Then maybe I could do with a little less support.”

They ate in silence for a beat or two. Boisterous laughter broke out at the table behind them.

“Ken’s retiring and he’s recommending me for the job,” Sarah blurted out.

Becca and Ann looked up, mouths gaping, before squeals of excitement emitted from those same mouths.

“You just now thought to tell us that?” Becca said. “What’s wrong with you?” She swatted Sarah’s arm as she spoke.

“Ouch.” Sarah turned and pinched her sister.

“Girls,” Ann said, interrupting their playful scrap. “Am I going to have to separate you two?”

“She started it,” Sarah said, pointing at Becca. “Besides, I wanted to wait until we were all together.”

“So when’s he retiring? When do you start? How much are you going to make? Let’s toast.” Ann raised her wine glass.

Her continuous monologue left Sarah no place for response.

“Ann, take a breath and give Sarah a chance to reply.”

Sarah told them about her conversation with Ken, and warned that it was only a recommendation. She wasn’t a shoe-in for the job.

“They’d be crazy not to hire you,” Ann said.

“It’s about time. I was beginning to wonder if Ken was ever going to recognize what he had,” Becca said, pushing her plate away.

“Congratulations, Honey. I’m so happy for you.”

Sarah deliberately placed her fork on her plate and folded her hands in her lap. “I haven’t thrown my hat in the ring yet.”

“What?”

“Are you nuts?” Becca said.

Sarah held up her hands. “Ken told me to take some time to think it over, and I’m going to do just that.”

“Why?” Becca’s ‘tone’ returned. “What’s to think about? You deserve the job, and I know you can do it. Don’t you want it?”

“I know I can do it, but you know me. I have to think it over. Look at it from all angles.”

Looking at Ann, Becca said, “A promotion she has to think about. A pricey ruby-red metallic sports car, not so much. Sarah, your irrational behavior is giving me a mental whiplash.”

Sarah sighed. Sometimes she wondered why she told them everything she did. With the two of them ganging up on her, she didn’t stand a chance.

Ann’s cell phone rang. Saved by the bell again.

In her stern ‘mommy voice’ Ann said, “Ya’ll just need to work it out, because neither one of you will like it if I work it out for you.”

“Oh well,” Ann said after hanging up, “this was pleasant while it lasted. I’ve got to get home and referee the kids.”

Becca pulled Sarah aside. “Promise me you’ll seriously consider Ken’s offer.”

“I will. I promise.”

Ann grabbed her hand. “Now show me this Cougar Car.”

The three of them walked down the sidewalk in the twilight, laughing and joking.

Sarah stopped suddenly and turned around. She could have sworn she parked right here, in a now-empty space. “What the . . .”

“Sarah, what is it?” Ann asked concerned.

Sarah turned to Becca, whose face also wore a look of confusion. “Didn’t I park here?”

“Yes. I’m sure you did, because I remember this black sedan.”

Sarah stepped out into the street to look down the road. Something crunched beneath her feet. Glass. Shards of broken glass. She knelt down to examine the pile at her feet. “I think my Cougar Car’s been stolen.”