The day of Killaroy’s annual carnival had finally arrived, and Lacy could not have been more excited. Finally, she had been allowed input into this year’s festivities, and she was determined to make it the best—and most lucrative—one yet.
Her students were even more excited than she was. The star of the show, little Sally Farmer, was practically bursting at the seams of her costume. She was playing the darling heroine, and she did it so well that one might even suspect the role was written for her.
If anyone managed to get their hands on the author of the play that had been written specially for this fundraiser, they might just realize how accurate their suspicion would be.
Mr. Baker’s sawmill had brought significant economic growth to Killaroy. The Horton’s home, once considered to be the very outskirts of the town, was now just the regular outskirts. The town had expanded so much that Lacy was in need of an expansion to her schoolhouse. Soon, she would also begin the interview process to find herself another teacher. She and Velma had been making it work so far, but with the recent influx of families into town following the promise of a balanced, happy lifestyle under a good governing body, even the two of them needed to admit that a third pair of hands was a necessity.
And it was a good governing body. Since the departure of Mayor Michaels—or rather, since he had been run out of town by the deputies of another town over—Killaroy had been in a sort of governing limbo. The situation at the moment was a joint one by all the members of the council, on which both Jim Horton and Jack Farmer sat. They had never stopped laughing over the fact that the idea of involving themselves in the council was something of a joke to them, but in truth, there really were no better men for the job.
In the three years since the drama had unfolded, the two of them had been working their hardest to tidy up the town. Jim had a grassroots approach, ensuring that he was addressing the physical aspects of the town. Everything from construction to agriculture had become his area of focus, whereas Jack dealt with the more official sides of things—writing documents, sharing information, expanding the town through the written word. It was, admittedly, an unusual arrangement, but nonetheless, one that served everyone remarkably well. Even the forest, which had previously been decimated by the old sawmill, had been reseeded and was beginning to flourish.
As for Sheriff Yates, he was removed by his own deputies, who had essentially staged a coup to get rid of him. There were various rumors circulating about the disgraced lawman, even to this day. Some said he was conscripted; others say he joined the church. Whatever the case was, the situation was far between with him gone across the board. Crime levels had even seen a decline—especially in crimes involving finances.
All in all, there was not an end to their success in sight. And today was Lacy’s day to ensure that story came to life for all to see, for the play she had asked Jack to write was of the history of Killaroy itself. As the scenes unfolded before her eyes, she watched from the side of the stage as the audience was thrilled, delighted, and shocked by the drama that had unfolded in their very town over the years. It was education as much as it was entertainment, the teaching method that Mrs. Lacy was so beloved and respected for.
Once the play had finished, the applause was rousing. Lacy led her students onto the stage for a final bow, beyond proud of the way they had handled themselves. They were equally thrilled, even if they were a little clueless as to some of which they had been recounting. It did not matter—one day, Lacy knew they would understand. She was teaching the new generation of mayors, sheriffs, and businessmen after all. All she wanted for them was to be good, kind people.
As the children scurried off to their respective families, Lacy felt a familiar hand on her back. Turning at once, she wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck.
“You did an incredible job, my love,” Jim told her. “You have a knack for the thespian arts.”
“And you are a tease,” she declared, popping a kiss on the end of his nose.
“Not at all,” Jim insisted, taking her hand. Suddenly, his expression grew serious.
Lacy leaned in closer to him. “What’s troubling you, Jim?”
He rubbed at his chin. “Some of the men on the council approached me.”
“The position for mayor has officially opened back up.”
Lacy paused, taken aback. Did this mean they were looking to disband their community approach? Things had been going so well with it all, at least that was what Lacy thought. Why would they choose now to begin the call-out for a new mayor?
Her face must have given away all of the questions she wanted to ask, for Jim placed that soothing hand other back again.
“The joint approach to governing won’t change. I think the council just believes that it’s time the people had a figurehead that they could turn to.”
Lacy studied his face. “What are you asking me, Jim?”
“You already know.”
She smiled. “I want to hear you say it.”
Jim sighed but was smiling, too. “How would you feel about me running for mayor?”
“Hmm.” She mocked consideration for a moment before taking his hands into hers. “Well, I certainly like the sound of Mayor Horton.”
“Do you?” Jim asked, his smile turning coy. “Or do you only like the sound of Mrs. Mayor Horton?”
“Can’t I like both?”
“I’ll take that as approval, then?”
She took a step back to take in the full measure of him. Aside from being an impressive male figure—though even she had to admit that that was a little biased—Jim was an innately good person. He not only cared for people, he cared about the town they lived in, too. He had been essentially running Killaroy for three years now, with some help, of course.
A mayor needed to be someone that had all those important qualities: compassion, generosity, integrity, all in good measure. Whether or not he was her husband was irrelevant. Jim possessed all of those traits and many more besides.
“Do you want my honest opinion?” she asked.
“I only ever want your honest opinion.”
She gave him an affirmative nod. “I think there is no better man than you for the job.”
“I’m glad that’s your response because I’ve already told the council I’ll do it.”
She swatted him away, and he danced away from her touch, chuckling.
“You just wanted to hear me say it,” Lacy declared, catching onto his private joke at once. “But honestly Jim, I am really happy that you have decided. When was the council planning on making the announcement of a bid for mayor?”
Jim checked his wristwatch. “In about ten minutes.”
And indeed, ten minutes later it was Jim who was mounting the steps to the stage. As Lacy watched on, from the front row this time, she had to keep blinking to keep the tears of pride from welling up in her eyes.
“Most of you,” Jim began, “Have been a part of this town long enough to know of its hardships. Killaroy is a proud town, and a long-standing town, that has been through many iterations. I am pleased to say that we have found success now, at our current stage, and that we are only looking forward to the future.”
He paused as he waited for the applause to subside.
“For the past three years, this town has been governed by a body of citizens, and each of us has weighed in on every decision that has come to be during this time. However, the council, as a collective, has decided that now is finally the right time to reinstate the title of mayor to one amongst its members.”
There was no applause during this pause, and Jim, ever the showman, leaned into this without hesitation.
“I know that that decision is one that may meet some protest, but I want to reassure everyone who hears me speak today, that Killaroy’s history will not be repeated. From here on out, the role of mayor will be voted upon fairly, and the title bestowed only to the person who the community believes to be most deserving of it.”
Lacy did not catch the smirk that Jim was clearly trying so hard to hold back. When he caught her eye, she could not help but brandish one of her own.
“That said, I have decided to announce my intention to run for Mayor of Killaroy, and therefore publicize my candidacy.”
There was a genuine roar of appreciation from the crowd, so enthusiastic that it surprised even Lacy, the mayoral candidate’s own wife. She gazed around at the faces of those around her, but all of them were looking up at Jim: the man who had breezed into town after an extended absence, gotten tangled up in a shady, under-the-table deal, been arrested for it, conned the conmen into having the charges dropped, and was now running for the same position he used to despise.
Of course, only a handful of the people in this crowd knew that whole side of the story.
* * *
Lacy and Velma sipped their tea as they each watched their husbands man-handle the donkey from the porch. Jack had bought the beast as a sort of prank, but the little Farmer girls had inadvertently grown very attached to it. With the local farrier out sick for the week, it was taking the two men to wrestle new shoes onto the animal.
Sally and Daisy were sitting on the porch at the women’s feet, their legs hanging out through the railing and giggling like mad as the two grown men kept on their losing battle.
“So,” Velma said, tearing her eyes away from the grunting and hee-hawing. “What do you make of it?”
Lacy sipped her tea. “Make of what?”
Velma kicked her foot under the table. “Make of being the mayor’s wife, of course.”
Lacy rolled her eyes. “Well, if I’d have known the mayor would occupy himself attempting to shoe donkeys, perhaps I would have asked him not to run.”
“Don’t joke with me!” Velma nudged her again. “Come on—I know you, Lacy. You must be loving it a little more than being a councilman’s wife.”
Lacy set her cup down. “At the end of the day, Vel, I’m still just a schoolteacher, and that’s enough for me.”
Velma rolled her eyes, but it was all a farce. “Surely the news must have been exciting though. When he told you that he had won the bid?”
“Sure,” Lacy agreed with a shrug. “Though I can’t say I was surprised. Is that arrogant of me?”
“Not at all. In all honesty, I don’t think anyone was surprised. Word around town is that Colton Darby only ran to annoy his father. As for Matthew Warmsley, he just ran for fun.”
“What about Brandon Johnstone?”
Velma snorted into her tea. “I was told he thought he was signing up for ballroom dancing lessons.”
Lacy rocked with laughter. “I imagine that would have been quite a shock for him.”
Once they had composed themselves, Velma frowned at Lacy. “But surely Jim would have told you all of that?”
Lacy sipped her tea again. Velma must have decided that she was taking too long to come up with a response because she slid Lacy’s cup away from her.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” she pressed. “What aren’t you telling me, Lacy Horton?”
“We’ve been a little…preoccupied of late.”
Velma narrowed her eyes. “There is only one thing that would be more important to the both of you than your work.”
Lacy bit her lip, opting for silence. Without a word, she slid her tea back towards herself and downed it before Velma could confiscate her cup again.
She didn’t know what the giveaway was, but Velma’s mouth dropped.
“Oh my gosh,” she whispered, her hands at her lips.
Lacy nodded her confirmation, trying her best to keep from squealing. The last thing they needed was for someone to upset the donkey even more.
Velma leaned across the table to snatch up Lacy’s hands. She examined her palms as Lacy squirmed excitedly in her seat.
Before Velma could make her presumption, Lacy just had to butt in. “I’m about two months along—probably a little more at this stage.”
“It’ll be a boy,” Velma declared. “I just know it.”
A boy. Lacy had had that flash of intuition as well.
“I guess all that’s left now is to come up with a name,” Velma said, looking wistfully at the sky.
Lacy chuckled darkly. “What about Michael?”
“Don’t you even joke about that, Lacy Horton!”
But the two dissolved into girlish giggles anyway. They became so hysterical that even Velma’s daughters began to exchange glances of concern.
Lacy didn’t know what she would be naming her child yet, but she knew that she had plenty of time to wait for inspiration to strike.
She was something of an expert at waiting.
* * *
Lacy coaxed the pot of stew to a rolling boil as Mrs. Horton looked on over her shoulder. The grandmother-to-be never seemed to stray too far from Lacy’s side these days. It was a welcome change from the cold woman Lacy had grown to know over the past few years. She had grown to love spending time with her and had learned so much in anticipation of her delivery day, which was still many months away.
“Stir occasionally,” Mrs. Horton was saying. “Occasionally, not frequently.”
Lacy caught Mr. Horton’s sidelong glance and had to bite her lip to keep from smirking. Mrs. Horton may have fussed, but it was the kind that only strived to help.
The three of them turned to the front door as they heard it open and shut.
“Good afternoon!” came Jim’s customary greeting.
“Good afternoon!” came the customary, three-tiered response.
After planting a kiss on each of his wife’s cheeks—one for her, and one for the baby—he rubbed his hands together. It was a tell-tale sign that there was big news afoot. Lacy gave the pot a final stir before allowing the “occasional” segment to set in.
“So?” she prompted. “Give us the update?”
“You’ve decided, then?” Mr. Horton added.
Jim nodded. “I’ve decided on my running mate. I think he’ll be a great fit.”
“Who is it?” his mother asked, taking a pause to glance at the stew.
“Benjamin Bartley,” Jim announced. “He’s a local businessman.”
Lacy started, jolting so hard that she must have given the three of them a fright.
“Are you alright? What’s wrong, Lacy? Is it the baby?”
“No,” she said at once, dismissing their concerns with a wave of her hand. “Not at all. It’s just that…Benjamin Bartley…”
Jim was frowning now, his brow furrowed. “Do you know of him?”
Lacy cleared her throat. “I did, a long time ago.” She met Jim’s gaze. “He was the man I was supposed to marry.”
Much to her relief, Jim immediately started laughing. “You mean the other man you were supposed to marry.”
“Yes,” Mr. Horton added seriously. “I really do think you were meant to marry our son.”
Jim scrubbed at his face. “What a funny world.”
Lacy smiled, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Can you attest to his character?” Mrs. Horton asked her, that helping hand hovering nearby as always.
“He was a good man when I knew him back then,” Lacy said. “I am sure that he is a good man now. Although,” she then added, looking to Jim. “He is a businessman.”
He chuckled. “I’m sure they’re not all crooked.”
“You’d better hope that’s true if you’ve decided to let have him on board as your running mate,” Mr. Horton declared. He glanced at his wife and daughter-in-law. “Perhaps we ought to have him over for dinner?”
“It might still be a little too soon for that,” Lacy had to pipe up. When all three pairs of eyes land on her again, she has to clarify, “I did break his heart, once upon a time.”
“Jim taught you well,” his mother muttered, then immediately clasped her hand to her mouth. “Oh goodness, did I say that aloud?”
Lacy waved her off with a giggle. “Water under the bridge.”
“If you really want to know,” Jim said, “He’s actually happily married now. I think he even got tied down before you did, Lacy Horton.”
She poked his tongue out at her husband, but in truth, she was glad to hear that. She hadn’t heard anything from Benjamin since she had ended their engagement, but not because of any decision she had made about it. He had taken her choice with grace and promised to allow her to follow her heart, but she could see that she had hurt him. It may have been an arrangement by both of their mothers, but Benjamin had always been a kind soul with a gentle heart. It had hurt Lacy to know that she had wounded him but it was just as much of a relief to know that he had found someone who was right for him, too.
Perhaps their reunion would be a positive thing. Whenever that was to come about, it would certainly be an interesting thing. She had no doubt that Jim would make a spectacle about the whole thing. But if her old fiancé was anything like he used to be, she knew that Jim would have chosen well.
They would have to wait and see.