“Don’t be ridiculous.” But she wasn’t nearly as confident as she sounded. She didn’t know what she’d say if Trey proposed. One thing was certain: she didn’t like the turn their conversation had taken. It hadn’t bothered her when Michelle mentioned the open curiosity of their friends toward Trey. It hadn’t hurt her pride any to have Trey fend off the friendly advances made by the more aggressive of her peers. Frankly, Jenny didn’t blame her friends. Trey had the same overwhelming effect upon her senses.
The few kisses they’d shared before being interrupted had haunted her. She wanted him to kiss and touch her again just so she’d know what they’d shared had been as good as she remembered.
“Can you honestly picture someone like Trey living in New York?” she asked Michelle heatedly. “Within a month he’d go stark, raving mad. Trey’s the type of man who needs plenty of wide-open space.”
“If he loved you . . .”
“No.” Jenny wouldn’t consider it. Besides, it was a moot point. The very idea that he’d propose was ludicrous. He was in town only a few days, exactly how many he had yet to tell her. When he left she’d ride out to the airport with him and see him off. But the mere thought of Trey heading back to Montana produced an emptiness she couldn’t shake.
“Jenny?” Michelle broke into her musings.
She smiled weakly and resumed her task, but her mind wasn’t on it.
“Of course if you married Trey, you wouldn’t necessarily need to live in New York. There are—”
“Are you suggesting I return to Montana?” Jenny demanded. “What are you trying to tell me, Michelle? That it’s time I admitted the truth, that I’m a no-talent wannabe and that I’ll never make it on Broadway or, for that matter, any place else?” She was desperate to breathe by the time she’d finished.
Visibly shocked by Jenny’s outburst, Michelle stood frozen and stared at her.
Jenny sagged into the chair. “I didn’t mean that.”
“I didn’t either,” Michelle whispered. “I believe in you as strongly as I do in myself.”
“I know.” They’d been each other’s cheering squad for too long for Jenny to doubt her friend now. Over the last three years they’d been through so much together. Jenny knew Michelle wished her nothing but unbridled success. Anything else would have been completely out of character.
The phone rang just then.
The last few days had been a tense time for them both. Michelle was due to hear the results of her second audition with John Peterman. If it were in her power, Jenny would award her friend the role, but it wasn’t.
“You want me to get it?” she asked Michelle.
“No, I will,” Michelle answered, and walked over to the wall phone. She reached for it and paused, her hand inches from the receiver. “You get it, all right?” she asked, and moved away.
It pealed a third time before Jenny could reach it.
“I should be the one to answer,” Michelle said abruptly and ripped the receiver off the hook. “This is Michelle Jordan,” she greeted cheerfully, as if she had been sitting idly by the phone without a care in the world. She listened for a moment, then, “Well, hello,” she said seductively, eyeing Jenny. “And how are you?”
A second pause while Jenny was left to wonder who was at the other end of the line.
“Of course. . . . No, it’s no problem whatsoever.” She pressed the mouthpiece against her shoulder. “It’s Trey. He wants to talk to you. Do you want me to tell him you’re here, or would you rather I made up some excuse and told him you were out for the day?”
Emilio was absent from school the following afternoon. Brynn’s heart sank. She couldn’t very well cancel the most important test this term because one student hadn’t bothered to show.
Emilio had left school the day before without returning to class, but when Brynn had tried to reach him later, the phone had gone unanswered. With her own commitments, she hadn’t been able to seek out Roberto, nor had she been able to talk to him.
Her day felt incomplete without some form of contact with Roberto. Little by little she’d opened her heart to Emilio’s older brother. There was such passion in Roberto, such intensity. The other men she’d dated had been neither hot nor cold. Nothing excited them. Not injustice. Not good fortune. Not tickets to a play-off football game. Brynn had been left wondering what would happen if any of them ever won the lottery.
There was no doubt in her mind, however, where Roberto stood on any number of subjects. He rarely hesitated to make his opinions known. Although she often disagreed with him, she appreciated the fact that he was willing to take a stand. He cared deeply for those he loved. That was what had attracted her to him in the beginning.
Every time he kissed her the experience left her shaken. One thing was certain: Roberto Alcantara would never be a lukewarm lover.
“Is everyone ready for their midterms?” she asked the class. Standing in front of the room, she cradled the test papers against her chest.
A low rumble of responses came from her students. As the papers were being handed out, Brynn noted that Emilio wasn’t the only student absent that day. Modesto’s desk was conspicuously empty. His condition remained listed as serious, but from what she’d heard he would soon be upgraded to satisfactory.
Mike Glasser was gone as well. That disappointed her. She’d tried hard to bring the loner out of his shell, but nothing had worked. His attitude baffled her. When she looked directly at him, she assumed his mind was a thousand miles away, yet when she quizzed him, he knew the answers. The boy was keenly intelligent, but he refused to apply himself.
Brynn walked around the room while her class took the exam. This was by far the most important test she’d given, and she’d worked long hours composing the essay questions. Her students’ responses were the best way she had of gauging how well she’d done her job.
The class discussions were thought-provoking and often heated. Brynn was thrilled that she could make her students care about what had happened in the world fifty years earlier. She felt it was important for them to do more than memorize dates and names.
Her goal was for them to look back at history and learn from the past. She wanted them to gain insight and perspective from a journal written by a teenage Jewish girl, who, despite the years separating their worlds, wasn’t unlike them. It excited Brynn when her students recognized that they shared the same dreams, the same aspirations, as Anne Frank.
More important, Brynn wanted her students to reason through this material and willingly share their feelings with her. A number of the test questions had no right or wrong answers. All she wanted was for each of her students to reflect on this time period in American and European history and then express their thoughts.
When Brynn strolled past Suzie’s desk, she was surprised to discover that the girl’s paper was blank.
Unwilling to break the concentration of any of the others, Brynn resisted the urge to ask Suzie if something was wrong. She noticed that the girl wore a maternity top and wondered if anyone else recognized Suzie was pregnant.
Pen in hand, Suzie briefly acknowledged Brynn, then bent forward and started to write.
As Brynn walked past Emilio’s empty desk, she couldn’t help wondering what had kept him from class. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t known about this test or realized its significance. Brynn had been talking about it for several days, reviewing the material so it would be fresh in their minds. Now and again she’d purposely screw up the dates and would take pride when someone, often a student she wouldn’t expect to know the difference, would correct her.
After class had been dismissed, Brynn quickly reviewed the test results and was pleased with what she read. Because she was anxious to talk to Emilio, she left school as soon as she could without checking for messages. She rarely received anything more than the dittoed sheets the school printed for all staff members. With the advent of Christmas, and most all the classes winding down, she didn’t expect anything of real importance.
Eager to see Roberto, Brynn walked to his garage first. The sky was dark with thick gray clouds the color of tempered steel, and the wind added an extra chill to the late afternoon. Nevertheless, Brynn was happy. She’d had her first real date with Roberto, and even though their evening had ended abruptly, their time together had proved what she’d long suspected. Roberto cared about her the same way she did about him.
Brynn’s parents were anxious for her to come home for Christmas, but she’d already decided against making the trip. She hadn’t told her mother, and wouldn’t, but she preferred to stay right here in New York with Roberto. She’d mentioned him in passing several times, and in the last telephone conversation, she’d confessed she was strongly attracted to him.
The bell chimed over the doorway when she entered his garage. She rubbed her hands together to chase away the chill. No one greeted her.
“Is anyone here?” she called out, thinking it odd that Roberto hadn’t locked up the garage.
A minute later Roberto appeared, dressed in greasy overalls. He wiped his hands clean on a rag, his face devoid of emotion. He nodded once and greeted her without revealing any pleasure in seeing her. “Hello, Brynn.”
None of the warmth or welcome she’d felt on their dinner date was apparent. Puzzled by his attitude, Brynn felt like walking out the door and coming back to try this all over again.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
He shook his head. “You tell me.”
“Well . . .” Baffled, she wasn’t sure what had happened. “Emilio wasn’t in class this afternoon.”
“Yes, I know.”
“There was an important test.”
He shrugged as though to say that was of no importance to him.
“Is Emilio ill?”
“Then where was he?”
“Running errands for me,” Roberto informed her briskly.
“You mean to say you knew he was purposely skipping classes and you let him?” Anger swelled inside her, but she did a good job of maintaining her composure.
“Yes. Emilio announced this morning that he didn’t feel like going to school, and I told him the choice was his.”
This was a discussion they’d had in the past, and they’d always ended up arguing about the importance of education. Nothing she said would change Roberto’s opinion, and certainly nothing he said would alter her feelings.
“I want to talk to Emilio,” she said, unwilling to be drawn into a verbal battle neither one of them could win.
“He isn’t here,” Roberto continued stoically.
“When do you expect him back?”
He didn’t hesitate. “I don’t know.”
Brynn could see that discussing Emilio would be a losing proposition. She looked past Roberto, hoping to gain perspective on what was happening between them.
“How was your day?” she asked in an effort to put the conversation back on an even keel.