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Authors: Debbie Macomber

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BOOK: Touched By Angels
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Jenny wadded up the letter and unceremoniously tossed it into the garbage. She tried again, and after six or seven lines the second sheet followed the path of the first.

A half hour later, the table was nearly obliterated with discarded attempts. It hadn’t been this difficult to answer Trey’s card. Her brief note to her former neighbor had been cheerful and witty when she’d sent along her regrets.

Anyone who knew her well might have been able to read between the lines of her lighthearted message. But not Trey, she decided. Her witty note would amuse him.

In the end, Jenny penned three short lines to her parents and left it at that. She couldn’t come. She was sorry, and she’d miss them terribly.

Not once did she mention the Off Broadway production she’d told them she was in. Jenny refused to perpetrate the lie any further than she had already.

By the time Michelle returned from her errands, Jenny was in a real funk. Depressed and miserable, she battled off a case of the blues, determined not to get caught in the trap of feeling sorry for herself.

“You know what we need?” her friend said.

“What?”

“A little fun. It’s the season of joy, and yet here we are, moping around waiting for the phone to ring.” Their agent hadn’t called, and Jenny didn’t care what people said. No news was not good news. No news was no news. And this time the waiting had never seemed more interminable.

“What if we had a party?” Michelle asked.

“A Christmas party,” Jenny added, warming to the idea. “That’s perfect.” Then reality set in. “But how would we possibly feed all our friends?” It was difficult enough to scrounge up meals for the two of them.

“We’ll make it a potluck,” Michelle suggested. “All we need supply are the drinks, plus plates and silverware. Between us we could manage that, couldn’t we?”

“Sure we could.” Jenny’s nod was eager. Her spirits lifted just thinking about the celebration. She needed this, needed something to take her mind off how much she would miss Montana. “We can make the invitations ourselves.”

“Let’s hand them out. That way we could save on postage,” Michelle said, offering another money-saving idea.

“Who should we invite?”

“Bill and Susan,” Michelle suggested.

The couple had met in drama school and had married that summer. Jenny and Michelle had been bridesmaids. Jenny had joked about how the two of them always seemed to end up as bridesmaids.

“What about Cliff?” Jenny asked.

“Abby, too.”

The list continued until they were afraid they’d forget, so they decided to write them all down.

Michelle sat at the table and reached for a pen. “Good grief, what happened here? It looks like a paper massacre.”

The tightness gripped Jenny’s throat. “I finally wrote my parents and told them I wouldn’t be home.” Just saying the words aloud increased the ache.

“Next year you’ll be with your family,” Michelle said with confidence.

“You’re right,” Jenny said, forcing herself to think positive thoughts. Surely living in the same city in which Norman Vincent Peale had preached his philosophy of positive thinking should teach her something. Yet here she was doing it again: stinking thinking.

“Bill and Susan,” Michelle mumbled as she repeated the names of their mutual friends. “Abby. Cliff. John.”

The phone pealed and they froze.

Michelle looked to Jenny.

Jenny to Michelle.

“You answer it,” her roommate instructed.

“You,” Jenny insisted, shaking her head. It had been like this all week. The instant the phone jingled they hoped, prayed, it was Irene, their agent. If it wasn’t Irene, then perhaps it was the casting director and maybe even the great and mighty John Peterman himself. It wasn’t likely, but they could dream.

“It’s probably some schmuck wanting to sell us aluminum siding,” Michelle joked.

“Or someone doing a survey on cat food.”

But Jenny noticed that neither one of them took their eyes away from the kitchen telephone.

Michelle edged herself from the chair on the third ring and reached the phone. “Hello, this is Jenny and Michelle’s place,” she said cheerfully in a perfect rendition of the efficient secretary.

Jenny studied her friend. Afraid to hope. Afraid to care.

“It’s for you,” Michelle stated, and handed her the receiver. Then she mouthed, “It’s a man.”

Jenny pointed her finger at her heart, wondering if she’d misunderstood. “For me?”

Michelle nodded.

She took the phone and said in a friendly but professional-sounding voice, “This is Jenny Lancaster.”

“Hello, Jenny.”

Trey.

Jenny couldn’t have been more shocked if it’d been Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, wanting her to star in his next musical.

“Trey!” she said, barely managing to hide her shock.

“I got your note,” he announced.

“It was a surprise to get your Thanksgiving card,” she said, holding the receiver with both hands. She felt lightheaded and wasn’t sure if it was the shock of Trey’s call or the fact that she hadn’t eaten all day.

“You aren’t coming home for the holidays.”

Trey, her family. Everyone seemed to be pressuring her. It felt as if the walls were closing in around her. “I can’t come,” she told him, unable to disguise her own bitter disappointment. “I want to be there. More than anything, but I can’t.”

“That’s what your note said. So the bright lights of the city have blinded you?”

“No.” She longed to tell him how she hungered for the peace and solitude of Montana. New York City held its own excitement, its own energy. So often she’d walked down the crowded avenues and felt a rhythm, a cadence, that all but sang up from the asphalt. For three years she’d marched to that beat and hummed its special brand of music.

Yet the lone cry in the barren hills of home played longingly to her soul, its melody haunting her.

“Your family misses you,” Trey said, tightening the screws of her regrets.

Jenny bit into her lower lip.

“I miss you,” Trey added.

Jenny’s eyes flew open. Trey, the man who’d invaded her dreams for weeks, admitted to missing her. He’d as much as said he wanted her home.

Regrets clamored against her chest, their fists sharp and pain-filled. “I can’t come,” she whispered miserably.

Her words were met with silence.

“Can’t or won’t?” he asked starkly.

Brynn Cassidy crossed the street in front of Manhattan High and St. Philip’s Cathedral. She found Father Grady, the gray-haired priest who’d become her friend, in the vestibule.

“Hello, Father,” she said.

“Brynn, it’s good to see you, my girl.” His green Irish eyes lit up with warm delight.

“I got your message. You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. Come over to the rectory and I’ll have Mrs. Houghton brew us a pot of tea.”

Brynn glanced at her watch. She enjoyed visiting with Father Grady, but the older priest liked to talk and she didn’t have time that afternoon.

Father Grady’s eyes followed hers. “Do you have an appointment?”

“I have to stop off at Roberto Alcantara’s this afternoon and pick up my car.”

“I know Roberto well,” Father Grady said, and motioned for her to precede him out of the church. “He’s a fine young man.” He paused to glance her way, and it seemed to Brynn that the priest was looking for her to elaborate. She didn’t.

“Emilio’s in my class.”

“Ah, yes, Emilio. Roberto’s done his best to keep his brother out of trouble. There haven’t been problems with Emilio, have there?”

“No, no,” Brynn was quick to tell him.

Father Grady’s face relaxed.

Brynn lowered her gaze. It wasn’t Emilio she’d clashed with, but Roberto. “I’m afraid Roberto doesn’t think much of me.”

Father Grady opened the door to the rectory. “I’m sure you’re mistaken.”

Brynn followed him inside. She preferred not to tell him about their brief confrontation. It rankled still. Roberto Alcantara had been both rude and unreasonable. But more than that, he’d been wrong.

“I’m not sure I have time for tea,” she reiterated when she realized that Father Grady fully intended for her to stay and chat anyway.

“Nonsense.” He escorted Brynn into the parlor and left her while he went in search of Mrs. Houghton, the elderly housekeeper who cared for Father Grady and the bishop when he was in residence.

Father Grady returned shortly with a tray and two cups. “I was hoping you’d be able to stop over this afternoon,” he said as he set the tray on the coffee table. He handed Brynn a delicate china cup and took one himself before sitting across from her on the velvet settee. “The church is sponsoring a dance this Friday evening for the youth group.”

Brynn had seen the posters. “I’ve heard several of the kids mention it.”

“We generally have a good turnout.”

Brynn was sure that was true.

“I was wondering,” Father Grady said, studying her above the china cup, “if you’d agree to be one of the chaperones.”

The request took Brynn by surprise, although in retrospect she supposed it shouldn’t.

“The children are quite fond of you,” he added as if he felt flattering her would be necessary. “Modesto Diaz mentioned your name the other day. He said . . .” Father Grady paused, and his eyes sparkled with humor.

“Yes?” Brynn prodded.

“Well, Modesto did say you were a little weird, but that he liked you anyway.”

Brynn was sure her students didn’t quite know what to make of her teaching methods.

“I realize it’s an imposition asking you at this late date,” Father Grady continued. “I’d consider it a personal favor if you could come.”

“I’ll be happy to chaperone the dance,” Brynn murmured.

“Now,” Father Grady said, and set down his teacup. “Tell me what happened between you and Roberto Alcantara.”

“It’s nothing,” she said, preferring to make light of their differences. “Actually Roberto’s been most helpful. My car broke down and he’s fixing it for me.”

Father Grady said nothing.

“I was on my way to pick it up now.”

“Roberto’s been through some difficult times,” the priest told her. “I’m not at liberty to tell you all the circumstances, but . . .”

“Oh, please, no. I wouldn’t want you to break a confidence. It’s nothing, really.”

“If Roberto offended you . . .”

“He didn’t. We had a difference of opinion.”

Father Grady seemed relieved. “I’m glad to hear that. If you do find him disagreeable, all I ask is that you give him a bit of slack. He’s a good man. I’d vouch for him any day.”

“I’m sure what you say is true.” Brynn stood and set the teacup back on the tray. “Now I really must be going.”

Father Grady escorted her to the front door. “I’ll see you Friday evening, then, around seven?”

Brynn nodded. “I’ll be here.”

The priest’s eyes brightened with a smile. “Thank you, Brynn, I promise you won’t regret this.”

Brynn briskly walked the few blocks to Roberto Alcantara’s garage. Earlier that afternoon, Emilio had personally delivered the message that her car was ready for her. The youth made sure the entire class heard him, as though the two of them had a personal business arrangement. Brynn had been forced to conceal her irritation.

As the afternoon progressed, she discovered she wasn’t looking forward to another encounter with Emilio’s older brother. The man was way off base. It was impossible to reason with anyone who regarded education as a waste of time. The fact that he’d actually urged his younger brother to drop out of school was nothing short of criminal.

“Yo, Miss Cassidy.” Emilio, Modesto, and a few more of the boys from her class drove past her slowly and waved.

Brynn returned the gesture automatically. It wasn’t until they’d turned the corner that she realized the boys were joyriding in her car.

Brynn bristled and hurried the last block to Roberto’s. When she reached the garage, she stormed in the door. “Emilio’s driving around in my car.”

Roberto, who was working on another car, straightened. “Yes, I know.”

She blinked. “You know.”

“Yes, I gave him the keys myself.”

The man had a way of flustering her unlike anyone she’d ever encountered. “Well, I want it back.”

“You’ll get it.” He returned to the truck he was working on, disappearing behind the hood.

“Do you generally allow Emilio to ride around in your customers’ cars?”

“No.” His answer was clipped and didn’t invite further inquiries.

His attitude—in fact, everything about Roberto—irritated Brynn. “I want my car returned,” she insisted, her voice raised and tight. No matter what Father Grady claimed, it was plain to her that this man didn’t have one shred of responsibility.

“And you’ll have it.”

Brynn crossed her arms and started to pace. Twice she made a show of looking at her watch.

“Emilio will be back any moment,” Roberto said, continuing to work on another vehicle.

Bent over the engine as he was, Brynn couldn’t see his face, but she had the distinct impression the mechanic was smiling. Her irritation amused him. That infuriated Brynn all the more.

“I want you to know that I don’t appreciate being kept waiting.”

Roberto straightened and reached for an oil rag; his dark, intense eyes meshed with hers. “I’m not one of your students, Miss Cassidy, so there’s no need to yell.”

“I was not yelling.” She realized she was and lowered her voice immediately.

Roberto grinned broadly. “I suppose you’d like to send me to the principal.”

“Aha!” Her arm flew out and she pointed at him with her index finger, wagging it while she gathered her thoughts. “I thought as much. You blame me because your brother was suspended.”

“On the contrary. Emilio knows not to fight on school grounds. What is it the law enforcement people are so fond of quoting? Do the crime, pay the time. My brother deserved what he got.”

“But you blame me?”

“No, I just wish you’d quit filling my brother’s head with garbage.”

Brynn clenched her jaw in an effort not to argue. This was the same mine-riddled ground they’d covered earlier. Brynn had no desire to do battle with Roberto a second time.

From the corner of her eye, she saw her car pull into an empty parking slot in front of the garage.

BOOK: Touched By Angels
2.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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