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Authors: Debbie Macomber

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BOOK: Touched By Angels
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Soon her relatives and other guests were busy filling their plates. Hannah wasn’t the least bit hungry, but to not eat might have alerted her mother that something was wrong, so she dished up with the others.

Hannah and Carl were ushered to the seats of honor, and she noticed that he didn’t seem to have much of an appetite himself.

The party sat in a large circle, their plates resting on their laps. It was Aunt Edith who asked the question first.

“Well, you two, don’t keep me in suspense any longer. When’s the wedding date?”

Everyone seemed to wait for Hannah to answer. The room filled with an expectant silence. Hannah looked first to her mother for help and then to Carl. Neither seemed inclined to respond.

“I believe Mother and Helen felt that the wedding coordinator should be the one to decide that,” Hannah explained when no one came to her rescue.

“Nonsense,” Edith said, dismissing the idea with a wave of her hand. “It’s up to the two of you to set the date. Let the wedding coordinator work around the one you’ve chosen.”

“But—” Hannah wasn’t allowed to finish.

“I agree,” Cousin Hariette intoned. “If you’re going to have an outsider make all the arrangements, then it’s vital they know from the first who’s in change. A wedding’s no small thing, and it’s best to get started on the right foot.”

“I’ve wondered about this,” Hannah’s father murmured, looking to Ruth.

“Springtime,” Edith suggested next. “When the flowers are starting to bloom. There’s nothing like fresh flowers for a wedding.”

“Oh no,” Hannah said quickly. “We can’t possibly have the wedding so soon . . . there wouldn’t be near enough time, would there?” She looked to Carl for support.

“I’m afraid Hannah’s right,” her mother concurred. “We were thinking June.”

“June,” Edith repeated. “June would be perfect.”

Cousin Hariette brought out a new calendar and flipped through the pages until she located the month.

“I don’t think Carl and I are in any rush,” Hannah offered, but it seemed no one was listening to her. Both her own mother and Carl’s crowded around, peering over Hariette’s shoulder, scanning the June page on the pocket calendar.

“The sixteenth sounds perfectly lovely.”

“The closer to the middle of the month the better, from what I hear,” another aunt offered.

“I don’t think we need to choose a date right now, do you?” Hannah tried once more.

Her grandma Morganstern studied her closely, and Hannah realized she’d best not say anything more. Not then, at least.

“What do you think of June sixteenth?” The question was directed to Carl, who had his fork poised in front of his mouth.

“Give the young man a chance to eat,” her father said, coming to Carl’s rescue.

With his mouth full of food, Carl nodded enthusiastically. Hannah felt he was silently commenting on what her father had said. Unfortunately everyone else in the room seemed to think he was agreeing to the wedding date.

“That settles that,” Ruth said cheerfully. “The wedding is set for June sixteenth.”

The news of Modesto Diaz’s injury spread quickly, and soon a number of Brynn’s students had gathered at the hospital. Again and again Emilio was forced to repeat the grisly details of what had happened—first to the police who came to question him, then to the curious and the fearful.

Father Grady arrived, and Brynn was grateful. She felt at a loss as to how to help Modesto’s mother and sister deal with the tragedy. After what seemed a lifetime, the surgeon appeared. His look was grave as he announced that the surgery had been a success. Modesto wasn’t completely out of danger, and his condition was guarded. But the teen was doing as well as could be expected.

Following a translation of the physician’s words, Modesto’s mother clenched her hands together, turned her face toward heaven, and wept loudly. His sister cried silently with relief. For the first time since he’d appeared at her apartment door, some color started to return to Emilio’s face.

Roberto looked to Brynn and she to him. His relief was evident. Hers, too, she guessed, as she battled down the urge to weep.

While they’d sat through those interminable hours, Roberto had remained beside his brother, offering Emilio his support and love. The younger Alcantara had needed his brother.

Brynn, however, had found sitting impossible, so she’d done what she always did when she was nervous: she’d paced. Back and forth, until she’d feared her path would leave permanent creases in the thin carpet.

Now she felt the need to be close to Roberto. He apparently shared her sudden desire, because he crossed the area. Without a word, he took her into his arms and held her firmly against him. She drank in his strength, absorbed his calm. His hold was tight, almost punishing, as if he planned on never letting her go.

Brynn knew that the two of them had attracted the attention of the others, but she didn’t care who saw them together. Gradually Roberto did release her, but not before she felt his muscles tighten. His relief turned to anger as he faced Father Grady.

“It’s this neighborhood,” Roberto said between clenched teeth. “It could have been Emilio who was shot, or you, or Brynn.” His face was tight and fierce. His brother was all the family he had left.

“I know, I know,” Father Grady said gently.

Roberto stalked to the far side of the room, his back to Brynn.

She wasn’t entirely certain what was happening. Now wasn’t the time for explanations, but she knew Father Grady would explain everything to her later.

“I’ll take you home now,” Roberto announced starkly to Brynn.

She followed him through the crowded hospital corridor outside. The cold night air hit her like an unexpected slap. The wind stung her face and eyes as she hurried to keep pace with Roberto.

For Brynn’s sake, Roberto tried to control his anger, but he couldn’t think of his younger brother and Modesto facing a nameless gunman on the same streets where children had played only hours earlier. His anger went deep and bordered on rage.

He focused his resentment on the neighborhood and the frustration he felt each time he’d tried to make a better life for himself and Emilio.

It could have been his brother lying in that hospital bed. He could have lost Emilio. The thought terrified him. He’d promised his mother that he would watch after his brother, raise him right. He had failed her in other ways, but not this time. By heaven, not this time.

Roberto glanced over at Brynn, who sat next to him stiffly. She’d never seen this side of him. She didn’t know he could be an angry, frustrated brute. This was what happened when those he loved were threatened.

Love.

Just mentally saying the word made him squirm. He was dangerously close to falling for the pretty Irish teacher. He didn’t need anyone to tell him what a mistake that would be. It went without saying that a college-educated beauty like Brynn Cassidy had nothing in common with the likes of him. She should be dating a stockbroker or an attorney, not someone who had trouble getting the grease from beneath his fingernails.

He was living in a dream world if he thought anything could develop between them. God had delivered that message loud and clear. Roberto knew what he had to do next.

First off, he had to stop thinking about Brynn as a friend. They’d never been that. As for making her his lover, however much he would like to entertain the notion, she was off-limits. He’d make excuses not to see her again, and soon enough she’d get the message. Their relationship would be over before it ever started. Whatever it might have been was gone now.

Having made that decision, Roberto felt some of the hard ball of anger dissipate. He was in control again. His life was back in order.

One thing he vowed. Somehow, some way, with God’s help, he was going to find his way out of this neighborhood.

Brynn’s class was quiet and subdued on Monday. Normally her students tested her patience by chattering like monkeys long after the bell rang. Not this day. They filed into the room and sat at their desks and stared at her as though they anticipated some great revelation from her.

“By now most of you have heard about what happened to Modesto,” she said.

“It ain’t fair, Miss Cassidy,” Yolanda said.

“Life isn’t fair,” Denzil answered.

“Modesto wasn’t doing anything.”

“He isn’t bad, you know.”

“Of course he isn’t.” Brynn felt at a loss as to how to answer their fears, nor did it seem right to dig into her lessons when it was obvious her students needed to talk about what had happened to their friend.

“I went to see him at the hospital,” Emilio announced, his voice void of emotion. “They wouldn’t let me in.”

“Modesto’s in intensive care. I know because I called,” someone else claimed.

“He’s going to live, isn’t he?”

Brynn couldn’t answer that, so she repeated as best she could what the physician had said. “His chances are very good, but there’s always the possibility of complications.”

“We weren’t doing nothin’,” Emilio said to no one in particular. “The police tried to make it sound like we were on the prowl looking for trouble. Man, if I was looking for action, I’d take my posse with me.”

There were murmurs of agreement.

Emilio leaned forward and placed his hands over his face. He looked both vulnerable and afraid. Wanting to comfort him, Brynn walked over to his side and placed her hand gently on his shoulder.

He shrugged it off viciously and glared up at her. “Don’t touch me,” he snapped.

Such behavior wasn’t like Emilio. If she considered any one student an ally, it would be Roberto’s brother.

She stepped back, but not before Emilio slid out of his seat and stormed out of the room. The glass panel in the door rattled as he slammed it closed.

“Emilio.” She started after him. If he was caught in the hall without a pass, he’d be sent to the principal’s office. If he mouthed off to Mr. Whalen, he was likely to be suspended a second time, and if that happened, it was doubtful he’d be back.

Brynn stopped at the door. “Suzie,” she called, “would you take over for me for a few moments?”

The teenager’s eyes widened with apprehension before she nodded.

“Thank you,” Brynn whispered, and left the classroom. She was breaking another cardinal rule by doing so. If she was discovered, she would receive another formal reprimand. She weighed the decision carefully before stepping into the hallway. Something was very wrong with Emilio, and she had to find out what.

She found him crouched on the floor next to a dented beige locker at the end of the hall. His head hung between his knees.

“Emilio.” She said his name gently.

He didn’t look up.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Leave me alone,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically hard and cold.

“You can’t blame yourself for what happened to Modesto,” she offered.

This time he hissed something in Spanish, and for once Brynn was grateful for her limited language skills. One thing was certain: he wasn’t inviting her to talk matters out.

“You can’t stay here,” she said, looking both ways down the hall. “Please, Emilio, come back into the class.”

He shook his head.

“If they find you—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll get suspended. Do you really think I care, Miss Cassidy? I don’t.”

“I care.”

“Am I supposed to appreciate that?”

“Yes.”

He looked away, and it seemed that he was wishing her back into the classroom. “Leave me alone.”

“You’re hurting, Emilio. I want to help.”

He lifted his head and stared at the ceiling. “Modesto’s the one who’s in pain, not me.”

“Do you think Modesto wouldn’t be in as much pain if you’d been shot, too?”

“Yes,” he shouted, and slammed his fist into the locker directly beside him. The noise exploded in the silent hallway like a cannon shot, echoing off the sides.

For sure they’d be found now. Brynn closed her eyes and inhaled a deep, calming breath. Emilio didn’t want her help, didn’t need her.

“I’m sorry this happened to you, Emilio,” she said softly. “So very sorry.” Knowing he wouldn’t accept her help, she turned and started back to her classroom.

“I ran.”

She paused. So that was what this was all about. Emilio thought himself a coward because he’d deserted his friend and saved his own life.

Brynn turned back and squatted next to him. Her legs ached before she spoke. “I would have run, too. It was probably what saved you from being shot as well.”

Emilio said nothing.

“Do you think Modesto wouldn’t have tried to escape had you been the one hit first?”

Again Emilio didn’t respond.

“You acted instinctively,” Brynn tried again. “You had nothing with which to defend yourself. The option had been taken away from you.”

A parched cry worked its way through his throat, and he buried his face in his arms with a muffled sob.

Brynn longed to touch him, but she was afraid that her comfort was the last thing he sought. Because her muscles were cramping, she placed her knees on the cold floor.

“There’s no shame in what you did,” she whispered.

His shoulders shook, and unable to watch him and do nothing, Brynn braced her hand against the curve of his shoulder.

The pain, the doubt, the fears and self-recriminations, broke like a fire hydrant inside him. His shoulders shook violently with uncontrollable sobs. One after another tumbled from his lips until his cries became those of an injured animal.

Kneeling at his side, Brynn gently tucked his head against her breast and held him. Gently she rocked back and forth, fighting emotion while the pain poured from Emilio Alcantara’s heart.

“Will you be seeing Trey this afternoon?” Michelle asked Jenny.

“I don’t know.” They hadn’t made plans to get together, and she had to work later in the day. She’d told him her schedule and had expected to hear from him. Thus far she’d been disappointed.

Michelle wandered into their living room, a plastic trash bag in hand. She picked up an empty wine bottle and tossed it inside. “Your friend certainly generated a lot of interest.”

BOOK: Touched By Angels
11.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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