“No. Keep them.”
“Ms. Cassidy.” Denzil’s hand waved frantically. “There must be some mistake. I didn’t get any papers.”
“That’s because you’re greedy,” Yolanda took delight in informing him. “Besides, why would anyone want to kiss you?”
“Hey, you didn’t have any problem the other night.”
“I’d had too much to drink and you know it.”
“That’s not what you said earlier.”
The bell rang just then, and Brynn was saved from having to break off a spat between the two for the second time that day. Whatever was taking place between Yolanda and Denzil was best settled outside the classroom.
“For your assignment,” Brynn said, raising her hand to capture their attention before the room emptied, “read the next chapter of The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Her words were followed by a loud moan.
“I’ll see everyone tomorrow afternoon. Have a good evening.”
It never ceased to amaze Brynn how fast her classroom emptied. It was as though her students stampeded toward the door in an effort to escape a nuclear holocaust.
As was her habit at the end of the day, Brynn sat at her desk and graded assignments, but today she didn’t have much time because of a dental appointment in New Jersey. After a half hour, she tucked what she hadn’t finished into her briefcase and headed toward the staff parking lot.
“Yo, Ms. Cassidy!” Emilio raced toward her.
His steps soon matched hers. “You probably guessed it was me who wrote down your name, right?”
Brynn could feel her face growing warm.
“Listen, I thought I should explain,” he said quickly, looking slightly embarrassed himself. “I gotta be careful paying too much attention to any one chick. You see, there are three or four in the class who’ve got the hots for me. I was trying to be diplomic about it.”
“I understand, Emilio, and applaud your efforts.”
“Good, ’cause I don’t need chick trouble.”
“I figured it was something like that,” she assured him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, doing her best to disguise her amusement. One thing was certain: she didn’t want to be the cause of “chick problems” for Emilio Alcantara.
Emilio turned and hurried across the parking lot toward the basketball hoop where his friends were busy playing two on two.
Brynn climbed inside her car and turned the key. It flickered to life, sputtered, and then quickly died. Surprised, she tried again, with the same results. She hadn’t left her lights on that morning, she was sure of that. Her vehicle had recently been serviced. She tried once more, and this time the engine did nothing more than cough and choke.
“No, please, no,” Brynn murmured, and pressed her forehead against the steering wheel. Trouble with her car was the last thing she needed.
Hannah shouldn’t be this eager to see Joshua again, but she was. Again and again her gaze drifted toward the deli’s front door as she waited impatiently for the man she’d met at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Her heart pounded like a race car piston every time she thought about Joshua. He’d been so gentle and caring. So considerate.
Although they’d only just met, they hadn’t lacked for conversation. Joshua was the kind of man she could talk to for hours on end. Generally Hannah found herself tongue-tied and uneasy around men, but not with Joshua. It was as if they’d been friends for a long time.
The word comforted her and eased her conscience.
Carl had joined her family for Thanksgiving dinner, and afterward he’d sat in the living room with her father. The two men had talked far into the evening, debating political issues and other matters. Before he’d left, Hannah’s parents had discreetly left the room, affording her time alone with her beau. At first Carl and Hannah had seemed awkward with each other, Carl as much as she.
In an effort to ease the discomfort, she apologized for having lost him while at the parade. Carl reminded her that he felt responsible for her safety and suggested that in the years to come they’d watch the parade on television.
Hannah had lowered her head to hide her disappointment. Then, almost as if it were expected of him, Carl had leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to hers.
It was a sweet kiss, undemanding and totally lacking in passion.
Standing in the deli, Hannah closed her eyes and tried to dredge up some emotion, some deep feelings for Carl. But try as she might, she felt nothing. Surely not desire. Definitely no compelling yearning for his company. He was Carl, the rabbi’s son. The man her parents felt would make her the perfect husband.
“Hannah,” her mother admonished, coming out of the kitchen. Her arms were loaded with a tray of sliced bread. “Are you ill?”
“Then why do you stand there with your eyes closed? We have customers.”
“I’m sorry.” And Hannah was. She didn’t know what was wrong with her to dawdle when there was work to be done.
Her mother peeled off a list of lunch orders from the fax machine, smoothed them out on the counter, and went about assembling sandwiches with a skill and dexterity that spoke of many years’ experience.
Hannah lent a hand, packing the orders into plain brown bags and marking each one. The scent of freshly baked bread spilled out of the kitchen and into the front of the deli, mingling with those of sliced pastrami and knishes, her father’s specialties.
After a few minutes, Hannah tried again. “Mama, tell me how you met Dad.”
Ruth Morganstern slowly lifted her eyes to Hannah. She appeared surprised by the question. “I don’t have time for such foolishness now.”
Disappointed, Hannah said nothing.
“We have orders and you’re asking me about your father and me?” She laughed lightly. “It was so many years ago now. For over forty years I’ve loved this man. I don’t remember when we met.”
“You don’t remember?” David shouted from the far side of the deli. “Forty-three years and you don’t remember? What kind of wife forgets the day she met the man who would be her husband?”
Ruth laughed and dismissed him with a wave. “I remember some things.”
“I should hope to God you do.”
“He was handsome,” Hannah’s mother said out of the corner of her mouth.
“I’m still handsome.”
“More so then,” Ruth added, her eyes crinkling with amusement.
“Your mother was even more beautiful than she is now,” Hannah’s father called back. “I’d look at her and forget all about slicing meat. The time I courted her I nearly lost two fingers.”
Hannah laughed, delighted at the exchange between her parents. It seemed the lunch crowd, pressed against the glass display case, lost their impatience, and there were shared smiles all around.
Her father handed a thick pastrami sandwich on a paper plate to a young businessman. “You’ll have to excuse my daughter,” he said under his breath, but loudly enough for Hannah to hear. “She’s in love.”
In love? This was news to Hannah. But then, if she were to marry Carl, it was implied that they cared deeply for each other. Hannah liked Carl, respected him. He was a good, honorable man and, according to her parents, a fine catch.
Her mother couldn’t have been more pleased when Hannah first started dating Carl. A rabbi’s son. In Ruth’s eyes, Carl was a better catch than a doctor or even an attorney.
An attorney. Automatically Hannah’s thoughts drifted back to Joshua, although he’d never been far from her mind since they’d met.
“Here,” Ruth said, handing Hannah the bag loaded with faxed orders. “With your head full of romance, can I trust you not to confuse these orders?” she teased affectionately.
“Of course,” Hannah answered, and blushed.
“Your head’s some place else these days.” Her mother leveled her gaze on Hannah. “Your head and your heart.” Hannah reached for her hand-knit scarf and wool coat. The deli employed a number of runners, but she was often needed to fill in during the lunch-hour rush.
“I won’t be long,” she promised before heading out into the cold.
Both her parents stared after her, and Hannah had the distinct impression that they would soon be bragging to their customers about her imminent engagement to Carl.
The wind nipped at her face as she hurried along Front Street in the bustling financial district. Taxis honked with impatience and a bus roared past, leaving her to choke on its exhaust.
Hannah’s steps were filled with purpose as she wove her way in and around the foot traffic. She hadn’t gone more than a block when she heard someone call her name. After a moment’s hesitation, she looked over her shoulder. She didn’t see anyone she knew.
The voice was recognizable now. Joshua.
She scanned the crowd but couldn’t see him. Then she found him, standing on the other side of the street. He raised his arm high above his head and waved to attract her attention.
Standing on her tiptoes, Hannah smiled and waved back.
Joshua gestured for her to wait, and as soon as the traffic passed, he jogged across the street.
“Hello again,” he said, smiling down at her.
There didn’t seem to be anything more to say, but her pulse quickened and she felt as if her heart were trying to escape from inside her chest.
“I was on my way to the deli when I saw you.”
“I’m delivering orders,” she told him. She didn’t have time to talk, not when hungry customers were waiting for their lunches. “I can’t visit now.” Regret settled over her. All day she’d waited for the opportunity to see Joshua again, and now, when she did happen upon him, she was forced to leave.
“I’ll come with you,” he suggested.
“But . . .”
“Do you have to get back right away?”
She should. She knew she should. Her parents might need her to make a second run and possibly a third. She hedged, not sure what to do.
“Five minutes,” Josh suggested. “Ten. Listen, I’ll help you deliver these orders and you won’t be away any time at all. Don’t say no, Hannah.”
Hannah knew she shouldn’t, but she found it even more difficult to turn him down, to deny herself the pleasure of this one short encounter. She gave him a barely discernible nod, praying she was doing the right thing.
Even before she had a chance to think the matter through, Joshua reached inside her carrying bag and grabbed three lunch orders. Not giving her time to protest, he rattled off the address to his office and instructed her to meet him there in ten minutes.
Feeling slightly guilty, she hurried to deliver what remained of the orders. Hannah often took a couple of minutes to chat with her customers, many of whom she considered friends, but not this afternoon. She was in and out as fast as she could manage it.