Brynn Cassidy had long since given up the idea of seeing her dentist. Missing the appointment to have her teeth cleaned was a minor inconvenience compared to the hassles of dealing with car troubles.
She couldn’t leave her Ford Escort here overnight, that much she knew. In this high-crime area, she’d be fortunate to find the shell of her vehicle left by morning. Nor did she know of a good garage, especially one close by. She cast a look across the street, surprised and grateful that the two men lingering there moments earlier had disappeared.
“Are you having trouble, Miss Cassidy?” Emilio walked up to her, a basketball tucked under one arm.
Brynn was so grateful that someone had asked that it was all she could do to keep from blurting out her troubles. “It won’t start, and I haven’t got a clue what could be wrong.”
Emilio walked around her vehicle as though inspecting it. “I know a little bit about engines.”
“Do you think you might look at it?”
“Sure thing.” Emilio slid halfway inside the driver’s seat. One foot remained on the asphalt parking lot while he turned the ignition key. He pumped the gas pedal a couple of times while her car made a sick grinding sound.
“Do you know what’s wrong?” Brynn asked expectantly.
“You sure it isn’t your battery?” Emilio asked.
“Good grief, I wouldn’t know.”
The teenager seemed to find her answer amusing. “You know all them fancy words, Teach, but you aren’t so smart when it comes to cars, are you?”
Brynn was more than willing to admit it. “Is it serious?” she asked.
Emilio shrugged. “I haven’t got a clue.”
“I thought you said you knew something about cars.”
“I do, but I ain’t no Mr. Goodwrench.”
“Thanks anyway, Emilio. I appreciate your help.” He’d done a lot more than her fellow teachers. Most had walked right past her.
Brynn closed the hood and locked up the car. She didn’t want to leave it, but she didn’t have any choice. Its hood shut with a bang that echoed through the darkening afternoon. She swung the strap of her purse over her shoulder, and with her back stiff, not knowing where to turn, she started out of the parking lot.
“Where you going?” Emilio asked, bouncing the basketball and weaving it in and out of his legs as he walked alongside her.
“I’d better get a tow truck.”
“My brother can do that.”
Brynn paused. “Your brother?”
“Roberto. He’s owns a mechanic shop. If you want, I’ll take you there. He’ll know what to do.”
Frankly, Brynn wished Emilio had said something about his brother sooner. “That would be great.”
“Yeah, well, remember how much I helped you the next time you’re tempted to have me suspended.”
The three-block walk took only a matter of minutes. Brynn spied Roberto’s shop when they turned the corner. It looked as if the garage had once been a neighborhood gas station. The corners of the cement building were chipped and the entire structure was badly in need of a fresh coat of paint.
Emilio opened the glass front door and walked inside. “Roberto!” he shouted.
His brother’s reply was muffled.
“He’s in the garage,” Emilio said, gesturing to the narrow doorway that led to a large open area that served as the repair shop. Brynn followed her student inside.
“I drummed up some business for you,” Emilio announced proudly, and motioned toward Brynn.
Roberto Alcantara slowly unfolded from a quarter panel of the blue Metro and reached for the pink rag tucked inside his coveralls pocket.
“Hello, Mr. Alcantara.”
“Call him Roberto,” Emilio insisted. “This is Miss Cassidy,” he continued, looking well pleased with himself. “She’s the teacher I was telling you about.”
Roberto nodded and wiped his hands. His face remained emotionless.
“Ms. Cassidy’s having car troubles.”
“My car won’t start,” she elaborated. “I doubt that it’s the battery. It ran perfectly fine this morning . . . at least I thought it did.”
“She doesn’t know anything about cars,” Emilio inserted. “Her specialty is dangling particles.”
“Participles,” Brynn corrected.
Emilio chuckled. “See what I mean?”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Cassidy,” Roberto said coolly, and tossed the rag onto his tool bench.
“I left my car in the school parking lot.” She twisted her arm around and pointed in the direction of the school, which was completely unnecessary. Roberto Alcantara knew very well where the high school was.
Roberto said something to Emilio in Spanish. Emilio nodded quickly, then turned abruptly and hurried out of the garage. Within a matter of a minute she heard the youth talking on the phone, again in Spanish. Before he left, he collected her car keys.
“I’ve had Emilio call for a tow truck,” Roberto informed her. “He’ll meet the driver over at the school.”
“Thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.”
Roberto said nothing.
Without being obvious, Brynn studied Emilio’s brother. Roberto was tall and lean. His skin was the color of warm honey, his eyes and hair as dark a shade of brown as she’d ever seen. She guessed him to be around her own age, perhaps a year or two older. He wasn’t openly hostile, but he did nothing to put her at ease. Every attempt at conversation was dead-ended.
As the minutes passed, the silence became more and more strained. Brynn wondered what she could have done to earn his disapproval, then realized it must be the incident with Emilio in the hall the first day she was at the school.
“I imagine you’re upset with me because I was the one responsible for Emilio’s suspension,” she tried again. She wouldn’t apologize, but she was prepared to state her side of the case. If he was willing to listen, that was.
“I’m not the least bit upset,” he surprised her by answering. “Emilio knows the rules. He deserved what he got.” He returned to working on the Metro and ignored her.
The next time he straightened, Brynn asked, “You don’t like me, do you?” Normally she wouldn’t be so confrontational, but it had been one of those days. If she’d done something to offend him, she wanted to know about it.
“That’s right,” he concurred.
“Do you mind telling me why?”
Apparently this was just the doorway he’d been waiting to walk through. Roberto met her look brazenly and continued. “Because you’re filling my brother’s head with nonsense.”
“How do you mean?” Brynn struggled not to sound defensive and doubted that she’d succeeded.
He flung his arm in the air. “All your talk about the importance of an education. A high school diploma isn’t going to help Emilio any more than it did me. Tell me, Miss Cassidy, exactly how is the history of World War Two going to feed a family? Will reading about Anne Frank get him a decent job?”
“Yes . . . well, not directly,” she faltered. “Education is the answer for Emilio.” She couldn’t believe Roberto would say such a thing.
“Emilio would be better off if he dropped out of school now and learned a trade.” He turned his back on her and appeared to be looking for something on his tool bench. He carelessly tossed aside a wrench and reached for another.
“I soundly disagree,” Brynn said.
“That’s your right.”
In all her years, Brynn had never heard anyone discourage someone from an education. “Don’t tell me you actually want your brother to quit school. Surely your parents object to that.”
“I’m the only family Emilio’s got,” Roberto announced.
“I’m sorry to hear that, especially if you think he shouldn’t complete his education.”
“I nearly had him convinced to come work with me here in the garage, but then you arrived and all of a sudden he’s talking about goals and dreams and other such nonsense.”
“It isn’t nonsense,” she argued.
Roberto threw down a rag and shook his head. “No matter what happens, my brother and I will live and die in this neighborhood. All your talk isn’t going to change one damn thing.”
Hannah knew it was coming. The minute Carl arrived with his parents, following synagogue, she knew. He’d come to ask her to be his wife. Come to stake his claim. She didn’t know why he’d chosen now; then again, perhaps she did. Hannah knew that Carl had experienced pressure from his own family. They had dated several months now, and it was time to make a decision. He taught at the local Hebrew academy, and his position there was secure, despite his differences with the headmaster.
Together with her mother and father, Hannah led Carl’s family into the compact living room. An expectant silence settled over the group as the two sets of parents exchanged happy glances.
Carl looked to Hannah, and she read the apology in his eyes. He hadn’t wanted it to be like this, either. He would have preferred for them to speak privately first, but like her, he was caught in the trap of obligation and family tradition.
“Carl.” The rabbi looked to his son.
Carl cleared his throat. “Hannah and I have been seeing each other exclusively now for several months,” he began. His hands were clasped in his lap, and he seemed to be as uncomfortable with this as Hannah was. “It should come as no surprise that I have deep feelings for your daughter.”
David and Ruth smiled and nodded.
Hannah read the delight in their eyes. This was their dream for her, what they’d been anxiously waiting to happen for weeks. If anything, they seemed surprised it had taken this long.
“Our Hannah has deep feelings for Carl as well,” her father assured the rabbi and his wife. He looked to his daughter for confirmation.
Hannah had no option but to agree, and really, it wasn’t a stretch of the truth. She did care for Carl. He had been both generous and considerate.
“I have a good job and make a respectable income,” Carl said.
Her father nodded.
“I can afford to care for Hannah.”
Again her father confirmed his approval with a quick nod.
The room went silent as everyone waited with breathless anticipation for what was to come next.
“With your permission, David and Ruth,” Carl continued, his voice low and firm, “I would like to ask Hannah to be my wife.”
Hannah watched as her sensible mother dissolved into tears of happiness and, perhaps, relief. Her father’s face beamed with love and pride.
David cleared his throat as if to say his words were those of importance. “We couldn’t ask for a better man for our only child. You have our permission and our heartfelt approval. May God deeply bless you both.”
“Hannah?” Carl turned his attention to her.
Five people looked to her. She held their dreams in the palm of her hand. With everything in her she wanted to ask Carl to give her time before she decided. But to do so now would embarrass him and deeply disappoint their families.