“Trey, well, that is a bit unfortunate.” Mercy did feel bad about the young man who’d set his heart on loving Jenny all these years. “I’m afraid he’s gone.”
“Gone?” Gabriel frowned, and when he did, he was something fierce to behold.
Mercy edged closer to her friend. “Yes, he left New York. He had a little trouble changing his airplane ticket, but managed to catch an earlier flight.”
Brynn’s doorbell chimed, and she straightened and wiped the tears from her face.
“Who’s coming?” Shirley directed the question to Gabriel.
“Suzie Chang,” he answered. “Apparently there is a letter Brynn needs to share with the girl.”
Talking to Carl proved to be so much more difficult than Hannah had thought it would be. She’d waited all day for him, practiced in her mind how to break the news as gently as possible.
She’d left her grandmother’s filled with conviction. In the time since, her clear purpose had become clouded with the time-honored traditions of duty and honor.
“I know you’re wondering why I asked to see you,” Hannah said as she brought Carl a cup of tea and set it on the table in the family kitchen. She was nervous, and the hot liquid sloshed over the edges of the cup.
Hannah didn’t worry that her parents would interrupt them. Her family seemed to think it was important that Hannah and Carl have time together alone, and for once Hannah was grateful.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you, too,” Carl said, smiling broadly. He looked happy, more so than she could remember in a long while. She suspected the situation with the school had been cleared up, and she was pleased for his sake.
“My father had a go-round with the school headmaster himself,” Carl said, gloating a little.
So she was right.
“I have my job back, Hannah, and if anyone’s position is in jeopardy, it’s Hiram Stienfield’s.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” she said, but before she could relay her own, less welcome news, Carl continued.
“As you might guess, my mind is greatly relieved.”
“Of course, and now . . .”
“We can seriously start planning for our wedding,” he finished for her.
“As a matter of fact, that was what I wanted to talk to you about. . . .”
“Now I agree June is an excellent time of year, but personally I’d prefer May.” Once again Carl wouldn’t allow her to continue.
“Carl, would you please listen to me?”
“In a minute. There are a number of reasons I prefer May.”
“My mother’s birthday is in May, and then there’s Mother’s Day. I’ve always found it convenient to cluster certain dates together whenever possible. It helps to keep track, and if we’re going to need to buy . . .” He stopped abruptly when Hannah stood up.
She walked over to the stove. Now she understood what it was about Carl that had always disturbed her. He refused to listen.
“Hannah?” he asked gently. “You’re upset, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she said between gritted teeth, unwilling to hide it.
“Your heart’s set on June, isn’t it?”
“No,” she said forcefully, and whirled around. “I’m not going to marry you.” There, she’d said it, but in far less diplomatic terms than she’d wanted.
A stunned, disbelieving silence followed. At last she’d found a way to capture his attention.
“You’re honestly breaking our engagement?”
He seemed to need confirmation. “Yes,” she said firmly.
He scratched the side of his head. “Don’t you think that’s a bit drastic, considering that I’m willing to give up the May date? I’d like to think I’m a reasonable man. If you don’t want the wedding in May, why don’t you just say so?”
“I don’t want the wedding in May or June or any other month of the year.” She folded her arms and released a deep sigh of frustration. “This is the crux of the problem between us. You don’t hear me. I’m trying to tell you something important, and either you don’t care or you’ve already got your mind made up.”
He stiffened. “I don’t see it that way.”
Hannah had never intended for them to discuss their basic personality differences. “I want to break the engagement, Carl. I deeply regret hurting you, but I’m fairly certain you aren’t in love with me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped. “Of course I love you. I think you’re wonderful. You’ll make me a good wife, you’re supportive and—”
“You’re doing it again,” she cried, clenching her fists at her sides. Hannah so seldom raised her voice that it shocked even her.
Carl looked genuinely baffled. “I don’t understand. Hannah, listen, tell me whatever it is that you find offensive. I can change.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But of course it matters. I realize that marriage is an important step and you’re bound to have second thoughts, every woman does. Now it’s true,” he said, and raised his right hand with a dismissive gesture, “that I’ve been wrapped up in my own problems of late. I haven’t paid you nearly enough attention, have I? Naturally you’re feeling short-changed in the romance department, and frankly I don’t blame you.”
“Carl,” she whispered, “you don’t love me.”
“Nonsense. I asked you to marry me, didn’t I?”
“Okay,” she whispered, her patience wearing paper thin. “Let’s try this from a different angle. I can’t marry you, Carl, because I don’t love you.”
He laughed. The man had the nerve to actually laugh aloud.
Dumbfounded, all Hannah could do was stare at him.
“Of course you love me,” he countered, sounding relieved. He placed his hand on his chest as if to restrain the bubbling amusement welling up inside him. “Hannah, these doubts of yours are only natural. I had them, too.”
“And now you don’t?”
“Occasionally,” he was willing to admit. “But I’ve worked through those feelings, and given time, you will, too.”
Hannah had hoped that she could talk to Carl without telling him about Joshua. It was one thing to break the engagement and something else entirely to mention she’d fallen in love with another man. She’d hoped to spare Carl that.
“The problem as I see it,” Carl said, talking to her as he would one of his students, “is that people are rarely willing to see through their difficulties. Our society is caught up in fast-food restaurants, ‘pay later’ mentality, and instant gratification. My dear Hannah, what you’re feeling isn’t so difficult to understand. But we’ve made a commitment to each other, and we can’t treat it lightly.”
“Carl, I’m terminating our engagement.” She couldn’t say it any plainer than that.
“It’s times such as these that we need to hold on to each other instead of letting go of the most important relationship of our lives.”
Hannah’s heart was pounding so hard and fast, it felt as though her ribs were about to break. “I’ve met someone else,” she said forcefully.
Her words stopped Carl cold. His eyes narrowed. “Who?”
“You don’t know him.”
“Don’t be so sure. Tell me his name.”
“What does it matter what his name is?” she demanded. “I love him and he loves me.”
Looking completely taken aback, Carl pulled out a kitchen chair and slumped onto it.
“To be honest, Carl, I didn’t think you’d care.”
“Not care?” he cried as though her comment had outraged him. “Of course I care. Some man, some stranger, has stolen my bride, and you seem to think that it really shouldn’t matter.”
Hannah knew it was his ego speaking and was sorrier than she could say. “If you’re looking to blame anyone, blame me,” she told him gently. “I never intended to tell you about him, but then I couldn’t make you listen, and—”
His head jerked up. “You weren’t going to tell me?”
“All I wanted to do was break the engagement, but you refused to believe me . . . you weren’t hearing me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I heard every word you said.”
Hannah wasn’t going to get into an argument with him, but this was too much. “You keep discounting me, offering excuses and reasons for my wanting to call off the engagement. You’ve given me no option but to tell you about Joshua.”
“Joshua . . .” He repeated the name as if he were reading it off a post office poster.
“I’m genuinely sorry.”
“You’re serious? This isn’t some stupid joke?”
“I can’t marry you, Carl, nor can I go on pretending I love you.”
The silence that followed fell like a butcher’s cleaver into the middle of the room.
Carl reached for his jacket, swinging it over his shoulders like a shawl in his rush to get away from her. “Do your parents know?”
Hannah hesitated. “They will soon enough.”
He walked toward the stairway, his steps abrupt and urgent. “If this other man is who you love, then all I can say is you’re welcome to him. Just don’t come crying to me when you’ve regained your senses.”
“Joshua isn’t going to break my heart,” she assured him softly. “I realize this is painful, Carl, but I’d like it if we could be friends.”
“Friends?” he echoed as though it were a ridiculous suggestion. “You’ve got to be kidding. Frankly, Hannah, I doubt that I’ll ever want to see you again.” Having said that, he stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. The pictures on the walls shook with the force of his exit.
“Hannah?” A moment later her father called from the bottom of the stairs.
“Yes,” she said, hoping she sounded calm and assured.
“Is everything all right between you and Carl?”
She didn’t hesitate, and the relief in her voice was evident. “Don’t worry, Dad, everything’s the way it should be.”
There came a time in every man’s life when he had to admit he’d made a mistake, learn from it, and move forward. Joshua had reached that point the afternoon he’d heard Hannah’s father invite him to his daughter’s wedding to another man.
Even now he couldn’t find it in his heart to be angry with Hannah. Her inability to break her engagement highlighted what had attracted her to him. She was loyal to a fault, caring, and tenderhearted. Family took priority.
A part of him would always love her, he realized. Knowing her for this short period had blessed his life, but now it was time to own up to a few home truths.
First off, his love was hurting her. Because of the tenderness he held for Hannah, he couldn’t continue to make her miserable. The truth was, he’d found her too late.