His decision made, Joshua had hoped to experience some sort of emotional release, but he didn’t. If anything, he felt considerably worse. He’d stewed and fretted, doubted and reasoned, until he was blue with the effort. Nothing would ever change. Hannah loved him, but it went against the very grain of her being to defy and disappoint her family.
The snowstorm that had been predicted for that afternoon had already darkened the sky. Another night of sitting home alone, thinking about Hannah, would solve nothing.
Unfortunately all his favorite escapes had been ruined. He couldn’t walk past Rockefeller Center now and not remember the time he and Hannah had skated together. Nor could he forget how good she’d felt in his arms.
This was the real problem: he couldn’t forget.
The time had come to seek greener pastures, and he had just the woman in mind. He reached for the phone and dialed Carol’s number.
“Hannah,” her mother called to her from the hallway. “Your father and I need to talk to you.”
Hannah opened her bedroom door, her coat draped over her arm.
Ruth’s eyes widened with distress. “You’re not going out, are you?”
Ruth hesitated and looked to her husband.
“Did you need me to get you something?” Hannah asked, then added, “I don’t know when I’ll be home.”
“No. . . . I just received a call from Carl’s mother. Is it true, honey, have you broken the engagement with Carl?”
Hannah should have realized something like this would happen. Carl had gone directly to his family and listed her sins. Hannah regretted that she hadn’t prepared her parents for the news, but she’d been hoping to confront them with Joshua at her side.
“I don’t love Carl,” she told her mother gently. “I’m sorry, Mom, I know how much you and Dad like him, but I don’t feel the same way.”
“There’s someone else?” her mother questioned, her voice revealing the depth of her disbelief. “Helen seems to think you’ve been seeing another man on the sly, without any of us knowing. I assured her that couldn’t possibly be true.”
David Morganstern stood behind his wife, his hand on Ruth’s shoulder. His eyes, dark and inquisitive, rested on his daughter.
“His name’s Joshua Shadduck,” she admitted. “He’s an attorney.”
Her mother gasped softly and covered her mouth with her hand. Hannah wasn’t sure if this was because she’d admitted to dating someone while engaged to Carl or because Joshua was an attorney.
Her father frowned. “Didn’t I recently meet this young man?”
Ashamed that she’d deceived them both, Hannah lowered her gaze. “Yes. He was in the deli.”
“How could you have fallen in love with him?” her mother asked, her voice raised with disbelief. “How could you hurt Carl like this? He’s such a good man. We couldn’t ask for a better husband for you.”
“Joshua will make me a good husband, too.”
“I forbid you from seeing this Joshua again,” her father said sternly.
“Daddy, I’ve never defied you. I’ve always done what you’ve asked, but I love Joshua with all my heart. I need to see him. I need to be with him.”
Her parents stared back at her, too shocked to respond right away.
“How did you meet him?” The question came from her mother a moment later.
“We met at the Thanksgiving Day parade. Then, before I had a chance to analyze how I felt about him, Carl asked me to marry him. I didn’t want to agree, but at the time it seemed like the best thing to do. You and Dad were so pleased, and you both like Carl.”
“He’s been like a son to me,” her father admitted sadly.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Hannah whispered. “I didn’t mean to disappoint you.” Before either one could say anything more, she rushed out of the apartment.
“Hannah, please, don’t go,” her mother shouted from the top of the stairway, but Hannah pretended not to hear. Never in all her life had she ignored her mother and father.
Hannah caught a taxi outside the deli and read the driver the Riverside Drive address Joshua had written down on the back of his business card.
“It looks like it might snow,” she said, glancing toward the darkening sky. The sooner she reached Joshua, the better. She needed him now as never before. When she told him what had happened, he’d come with her and together they’d talk to her family and make everything right.
The driver mumbled something in return that she didn’t understand.
Several minutes later the cabdriver pulled over to the curb and flipped off the meter. Hannah gazed out the car window at the high-rise apartment building and experienced a sense of relief. The man she loved, the man she’d defied her family to marry, lived in this building.
“Lady, are you going to stare out the window all day?”
“No, sorry.” She returned her attention to her purse and pulled out her wallet. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a familiar figure. Looking up, she saw Joshua coming out of the building. She raised her hand and was about to call him when, suddenly, she stopped. The happy shout died in her throat.
Joshua wasn’t alone.
Standing beside him was the most beautiful, elegant-looking woman Hannah had ever seen. Joshua slipped his arm around the other woman’s waist, bent down, and kissed her gently on the lips.
Her heart pounding like a locomotive chugging uphill, Hannah hurled herself back against the seat, not wanting him to see her.
“Lady, are you going to pay me or not?” the cabbie asked a second time with far less patience.
“Yes, yes, of course.” Hannah leaned forward just far enough to peek at Joshua. It was apparent the two were long-term acquaintances. The woman with him gazed up adoringly, as though this were the happiest day of her life.
“Please,” Hannah whispered. “Take me home.”
“You got the money or don’t you?” the taxi driver asked.
She handed him a twenty-dollar bill for security. “Now take me back,” she pleaded. She’d go home because she had nowhere else to go. With her tail between her legs, her heart heavy with pain, she’d return to her family, who would love and support her despite the fact that she’d deeply embarrassed and disappointed them.
“All right, if you want to go back, then fine, I’ll take you.” The driver hesitated, and Hannah met his gaze in the rearview mirror. “Is everything all right?” he asked gently.
“No,” Hannah whispered.
She was too late. Joshua had found someone else.
Mike Glasser was buried two days later. Father Grady was scheduled to say the funeral mass and had spent considerable time counseling Mike’s mother, Louise.
Brynn was one of the first to arrive at the church. She slipped into the pew and knelt down on the padded kneeler. Since hearing the news, she hadn’t cried. It might have helped if she’d been able to release her grief, but she held on to it with both hands, clenching it to her breast, fearing what would happen if she ever let go.
Mike’s death was a constant, painful reminder of how badly she’d failed him and her other students. How badly she’d failed herself.
Emilio walked into church and sat in the pew directly across from her. Yolanda and Pearl arrived together and sat in front of Brynn.
The huge church was nearly half full with a number of other students and faculty members from Manhattan High. Mike’s suicide had had a powerful impact on those who’d known him.
Organ music, deep and somber, filled the church. Mike’s mother and a handful of other relatives arrived. Together they walked down the center aisle. Louise Glasser’s shoulders were bent under the weight of her grief. She appeared to be leaning heavily on the girl walking beside her. The two clung to each other. It didn’t take Brynn long to realize the one with Mike’s mother was Suzie Chang. They needed each other.
Brynn had met with them both, separately. They’d come together as strangers with a common bond. Both had loved Mike. Both deeply grieved his death.
Organ music surged through the church as a man’s voice, hauntingly melodic, rang loud and clear from the choir loft. The voice, a baritone, reached out and consoled with music those who’d gathered to mourn Mike’s death. Brynn recognized the singer’s voice immediately.
Even from this distance his voice filled her with a bitter sadness. It settled in the pit of her stomach, and a chill came over her as she closed her eyes and soaked in the comfort of the song. She pretended it was Roberto’s arms around her.
Since her last meeting with Roberto, Brynn had tried to push all thoughts of him from her mind. By the sheer force of her determination, she’d partially succeeded. Despite her efforts to purge him from her thoughts, she couldn’t keep from feeling that something important, something vital, was missing.
Once, a year or so before, Brynn had lost her purse. A knot had formed in her stomach that refused to go away until she was able to replace everything that had been lost. A similar sensation had been with her since her last meeting with Roberto. She was lost, and the way she felt just then, nothing would ever be right again. She supposed her thinking was melodramatic. In time she’d be able to put these weeks in New York behind her.
As Roberto had encouraged her from the beginning, she would return to where she belonged. But she wouldn’t go back to Rhode Island the same as when she’d left. No, when she headed home, she’d be bringing a lot of emotional baggage with her.
Father Grady said the mass. A wake was scheduled in the parish hall immediately following the service. Brynn knew she was expected to show. It was as good a time as any to tell her students that she wouldn’t be back in class following winter vacation. Already they’d been assigned another teacher, one with more experience than she.
Most of Brynn’s apartment was packed. Depending on road conditions, she should be ready to leave in another day, two at the most.
When the service was over, Mike’s family filed out first, then each row followed in turn.
Brynn stayed behind. She wanted a few moments alone before she headed over to the parish hall. With her head bowed, she tried to pray. Lately it had been a losing battle. Every concern she gave to God had claw marks all over it.
Not only had her abilities as a teacher been questioned, but her faith, once so stable and sure, had been badly shaken. She recognized that in time it would right itself again, but just then even that looked doubtful.
Footsteps sounded on the tile floor behind her. Brynn kept her head lowered, resenting the intrusion. She needed this time alone. She wasn’t ready to join the others.
To her surprise it was Roberto who slipped into the pew and sat next to her. He didn’t say anything, simply sat at her side, his head bowed in prayer.
After a while he touched her forearm. “The others are waiting.”
“I know,” she whispered back. “Tell them I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
He didn’t leave.
“I’m fine, Roberto. I appreciate your concern, but there’s nothing to worry about.” She hoped her weak smile would convince him she was telling the truth.