“Don’t you think you should be more worried about hurting Carl than me?” he asked, his lips against her hair. “You said you couldn’t do this to me.”
“I can’t do this to Carl, either,” she said in a rush, her words dwindling to a mere whisper. She squeezed her eyes closed, realizing her mistake. Her first thought had been of Joshua, not Carl.
“You don’t love him,” Joshua insisted.
Hannah backed away from him. “Please accept this, Joshua. I can’t . . . I won’t see you again.”
He opened his mouth, then snapped it closed as if biting off an argument. “It isn’t in me to make you miserable, Hannah. Nor can I force you into a relationship against your will. I’m here night or day, whenever you need me.” He pulled a business card from his wallet, then wrote something on the back of it. “Here’s my address and phone number. You can reach me twenty-four hours a day. Call me when you’re ready.”
“I won’t call.”
“Take the card anyway.”
He opened her hand and planted it in her palm, then folded her fingers over it.
Having done that, he kissed her again until her knees felt as though they would give out on her. She could barely manage to breathe when he lifted his head from hers. He reached up and tenderly slid his index finger down the side of her face.
“Call me,” he whispered, his voice low and seductive.
Pride demanded that she tell him she wouldn’t be making that phone call, but his kiss had stolen her breath away. By the time her lungs had recovered, he’d turned and walked away.
Realizing she was still clutching the business card, she buried it in her coat pocket and as silently as possible unlocked the door to the deli.
Soundlessly she made her way up the backstairs to the family apartment. All the lights were out, and Hannah sighed with relief. Her parents had gone to bed.
Guided by what little moonlight was available, she crept toward her bedroom. Just when she thought she was home free, her father spoke from behind her.
She swallowed tightly.
“For the love of heaven, where have you been? Don’t you have a clue what time it is? Your mother and I have been half sick worrying about you.”
All through the afternoon, Brynn noticed that Suzie Chang’s eyes avoided hers. Although the teenager didn’t contribute freely to class discussions, if Brynn called upon her, Suzie would willingly share her thoughts.
Often Brynn had been grateful for Suzie’s contributions. Her other students tended to get sidetracked easily. Brynn had come to rely on Suzie to subtly steer the topic back on course. Reading the teenager generally wasn’t difficult, and Brynn knew from the way Suzie’s eyes brightened when she had something she wanted to say.
It wasn’t that way this afternoon, however. Suzie seemed to be trapped in a world all her own. Knowing the girl was miserable nearly broke Brynn’s heart.
Brynn blamed herself. It had been wrong for her to look into scholarship possibilities without first discussing the idea with Suzie. Her intentions had been good, but in the process she’d somehow managed to hurt the girl.
The bell rang, and Brynn stopped Suzie on her way out the door.
“Could I speak to you for a few moments?” Brynn asked, hoping her voice didn’t betray her worries.
“I can’t this afternoon, Miss Cassidy,” the teenager mumbled, her head bowed.
“It’ll only take a moment, Suzie.”
The room emptied, and Suzie stood just inside the classroom, her gaze fastened to the floor. She trembled like a frightened rabbit.
“It’s about our discussion from the other day,” Brynn began. “Remember I asked you if you had any plans for higher education.”
“I can’t go to college, Miss Cassidy.”
“Suzie, if I said something to offend you, then I’m truly sorry.”
The teenager bit into her lower lip, then slowly lifted her head. She offered Brynn a weak smile. “You didn’t offend me. I was honored that you felt I . . .” She paused, and her dark eyes filled with tears.
The girl turned away and would have rushed from the room, Brynn suspected, if she hadn’t stopped her.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong?” Brynn asked gently.
Suzie trembled as she ran the back of her hand under each eye. “I don’t want to trouble you with my problems.”
“It’s no trouble,” Brynn assured her gently. “I’ll do anything I can to help you.”
“You can’t help me, Miss Cassidy. No one can.”
“I can try.” With her arm around Suzie’s shoulder, Brynn steered the girl to her desk and handed her a tissue.
Suzie’s thin shoulders shook with repressed sobs. “Oh, Miss Cassidy, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“The first thing is to dry your eyes. There isn’t anything so terrible that you can’t tell me.”
Suzie looked up and studied Brynn as though to gauge her sincerity. Brynn met her look without flinching. She hadn’t a clue why Suzie was so unhappy. Naturally she had her suspicions, but she hoped it wasn’t as traumatic as the girl seemed to feel.
“I can’t go to college,” Suzie announced on a wobbly, emotion-laden breath. “I don’t even know if I’ll be able to graduate from high school.”
Brynn waited, giving the teenager the freedom to continue without the interruption of questions.
Suzie stiffened and looked away, as if meeting her eyes were more than she could manage. “I haven’t told anyone.” The words were low and filled with trepidation.
Brynn gripped the younger girl’s hand, and Suzie squeezed her fingers hard enough to cause her pain.
“I’m pregnant,” she whispered.
The news shouldn’t have surprised Brynn, but it did. Suzie didn’t have a boyfriend at school—in fact, to the best of Brynn’s knowledge, the only social activity Suzie had ever participated in had been the dance at the church.
“How far along are you?”
“Almost six months.”
“Six months!” Brynn couldn’t disguise her surprise.
“I realize I barely show. . . . I’ve lost weight because I didn’t want anyone to know. I was afraid if my father found out, he’d make me have an abortion,” she said in a rush, her voice barely audible. “I don’t want to kill my baby.”
“Of course you don’t.”
“I want this baby, Miss Cassidy. I love him so much already. When I first realized I was pregnant, I thought I would die; then later, after I felt him move . . . it was such an incredible feeling.”
“The father?” Brynn didn’t want to pry, but surely the baby’s father should be helping Suzie with some of these difficult decisions. Surely he could stand with her when she told her parents.
“I . . . haven’t told him either.” This was admitted with the same downcast look Suzie had worn earlier.
“But, Suzie . . .”
“He’s got his own troubles, and I don’t want to burden him with my news.”
“Burden him?” Brynn couldn’t keep the irritation out of her voice. “Suzie, this child is his responsibility, too. You shouldn’t have to deal with this alone. There are decisions to be made. For one thing, you won’t be able to hide your condition much longer.”
“I know, but I don’t want him to worry about me. He can’t help, and . . . and if I told him about the baby, it would only make him feel worse. He loves me. I know he does.” She buried her face in her hands, and her shoulders shook with silent tears.
Brynn patted Suzie’s back gently.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Miss Cassidy. I don’t know what will happen when my family learns about the baby.”
“You’re going to have to tell your parents.”
Suzie wiped the tears from her face. “I’m afraid my father will make me leave home, and I won’t have anywhere to live. I want to finish high school, and what you said about me getting a scholarship for college, well, I never thought I could do anything like that.”
“But of course you can. Your grades are excellent, but more than that, you have a clear desire to learn. Did you take the SAT test?”
Suzie shook her head.
“But before you consider college, you’re going to need to make a decision about your future, yours and the baby’s. I can’t help you with that, but I do know that the school counselor can help guide you. Will you talk with her?”
Suzie hesitated, then nodded. “I like Mrs. Christian.”
Brynn walked down to the office with her and waited while Suzie made an appointment with the school counselor for the next day.
“If there’s anything more I can do, let me know, okay?” Brynn asked when Suzie had finished.
The teenage girl started to cry once more, and Brynn hugged her close and whispered reassurances. “Everything will work out, Suzie, don’t worry.”
The teenager sniffled and left the school. Silently Brynn returned to her classroom and sagged onto her seat, her heart heavy with Suzie’s news.
Suzie was pregnant. The girl was little more than a child herself. So tiny and delicate, it was a wonder she’d been able to disguise her pregnancy this long. The fact that she’d gone without prenatal care hadn’t escaped Brynn’s notice, either.
The desire to wrap her arms around the teenage girl and protect her from the harsh reality of being a single mother nearly overwhelmed Brynn. More than one of her students was a mother. Brynn had been surprised to learn Yolanda had a two-year-old son. The boy stayed with Yolanda’s mother while Yolanda attended classes to complete her education. Denzil had bragged to her about fathering three children. He’d done so in an effort to shock her. The fact that he was sexually active didn’t astound her, but his attitude toward the number of children he’d fathered with different girls did.
By the time Brynn left the school, she felt as though she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. It seemed only natural to seek out Father Grady, but the parish priest was gone for the afternoon.
Mrs. Houghton, his housekeeper, seemed to sense Brynn had come for more than their usual friendly chat. “Do you want me to try to reach Father Grady?” the kindly older woman asked.
Brynn stood outside on the rectory steps. She shook her head. “No, that won’t be necessary. I’ll talk to him later.”
“Are you all right, dearie?”
“I’m fine,” Brynn assured her, but she wasn’t.
Blindly she made her way toward the subway station, but as she neared the entrance, she hesitated. The thought of returning to an empty apartment held no appeal. With no clear destination in mind, she turned back, her shoulders slumped and her steps slow.
Roberto. She needed him. Although she trusted Roberto, she couldn’t tell him about Suzie’s condition. That would be breaking the teenager’s confidence.
By the time she arrived at his garage, her eyes burned with unshed tears. The tight knot in her throat made it difficult to speak.