“Busy.” He glanced over his shoulder as though to say there was plenty left for him to do and her silly questions were keeping him from his chores.
Brynn wasn’t sure what to do or say. She could play cute word games and dance around the issue, but that would solve nothing. They’d done all that before.
“If you’ve got something to say to me, Roberto, I’d appreciate it if you came out and said it.” She stiffened, knowing instinctively what was on his mind.
A flicker of surprise flashed in and out of his eyes. He hadn’t anticipated her being this direct, she guessed. Normally she wasn’t. Whenever it was possible she avoided confrontation, but she’d learned that in dealing with Roberto, she was better off taking the offensive.
From the first time since she’d arrived, he hesitated.
“Let me say it for you, then,” she offered. “You’ve come to some monumental decision about us.”
“Let me finish,” she insisted, forcing herself to sound light and airy, as though his attitude didn’t affect her one way or the other. “You’ve decided that it’d probably be best for us not to see each other again. Am I right?”
His jaw had gone white. “Something along those lines, but I don’t think now is the time to discuss it.”
“It seems to me this is as good a time as any,” she responded with a flippant air. “You know what they say about there being no time like the present.”
“Why, Roberto?” she asked simply. Her chest tightened, and this time she couldn’t hide the pain in her voice. “Did I do something unforgivable? Something so terrible that you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me?”
“No,” he said harshly, and briefly closed his eyes. “For what it’s worth . . .” He stopped himself, then started again, his eyes as gentle as she’d ever seen them. He didn’t want to hurt her, that much was evident.
“Whatever it is,” she whispered forcefully, “we can work it out.”
He shook his head. “I never intended to become emotionally involved with you. We’re both intelligent enough to realize we’re all wrong together.” He clenched the muscles along the side of his jaw, and when he spoke his voice was filled with regret. “I blame myself. Matters should never have gone this far.”
“What am I supposed to do? Forget I ever met you? When I bump into you on the street, do you want me to turn and walk the other way?”
“No . . .”
“I’ve never been the type of person who can turn my feelings on and off at will. Tell me what it is you want from me. Just tell me and I promise I’ll walk out that door and it’ll be as though we’d never met.”
For a long time he didn’t answer her.
“I’m waiting,” she told him. “I’m not a difficult person to talk to, Roberto. At least others don’t seem to have a problem. Tell me,” she said again, more emphatically this time, “what is it you want.”
His hands clenched into fists. “I want you to leave New York,” he said, his voice strained. “You don’t belong here. You and all this nonsense about teaching these kids to wish for the impossible. Try filling Modesto’s head with that garbage now, why don’t you? He’s fighting for his life. We’re light-years away from anything more than survival. You’re beating your head against a stone wall, only you haven’t learned that yet. Personally I don’t want to be the one who’s left to pick up the pieces when you do.”
His words ripped open her heart, and just then she found it impossible to reply.
“There’ll be someone else for you soon enough,” he continued.
“Someone else?” She couldn’t believe he would suggest she was the type to leap from one relationship to the next in some crazy form of emotional hopscotch.
“Who you date is your own business. All I ask is that you leave me out of it.”
It, she reasoned, meant her life. He wanted nothing more to do with her.
Had she possessed a sliver of pride, Brynn would have turned and walked out. Instead she forced herself to stay, even when she knew that it meant more pain.
Her emotions battled with each other. She wanted to strike back at him, hurt him the same way he’d hurt her. And in the next millisecond she longed to throw herself in his arms and beg him to change his mind.
In the end she did neither. From some reserve of strength she knew nothing about, she scrounged up a genuine, heartfelt smile. “You’re right,” she told him, “there will be someone else.” In time. Then, because she couldn’t make herself leave without touching him, Brynn gently placed her hand against his cheek.
A muscle leapt in his face as he steeled himself against her.
“Good-bye, Roberto. Godspeed.”
She dropped her hand and was about to turn away when he reached out and grabbed hold of her shoulder and whirled her around. Crushed against him as she was, Brynn buried her face in his chest and clung. His kiss was hard and urgent, and she knew the moment he released her that he regretted ever having touched her.
“Good-bye, Brynn Cassidy. Have a good life.”
She nearly sobbed aloud, but she managed to hold the emotion inside. “You too, Roberto Alcantara.”
“How can you stand there and do nothing?” Goodness demanded of Shirley. “Roberto should have his head examined.”
“Personally, I agree, but unfortunately he has a free will to decide whatever he wants.”
“Free will? I’m telling you right now that’s the crux of the problem with humans. They can do anything they want, and they’ve let it go to their heads.”
“That’s the whole tamale in a nutshell,” Shirley concurred, then scratched her head, wondering why that sounded wrong.
“I have half a mind to shake up this city.”
Shirley wished Mercy were with her. She’d seen Goodness in this mood before, and it was downright frightening. The last time had been in Bremerton, Washington, when Goodness had gotten her hand on an aircraft carrier. The naval command was still trying to figure that one out.
“Goodness, are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“Someone needs to shake up this town.”
“Personally,” Shirley said, trying to be as diplomatic as possible, “I wouldn’t advise you to mess with New York.”
Goodness appeared unconvinced. “Texas frightens the wings off me, but I can handle New York.”
“I still don’t think this is a good idea.”
“You don’t even know what I’m going to do.”
Shirley didn’t want to know. Oh my, where was Mercy when she really needed her? When Goodness was in this frame of mind, she was more than Shirley could handle alone.
Shirley glanced around her, searching for help.
“No,” Shirley cried in a panic, leaping in front of her friend, “not the Statue of Liberty!”
Goodness pretended not to notice her, which frightened Shirley all the more. “Let me see,” Goodness mumbled, “what could I do to jar a few folks into realizing the error of their ways?”
“Don’t you think we should talk this out first?” Shirley asked hopefully. “I mean, just because matters are going poorly with my assignment, there’s no reason to take it out on the entire city. There’re plenty of good things happening, too.”
Goodness hesitated, and hope surged through Shirley that she might be able to reason her friend out of pulling some disastrous stunt.
“I’m sure everything must be going well with Hannah and Joshua.” As soon as she spoke, Shirley recognized the error of her ways.
“As a matter of fact, they’re not going well at all.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Hannah and Carl have set their wedding date for June sixteenth.”
“But I thought . . . didn’t you say that Hannah had fallen in love with Joshua Shadduck?”
“She has, and he’s head over heels crazy about her.”
Shirley assumed this would be good news. “I thought that was what you wanted.”
Shirley remained puzzled. “The last thing you told me was that Hannah had agreed to break off her engagement with Carl.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” Goodness said with a disgruntled sigh, “only it didn’t happen that way. Instead her family pressured her into setting a wedding date, and before she knew what to do, it was all decided for her. She’s scheduled to marry Carl Rabinsky in June.”
“Oh, poor, poor Hannah.”
“Hannah nothing,” Goodness cried. “What about Joshua? He trusted her. She’s supposed to be in love with him, remember? The fact is, I don’t trust Hannah to do the right thing by Joshua.”
“There’s plenty of time yet,” Shirley said in an effort to placate her friend. “Just because Hannah and Joshua’s relationship has gone slightly off course doesn’t mean you should do anything so drastic as disrupt the best-known New York landmark.”
Goodness didn’t agree or disagree with her. “I’m so frustrated with these humans, I could scream.”
Shirley was about to suggest just that when to her great relief Mercy arrived, looking serene and happy.
“What’s happenin’?” Mercy asked as though she hadn’t a care in the world.
While Goodness went into a short explanation about Hannah and Joshua, Shirley studied the other angel. Then it came to her in a flash. Mercy had been up to something herself.
“Mercy, I’m shocked at you,” Shirley cried. Oh my, what would Gabriel do if he learned about this?
“What?” Mercy asked, but wasn’t able to hide a guilty look.
“Tell me where you’ve been!” Shirley asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Me?” Mercy had perfected that look of innocence. She might even be able to fool Gabriel.
Although she asked, Shirley knew. “Don’t tell me, please don’t tell me you’ve been riding the escalators again?”
Mercy shifted her gaze away. “Just for a little while.”
“Mercy.” Shirley was outraged. One of them had to show a little responsibility. Why oh why did it have to be her?
“I can’t believe you’d jeopardize our entire mission by doing anything so silly.” She closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Actually, I’m in the mood for a little fun myself,” Goodness said.
“Goodness, no,” Shirley cried.
“You wanna have some fun?” Goodness asked Mercy.
“Oh, I have been, but after what happened this afternoon, I’m game for just about anything.”
Shirley opened and closed her mouth. At this point her protests would fall upon deaf ears, and she knew it.
A twinkle sparked from Goodness’s eyes as she smiled over at Shirley. “Are you coming along or not?”
“You’re headed for trouble.”