He held her against him, and she stayed, the ragged edge of his breathing echoing in her ear. Her own breathing was just as unstable. Wrapped in the warm cocoon of his arms, Hannah never wanted to leave.
“Please . . . my family is waiting. They don’t know where I am.” It was pointless to continue. Pointless to torture themselves.
His arms tightened before he released her. “Meet me,” he whispered against her cheek. “Monday evening at eight at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.”
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
“Be there, Hannah,” he pleaded. “I need time to think. We both do. You don’t love Carl.”
“Joshua . . .”
“You don’t love him,” he returned with conviction, “otherwise you’d never have allowed me to kiss you like that.” With that he turned away.
Hannah wanted to run after him and explain that she wouldn’t show. She had no intention of continuing this charade. That was why she’d told him about Carl. It was too late for them. Much too late.
“Joshua,” she called.
He ignored her, and because she was forced into it, she raced after him. She was out of breath by the time she reached him.
“I won’t be there,” she cried. “I won’t.”
He turned, and for the first time since she’d told him about her commitment to Carl, he smiled, saying without words that he believed otherwise.
“You’ll be wasting your time,” she argued heatedly.
Joshua said nothing, then wrapped his arm around her waist and dragged her to him. His kiss was short but thorough. When he finished, he exhaled slowly. “You’ll be there,” he said with supreme confidence. “You won’t be able to stay away.”
“Will Hannah meet Joshua?” Shirley asked Goodness. The two had parked themselves atop a light fixture in the Morgansterns’ deli. Hannah’s father was locking the doors while her mother was upstairs preparing the evening meal.
“What do you think?” Goodness was downright gleeful.
“What do I think?” Shirley repeated. “I think you’re headed for serious trouble with Gabriel, that’s what I think.”
Goodness couldn’t have disagreed more. “Gabriel knew exactly what was going to happen,” she insisted. “He might think Carl Rabinsky is the cat’s meow, but you and I both know he isn’t the right man for Hannah.”
Shirley’s look was skeptical. “Why isn’t he?”
“It’s clear to me that Carl’s as confused about all this as Hannah. The poor boy’s parents had more to do with the engagement than he did. They pushed him into it.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t,” Goodness confessed reluctantly, “but I’d wager a good deal that was the case.”
“What you’re wagering,” Shirley seemed to feel obliged to tell her, “is our futures. You’ve done this before, you know. My heaven,” she continued, wringing her hands. “I can’t get involved in your prayer request, not when I’ve got troubles of my own.”
“It’s Brynn and Roberto. This is simply not the time for her to walk around with her head in the clouds. She needs her wits about her. I’m afraid something serious is about to happen, and I can’t be constantly fretting about what you’re getting into.”
“Me?” If she didn’t know better, Goodness would be insulted.
“Yes, you. I beg of you, Goodness, kindly leave matters be with Carl and Hannah.”
Goodness considered it seriously, but not for long. She didn’t mean to be a rabble-rouser, but there were some matters that one couldn’t ignore. Unfortunately this was one of those times.
Shirley groaned, and her head slumped forward. “Why did I know you were going to say that?”
“I’m sorry, really I am. But I asked myself exactly why Gabriel would assign this particular prayer request to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it,” Goodness said, crossing her arms. “Ruth Morganstern prayed that Hannah would make a good marriage.”
“Yes,” Shirley agreed impatiently.
“It was as clear as the feathers in our wings that Carl was about to ask for Hannah’s hand in marriage. Both Hannah’s parents are nuts about Carl, and his family about her.”
Goodness had a hard time believing that her fellow prayer ambassador could be so thickheaded. “Don’t you see?”
“Well,” Goodness said with a sorry lack of patience, “Gabriel assumed the assignment would be a snap. An engagement to Carl was in the cards already. Really all that was required was for me to stand back and let it happen. Once Hannah was formally engaged to Carl I was supposed to pretend it was all my doing and promptly return to heaven, the assignment complete.”
“Hannah is formally engaged to Carl,” Shirley reminded her.
Shirley was missing her point entirely. “That’s true, but Gabriel doesn’t know that.”
“In other words,” Shirley said, walking circles around Goodness as she mulled over the situation, “you think this job is another one of Gabriel’s little token assignments.”
Goodness folded her arms and nodded with a good deal of ceremony. “I do indeed, and frankly I’m insulted.”
“You mean like the chess set for Craig?”
Goodness nodded. “Exactly.”
This information seemed to fluster her friend. “My oh my, I don’t know what to think.”
“Well, I do,” Goodness returned with a hint of self-righteousness. “It was clear to me from the first that Carl Rabinsky isn’t the right husband for Hannah. In good conscience I can’t idly stand by and let her marry the wrong man.”
“What are you going to do?” Shirley asked, and then crunched up her face as if she were afraid of the answer.
Goodness relaxed and smiled. “I’m not sure yet, but I do know one thing.”
“She’s not going to marry Carl.”
Sunday morning Brynn quietly slipped inside the pew at St. Philip’s, crossed herself, and knelt on the padded kneeler. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, fully intending to pray. But it wasn’t thoughts of God that filled her mind. Instead she found herself mulling over the night before with the church youth group and Roberto Alcantara.
Every time Brynn remembered the dance in which they’d shared the duty as chaperones, a warm, expectant feeling stole over her. It had all started innocently enough when they’d first danced together. No one seemed to want to be the first couple on the floor, so Roberto, stiffly, had asked her. She knew from the way his lips tightened that he wasn’t keen on being her partner. Taking it personally, she’d glared back at him, letting it be known that she didn’t relish his company, either.
Yet from that shaky beginning, something fragile and exciting had blossomed. As the music started, Roberto had held her awkwardly in his arms, his body rigid, as if to avoid touching her.
Then gradually, as they’d warmed to the rhythm of the music, he’d relaxed. Because he had, she had too. Slowly, almost without being aware of what was happening, she’d found herself tucked securely in Roberto’s arms. It amazed her how well they performed together, how easy his steps were to follow. Anyone looking at them would have assumed they were longtime partners. Halfway through the dance Roberto had smiled, and she’d shyly returned the gesture. Then he’d tucked his head close to hers, and they’d continued to sway gracefully across the polished gym floor.
From that point forward in the evening, Brynn had looked for an excuse to dance with Roberto a second time. Unfortunately their duties had prevented them from spending any more time together. The teenage dance had gone on until almost midnight, and the high schoolers couldn’t have kept them apart more had they plotted to do so.
From the silent messages Roberto had sent her way, from the quick exchanges of eye contact, she’d realized that he was as eager to be with her as she was with him.
After the dance, Roberto had walked her to her car. At first they’d been shy with each other, not knowing what to say. But gradually that had changed, and they’d chatted freely. Brynn was certain Roberto had meant to ask her for a date, but before he’d had a chance, a fight had broken out between two boys. In his frustration, Roberto had closed his eyes and forcefully released his breath. Brynn had felt the regret in him as he’d turned away and hurried toward the scuffle.
Long after she was home, Brynn had found it impossible to sleep. Again and again her mind had reviewed the one dance she’d shared with Roberto. The memory had left her hungering to learn what would have happened had they been free to enjoy one another’s company.
The more she thought about Roberto, the more she admired his accomplishments. He worked hard and seemed determined to make his business a successful enterprise. He genuinely cared about his brother’s welfare and took an active role in the community. Father Grady, whom Brynn considered to be an excellent judge of character, couldn’t say enough good about Roberto.
True, they’d started off on the wrong foot, but Brynn was eager to make up for that and start again. If she did have God’s attention, then what she sought was for Roberto to be at church this morning.
Giving up the pretense of praying, Brynn opened her eyes and sat on the hard wooden pew. She didn’t see Roberto and couldn’t swivel around to look without being obvious.
Triumphant organ music announced the beginning of mass, which Father Grady celebrated. Not until Brynn stood to follow the others to the altar for communion did she spy Roberto. Instantly her heart gladdened.
He saw her too, because she watched as a brief smile touched his eyes.
After mass Roberto was waiting on the top of the church steps for her. Following the throng of the faithful out of the large double-wide doors, Brynn saw Roberto almost immediately and waved.
“So we meet again,” she said. She hated the breathless quality to her voice, but she couldn’t hide how pleased she was to see him.
He acknowledged her with a short nod.
“Did the boys give you any trouble last night?” she asked, wanting to learn the outcome of the fight.
He shrugged as though to say it wasn’t anything serious. “I separated them and had Emilio take Modesto with him.”
Once again Brynn noted what a fine figure of a man Roberto made. She didn’t know what had blinded her earlier.
“So it was Modesto,” she murmured. That didn’t surprise her.
“Mike and Modesto were going at it until—”
“Mike?” Brynn interrupted. “Not Mike Glasser?”
“That’s the name.”
Brynn hadn’t seen the morose young man all evening. But then it would be characteristic of Mike to conceal himself in the shadows. If he had come to the dance, then perhaps some girl had caught his eye. Brynn hoped that was the case. She genuinely liked Mike and wished she knew how to reach him.