“I should go,” she finally said, handing the quilt back to him.
Noah nodded, then stood without a word. He carried the quilt, and the two of them walked to her car while fallen leaves crunched beneath their feet. She started to take off the shirt he’d lent her as he opened the door, but he stopped her.
“Keep it,” he said. “I want you to have it.”
She didn’t ask why, because she wanted to keep it, too. She readjusted it and crossed her arms afterwards to ward off the chill. For some reason, as she stood there, she was reminded of standing on her front porch after a high-school dance, waiting for a kiss.
“I had a great time tonight,” he said, “thank you for finding me.”
“I did, too,” she answered.
He summoned his courage. “Will I see you tomorrow?”
A simple question. She knew what the answer should be. “I don’t think we should,” was all she had to say, and it would end right here and now. But for a second the demon of choice confronted her, teased her, challenged her. Why couldn’t she say it? As she looked in his eyes to find the answer she needed, she saw the man she’d once fallen in love with, and suddenly it all came clear.
“I’d like that.”
Noah was surprised. He hadn’t expected her to answer this way. He wanted to touch her then, to take her in his arms, but he didn’t.
“Can you be here about noon?”
“Sure. What do you want to do?”
“You’ll see,” he answered. “I know just the place to go.”
“Have I ever been there before?”
“No, but it’s a special place. You’ll love it.”
She moved away before he could attempt a kiss. She didn’t know if he would try but knew for some reason that, if he did, she would have a hard time stopping him. She slid behind the wheel, breathing a sigh of relief. He shut the door for her, and she started the engine. As the car idled, she rolled down the window just a hit.
“See you tomorrow,” she said, her eyes reflecting the moonlight.
Noah waved as she turned the car around and then drove up the lane, heading hack towards town. He watched until the lights vanished behind far-off oak trees and the engine noise was gone. Clem wandered up to him and he squatted down to pet her, paying special attention to her neck, scratching the spot she couldn’t reach any more. Then they returned to the back porch side by side.
He sat in the rocker again, trying once more to fathom the evening that had just passed. Replaying it. Running it in slow motion. “She’s engaged,” he finally whispered, and then was silent for hours, his rocker making the only noise. The night was quiet, with little activity except for Clem, who checked on him occasionally as if to ask, “Are you all right?”
And some time after midnight on that clear October evening, Noah was overcome with longing. And if anyone had seen him, they would have seen what looked like an old man, someone who’d aged a lifetime in just a couple of hours. Someone bent over in his rocker with his face in his hands and tears in his eyes.
He didn’t know how to stop them.
CHAPTER FOUR: PHONE CALLS
LON HUNG up the phone. He had called at seven, then at eight thirty, and now he checked his watch again. Nine forty-five.
Where was she?
He knew she was where she had said she would he because he had spoken to the manager. Yes, she had checked in and he had last seen her around six. Going to dinner, he thought. No, he hadn’t seen her since.
Lon shook his head and leaned hack in his chair. He was the last one in the office as usual. That was normal with an ongoing trial, even if the trial was going well. Law was his passion, and the late hours alone gave him the opportunity to catch up on his work without interruption.
He knew he would win the case because he mastered the law and charmed the jury. He always did, and losses were infrequent now. Part of it came from being able to select the cases he had the expertise to win. Only a select few lawyers in the city had that kind of stature, and his earnings reflected it.
But most of his success came from hard work. He had always paid attention to details, especially when he’d begun his practice. Little things, obscure things, and it had become a habit now.
And now a little detail bothered him.
Not about the case. That was fine. It was something else. Something about Allie. But damn, he couldn’t put his finger on it. Some time after her call, maybe an hour or so, something clicked in his mind. The little detail. Detail… Something insignificant? Something important?
Think.… Damn, what was it?
His mind clicked. Something… something… something said?
Something had been said? Yes, that was it. But what was it? Had Allie said anything on the phone? That had been when it started, and he ran through the conversation again. What had she said? Her trip was good; she had checked in, had done some shopping. Left her number. That’s about all.
He thought about her then. He loved her, he was sure of that. Not only was she beautiful and charming, but she’d become his source of stability and best friend as well. After a hard day at work, she was the first person he would call. She would listen to him, laugh at the right moments, and had a sixth sense about what he needed to hear. He knew he should spend more time with her. But practising law made limiting his hours impossible. She’d always understood, but still he cursed himself for not making the time. Once he was married he’d shorten his hours, he promised himself. He’d have his secretary check his schedule to make sure he wasn’t overextending himself.