"Unless there's more story there."
"Uh-uh. That's the condition, Tiel." She envisioned him stubbornly shaking his head. "You do this bit, then you're off to Angel Fire. Period. End of discussion."
"Whatever you say." She could easily agree now, then argue about it later if events warranted.
"Okay, let's see. Outta Rojo Flats . . ." The map must have been right there on his desk, because within seconds he was giving her further directions. "Shouldn't take you long to get there. You're not sleepy, are you?"
She was never more wide awake than when pursuing a story. Her problem was shutting her mind off and going to sleep. "I'll buy something caffeinated to take along."
"Check in with me as soon as you get there. I've got you a room reserved at the only motel. You can't miss it. I'm told it's at the blinking traffic lightthe one and only. They'll wait up for you to give you a room key." Changing subjects, he asked, "Is the new boyfriend going to be pissed?"
"For the last time, Gully, there is no new boyfriend."
She hung up and placed another callto her new boyfriend.
Joseph Marcus was as much a workaholic as she was. He was scheduled to fly out early the next day, so she predicted he would be working late at his desk, putting things in order prior to his being away for several days. She was right. He answered his office phone on the second ring.
"Do you get paid overtime?" she teased.
"Tiel? Hi. I'm glad you called."
"It's after hours. I was afraid you wouldn't answer."
"Reflex. Where are you?"
"The end of nowhere."
"Everything okay? You haven't had car trouble or anything?"
"No, everything's great. I called for a couple of reasons. First, because I miss you."
This was the tack to take. Establish that the trip was still on. Establish that it was being delayed, not derailed. Assure him that everything was cool, then inform him of the slight wrinkle in their plans for a romantic getaway.
"You saw me just last night."
"But only briefly, and it's been a long day. Secondly, I called to remind you to throw a swimsuit into your suitcase. The hot tub at the condo complex is public."
After a pause, he said, "Actually, Tiel, it's good that you called. I needed to talk to you."
Something in the tone of his voice prevented her from prattling on. She stopped talking and waited for him to fill the silence that yawned between them.
"I could have called you on your cell phone today, but this isn't the sort of thing . . . The fact is . . . And I'm sorry as hell about this. You can't begin to know how sorry I am."
Tiel stared at the countless perforations in the metal surrounding the telephone. She stared so long without blinking that the tiny holes ran together. Absently she wondered what purpose they served.
"I'm afraid I can't get away tomorrow."
She'd been holding her breath. Now she released it, relieved. His change of plans alleviated her guilt over having to change them herself.
However, before she could speak, he continued. "I know how much you'd looked forward to this trip. And so had I," he rushed to add.
"Let me make this easier on you, Joseph." Meekly she confessed. "The truth is, I was calling to say that I need another couple days before I can get to Angel Fire. So I'm fine with a short postponement. Would your schedule allow us to meet on, say, Tuesday instead of tomorrow?"
"You don't understand what I'm saying, Tiel. I can't meet you at all."
The perforations ran together again. "Oh. I see. That is disappointing. Well"
"It's been very tense around here. My wife found my airline ticket and"
"I said my wife found"
Copyright © 2000 by Sandra Brown
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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