"Here. Let me help you with that, Eugenie."
She swung round and Ted was standing there, his old dog droopily at his side and rainwater dripping from his nose and jaw. His waxed jacket glistened brightly with damp, and his peaked cap clung to his skull.
"Ted!" She offered him the gift of her spurious surprise. "You look positively drowned. And poor P.B.! What are you doing out here with that sweet dog?"
He righted her umbrella and held it over both of them. She took his arm.
"We've begun a new exercise programme," he told her. "Up to Market Place, down to the church yard, and back home four times a day. What're you doing here? You haven't just come out of the church, have you?"
You know I have, she wanted to say. You just don't know why. But what she said was, lightly, "Decompressing after the committee meeting. You remember: the New Year's Eve committee? I'd given them a deadline to decide on the food. So much to be ordered, you know, and they can't expect the caterer to wait forever for them to make up their minds, can they?"
"On your way home now?"
"And may I...?"
"You know that you may."
How ridiculous it was, the two of them in such an idle conversation, with volumes of what needed saying deliberately going unsaid between them.
You don't trust me, Ted, do you? Why don't you trust me? And how can we foster love between us if we have no foundation of trust? I know you're worried because I'm not telling you what it was I said I wanted to tell you, but why can't you let the wanting to tell you be enough for now?
But she couldn't risk anything that would lead to revelation at the moment. She owed it to ties far older than the tie she felt to Ted to put her house in order before burning it down.
So they engaged in insignificant chat as they walked along the river: his day, her day, who'd come into the bookshop and how his mother was getting on at Quiet Pines. He was hearty and cheerful; she was pleasant albeit subdued.
"Tired?" he asked her when they reached the door of her cottage.
"A bit," she admitted. "It's been a long day."
He handed her the umbrella, saying, "Then I won't keep you up," but he looked at her with such open expectation in his ruddy face that she knew her next line was supposed to be to ask him in for a brandy before bed.
It was her fondness for him that prompted the truth. She said, "I've got to go into London, Ted."
"Ah. Early morning, then?"
"No. I've got to go tonight. I've an appointment."
"Appointment? But with the rain, it'll take you more than an hour.... Did you say an appointment?"
"Yes. I did."
"What sort ...? Eugenie..." He blew out a breath. She heard him curse quietly. So, apparently, did P.B., because the old retriever raised her head and blinked at Ted as if with surprise. She was soaking, poor dog. At least, thank God, her fur was thick as a mammoth's. "Let me drive you in, then," Ted said at last.
"That wouldn't be wise."
She put her hand on his arm to stop him. She raised it to touch his cheek, but he flinched and she stepped away. "Are you free for dinner tomorrow night?" she asked him.
"You know that I am."
"Then have a meal with me. Here. We'll talk then, if you'd like."
He gazed at her, trying -- she knew -- and failing to read her.
Don't make the attempt, she wanted to tell him. I've had too much rehearsal for a role in a drama you don't yet understand.
She watched him steadily, waiting for his reply. The light from her sitting room came through the window and jaundiced a face already drawn with age and with worries he wouldn't name. She was grateful for that: that he wouldn't speak his deepest fears to her. The fact that what frightened him went unspoken was what gave her courage to contend with everything that frightened her.
Excerpted from A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George Copyright 2001 by Elizabeth George. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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