To be fair, Carl didn’t look any more pleased than she did with the unexpectedness of their engagement party. He had told her earlier that since he was no longer employed, they would need to postpone the wedding. The next step was to announce this to their families. Carl had wanted time to tell his parents first, and Hannah had agreed. Now they were being forced to pretend all was well when they were keenly aware that it wasn’t.
Once the pressure was off to set a wedding date, Hannah would be free to tell Carl about having met Joshua. He would understand. She was sure of that.
Hannah glanced around the room. It was filled to capacity with family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and longtime friends who’d come to wish her and Carl happiness.
Because it was expected of her, Hannah took Carl around and introduced him to her relatives.
Her grandmother gazed at her fondly from a position of honor, the recliner. Hannah had always felt close to Sylvia Morganstern. Surely she would know something was wrong. Surely her grandmother would recognize that she wasn’t in love with Carl. Hannah realized she wouldn’t be able to hide her feelings from the one who’d known and loved her all her life.
“Come and say hello to your aunt Edith,” Ruth said, placing her arm around Hannah’s waist and leading her across the room.
Carl traipsed behind obediently. Hannah didn’t know how anyone could look at the two of them and believe they were in love. Nor did she know how she could continue to pretend to be an eager bride when she intended to break their engagement at the earliest possible moment.
Briefly she closed her eyes and hoped Joshua would never learn of this engagement party. Thus far he’d been wonderfully patient with her, but she didn’t know how long that would last, especially when he learned she hadn’t broken off the engagement with Carl the way she’d promised.
“Hannah, my dear,” her grandmother said, and patted the empty seat beside her. “First introduce me to your young man and then sit down. I’m going to be greedy and hog you all to myself for a few moments.”
“Carl, this is my grandma Morganstern.”
“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Carl said formally and with deep respect.
Her grandmother asked him a number of gentle questions, which he answered, although it was clear to Hannah that he was eager to escape. Before he left, he was kind enough to bring Hannah and Sylvia each a cup of punch. Then as quickly as he could, he wandered away.
Her grandmother reached for Hannah’s hand and squeezed her slim fingers affectionately. “Now tell me all about you and Carl. How long have you been dating? How’d you meet?”
It demanded all the fortitude Hannah possessed to keep from blurting out the truth. If anyone would understand about her loving Joshua, it would be her grandmother.
“He looks like a good man.”
Hannah smiled and agreed. “He’ll be a good husband.” But not to her. She glanced in Carl’s direction and found she could barely look at him and not experience a crushing sense of guilt.
Her gaze continued to follow the man she’d promised to marry. It astonished her that she could ever have agreed to be Carl’s wife, especially when it was so painfully obvious they were mismatched.
“Carl is a wonderful man. He’s loyal and dedicated.” Hannah lowered her gaze, hoping her grandmother wouldn’t guess the love she nurtured in her heart was for another man.
Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Together Hannah’s parents brought one food tray after another out from the kitchen. The buffet-style meal was set on the dining room table. Because her parents were in the food business, this had been a labor of love, and the spread was something to behold.
“I’ve taken enough of your time,” Sylvia insisted, patting Hannah’s hand. “It looks like your mother’s ready for you and Carl.”
It didn’t escape Hannah’s notice that her grandmother didn’t comment on what a nice couple Hannah and Carl made. She was deeply relieved Sylvia hadn’t pressed her with more questions. It was difficult enough to deceive her mother and father, but nearly impossible to maintain the pretense in front of her grandmother.
Hannah joined Carl, and it seemed everyone was staring at them, waiting for something to happen.
Carl reached for her hand and whispered, “I spoke to my father.”
A sense of relief nearly swallowed her whole, and she turned to face him. “You did?”
Carl’s gaze shifted about the room. “He’s going to talk to the school board as soon as possible and see what can be done. I’m confident he’ll be able to straighten everything out.”
“That’s wonderful, Carl.”
His fingers tightened over hers. “I can’t tell you how worried I’ve been over this.”
Hannah had been concerned as well, but not for the reasons Carl assumed.
“Everything’s going to work out, Hannah, I promise you that.”
“Of course it will.” And as soon as Carl’s misunderstanding with the headmaster was cleared up, she’d be free to break the engagement.
Hannah’s father asked Carl’s father, Rabbi Rabinsky, to say a short prayer before they ate. The rabbi stepped forward and placed one hand on his son’s shoulder and the other on Hannah’s. He closed his eyes, and the room went still.
The prayer was short and potent, asking God to shower His love upon the two of them and to fill their lives with good things.
When he raised his head, there was a murmur of agreement. Her family loved her, Hannah realized, and they wished her and Carl much happiness.
Soon her relatives and other guests were busy filling their plates. Hannah wasn’t the least bit hungry, but to not eat might have alerted her mother that something was wrong, so she dished up with the others.
Hannah and Carl were ushered to the seats of honor, and she noticed that he didn’t seem to have much of an appetite himself.
The party sat in a large circle, their plates resting on their laps. It was Aunt Edith who asked the question first.
“Well, you two, don’t keep me in suspense any longer. When’s the wedding date?”
Everyone seemed to wait for Hannah to answer. The room filled with an expectant silence. Hannah looked first to her mother for help and then to Carl. Neither seemed inclined to respond.
“I believe Mother and Helen felt that the wedding coordinator should be the one to decide that,” Hannah explained when no one came to her rescue.
“Nonsense,” Edith said, dismissing the idea with a wave of her hand. “It’s up to the two of you to set the date. Let the wedding coordinator work around the one you’ve chosen.”
“But—” Hannah wasn’t allowed to finish.
“I agree,” Cousin Hariette intoned. “If you’re going to have an outsider make all the arrangements, then it’s vital they know from the first who’s in change. A wedding’s no small thing, and it’s best to get started on the right foot.”
“I’ve wondered about this,” Hannah’s father murmured, looking to Ruth.
“Springtime,” Edith suggested next. “When the flowers are starting to bloom. There’s nothing like fresh flowers for a wedding.”
“Oh no,” Hannah said quickly. “We can’t possibly have the wedding so soon . . . there wouldn’t be near enough time, would there?” She looked to Carl for support.
“I’m afraid Hannah’s right,” her mother concurred. “We were thinking June.”
“June,” Edith repeated. “June would be perfect.”
Cousin Hariette brought out a new calendar and flipped through the pages until she located the month.
“I don’t think Carl and I are in any rush,” Hannah offered, but it seemed no one was listening to her. Both her own mother and Carl’s crowded around, peering over Hariette’s shoulder, scanning the June page on the pocket calendar.
“The sixteenth sounds perfectly lovely.”
“The closer to the middle of the month the better, from what I hear,” another aunt offered.
“I don’t think we need to choose a date right now, do you?” Hannah tried once more.
Her grandma Morganstern studied her closely, and Hannah realized she’d best not say anything more. Not then, at least.
“What do you think of June sixteenth?” The question was directed to Carl, who had his fork poised in front of his mouth.
“Give the young man a chance to eat,” her father said, coming to Carl’s rescue.
With his mouth full of food, Carl nodded enthusiastically. Hannah felt he was silently commenting on what her father had said. Unfortunately everyone else in the room seemed to think he was agreeing to the wedding date.
“That settles that,” Ruth said cheerfully. “The wedding is set for June sixteenth.”
The news of Modesto Diaz’s injury spread quickly, and soon a number of Brynn’s students had gathered at the hospital. Again and again Emilio was forced to repeat the grisly details of what had happened—first to the police who came to question him, then to the curious and the fearful.
Father Grady arrived, and Brynn was grateful. She felt at a loss as to how to help Modesto’s mother and sister deal with the tragedy. After what seemed a lifetime, the surgeon appeared. His look was grave as he announced that the surgery had been a success. Modesto wasn’t completely out of danger, and his condition was guarded. But the teen was doing as well as could be expected.
Following a translation of the physician’s words, Modesto’s mother clenched her hands together, turned her face toward heaven, and wept loudly. His sister cried silently with relief. For the first time since he’d appeared at her apartment door, some color started to return to Emilio’s face.
Roberto looked to Brynn and she to him. His relief was evident. Hers, too, she guessed, as she battled down the urge to weep.
While they’d sat through those interminable hours, Roberto had remained beside his brother, offering Emilio his support and love. The younger Alcantara had needed his brother.
Brynn, however, had found sitting impossible, so she’d done what she always did when she was nervous: she’d paced. Back and forth, until she’d feared her path would leave permanent creases in the thin carpet.
Now she felt the need to be close to Roberto. He apparently shared her sudden desire, because he crossed the area. Without a word, he took her into his arms and held her firmly against him. She drank in his strength, absorbed his calm. His hold was tight, almost punishing, as if he planned on never letting her go.
Brynn knew that the two of them had attracted the attention of the others, but she didn’t care who saw them together. Gradually Roberto did release her, but not before she felt his muscles tighten. His relief turned to anger as he faced Father Grady.
“It’s this neighborhood,” Roberto said between clenched teeth. “It could have been Emilio who was shot, or you, or Brynn.” His face was tight and fierce. His brother was all the family he had left.
“I know, I know,” Father Grady said gently.