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hat are you so deep in thought about?, Evan came up behind Julia as she loaded a cup into the dishwasher.He slipped his arms around her waist, drew her against him and tucked his chin into the hollow of her shoulder.
Julia folded her arms over his and sighed content-edly. "I was just thinking that I should have tried harder to find a way to go with you."
For the past day and a half she'd been telling herself that the elephant sitting on her chest and the panic attack that had driven her from bed in the middle of the night were nothing more than frustration at not being able to accompany Evan on his last-minute business trip to Colombia.
"Should?, He chuckled. "Now, what's that all about?"
The queasiness she'd felt as she'd watched Evan pack his suitcase that afternoonworse than anything she'd experienced during two pregnancies she'd put off to the shrimp salad she'd had for lunch. She simply refused to acknowledge that the constant, nagging feeling of dread might be anything real, not after all the years of denying the possibility such things existed and that even sane, rational people might be wise to pay attention to them.
She couldn't bring herself to share the depth of her doubts with him. As a child, using maps he'd torn out of books, Evan had escaped the reality of life in a tenement in Detroit by papering the walls of the bedroom he'd shared with his baby brother, and put him to sleep at night with stories of the places they would go someday and the people they would meet.
"I guess I just don't like the idea of you having all that fun without me," she said.
"Hmmwhat if I promise to be miserable?, She laughed. "You would dothat for me?"
"What a guy."
"And what about you, Mrs. McDonald? Does this mean you're going to sacrifice all the good times I'll be missing while you paint the upstairs bathroom?"
They had been in their new-to-them, fixer-upper home for less than a month, only their second home since they'd moved to the Sacramento area from Kansas ten years earlier.Was it really all that unusual for her to be feeling a little out of sorts with the stress and excitement? Still."
"Can we be serious for a minute?, She turned to face him.
"I don't think I like the sound of this."
"I want you to promise that you won't leave the city." When he started to answer, she held up her hand to stop him. "Even if one of the people you're going there to meet has a villa somewhere in the country. I want you to promise you won't go."
"Be reasonable, Julia. How could I refuse an invitation to someone's home?"
"Tell the truththat you weren't able to get the shots you needed before you left. You wouldn't even have had a passport if we hadn't gone to Mexico last year.They know you were a last-minute replacement for Harold.They'll understand."
Evan's boss was still in the hospital recovering from a fall into a hole at a construction site. In addition to three broken ribs,he was bruised all along his left side and sore over his entire body. He breathed like a man easing one last puff into a balloon already overfilled and about to pop. Evan taking Harold's place was not only a huge responsibility, it showed Harold's incredible confidence in Evan's abilities to represent the firm. If they got the contract for the state-of-the-art, five-story shopping center, it would be their first international engineering job and a door opening for future business in South America.
"And please remember not to drink or eat anything from a roadside stand." She added that because she knew Evan would be tempted and also knew just as surely that if only one bug lurked in a gallon of water, it would find him.From the day their daughter,Shelly, had started preschool,it was as if Evan's body had rolled out a welcome mat for every stray bacteria and virus. Neither of the kids had ever come down with something their dad didn't come down with a week later.
"Well, now that you mention it, I'd really like it if you stayed at the hotel and didn't go"
"Whoa, slow down a minute.Who have you been talking to?"
"No one." He plainly didn't believe her. "Okay, I did a couple of searches on the Internet."
"I see." He nodded, fighting a grin and failing.
"You want to talk about it?"
She did,for herself,for her own peace of mind,but didn't,for him.If she persisted with her unreasonable fears she was going to ruin something he'd wanted all his life. And to what end? If long-distance paranoia worked, her mother would have a patent on it.
"No," she said. "I'm just" She shrugged.
"Did you also happen to look up the hotel where I'll be staying?, he asked.
"I did," she said sheepishly.
"It looked very nice."
"No-bed-bugs nice?, His eyes sparkled with amusement. "Or four-star nice?"
"Actually, it was the description of the hotel that made me wish I'd worked a little harder to find a way to go with you." It was a lie, but just a small one, and told for the right reason.
He laughed. "And how would you have done that? Two days was hardly enough time to get me ready."
"I don't know," she admitted. "I just should have tried harder."
He planted a kiss on the tip of her nose. "Next time."
"Like that's going to happen. Look what it took to keep Harold from going this time. It's not as if he's suddenly going to learn to delegate just because this trip goes well for you."
"He's getting better,"Evan said mysteriously. "I can see all kinds of things opening up for us in the future."
"You did that on purpose."
"Yes, I did."
"You can't possibly think you're going to get away with saying something like that and just leave it hang."
"I'm saving the rest for when I get back."
She actually laughed at that. he'd never been able to keep a secret from her. It was one of the reasons he had to wait until the last minute to buy her birthday and Christmas presents. "Fat chance."
"I'm serious," he insisted despite the grin twitching the corner of his mouth.
Feigning disinterest was the one sure way she knew to get him to talk. "Okay. I guess it will have to wait."
Before he could say anything, there was a shriek and then a thud as something heavy hit the floor directly above them. "What the hell?, Evan said.
A second shriek followed, and thumping on the stairs. "Ee-ee-uu-uu-w-w-w"Shelly screamed. "It touched me." Racing into the room,she threw herself into Evan's arms.
"This better not be about your brother," he said.
"There's a mouse in my room. It ran over my foot. It was so-o-o-o-o gross, Daddy. Do something. Get it. Kill it."
"Think about what you're saying, Shelly. Do you really want me to kill that poor mouse? Just because it scared you?"
She looked up at her father, her chin planted in the middle of his chest,her arms wrapped around his waist. "Yes?, "And do you honestly believe I'm going to do that?"
"Would you at least think about it? What if it gets in bed with me when I'm sleeping?"
"Okay, and then what should I do to you? You undoubtedly scared it as much as it scared you."
"Oh, Daddy, that's just dumb."
Evan shot Julia a grin. "It appears you'll have to finish grilling me later." He went to the hall closet and glanced inside. "I thought we were going to keep the broom in here."
For the three-and-a-half weeks they'd been in the house it seemed as if they always were looking for something they'd put away in what they were sure were perfect, logical places. "I'm sure I saw it in the garage. I'll check."
Julia finally fell into a restless, troubled sleep at two-thirty that night, an hour before the airport van would be there to pick up Evan and take him to San Francisco for his flight. Evan had insisted she should sleep in, that he could see himself off. She'd insisted just as strongly that she would get up with him.
The soft click of the front door opening woke her. She instantly knew what he'd done and was overcome with a sense of loss. She leaped out of bed and ran after him in her nightgown, flung open the door and shouted, "Wait."
Evan turned and gave her a look of such love and longing that she would only need to remember this moment for years to come to forgive him anything. He met her in the middle of the walkway, swept her into his arms and held her as if it were the end of their separation instead of the beginning.
"I'm going to miss you," he said. "Every minute of every hour."
She desperately didn't want him to go and couldn't say what he needed to hear, the words that would make leaving her okay.
"Harold is making me a partner," he said.
She gasped. Of all the things she might have guessed, this wasn't even on the distant horizon.
He smiled. "Just what I wantedto leave you breathless."
"What does that mean?"
"Five percent now,another one percent every year from now on."
"Oh, Evan, that's That's soso amazing. I'm stunned." Five percent of a privately owned company like Stephens Engineering was huge. She kissed him. "Congratulations. you're awesome. When did this happen?"
"The same day Harold asked me to take his place on this trip. He said he'd planned on waiting until he came back, but then thought what the hell, might as well give me something to think about while I was gone. I was going to tell you, but then thought it would be more fun when we could go out and celebrate together." He grinned. "And as usual, I couldn't keep a secret from you."