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Raisins, Cyn McCall realized, were actually nasty-looking things.
"I like to do 'em this way, Mom, 'cause then you get to save 'em for last."
Cyn shook her head and sighed with resignation. Her mother heard the sigh as she entered the sunny kitchen. "What's going on? What are you frowning at, Cynthia?" Ladonia headed straight for the coffeepot and poured herself a cup.
"Your grandson is picking the raisins out of his bran flakes and lining them up around the rim of the cereal bowl."
Cyn glared first at her mother, then at the puddle of milk that each misplaced raisin was dripping onto the table. "I was trying to correct him, Mother, not commend his creativity."
"Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Again?" Her pause between the two questions wasn't accidental. It was Ladonia Patterson's subtle way of saying that her daughter's sour moods were recurring with unpleasant frequency.
Cyn pretended not to catch the gibe as she blotted up milk with a dishcloth. "Eat your toast, Brandon."
"Can I take it in the den and eat it while I watch Sesame Street?"
The divergent responses were spoken in unison. "Mother, you know I've told him—"
"I want to talk to you, Cynthia. Alone." Ladonia helped four-year-old Brandon from his chair and wrapped the slice of cinnamon toast in a napkin. "Don't drop crumbs." She patted the seat of his pajamas as she ushered him through the door, then turned to confront her daughter. However Cyn got in the opening salvo.
"This constant interference when I'm trying to discipline Brandon has got to stop, Mother."
"That's not what this is about." Ladonia, slender, attractive, and fresh from her morning shower, squared off against her daughter across the breakfast table.
Cyn didn't welcome the imminent parental lecture, but she could smell one brewing as well as she could smell the coffee. She gave her wristwatch a cursory glance. "I've got to leave or I'll be late for work."
"I don't want to start the day with an argument."
"Sit down," Ladonia repeated calmly. Cyn dropped into a chair. "More coffee?"
"No, thank you."
"You're not yourself, Cynthia," Ladonia began once she had sat down across from her daughter with a fresh mug of coffee. "You're uptight, edgy, out-of-sorts, impatient with Brandon. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were pregnant."
Cyn rolled her eyes. "Put your mind to rest on that score."
"What happened to your sense of humor? What's wrong with you lately?"
"All right, I'll tell you."
"I thought you would."
"Don't get smart with me," Ladonia admonished, shaking her finger at Cyn.
"Mother, let's not repeat this conversation this morning. I already know what you're going to say."
"What am I going to say?"
"That I'm not living a well-rounded life. That Tim's been dead for two years, but I'm still alive, still young, with years of living to look forward to. That I have a wonderful job that I'm very good at, but that work isn't everything. That I need to cultivate outside interests and new friendships. That I need to get out, mingle with people my own age, join a single parents' club." She gave her mother a rueful smile. "See? I know it all by heart."
"Then why aren't you doing some of those things?"
"Because they're what you want. Not what I want."
Ladonia folded her arms on the table and leaned forward. "What do you want?"
"I don't know. I want . . ."
What? Cyn searched for an explanation for her blues. The element missing from her life wasn't so easy to peg. If she knew what it was, she would have filled the void a long time ago. For months now she had felt as though she were operating in a vacuum.
Brandon was no longer an infant who needed her constant nurturing. She felt ineffectual at work. Since moving in with them upon the death of Cyn's father, Ladonia had assumed most of the housekeeping chores. Cyn was the official head of the household, but the title didn't amount to much.
Nothing in her life produced a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. Her youth and vitality were being drained by monotony.
"I want something to happen," she said at last, "something that will shake things up, turn my life around."
"Be careful what you wish for," Ladonia softly advised her.
"What do you mean?"
"Tim's accidental death certainly shook things up."
Cyn was out of her chair like a shot. "That was a horrible thing to say." She snatched up her handbag, briefcase, and keys and yanked open the back door.
"Perhaps it was, Cyn. I didn't mean to sound insensitive. But if you want things to change for the better, you can't sit around relying on fate to shake things up for you. You've got to make a few changes yourself."
To that, Cyn offered no reply. "The traffic on North Central will be a nightmare, since I'm leaving so late. Tell Brandon I'll call him on my lunch break." Armored in righteous indignation, Cyn left for the hospital.
"I know that's what I said, George, but that was yesterday. Who could have guessed that they'd go public before—"
Worth Lansing signaled his assistant to pour him another cup of coffee. Her duties extended beyond clerical ones. Mrs. Hardiman was his secretary, assistant, mother, and pal—whatever the occasion called for. She was excellent in all capacities.
"I know that's my job, George, but you haven't lost—"
As his client ranted on, Worth held the telephone receiver against his chest. "Any other calls come in?" he asked Mrs. Hardiman, who was now watering the plants decorating his twelfth-floor executive office.
"Only from your dentist."
"What'd he want? I just saw him last week."
"Um-huh. He looked over your X-rays and you need two fillings."
"Great, great." Worth expelled a long breath. "Got any more good news? You're sure Greta hasn't called?"
"Positive." She replaced the brass watering can in the cabinet beneath the wet bar.
"Well, when she does call, interrupt me," Worth told her, winking suggestively. "No matter what." She tsked him as she left the inner office.
Worth replaced the receiver against his ear. His client was still cursing the unpredictability of the stock market.
"George, calm down. It wasn't the right stock for you, that's all. Let me do some creative thinking here and get back to you before the market closes today. I've got a hatful of rabbits. I'm sure I can pull one out."
After he hung up, Worth left his red leather desk chair, consulted the TV monitor, which was constantly tuned to the stock-market channel, and picked up a scaled-down basketball. He shot it toward the goal mounted on the back of his office door. He missed.
No wonder; he was out of practice. It had been such a hellish week, he hadn't gone to the gym once, something he usually did religiously every day. This afternoon, he promised himself, before meeting Greta, he would treat his body to a hard, sweaty workout. He needed to be in prime condition for the coming weekend.
The information crawling across the lower third of the TV screen was getting more depressing by the second. He was still trying to decide what form that rabbit he had promised George was going to take, and desultorily throwing darts at the target across the room, when Mrs. Hardiman paged him on the intercom.
"Greta?" he asked hopefully.
"No, your lunch date just canceled."
"Damn. That old broad has got money coming out the kazoo," he muttered.
"I rescheduled for next Wednesday. Is that all right?"
"Sure, but I was counting on her fat portfolio to take up the slack this week."
"Do you want the sandwich shop downstairs to send up something for lunch?"
"Rare roast beef on whole wheat. Lots of German mustard."
Worth made a few calls, shot a few baskets, threw a few darts, putted a few golf balls, consoled the clients who had lost money that day, congratulated those who had made some. The market closed before he was able to unload George's stock onto another sucker. He promised his unhappy client that he'd take care of it first thing Monday morning.
When the phone rang again, he lunged for it. "Yes?"
"They've already sold out of roast beef," Mrs. Hardiman informed him.
"To hell with it. I'll skip lunch." As he slammed the phone down, he asked the four black-lacquered walls, "Will this day never end?"
"Hi. Where've you been keeping yourself?"
Cyn's flagging spirits sank even lower as the doctor joined her in the elevator. She'd been dodging him the last couple of weeks. Most women, no matter their marital status, would consider her crazy for avoiding Dr. Josh Masters. He was good-looking, charming, and had one of the most lucrative ob/gyn practices in Dallas. He had delivered more babies in the last calendar year than any other obstetrician in the city.
More attractive than his other attributes was the fact that he was single and rich.
"Hi, Josh." She smiled up at him, but took a cautionary step backward. As close as he was standing to her, one would think the elevator was crowded, when actually they were the only two in it.
"Been avoiding me on purpose?" he asked, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.
"I've been awfully busy."
"Too busy to return my calls?"
"As I said," she repeated a shade testily, "I've been busy." She would never have wounded someone with a broken heart. Such wasn't the case with Dr. Masters. He suffered only from a bruised ego.
However, it had amazing recuperative properties. Undaunted, he asked, "How about dinner?"
Maneuvering around that, she switched subjects. "Listen, Josh, did you see that referral I sent you? Darlene Dawson?"
"I saw her yesterday."
"Thanks for taking her as a patient even though she can't pay. I would have sent her to the free clinic, but I'm afraid there might be complications with this pregnancy."
"According to her chart, she's already had two abortions."
"That's right." Cyn sadly shook her head over the plight of the unwed seventeen-year-old she had counseled. "She wants to have this baby and give it up for adoption."
"And you wanted her to have the best care." He leaned forward, trapping her in the corner of the elevator. "But delivering healthy babies isn't the only thing I do well, Cyn."
Dr. Josh Masters did not lack self-confidence. "Well, we're here." As the doors slid open, she edged past him and stepped out of the elevator.
"Wait a sec." He charged after her, caught her arm, and drew her aside, out of the flow of traffic on the ground floor of the women's hospital. Cyn's bailiwick was dealing with women who were seeking options to unwanted pregnancies.
She hadn't utilized her master's degree in psychology until after she was widowed. Marriage had come close on the heels of college, and Brandon soon after that. Within months of Tim's death, everyone had urged her to accept the job at the clinic, but, feeling unqualified, she had done so with reservations.
The hospital staff and the social workers who referred clients to her were enormously pleased with her work. She alone thought she was inept. Most of the cases she dealt with left her feeling depressed and ineffectual.
"You didn't answer my question," Josh reminded her now.
"How about dinner tonight?" He flashed her the smile that a cosmetic dentist had perfected for him.
"Tonight? Oh, I can't tonight, Josh. I left the house in a hurry this morning without spending any time with Brandon. I promised to do something with him this evening."
"What is tomorrow? Friday? Well, I don't know, Josh. Let me think about it. I—"
"What gives with you?" He propped his hands on his hips and looked down at her with exasperation.
"What do you mean?"
"We had a couple of dates. Everything was going great, then you started stringing me along."
Cyn, taking umbrage, shook her shoulder-length hair away from her face. "I've done no such thing."
"Then go out with me again."
"I told you I'd think about it."
"You've had weeks to think about it."
"And I still haven't made up my mind," she shot back.
Encircling her arm with a caressing hand, Josh switched tactics. "Cyn, Cyn, look, we're grownups, aren't we? We're supposed to act like grown-ups. We're supposed to go out, enjoy each other's company—"
His eyelids lowered lazily. "Sounds good to me." He used the seductive tone of voice that kept the nursing staff of the hospital, and many of his patients, aflutter.
Cyn withdrew her arm from his grasp. "Good night, Josh."
"That's it, isn't it?" he asked, falling into step with her. "The sex."
"In our case, none. You're afraid of it."
"You won't even talk about it."
"I talk about sex all day long."
Keeping his voice low, he stayed even with her as she exited the building and headed for the parking lot. "You can talk about it, but can't handle it when it comes around to you personally."
"I said good night."
"Come on, Cyn." He reached for her arm again, but she shrugged off his touch. "See? You get uptight if a man so much as lays a hand on you," he shouted after her as she hurried toward her car. "If the package isn't for sale, stop advertising it!"
By the time she left the parking lot, her hands had stopped shaking, but she was still seething. The doctor's ego was monstrous and insufferable. How dare he say those things to her just because she hadn't let their few dinner dates develop into sleepovers?
Stopping for the long traffic light at one of the city's infamously congested intersections, she propped her forehead on the backs of her hands while they moistly gripped the steering wheel. Maybe Josh was right. Maybe she was uptight about sex. Her healthy hormones hadn't been embalmed along with Tim, but she didn't relish sating them with just any man-on-the-make either. What did a nice, respectable widow with a child, in this age of safe sex, do with her sex drive when the object of her desire was no longer available?
Tough question. Too tough to sort out this afternoon. The day had started out badly at breakfast and gone downhill from there. What she desperately needed was to unburden herself to someone who would listen with an entirely objective ear.
To the annoyance of other motorists, when the light finally changed, she switched lanes and, instead of going straight, made a left turn.
"Good-bye and enjoy your long weekend," Mrs. Hardiman told Worth as he breezed through the outer office.
"I intend to. Take off early tomorrow. Don't hang around here until five o'clock. Get a head start on your Friday."