Read an Excerpt
Cathy Thompson’s long nails beat an impatient tempo against the Formica countertop as she waited.
“Yes, I’ll hold,” she said, and breathed heavily into the telephone receiver. Her deep gray eyes clashed with Linda Ericson’s, who sat at the table, a large newspaper spread over the top.
“Any luck?” Linda whispered.
A voice at the other end of the line interrupted Cathy’s response, and she straightened, her fingers tightening around the phone. “This is Cathy Thompson again.” The inflection of her voice conveyed the irritation. “Would it be possible to speak to Grady Jones?”
“Grady’s in the air,” a gruff male voice informed her. “Be with you in a minute, Harry,” he said to someone who was obviously waiting in his office.
“When do you expect him back?” Cathy asked in her most businesslike voice.
A lengthy pause followed, and Cathy could hear the rustle of paper in the background. “Thursday afternoon. Will you hold the line a minute?”
Cathy’s sigh was full of exasperation. Cradling the telephone receiver against her shoulder with the side of her head, she pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil. As she looked up she happened to catch a glimpse of the school play yard. The sights and sounds of the last recess of the day drifted in through the open window. Her gray eyes softened as she unconsciously sought Angela Jones. A frown creased her narrow forehead as she discovered the pigtailed first-grader leaning against the play shed, watching the other girls jump rope. Angela always seemed to be on the outside looking in.
“Do you want to leave a message?” The harried male voice came back on the phone.
“I’ve already left four,” Cathy snapped.
“Listen, all I do is take the message. If Grady doesn’t return your call, it’s not my fault.” He hesitated. “Are you the gal from the school again?”
“Yes, I’m the gal from the school again.” She echoed his words, doing her best to disguise her frustration.
“All I can tell you is that Grady is flying on assignment. I’ll tell him you phoned.”
The man wasn’t to blame if Grady Jones didn’t wish to speak to her, and Cathy’s reply was less agitated. “Please do that.” Gently, she replaced the receiver in its cradle.
“Well?” Linda looked up expectantly.
“No luck. It’s the same as before. They’ll take a message, but he won’t be back until Thursday afternoon.”
“What are you going to do?” Linda asked, concern knitting her brow.
Cathy shrugged. “Maybe it’s time I personally introduced myself to the elusive Grady Jones. He’ll have a hard time not talking to me if I show up at the airfield.” Cathy had done her research well. The school information card had been sketchy. The card listed the father’s occupation as pilot, employed by Alaska Cargo Company. No business phone number had been given, and when Cathy looked it up in the yellow pages she found a large commercial ad. The fine print at the bottom of the advertisement stated that Grady Jones was the company owner. The information card had stated that Angela had no mother. Cathy had found the comment an interesting one. How could any child not have a mother? It could be that Angela’s parents were divorced. What Cathy couldn’t understand was how someone as unconcerned and uncaring as Grady Jones could have been awarded custody of the child. Cathy had tried on several occasions to contact him at home, but the only adult she had ever reached was a housekeeper, who promised to give him a message. Cathy had stopped counting the times she’d left messages for him.
“After all the trouble you’ve gone through, I’d say that’s about the only way you’re going to get his attention.”
“Believe me, I won’t have any problem getting his attention. His ears will burn for a week.”
“Cathy …” Linda warned, her large brown eyes worried. “Alienating Angela’s father won’t help her.”
“I know, but I can’t help but dislike the man.”
The bell rang, indicating the end of recess. Emitting a soft groan, Cathy turned around. “Back to the salt mine.” It had been another break wasted trying to contact a parent. Next time she’d pour herself a cup of coffee before making a phone call.
“Don’t go yet,” Linda called. “I want to read you this personal.”
“Linda,” Cathy said with a sigh, but she knew better than to argue. Her friend would insist that she listen anyway. “All right, but be quick about it.”
Rustling the paper, Linda sat upright and read. “Sincere gentleman seeking sincere lady for sincere relationship—”
“Mom.” Cathy had strived to brush off Paula Thompson’s concern. “MaryAnne and I cut the apron strings when we moved out and got an apartment of our own. From now on you’re only supposed to give advice when we ask. Remember?” Her words were a teasing reminder of what their mother had told them when they decided to move in together. Although her mother never mentioned a word again about MaryAnne and Steve, the question was in her eyes.
Six weeks had passed, and still Steve continued to play his game in an attempt to make her jealous. If she hadn’t been so stubborn she would have seen what was happening. Twice MaryAnne had come to her.
“You don’t mind, do you?” The gray eyes so like her own had pleaded. “I’d stop seeing him in a minute if our relationship was hurting you in any way.”
Cathy had laughed lightly. “It’s over,” she said with a flippant air. “It was over a long time ago. There’s no need to concern yourself.”
Then one night MaryAnne had burst into the apartment and proudly displayed the beautiful diamond engagement ring. Cathy had been shocked. This was carrying things to an extreme. Steve had gone too far. She wasn’t going to allow him to use her little sister like this for another minute.
The argument when she’d confronted Steve had been loud and bitter. They’d hurled accusations at each other faster and sharper than a machine gun.
All through the preparations for the wedding Cathy had expected Steve to put a halt to things. It was unbelievable that a minor disagreement three months before had been allowed to go this far.
Throughout the time they had prepared for the wedding, MaryAnne had been radiantly happy. A hundred times Cathy had to bite her tongue to keep from saying. “Listen, Sis, I’m not completely sure Steve loves you. He loves me, I know he does.” Maybe she should have said it. The message was in her eyes; her mother read it the morning of the wedding. Steve saw it as she marched up the aisle preceding her sister. It was there when the minister pronounced Steve and MaryAnne man and wife.
The memory of those words seemed to echo, assaulting her from all sides. Urgently, Cathy stood and pushed her chair to the table. She needed to get out, away from the memories, the hurt.
“Bring me the leash, Peterkins,” she said to her dog, who promptly stepped into the bedroom and pulled the rhinestone-studded strap off the chair. Cathy paused, fingering the red leather. The leash had been another gift from Steve. Would he continue to haunt her for the rest of her life? Would it always be like this?
For two months after the wedding Cathy had walked around in a haze of pain and disillusionment. This couldn’t be happening to her. This wasn’t real. It became almost impossible to hide her emotions from her family. She had to get away, to the ends of the earth. Alaska. The opportunity to work as a basic skills instructor had come as a surprise. Her application had been submitted months before. She had never intended to accept the job, even if it was offered to her. She had done it to tease Steve, telling him if he didn’t proclaim his undying love she’d abandon him for parts unknown. Willingly, Steve had obliged. When she hadn’t heard from the school district, Cathy was relieved. It had been a fluke, a joke. Now it was her salvation, a lifeline to sanity.
No one had understood her reasons for going—except her mother, and perhaps Steve. With a sense of urgency she had gone about building a new life for herself. Forming friendships, reaching out. It was only in the area of men that she withdrew, held back. Eventually that reserve would abate. A soft smile curved up the edges of her lips. Linda and those crazy personal ads she was always reading to her. If her friend had anything to do with it, Cathy would be married by Christmas.