IT HAD TAKEN A WHILE, BUT I’D FINALLY CALMED Adele down by convincing her someone in the group must have scooped up her work when they were packing up their own.
Adele stopped the frantic search and flopped into one of the chairs we hadn’t folded up. “You’re probably right.”
Typical Adele. She could call me by my last name and hassle me every chance she got, but she forgot it all and expected me to help her when she had some kind of trouble. Dinah had asked me why I didn’t just tell Adele to back off when she got annoying or demanding, and I had explained that I looked at Adele like that cousin everyone has who annoys you no end, but you put up with her because she’s family. Okay, Adele wasn’t family in the real sense of the word, but in a looser sense she was.
I gave Adele a sympathetic smile and went to touch her shoulder. “Pink, just because you helped me look for my marshmallow stitch doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about the rhinestone clipboard,” she said. “I’m going to talk to Mrs. Shedd. I’ve worked at the bookstore longer. I’ve gone to three of the workshop weekends, and you’ve gone to…?”
Adele didn’t let up until I repeated that I had never been to one. After that she tilted her head with a knowing look. “And Pink, just to let you know, if you have any expectations of having a good time, you might as well cancel them. The rhinestone clipboard comes with twenty-four-hour responsibility.”
I tried to dismiss Adele’s warning. I knew about putting on events. Hadn’t I handled countless book signings? Then I started to think about it. I never sat in the audience at events. I was always keyed up and standing just out of sight. And there was the setting up and tearing down. Oh, dear, I hated to admit it, but Adele was right. The rhinestone clipboard came with a definite downside. I would be so busy making sure everything went right, I wouldn’t get to take part in the crochet workshop or have any time for fun.
As I put the table back in the storage room, I realized I’d never gotten a chance to take out the lightweight bubble gum pink scarf I was working on. Was this a preview of the weekend?
Suddenly, another problem surfaced. Barry Greenberg.
Barry Greenberg was my boyfriend, though I thought that title sounded stupid for a homicide detective in his early fifties. I also thought the term dating sounded too giggly and high schoolish. For a long time I had fought the idea of any title connected with our relationship, even though he was definitely woven into the fabric of my life. Barry had wanted us to move on and get engaged or married, but I had resisted. I’d been Mrs. Pink for a lot of years, and I wasn’t ready to be Mrs. Somebody Else yet. So, we basically settled on being just… a couple.
Barry was supposed to come on the retreat with me. He wasn’t going to take part in the workshops, but it had seemed like there would be plenty of time for us to do things together.
It had taken a lot of juggling for him to get the weekend off and make arrangements for his son, Jeffrey, to spend the time at a friend’s house, and we were looking forward to this time away together. Even if I had to help Mrs. Shedd, I was sure I’d be free for moonlight walks along the beach that was supposed to be across the street from the conference center where the retreat was being held. Meals were included, but we figured we’d slip away for dinners on our own. Barry had already made reservations at several restaurants that he promised were heavy on romance. Now that the bucks were going to be stopping with me, there was no way I could slip away for dinner and moonlit strolls. Adele was right. I might as well forget about having a good time.
This was certainly a different turn of events. How many plans had been broken because Barry picked up a homicide? Or he had to fly off somewhere to follow a suspect? Or an important lead came up just as our salad arrived? Sometimes I felt like Barry was married to his job and I was the other woman. Now that the shoe was on the other foot, I was sure he would understand. At least I hoped so.
I took out my cell phone and called. “Greenberg,” Barry said tersely. His tone softened when he heard my voice, but barely. I could hear the adrenaline flowing in his voice, making it high-pitched and choppy as he said something to his partner about making a right turn at the next street. The trouble with cell phones is you never know what somebody is doing when you reach them, or where they are. And I always seem to get Barry at the wrong place.
“What?” he said abruptly, then apologized for being short.
“Maybe this isn’t the best time,” I said.
Barry is not one to put things off, and once he realized I had called for a reason, he insisted on knowing why, even if he was on the way to a situation that was probably dangerous. I gave him the short version. “Basically, I’m calling off our weekend because I have to work.”
“What?” He choked. It wasn’t the kind of what that meant he didn’t hear. It was the kind of what that meant he didn’t understand. Sure, he could always understand his work interrupting everything, but not mine. “But I rearranged everyone’s schedule to get the time off,” he argued. “This is so last-minute. We were leaving tomorrow. C’mon, Molly, how much do you really have to do?” Then suddenly he said he had to hang up, and I heard a lot of sirens in the background.
Apparently the shoe on the other foot didn’t fit so well.
As I was leaving the bookstore caf'e with a red-eye in hand, Mrs. Shedd stopped. She had her purse and was obviously on her way out. Mr. Royal was waiting outside and seemed to be waving at her to hurry up.
“That man is so impatient. I guess we have a lot of time to make up for,” she said, referring to all the years Mr. Royal had been traveling the world. She leaned close and handed me a piece of paper. “I’m sure you won’t need this-it’s only for emergencies.” I glanced down at the elaborate directions on how to reach her. “Joshua surprised me with tickets for a cruise. You know, one of those last-minute deals. We’re off to Mexico.” Her smile suddenly dimmed. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve always been the responsible good soldier. But I thought it was time I did something impulsive and let someone else be the responsible one.” She nodded toward me. “I guess that’s it. Rayaad will be handling things here. And you’ve got the weekend covered.” Her expression focused. “Oh, there was just one more little snafu. The tai chi master I’d lined up canceled at the last minute.” Mrs. Shedd shook her head. “Don’t you just hate it when people are undependable?” She pointed toward the box of packets still in the event area. “Don’t worry, I already found somebody. I put a blank name tag in the box for him and relabeled the folder. You’ll do fine.” And then she was gone. So CeeCee was right. Mrs. Shedd was doing something with Mr. Royal.
Before I could finish my coffee with a shot of espresso, a black Crown Victoria stopped in the red zone in front of the bookstore. Barry got out and rushed inside.
As always when he was working, he wore a nicely fitting dark suit and a subdued tie, but whatever he’d been in the middle of had left him looking frazzled. He ran his hand through his neatly cut dark hair, and for a moment emotion cut into his expressionless cop face. He didn’t look happy.
He crossed the space between us in a few steps. His dark eyes were flaring by the time he reached me.
“Babe, you can’t just dump our plans.” He glanced around and, seeing that no one was looking, put his arms around me. Generally, when he was working, he was completely hands free. “C’mon. I won’t be in the way. How much time can it really take? You have to eat and you have to sleep and you have to get some kind of breaks. I had big plans,” he said, his voice heavy with suggestion.
His proximity was giving a lot of weight to his argument, and the thought of his plans made me a little rubbery in the knees. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend time with him, it was just that I now had more responsibility. For a moment I started to weaken. Was I really listening to Adele and her warning? Hadn’t Mrs. Shedd told me to have fun? What better way to have fun than to spend some quality time with Barry? But then my good sense kicked in. I had the rhinestone clipboard and the responsibility that went with it. I didn’t want to be thinking of how I could slip away every minute. I wanted my mind focused on the job at hand. And that meant no distractions. No Barry.
When he finally accepted that he couldn’t change my mind, Barry double-timed it outside, and a moment later the car pulled away. I packed up the box of presenters’ packets along with the rhinestone clipboard and headed for home. This weekend was not going to be a vacation.