“How are things with you, Ana?”
For a moment, I hesitate, and I have Mom’s full attention.
“Ana? Have you met someone?” Wow… how does she do that? The excitement in her voice is palpable.
“No, Mom, it’s nothing. You’ll be the first to know if I do.”
“Ana, you really need to get out more, honey. You worry me.”
Later that evening, I call Ray, my stepdad, Mom’s Husband Number Two, the man I consider my father, and the man whose name I bear. It’s a brief conversation. In fact, it’s not so much a conversation as a one-sided series of grunts in response to my gentle coaxing. Ray is not a talker. But he’s still alive, he’s still watching soccer on TV, and going bowling and fly-fishing or making furniture when he’s not. Ray is a skilled carpenter and the reason I know the difference between a hawk and a handsaw. All seems well with him.
Friday night, Kate and I are debating what to do with our evening – we want some time out from our studies, from our work, and from student newspapers – when the doorbell rings.
Standing on our doorstep is my good friend José, clutching a bottle of champagne.
“José! Great to see you!” I give him a quick hug. “Come in.”
José is the first person I met when I arrived at WSU, looking as lost and lonely as I did.
We recognized a kindred spirit in each of us that day, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Not only do we share a sense of humor, but we discovered that both Ray and José Senior were in the same army unit together. As a result, our fathers have become firm friends too.
“Please, Anastasia.” His tongue caresses my name, and my heart once again is frantic.
“I have news.” He grins, his dark eyes twinkling.
“Don’t tell me – you’ve managed not to get kicked out for another week,” I tease, and he scowls playfully at me.
“The Portland Place Gallery is going to exhibit my photos next month.”
“That’s amazing – congratulations!” Delighted for him, I hug him again. Kate beams at him too.
“Way to go José! I should put this in the paper. Nothing like last minute editorial changes on a Friday evening.” She grins.
“Let’s celebrate. I want you to come to the opening.” José looks intently at me. I flush.
“Both of you, of course,” he adds, glancing nervously at Kate.
José and I are good friends, but I know deep down inside, he’d like to be more. He’s cute and funny, but he’s just not for me. He’s more like the brother I never had. Katherine often teases me that I’m missing the need-a-boyfriend gene, but the truth is – I just haven’t met anyone who… well, whom I’m attracted to, even though part of me longs for those trembling knees, heart-in-my-mouth, butterflies-in-my-belly, sleepless nights.
Kate is ecstatic.
“But what was he doing at Clayton’s?” Her curiosity oozes through the phone. I’m in the depths of the stock room, trying to keep my voice casual.
“He was in the area.”
“I think that is one huge coincidence, Ana. You don’t think he was there to see you?”
she speculates. My heart lurches at the prospect, but it’s a short-lived joy. The dull, disappointing reality is that he was here on business.
“He was visiting the farming division of WSU. He’s funding some research,” I mutter.
“Oh yes. He’s given the department a $2.5 million grant.”
“How do you know this?”
“Ana, I’m a journalist, and I’ve written a profile on the guy. It’s my job to know this.”
“Okay, Carla Bernstein, keep your hair on. So do you want these photos?”
“Of course I do. The question is, who’s going to do them and where.”
“We could ask him where. He says he’s staying in the area.”
“You can contact him?”
“I have his cell phone number.”