Here is the continuation of Time and Time Again by Bonnie Grove (click here to read the first two chapters). Feel free to share this link, or to refer to/copy to this work on your blog–simply link back to Fiction Matters and be sure to list me as the author.
“Sit down.” Brad doesn’t look up from his computer screen. I close his office door behind me, hiding a smile. It has been only a few hours since the debriefing about the time traveler, and Brad has given in already. He called me to his office moments ago to discuss my “interests in the new patient”.
I sit in one of the two compact leather chairs in front of his desk, cross my legs and swing my foot back and forth, slow as a metronome. I’m the picture of practiced indifference, but my stomach quivers. Brad is blandly good looking. A one-time quarterback now washed out from too many hours indoors behind a desk, softened by too many quickly eaten meals. His hair is neither blond nor brown, and when he bends his head down, I see it’s thinning on top.
He looks up and watches my low-heeled black pump tick off the seconds. I’d dug the shoes out from behind my desk before I’d come. They are hardly red carpet glamour, but set against the institutional environment of The Center, they’re darn right sexy. The look in Brad’s eyes tells me they’ve accomplished their task. In the four years I’d been working at The Center, I’ve seen that particular greedy expression on his face millions of times, although it’s rare for him to focus his gaze on my foot. I melt back in my chair, casual as an old friend.
Brad glances at the door behind me, mouth open, as if expecting an intruder to enter the room the moment he speaks. “Gwen, I want you to know about some recent developments in the time traveler’s case.”
I sit straight, my spine a soldier at attention. I knew he wouldn’t leave me out.
He says, “I’ve called in Dr. Svenson.” My eyes widen, the only indication I’ve heard him, the only record of my shock. Brad taps his middle finger on a short stack of papers on the desk in front of him, his look grim. I understand the gesture. There’s an old glitch in my paperwork, my dissertation, or rather, the lack of one. I haven’t handed it in, haven’t defended, and therefore still do not possess my doctorate. It’s an oversight, a technicality I’ll rectify when I can make the time. Besides, I’ve been head of The Center’s psychology department for nearly two years after the sudden departure of Dr. Ahmed. I’ve been doctor enough for that position, why isn’t that enough for Brad today? For the time traveler?
The look on Brad’s face tells me not only is he calling in Dr. Svenson, but I’m being cut out completely. Dr. Svenson, internationally known expert in hypnosis and psychotherapy, and world class blow-hard, will work with the time traveler. Not me. Brad continues, “Dr. Svenson is a logical choice given his vast knowledge and expertise.”
I glare at the floor so Brad can’t read the contempt in my eyes. Svenson has expertise in time travelers? Are you kidding? “Brad,” I say, forcing myself to look him in the eye. “I’m happy to work under Dr. Svenson.” A tactical statement. I have no intention of working in any capacity with the Norwegian pop-tart. But negotiations begin in middle ground. When he doesn’t answer, I press, “I’d be honored.”
He gets up and stares out the window, his back to me. The sun streams in, but I don’t feel its warmth. He says, “He’s gone.”
The seconds count off, one, two, three. I say, “You mean—“
His face is turned away. “The time traveler. He disappeared a little over an hour ago.” He snaps his fingers, indicating a flash of time.
I feel the finger snap in my spine. He traveled. I’d give anything to have seen it happen, to have been there. “How does it work? I mean, will he return?”
He looks up, as if the sky or the old growth forest that surrounds The Center might have the answers. “We don’t know. He wasn’t here long enough for us to fully assess him. He wasn’t exactly—” Brad pauses, then says—“Calm.”
Score one for the rumor mill. A jolt in my stomach. We are sitting here, discussing a time traveler. For a moment I feel the urge to laugh. Instead, I say. “Brad, look at me.”
He doesn’t move. I’m losing this argument – not something I’m accustomed to. I glance down at my elegant shoes. Should I get up and stand with Brad at the window? Stoke his ego? Admire aloud the breathtaking view and ingenuity it took to build this vast, modern complex in the middle of protected land? Maybe touch his shoulder, or smooth the back of his suit jacket? I’m more than aware of his attraction to me.
But I do none of those things. Instead I say, “You called in Svenson. You must think the time traveler will return….”
He turns and the look on his face startles me. Some powerful emotion pulses behind his eyes, his gaze pins me to my seat. “Obviously, we hope so. But who knows? If he does return, Svenson will take the case.” His flattened tone belies his intense expression.
“Help me understand your decision, Brad.” .
He sits behind his desk and leans forward, chin on chest, like a doctor about to deliver news of inoperable cancer. “You should have seen it, Gwen. Watching him fight off four security guards.”
Damn right I should have seen it. Unconsciously, I lean toward him, not wanting to miss a word.
“He broke a guard’s arm.” Brad says, voice as low as a lover’s.
I’m a child at the campfire, letting the story wash over me. I ask no questions, I only listen, balled fists in lap, bursting with intrigue. I want to crawl inside Brad’s mind, see his memories. There’s something about the time traveler. It’s more than professional pride. I feel pulled to him in a way I’ve never experience with my patients. He brushes against my mind like a phantom memory.
Brad puts a finger to his lips, face puckered in concentration. “Watching him disappear – astonishing. Solid and real as anything, then gone,” He pauses.
I push myself to the edge of the chair and lean on the desk. He looks at me as if for the first time, as if he’d forgotten who he was talking to. “But what fascinated me most, Gwen, was what he said as he disappeared.” Brad’s muddy eyes flicker over me like a tongue. “He was calling your name.”
You can’t change the past. People wonder about that when they play “let’s pretend” games about time travel. They ask, ‘what would you change if you could go back in time and relive high school?’ They speculate how, because you are there – a future you in a past event – you can successfully change what happened. Nonsense. Nothing changes. Nothing important anyway. You can’t change the past. The past changes you.
I’m visiting a key moment in my past right now. I’ve traveled from The Center, where I have been for the last four days, and am visiting myself at age ten. We’re in his bedroom; me lying on the bed, hands behind my head, waiting for him to stop feeling sorry for himself. Actually, it will be years before he stops the self-pity. Before he realizes the time travel, unlike growing pains or puberty, won’t go away. And years more until he accepts it – how many I don’t know because it hasn’t happened yet. At age thirty-four, I sometimes still believe this is a cosmic joke, trickery. Something God could easily change His mind about.
“It’s true?” he says, not looking at me. His voice quakes a little with unshed tears.
“’Fraid so.” I close my eyes and think about the comfort I cannot offer him. All he wants is for me to tell him he’s normal. At age ten he has had only one or two brief time travel experiences. So brief, so shocking, he can still deny their reality. He wonders if all he needs is a pair of glasses to help stop the episodes of double vision. Maybe a doctor could prescribe something to manage the weird feeling of being present, absent, and present all at once. He tells himself what has happened to him has not happened at all. My arrival has shattered all that – and more.
I lie still, let him take me in— himself as a man. This is the first time his future has folded in on itself. He looks like he might start crying, and for a moment I’m tempted to take it personally. I recall feeling let down that my adult self wasn’t handsome, or heroic. That I’d look so ordinary. He is being forced to pack away any number of dreams about his what-might-be. After a long moment, I say, “You’ll have to take up soccer.”
He pouts. “I hate soccer.”
Age ten was not my best year. He is short and slightly overweight, homage to his love of reading and the habit of his classmates to choose him last for any sports team. Parcels of baby fat cling to his cheeks and his belly pushes against his oversized T-shirt. In my time, I’m too thin to even be fashionable. I say, “I know. But you won’t make the track team until high school, and you need to learn to run now.”
I sit up. “It helps.”
I sigh. Was I ever this dense? Or maybe my practiced self-editing is too circumspect for him. He’s so young. I barely recall being him – this child. Time travel grows you up fast. “You need to be in good shape when you travel. I spend a great deal of time running.” Either toward something, or from something. I’m always running on the treadmill of time.
He’ll understand soon enough. He’ll stop reading C.S. Lewis’s fiction, and will pick up his apologias. Later, he will discover Kant, Barth, and Augustine. When puberty hits the time travel will increase and he’ll focus his efforts on trying to remain in his own time. He’ll believe he can prevent himself traveling when he kisses a girl for the first time, or attends a party where the music blares and people dance, or when he tries out for the track team, running so hard his heart feels like it will explode. He’ll be wrong.
He pulls at his hands and fingers. “What happens to me?”
“Many things, but the important part is you’re fine. You’ll be okay.” This feels like a lie, but in many respects it is absolute truth. I’m healthy, apart from headaches. He will survive school by dropping out in grade twelve when the time travels become more frequent and last longer. He will move away and carve out a life in the best place to remain hidden – the world of the working poor. No one notices you, no employer is surprised when you don’t show up for your shift, no landlord raises an eyebrow when you open the door, bruised and staggering and tell him you don’t have his rent money. He will not be happy, but he will be okay.
He nods, but frowns. He doesn’t want to know he’ll get though it. He wants me to tell him it will stop, that he’s normal, will be normal in the future. It’s the same desire that kicks at me even now. Even in the midst of the tests and my distrust of The Center. I’m a ten-year-old boy still hoping.
“You like to read, right ?”
“Yeah. Sorta.” He won’t look at me. He hates to admit his passion for reading to anyone, even himself. He knows he’s expected to love baseball and violent movies. But he doesn’t. He loves books.
“Mom’s family bible is in the basement.”
“Okay,” he says, uninterested.
“Go get it tomorrow morning. Bring it up here and start reading.” I remember the day I found Mom’s forgotten bible. I started reading Job and thought it must be some sort of joke, a mere stage play. I left Job to his whirlwind and flipped the pages, landing at Song of Solomon. That got my attention. And I kept reading from there.
“Why?” he says.
“Because.” My vision blurs. “God is too big to leave out of the equation. I’m leaving now. You hang on. . .” my voice trails off. I grope for a last scrap of comfort to offer him. “Hang on,” I say again, but I am gone and am back in my room at The Center. The blank walls. The locked door. How did I end up here?
After my future self left my apartment with Greg, I sat thinking in the dark for a long time. Then I got up and went for a walk. I walked all night and into the next morning, stopping only for coffee. I walked all afternoon and by the time the sun was setting I had walked out of town and right up to the doors of The Center – a place I’d never been before, yet somehow knew how to find. I walked in the front doors and said to the receptionist, “I’m Morris Semper. You might be looking for me.”
You can’t change the past.
Bernie is crying. Big grey head in his hands, he sobs like a lost child. In a way, that’s exactly what he is. He’s sixty-seven years old, but he doesn’t know it – age is meaningless to him. A stroke took away most of his memory and nearly all of his self-understanding.
I stand in the doorway and take him in for a beat, then glare at the two nurses who have been trying to ready Bernie for today’s tests. One of them, Franco, a young man with the bedside manner of a sociopath, holds three wires in his hand. These are connected to the electrodes he’s been trying to stick on Bernie’s forehead. Seems Bernie has other plans.
Franco sees me and crosses his arms, defensive. “He’s been fighting us for twenty-minutes.” He glances at the other nurse, a pretty, round-faced girl who looks like she belongs in high school, or working at Blockbuster. Her eyes flitter around the room, focusing on nothing. Happily, she does not speak.
Tense and distracted by my conversation with Brad about the time traveler, I simply take the electrodes from Franco’s hand. “Please leave.” I point to the door. “He is a person, Franco, not a machine,” I say, my teeth grinding together. “You can’t force him. We’ve discussed this.”
“But we’re implementing pre-test protocols,” he says, exchanging a look with the other nurse. “We have to gather this data on him before he goes to physiology.”
Franco thinks I’m soft on protocol. He never fails to point out each time he believes I’ve bent the rules to suit a patient’s mood. When I tell him the comfort of the patient matters more than the tests, he narrows his eyes in an attempt to keep from rolling them at me. A lecture about treating patients with courtesy and dignity pushes at my lips, but I hold it back. “How much useful data will phys get from an uncooperative subject?”
Franco doesn’t answer. The other nurse hands me several more wires and heads for the door.
Franco hesitates, eyes flicker to the security camera staring from the far end of the room, then follows the girl out. “I don’t need you to tell me how this department works,” I tell the closed door.
I turn to Bernie, run my hand across his shoulder and arm. “Shh, shh”
“Stop?” he says between sobs.
“Yes. They’ve stopped. I sent them away.”
Bernie lifts his head, points at the expensive, state of the art portable EEG machine. “Stop.” His face shines with tears. Big Bernie. Retired construction worker who, before the stroke, was divorced from his third wife and facing charges of assault stemming from an incident between him and his second ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Flash temper, his medical history chart says, but a brain bleed changed all that. After recovering from the initial stroke, everyone was amazed to discover that the Bernie they knew—foul tempered, foul mouthed, self-centered—had disappeared. But that isn’t what brought him to The Center. What brought him here is far more remarkable.
I help Bernie down from the exam table and the moment his feet touch the floor he wraps his arms around me. “Tanks. Stop. Tanks.”
I pat his back. The stroke has done nothing to diminish his remarkable strength. If he wanted to, he could knock me over with a swipe of his paw. “You’re welcome, Bernie. You stop crying, okay?”
He nods, and wipes his nose on the sleeve of his sweater. He shuffles out the door. I know where he’s going and I follow. Dr. Aatoon Ahmed taught me the best way to get a patient to work with you and eventually follow protocol is to learn to work with the patient – the opposite of what Franco had been doing. I’ve spent the better part of six months trying to understand Bernie’s routine, his wants, his mind. I’m patient. You can’t force answers from a damaged brain, you coax, wait, notice everything. In time, the secrets reveal themselves. Bernie is about to reveal some now.
He enters the playroom- which is actually an observation room, where we can view patients as they interact with any number of play items like games, puzzles, books, toys, and a beautiful upright piano. A large mirror takes up half the far wall. It’s a two way mirror where we can observe without influencing what happens in the room. I glance at my reflection. I look tense, unhappy.
Bernie sits at the piano and begins to play. His hands—chunks of meat shaped like concrete blocks—coax such glory from the instrument that I feel it in my spine, like always.
Eyes closed, now oblivious to my presence, he pulls notes of lament and desire from some hidden place inside the piano. The room fills with the sound of his regret, of everything he has left undone. The ache fills my body; notes of unfinished hope flood me. Unlike Bernie, I can’t name my regrets, am not even aware of them, until Bernie plays slow and dark and I feel them well up like a near-breaking wave.
I sit beside him on the bench and place my narrow hand over one of his. “Got anything happy inside you today, Bernie?”
Bernie startles and stops playing. He pouts at the keyboard, upset with me for interrupting.
I nudge him gently. “What about something happy?”
He nudges me back, grins, and digs in. His new song is a peppy jig. I’m amazed how easy it is to change a patient’s mood, just like Aatoon showed me.
Aatoon taught by example. Shortly after I started working here, her future-telling patient David flew into a rage. I was in her office with her when she got the call from the nurse observing David. She turned to me and said, “Come with me. You’ll learn something valuable today.”
The scene that met us was chaos. David screamed and flailed while several staff worked to restrain him. Dr. Ahmed spoke a single word, not to David, but to the men holding him down, “Stop,” and then waved them off the boy. She pulled an iPod from her pocket and hit play. The song ‘Candy Man and Salty Dog’ filled the room. “Let’s sing, David,” she said. The boy’s guttural moans continued unabated, but he wasn’t kicking, wasn’t flailing anymore. Now he fixated on the iPod.
Two old maids sittin’ in the sand
One were a she
The other were a man
Salty dog, candy man
Aatoon sang along, the boy grunted, and when the song finished, David reached for the iPod and hit replay. As Aatoon walked beside him to his room, she said to me, “When a patient’s behavior becomes difficult, too many so-called professionals think brute force is the answer.” We left him in his room sitting near the window, happily grunting along with the child’s tune. She said, “But subduing is much more effective. It isn’t controlling the patient.” Her accent was slight, often undetectable, except when she was passionate about the subject. Now, her voice lilted, chattered. She spoke quickly, “It is helping the patient control himself.”
And Bernie at the piano now is proof of that statement. A nudge, a question and I had helped guide his emotions, but he is the one now in control of himself. His eyes are closed again, his mouth goes slack, and I know he is in theta waves. I don’t always need a machine to read Bernie’s remarkable brain wave activity. Like a small child, he spends most of his time in the twilight of theta waves, his imagination disconnected from reality.
“Where’d you learn to play, Bernie? Who taught you?” I say, knowing what he will answer.
He keeps his eyes closed. “God,” he says, the word thick. He has trouble forming sounds, but the effort of speaking doesn’t cause him to stumble or pause his playing. “God taught.”
A stroke is no cause to sing praises to God, but for Bernie, his stroke came as close to a religious experience as he’d ever encountered. It transformed his personality, robbed his memory of past evils, and bestowed upon him the gift of music. Before his stroke, Bernie didn’t listen to the radio never mind play an instrument. Now, he lives to play piano. His god is in his head.
“Will you let me put the cap on you?” I say. Sometimes, when he reacts against the individual electrodes, like he did with Franco and the other nurse, he will allow us to use the cap—a shower cap type device with electrodes built into it—over his head while he plays. It isn’t as accurate, and he won’t wear it long because it makes his head sweat, but it is better than nothing. And now that he is calm, I hope to he will consent.
His fingers continue to fly. “Nope,” he says, his attention on the piano. “Nope, nope, nope.” He refuses in tempo.
I can’t help but smile. Bernie is a Mack truck, and there is no explaining pre-test protocol with a Mack truck.
Bernie’s tune changes, swells into a melancholy song that sweeps up the room. The notes paint a picture of some idyllic pasture, soft, green, a home he’s never seen. He is crying again, great tears rolling down meaty cheeks, the sounds his hand produce speak the words he no longer can. I sit still, watching his hands, feeling the miracle of it and am nearly tempted to pray to Bernie’s God of the stroke. How can trauma to the brain produce such poignant order? But after a few minutes, I can actually hear those words –they’re a question. Where is my love? Where is my lover?
The words, I realize, are not Bernie’s, but my own, they pour from my mind, filling in the ache that the music leaves.
He called your name.
Something wrenches inside my chest, and I get up from the bench and walk to the door. I‘m overwhelmed with the need to get away from the music and the thoughts it invokes in me. Bernie will be safe here alone with his hollowed out regrets. He’ll play until he wants to sleep.
I’m nearly out of the room when the music stops.
“Sad,” Bernie says, not looking at me.
I turn to him. “Yes,” I say to his back. My voice is soft but even. “You’re feeling sad today.”
He swings his legs high to clear the bench and turns to face me. “You sad.” He points at me. “Piano says.”
I can’t help but ask the clarifying question, “Do you mean you think I am sad?”
Bernie nods, tuffs of grey hair bob up and down. “Piano says.” He picks his legs up again and swings them to face the piano. The room fills with the same cloying song.
I retreat to my office, and slam the door far harder than I intended. Bernie’s case is complicated enough to study and document without adding delusions to the mix. Bernie has always used the piano to speak for him, he has never before indicated the piano speaks to him. More than that, it might signal I’ve missed something important in his gifting diagnosis.
And the piano was talking about me.
I sit at my desk and pull Bernie’s case file up on my computer, but hesitate. The cursor flashes, but my thoughts jumble and I can’t think straight. I get up and look out the window. The psychology pod of The Center is on the third floor at the back of the complex. The view from my window is lovely. To my right, there’s a patch of forest that goes for miles. To the left, more trees, but they break in the distance, revealing the grassy common area that travels south to meet the river. Dominating the view is a massive, gnarled and knotted tree that rises out of the forest like a giant. It looks as if it spent most of it’s ancient life carrying water on it’s back. Huge arthritic limbs twist upward to the sky, then at a knuckle change direction and grow straight down toward the ground. In the spring, the leaves bud the tenderest green, and in winter the wind sweeps it bare, reveling the swollen, distorted branches. It’s March. Spring is still a promise, and the bare tree shivers in the wind. I think of this tree as one belonging to the selfish giant who came to love the children who breeched his wall and played among the branches. Bent and distorted by time and the elements, it is oddly welcoming.
Where is my love? Where is my lover?
He called your name.
Why my name? Who is this man? How could he know me? I pull my thoughts around me. It’s useless to moon over a song. I check the wall clock, well after noon. I’ll eat first, maybe under the tree, and deal with patient files when I can get my head together.
I’m in the belly of the Whale. The cafeteria is in the first basement of The Center. The second basement, directly below the where I am standing with tray in hand, is the morgue. The Center’s complex blueprint consists of separate pods connected by shared halls and elevators. Each pod focuses on a different discipline of science, studying a specific aspect of human life. This means parts of The Center run much like a hospital, and all hospitals require a morgue. In my department we don’t deal with physical disease. When our patients require medical intervention or testing, we send them to the appropriate pod to be healed, or, in the cases of extreme age or illness, to die. I don’t think about it.
Except for days like today, when I’m standing in line waiting to pay for a wilting cafeteria salad, and a shiver up my back reminds me I’m standing on temporary graves. It’s as if the cold floor soaks up mortality from the room below.
I pay for my food and look for where to deposit my tray. Stepping right while looking left, I run into a sour-faced man. My tray flips up and the salad lands on my chest and the bottle of water spins off behind me. I pull the tray back and the salad drops to the floor.
“Oh my,” the man says. But he’s not only referring to the mess. I’m used to this reaction, so I wave him away, but he stoops and picks up a handful of arugula and a few stray carrots.
I step away from him a couple of paces. “I’m sure they have staff who deal with these things.” I look around and sure enough, a dark haired woman in a white apron trots toward us, broom in hand. She appears obscenely cheerful for someone about to employ broom and dustpan to a ruined lunch. Up close, she is much younger than I thought, and very pretty – in spite of the hair net which holds her dark, nearly black hair in place. She holds out her hands to the man and he deposits the vegetables into her hands. Several pieces flop to the floor. The woman keeps smiling, patient and amused. “Thanks. I’ll clean it up.”
The man looks up at me, “I’m sorry.”
“These things happen,” I say, flashing an imitation of the young woman’s smile. “Let me help you,” I say to the woman. Both of us pretend not to notice when the man slinks away.
The young woman beams at me. “You have quite an effect on people.” She holds up the salad bowl.
I smile and go hunting for my lost bottle of water. I don’t need to be reminded of my looks. I know all about my blonde hair and oval face and wide set green eyes. Cat-like, I’ve been told. Who cares? I’d rather be taken seriously. Men would rather ogle me than listen to anything I have to say. Once, at a staff meeting, a doctor who conducts stem cell research commented on something I had said by saying, “That was actually an intelligent thought, Gwen.” He spoke in that slow, delighted way one uses to speak to a child. I hate being treated like a kitten playing with an oversized ball of yarn. Look, Gwen is thinking about big things – isn’t that cute?
The cafeteria woman gathers the remaining ruins of my lunch and piles it on the tray.
“Thank you,” I say.
“It’s no bother.” She points to the glass cooler filled with sandwiches and salads. “You can take a replacement salad. No extra charge.”
I eye the puckered cherry tomato rolling around the edge of the tray. “You know what? I’ll pass.”
She laughs, and nudges my arm – an absurdly chummy gesture, but somehow I don’t mind. She stands close to me; a savory aroma clings to her, as if she’s recently returned from India with a shipment of spices. She says, “I don’t blame you. I never eat this food.” She motions me to follow her. “If you want something good for lunch, come with me.” She jerks her head toward the kitchen and walks away.
I’m hungry and curious, so I follow.
The kitchen air is soggy from heat and steam. A small team of aproned workers- all women- roll around each other as they add dashes of salt, sweep onions from a grill, or pull metal bowls from an overhead shelf.
I stand beside my newfound friend in front of a huge grill, and watch as she pours fresh veggies -broccoli, sugar snap peas, bean sprouts and carrots-onto the grill. They sizzle and pop. I stand silently and watch as she adds cubes of chicken and an array of spices. Within minutes, she’s layering the food over a plate of steaming noodles. The aroma is heaven. “I’m Isobel.” She holds up the plate and two forks. “And this is your lunch.”
I take one, grinning. “I’m Gwen. And you, Isobel, are an angel.”
She says, “The plate’s hot. Grab a tray.”
I pick up a neon green tray from a short stack near the door.
“Not those.” Isobel points to a larger stack of brown trays.
She leads the way to the dining room, hollering over her shoulder, “I’m going on break.” We sit across from each other, the plate between us. I dig in, but Isobel sits silently, looking at the food. I say, “This is wonderful.”
She sits very still for another moment, then says, “Thanks.”
We each eat off one half of the plate. A sorority easiness forms between us, which is startling. I rarely feel at ease with new people, even co-workers, preferring the comfort of solitude to forced chatter around the water cooler. But with Isobel, I’m not thinking about the dead people below my feet, or Bernie’s talking piano, not even about the time traveler – although questions about why he called out my name are never far from my mind. That, and why Brad Johnson shut me out.
Isobel turns to the table next to us, interrupting the conversation of the three women sitting there. “He’s back?”
The women’s faces glow with their secret. I missed what they were talking about, but obviously, Isobel didn’t. I stab a broccoli flower with my fork. “Who’s back?”
The older women, a full-faced salt and pepper gal I’d peg for fiftyish, falls over herself to answer. “You don’t know?”
Her two companions grin at each other.
I chew the broccoli. There’s a slight nutty flavor and I mentally remind myself to ask Isobel what sauce she used, but I’m too busy tasting it to ask about it. “Nope.” I pop a piece of carrot into my mouth.
Isobel turns to the beaming trio. “When did this happen?”
Salt and Pepper says, “Last night. Apparently, he walked through the front door like he had something to confess.”
I sit high on my tailbone, spine like a rod. “Who?” But I already know.