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A Change of Plans

published by Wings-Press, 2002

 

By the time Thursday came, Zach was like a caged tiger. He hadn’t seen Cara all week and the thought that he might have to wait until the fourth of July to see her again nearly drove him crazy. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, he decided, as he snatched up the phone.

As it turned out, he couldn’t have picked a better time to call and invite her to lunch. Her morning appointment had ended early and her afternoon appointment had been pushed back an hour. "How does twelve-thirty sound?" she asked.

"Are you kidding, that sounds great. I was holding my breath until you answered, but to be honest I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in hell to see you today."

"Well, don’t start melting on me," she teased. "You’ve already committed yourself to buying me lunch. It has to be something fast, though. I can’t afford more than an hour."

"I know the perfect place. There’s a pizza restaurant with a wood-burning oven not far from either of us. They make great pizzas and the service is fast. We should be out in less than an hour."

He was waiting at the front door of the restaurant when she arrived twenty minutes later.

"I certainly hope that smile on your face is because of me," he said, holding the door open for her.

Cara treated him to one of her broadest smiles. "Well it’s partly because of you."

She had to be teasing him. "Oh? And to what, or who, do I owe the competition?"

They followed the hostess to a table by a window. He held out a chair for her and before she was seated she rushed on with the reason for her elation. "The real estate Agent called right before I left. It looks like the sellers of the property across the Lake won’t need the extra time after all. Things should start moving fast now."

"That’s great news," he mumbled, handing her a menu. He took one for himself, and studied it in silence for the next couple of minutes.

Caught up in her excitement, Cara chattered on. "Once the deal is closed and June is behind me I can really start digging in my heels and begin the renovation and remodeling. If things go smoothly I could be in my new home well before the end of the year, after all."

Zach felt as though he was on a sinking ship. He kept his attention focused on the menu. "I’m really happy things are working out."

The lack of enthusiasm in his voice didn’t escape Cara this time. "You don’t sound happy."

"Well, I am," he retorted. "I’m just not happy that you seem so eager to move fifty miles away right now. I thought we’d be spending more time together once your busy season was over." He snapped the menu closed and plopped it down in the middle of the table.

Cara caught her lower lip between her teeth. She opened her menu, ran down the list of toppings that were offered, quickly rattled off her three favorites, then just as quickly excused herself and made a dash for the ladies room.

He wanted to kick himself. He couldn’t believe he had made such a gaffe. The joy he felt just a few minutes ago had vanished. All he felt now was fear. Fear that he would lose her to more than distance.

He had known almost from the first minute they met that she was planning to move. But how could he have possibly known then that he would become involved with her and that her moving away would affect him so much? The extension of time had actually given him hope that she wouldn’t be moving in the very near future. But that seemed to be changing now and the realization of a more imminent separation struck him hard.

As soon as Cara returned, he set out to make amends. "I’m sorry for what I said," he blurted, reaching across the table for her hand. "It just hit me all of a sudden that before long you’re going to be miles and miles away."

"It isn’t as if you didn’t know I was moving," she said. "Besides, it’s only across the Lake, not across the country." She refused to look at him, although she made no move to take her hand from his.

Desperate to salvage what he could of the rest of their time together, he leaned toward her. "Go on," he ordered, "bite my head off, pour cold water on me, slug me, gouge my eyes out, do anything you can think of to hurt me. I deserve it."

Cara looked at him for a long time. He hoped she might break out in a smile for him, but instead she became notably serious.

"I have to know now if you can handle the fact that my business consumes most of my time." She slipped her hand from his, reached for her water glass and took a long drink. When she finished, she looked at him thoughtfully for a few seconds before she spoke. "Unlike yours, my business is far from where I want it to be. I’m more than willing to meet the demands it makes on me."

She was telling him nothing he didn’t already know. She was asking for nothing he wasn’t already prepared to give. He had rehearsed his answer to the question countless times, late at night when he lay in bed unable to sleep. "I can’t say the demands your business makes on your time, doesn’t bother me, because it does. I’ve missed you like hell these past couple of days. Maybe I’m selfish, but I keep wishing you had more time for me."

He reached across the table and found her hand again. When she didn’t pull it away, it gave him courage to continue. "I can’t promise I won’t growl about it, or try to wrangle extra time with you. But, if you forgive me, I will promise never to act like such an insensitive ass ever again. I don’t want to lose you."

Later, after Cara was settled behind the wheel of her car, Zach leaned inside the open window and lifted her chin with his finger. "I know this next week is going to be murder for you, but if you get another chance for a quick break, just remember, I’m available."

"I’ll remember," she replied.

He waved her on her way and then walked back to his car. His step wasn’t as light as it had been when he arrived. But then his heart wasn’t as heavy as it had been when his brusqueness had driven her from the table. It would take patience to deal with this situation. He had always considered himself a patient man. But that was before he met Cara Lewis--he knew she was going to test his patience to the limit.

 

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