Joy Palmer was avoiding him. What should have been obvious after two phone calls didn’t hit him until he’d made four.
Ted was in sad shape. Real sad shape, not to have recognized that sooner. He’d kissed her, and it was as if his common sense had taken a flying leap out the proverbial window.
He’d liked Joy from the first. The woman enthralled him with her unabashed enthusiasm for life. The basketball game had cinched it. Even now he wasn’t sure what had prompted him to tail her to her father’s garage. From there the rest was history.
Unfortunately there was the small problem of Blythe. He needed to talk to her, but when he’d phoned she’d abruptly canceled their date without offering an explanation. He wondered if she’d heard about him and Joy but decided that was impossible. He would clear up matters with Blythe, but he’d wait for her to contact him. She would, he knew, and soon.
Ted left the office ten minutes late, trying to decide what he was going to do about Joy. From the office he headed directly to the Wilshire Grove Retirement Center. He smiled when he found Edith parked in her usual spot. On impulse he walked over and patted the Chevy’s hood.
"There’s no escaping me now,” he told the vehicle, and was confident that if Joy did decide to leave, her car would be most uncooperative. After all, Edith had brought them together.
Ted went directly to Joy’s office. He found her secretary in the outer office. "Joy Palmer, please,” he said as if he had a long-standing appointment.
His method worked as the young woman, who looked like a volunteer or a trainee, flipped through the pages of the appointment book. "I’m sorry, but Joy isn’t here.”
"May I ask where she is?”
Once again the assistant sorted through a variety of pages and then looked up with an apologetic expression. "It says here she’s meeting with the library committee, but—”
"Thanks.” Ted didn’t wait to hear the rest. It wasn’t necessary. With his grandmother as president, he knew more than he ever cared to about her precious committee. No doubt they were meeting in the library.
He found the committee members gathered around a table there. Since his grandmother loved her work so much, he recognized each woman in her small group by name. There was Emily and Thelma, Vera and Lois, Mary Frances, Justine, Dorothy, Joyce, Rachel, and a couple of others who had their heads turned away from him so he couldn’t see their faces.
Joy was one of those.
His grandmother was speaking—quite vehemently, he noted—when she saw him. Surprise caused her to falter, something he guessed didn’t happen often.
"Ted,” she said, recovering quickly.
Ted stepped into the compact room. "I’m sorry to interrupt you ladies,” he said, and his gaze found and connected with Joy’s. He loved the way the color rose up her neck and invaded her pale cheeks. "I need to speak with Joy Palmer, if that would be possible.”
"I’m in the middle of a meeting,” she protested, and looked to Catherine for support. She should have known better.
"It’s all right, dear,” Catherine said ever so sweetly. "We’ve already taken far more of your time than we intended. You go on and talk to your young man.”
This part about the "young man” was said as if she hadn’t a clue who Ted might be.
"Thanks, Grandma,” he said, and winked.
Catherine returned the gesture.
Reluctantly, as if this were the last thing she wanted to do, Joy stood. It took her another couple of minutes to gather her notes and pencils.
By the time she joined him in the hallway outside the library, her face was fire-engine red. "Just exactly what are you doing here?”
"We have a dinner date, remember?”
"I broke it.”
"I got your message. There’re two things you need to know about me, Joy Palmer. Number one, I don’t take ‘no’ easily, and number two, if you have something to tell me, I’d prefer you did it to my face.”
"All right,” she said, squaring her shoulders. "I can’t go to dinner with you.”
"Why can’t you?” he pressed. He wouldn’t make this easy for her, if that was what she assumed. He’d meant what he said about not taking "no” easily.
She stiffened and knotted her hands around the pad and pen she’d clenched against her chest. "Can’t you just accept the fact I changed my mind?” she pleaded, her back pressed against the wall. "Take Blythe.”
"I’m more interested in taking you,” he told her simply. "I can’t and won’t accept the fact you’ve changed your mind.”
Briefly she closed her eyes. She seemed to have gathered some inner strength, because when she opened them again, Ted saw something that hadn’t been there earlier.
"I don’t want to see you again, understand? That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?” Her voice was cool and unemotional, unlike everything he knew her to be.
"It wouldn’t be so hard if I believed it.”
"What do I have to do to convince you? My word should be enough.”
"Not this time.” He backed her against the wall and loomed above her. Her huge eyes followed his movements.
"Let me go,” she insisted indignantly.
"In a minute,” he promised. This wasn’t what he’d planned, but then he didn’t really have a plan. There was only one way he could think of to convince Joy she was lying to herself as much as him. And that was to kiss her.
"S-h-h,” he whispered, lowering his mouth to hers. His kiss was gentle and lengthy and convincing.
He tasted her resistance but outlasted that patiently, outlining the shape of her lips with his tongue. He couldn’t speak for her, but his own heart went into overdrive. Sweet heaven, she tasted good. Unlike anything he’d experienced in a lifetime.
By the time he eased his lips from hers, her eyes remained closed and she was breathing deep and hard. Her hands hung loosely at her sides, and the pen and pad would have fallen to the floor if he hadn’t taken them from her unresisting fingers.
"Now, tell me again you don’t want to see me.”
She shook her head.
"You’re going to dinner with me, Joy.” This was a statement, and he wouldn’t listen to any arguments.
"All right,” she whispered, but she didn’t sound pleased about it. "But only this one time.”
"No.” After he straightened matters out with Blythe, he intended this evening with Joy would be the first of many.
She seemed to find that same strength that had come to her earlier. "Then I won’t go with you this evening.”
"Why?” he asked, needing to know. "Am I so terrible?”
"No,” she returned vehemently. "I…I’ve heard about this sort of thing happening.”
"What sort of thing?”
"With men, right before they become engaged to one woman, they find themselves attracted to another. I don’t want to be a passing fancy to you, Ted. Someone who will entertain and amuse you while you make up your mind about Blythe.”
He laughed at how preposterous this sounded. He wanted to explain that it was over between him and Blythe, but she didn’t give him the chance.
"She’s the one you love, not me,” Joy said. "She’s the one you’ll marry, not me.” And then, as if it cost her dearly to say the words, she stiffened. "I can’t allow you to use me, and that’s what you’d do. If you insist on us dining this evening, then I’ll go along, under the condition I stated. This will be last time I see you.”
Joy could see that Ted was fast losing his patience with her. He’d told her that he wouldn’t be seeing Blythe again, but frankly she didn’t believe him.
"You’re not a passing fancy,” he said for what seemed the hundredth time. "I like you. I want to get to know you better.”
"Then I suggest you get to know some other woman,” she returned in completely reasonable tones. For now she intrigued him, but when the time came, Joy knew beyond a doubt that he’d go back to Blythe.
"All right,” Ted said, ramming his fingers through his hair, "we’ll do this your way. One date, but I’m not going to waste it on an ordinary dinner.”
"Another basketball game,” she suggested.
"No.” He looked at his wristwatch. "Do you have time for coffee?”
"Yes. This is not a date, understand? I want the two of us to sit down together so I can ask you a series of questions.”
"What kind of questions?” Joy didn’t like the sound of this.
"Things that will help me know you better.”
"Why?” she asked skeptically.
His look was filled with wide-eyed innocence. "So I can decide what we should do for our one and only date.”
Joy didn’t understand why he had to make this so difficult. "Can’t we just go to dinner and be done with it?”
"No. If you’ll only agree to go out with me once…” He let the rest fade, implying that her stubbornness had brought this on.
"Oh, all right,” she said with a complete lack of graciousness. "There’s coffee in the dining room. They’re getting ready to serve dinner, so I suggest we take it into my office and talk there.”
"Whatever you say.”
Joy never could walk across the foyer without stopping to chat with the residents. Acting as advocate and ombudsman for the tenants, she felt it was important to know as much about each one as they were comfortable sharing.
Charles sat on the same chair he occupied most days and was staring sightlessly into the distance. Forgetting Ted was with her, Joy paused and sat down next to the old man.
"Hello, Charles,” she said softly.
He smiled, or perhaps it was wishful thinking on her part. "I met with the library committee this afternoon, and I was wondering if you might consider doing a small job for us during the literary tea? We’re going to need someone to collect donations. Do you think you might like that job?”
He said nothing, gave no indication he’d heard her question.
Joy leaned over and patted his hand. "You think about it, and we’ll talk in the morning.”
Ted was waiting for her just outside the double glass doors that led to the dining room.
"I’m sorry,” she said. "I needed to ask Charles something before it slipped my mind.”
"Did he hear you?”
"Of course,” she answered, knowing she sounded defensive. "Just because he didn’t clap his hands and sing ‘Glory, hallelujah!’ doesn’t mean he didn’t hear and understand me.”
Ted’s gaze narrowed as he studied her. "You really love these people, don’t you?”
"‘These people,’ as you call them, are men and women like your grandmother. This isn’t a nursing home, and the residents don’t need extensive medical care. They’re retired. They’ve lived productive lives and are determined to continue to do so. Charles is the exception. Sometimes his mind fades away into a time you and I will never know. Don’t judge him for that.”