Chapter 11—Tina’s Apartment, Dallas
Something’s wrong. I hope he didn’t wreck his truck. His new truck! He was so excited… Even if he did, why doesn’t he call? Unless he’s hurt. Unconscious. In a hospital somewhere. No one would know to call me.
Tina tried to brush away her worries.
I know he didn’t simply decide not to see me anymore. Did he? Maybe I push him too hard about being a Christian. She checked the clock. 10:00 a.m. He should be here by now. Or at least have called. He planned to sleep in Tulsa and then drive here. Maybe he woke up too late to call. He wouldn’t call me in the middle of the night. But then he should be here. And why didn’t he call yesterday afternoon to let me know he made it to Tulsa?
“Something doesn’t make sense, Schotzie.” The dog lifted one ear, obviously not really into the conversation. He shifted positions on Tina’s bed, making sure he stayed in the warm sunshine streaming through the east window.
He loves me, I know he does.
Well, no, he hasn’t exactly said so.
Tina couldn’t even agree with herself today.
Maybe I’ve been too cautious.
Maybe he thinks I’ll never love him and he’s just giving up.
She remembered the weekend they had spent up at the cabin. A bit shy at first, he soon warmed up to her grandparents, and they, suspicious to the point of paranoia about new men in Tina’s life, were won over by his gentle, almost courtly manners. Could they all have been wrong?
Maybe he’s just another lying jerk and he doesn’t love me at all.
Saturday had already been a long day for Tina. She had taken Schotzie for his exercise and her prayer walk early. After showering she donned the new knit slacks and blouse outfit she had purchased for the occasion. Green, of course. She knew how certain shades of green—this one a soft sage—emphasized her eyes and set off her coppery-red hair. A light splash of perfume and she was ready for Jake by 8:00 o’clock in the morning. Too early, she knew, but she wanted to be ready to leave the minute he called.
His truck cab was much too big to drive into the apartment complex, and besides, Alex might recognize it and for some reason Jake still wanted to keep their relationship a secret from his brother, so they’d developed a regular routine. She would drive her car to meet him at the hotel and then they would go out from there; after breakfast at LaMadeleine’s, they’d have a leisurely day of wandering around the Galleria or art museums.
At first he’d dragged his feet about going to art museums. “I’m a country boy, Tina; just a trucker from the country. My brother is more the artsy type.”
When he finally relented and went with her to the Dallas Museum of Art, he found, to his surprise and her amusement, a whole new world of enjoyment and tension relief. It amazed her how quickly he recognized individual artists by their paintings.
At the Amon Carter museum in Fort Worth, he’d been fascinated with the Russell and Remington sculptures. The instant he spotted The Rattlesnake, a Remington bronze, he couldn’t seem to command his feet to move.
“A man and a horse,” she’d laughed. “I might have known you’d fall in love with a horse.”
He’d grabbed her hand and pulled her close. “Uh, no, Pilgrim, I’m not in love with any four-legged critter, I can promise you that,” he’d growled in a perfectly awful imitation of John Wayne. If the museum guard hadn’t cleared his throat at that precise moment, Jake might have kissed her right there in front of God and Fredric Remington and everybody.
Now it’s 11:00 and still no word.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she flashed by on one of her circles around the apartment, her faithful companion panting happily at her heels. “You’re getting your exercise today, aren’t you Schotz? I’d better slow down or I’ll wear you out.”
She wondered if the reason Jake didn’t want to tell Alex was because he wanted to be able to dump her without anybody caring.
She continued to pace, aware it was pointless. From the east bedroom window looking out on the golf course, back through the living room to the balcony and the view there into the woods, no door or window opened out to the parking area where he would be if he were going to show up there, which she didn’t expect him to do.
At noon she sat down in her den alcove and turned on her computer. Jake seldom used his laptop for email—said the whole idea of cyberspace spooked him—and had only twice written her a note that way, but it was worth a shot. Her heart leapt hopefully at the cheery “you’ve got mail” message. Alas, all she found in her inbox were three multi-forwarded jokes from Angie, two of them a bit crude, in her opinion.
When 3:00 p.m. came and went without the phone ringing once, not even a wrong number, Tina took the cordless phone off the stand, just to check if it was working.
Dial tone. It was working all right. She had been royally stood up.
She took a deep breath. Okay, what’s the harm in trying one more thing? She’d call his cell phone. He didn’t like the thing very much—said he only had it for emergencies—hated to try to talk while driving. She had to try.
It rang once. Twice. Three more times and then the pre-recorded Alltel operator said “The cellular customer you are calling is out of the area or has turned off the phone.”
The dam burst. Tears stored up all day broke through, coursing down her cheeks and dampening her new blouse. She stomped around the apartment, talking aloud to the absent Jake until the dog began to whimper.
“Okay, Schotzie, you’re right. It is time to wash my face, change into civilian clothes and take you for a walk.”
She scrambled around in her dresser. The gray sweats were out. She didn’t have to look like a reject even if she felt like one.
She put on khaki shorts and a pale yellow T-shirt, stepped into an old pair of Keds and pocketed the mail key.
“Wanna bet all I have in the mailbox is bills?” she asked her dog.
She took the long way around the complex, in no hurry now.
The little Schnauzer pranced beside her, his ears and tail held high in canine joy at being out of doors, sniffing for messages left for him by other dogs. When they came to the kiosk shelter for all the apartment complex mailboxes, Schotzie groaned ecstatically at all the new scents on the brick walls. Tina found only her cable bill and a coupon flier for the new pizza place on Independence and Parker.
“Well, that’s it, Schotz. Just as I supposed. C’mon. I’ll race you home—back the long way.”
She kept herself in great physical shape, but both of them were panting when they walked in the door. Unhooked from his leash, Schotzie gratefully buried his head in his water bowl, slurping noisily. Tina poured herself a glass of filtered water and drained it as fast as she could swallow. With her head tilted up to catch the last few drops, the blinking light on her answering machine caught her eye. She dropped the glass in the sink, and ran over to hit the button:
“I’m sorry, my beautiful kitten.”
“Jake!” she cried, as if she could call him back.
“It’s not you. It’s me. I’m no good for you. Please, please try to forgive me.”
He sounded as if he was cupping the mouthpiece of the phone, the way he might do if he didn’t want to be heard by anybody on his end of the conversation. He wasn’t alone, in other words.
She clapped her hand over her open mouth.
“You deserve a better life than I can give you. I’ve never loved anybody the way I love you Tina, I know that now. But I’m in too much trouble…” His voice broke. “I’ll never forget you.”
She played it again without breathing. She looked around; frantic, unbelieving, then played it through once more, gasping at last. The caller ID screen read “unavailable.” She punched *69 but the recorded message told her the callback function was unavailable for this call.
She threw herself on her bed and pulled the comforter over her, too despondent to cry. The dog stood beside her, nosing her shoulder gently, his big eyes reflecting her sorrow.
Finally she sat up and looked around. 5:00 p.m. The silence in her apartment mocked her. She desperately wanted to call her grandparents and hear the heart-healing voices of the only two people on earth who loved her, but she stopped herself just before calling their number. What could they do? They would feel terrible for her, and there wasn’t a thing they could do to change anything.
But she couldn’t just sit there, waiting for nothing to happen.
She went online and keyed Jake’s screen name into the “new mail” screen.
What kind of a message is “I love you baby, get lost?” I deserve more that that, Jake. Where are you?
What have you done? AND WHO IS THERE WITH YOU?
She punched the “send” key, slapped her laptop closed, and marched into the bathroom where she splashed cold water on her face, dabbed concealing cream under her tear-swollen eyes, and touched up her lipstick. The shorts and T-shirt landed in a pile in the corner with her kicked-off Keds, and the green sweater and pants went back on over a fresh spritz of perfume.
“Tear stains don’t show much,” she told her mirrored self. “It’s a perfectly good outfit and Jake won’t ever see it anyway, so I’m wearing it right now and taking myself out for the evening. I’m good company. Who needs a man, anyway?”
She gave her dog a treat and patted his head. “You be a good dog, Schotzie. You’re all I have. I’ll be home later.”
She hung her handbag on her shoulder, retrieved her keys from its depths, slipped through the door and into the garage. She backed her car off the driveway, hit the remote button, closing the garage door, and drove away.
Inside her apartment, Schotzie paced nervously as the phone rang four times until the answering machine kicked in. The dog’s ears perked up at Tina’s outgoing message. When there was no response, he settled himself on the rug beside the garage door, rested his nose on his front paws and snoozed lightly, waiting for his mistress to return.