“We have to get that car back,” Kate said instantly, crowding into Joe’s side as a melee of angry, disgruntled passengers pushed and shoved toward the ticket counters. Joe couldn’t help himself; he put a protective arm around Kate.
“We know what’s going to happen,” she said frantically. “Once they figure out they can’t fly out, they will try and drive out, like us.” She suddenly twisted into Joe’s chest and grabbed his lapel, her green eyes wild. “We have to go.”
“We can’t drive out of this,” Joe said, putting a hand on her arm. “It’s at least a two-day drive in the best of weather, and we’d be driving into a blizzard.”
Kate’s grip tightened. “I think I am going to pass out.”
“No, you’re not,” he evenly assured her, and gave her a comforting squeeze on the arm. “What about a train?”
“Yes, train,” Joe said again, and gently peeled free the fingers clawed around his lapel so he could reach his cell phone. “If we can just get farther west, we have more options for getting to Seattle.” At least he hoped that was true. He googled the Amtrak schedules and squinted at the screen. “Okay, we can book a ticket right now, leaving in a couple of hours, and arriving in Phoenix at 6:30 tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow!” Kate exclaimed, and did a dramatic little backward bend. “But that’s the dress rehearsal! I’ll miss the dress rehearsal, and I bought a gorgeous new dress to counter the peach thing!”
Joe looked up from his phone. “Do you know any other way to get there?”
Kate sighed with resignation. She looked down and shook her head. Tendrils of hair shook loose from the knot she’d tied in her hair earlier, and Joe had an insanely stupid urge to touch them, brush them back behind her ear.
“Listen, the important thing is that you get there in time for the wedding, right? And for me, Monday morning. I have to be there by Monday.” He googled the location of the train station, then looked at Kate. “Should I buy the tickets?”
“Yes,” she said, and punched him lightly in the chest for emphasis.
As it turned out, getting the tickets was the easy part. Getting across town looked impossible. The taxi stands were swimming with humans trying to leave the airport.
After twenty minutes of waiting, Joe was getting a little panicky himself. He’d been to Houston only a couple of times, but what he remembered was that it was huge and sprawling. He imagined that sprawl would seem to double in a rainstorm. “If we can’t get in a cab soon, we won’t make it,” he said grimly.
“We’re going to make it,” Kate said, her determination returned.
“I don’t think so,” Joe said, looking at his watch.
“Okay, that’s it,” Kate said, and thrust the pink garment bag at him. “Hold this for me, please.”
“Wait—where are you going?” he called after her, but Kate was marching up the line, her hips moving enticingly in the pencil skirt she was wearing. As her fair head disappeared into the crowd of people, he lost sight of her altogether.
Several minutes passed. Joe kept looking at his watch, wondering if he should go after her or stay put. When he looked up from his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time, he saw her walking back. But she was not alone—a porter with a red cart was walking alongside her.
And Kate was crying.
Joe’s pulse instantly leapt. “Kate!” he shouted. His instinct was to go to her, but he had a stronger instinct to keep their place in line. “Kate, what’s wrong?” he demanded as she walked up to him, her face streaked with the path of her tears. It alarmed him so that he grabbed her arms. “What happened? Are you all right?”
“Joe, it’s Dad,” she exclaimed, sniffling up at him as the porter stood uncomfortably to the side. “He’s taken a turn for the worse. I got the call when I went to check on how long it would be.”
“What?” Joe asked, confused. “Your dad?”
She suddenly grabbed his upper arms and squeezed so tight it was almost painful. “Joe,” she said, her eyes narrowing just slightly. “I know you thought we’d make it on time, but unless we make that train, I won’t see him again!” She burst into tears and buried her face in Joe’s chest.
“Oh, the poor thing,” a woman behind him said.
“Oh my god,” Joe said. He was fairly certain there was no father issue and that Kate was working some mysterious, probably nonsensical angle, but then again, he didn’t really know her. He couldn’t be sure. He put his hand on the back of Kate’s head, held her close to him. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry—one of our private car passengers is going to give you a ride,” the porter said, and gestured at Kate. “So she doesn’t have to wait for a cab,” he added in a loud whisper. “Are these your bags here?”
Kate groaned and squeezed his arms again. Quite tightly. And then she grasped a bit of his coat fabric and gave it a tug. Wow. She’d found them a ride? He would take back every thought he’d just had about this being nonsense.
“Young man, he is asking if these are your bags,” the kindly woman said behind him.
“Oh. Yes. Those,” Joe said.
“Listen, you need to pull yourself together and help her,” the woman continued, and patted his back. “She needs to say good-bye to her father. Now go take advantage of the offer and get to the train station before it’s too late.”
“Right,” Joe said. “Thank you.” To the porter he said, “Don’t forget the pink thing.” He put his arm around Kate’s shoulders and pulled her tightly into his side. “Be strong, baby,” he said. “We have to be strong for Dad.” What was that he saw, the barest hint of a smile?
“I just need him to hang on a little longer,” she said tearfully. “Why now?” she sobbed as they followed the porter to a black town car. “It’s so unfair!”
Joe squeezed her tight in a silent plea not to overdo it.
In the backseat of the town car sat a woman in an expensive suit with a Louis Vuitton briefcase at her feet. She smiled sympathetically at Joe. “I’m so sorry,” she said softly to Joe as he climbed in behind a limp Kate. “She is obviously very close to her father.”
“So close,” Joe said.
“It’s so unexpected,” Kate said through her tears.
“Right,” Joe said, smiling ruefully at their benefactor as he tucked Kate into his body. “We can’t thank you enough for the ride—she’s a basket case.”
Kate poked him in the side.
“I’m just so glad I can help.” The woman leaned forward a bit to look at Kate, whose hair, thankfully, covered her face. Kate shuddered and made a sort of garbled sobbing noise. The woman eased back, glanced over Kate’s head, and gave Joe a look brimming with sympathy.
As the car started slipping into traffic, Joe very slyly gave Kate a slight fist bump.
By the time they reached the train station, Kate had feigned a slight recovery. She was still tucked into Joe’s side, which, he had to admit, he liked. She felt good next to him. All warm and soft. She was speaking somberly to the woman beside her, telling her what a great dad her father was. “Of all the times this would happen,” she sighed. “The blizzard, the strike…”
“It’s horrible,” the woman agreed. “It took me two days to come home from London due to all the cancellations. I’m just glad I don’t have to go any farther.” The car coasted to a stop in front of the train station. “I wish you both the best of luck,” she said. “Take care of yourself, Kate.”
“Thank you. I will.” Kate teared up again, and she took the woman’s hands in both of hers. “Thank you so much.”
Joe said his thanks, too, but hopped out as soon as he could and raced the driver to the trunk. The less pink the Good Samaritan saw, the better. He didn’t want to her to be reminded of a wedding and start putting two and two together. He watched Kate come out of the town car, watched her bend over and wave, then stand there as the town car pulled away.
“Well played,” Joe said. “Where did you learn to cry like that?”
“Drama club, Garfield High,” Kate said morosely, then twirled around, arms wide. “God, what have I done, Joe? I just lied to that poor woman to get to the front of the line! What has happened to me? I don’t lie to get my way! But look, the first sign of adversity and I am lying and crying and becoming someone I don’t even recognize!”
“It’s called survival,” Joe said.
“I never felt so greasy in all my life,” she said, running her palms down her thighs. “I’m a horrible person.”
“Take it easy, Kate,” Joe said and unthinkingly smoothed her hair back from her brow. “Ask yourself this: Would you rather lie to a complete stranger? Or call Lisa and tell her you can’t make her wedding?”
Big green eyes blinked up at him and something shiny flashed in them. Kate grabbed her shoulder bag. “Come on, we have a train to catch.” She swung her bag over her shoulder, hoisted the garment bag onto her back, and stalked toward the entrance.
You had to admire a woman like that, Joe thought. And he did. More than he would have ever expected upon first seeing her. Definitely way more than he wanted to.
It should not have come as a surprise that squeezing onto the overcrowded train was a bit like squeezing into the proverbial sardine can. Joe and Kate scarcely made it on time, and as it took longer than normal to maneuver the pink raft through the cars, they could not find seats together. Joe sat two rows back from Kate. All he could see of her was the edge of the pink garment bag that she held on her lap. The bottom of it stuck out into the aisle, and he winced every time someone walked by and stepped on it.
Joe dozed on and off as the train trundled along, rocking gently side to side. Somewhere in the night he was rudely awakened by the harsh whisper of his name. When he opened his eyes, he saw only pink plastic, and then felt the pressure of a knobby knee on his thigh.
“Ouch!” he said as Kate half crawled, half fell over him into the seat next to him. He had no idea what had happened to the young woman sitting beside him. He had not seen her or felt her move over him to leave.
Kate landed with a thud.
“What time is it?” Joe asked with a yawn.
“Two,” Kate said, and dragged the garment bag across their bodies, stuffing it into the space between her and the window. Apparently, she’d given up on trying to keep the dress wrinkle free. She dug in her shoulder bag and handed him a prewrapped sandwich.
“Supper,” she said. “I got them from the dining car before they closed. I hope you like tuna.”
Joe did like tuna—from his kitchen. He was entirely suspicious of a prewrapped tuna sandwich from an Amtrak dining car. But then again, he was starving, and desperate times called for desperate measures.
Kate reached in her bag again and produced two cans of iced tea—another cause for gag reflex—and the pièce de résistance, a carefully wrapped chocolate-chip cookie that was the size of a small dinner plate. “Last one,” she said proudly, and placed it on her lap, then unwrapped her tuna sandwich.
They both took a bite, chewing carefully. “May I ask you something?” she asked before taking another bite of a sandwich that looked just as soggy as his.
“Sure,” Joe said.
“Do you believe in fate?”
Joe almost choked on the tuna. Generally, when a woman asked him if he believed in fate, it was the lead-in to a conversation about feelings. Joe did not like to talk about feelings. Most of the time he didn’t even like to acknowledge he had them. Feelings, especially where women were concerned, were never clear-cut for him. They were messy and sticky, and he never seemed to say or feel the right thing.
He looked at Kate, who was making nice work of a disgusting tuna sandwich. She didn’t really strike him as the kind of woman who wanted to discuss feelings, either. “Why do you ask? Do you?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, and glanced at the window. There was nothing but black out there—they were passing through desert. “Most of the time, I’d say no. But today has been kind of weird. It almost feels like this was supposed to happen.”
“What was supposed to happen?” he asked carefully.
“Me having such a difficult time getting to Seattle,” she said, and Joe felt a rush of relief. “I mean, Lisa is teetering on the edge, and I am the only one who can get through to her. So I have to wonder, all these obstacles…” She looked at Joe and shrugged. “If, for some stupid reason, Lisa canceled the wedding, it’s possible it’s fate, right?”
Joe didn’t know Lisa, but having listened in on two conversations, he figured it was more likely that Lisa was just a nut. “I think it would be more of a coincidence.”
“Don’t look at me like that,” Kate said with a wry smile. “I may sound like a loon, but I’m not really. I’ve just been sitting on a train for the last few hours with nothing to do but think.”
“I wasn’t thinking you were crazy, Kate. I was just looking at you.” He liked looking at her. She had some really expressive eyes, and he liked the way her nose was slightly upturned. And her mouth—hell, her mouth.
Joe made himself look at his sandwich. He wanted to kiss her. Just…kiss her.
“So, do you?” she asked.
“Pardon?” he asked with a small cough.
“Believe in fate.”
“Ah…” He risked a look at her again. “Depends,” he said noncommittally.
“Right,” she said, nodding as if they’d just exchanged some meaningful ideas. “For me, too.”
But Joe was thinking only about sex at the moment, imagining that mouth and those eyes beneath him. He looked away to give himself a good and silent talking-to. Thinking about sex wasn’t going to help anything. It wasn’t going to get them to Seattle, and it would only complicate this fragile, weird alliance they’d formed.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about it at two in the morning on a train crossing the desert.
“I’m so tired,” Kate said, and put down what was left of her sandwich. She leaned back and closed her eyes. “You can have the cookie,” she said through a yawn.
Joe smiled. He gazed at her, wondering how he could have missed just how pretty she was when she knocked into him this morning in New York with the pink raft. Was that really just this morning? He felt as if he’d known her a lot longer than that.
He silently admired her features, right up to the moment her head slid down on his shoulder and she began to snore.