What’s coming next?
Release date to be announced


Thomas scanned the huge high school auditorium bathed in the soft, golden glow of the enormous chandeliers. Invited to speak at one of New York’s best-known high schools, he had been flattered, albeit nervous. Now, he was simply surprised. After all, what did high school kids know-or even care-about the subject of emerging third world countries? Having warned the school’s principal that the subject of Liberia as a world presence was not the most exciting topic to discuss on a cold, winter’s night, he had accepted, assuming that only twenty or thirty ultra nerdy kids would show, and maybe someone from the history department. More fool him! Thomas thought as he accepted the enthusiastic applause of the audience. Every seat had been occupied in an impressive show of not only students, but their parents, and even faculty staff who had come to hear him speak. Shamed by his cynicism, and impressed by the students’ thoughtful questions, he thought that if he were glimpsing the power base of the future, perhaps the world would be all right. As quickly as this change in thinking was spawned, his turn at the podium was over. As he hurried backstage stage, a colorful troop of sequined, spangled young dancers rushed past to take his place while a boisterous orchestra tuned up, part of the cultural focus of the evening. Congratulated by the enthusiastic principal and staff members, Thomas navigated a dim passage to locate the door that led to the lobby. He had just reached the vestibule when he heard his name float softly across the air. Turning to discover who was chasing him down, a young woman was upon him so quickly, Thomas almost knocked her down. She would have landed on the floor if he hadn’t saved her. “Whoa there, miss,” Thomas said with a smile as he grabbed her shoulders, “you had me cornered at the pass.”

Her low, throaty thanks was a jolt to Thomas’ equilibrium. His nod was cool, but the moment he looked down into the bright blue eyes that stared back, his composure was gone.

“Claudia?” he gasped.

The red-haired huntress nodded, a wide smile painted on her lips. “When I heard them announce your name, I was so surprised I couldn’t believe my ears, and I was sitting in the balcony so it was hard to see, and- Oh, Thomas, I am so glad to see you!”

Thomas had fantasized this moment many times, but now it was happening, his shock was so profound all he could do was stare.

Alarmed by his silence, Claudia’s fair skin pinked but her smile didn’t waver. Perhaps she had called it wrong, perhaps he didn’t wish to meet her. Well-versed in the art of performance, she took up the slack with a jaunty smile. “At first, I thought it was you,” she said thoughtfully, “but then I decided, no, it couldn’t be. That gray hair threw me, although to be honest, it’s very distinguishing. Please tell me that you’re a diplomat,” she added with a light-hearted laugh, “and I won’t feel like I’ve just made the biggest faux pas in the world.”

“Not even close,” Thomas said, finally finding his voice.

No, he could never be a diplomat, Claudia realized ruefully. If anything, Thomas Jasper seemed to have grown more serious with age. “Well, okay, then,” she said, smiling stoutly into his stolid, detached stare, “I won’t take up too much of your time. You’re obviously in a rush. I just wanted to say hello.”

She had all but stepped away, intending to leave when Tomas realized that he was behaving like a boor, and roused himself to be civil. “No, Claudia, wait. I’m not in any rush. Public speaking is something I do reluctantly, and when I finish, my first inclination is to run.”

“Before someone throws a tomato at you?” she teased, her eyes twinkling.

“Something like. I’m sorry if I seemed abrupt.”

“Not at all. If that’s an apology, you’re forgiven.”

This time she really did start to leave, and Thomas fumbled for an excuse to keep her by his side. “I…Claudia…you look terrific. I…um…I mean you always did, it’s just that…” Embarrassed, Thomas scrapped back his long, peppered hair and took a deep breath. “Sorry, Claudia, I know my conversation is all over the place but that’s jet lag speaking. I just got back to New York a few days ago and I’m still recovering from a nine-hour flight, and that doesn’t include a twenty-four hour hold over, a three-hour rain delay and lousy food. To tell the truth, my stomach doesn’t feel too good either. I did this appearance as a favor.”

“Such is the life of the rich and famous,” she said with a forgiving smile.

“Not rich,” Thomas promised with a quick grin, “and famous only in certain circles, like schools that run short of speakers on a long winter’s night.”

“To be in such demand,” she tsked but he could see the laughter in her eyes.

“Okay, my secret’s out!” he sighed comically. “I went to school here and they don’t ever let me forget it. Whenever I get back from a trip, the principal lines me up for a speech. How the hell he knows my schedule beats me, but he does.”

“Computers…” Claudia said with a knowing grin.

“Too true,” Thomas agreed with a rueful shrug.

“Well, jet lag or no, bad stomach or not, you were very interesting, Thomas. I guess if I read those notices the school sends home more carefully-or cleaned out a certain young lady’s backpack, once in a while-I would know who was speaking. I guess I got lucky, tonight,” she laughed.

“No, I did,” Thomas countered and enjoyed her amusement.

”Thus spaketh Thomas Jasper, ever the chivalrous cavalier. What were you doing in Liberia, anyway? I thought only reporters and spies went to those countries. Spies! Are you a spy, Thomas?” Claudia asked, her eyes wide with mischief.

“Don’t get your hopes up. Nothing exciting like that ever happens to me. I’m just an ordinary reporter, Claudia, the old-fashioned kind.”

“A roving reporter? As in footloose and carefree?”

Thomas’ smile was a little easier, now the ice was broken. “Have laptop, will travel.”
Claudia was skeptical. “What about your family? How did your wife ever allow you to travel to such a dangerous place?”

Thomas shook his head. “No wife here. And you?”

“No wife here, either,” she teased.

Claudia’s joke wasn’t much of an answer but Thomas sensed that was all she was going to give. “What say we get out of here?” he suggested, allowing her to duck the question. “I could use a bowl of clam chowder. Oh, but if you’re with somebody…” he left off when he saw Claudia hesitate.

“That I am,” she grinned wickedly. “If you wait, I’ll introduce you.” But the idea of meeting her family was unappealing to Thomas. He preferred down time just then, and besides…a husband…no, he didn’t want to handle a husband -hers in particular. There was a time when he’d had hopes in that direction, before real life caught up with them. Before she left him, her cruel note propped against a pile of books in his dorm, a half-hearted explanation of how this was best… Best for whom? he had always wanted to ask. Now she was here, he still wanted to! What was that all about?

“Maybe another time,” he said with a pointed glance at his watch.

“Do you suddenly have a train to catch?” Claudia teased. “What happened to that chowder? Calm down, Thomas, I’m not about to introduce you to my husband, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not married, never was.” “I didn’t mean…” Embarrassed to be read so easily, Thomas relented. “Then why are you here?”

“I have a niece.”

“Oh. In loco parentiis?” “Actually, it’s a little more than that. My sister and her husband were killed in a car crash, a few years back, out in Albuquerque.” So she had had her share of trouble. “I was all that Charmaine had in the way of family, so I brought her back to New York. And since I legally adopted her, she’s my daughter, now. And speak of the devil…” Claudia waved to a tiny waif laughing with her girlfriends as they exited the auditorium. The doors had been flung wide minutes before, but they had hardly noticed the lobby filling with people. They couldn’t help notice how the lobby had become a sea of faces. And coming toward them, a head taller than her girlfriends, her slim body dressed to the nines in shabby chic, this pretty face with a head full of golden curls and amber eyes, sported tawny skin that bespoke a mixed marriage. Claudia easily read the surprise in his eyes, she had seen it so many times before. “Yes, she’s quite lovely, isn’t she?” “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. She’s cute, yes.” “Cute? Ooh, Thomas, never say that to Charmaine! Cute is not how she wants to be described, and she works very hard at that. Exotic, maybe, mysterious, hip, or cool-of course cool-edgy, even, but never cute.” “Thanks for the warning,” Thomas said with a wry grin. “What I don’t know about teenagers could fill a book.” “Don’t worry, I learn something new every day. Now, about that offer of something to eat… Charmaine and I haven’t had our dinner and this is an excellent night for me to be lazy. It’s my night off, so I deserve it.” “Well, I was about to grab some take out and head home when you spotted me. Claudia, I’m glad you stopped me.” “Me, too,” she admitted, pressing his arm lightly. “If I don’t get another chance to say so, I was glad to run into you.” For one brief moment they were back in college, when they were the campus couple, barely enough room between them to let in the sunshine. They used to joke that they didn’t have to eat, that they fed on each other. Everyone else used to think so, too. For three years they had been inseparable. How easy it was to recall… The sound of young voices broke the spell. They both stepped back shyly and smiled. “Oh, by the way,” Claudia warned Thomas, her eyes dancing, “be prepared for your consequence to rise when I introduce you to Charmaine. Meeting the main speaker is definitely going to earn her points with her friends. Not that she would be so uncool to admit it, but be ready for some teenaged adulation. Don’t worry, you’ll love it,” she said when she saw his face fall. “It feels good, and it’s pretty rare, so enjoy it.” Claudia was right. Not only did Charmaine’s brow rise-infinitesimally, Thomas noted-but when she heard that they were going to have a quick meal with the celebrity speaker, she begged-please, oh, pretty please!-for a few friends to join them. Well, if it was fine with Mr. Jasper… Thomas had no problem with it, so off they all went.

Five girls, Thomas counted with amusement. Five loud, raucous, adorable best friends, as Charmaine had put it. I don’t have five friends in the whole world! he thought ruefully, as they marched up Chambers Street to find a restaurant big enough to hold them, and dark enough to make it painless. Thomas tried hard not to stare as they got comfortable, but the years had been kind to Claudia and it was hard for him to resist. Never a stunner, still, there had been an air about her that had been compelling. Now, ten years later, it was arresting. She was somehow…more complete? Thomas searched for words. A woman! That was it, he thought, feeling like a fool. She was no longer the scrawny college kid of memory, but a lithe, full-blown woman. And very nicely rounded, at that. He’d noticed that at once, that her skin was still as creamy, her eyes blue eyes more intense, although he thought that could be a result of the lighting. But her hair, now caught up in a clip, its color always cause for comment, was still the same silky, reddish gold people had stopped to admire when he knew her as a young woman. He wouldn’t have minded one bit, either, if she took that damned clip out and let it run riot down her back, because it seemed as if she hadn’t cut it since.

He wondered how he looked to her. Still ugly? Her rough diamond, she used to call him as they squeezed together in his narrow dorm bed, never minding the cold air that brushed their naked bodies, as they made love. Her rough diamond, she used to whisper as her mouth skimmed his jaw, and her hands, her hands…

Thomas gasped at the direction of his thoughts and nearly toppled his water glass reaching for something to distract him. Their waiter returned with their chowder was a godsend. He watched as the poor guy patiently put up with the giggling directions of five teenagers until he realized the kid was enjoying it. Five blatantly flirtatious girls…who would complain? Thomas watched Claudia help him to sort things out, make sure the girls weren’t becoming pests, that the waiter got their order right. That done, the table settled down and the girls’ low thrum of conversation allowed the adults to return their attention to each other. Thomas looked up to find her staring.


For the first time that evening, Claudia seemed slightly uncomfortable. “Nothing,” she said with a shake of her head.

“No, really,” he insisted.

Claudia shrugged. “I was just remembering stuff. You know how it is. You meet and old friend…after all these years… My mind wandered.”

“It’s natural, I suppose,” Thomas agreed, not batting an eye.

“I suppose,” she nodded as she sipped her soup.

“Claudia, what’s done is done.”

“I was remembering the way I left. I just wanted to say- Thomas, we should talk about it. Can we talk about it?”

“No,” he said firmly.

They were quiet a moment, hungry and tired travelers taking a moment to catch their breath.



They looked at each other and smiled.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s me.”

They both remained silent, feeling faintly foolish. “So much for the adult graces.”

Claudia smiled but said nothing. There was not much grace in the way she had left him, on commencement day, a hundred years ago. The dreadful letter she had left behind, before she headed for the airport, running as fast as her legs could move. A note that begged him to not follow her, not call, not to try to track her down. The lie that ensured that he did not.