(Author’s note: A young man, Matthew, has just brought a breakfast tray to Maggie, the adult daughter of The protagonist of The Brothers’ Keepers. They’re in the library, working to try to prevent disaster on an epic scale. She’s a hydrologist and he’s a Mossad associate. Both have neglected personal lives for careers, a condition that’s apparent in the awkward exchange that follows.)
“A headache, probably from lack of sleep. I don’t know how everyone keeps this pace. And I’m the nut who willingly got up early, instead of enjoying that marvelous bed,” Maggie said. “That’s the fluffiest down comforter ever.”
“Many geese gave their feathers for you, Ms. Madison. They were honored.” Matthew bowed, and reached for her hand. “Give me your left hand.”
She stiffened. “Why?” Failure.
After ensuring it was not jam-sticky, she placed her hand in his. He pulled her six inches from him, and she stared at his collarbone. Thanking God she had washed her hair, she noticed he smelled of sandalwood. Using the thumb and forefinger of his other hand, he gently pinched a tendon in the Y at the base of her thumb.
“Look up,” he said, watching her. “Let me know if this is too much pressure.” After a minute of steadily increasing force, he opened his fingers and laid his hand over hers. “How’s that? Better?”
She had no idea how it was. She was not breathing. And her brain had left the building. She prepared to throw herself at him. Then she remembered she wore a chair throw. Failure.
“I think it’s gone. The headache. Not the chair throw.” What was she doing? “That’s amazing.”
“Acupressure. Works every time.” He looked confused, probably about the chair throw, but did not let go of her hand.
What was she supposed to do now? She considered dropping the disco ball.
“So much good comes from these hands.” He turned her palm over. He had expressed admiration for work he called “altruistic” last year in Galilee. Much remained unsaid during those early morning hours. They blew the moment before returning to their rooms—she angry, he clueless.
“I do what I can. It’s a privilege.” She needed a manicure, and would look for a file and emery board in her room.
He ran his forefinger from her wrist to her fingertips, drawing invisible lines to each pathetically ragged nail. Then he clasped his hand over hers firmly, and cleared his throat. “One day, maybe we can just talk, get to know each other in a normal way. I would—enjoy that. I’m interested in your work, and admire your relationship with your family.” He looked away.
She would not hyperventilate. Once certain her voice would not squeak, she replied. “I would like to make that a priority.” Was she structuring a business agenda? “Really.” Crap.
“Then it will happen. I suspect this will be over in a couple of days. Maybe we can find time then.”
“Or we’ll be dead.” Her gift was not romantic encouragement.
NLB Horton returned to writing fiction after an award-winning career in journalism and marketing as well as earning her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. She has surveyed Israeli and Jordanian archaeological digs, tossed a tarantula from her skiff into the Amazon after training with an Incan shaman, driven uneventfully through Rome and consumed gallons of afternoon tea while traveling across five continents.
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