Page 72 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Wouldn’t be the first person to commit suicide that way.”

They drank more beer. The silence between them felt good, Thomas thought. Familiar. Comfortable. Things were getting back to normal.

“I asked Cassie to go to the alumni weekend reception at Mirror House on Saturday night,” Deke said after a while.

The news, delivered as it was, without any sort of preamble or warning, caught Thomas by surprise. “What did she say?”

“She said okay.”

“Okay. Great.” Thomas smiled.

“What about you?”

“Me?”

Deke settled deeper into the recliner and turned the damp bottle between his palms. “I was thinking maybe you could ask Leonora to go with you.”

That stopped him cold. “I’m not a member of Mirror House. Neither is Leonora.”

“No, but I am. I can take you both as my guests.”

“I don’t know how long Leonora plans to stay here now that she’s got her answers. She may be gone by Saturday.”

Deke’s brows rose behind the rims of his glasses. He looked amused. “Have you tried asking her if she’s thinking of leaving anytime soon?”

“No.”

“Is there a problem here? Why can’t you ask her a simple question?”

“Maybe I don’t want to know the answer,” Thomas said.

“Huh.”

They drank more beer.

“Got an idea for you,” Deke said after a while.

“Yeah?”

“Tell her that you’d like her to stay through Saturday and attend the reception with you because it would make Cassie feel more comfortable.”

“You think that would work?”

“Sure. Leonora seems to like the idea of matching me with Cassie. I think she’d stay a couple of extra days and go to the reception if you convinced her that it would help push my relationship with Cassie forward.”

“Devious.”

“Yeah,” Deke said proudly. “I thought so.”

Thomas contemplated the possibilities for a while. “All right, I’ll try it.”

“Excellent.” Deke paused. “By the way, you can tell Leonora that the position we created for her at Mirror House is for real. I’ve decided she’s right. That collection is valuable and should be cataloged and made available online. The Bethany Walker Endowment will continue to fund the job.”

“I’ll mention that to her.”

Deke looked at the tips of his running shoes. “You know, it’s been a while since I went out on a date.”

“Don’t worry. It’s one of those things you don’t forget how to do.”

“Sort of like boolean algebra, huh?”

Thomas’s mouth curved. “Sort of. Want a little advice?”

“What’s that?”

“Lose the beard.”

Deke looked startled. Then he grinned ruefully. “You don’t think it’s a fashion statement?”

“It’s Cassie’s opinion that counts here and I’ve always had the impression she didn’t care for the beard.”

Deke ran his fingers through his beard, thinking. “Neither did Margaret Lewis.”

“There you go,” Thomas said. “That settles it. According to you and Leonora and Cassie, department secretaries rule.”

He waited until Deke left before he picked up the phone and called Leonora. She answered on the first ring.

“You want to help further the cause of promoting an intimate relationship between Deke and Cassie?” he asked.

“They seemed to be doing quite well on their own.”

“Deke wants to take her to the reception on Saturday. He suggested that maybe she’d feel more comfortable if all four of us went together. But I’ve got a feeling he’s the one who’s a little nervous about getting back into the dating scene.”

“Let me get this straight, you’re asking me to go to the reception with you because you think your brother needs us to give him some moral support?”

“You’re not buying this, are you?”

“Deke and Cassie are both adults and their main problems seem to be out of the way. They can manage a date on their own.”

He went to stand at the window. Night was closing in fast. He could not see the new assault wave of fog that was rolling in off the water, but it seemed to him that he could sense its weight.

“Let me rephrase that question,” he said. “Would you care to attend the reception at Mirror House on Saturday evening?”

“With you?”

“Yes, ma’am. With me.”

“Oh, yes,” she said softly. “Yes, I would like that very much.”

The window reflected his own happy image staring back at him.

“Something else,” he said. “Deke told me to tell you that he agrees with you about the importance of that library. He says the Bethany Walker Endowment will continue to fund the task of getting the collection online and he’d be pleased if you would agree to continue on in the position of librarian until the job is finished.”

Leonora was quiet for a moment.

“I’ll think about it,” she said at last. “It would probably take me a few months.”

“Yeah.” He could do a lot with a few months.

Leonora said nothing.

“Of course,” Thomas said, “I could always move to Melba Creek.”

“Thomas—”

“I’m pushing this a little too hard, aren’t I?” Thomas said.

“We both need to go carefully here.”

“Right. Carefully. Measure twice, cut once. An old bit of tool wisdom.”

Leonora surprised him with a laugh. “I wasn’t planning on cutting anything.”

“I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to hear you say that.”

“While we’re thinking about things, why don’t you come over here for dinner? Bring Wrench.”

“I’ll do that. And my tools, of course.”

“Planning to give me another demonstration of your astonishing skill?”

“Wait’ll you see what I can do with a drill press.”

Thomas took his time making love to her that night. Probably the craftsman in him, she thought at one point. He was concerned with the smallest details. Who would have guessed that she would be so sensitive right there.

“Thomas.”

“Squeeze a little harder.”

“Thomas.”

“That’s it. Like that. Getting tighter. I can really feel those little muscles now.”

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