Three hours later, I was still waiting, but now, impatiently. I could not pace, however, to ventilate my anger. Even though the fever was gone, Robert seemed to be no better, for when I softly spoke his name, he made no effort to acknowledge me. I could only be there for him when he woke up.
I heard the door open and close. I slowly turned to face my captor.
Bert Braxton stood there, a tall and imposing figure. He was one of those people who dominated a room when they entered it. Curly black hair that he kept short and perfectly brushed, piercing black eyes, and a wide, slightly-humorous mouth: to an outside observer, it would have looked like I was talking to a British aristocrat, not a wanted criminal.
I met his gaze fully, only my eyes showing the feelings I had been taught to hide: anger, distrust, disgust, even a touch of fear.
He looked at me strangely, and I struggled to decipher his thoughts as a slow smirk slipped over his wide mouth.
“Well, Rosanna, when I saw you fall in that gun battle of ours, I thought I had killed you.”
I lifted my chin and stared at him defiantly. “You didn’t.”
His words were so sincere, my lips parted in surprise, and pity swept over me. A shiver past through me, and I looked away as memories flooded my mind. Distant experiences and pictures showed up like unwanted guests- memories of three teenagers and the impact they had on each other’s lives . . .
I walked out of the school into the blinding sunlight, clutching my heavy books in excitement. Three more days and school would end for me.
My decision was an unusual one because of the unusual circumstances that made up my life. When I was 14, my parents, both well-known spies, had been killed in an ‘accidental’ car wreck. There had been no proof of a crime, but newspapers had hinted on it. That was when I had decided to follow in my parents’ footsteps. From that time, a little over three years now, I had been living with my brother, Jim, eight years my senior, and his wife, Katie. Viewing the circumstances, I had decided to postpone college for a few years. I had been one of those few unfortunate A-students to not receive a scholarship and had decided to get a job until I could afford to further my education. During that time, I could begin training to become a secret agent, the job of my dreams.
“Rosanna!” A shout caught my attention, and I looked up to see a tall, dark teenage boy running rapidly in my direction.
I smiled at him as he skidded to a stop. “Hello, Bert.”
He grinned and stood looking down at me. I took in his dark, and, many would say, handsome features- black hair that fell back in waves, a large nose, a wide mouth, and eyes so dark they were his first feature you noticed. This all was topped by the exuberance of youth and a mischievous, slightly dangerous twinkle in his eye.
“You’re happy today.”
I eyed him. “Are you not happy?”
He shrugged. “Sure I am. So, are you going to tell me why you’re happy?”
“Are you going to ask?” I countered.
He grinned, displaying his even white teeth. “Why are you happy, Rosanna?”
“Well, let’s see. School is almost over, I’m going to be eighteen in two weeks, and I’m excited to be able to see a new place.”
“A new place?” he asked, surprise and confusion filling his dark features.
“Yes? Didn’t I tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“That I’m moving to Washington, D.C. in four weeks!”
“You’re leaving Arizona in a month? Why? I thought Jim liked his job.”
“He does. He’s not moving.”
“Katie’s divorcing and you’re going with her?”
“No! Katie and Jim would never divorce! I’m moving.”
“Yeah. A year after my parents were killed, Jim pulled me aside and said if I wanted to, I could find a place of my own after I turned eighteen. Well, we found a beautiful little place in a nice, respectable part of town and Jim helped me pay for it, so we won’t have to worry about mortgages. That’s why you haven’t seen me spend much of my earnings for the last three years. I’ve been saving up.”
I had been warned not to tell anyone of my chosen profession. It was difficult not to tell Bert, for there was no reason for me not to trust him. But I knew that the heads of Liberty knew best.
“Oh. Well, I’m sure it’s good for you to have a place of your own, and I’m very happy for you. But isn’t it dangerous for a young, pretty girl like you to live alone?”
“No. It’s in a nice place, as I said, but I’ll have Robert checking up on me occasionally.”
Anger filled his ebony eyes. “Robert Burton?”
“Yes,” I said cautiously. Robert and Bert had both been vying for my attention for a while and everyone was aware of their dislike for each other.
“Why does he rank so high?” Bert said tightly.
“He doesn’t. Why do you ask? Do you think I’m playing favorites?” I shot back.
Bert dropped his head. His voice sounded muffled as he muttered, “Sorry, Rosanna.”
I laid my hand on his arm. “It’s not that, Bert. Robert just happened to have found a job in Washington. I was glad he did because I really like the house we found, and Jim feels better about me moving if I have someone we know nearby.”
Bert turned back to me, a strange expression in his dark eyes. “Rosanna, there’s a choice that you have to make, a choice that may not be easy. But you must make it, and soon, because one of us is going to get hurt.”
“Why, what . . . whatever do you . . . mean?” I faltered.
“You know what I mean.” He looked into my wide, royal blue eyes. “I love you, Rosanna. I think I have ever since I met you. I couldn’t tell you then, because we were too young. But the three of us are growing up, and we have to clear something up.” He straightened his shoulders. “Robert Burton likes you too, so you’re going to have to turn him or me down.”
“But I like both of you as friends. I- I haven’t thought about loving one of you.”
“Rosanna, you don’t really have a choice.”
I turned away. This was unexpected. Why did Bert even care? I was moving away. We would probably never see each other again. But, deep down, I knew he was right. Robert and Bert both wanted something from me, and no matter who I chose, someone was going to get hurt.
“All right. Fine! I’ll do it. But before I can make a decision, I need to know Robert’s intentions, and I need time to think.”
“I don’t want to wait.”
“I do!” I said. “Not now, Bert. Not for a while. I don’t want to hurt someone.”
“All right, think about it. But soon both of us will ask at the same time, and then you’ll have to answer.”
He turned on his heel and walked away.
I, too, turned to leave, but I left with the heaviness that comes to girls when they know they must soon be women, and leave their girlish innocence behind.
Two weeks later, Robert pulled me aside to talk to me.
“I was talking to Bert. He seems to think the three of us need to have a discussion.”
I couldn’t bear to look into his face as I said quietly, “Bert wants me to choose between you and him.”
Surprise filled his features. Robert was the type of boy who looked younger than he really was- not immature, simply more endearing. His milk chocolate eyes softened as he looked into my face, searching for an answer. “What do you mean, ‘choose’?”
I lifted my head. “Do you like me, Robert?”
He smiled. “You know I do.”
“That’s what he means. He wants me to choose, you know, who I want to get to know better.”
“He wants you to decide who will . . . receive your affections?”
“Do you think it’s proper to decide now?”
“I don’t know!” I said worriedly. “I know who I like better, but I don’t want anything to change just now.”
He looked down at me with compassion. “You decide what you think is best.”
He turned to go, and then looked back at me. “You have become very special to me, Rosanna. Whatever you decide, I’ll be happy, because, hopefully, you’ll be happy.”
I buried my face in my hands and wept.