Excerpt from Kisses in the Rain

   
     He greeted her at her door with a kiss, although she was less than enthusiastic. One look at her told him that she was angry; the naked pain in her eyes was eloquent testimony of her disappointment in him. He was instantly caught up in a riptide of regret. On the morning when he left, he should have awakened her and told her personally that he was leaving Ketchikan for a few days; slipping the note under her door had not, in retrospect, been a good idea. He admitted to himself that in a way he was a coward. He hadn't wanted to face her questions.
     But now he must face her anger. He didn't relish that.
     "Let's go out and get dinner someplace," he said.
     "I don't think I could eat," she said.
     "Please? I'm hungry because I had to skip lunch to catch up on things at the plant." Besides, he'd much rather sit across a table from her for the quiz session she had in mind. He had an idea that being out in public would decrease the tension between them. He'd had no experience with Martha's anger before, but in case she turned out to be the type who yelled and threw things, a restaurant seemed like a good idea. He knew she'd never make a scene in public.
     Martha considered the restaurant idea for a moment. "All right," she conceded. She disappeared into the bedroom to get a jacket.
     Nick had the nightmarish premonition that Martha's icy anger was going to last for weeks. They drove to the restaurant, a place on Front Street where he could order a big steak. On the way, she sat immobile on her side of the car, the hurt radiating from her in waves. The trouble was that the two of them didn't have weeks for Martha to indulge her anger. They had a little over two months left to be together at all. It seemed ridiculous to him for them to quarrel and spoil everything.
     Over cocktails, after the dining-room waiter had taken their order, Nick said carefully, "I did leave you a note before I left. I'm surprised you didn't find it." He always thought it was better to take the offensive rather than to be placed on the defensive. He saw a darting flash of pain in her eyes, like a strike of lightning.
     "I never found the note," she said.
     "I did finally call you," he pointed out.
     "By the time you phoned you had already been gone four days."
     "In my note I mentioned that I'd call you as soon as I knew when I'd be home. I didn't know for sure until last night," he said, feeling a little desperate. Obviously she was not going to relax and accept his apology.
     "Why didn't you know? Where were you the rest of the time?" Martha asked in a determined voice.
     "I was—on business."
     "Business?"
     "Yes."
     She shifted uneasily in her chair. She looked like an icicle, ready to drop and shatter at any minute. He knew that she didn't believe him, and he longed to reassure her. But he didn't know how.
     "Something's wrong," she said. "Isn't it?"
     "The only thing that's wrong is that you don't believe me when I say I was away on business. Do you?"
     Martha bit her lip. "I'm not sure," she said, watching his face.
     He sighed and leaned back in his chair. The silence stretched between them, tight as a haul line on a trolling rig. He'd missed her terribly, and he'd hated the fact that this most recent separation had come so soon after his trip to Juneau with Davey. Still, there hadn't been anything he could do. He'd had to go.
     Martha leaned forward in her chair, and a muscle twitched in her left eyelid. "Nick," she said quietly, "this isn't like us. I have the feeling that you're not leveling with me. You're not talking to me, Nick, and I feel left out and lonely. I feel abandoned. And I'm furious because we had plans and then you disappeared into thin air. I got what sounded very much like a brush-off from your assistant, and I've been miserable for days. If you'd tell me where you've been and what you've been doing—"
     "I can't tell you," he said, more curtly than he'd intended.
     "You can't tell me," she repeated slowly in disbelief.
     "No."
     "Then what am I supposed to think?" Martha shot back. Her face paled and her eyes filled with tears.
     He put his hand over her fist, which was clenched on top of the table. "Dear Cheechako, think that I love you and that I'm telling the truth."
     His use of the endearment he had coined for her almost melted her cold detachment. She paused for a few seconds to blink the tears from her eyes. "I'll only believe you if you tell me where you were and what you were doing," she said.
     "There are parts of my life that I can't talk about," he said, giving her a look that would have drawn blood from a stone.
     "That's not good enough," she said. A hard, cold knot was growing where her heart had been.
     "I'm afraid it will have to be." Nick hated what he was doing to her, and he hated what he was doing to them as a couple.
     "Nick, under the circumstances it's hard for me to believe that you care about me at all," she said.
     "I care," he said slowly. "I love you."
     "What does that mean to you?" Her eyes were like chips of flint, sharp and cold.
     "That I—that I—" He found it difficult to put his feelings for her into words when confronted by her anger.
     "I'll tell you what love means to me," Martha said. "It means that we trust one another. It means sharing, Nick—sharing our joys and our sorrows. Our feelings."
     "I've shared my feelings," he said evenly.
     "Something happened to make you leave town suddenly, and it was important enough so that you'd leave me and our supposed relationship behind. You came back and tell me we can't talk about where you went or what you were doing. This is not communication, Nick."
     He knew she was right, but he also knew that he could do nothing about it. "I know it's a lot to ask," he said desperately. "Please, try to understand."
     She stood up. Her eyes were the gray of thunderclouds.
     "Martha!"
     "I can't eat anything," she said, tossing her napkin down. "I'm sorry." And she walked out.
 
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