Emily Franklin closed the ledger in front of her. "That takes care of the household accounts for this month." She turned to face her husband, Robert. "Sorry I took so long, but this couldn't wait."
"Couldn't you have done it tomorrow?" Robert gave his newspaper an impatient flip before laying it aside.
"I do volunteer work at the library tomorrow. I have to take Boo to the vet. And I promised your mother I'd go by the nursing home to visit Aunt Beth. Then there's that meeting with the Historical Society tomorrow evening." Emily spread her hands in a helpless little gesture. "I had to do this tonight."
Robert's voice was caustic. "So I run a distant fifth behind a volunteer job, a Labrador retriever, an old maid aunt and your civic obligations?"
"That's tomorrow." Trying to ease the tension that throbbed like an open wound between them, she added, "Tonight you have my undivided attention."
"Really." He lifted one dark eyebrow.
"Don't be sarcastic. You've worked late every Tuesday for the past six months. How could I know you'd come home early?" Guilt was replacing Emily's anxiety. She had been busier than usual over the past several months. Maybe Robert was feeling a little neglected. "Don't fret. After Larry's graduation I'll have a little more free time."
"I'm sure you'll find new projects to take up the slack." At forty-seven Robert Franklin was still an extremely handsome man--tall, with a well-proportioned body and aquiline, almost patrician features. His hair had once been black as ebony. It was now feathered with silver and beginning to recede. "Maybe I should have called earlier for an appointment."
"That's not necessary." Emily flinched at the tone of his voice. "Neither is your sarcasm."
He apologized without conviction. "Sorry."
"If it's about your parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, Debra and I have already begun to make plans." Robert had said more than once that he wanted this to be an elaborate celebration.
"I'm sure you and my sister have the situation well in hand." Robert was on his feet and prowling across the room.
"We have made tentative plans. I'm thinking of renting the hall at the Civic Center,and hiring a band, then--"
"I thought I had your undivided attention." Robert stood with his back to her, staring out the window at a pale and setting February sun.
Emily's uneasiness was giving way to frustration. "Have I done something to displease you?"
Robert's shoulders slumped. "I'm a little edgy tonight." Turning, he faced her. "It's nothing."
Emily's patience was wearing thin. "It must be something if you think it's more important than plans for your parents' golden wedding anniversary celebration."
"And what do you think is important, Emily?" Robert asked with a taut jerk of his head. "Where are your priorities?"
"You seem terribly unstrung tonight." She shifted in her chair. "Is this about one of the boys?"
"Our sons are eighteen and twenty-three years old," Robert reminded her sharply. "We no longer have any boys."
Emily struggled to control her irritation. "It was a figure of speech." A disturbing thought surfaced. "Are there problems at the office?"
Robert said, "I don't want to talk about work."
Emily laughed to cover her annoyance. "Then what do you want to talk about?"
"I've reserved a room for us at the Rustic Inn in Wimberly. I thought we might go there for the weekend. That is if you can spare the time."
Emily caught her breath. They had gone to the Rustic Inn often during the early years of their marriage. Recalling those bygone days evoked sweet, romantic memories. Her uneasiness gave way to cautious joy. "I'd love to. I'm surprised you can spare the time."
"I'll make time." Robert came back across the room and sat down.
Emily's voice softened. "Do you know how long it's been since just we've gone away together for a weekend?"
"Not really," Robert said. "Make your excuses. I need some time with you and God knows we don't have any privacy here."
That was a strange thing to say. Emily looked around the elegantly appointed living room. "We're alone now, except for Boo." She nodded toward the sleek black Labrador retriever that lay stretched out, sound asleep in front of the fireplace.
"For how long?" Robert asked caustically. "Until Larry comes charging through the door with half a dozen friends? Or Kevin calls to tell you about his new apartment or his new job, or an odd assortment of relatives or friends decides to drop by unannounced, or you get yet another urgent telephone call from one of your many charities or projects?"
For no reason she could explain, Emily sought to justify the situation. "We have children and a host of friends, you have family and I'm involved in civic and school activities ... It goes with the territory."
"I'm not complaining." He sounded almost contrite. "At least I don't mean to be."
"You've been working too hard." Emily narrowed her eyes in her husband's direction. He looked tired, almost haggard. "A weekend away will do you good. I'll call Berta tomorrow. I can explain to Mrs. Perez on Thursday at the PTA executive meeting--"
"Spare me the details and just get it done," Robert interrupted.
The censure in his tone made her ask, "When would you like to leave?"
He stood and put his hands in his pockets. "Would Friday evening around seven be all right?"
"Friday at seven would be fine." Emily stretched and yawned. "Let's go to bed. I can begin to tie up all these loose ends tomorrow."