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Close to the Heart

Also by Diane Gonzales Bertrand


Alicias Treasure Family / Familia Lessons of the Game Sweet Fifteen Sip, Slurp, Soup, Soup / Caldo, caldo Trinos Choice Trinos Time The Last Doll / La ltima mueca Uncle Chentes Picnic / El picnic de To Chente

Close to the Heart


Diane Gonzales Bertrand

PIATA BOOKS ARTE PBLICO PRESS HOUSTON, TEXAS

This volume is made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the City of Houston through The Cultural Arts Council of Houston, Harris County. Piata Books are full of surprises! Piata Books An imprint of Arte Pblico Press University of Houston 452 Cullen Performance Hall Houston, Texas 77204-2004 Cover illustration by Pauline Rodriguez-Howard Cover design by Ken Bullock Bertrand, Diane Gonzales. Close to the Heart / Diane Gonzales Bertrand. p. cm. Summary: Jessie Medina, enthused about starting her professional job at St. Josephs High School in Texas, confronts challenges that include gender discrimination and determining the role of love in her new life. ISBN 1-55885-319-7 (alk. paper) [1. Sex roleFiction. 2. LoveFiction. 3. High schoolsFiction. 4. SchoolsFiction. 5. Mexican AmericansFiction. 6. Texas Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.B46352 C1 2002 [Fic]dc21 2001058994 CIP The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Information SciencesPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984. 2002 by Diane Gonzales Bertrand Printed in the United States of America

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Acknowledgments
This manuscript was recently revised from the original novel called Clo se to the Heart. While the fictional characters and their conflicts remained the same, the narrative and dialogue have been updated in order to reach a new generation of readers. I appreciate the support from the editorial team at Arte Pblico Press. They realized the importance of reprinting the story for the many young people who have enjoyed my other books. I want to thank my sister-in-law, Elizabeth Gonzales, for re-typing the manuscript, and her husband, my brother, Joe, who helped me write Badgers song almost ten years ago. My writing friends, Audrey Eliot and Carla Joinson, were invaluable to my work. Thank you for your encouragement and your honesty. I dedicated the first printing of this story to my parents, to my brother, Frank, and in memory of a dear friend, Daniel Winslow. I want to dedicate this new printing to all of my familyBertrand, Gonzales, MacRae, and Engelbrecht because I hold all of you close to my heart. Po r siem p re.

To my family and friends who are loyal supporters of The Blue and Gold Go Knights!

Chapter One
Hey! Jessie! Let us throw you a pass! Jessie Medina, the new development director for St. Joseph High School, had just walked outside of the main building. She turned in the direction of the call and spotted the Cant twins, who lived next door to her mother, tossing a football between them in the grassy quadrangle between the school buildings and the brothers residence. Come on, Jessie. Just one! Eli Cant yelled. Never one to pass up a little fun, she moved onto the lawn, and raised her arms. Okay. Throw it! Having grown up with three brothers, Jessie knew she could catch a football, but she underestimated Elis skill as he threw the ball in a high arch. She had to move backwards over the grass in quick, crunchy steps. Finally, she jumped up, barely reaching the faded leather ball. Her fingers rounded the tip, then clamped down tightly. As the momentum drove her towards the ground, she anticipated the sharp, dry grass cushioning her fall. Instead, she landed between a pair of long arms. Her head knocked against a hard chest as someone solid and strong intercepted Jessie and the football. Jessie gasped, then struggled to free herself, but just like straw Chinese handcuffs, the more she pulled, the tighter the trap became. Finally, she pushed her feet to the ground and stood upright to meet her captor. She saw a shallow dimple splitting a firm chin at the
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base of a square jawline. Tanned cheeks shadowed by a days beard led her to the ebony eyes gleaming under thick, slightly tilted, black eyebrows. Something about his stare unsettled her, made her tremble. She clung to the football as if to protect herself from him. Hey! Jessie! Give us a pass! one of the boys yelled. One black eyebrow lifted. Should I make a pass, too? Jessie gulped out a definite no before she pushed out of his arms. Come on! Jessie! Throw the ball! She stepped back, turning her attention towards the Cant twins waiting near the flagpoles. A large hand clamped down on her arm before she could throw. Jessie? Youre Jesse Medina? His masculine grip set off an internal alarm. She hadnt immediately recognized him, but suddenly she understood why there was such disbelief in his deep voice. I got a call to see Jesse Medina. I figured it was Mike Medinas little brother. I wasnt expecting a woman named Jessie. His eyes scrutinized her thoroughly, and she feared he had just stolen her chance to make her best first impression. Jessie wore her dark brown hair pulled back into a loose braid, and knew it must look like a tangled rope. Perspiration must have certainly washed away her make-up, and her brothers old football jersey was streaked with dust and dirt from cleaning the office of a pack rat. She probably looked more like a silly tomboy than a professional director of school development. Jessie tugged herself free, and tried not to let his persistent stare affect her throw. She took a quick slide forward before cocking her arm back and releasing the ball. Eli Cant ran forward and easily caught her throw. Nice pass, Jessie.

Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Jessie detected the sarcasm in the voice behind her. Ignoring him, she called out, Thanks for the exercise, Eli! Later! She wiped her hands on her red jeans and turned back to the man packing two strong hands onto his lean hips. She couldnt help but notice everything about him. He wore his grease-stained denim work shirt proudly, unlike Jessie, who was embarrassed to look like a cleaning woman. Her cheeks grew hot as she realized the president of St. Josephs Alumni Association had caught her at her worst, not to mention, smack between his arms. Jessie hid her discomfort behind a show of irritation. Roland Tovas, right? Youre late! Ive been waiting since yesterday for you! Didnt you get my messages? I got your message. I was busy. His stance widened as his gaze narrowed upon her. Her worst fears about this initial meeting didnt come close to the reality. The timing was bad, and the first impression worse, but she needed to salvage the opportunity to talk to Roland Tovas. Since she wantedno, need edhis support in her job, she forced herself to smile. Now that youre here, could we talk in my office? She gestured towards the main school building, a twostory limestone structure with narrow casement windows. He shrugged. Might as well. As they walked together, Jessie tried to remember Roland. She was in eighth grade when he had kicked the crucial extra point over the goal posts at the Homecoming game, earning his nickname, Pointer. Although her brother Gilbert graduated the same year, Jessie had never met him until today. She knew he owned and operated a garage not far from the school, and he had taken over the alumni presidency last year.

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Soare you Mike Medinas sister or what? Rolands question broke into her thoughts. Jessie stopped at the door of the building. She slid her keys from her jeans back pocket. Im not related to a Mike Medina. She guessed Rolands confusion evolved from the different Medina families who attended the school through the years. She put the key into the lock and turned it, pulling the aluminum door towards them. Roland caught the door, opening it wider. He stood there politely, nodding for her to enter first. Her eyes widened, caught off guard by the courtesy of his gentlemans manners, but as she entered the building, she reminded herself she was at St. Joes now. A woman would be treated with special regard whether she wanted it or not. Youre really the new development director? I cant believe they chose you. His tone of disappointment seemed to be amplified in the empty school building. Jessie sighed. She knew putting herself in this environment would only add to the challenges of her new job, but she was determined to prove her skills and talents went beyond gender. Im very qualified, Roland. I spent the last three years as assistant community relations director for Texan Cola. If we want St. Joes to survive, this school needs a person who can get community support. And youre the person who can do that? Yes, I believe I can. Roland raked his fingers through his straight, black hair. Im sorry, Jessie, but something just doesnt feel right. Are you upset because a woman was hired as a development director for an all-boys school? She asked him, her voice tense with self-control. Even if she didnt walk the halls as a student, St. Joes was a place filled with good memories for her.

Diane Gonzales Bertrand

I guess Im just disappointed. His square shoulders inclined in a shrug. No one wants to think of a St. Joes event without Brother William Daniels taking charge. Hes been here forever, you know? To me, Brother William is St. Joes. His honesty allowed a glimpse into another side of him, touching Jessies spirit with the depth of emotion he revealed. Despite their unsteady beginning, she found herself optimistic about their working together. Why do you look so familiar? he asked her. The question made her step back. Familiar? He studied Jessie, his gaze gentle and curious. Yeah, like Ive met you before or something. Have I? I attended a lot of school functions through the years. Jessie brushed aside his question with a wave of her hand. Lets go into my office. Jessie flipped the light switch and meandered around boxes. Watch where you walk. She grabbed stacks of old school newspapers from a wooden chair and looked around for a place to toss them. One spot on the worn brown carpet was as cluttered as another. She finally dropped them on the floor behind her rolltop desk, an antique wooden secretary pushed against one paneled wall. I dont think Brother William ever threw away a thing in his life! She noticed Rolands eyes glide over the goldenbrown walls with darker squares where pictures once hung. He suddenly looked over his shoulder, as if he remembered something he lost by the door. He walked towards the windows, and bent down one dusty venetian blind to peek outside. This room sure looks different. Once Brother William removed his personal items, I started throwing out the trash. She laughed. Lots of trash. She noticed he paused to thumb through a stack of

Close to the Heart

old black-and-white photographs resting on a nearby file cabinet. They say someones trash is someone elses treasure, he said. It was an old clich; nevertheless, she was glad to see he appreciated the value of the old pictures. I know the difference between trash and treasure, Roland. Those pictures should be kept some place where they can be preserved for the next generation. Rumor has it, St. Joes wont be around for the next generation. Roland spoke as if he was thinking out loud. His fist landed in the middle of the pictures, then he walked around the desk. Jessie swiveled in her chair, following his movements. Is this the regret of the entire alumni or just its president? My opinion isnt important. Saving the school is the issue. He moved to sit down in a stiff wooden chair beside her desk. He glanced down when it creaked loudly under him. I just want to keep St. Joes from closing down. We share the same goals, Roland. Jessie leaned her elbow on the desktop, ready to explain her ideas. Now, Ive outlined a plan for a major fundraising event for the school. I understand theres an alumni meeting Thursday night, and Id like to discuss the agenda with you. I want some time to talk to the group. Sorry! Roland grinned as he relaxed into the chair. If a woman like you came to one of the alumni meetings, none of the men would pay attention to me. I doubt that. If he meant to compliment her, she didnt like it. Right now the Alumni Association seems more like a good excuse to get together, drink beer, and relive the glory days. How would you know what an alumni meeting is all about?

Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Jessies eyebrows raised. I have three brothers who go to meetings, and two sisters-in-laws who tell me theyre very happy when they get home. Are you calling us a bunch of drunks? We wouldnt bother to get together if we didnt care about the school. His eyes narrowed. And you cant believe everything your sister-in-law says. I know! I have one! Jessie sighed. This conversation had taken a dangerous curve. She tried to get back on track. Listen, Roland, in order for me to do my job right, I need the alumnis help. Jessie, if you need us to work at a fundraiser, thats not a problem. He shrugged. Weve worked at school festivals and church bingos all our lives. You dont understand, she told Roland, her voice raising slightly. Im talking about keeping the school open, not raising a hundred dollars. In order for me to raise big money for the school, the alumni group has to become a visible army for St. Joes. I agree with you. He folded his arms across the blue work shirt. So what are your plans? I assume you have a fundraiser in mind. Yes, I do. Id like to stage a concert to benefit St. Joes. She gave him a confident smile. A concert? He chuckled, shaking his head. You ever put on a concert together before? Texan Cola co-sponsored three while I worked for them. I know what it takes. I just need to get the right man to draw the crowds. She picked up her pencil and twirled it. And when would you have this concert? Jessie braced herself for his reaction. Memorial Day weekend. What? Rolands eyes widened. Memorial Day weekend? Thats barely two months away. Roland, St. Joes needs money now

Close to the Heart

And besideswe already have a fundraiser for that weekend. That old softball tournament? That old softball tournament is a good tradition, Roland answered. It brings a lot of the alumni back to San Antonio for a yearly reunion. You cant cancel it for a concert. Roland, Ive studied the profits on the last four tournaments. Its a drop in the bucket compared to what a concert could make. The alumni need to look beyond themselves, and give something back to the school. His handsome face hardened into an angry scowl. I really resent your attititude. You keep insinuating the alumni do nothing for the school. Well, I havent seen any notes about any alumni donations. She lifted a stack of papers for emphasis, then gave him a look that challenged him to refute the facts. Roland waved the papers aside. Some donations arent in a checkbook balance, Jessie. Well, they should be! Playing softball isnt going to keep St. Joes open. And if the school closes next year, where will the alumni hold their precious tournament? At St. Michaels? Rolands eyes shot off enough sparks to start a fire. His jaw tightened; she could almost hear his teeth grinding together. She knew she had made a direct hit when she mentioned St. Michaels because the rivalry between the schools was wedged deep into the heart of every St. Joes graduate. I just dont think you understand the magnitude of the situation, Roland. I understand it better than you think, Jessie. I have some personal reasons for keeping the school open. What would someone like you really know about St.

Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Joes? Jessies eyebrows drew together. Are you talking about those qualities that make this school special? Traditions like the Lo s Herm ano s Program? The Homecoming Picnic? The retreats at Casa San Jo s ? I know as much about St. Joes as my own high school. My three brothers went to this school. And I She stopped and swallowed, then raised her chin proudly. I was a cheerleader at St. Joes for three years. Rolands eyes rolled. A cheerleader? What are you going to do at the alumni meeting? Hold a pep rally? A little school spirit always helps! Maybe its time someone reminded the alumni that this school is worth fighting for! She was exasperated at Rolands tone, but he only made her more determined to earn his respect. She wanted to make him realize he didnt have the monopoly on personal causes. She had her own reasons for succeeding at St. Joes. A loud double rap on the door interrupted the tense moment between them. A thin hand, the color of sandpaper, gripped the door. A long pale face peeked around. Anybody home? Small blue-gray eyes darted from Jessie to Roland. Jessie raised a smile for Brother William Daniels as he pushed open the door. Come in and join us, Brother William. Roland finally arrived for yesterdays meeting. The gaunt man entered the office. His white shirt and black slacks hung on his skinny frame. Yellow teeth appeared when he grinned. Hey, Pointer! Does the bus work now? He extended his arms to Roland and they embraced. Witnessing un abrazo between the men softened Jessies feelings. It was hard to stay angry at any man who cared that much about Brother William. Actually, the warmth of fam ilia among the faculty, students, and alumni was one reason she took the job. After working

Close to the Heart

with San Antonios biggest beverage distributor, a place filled with so many strangers, a job at this small boys school felt like coming home. Jessie saw Roland smile and hold Brother William at arms length. I tied a few rubber bands into place, Brother. The bus should hold together a few months. Brother William grunted, his eyes twinkling. We just need the bus to hold together until Jessie can get us a new one. With his hand still clasping Rolands arm, he addressed her. Pointers great about fixing the bus for us. Dont know how wed get the teams to the games if it werent for Tovas Mechanics. I do what I can, Brother. Roland shot a look at Jessie. Did Eddies company finish roofing the cafeteria? About a week ago. And Hamp Randle brought in his plumber to take care of the sewer problem in the gym. His long finger tapped his pointed chin. You know, we ought to publicize the way you guys work around here and dont charge a penny. We do it to help the school. Once again, the black gaze touched Jessie. As embarrassment heated her face, she wondered if her cheeks were as red as her jeans. Now she understood why Roland had been so defensive. The alumni w ere working for the school. Now she needed to get them to work with her, too. Brother William clapped Roland on the shoulder. I told you, Jessie! There are a lot of good men out there, just waiting for you to lead them. Right, Pointer? Jessie looked down at her dirty leather sneakers. Did sweet Brother William know how uncomfortable his words made her feel? Roland cleared his throat. Sure, Brother. UhI drove the bus over myself. Can I get a lift back to the garage? Jessie, would you mind? Brother William shuffled

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towards the door. You and Roland can talk about Thursdays meeting while you take him back. You know where the garage is, right? Ill take care of things, Brother. Jessie nodded, looking at Brother William rather than Roland. The short drive might give her more time to discuss her plans. Hopefully, Brother Williams appearance had softened Rolands feelings about her role in the school. Give my best to your mother, Roland. Jessie, Ill see you in the morning. Roland voiced a goodbye, as she closed the door behind Brother William. Turning around, she pressed her back against the cool wood. She looked up, and tried to make a better start with him. I was mistaken about the alumnis involvement. I believe I owe you an apology. No, just a ride back to the garage. His lip curved with a grin that charmed her. Sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans, he asked, How do you plan to get a new school bus? Relieved their conversation was taking a less argumentative tone, Jessie headed for the file cabinet. She opened the top drawer and lifted out her black purse. There are several foundations that will give money for a bus. Im working on a grant proposal right now. Its part of my job as development director. St. Joes needs a bus, Jessie. Badly. I spent the past two days going through junkyards for spare parts. Im a mechanic, not a miracle worker. Ill see what I can do! Jessie slung her purse over her shoulder as she faced him. Shall we go? She led the way out of her office, and he followed her. Do you like foreign cars? Roland asked as they neared the only car left in the front parking lot. Must cost you a bundle when it breaks down. Jessie unlocked the passenger door of her shiny maroon car, the first one she had bought all on her own.

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My car doesnt break down. Its not even a year old. She walked around to get into the drivers side. Slowly, she drove her car out of the lot and into the street. As Jessie saw Roland adjusting the bucket seat to give his long legs more room, she spoke casually, Roland, Ill be glad to give you a detailed outline of my concert idea. Good. Give me an outline, and Ill present your idea to the group. Roland settled into the leather seat. This car is more comfortable than it looks. Jessie didnt let him change the subject. Roland, I want to come to the meeting and explain my work in my own way. I remember. Pom-poms and cartwheels, right? Jessies fist thumped the steering wheel, but she refused to let her irritation gain control. She slowed the car for a red light, and Roland slid his arm across her seat. If you want to know the truth, Jessie, the alumni meetings are a stag event. Its a boys school, and the majority of the teachers are male. The guys would be He paused. unco m fo rtable , if a good-looking woman appeared and began discussing fundraising for St. Joes. The guys will have to get used to dealing with me sooner or later. We dont have time to waste. The light turned green, and Jessie drove on, wishing hed keep his drumming fingers off her seat. She forced herself to concentrate on the professional aspects of their relationship despite his physical presence dominating the confines of her small car. A lot of the alumni think some guy named Jesse Medina got Brother Williams old job, Roland was saying. You just cant waltz in there unannounced. Let me tell them about you at this meeting, and you can come to the next one, okay?

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Jessie refused to be treated like a child asked to wait her turn. I care about the school, Roland, and I want the alumni to help me keep it open. Whether Im male or female isnt important. She stopped talking as she manuevered her car into the crowded driveway of Tovas Mechanics. Two rectangular metal buildings faced the busy street, their wide barn-like doors slid back to reveal eight to ten cars parked inside, half of them up on racks. Another dozen cars waited in the open lots in front. Judging from the number of cars waiting to be serviced, Roland was a very busy man. She should have respected the fact that his responsibilities were just as important as hers. Jessie, let me contact the rest of the officers, and Ill get back to you, Roland said, then lifted the lever on the door to swing it open. Thanks for the ride. Jessies hand flew to his bronze forearm to hold him back. Were not finished discussing everything yet, Roland. Her heart skittered at the coolness of his skin, and the dark hairs under her fingertips. His eyes registered surprise at the contact. As if he were a hot match, she let him go. Rolands devilish smile rattled her even more. Well, Miss Jessie, now that Im through scrounging around for bus parts, I can do a little alumni work. Ill call the guys, mention you, and well go from there. Ill get back to you. Soon. He swung himself out of the car quickly before she could stop him. He pressed down the lock. Drive carefully. Then he firmly shut the door. Jessie nodded as he waved and walked inside the metal building. His gallant concern for her safety underscored his traditional view of male and female roles. She knew shed have to broaden Rolands perspective about her job, first, and then decide what to do about the man

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himself.

Diane Gonzales Bertrand

As Roland Tovas parked his car in the driveway underneath his garage apartment, he owned up to the fact that one of his biggest faults was that he didnt accept sudden changes well. Oh, eventually, he accepted them, but usually he wanted a guarantee of some kind. In the past year, though, some changes were not in his power to control, and that bothered him even more. He thought he had come to terms with the unexpected until he held the lovely Jessie Medina and that old football in his arms this afternoon. Now, he wasnt so sure. As Roland got out of his car, he smelled the aroma of cooking meat. He took it as a hopeful sign his mother would be home tonight. As he opened the screen door to his mothers house, though, he almost crashed into her as she rushed out. Hello, Mom! He caught the door before it slammed. Consuelo Tovas stopped on the wooden porch as her slim hands tightened one of her silver earrings. Rolando, Ill be home about ten-thirty. Were meeting at San Jose Mission tonight. Roland frowned. Let me drive you and pick you up, then. Thats on the other side of town, Mom. Delias picking me up. Did I tell you the mayor will be there tonight? She straightened her cotton Mexican dress, a bright turquoise material decorated with embroidered white flowers. Now, P.O.N.S. can get some answers! A faded red station wagon rumbled up the driveway, and a horn honked loudly. The woman inside gestured as if she was in a hurry. Tell Delia to bring her car to the garage so I can check her muffler, Roland said, kissing his mothers soft brown cheek. Be careful, Mom. He watched her hurry

down the back steps, and waved as she and Delia left. He sighed tiredly as he entered the large kitchen with its high ceiling and big open windows. He saw a frying pan on the copper-colored stove with a juicy hamburger patty sizzling on it and a small pot with simmering greens. He recognized the simple meal as Bobbys cooking. Roland washed his hands as his little brother appeared. Hey, Rolo! Bobby said. He was like an overgrown puppy, long and gawky, with large brown eyes. The boy jogged to the stove and turned off the burner. His next target was the refrigerator. Roland watched his little brother stand in the cool wedge of the open door, and untwist the cap on the gallon jug of milk. As Bobby raised the milk jug to his lips, Roland cleared his throat loudly. Do you mind? Mom and I drink milk, too, you know. Bobby grimaced, then kicked the refrigerator door shut. Get me a glass, will you, Rolo? Roland took two glasses out of the drain board behind him as Bobby served up his meal, and sat down at the table. Sitting down beside him, Roland poured them each a glass of milk. How was practice? Ugh! Too many sprints. Im heading over to Marks later and soak in the hot tub. Hungrily, he began to eat in fast, large bites. I dont got much homework tonight. I was at St. Joes today. Yeah, I saw the bus. We were afraid wed have to go to the track meet in Mrs. Rodrguezs van. She always makes us listen to her country-western tapes. Sheesh! He forked a last piece of the hamburger patty and plopped it into his mouth. Roland smiled indulgently. Listening to Bobbys Bleed ing Centip ed es tapes couldnt be any worse for

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Mrs. Rodrguez. Bobby swallowed, then spoke. So did you meet Jessie Medina? Roland took a sip from his glass, then leaned back in the chair. Yeah, I did. Why didnt you tell me Jessie was a woman? You didnt ask me. Bobby laughed, then reached for his milk. Shes got great legs, dont you think? Roland raised an eyebrow. How would you know about her legs, Bobby? Yesterday, she was dressed in a tight black skirt. She came down the hall just as third period let out. Shes great-looking both coming and going, dont you think? Roland handled his glass. Actually, he never got past the golden skin sprinkled with freckles, and those large brown eyes which darkened with her every emotion. His body reacted unexpectedly as he remembered holding her. Then he realized he was behaving like Bobby, whose hormones were getting more active everyday. More changes Roland couldnt control. Like his mother going to all these P.O.N.S. meetings and leaving Bobby alone on evenings and week-ends. When Roland and his brother, Raymond, were Bobbys age, they could depend on their mother to be their cook. She was home at night, usually supervising homework and talking to their father about his day as she served his dinner. Seven months ago, after the sudden death of his father, Roland had moved into the apartment above his parents garage. From the beginning, he was surprised by his mothers new lifestyle. If the People Organizing for Neighborhood Support werent chasing councilmen, they were camped in the dining room planning their next course of action. P.O.N.S. kept their mother very busy and Roland couldnt understand her choices. He was raised by his parents to value traditions and keep

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them sacred. Fam ilia . Roland believed there was no stronger tie than family. The obligation to his family prompted his decision to move home just so he could be available for his mother and little brothers needs. Only he didnt know how to recapture what had been so comfortable and safe. The clatter of a fork on an empty plate signaled that Bobby had finished his supper. As Roland watched Bobby wash his plate and glass, he appreciated the fact that his little brother was a good kid. It was because of Bobby and other boys like him that Roland took over the alumni group when rumors of closing the school began to circulate. But he soon realized he didnt have the time to organize necessary fundraising activities to keep the school open. His fathers untimely death had put new business responsibilities on his shoulders, and he was trying to do what he could for his mother and Bobby on a personal level. He was ready to do his part for the school, too, but it would take time, and it was evident that time was working against him. Although Roland deeply respected and admired Brother William Daniels, he was willing to admit the aged man had done little for school development over the last five years. Someone young and energetic needed to boost interest in St. Joseph High School. But a woman? What a change! He just wasnt convinced that Jessie Medina was the right person for the job.

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Chapter Two
Jessie stared at a plaque above her office desk. A fat tabby cat hung by one claw from a branch. The caption Help me hang in there! kept her attention a long moment. Morning, Jessie. You thinking some pretty deep thoughts? Turning to her open office door, she smiled at Brother William. I was hoping for divine inspiration. A miracle? A vision? Something to tell me what to do next. Brother William shuffled over to the shiny chrome chair with a green padded seat by Jessies desk. He sat in it and smiled. Nice chair. I liked the hard, splintery ones better. The students were so uncomfortable they confessed their guilt quicker. Jessie smiled. I put the old chair in the teachers lounge. I want my guests to stay longer and donate more money. Good thinking. He reached over and patted her hand. I knew you were a good choice for this job. Catching the proud gleam in his eyes, Jessie sighed. Im not feeling too confident this morning, Brother. My concert idea isnt going to help St. Joes until I can find someone to do it. I dont know any famous people. Do you? Hmm. Brother Williams eyes darted around the office, as if he was looking for something. Where are all those old yearbooks, Jessie?

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Yearbooks? Jessie swiveled in her office chair and looked at the three boxes stacked in the corner. I think theyre in the top box over there. She had arrived early this morning to organize her office, then rushed home to change. Dressed in a peacock-blue tailored dress, she hadnt planned on digging through boxes again. She had an appointment with her friend Gonzo, who worked at KYCK radio, because she hoped he could give her leads on a singer who might do a concert. Brother William was already up and rummaging through the box. Jessies eyes widened as he grabbed a book, and returned to the chair. You found it already? Just luck, he said, then chuckled. Or maybe a bit of divine intervention. Curiously, she watched the wrinkled, shaking fingers turn the glossy pages of the yearbook. He finally stopped at the section with football team pictures. He placed the open book on her desk. Recognize anyone in this picture? Jessie studied the full-page black-and-white picture. Three rows of football players, two coaches, and a boy holding a bucket didnt strike anything familiar. Sighing, she looked back at Brother William. Sorry! The old man hissed, then pointed at a face. The players light hair was cropped short and his fat features squashed together in a squint. Do you know who this is? Jessie shrugged, then shook her head. Its Weldon McCloud. He spoke as if the name meant a great deal to the world, but it still left Jessie perplexed. I dont understand. Weldon McCloud? Oh, yes, thats right. He uses the nickname I gave him. Badger. Badger McCloud. He grinned like a little kid on a new bike.

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Badger McCloud? Jessies fingers moved over the names under the picture, until she read Weldon McCloud for herself. The famous singer? He went to St. Joes? Only three semesters. He played JV football. He was in my biology class. I gave him the nickname when he found a badgers tail on a field trip. Wears it on his cowboy hat even now. Jessie giggled. I read in the tabloids that some medicine man gave him the badgers tail as a sacred relic or something. Brother William laughed, his gaunt face suddenly looking healthy with color. Nothing that glamorous, believe me. We found the rear end of a badger in a rusty trap, and BadgerWeldonsliced off the tail with his pocketknife. Next thing I know, he does a report on badgers for his biology report. I started calling him Badger then, and the name stuck with him. Do you still keep in contact with Badger? Saw him about five years ago. He wasnt famous then. Jessies heart seemed to do a cartwheel. Brother, this may just be the miracle I was looking for. If you and I went to Badger, talked to him, do you think hed do a concert to benefit St. Joes? Brother William shrugged. Dont know. I guess we could ask him. Do you know where he lives? No, but I heard on the radio hes doing a concert in Austin. If I can get us a couple of backstage passes, we might be able to talk to him about doing a benefit concert for us. Brother William stroked his pointed chin. He nodded slowly. If I could talk to him, maybe wed have a chance. This is great, Brother. Impulsively, she hugged the frail old man. You let me get the passes, and Ill let you

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do the talking. Well make a great team. A crooked smile spread across his lips. Jessie, you need a younger, stronger man to help you carry the ball for our team. Rolands my choice. She sighed. Roland doesnt think too much of your replacement in the Development Office. Our meeting yesterday wasnt very productive. Jessie moved back to her desk and shut the yearbook. He doesnt think the alumni can accept a woman as the development director for an all-boys school. Brother William squeezed Jessies arm. Talk to him again. Roland might be a little on the traditional side He winked. but he isnt stupid. He walked out of the office. Jessie shrugged. Since Brother William had just provided the connection she needed to a famous singer, she would have to trust his instincts about Roland, too. She dialed the number to Tovas Mechanics, and was taken by surprise at the deep voice that answered the telephone. Hello. Tovas Mechanics. This is Roland. She expected the same woman who had taken her messages the last two days to answer. Hello, Roland. This is Jessie Medina. Hello, Jessie. What can I do for you? His friendly tone surprised her. She expected him to be cold and negative. I wondered if we could talk. Not today. Sorry. Im very busy. Roland, we need to talk about tomorrows meeting. His loud sigh whistled in her ear. She fired her own frustrated sigh back at him. Listen, Roland. Im sorry if you dont like a woman working in the Development Office. Thats your problem, not mine. My main concern is St. Joes School and keeping it open. Her voice rose sharply. I have some good ideas to keep the school afloat, but Im not Super

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Woman! I need help. Brother William tells me that I can depend on you. Is he wrong? She knew the remark hit Roland in a sensitive area, but she wanted him to understand there were pressures on both of them to work together. I cant get away today, Jessie. Each word was slow and deliberate. Deciding to give Roland the benefit of the doubt, Jessie changed her approach. What about tomorrow? I can buy you lunch. Save your lunch money for some hotshot who can donate money to the school. Despite the caustic tone in his voice, Jessie laughed. She was amused by his assumptions shed treat him to an expensive restaurant. Actually, I planned for us to eat in the school cafeteria. This job doesnt have an expense account for business lunches. I have to make do with what I got. I think theyre serving tacos tomorrow. There was a long pause, then he cleared his throat. I can probably get away for thirty minutes or so. Ill meet you in your office about twelve. His voice was quiet and polite. Ill be here, Roland. See you tomorrow. Goodbye. She returned the telephone receiver to its cradle, and allowed herself a satisfied grin. The next day when Jessie heard the solid knock on her office door, she felt better prepared to discuss a professional working relationship with the alumni president of the school. She turned to see Roland Tovas leaning his shoulder against the door jam, blocking the doorway with his muscular frame. Again, he took her off guard. She expected to see him spotted with grease and oil, but his blue denim work shirt and his dark jeans looked as if he had just bought them. Even his leather work shoes were polished. He was a busy mechanic. Why did he look so clean?

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Is something wrong? Rolands deep voice filled the small space of her office. Realizing shed been caught staring, Jessie averted her gaze and stood up. Ino! Nothings wrong. She turned from her desk, and rolled her chair back with her legs, so she could step out. As she looked at Roland with her best professional smile, she caught him appraising her appearance and it pleased her. She was dressed in a fitted red dress with a red-and-black bolero jacket. Her black high-heeled shoes matched the ebony buttons on the jacket. She had taken the time to French braid her long, brunette hair, and knew her image was better than yesterdays cleaning woman attire. Is something wrong? she asked, teasing him with his own words. You arent exactly dressed for football today, Ms. Medina. Roland smiled. I like the change. Jessie caught the approval in his eyes, and although she responded with a slight nod, her head seemed to spin. Shall we go to lunch? she inquired casually. Roland stepped back, extending his arm for her to go first. As she passed him, Jessie smelled the fresh soap mingled with a spicy aftershave. She decided that he must have changed clothes and washed off the car oil before appearing at the school. He probably wanted to make a better impression, too. They fell into step beside each other as they walked down the first floor of the school. Five classrooms lined each side of the building, with two rows of navy blue metal lockers on each wall. The buzz of student and teachers voices filtered through the closed doors into the hallway. Seems like a long time ago since I went to school here, Roland told her in a quiet voice. Eleven years, Jessie remarked without thinking.

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How do you know that? Jessie glanced at him. My brother Gilbert had his ten-year reunion last summer. Roland chuckled, then shook his head. Gilbert Medina. I never guessed you were his little sister. I even found my old yearbook last night, and studied every Medina I found, but I didnt see anyone who looked like you. Jessies breath caught in her throat. His curiosity surprised her. She expected Roland to dismiss her without a second thought. She had been angry over his attitude yesterday, yet as she sped up her steps to keep up with him, she realized his traditional opinions seemed natural for someone like him. Even his job was in a predominantly masculine field. She admitted to herself she was intrigued by him because he took the differences between men and women seriously. Rolands blend of charisma and chauvinism suited him well. Suddenly, the school bell shattered the calm of the empty halls. The loud clang seemed to make the floor shake. Jessie gasped, as doors banged open, and boys flooded the halls from every direction. She grabbed Rolands hand and pulled him towards a glass trophy case at the end of the hall, probably the only spot where the boys wouldnt trample over them in their haste to get to their lockers and then race to the cafeteria. The noisy students seemed to surround them like water. I should have waited until the bell rang first. Im sorry. She raised her voice over the noise of slamming lockers and spirited conversation. Roland squeezed her hand, and she looked up. She could tell from the smile on his lips and the way he pulled her closer that he enjoyed their unexpected contact. A loud wolf whistle focused her attention back to the

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teenage boys passing them, and in any direction she looked, she saw the appraising looks of the freshmen or lustful stares of the seniors. She used to enjoy the attention as a teenage cheerleader. But now with the age difference between her and the boys, their staring made her feel like she was on display. And with Roland standing close enough to brush his hand against the point where her hips rounded, she felt every inch a woman. She didnt want to be the object of a teenage boys fantasy, but to be desired by a man like Roland? That was another story! Embarrassed by her own thoughts, Jessie quickly released Rolands hand. She stepped away from him, and cautiously kept herself out of the way of the last group of boys barreling down the hallway. Next time you invite me to lunch, Jessie, lets give the boys a five-minute head start, okay? Rolands wry comment helped Jessie regain her perspective. She needed Rolands assistance in her job. Any personal attraction between them would only complicate matters. As for the boys, she would take time next week to talk to individual classes and explain her role. Maybe if the boys came to know her as a person who worked for the school, they would not stare at her like she stepped off the pages of a swimsuit issue of a sports magazine. Well, lets check to see if the boys left any tacos for us, Jessie replied lightly, and walked towards the doors. The cafeteria was connected to the main building by a short, covered path. Jessie started to reach for the cafeteria door handle, but Roland caught it first, and opened the heavy metal door for her. We need to set the right example for the boys, Roland explained when their eyes met. Theyre so used to an all-male population, basic good manners are forgotten. Its not so different in an all-girls school. You dont

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pay attention to how you sit or what you say because there arent any boys around. Jessie laughed. I dont think I ever wore make-up to school except on the days I was going to cheer at a St. Joes pep rally. Before Roland could make a comment about her cheerleading, Jessie moved past the windows and walked down the side of the cafeteria. Roland instinctively knew that each boy noticed the shapely figure walking through the room. Things were no different when he was a St. Joes student. A female presence, especially someone who was young and pretty, always caused a hormone tornado. As he looked around the cafeteria, the long tables seemed shorter, the room smaller than he recalled. A visit to St. Joes always brought back memories. His story was probably no different from those other boys who sat here today. As he watched the boys watch Jessie, he was struck by the importance of Jessies job. The boys of St. Joes deserved a chance to graduate from a school like this one. The boys and their teachers knew everyone by name. They learned the spirit of brotherhood in various service projects. Families living in the barrio deserved the option to educate their sons here. After calling members of the executive board of the Alumni Association last night, the general consensus accused poor Brother William of turning senile or getting bewitched. Jessies appearance at tonights meeting would never be taken seriously, Roland feared, unless he prepared the general membership first. Shed be laughed right out of the library or worse. What if one of the guys did or said something inappropriate? Now Roland stood behind Jessie while the cafeteria manager fixed them plates with crispy beef tacos, rice,

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and beans. He decided it was his traditional upbringing that made him feel protective of Jessie. Hadnt his father instilled in Roland that it was a mans duty to take care of a woman? Yesterday he had downplayed the rush of excitement he received when he held Jessie and that old football in his arms. He wanted to ignore the way his heart pounded when they held hands in the crowded hallways. It was just the St. Joes atmosphere, and he was caught in a hormone tornado. Lets go over there, Roland, Jessie said. She had leaned closer to be heard over the cafeteria noise, and he could smell her perfume. She wore a light, flowery scent. And he had always liked a woman who used make-up to highlight her features, not to try to create a false impression. Why couldnt she be his date in a romantic Riverwalk cafe instead of He was so caught up in his thoughts, he almost tripped when Jessie stopped at a corner table reserved for faculty members and staff, and pulled out her own chair. Roland blinked, then cleared his throat, trying to keep his mind off the woman, and on the reason they were meeting. He chose to sit across from her, and hoped the smell of tacos would overpower her perfume. Let me tell you whats happened since we last talked, Jessie said, unfolding her napkin. Have you ever heard of Badger McCloud? I think so. Country-western singer, right? Right. Did you know he went to school here? Roland was about to take a bite from the taco, but stopped to stare at her. No. When? Brother William showed me his picture in the yearbook. He only came here for three semesters. Brother William told me he gave Badger his nickname. Roland grinned. That old man has more surprises

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up his sleeve than a magician. He took a bite from the taco, and was surprised it tasted better than his memories of cafeteria food. I cant wait to tell the alumni all about the concert idea, Jessie was saying. By tonight, Ill know if we have the backstage passes for Badgers concert in Austin this weekend. Then, Brother William and I can talk to Badger. You know, Jessie, Roland began, stirring his rice with his fork around his plate. If you tell me how the alumni can help, I know the guys will pitch in and do any job you need. You dont need to come to the meeting. I can handle the alumni for you. No, Roland. I need to be there. I want to explain the project my way. Her dark brown eyes glowed with determination. The alumni need to know more about the Development Office, my role in the school. I want to meet them personally, so I can start to build a network of people working for St. Joes. Roland slowly finished his lunch, but the food didnt appeal to him anymore. Why couldnt she just do her job and let him do his? Her presence would only be a distraction. Since he took over as president, he had reorganized the alumni within the monthly meetings into his own network of men working for the school. The word was out that St. Joes needed donations of time, talents, and money, and he had started with the first two by getting alumni to do repair jobs around the place and updating the alumni list. He knew getting big money for the school was crucial, but he wanted to approach the alumni carefully, not let Jessie toss her pom-poms and lead a cheer, Lets do it my way and save the school! You seem to think the group wont work with me. Jessies voice was quiet and calm. She had put down her fork, and folded her hands upon the Formica table top.

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My brothers should be at the meeting. I know a lot of their friends. They were all very supportive when they heard I got this job. Roland pushed his plate aside. He rarely ate lunch. He had only agreed to this meeting so he could convince this stubborn woman that he would handle the alumni group. Alo ne. If Jessie and her brothers tried to create their own group of supporters, all his own work would be worthless. Only a united effort by all alumni, students, and parents would keep the school open beyond next year. I plan to be in the library tonight for the meeting, Roland. I agree with Brother William that I need to work with you and the alumni. He expects me at tonights meeting. Roland twisted his paper napkin between his hands, then threw it on his plate. You know, every time you dont get your way, you bring up Brother William. You shouldnt use him to fight your battles, Jessie. Jessie recoiled as if he had struck her. Her body was rigid, her stare was ice cold. I fight my own battles, Roland. I dont need any man to do it for me. Roland knew if he didnt leave the cafeteria soon, he could say something rude that he might regret later. He stood up, the metal chair scraping the floor noisily. Thanks for lunch. She stood up. Ill see you at tonights meeting. She extended her hand. Thank you for coming. Roland thought no woman could ever shock him, but Jessie Medina succeeded when she offered a handshake as they ended this business lunch. He had never met anyone so stubborn, so aggravating, and so beautiful all at the same time. He took her small hand in his and shook it, trying to maintain a business-like attitude, but the hormone tornado reappeared with the touch of her soft, cool hand. He held it only for two quick shakes,

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then dropped his hand to his side. Roland did not refer to the meeting. If she insisted on being there, he would let her talk. He hoped she would get a chance to say what she wanted, then would promptly leave, and let him organize the means of helping her in his own way. He nodded to Jessie, then walked out of the cafeteria, hoping he would not meet any of his brother Bobbys friends. He was in no mood to be friendly. Once outside the building, he allowed himself three deep breaths, as if he couldnt breathe properly when he was near Jessie. In the short span of their meeting, she managed to do a major tune-up on his emotions. He didnt want to race in the Grand Prix, but Jessie had his engine going full speed. However, they had to agree on who should sit behind the steering wheel, or they would never make it to the finish line. Just like a man to leave his dirty dishes, Jessie grumbled as she piled her half-eaten lunch on top of Rolands plate. She dumped everything into a nearby rubber trash can and proceeded to leave the cafeteria. Ignoring another whistle from one of the students, Jessie just kept her head up, her steps even. Why was the male animal so insecure about his own masculinity that he had to prove it every chance he could? As she pushed the release bar on the heavy cafeteria door and walked into the breezy March day, she detoured away from the pathway, now crowded with boys waiting for the lunch period to be over. She took a longer route back to her office to keep out of the boys view. Her mind replayed her meeting with Roland, and her temper soared again. Why was he trying to keep her from the job she had been hired to do? Why couldnt he

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understand her role as development director meant she had to coordinate school efforts in fundraising? She was the catalyst who would bring the school, the alumni, and the community together to keep St. Joes from closing. Why was he so determined to keep her out of the alumni meeting? Did he think that she couldnt discuss flow charts, school budgets, enrollment projections, and concert promotions, too? And how dare Roland accuse her of hiding behind Brother William! The old man was a sweetheart, but he had hired Jessie because she was qualified and capable. Even though she had only shared part of her reasons for changing jobs with Brother William during their interview, she had been very honest about her desires to keep the school open. Her brothers had learned just as much from scrubbing graffiti off the neighborhood buildings, becoming Big Brothers to the orphans at St. Peters Childrens Home, and painting homes of elderly residents, as they did from the talented teachers who prepared them for college. Even as a cheerleader, she had gotten involved in St. Joes service projects that made life easier for people in this barrio. Jessie had never been one who shirked hard work. Shed always put in extra hours in order to get a job done well. But she hadnt been prepared for another man to claim he had done all the work and steal a major promotion from her. This painful lesson had taught her that she had to be in control of her own projects. She wouldnt be left behind again. By the time Jessie walked into her office, she was already planning her next step to get the information she needed for tonights meeting. She spent an hour with Brother Edward, the principal, getting facts and figures about the school budget. She spent another hour with the school counselor, Brother Jos Antonio, so she could have a better idea of the home situations of the boys. In

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a spur-of-the-moment decision, she attended the Student Council meeting after school. In the beginning, the boys were intimidated and shy, but eventually, they began to talk about their version of campus life and ways it might improve. The younger ones voiced their concerns about the school closing before they could graduate. No one wanted to transfer, or see their community projects fail. Jessie reentered her office about four oclock, mentally organizing all her new insights into the St. Josephs School community as the phone rang. Hey, Jess! Youre in luck! I got two tickets and two backstage passes for the concert tomorrow night. Gonzos deep voice filled the telephone lines with his good news. Gonzo, thats wonderful! I owe you a big one! You do, Jess! If Badger agrees, I expect you to call me. If KYCKs a sponsor station, youll get the best promotion deal in the world. Of course I will. Youre promotion director! Jessie laughed. Ill be in your neighborhood tomorrow. Can I come by the school about noon? Jessie leaned her hips comfortably against her desk. I can treat you to lunch in the school cafeteria. I dont know, Jess. Im a St. Michaels man, you know? If the Joe-boys found out, somebody might toss a roach in my lunch. Jessie laughed at the silly rivalry between the two boys schools that still carried into adulthood. Gonzo was just as ridiculously loyal as Roland. Ill be your official food taster, Gonzo. Well, in that case. Might be fun to invade enemy territory again after all these years. See you tomorrow, Gonzo. And thanks! Thanks so much! Goodbye. Jessie replaced the telephone, and allowed herself a

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shriek of delight. Getting the tickets to a sold-out concert was another miracle. She raised her eyebrows towards the heavens, and breathed a grateful Thank you! That little guardian angel watching over her was doing an extraordinary job. When she returned to school an hour before the scheduled alumni meeting, she was surprised to see the library lights glowing through the curtains. Jessie stepped inside as quietly as possible, then almost laughed. There was no reason to be quiet, but the word library always inspired silence. This large room smelled of fresh ink; dusty, unused books; and a musty odor of a room designed to keep noise out. She walked on green carpeting, and quickly surveyed the bookshelves, round tables, and long rectangular tables in precise rows. Hello? She recognized one of the school coaches sitting at a table reading a magazine. He looked up, and smiled. Hello. Are you here for the meeting? Yes. She swallowed the dry, nervous taste in her mouth. I guess we havent really met. Im Jessie Medina, the development director. Im Chris Sotello. I coach here, but Im an alumnus, too. Class of 87. He stood up, and offered his hand to her. Welcome aboard. Brother William had some good things to say about you. Jessie shook his hand, smiling brightly into his tanned, round face. He was a tall man, with wide shoulders and heavy muscles. I appreciate the welcome, Chris. Im nervous about meeting the other men tonight. Chriss chuckle was buried deep in his throat. Im sure theyll be nervous about meeting you, too, Jessie. But we have a great group of guys, and Im sure theyll cooperate with you. No one wants to see the school

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close. He crossed his arms over his broad chest. Ive been coaching here eight years, and Id like to stick around forever. You know, like Brother William. Jessie nodded. Then she heard the library door open behind her. She turned around, expecting to see Roland. Her brothers, Vincent, Joe, and Gilbert, laughing over some brotherly joke, no doubt, came into the library. Relieved, happy tears stung her eyes. Her brothers must have perceived how nervous and awkward she would feel alone, facing a room full of men, most of them strangers. Im glad to see you. Jessies voice trembled with love for them. I didnt think you three ever arrived any place early. Well, we thought we might introduce you around, Gilbert said with a smile. He was the oldest. He most resembled their father with rich, cinnamon colored skin and a black moustache. He put his arm around her shoulder and pressed her close. Got to let the guys know youre my intelligent little sister, not some silly air-head desperate for a job. Jessie frowned. I think theres a compliment in there, somewhere. She kissed Gilberts cheek. Thanks for coming. Vincent was shaking hands with Chris. Like Joe and Jessie, he resembled their mother, with golden brown skin and a dash of freckles. Hey, Coach! Hows the track team this year? Looking good. We got this sophomore, Bobby Tovas. Legs like a gazelle. Once he starts running, no one can touch him. He smiled at Joe. Might even break a few of your old records, Mighty Medina! Jessie listened with great interest. Bobby Tovas? Is he any relation to Roland? Rolands little brother, Chris said. Rolands got a personal stake in keeping the school open. Hes been

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doing a heck of a job getting alumni to keep maintenance costs down. Weve needed someone like him at the helm for a long time. Chris information about Bobby Tovas was like a piece missing from a puzzle. Now she better understood Rolands extreme dedication, and his misgivings about allowing a woman to control the destiny of an all-boys school, especially when his little brother was involved. Family loyalty ran deep in the Medinas too. Jesse nodded to herself. Maybe Roland wasnt really so different from the boys at the student council meeting. Once they came to know her as a person, they were eager to share their concerns. Maybe after tonight, the members of the alumni would be more willing to work with her for the good of St. Joes. And perhaps their President would be convinced that she could do her job well if hed just give her a chance.

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Chapter Three
Okay. The motions been seconded. Roland rapped his knuckles on the table. The treasurer can write a check to give to the band director so he can replace the stolen instruments before the Fiesta parades. Is there any other business? Jessie followed Rolands serious gaze around the room, and once again was surprised at the variety of men who called themselves alumni of St. Joseph High School. They were dressed in everything from tailored suits to faded jeans and black T-shirts decorated with famous rock groups. Every skin tone, color of hair, and muscular build was apparent in the group. She discovered many of the faces were familiar from her cheerleader days, and others she knew through her brothers. As Gilbert, Vincent, and Joeeven Rolandintroduced her to some members of the group, she was received with smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows, teasing, skeptical glances, and noncommittal shrugs. Although Roland smiled politely, she sensed he was still doubtful of her presence. Even now, his black eyes briefly touched hers before he introduced her to speak to the group at large. A tiny shiver of apprehension ran down her spine. Some of you have had the chance to meet the new development director, Jessie Medina. She is replacing Brother William Daniels. All of you know hes too ill to continue in the job. Now, Brother William highly recom-

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mends Ms. Medina. And he feels she can be a good development director for St. Joes. Jessie lowered her eyes, biting her lip to keep from smiling. Roland, too, was guilty of using Brother Williams name to get what he wanted. But he probably dropped the name so no one would blame him if Jessie fell flat on her pom-poms. She raised her eyes confidently. She had every intention of succeeding, and by the end of the meeting, everyone, especially Roland Tovas, would understand her role at St. Joes. Jessie stood up as Roland sat down. Rather than stand behind the small round table where she sat alone for the early part of the meeting, she moved directly to the long table where the executive board sat and stood beside it. She gave Roland a polite smile, then turned her attention to the group. Her legs trembled, and her shoes suddenly seemed too big. She forced herself to breathe regularly despite her drumming heart. She straightened the blazer of her suit. As Roland told you, Im Jessie Medina. Im the new development director for St. Joseph High School. Ill begin by telling you Im a little nervous about being in such a minority, but as I told the Student Council this afternoon, maybe I can bring a new point of view into the school because I am female. I met with Roland on two occasions prior to this meeting, and I admitted to him that I am not Super Woman. A rumble of laughter rippled over the group. A development director is a coordinator. Im here because I want to coordinate with you, the alumni, with the students and their parents, and everyone else who cares about education. I want to coordinate a major effort to keep St. Joes open. Jessie slipped her hands into the side pockets of her

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blue skirt. You are all aware that the archdiocese pulled out its financial support about fifteen years ago. Since then, its been the hard work of parents, students, and faculty, and alumni, of course, who have managed to keep the school open. Because of the economy, though, costs have gone up, and, unfortunately, St. Joes enrollment is down. Even though tuition is raised every year, it isnt enough to offset the budget deficit. Jessie pulled a small index card from her pocket and used her notes to guide her. The actual tuition to educate a boy at St. Joes is short by seven hundred dollars per student. Small fundraisers have usually made up this difference, but St. Joes is different now from the way it was ten years ago, and the changes have cost the school big money. First of all, there are fewer religious brothers and sisters teaching at St. Joes, and this year two more of the brothers are retiring. A lay persons teaching salary is a necessary expense, and if we want to keep good teachers in the school, we have to pay them a fair salary. We also have two computer labs at St. Joes now, and operating them has been expensive. And just like in other schools, vandalism is a problem. St. Joes installed a security system two years ago, which has helped tremendously, but once again, its another expense taxing the school budget. She folded the card between her fingers, and paused as her eyes caught the serious faces watching her. The bottom line, gentlemen, is that St. Joes is in a desperate financial situation, and if we cant get enrollment up, and establish a continuous program for fundraising, this school wont survive. Now there are two things I can do for St. Joes, Jessie said. The first thing I want is to get the school in the media. Let people hear about St. Joes. Let them see what a good job we do here. No ones done any public relations for this school in a long time, and this is one of my first priorities. Now, the second thing I can do is

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coordinate a fundraiser that will get us in the public eye as well as raise big money. I have spoken with a few people about organizing a benefit concert for the school. A stocky man wearing a work shirt and jeans raised his hand. Do you know anything about organizing a concert? Jessie smiled. I know it takes hard work and a lot of good people. In my last job, I assisted my company in sponsoring three of them, but, once again, I didnt do it alone. Another man raised his hand. Do you know someone who would do a benefit for us? Not yet. But I hope to meet him tomorrow night. It turns out that Badger McCloud, the country-western singer, came to St. Joes for a year. Brother William knows him. Taught him, as a matter of fact. I was able to get two backstage passes to Badgers Austin concert, and Brother William and I are going to talk to him. There was a buzz of excited voices in the room, and Jessie beamed with optimism. I have a friend who works at KYCK radio. If Badger agrees to come to San Antonio and do a concert for us, that station will serve as a sponsor station. Ive spoken to Tom Mikesell of Champion Foods. Theyre ready to donate two thousand dollars towards general expenses. Jo Macas from Blanco Distribution has pledged another five hundred. Alison Gonzales from Alamo Graphics is willing to donate all the printed materials well need. And Im willing to bet that some of you work for companies who could be approached about donating goods or services as well as money for the concert. When you will have this concert? someone called out. Jessie took a deep breath, and tried to steady herself for the explosion she knew would follow her words. Memorial Day weekend.

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Hey! You cant do that! Thats when we have the softball tournament! No way! Leave it to a woman to pick such a lousy time! Its a great fund raiser. How can you cancel it? Everyone started talking at once. Actually everyone starting complaining at the same time. Out of the corner of her eye, Jessie saw Roland stand up. Quickly, Jessie walked forward, away from Roland who would take away her opportunity to handle her own problems, and closer to the grumbles, complaints, curse words, and sighs. She raised her hands, and spoke in a loud voice. Wait a minute. Wait a minute! Listen to me, gentlemen. She spoke louder, so that she could be heard. I know thats the week-end of the annual softball tournament. The tournament wont be canceled. Well just move it to another week-end. But, its a three day week-end! The guys from out of town count on that extra time to drive back. For twenty years its been on Memorial Day weekend. You just cant break that tradition. Jessie stood there, feeling like she landed on another planet. She found it difficult to understand why the tournament meant so much to the men. Couldnt they see how unimportant it was in the grand scheme of things? Id like to know Someone with a deep voice cut through the general grousing. Id like to know what you guys plan to do if the school closes and we have no place to play softball next year. Jessie wanted to kiss the man who spoke. Not only did she say the same thing to Roland two days ago, but the loud booming voice made the others quiet down. Gentlemen, St. Joes needs a big fund raiser to get

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the community involved, she said in an enthusiastic tone. Memorial Day weekend is already associated with food and good times for the people who care about the school. Well just get everyone to celebrate at our concert, thats all. The alumni who live out of town can still drive in for a reunion of sorts, but this time no one has to worry about bruises and sore muscles when the weekend is over. She smiled towards her brothers who often spent Memorial Day complaining about aches, pains, and hangovers. Gilbert grinned and whispered something to Vincent and Joe. Joe chuckled, then gave Jessie a salute. But all this concert stuff is just a bunch of wishful thinking right now, isnt it? A tall thin, gray-haired man had stood up in the back of the room. Youve got all these plans, but you dont even have the singer yet. Dont you think you ought to get something definite before you start canceling our tournament? Before Jessie could reply, an older man dressed in a bright red sport shirt waved his stubby tanned hand. So, you do the concert, and make an extra ten thousand. It still doesnt help school enrollment. How are you going to get more boys to come here? Jessie wasnt sure which question deserved her attention first. Since the gray-haired man was still standing, she addressed him. I only wanted to explain my ideas and plans. Id never cancel anything unless I could replace it with something that could make more money for the school. She looked at the other man who had spoken. You asked about enrollment? Brother Edward asked me today if I could form a committee to explore what changes would need to be made so girls could enroll at St. Joes School. Going coed She never finished the sentence. Every man in the library had an opinion on allowing girls into the school. Jessie took two steps back, her mind almost numb as she

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faced growling comments and angry glares from the group. She looked at her brothers for support, but even the three of them had joined their friends in criticizing the idea of opening their old high school to girls. The noise level increased, and suddenly, Jessie knew exactly how a cat felt when it was cornered by the dogs. Roland had risen from his chair at the first complaints about the softball tournament. He had anticipated the alumnis reaction when Jessie mentioned Memorial Day weekend, but he was also impressed when Jessie managed to hold her own among the comments and explain herself. He had to give her credit. She had done her homework, and knew exactly what she needed to say, and the best way to say it so that the men would listen. She kept using that word coordinate, and it helped everyone, including Roland, understand that she didnt want to be an absolute dictator. Instead, she wanted to let everyone do his part to help. Every muscle in his body tensed when she mentioned the idea of bringing girls into St. Joes. He wanted to kick himself for being so stubborn. He should have listened to her and discussed her development plans at length during their meetings. He could have warned her that opening St. Joes School to the girls was an option too hot to touch right now. His fists clenched at his side as he saw the ugly emotions aimed at a female scapegoat, and knew he was partially responsible. Then he saw Jessie throw up her hands as if she had surrendered. She turned her back on the group and walked towards the table where the executive board sat arguing among themselves. Expecting to see a pale, frightened female, his eyes widened at the shiny brown eyes and her tightly pressed lips, and a pink glow colored her face. She gave Roland

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such a fiery look that his face suddenly felt sunburned. He could almost read her mind. She was probably thinking that the alumni were chauvinistic jerks, and Roland Tovas was the leader of the pack. The sound of the library door opening and closing made Roland look over his shoulder. Brother William Daniels, standing by the door, blinked his eyes as if he wasnt sure he was in the right place. Roland strode over to the old man. Whats going on? he asked. His gray eyebrows gathered in a frown. Everybody seems a little upset. Roland tried not to let the anger come through his voice. Didnt you warn Jessie not to mention going coed? Didnt you tell her that a lot of guys still dont want girls in the school? I thought yo u were going to discuss what to say and not to say at the meeting, Brother William said, sharpening those blue eyes upon a former student who still had things to learn. After all, Pointer, didnt you say the alumni were your responsibility now? Brother shuffled past Roland to go to Jessie. I blew it, Brother. Jessie tapped her foot impatiently. I never should have mentioned raising enrollment by opening the school to girls. I had their support before this. I blew it big! Roland stood behind Brother William, and saw the disappointment on Jessies face. She had been angry with herself, not the alumni or Roland, but Roland felt guilty nonetheless. He had been too busy making fun of her cheerleading and admiring her pretty face to give her the respect she was due. Didnt he want someone smart to take over the development job from Brother William? How could he have been so irresponsible when something so important was at stake? Roland stepped away from them and walked back to

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the spot where Jessie had stood only moments before. He had to get the alumni back on track. It was the least he could do. Id like to call this meeting to order. He raised his voice above the others, placing his hands on his hips. This is all very stupid. Were wasting time complaining when we could be outside drinking beer and talking about ways we could help Ms. Medina with her concert idea. The grumbling quieted, and Rolands voice returned to normal. Now, a lot of you were asking me about Brother William, so I asked him to drop by tonight. Maybe hed like to say a few words. He stepped back a half-turn, and looked at Brother, praying that the old man could reclaim the mens attention, and salvage Jessies efforts. Brother William patted Jessies arm. Slowly, he walked up next to Roland. Roland turned to leave, but Brother Williams skinny fingers wrapped around his wrist. Momentarily, the thin man leaned his shoulder against Rolands, then turned to the group. An unfamiliar emotion glided through Roland as he physically supported the man who had been such an instrumental force in the school. Although old age and cancer had robbed Brother William of his health, there was no doubt in Rolands mind that Brother William could still command the attention of the men in the room. I just want to show you fellows that Im retired, but Im still kicking! Brother Williams gaze slowly glided over the room. Im too stubborn to die, and I know heaven isnt ready for an ugly old crab like me! The good humor returned to the group as the guys chuckled over the old mans words. Now, I taught most of you. And you know Im

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smarter. You know I wouldnt let you guys down. Ever! I hired a smart woman to take over the Development Office and keep this school going. And I think youll all agree shes a hundred-percent better looking than I am. Once again, laughter peppered the group. Now, I know that hiring a pretty woman to represent St. Joes seems peculiar to a lot of you guys, but let me tell you why I chose Jessie. We had half a dozen people apply for the development job. All of them had great experience and qualifications. But there was one thing that set Jessie apart from everyone else. She had connections to St. Joes. She was a cheerleader here, and her father, her brothers, and her cousins went through the school. I knew she cared about the school itself, not just finding a new job. Shes also a clever woman with a lot of new ideas. So Ill ask you all to work with her, and help her do her job to keep the school going. He winked, then grinned. Now, if your president here will adjourn the meeting, theres a keg of beer waiting on the patio of the Brothers Residence. I move we close the meeting! someone yelled from the back of the room. I second that motion! a deep voice answered. Roland laughed. Meetings adjourned. Lets go. He smiled at Brother William, who gave him a nod. He left the elderly brother talking to two of the alumni, and turned around in search of Jessie. There was so much he wanted to say to her. She sat at a table writing down the names and phone numbers of men who came to talk to her. He saw her smiling face, and her relaxed bantering with two alumni dressed in suits. Roland mingled through the group, talking, laughing, and exchanging information. Some alumni made a beeline out the door to walk across the quadrangle and have some beer. He was ready for a beer himself, but

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waited until Jessie had finished talking to those who wanted to speak to her before he approached. She had tucked her notebook under her arm and seemed to be looking for someone. Your brothers left with the crowd for the Brothers House, Roland said, coming to lean against her table. Of course! She offered an amused smile. They tell me that the beer is the best part of the meeting. Youre welcome to come and have a beer with us, Roland said, hoping he could make a fresh start with her. He saw her dark eyes narrow as if she was angry, but before he could be sure, she lowered her gaze. Thank you, but I dont belong there. St. Joes alumni do. Her words were a simple statement of fact. He realized that all she had wanted was to explain her job at the meeting, just as she had said. How could he have misjudged her? Look, about the last two days Roland paused. It wasnt often he had to admit to a beautiful woman that he had behaved like a jerk. And he didnt want to discuss his stupidity here. Jessie, we have a lot to talk about. Maybe I could come by and take you to lunch tomorrow. Ill treat you to something better than cafeteria food. Jessie raised her eyes to look into his. Sorry. I have a lunch date tomorrow. A tinge of sarcasm capped her words. Im meeting a friend from KYCK radio. Hes an alright guy, even if he did go to St. Michaels. She gave him a pointed stare. Ill call you next week, after Brother William and I speak to Badger. Good night, Roland. Without further discussion, she turned away from him and walked out of the school library. Rolands blood simmered as it flowed through his body. He had been ready to admit to Jessie that hed been wrong. He had tried to start a better relationship between them. Instead, she brings up her lunch date with ahe

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swallowed the bitter taste of rivalry and jealousya St. Michaels moron! He knew he was being juvenile, but some traditions were too deep to change. He left the library, hoping that a cold beer in a men-only atmosphere would help to improve his mood.

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Jessie took a sip of canela from her tea cup, savoring the hot, cinnamon flavor as it trickled down her throat. All the quick thinking, fast talking, and tap dancing around the alumni had been exciting at the time, but now she wanted to do nothing more than unbraid her hair and relax in her favorite pair of thick wooly socks and oversized pink T-shirt. She took another drink, then put the cup back on the saucer. Curling her legs under her, she sat in a big chair in her living room. She leaned her head back into the cushions and sighed. She had pages of names, phone numbers, and suggestions for concert sponsors in her notebook. She smiled, happy the alumni had accepted her better than Roland had predicted. Even when the meeting exploded after she mentioned enrolling girls, she was smart enough to step back and let Roland regain control. She knew she had lost her audience, and to try and discuss the issue reasonably would have been a waste of time. She would have to talk to more alumni individually, listen to their objections, and try to make them see the economic feasibility of opening the school to girls. She knew from having three brothers, that she had more success when she challenged one brother at a time, rather than trying to battle the trio. The ring of the telephone in her bedroom broke through the quiet of her apartment. Jessie put her tea cup on the lamp table, and took herself out of the chair. She walked into the bedroom, and sat on her bed, answering the telephone before the third ring.

Hello? This is Roland Tovas. A dry feeling crept back into her mouth. She cleared her throat. Oh, hi. Im calling because theres been a slight change of plans. Brother William wont be going with you to the concert tomorrow night. Like a rock falling into a deep well, Jessies optimism sank with a weak kerplunk. Why? Whats wrong? He fell down tonight. Walking back to the Brothers House from the school. Is he okay? she asked with alarm. Hell be fine. Hes just bruised and sore. Rolands voice softened. But hes in no condition to go with you to Austin, Jessie. Jessie closed her eyes. Brother William was her special link to Badger McCloud. She felt so sad, she almost wanted to cry. Then she realized she was being selfish and uncaring. Im glad Brother William didnt get seriously hurt. I told Brother William I could go with you tomorrow. You? Her eyes flew open. She clutched the telephone receiver tightly. Why should you go? Brother William asked me to go with you. That man keeps tossing us together, doesnt he? She sighed, wondering if the two of them could really work together in the way Brother William wanted. Jessie, I He paused. Ive said a lot of stupid things to you the past few days. Im sorry. His voice was quiet and sounded genuinely sincere. I know you have the schools best interests at heart. I promise you, Jessie, Ill get the alumni to help you every way I can. His pledge was better than her cup of hot tea to calm her nerves. We both want the same things, Roland, even if we

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have different ways of getting them. I know. Wellwhen shall I pick you up for the concert? Jessie hesitated before answering. The news of Brothers accident was such a surprise that she hadnt taken time to come up with another plan of action. She didnt really need Roland with her, yet the drive to Austin would be more fun with someone to talk to. Maybe if she and Roland distanced themselves from St. Joes, they could become more objective about the school situation and the role each should play in keeping it open. Brother William and I were planning to leave about three so we could have dinner before the concert, Jessie said. She heard his groan. I cant leave that early from the garage, Jessie. Well leave about five, and Ill take you to dinner after the concert. The proposal was a nice compromise and she smiled. Shall I meet you at the garage? That would be great. See you tomorrow. Good night. Good night, Roland. Jessie put down the phone, then flopped back onto her bed. She reached out and grabbed Seo r Oso , her pudgy black bear that had sat on a pillow of her bed since high school. She hugged it close and smiled.

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Chapter Four
You get so dressed up just to do the payroll, Rolando? Roland finished signing the last paycheck, then looked at his uncle, Jorge. Doing the payroll today had kept him from getting dirty after he rushed home. He had showered and changed into a gray western shirt, creased blue jeans, and black cowboy boots. Jorge, Roland answered with a slight smile. I couldnt go out with a pretty lady looking like a greasy mechanic, could I? To Jorges ever present grin widened below his bushy gray moustache. Is this one special? Roland winked. Theyre all special, Jorge. Ay, Ro land o . The middle-aged man sighed, shaking his gray head. You sound like your pap. He danced with all the pretty women a long time before he found your mam. Are you going to be old, like a viejo , before you marry, too? He crossed his brown forearms upon the wooden counter that separated the carpeted waiting area from the office desks. Jorge, Im only twenty-nine. Roland stuffed envelopes with employee paychecks while he talked. Besides, women are different now. They want a glamorous career, and the husband and children practically have to make an appointment just to be together. My brother, Ray, lives like that. He shook his head. Thats not the kind of life I want. You want a woman to stay home and make tortillas

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for you, eh? To Jorge asked. Roland glanced up to see the teasing gleam in his uncles brown eyes. No, Jorge. I woke up from that dream years ago. Even my mother buys her tortillas now. In recent months, though, Roland had come to appreciate the traditional aspects of his childhood, which were quickly going out of style, and wished he could find a woman who treasured the customs of their heritage, yet could walk beside him in the twenty-first century. The door to the waiting room opened, and Jessie came inside. Roland stood up immediately, as To Jorge turned around. Jessies appearance was a beautiful compromise between two styles. Her long dark braid hung down one shoulder. She wore a delicately hand-embroidered Mexican blouse that reminded Roland of all the colorful artistic work he had seen in Puebla. Her short blue denim skirt, matching denim jacket, and black ankle-strap shoes would make any man take notice. She smiled politely at To Jorge, then looked at Roland with a question in her brown eyes. Obviously, she was waiting for an introduction, but Roland had been struck dumb by her appearance. He cleared his throat loudly, hoping it would clear his brain, too. Jessie, this is my uncle, Jorge Tovas. Jorge, this is Jessie Medina. Shes the lady who works for St. Joes. Its nice to met you, Seor Tovas. To Jorge shook her hand. It is my pleasure, seo rita . My sons, Aril and Pablo, went to school at St. Joes. We all want my grandsons to go there someday as well. He turned back to Roland. Ill finish the payroll if you want to leave now. Its done, Jorge. I have only a few envelopes to seal. Thanks, anyway. Please come by again, seo rita . Jorge gave her a

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slight bow, then left the waiting room area. Roland turned to finish his work quickly, anxious for a second chance with her. Your uncles a nice man. Jessie stepped closer to the counter. Hes like a second father to me. Roland smiled as he spoke about his family. My dad died last year, and even before I assumed a full partnership with him, Jorge always treated me fairly and respected my opinion. He calls me his college-educated partner, but what that man knows about cars equals four degrees. He put the last employee check in an envelope, then set the pile in the metal basket for Jorge to distribute later. Shall we go? My cars outside. Jessie withdrew her keys from the small leather purse hanging over her shoulder. Roland stepped around the counter. Itll be safer locked inside the garage. Ill drive us to Austin in my car. Keys tightly clutched in her hand, Jessie shook her head. Thanks, but well go in my car. Roland frowned and said, Jessie, Id feel stupid being chauffeured. Her skin seemed to darken as her brown eyes flashed. Dont you trust foreign cars? Your car can break down just as easily as mine, you know. My car doesnt break down. Jessies eyes rolled to the ceiling. Of course not. Regardless, I like to do the driving when Im on a date. This isnt a date! She was quick to argue. I was supposed to be with Brother William tonight, remember? Well, when you go out with Brother William, you can drive. Tonight, Im driving. He knew he sounded stubborn and bossy, so he added, Besides, a bigger car is more comfortable on a long drive. Her shoulders raised and lowered with her loud sigh. Im only compromising because I dont want to be late.

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Lets go! He directed her to a place to park her car, then escorted her to his clean blue car parked in the outside lot. Both of them reached for the door handle of the passengers side. She sighed and stepped back, allowing him to open the car door for her. Her thank you sounded cold and distant. I guess you have the tickets in your purse, Roland commented as he started the car. Jessie buckled her seat belt. Gonzo said theyll be at the Will Call window in Austin. Whats a Gonzo? My friend from KYCK radio. She stared out the window. Roland raised an eyebrow. Only a moron from St. Michaels would have a nickname like Gonzo, but he kept his opinions to himself. They drove in a tense silence through the streets of San Antonio and eventually through the heavy rushhour traffic on Interstate 35 North as Roland drove towards Austin. Jessie finally broke her silence. You know, I usually deduct my car mileage for my job. Roland kept his eyes on the road, but her words were unsettling. His emotions never went beyond the fact they were going out together. Not until she came through the garage, did he realize how much he had looked forward to spending the evening with her. She sighed, then reached forward to put on the radio. Roland caught her hand and held it a moment. Her small fingers were delicate and cool. Im sorry. Accept tonight as a small donation to the St. Joes development fund, okay? I guess I can do that. Jessie pulled her hand from his. She turned on the radio, and resumed her observations out of the window.

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Roland drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He admired the way she took her responsibilities to heart. Last night when he had witnessed her fond relationship with her brothers at the meeting, evidence of her fam ilia s loyalty and love had tugged on his personal feelings in a new, different way. Suddenly, he wanted to know even more about her, and began with the first question that came to mind. So, Jessie? Seen any good movies lately? What? She turned from the window. Movies! You know? I mean you go out, dont you? Have you seen any good movies lately? He heard her laugh, and felt himself start to relax. He hadnt realized how nervous he was until her laughter seemed to untwist a sore spot between his shoulder blades. The last movie I saw? A cartoon about rabbits in space. I took my niece and nephew. She laughed again. What about you? Now it was Rolands turn to laugh. I saw a movie made in Latin America. I took my mother to the Guadalupe Theater during the last film festival. Did you like the movie? It was very unusual. I learned a new cuss word in Spanish. He gave her a devilish grin. Want to hear it? No, thank you! Her smile lit up her eyes. The last time I said a Spanish cuss word, Sister Emiliana made me write a term paper on the origin of the word. How educational! When I cussed at school, I always got Detention Hall. Jessie appreciated Rolands silly comments and regained her usual good mood. She had overreacted at his garage, but she didnt expect Roland to change a simple business trip into something personal, like a date. But

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as she gave it more thought, she was flattered by his attention to her as a woman, not just a person doing a job for the school. An instinct from deep within told her she could learn to like Roland. A lot. He was a thoughtful man, even though some of his stubborn ways annoyed her. She looked at him in a personal way, though, when he told her about his parents immigration from Mexico when he was a year old. He spoke proudly of his fathers and uncles struggle to open Tovas Mechanics. When no bank would finance their venture, both men turned to other businessmen in the barrio to get financial support. They paid back their small loans and gained the respect and trust of others in the bargain. People from all over San Antonio did business with them now. She heard his voice thicken with emotion as he spoke of his father teaching him to be a mechanic first, and ways to be a smart businessman, too. It relaxed her to listen to him talk about Mr. Tovas with as much feeling as she had for her own family. She realized they shared more similarities than differences when it came to the things that really counted. Suddenly, she was aware the car slowed down, and Roland had stopped talking. I dont believe it! he groaned, pounding his fist on the steering wheel. His head moved from side to side as if he looked for something on the road. He sighed, and muttered a colorful curse in Spanish Jessie had never heard before. Whats wrong? The cars overheating. Well stop at that curve over there. At least we wont be stuck on a narrow shoulder. Stuck? What are you talking about? Then she saw the beaming red lights on the dashboard, and she sighed, too. Roland said nothing as he flipped on the car blinker and eased his car onto a wide gravel area that was like a

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driveway no one had finished. Trying to stay positive, Jessie rubbed her forehead. After all, Roland was a mechanic. He ought to be able to fix his own car quickly. Roland turned off the ignition, and yanked the lever to open the hood of the car. This is ridiculous! I checked this car out myself this morning! Jessie bit her lip to keep herself from saying all the burning comments on the tip of her tongue. She unbuckled her seat belt as Roland did, and they both got out of the car. Stand back, Jessie, Roland warned, then lifted the navy blue hood. He stepped back as the steam rose from the engine. He stuck his hands on his waist, and gave his car a look that said, Ho w d are yo u betray m e lik e this? Waiting and watching, Jessie folded her arms across her chest. Hoping Roland could fix the car fast, she glanced at her watch. Gonzo had warned her to get to the backstage early, because each star had his own routine, and he didnt know Badgers preferences. Roland walked to where she stood. I hope youre not going to say anything dumb right now. Who? Me? Her eyes widened innocently. She was tempted, but she wasnt a fool. He was probably angry enough to curse his American-made car for the rest of the century. Then he sighed, shoving his hands into the rear pockets of his jeans. At least we can enjoy the sunset. Jessie glanced around. The sun was a golden shaft of light lowering in the horizon. The skies were shades of blue and gray, with purple clouds. It was pretty, but she had other things to do besides admire a Texas sunset. Roland, do you know whats wrong with the car? He shrugged. Lets find out. He walked to the car, but Jessie remained where she was. Afraid hed see the lustful gleam in her eyes, Jessie

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had to avert her gaze when he came back to where she stood, wiping his hands on a handkerchief. She had been admiring something far more intriguing than a sunset as he worked on his car. Well, I know what the problem is, he said slowly. So fix it. Watching the patterns her toe made as she slid it across the tiny rocks, she stared down at her shoes. I can if youll take off your panty hose, Jessie. Are you crazy? Nothing Roland had said or done before this shocked her more. She looked into his face and found herself surprised by his serious expression. I need to rig a fan belt from your pantyhose. Thats all thats wrong with the car! Thats all? Jessie scoffed. Why dont you keep a spare in your car? Roland glared at her. And I suppose you have a spare fan belt in that foreign cracker box you drive? Jessies arms crossed her chest. I really dont know! Listen, Jessie, I can rig a fan belt from your pantyhose that will get us to a gas station. Then, I can buy a new one, put it on, and well be on our way! Now what will it be? We stay here and wait for hours for a tow or do I get your pantyhose? He made it sound so easy. Jessie huffed a resigned sigh, but she wasnt about to hike up her skirt and pull down her pantyhose on the side of the road. She looked around, glancing at the stream of traffic, and then searched for a big bush or something to give her privacy. Finally, she saw her only option. She pointed a finger at Roland. You wait here! He gave her one of his incredibly charming, but thoroughly exasperating little grins before she walked back to the car. Glancing out the window, she saw Roland with his back turned. Thanking an angel for his gentlemans manners, she struggled to slide them off within the con-

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fines of the car. Finally, the pantyhose were off, and she slipped her shoes back on. You can turn around now! Jessie called, leaning against the fender of his car. The pantyhose were bundled in one hand. Roland turned and came towards the car. As his eyes moved over her legs, she felt naked. She wished she had worn her longer blue-jean skirt tonight. She tossed the pantyhose in his direction. Here! He caught them easily in one hand, and grinned. Not wanting to dwell on her pantyhose wrapped up in his fingers, she walked around the car door and went to sit in the front seat. The delays the next hour cost them valuable time. Roland had to wait for the engine to cool before he could work on it. Luckily, they found a gas station three miles up the road, and he bought the fan belt. While he worked on the car, Jessie bought new pantyhose at a nearby convenience store. It was almost eight when they arrived at the Will Call window of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, a drumshaped building used for the Texas Longhorn basketball games and various campus and city events. Jessie quickly handed Roland his ticket and pass, a cloth badge with Bad ger McClo ud : City Lights To ur and Back stage printed in black letters. Come on, Roland. I hope were not too late. She stuck her adhesive badge on her denim jacket, then led Roland through the ticket gate. Once they were inside the building, Jessie turned towards a narrow hallway leading towards the business offices. Their rapid footsteps echoed loudly, but Jessie was more aware of her pounding heart. The delays might have cost them her chance to talk to Badger. She smiled when she saw a uniformed guard at the end of the hall. He waved them along, and Jessie moved

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into the backstage area with Roland following close behind her. I guess youve done all this before, Roland said in a quiet voice. You know exactly where youre going. Ive been here before. With Gonzo. Of course. You two are just go o d friends, right? Jessie glanced at him, but ignored the implications of his word choice. If he had a problem with a woman having men as friends, there was no time to discuss it now. They entered a large dressing room area where some forty people milled around. They were helping themselves to soft drinks from a hospitality table, sitting on folding chairs and gossiping, or just standing in small groups looking as lost and as out of place as Jessie felt. Where is he? Roland asked, his voice almost impatient. Jessie glanced at her watch, then sighed. Im not sure. No one in the room looked like a musician, if she really knew what a musician was supposed to look like. Girls in tight jeans, muscular men in old T-shirts and faded denims, others who were dressed in expensive western clothes. Lets wait over here. Without thinking twice about her actions, she grabbed Rolands hand and pulled him towards one of the several portable walls that separated this backstage area from the rest of the dressing rooms. As they stood there, looking around, she started to pull her hand away, but Roland intertwined his fingers through hers. I dont want to lose you. The simple statement made her smile. Jessie appreciated Rolands presence. She didnt want to admit she was scared, but the thought of approaching Badger, and asking him to help St. Joes made her heart move into her throat. Usually, a person approached a manager first, but

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Jessie knew that going the usual route would take time time that St. Joes couldnt afford. She recalled all the problems when she helped Texan Cola stage a concert. She wanted to bypass all the red tape of managers and contract negotiations. Talking to Badger himself, she might reach him on an emotional level, and the others would just follow his orders. Yet Brother William was the one who knew Badger McCloud. What could she say that would persuade a busy singer to come and do a benefit for a poor boys school in San Antonio? She pressed her hand into Rolands, trying to get some of his stubborn confidence to pass from him to her. So whod you meet last time? Roland asked. What? She wondered if she missed something while she stood there, getting cold feet. When you came with your friend Godzilla. Who did you meet backstage? Jessie laughed. His name is Gonzo, not Godzilla. The tension eased from her neck and shoulders. Gonzo is a nickname. Gonzalo Rangel is his real name. We went to college together. Roland cocked his head to one side. I hope youre not going to tell me you two were roommates. Jessie fluttered her eyelashes. Why, of course! She playfully whacked his arm with her free hand. Really, Roland! Dont you know any women whom you consider just good friends? She saw him bite his lip, his eyes contemplating the ceiling. Not really. Then he chuckled. But I guess I can start with you. His black eyes shone as he stared at her. Before she could respond to the warm feelings his words inspired, someone nudged her aside. She realized about another thirty people had crowded into the room while she and Roland were talking. The backstage area was sticky with bodies, heavy with perfume and cigarette smoke. She barely caught a glimpse of someone in

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a black cowboy hat walk into the room, before everyone started moving about. Badger! Badger! a female voice exclaimed. Wait a second! Its not him, another said. Jessies neck stretched from side to side, trying to see over and around the crowd. All she saw were black cowboy hats and indiscriminate faces. Who are those guys? She glanced up at Roland, wishing she had worn her tallest heels tonight. Maybe band membersno! There he is! Rolands excited voice made her jump to her tiptoes, as she tried to spot Badgers trademark black hat with a badgers tail mounted into the beaded hat band. A burly man nudged her out of the way, and luckily, Rolands firm grip on her waist helped her keep her balance. Bodies pressed around them, as everyone tried to get to the famous singer. Jessie realized that if she didnt push her way through, shed never be able to talk to Badger. Roland, we have to get to him. Come on! Someone stepped on the toe of her shoe. Even though she couldnt escape the aggressive elbow jabs bruising her side, she pushed more diligently, until she reached an opening near the front. Badger McCloud was a short man with wide shoulders; he was wearing a chamois western shirt and black jeans. The rolled-up sleeves of his shirt displayed muscular forearms heavy with blond hair. Because of his black hat and tinted glasses, she could barely see his face, but his brownish-blond beard was trimmed close to his square jaw. A charming smile appeared beneath his moustache frequently, as he walked around the room in a relaxed gait, obviously pleased to see his backstage audience. Badger seemed to be following the directions of a man all dressed in black with sparkling gold jewelry.

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Badger posed for pictures with two women, probably winners in some promotional radio contest. The man in black introduced Badger to the men in expensive boots, who talked to him for five minutes before Badger moved over to sign a handful of tickets. Badger! Badger! Wait! Jessie yelled, waving her hand. She tried to get closer, but all gathered seemed determined to keep their places. She couldnt squeeze through the human barricade. She winced when someone jerked on her braid. She tried to ignore the boot heel scraping her shin. Then, she felt a hard squeeze on her fingertips. Enjoy the show, beauty! Badgers deep voice cut through the buzz in the crowd. Jessie realized that Badger had mistaken her for an aggressive fan trying to touch him. She nearly laughed at the sheer insanity of the circumstances, before she toppled forward as the crowd suddenly dropped back. Strong hands caught her again. Badger left, Jessie. Rolands voice seemed to come from a distance. Had he made a mistake? Jessie looked around. The crowd thinned as people began to leave the room. I wasnt expecting this crowd. I guess I misunderstood what a backstage pass was, Roland said. We didnt speak to him at all. Not even close. Jessie looked up to see the disappointment in his face. I just assumed wed get his attention. Maybe Brother William would have done a better job. Rolands arm draped her shoulders. At least you tried, Jessie. Brother would be proud of how hard you tried to get to Badger. Disappointment made her shiver. When Roland pulled her closer to him, she didnt resist. She inhaled deeply, relieved the crowd had moved out, and she could breathe again.

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Roland planted a soft kiss on Jessies forehead. Shall we go find our places in the arena? At least we can enjoy the concert. When he touched her so affectionately, she felt even more determined not to let everyone down. No, Roland. We need to talk to Badger tonight. Maybe we can get into his dressing room. Are you crazy? Rolands loud exclamation made others stare in their direction. He grabbed her arm and led Jessie towards a more secluded spot. Listen, Jessie. We gave it a shot, but we lost. We can get Brother William to send him a letter or something. There are other singers, you know. Jessie jerked her arm out of his grip. Roland, a singer isnt just going to walk up to a school and volunteer to do a benefit. There has to be a connection somehow. Lets face it! We dont know any other famous people who went to St. Joes. She looked around, trying to decide what her next step should be. Im not ready to give up yet. Roland rubbed his temple. Ive never met anyone as stubborn as you are. I have. Jessies eyes burned as she glared at Roland. You! His tight-lipped expression surrendered to an amused grin. I guess I am as stubborn as you are. All right, Miss Jessie Medina, where do we go from here? Jessie knew it was too close to show time to talk to Badger now. She turned to Roland. What if we go to Badgers hotel and talk to him there? Great idea, but well never get past the bodyguards. Ill think of something, dont worry. As they left the backstage area, Jessie wondered if she had fooled Roland with her confidence. Honestly, she had no idea what to do next. Could they even find Badgers hotel? How would they approach the men who

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guarded his door? What would keep the bodyguards from tossing Jessie and Roland off a hotel balcony? Jessies prayers to a guardian angel rumbled hard and fast inside her. We travel d o w n tw o ro ad s to the sam e d estinatio n Tw o d ifferent p aths to reach the sam e bright end .

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Roland thought, nice so ng , as he listened to Badger McClouds romantic lyrics. They sat inside the arena, and this song was the first one that the audience had quieted down to listen. Badgers popularity with his fans had impressed Roland from the start. He glanced over at Jessie, her elbows balanced on the seat arms. Her chin rested in her hands while she listened to the music. Jessie Medina impressed him, too. She had a personal drive he admired. And her zeal made him take risks he had never experienced before. Yet for all her tenacity, there was a feminine side that touched a need within him to take care of her. And it wasnt some macho-man thing, but a natural tenderness towards Jessie. He felt an overwhelming urge to stay with her during her struggles to meet her goal. After all, werent her goals the same as his?

If w e chase o ur d ream s to gether Well stay clo se until the end And ho ld each o ther clo se to the heart.

Why cant I w alk besid e yo u, And no t o ne step behind ? If w e w alk to gether, w ell reach the end as friend s.

The song ended, and everyone applauded. As Roland clapped his hands, he looked around the crowded arena. Would Badger McCloud even listen to their plea? A busy singer who could fill an arena like this could give St. Joes such a financial boost. If only the man would say yes.

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Chapter Five
Listen, I dont care if youre the President and First Lady! After a concert, Badger always wants an hour to himself. No exceptions. Not even his manager talks to him. The huge bodyguard looked like a wrestler with powerful arms and a wide girth. He spoke rudely to a middle-aged man in a western suit and a young woman in a lavender dress. Roland had put his hand in front of Jessie so they could stop and watch from around the corner. The nervous lump in her throat had pinballed down to her stomach. When Jessie heard the bodyguard tell the beautiful woman and her debonair companion to get lost, she knew the direct approach wasnt going to work. Clasping her hands together as if in prayer, she stared at Roland and shook her head. When he nodded, she sighed. What could they do now? A sharp clicking sound made Jessie look over her shoulder. Down the hall, a maid dressed in a maroon uniform jiggled the silver doorknob to be sure the door had closed properly. Jessie watched the maid with a slender body and a long black braid hanging down her back. The woman looked no older than twenty-five. Suddenly, a new idea appeared. Turning away from Roland, Jessie started to chase the maid, who had walked

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away. No! Please wait! Jessie called, trotting after her. Wait a minute. Can I talk to you? She heard Roland whisper her name, but she didnt stop, and eventually his heavy footsteps followed her path. The maid paused and waited for Jessie. Her bronze face looked tired. Almond-shaped brown eyes carefully studied Jessies approach. Could you help me, please? Jessie asked her breathlessly. The woman shrugged as she pocketed her keys. Jessie gave her a friendly smile. I wonder if you would help me. We want to talk to the man in the guest room at the end of the hall. The woman gave her a cat-like smile. A famous singer in that room tonight, she replied, her voice thick with an accent. Yes, thats right. Jessie glanced over her shoulder at Roland, but kept talking. We really need to talk to him. I represent a school, and we want the singer to do a concert for us. If we dont get any money, the school will close. She heard Roland catching his breath behind her, and prayed he wouldnt interfere. Could you help me get inside his room? The maid raised her brown eyes above Jessie to gaze at Roland, and then looked back again at Jessie. Could I borrow your uniform? Jessie asked. I can tell the man at the door that I need to put fresh towels in the bathroom. Then I can talk to the singer, and Ill bring back your uniform. I promise. The woman took a step back, as if Jessies request surprised her, but suddenly her black eyebrows gathered in a contemplative frown. I get fired for helping you. Jessie paused, then nodded. I understand. She felt ashamed of her impulsive request, and prepared to apol-

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ogize. If I help you, will you give me your earrings? The maids voice changed completely, both in tone and clarity. Instinctively, Jessie fingered the gold clusters set with two diamonds. They were an expensive set and her favorites. My earrings? No way! Rolands voice was a fierce growl. Jessie stepped in front of Roland, fearing he would frighten the woman away. She had told Roland the alumni needed to think beyond themselves in order to save St. Joes. Was she willing to make a sacrifice to save it, too? Yes, Jessie told the maid. Ill give you my earrings. The woman grinned, then flashed a triumphant look in Rolands direction. Rolands fingers wrapped around Jessies arm. Anger singed his features. You cant do this! This woman is taking advantage of you. His eyes flashed in the maids direction. Jessie appreciated Rolands concern, but she had made her choice. She reached up and stroked his cheek. I have to do this, Roland. She spoke quietly, trying to soothe his outrage. Its our best chance. She couldnt let this opportunity slip through her fingers, and wanted Rolands support. Jessie, its not worth it. Its worth everything. She pulled away from him, disappointed he still didnt understand her dedication. The concert was my idea. Im going to do everything I can to make it happen. She turned back to the maid and said, Show me where we can change clothes with each other. Wait, Jessie! Rolands urgent voice made her turn. I want to go with you. I wont let you go in there alone. Before Jessie could inform him she was a big girl and able to take care of herself, the maid spoke up. My hus-

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bands waiter uniform would fit you, seo r. Jessie saw Roland fold his arms across his chest. The tone in his voice should have turned her into ice. And what do you want from me? I dont wear earrings. The maid raised her narrow chin and never blinked at Rolands icy stare. Sir, you must pay me two hundred dollars. Rolands jaw dropped. Jessie gasped. Knowing the final decision had to be Rolands alone, Jessie silently watched him. She thought he might strangle the maid, but Roland surprised Jessie. Despite the murderous gleam in his eyes, he spoke very quietly. Get the uniforms. Well both go into the singers room. Come with me. Youll need more than clothes to get past the big man standing by the door. Jessie and Roland followed the maid without further comment, but as she took them down five floors on the service elevator into a secluded storage area, Jessie wondered if the maid had helped others masquerade before tonight. In a narrow room, there were clean towels piled on one shelf and several metal carts on wheels. She handed Roland a silver bucket. A machine for ice is that way. Take this. Roland eyed Jessie, who shrugged. He sighed, then took the ice bucket in his hands and left. The woman spoke quietly. When you talk to the guard, speak Spanish. They usually ignore a maid, because they think we cant do anything but clean rooms. She moved to a small closet, opened it, and took out a white waiters jacket and black pants. Jessie had to admire the maids resourcefulness. Obviously, this woman had talents beyond cleaning rooms. But this masquerade also depended on Jessie to be clever in the given circumstances, too. Tell your boyfriend not to look so angry. Waiters must always look eager to please. She handed Jessie the

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coat hangers with the clothes. Jessie nodded, although she wondered how she could phrase the advice without Roland getting angrier. He appeared around the corner just then. The maid spread a white cloth on one silver cart, and placed the bucket of ice on it. She pulled glass tumblers from a shelf and set six of them in two neat rows behind the bucket. Then she unlocked a white refrigerator door, and pulled a six-pack of beer from it, then quickly arranged the cans in the bucket of ice. Come with me, the maid said, and led them to a hotel room across the hall. She opened the door, slid her palm across the wall flipping on a dim light. She entered the small hallway, then turned on another small lamp by a desk. The room basked in shadows, with only the faint outlines of a bed, chair, and balcony curtains. The maid pointed behind her. Dress there, seo r. Jessie handed Roland the clothes, but avoided looking at him. She started to doubt her methods to this madness, and wondered if they would even be able to fool the bodyguard. He probably knew every trick ingenious fans might try. She would sacrifice her favorite earrings because of her impulsive behavior, and Roland would lose two hundred dollars. By the time Roland came out of the bathroom dressed like a hotel waiter, Jessie stood by a shadowy wall, hugging her arms around her. She was dressed like a maid in a snug maroon uniform. The maid wore Jessies denim outfit, taking the time to admire herself in the borrowed clothes. Lets go! Roland barked, and Jessie knew he felt as distressed as she did about everything they were doing. Ill wait here. The maid brushed her hands over the arms of Jessies jacket. Back in the service area, Jessie picked up a handful of

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towels. She finally got to inspect Rolands appearance. The black pants were two inches short, but luckily he wore black boots. The shirt was easily a size too small. The clothes only emphasized Rolands muscular build. The maid was wrong about the size, but she was right about Rolands manner. He looked as formidable as the bodyguard standing outside Badgers door. Their eyes met across the serving cart. Im glad youre coming with me, she told him, hoping to reach his protective, gallant instincts. Im scared of the bodyguard. His expression relaxed. His eyes shone concern, and his mouth softened into a slight smile. I wouldnt be much of a St. Joes man if I let you approach him by yourself. Shall we go? she asked, and he nodded. In a tense silence they rode the elevator. As the door swished open on the floor of Badgers suite, Jessie whispered. The maid suggested we both speak Spanish, but I dont know if it will be enough to get us past the bodyguard. Dont worry, youll think of something. You always do. When she looked at him, he gave her a wink and a smile. His friendly tone boosted her sagging confidence. She wondered again if they would succeed as she waited for Roland while he pushed the cart off the elevator. The muscular bodyguard stood in front of the door, and frowned when they stopped. What do you two want? Jessie held up the towels. Necesito p o ner estas to allas en el cuarto d e bao . The mans eyes narrowed as his big pale hands reached for the towels. Dm elas. Yo las llevo . No! Jessie clutched the towels to her. She tried not to reveal her shock that the man spoke Spanish. Lower-

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ing her eyes, she improvised quickly, trying to keep things in a maids perspective. Her Spanish words flowed urgently. She spoke about bad customers who stole towels and the hotel making her pay for them. And she couldnt afford it because she cared for three little sisters who had no mother. She begged him to understand that she was just following orders, and she had to be sure there was the right number of towels, and to please, please let her do her job. She rounded her eyes sadly, and gave him her best attempt at looking forlorn. A disgruntled snort came from the bodyguard. He looked at Roland. Did Badger order that? S, seo r. Jessies eyes darted in Rolands direction. He had grabbed a cotton cloth off the cart and draped it over one arm. His face was void of expression, his eyes downcast. The guard grunted again, then stepped back and opened the door. Just room service, Badger! he called. A river of apprehension coursed through Jessie as she stepped inside the spacious suite. As she heard the squeak of the cart wheels behind her, she tried to remember she wasnt alone in this crazy venture. She regained her confidence in the shadow of the handsome waiter behind her. She barely took notice of the lavish furnishings, an ocean of sable brown carpet and crystal light fixtures. She zeroed all her attention on the wide back of the man who sat on a brocade sofa, as he stared out the picture window. Sandy brown hair brushed the collar of his blue shirt. His black hat balanced on one wing of the Lshaped sofa. The city of Austin twinkled in the distance, flickers of lights blinking in the darkness. Jessie might have enjoyed staring at the night view of her state capital, but she was here to convince Badger to come to San Antonio, not stay in Austin.

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Jessie looked over her shoulder at Roland. He grabbed a beer, and wiped it with the towel. With a slight jerk of his chin, he gave her an indication to proceed. Jessie stepped down and walked over to the sofa. Mr. McCloud? She laid the towels near his hat. She paused, noticing his tinted glasses lay on the coffee table. She stood in front of Badger, her legs trembling. He raised his bearded jaw. His hazel eyes regarded her in a surprised stare. When she saw the gentleness reflected there, though, she knew she had a chance. My name is Jessie Medina. I represent St. Joseph High School in San Antonio. Brother William Daniels wanted me to speak to you about doing a benefit concert for the school. The school is hurting financially, and we need your help. The words came out in a rush. She was afraid if she stopped talking, the man would say Get out! I know this is a bit out of the ordinary, Mr. McCloud. But if someone like you would lend his support for the school, we could attract more interest from the community. Could youwill youhelp us? Slowly, one hand, diamond rings on two fingers, raised to scratch his head. I thought you were room service. Roland stepped forward. Would you like a beer? Jessie almost laughed. Only a man would use such a direct approach. She watched Roland flip back the beer tab and extend the open can to Badger. Okay, thanks. He frowned, but took the can. Who are you? Im Roland Tovas. Im president of the St. Joesuh, St. Joseph High School Alumni Association. I came with Jessieuh, Ms. Medinato talk to you about doing a benefit concert for the school. Sorry. I dont do benefits. He set the beer can on the coffee table. Now, leave.

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Rolands hand circled her arm, but Jessie shook it off. She stepped closer, determined to try again. Badger, please think about doing a benefit for us. For many of the boys, St. Joes is their only semblance of family. Many come from single-parent homesthe brothers and coaches are the only positive male role models in their lives. I know you shared a special relationship with Brother William Daniels when you attended the school. Although hes retired, there are other teachers just like him who make a big difference for the boys. Rolands hands rested gently on Jessies shoulders. Badger, the school has made many improvements since you went there. Weve got a fine baseball field, a new sprinkler system for the football field, two computer labs, and a fully equipped band room. His voice rang with a genuine pride in the school. I think if you came back to St. Joes, youd see why we believe in the school and why we took such drastic measures to talk to you. Badger reclined into the sofa and lifted his legs onto the coffee table, crossing one booted foot over the other. He folded his hands upon his stomach, his eyes moving from Roland to Jessie. I have to give you two credit for getting past Wade. You look like a maid and waiter to me, too. Jessie glanced down, a little embarrassed by his scrutiny. The hand-tooled copper-colored boots he wore were easily worth one months salary for her. Then she remembered that her expensive earrings were destined to leave this hotel on the ears of the maid. She became more determined that she wouldnt sacrifice her prized possessions in vain. Before she could speak up, though, Badger cleared his throat. Look, Ive never forgotten what St. Joes did for me. And Brother Williams a good old guy. Ill have my people send you guys a check next week for a couple of hundred, okay? Now, you two need to go. Im expecting

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company. The token gesture and dismissive attitude made Jessie angry. She refused to accept his check when her earrings and Rolands money were worth twice that amount. Look, Badger, we dont need your check for two hundred dollars! She ignored Rolands short intake of breath and the shock in the singers eyes. We need a man who once attended St. Joes to come forward and show his support for the school. The concert would help the school financially, but it would also unite the students, parents, and the community at large in the efforts to keep the school open. Your presence would make a big difference to a lot of people who think St. Josephs is nothing more than an old boys school in a run-down part of town. If a big singer showed he cared, maybe others would take a second look at St. Joes, too. Badgers thin lips pursed together. He stroked his chin, his fingers scratching through his beard. Okay, okay. Ill give this benefit idea some thought. Turns out Ill be in San Antonio on Monday and Tuesday for some R & R before the band heads out west. Maybe Ill drop by the school. Jessies excitement shot through her like fireworks celebrating a moment in history. That would be wonderful, Badger. Im not making you any promises, but Id like to talk to Brother William awhile. Maybe see the school. His eyes sharpened on Jessie. But I dont want no press. No ones to know Im coming. Is that clear? You have our word, Mr. McCloud. No one will know of your visit, Roland said, his voice as solemn as his promise. I The door to the suite suddenly popped open. The bodyguard appeared, his face red with anger. I thought you two were just room service!

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Roland grabbed Jessies hand, and seeing the angry giant coming around the sofa, she was more than willing to let Roland take the lead as he pulled her in the other direction. Thank you, Badger. Ill see you at the school! she called quickly, before she sped up her steps and ran with Roland out of the suite as a string of Spanish curses from the bodyguard bombarded their departure. They didnt stop running until they reached the elevator. Jessies heart raced from the sprint and her excitement that she had succeeded in her quest. Roland, we did it! Roland pressed the elevator button, then sighed, relaxing his back against the wall. He didnt really say yes, Jessie. But he didnt say no, either. She faced him squarely. Once we get him to the school, Brother William can take over. Come on! Could you say no to that sweet old man? That sweet old man once threatened to break a ruler over my head if I didnt pass his next biology test. Jessie laughed happily, suddenly feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted off her heart and mind. Free to laugh again, she truly enjoyed being with Roland for the first time all night. Impulsively, she leaned forward and kissed Rolands lips. Im glad you came with me after all. Then Rolands strong arms encircled her. He pulled her to him and gave her a long, deliberate kiss. Suddenly, she was safe and protected in the arms of a man whose code of honor appreciated the differences between male and female. Unexpected sensations boomeranged through her body until she realized if she didnt recapture her senses, shed make a complete fool of herself. Pressing her hands against him, she broke off their kiss.

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Rolands eyes glided over her with a gentleness she had never seen before. Youre a very special woman, Ms. Medina. Jessies look caressed his handsome features. She wondered if the kiss was merely a reaction to the emotional impact of their evening, or if he felt as she did. She thought there was an energy between them. They were two strong individuals, but together, they commanded an even greater power. Did he sense it, too? The door to the elevator whizzed apart, but they stood there, lost in their own thoughts. Roland blinked, breaking the spell. Uhso, lets go. He suddenly laughed. We need to get you home before those little sisters get hungry! Do you want to count any more towels? The silliness broke the mood into something Jessie could handle. She smiled, too. You should get an Oscar for your performance, too. And I cant believe you gave Badger a beer like that! The elevator door closed upon their teasing and laughter. Dressed in their own clothes again, Roland slowly walked Jessie to the elevator. He reached out to take her hand, and her cold fingers trembled in his. When she didnt pull away, he laced his fingers through hers. Her eyes were on the carpet, and her lips pressed together tightly. He respected her too much to comment on the scene with the maid. He just wanted her to know he cared about her sacrifice. Roland struggled with his own emotions as he pressed the elevator button. He wasnt so angry with the maidafter all, they had made a bargainbut he wished he had more money to give the woman so she wouldnt have taken Jessies earrings.

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He admired Jessies politeness towards the maid as she gave up the earrings and explained how grateful she was for the help. Not wanting to appear ungallant, he followed Jessies example and gave up all but ten dollars of his money. He doubted if the maid cared about anything beyond her own rewards. The elevator door slid open, and they stepped inside. Jessie sighed. I guess we can go home now. Dont you want to get something to eat, Jessie? He pressed the elevator button for the first floor. I can still afford two hamburgers. After all this, you think Id let you take me to dinner? Im the one who should be treating you! Jessies eyes raised, and he was relieved to see the tiny glimmer of fire burning in them again. He shook his head. Sorry. My treat. Even if its only a hamburger. The last time a woman bought me a meal, I had to eat in a school cafeteria. Her expression brightened. It wasnt so bad, was it? Roland exchanged a smile with her. No, Jessie, it wasnt so bad. Actually, he wasnt referring to the cafeteria food, but everything that had happened in his life since the moment they met. After tonight, he would never doubt her loyalty to the school. He would always be the first in line to help her with any development project she planned. He raised their clasped hands to his lips and kissed her fingers. Tonight, well eat hamburgers. When Badger agrees to the concert, Ill take you some place very special for dinner. Jessie smiled at him. Youve got yourself a deal!

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Chapter Six
On Monday Jessie believed the school clocks were under a mysterious spell because the minutes ticked by slower than ever. She couldnt do anything else until Badger appeared. Too impatient to wait in her office, she implemented her plan to spend five or ten minutes with different classes, allowing the boys to get to know her and answer their questions about her role as a development director. A sharp knock on the door to Chris Sotellos fourthperiod history class interrupted her talk there. Coach? A blond-haired teen stepped inside the room. Brother Edward sent me to get Miss Medina. A mans waiting in her office. Jessies heart pounded with anticipation. She looked at Chris apologetically. Can we finish this another time? Any time. Chris gave her a smile. Good luck! Jessie left the room, and walked the hall at a rapid pace. Earlier, with Brother Williams help, Jessie had found six pictures with Badger in them and purposely left them where he could find them if he waited in her office. When she arrived, she saw him looking at the black-andwhite 8x10 prints. Hello! Welcome back to St. Joes. Jessie smiled, her shaking hands clasped tightly behind her back. She hoped her professional appearance pleased him. She had

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chosen a tailored blue blazer with a matching short skirt. Maybe he wouldnt notice how nervous she felt. Immediately, she noticed Badger sported a beige sport shirt and brown western-style slacks. Without his cowboy hat and dark glasses, he looked like any other visitor to the school. I never saw any of these before. He flipped through the pictures as he spoke. So many people I forgot. I can make copies for you. She took a step closer. Badger laughed, then turned to look at her. I dont know if I want anyone to know these exist! His hazel eyes twinkled. Would you like your old high school pictures in one of those gossip rags? I guess youre right. Her voice softened. Im glad you came, Badger. He turned to look around the room. This place brings back a wagon load of memories. There used to be this old, beat-up chair right there by that desk. Im embarrassed to tell you how many times I sat in it and got chewed out by Brother William. He kept me alive during a very tough time in my life. A corner of his mouth pulled into a slight smile. I see Brother Edward is principal now. When I was here, it was his first year as an English teacher. Do you know some of those poems I wrote for him I used in a couple of my songs? Jessie stood there, quietly listening. She didnt want to capitalize on Badgers memories, but she hoped his personal feelings would sway him to do a benefit. Being at the school and talking with the brothers again would have a bigger impact than anything she could say. How would you like to see the school, Badger? He just shook his head. Lets go see Brother William first. As they left her office, Jessie told Badger, Brother William was supposed to come with me Friday night,

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but he couldnt make it. He raised one light-brown eyebrow. I dont think he could have passed for a waiter, do you? Jessie laughed. She liked Badgers sense of humor. If Brother William had been with me, I would have used another approach. Wouldnt your bodyguard have let us in when he saw an old man? How much of a threat could we be? You dont know Wade. Badger chuckled. He wouldnt let his own mother into my room! Of course, Wades never met Brother William, either! I got into big trouble once, and Brother convinced the policeman not to haul me off to juvenile. After that stunt, I became the weekend gardener around here. See those shrubs and bushes next to the chapel window? I planted every one of them. His laughter carried over the quadrangle as they walked to the Brothers Residence. Just as she was about to ring the bell, Badger spoke again. Tell me, Jessie. How did a woman get to be the development director of a boys school? I was qualified. She rang the doorbell. How did a boy from St. Joes get to be a famous singer? Connections! he exclaimed and gave her a wink. After Goldie, the housekeeper, let them in, they walked from the small entry into a narrow hall. Religious paintings decorated the paneled walls between closed doors. They heard a television broadcasting the noon news, and then they walked through a portal. Comfortable leather chairs, two sofas, and various tables were the furniture for the Community Room. Brother William sat in a recliner watching the television console in one corner. He spotted Jessie and Badger, and clapped his hands. I win my bet! I told Goldie a famous singer would show up today. She said if he did,

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shed make me a pecan pie. Badger helped him up from the chair, then pulled the old man into his arms. Its great to see you, Brother. Jessie stepped back. Over the edge of Badgers shoulder, she saw the tears brimming in Brothers blue-gray eyes. Tears burned her own eyes, so she looked away. She knew this was a private moment for the men, and softly cleared her throat. I promised Goldie Id help her with something. Excuse me. She spun on her heel and left the room quickly. As she walked the hall, she said a little prayer. If o nly . . . . After lunch in the Brothers Residence, Jessie and Badger walked the campus and visited classrooms. In order to keep attention minimal, Jessie introduced him to the teachers or students as her friend, Mr. McCloud, who was visiting the school. The students whispered, but no one pointed outright, and they always answered Yes, sir when he spoke to them. Badger listened and watched, asked questions, and seemed receptive to everyone. Finally, they returned to Jessies office just as the dismissal bell rang, ending the day. As she closed the door, Badger moved to look out the window. Scratching his bearded jaw, he watched the boys pass outside. Jessie stood quietly, her back pressed against the door. The past hours she had allowed Badger to observe without much commentary from her. He knew about the school from his own experiences; she only explained about the financial problems just as she had to the alumni last week. She heard him sigh, then turn. He folded his arms across his chest. You realize, Jessie, if I say yes to the concert, thats the easy part. I may do it free, but there will still be expenses.

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Jessies heart fluttered with hope. Ill get the corporate sponsors, Badger. You just say yes. Badger walked to her desk, and picked up the telephone receiver. She watched his thick fingers punch between buttons, then studied his features as he talked. Its Badger. Remember when we talked in Austin? I want to do the benefit for St. Joes School in San Antonio. Badger nodded, his eyes closing. Yes, I know. Do whatever it takes. Theyve slotted the concert for Memorial Day weekend. Slowly, he put down the receiver, then smiled at Jessie. The answer is yes. For the first time since high school, Jessie wanted to break out in a victory cheer for St. Joes. She laughed happily, clapping her hands together. This is wonderful! Suddenly all her professional training and education shoved her excitement into the background. She had the answer she wanted, and now the real work began. Well need to have a press conference as soon as possible. When are you leaving town, Badger? Ro land o ,

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Sp aghetti in the refrigerato r. Tell Bo bby to fo ld clo thes in d ryer. With Delia at Mara Po nces ho use. Mam P.S. Jessie says to call her.

He read the note on the refrigerator, but only the postscript caught his attention. The rest was nothing new. He dialed the school first, but when he only got the answering machine, he called Jessies apartment. Hello! She sounded breathless as she answered

after the first ring. Its Roland. Did you Roland! Suddenly she was screaming. He said yes! Isnt that wonderful? The concerts a go! Im so excited! Roland held the phone away from his ear. As a cheerleader, Jessie probably had never needed a megaphone. He leaned against the kitchen wall. Thats great, Jessie. I guess you and I need to go celebrate. Have you had dinner yet? No, but Gonzo is on the way over, and he promised to pick up a pizza. Weve got so much planning to do. Listen, the reason I called youbesides to tell you the good newsis that I need you to be present at the press conference tomorrow. Noon. In the gym. You can be there, right? Roland tried to process everything she told him. Once again some buzzard named Gonzo was monopolizing Jessies time, and she wanted him at St. Joes tomorrow. What do you need me for? Im sure your friend Gonzo can handle things. Gonzo is not the president of the Alumni Association. It seems to me, youd want to be there. Isnt it the alumni who are going to help me get this concert off the ground? Her voice changed from excited to irritated. Whats wrong with you? Nothing. Its just hard for me to get away at such short notice. Roland. She sighed. Were in this together. I need you there tomorrow. Please? He might have agreed immediately if that Gonzo character wasnt in the picture, too. But wasnt she free to see Gonzo if she wanted? He had known Jessie only a week, but because of their experiences together, his emotions steered his heart in her direction. He couldnt find the brake pedal to stop himself from caring about everything she did and who she

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did it with. He sighed with the confusion of it all. I dont know what you expect me to do, Jessie, Roland said. Just be your charming self when the reporters ask you questions. Reporters? Roland switched the receiver to the other ear. I have to talk to reporters? Get used to it. We have a busy two months of public relations ahead of us, Mr. President. Oh! Theres the doorbell. See you tomorrow. Later! The telephone clicked in Rolands ear. He had wanted to take her to dinner and celebrate her accomplishment, but he got shoved aside. Well, he sure wasnt going to stand in line behind some St. Michaels monkey called Gonzo. Roland hung up the telephone just as Bobby came through the door. The teenager, still dressed in a black tank top and shorts from track practice, tossed his track cleats beside the drain board, and dropped his backpack on the floor by the sink. Where have you been? Its after six. Rolands deep voice came out in a growl. And you know better than to leave your junk all over the kitchen. Hey, man! Bobbys hands flipped up in front of his chest. Whats eating you? And whatever it is, I didnt do it. Sorry, Bob. Roland sighed, his fingers raking through his hair. I didnt mean to jump on you. Uh where have you been? After practice, we helped Coach and Ms. Medina set up the gym for a press conference tomorrow. Did you hear who she got to sing for St. Joes? A country singer! Bobby wrinkled his nose. How could she do that to us? Well, she didnt know how to get in touch with a Bleed ing Centip ed e , I guess. Roland found himself grinning in spite of his earlier mood.

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Bobby reached down and grabbed his backpack. He dragged his cleats down and slung them over one shoulder. She told us this singer went to St. Joes. Did you know him? No, Badger went there about ten years before I did. Sheesh! How old is this guy? Bobby groaned as he carried his belongings out of the kitchen. Roland had placed the dish with the spaghetti in the microwave and was punching buttons to heat it when Bobby returned, pulling a T-shirt over his head. I tell you, Rolo! You need to ask this lady out. What? What are you talking about? Roland had turned from the microwave oven. Who do you think Im talking about? Ms. Medina. She came by and talked to us during geometry class today. Shes so fine! Bobby went to the cabinet and pulled down two plates. Youd have to be dead not to notice, Rolo! Since Saturday, he was rediscovering the excitement in thinking about a special woman in his life. Just the memories of Jessies kiss made him feel like he was sixteen again. Yet he casually told Bobby, Ms. Medina is a very intelligent woman. Well, if I were you, Id want to date her, not discuss politics. Bobby walked to the table and set the plates down. You know, Rolo? Ms. Medina told us they might let girls in the school by the time were seniors. Wouldnt that be fine ? As a businessman, he knew that going coeducational was a smart way to keep the school going. On a personal level, maybe the hormone tornadoes would be less severe if there were teenage girls to occupy the boys thoughts instead of that attractive development director, who filled Rolands thoughts in a very fine way.

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Jessie surveyed the commotion in the front area of the gymnasium and smiled. From the moment Brother Edward, the principal, made his opening comments, to Badgers short speech, to the introduction of the first five corporate sponsors of the concert, the press conference went smoothly. Jessies own words, enlisting further financial support and introducing Roland and the program director from KYCK radio, concluded the hour. The media was most interested in Badger, and spoke with him and his manager at length, but it didnt stop reporters from firing questions at anyone else connected with the concert. Jessie thanked the man from Channel Five after their on-camera interview, then stepped back, and straightened her gray pinstriped jacket over her skirt before looking for Roland. Dressed in a tailored black suit and colorful tie, Roland was a distinguished and extremely sexy-looking alumni president. If he approached her for a donation to help his old high school, shed empty her bank account just to see his smile. She quietly moved closer so she could eavesdrop on Rolands conversation with two female reporters. My brother is a sophomore at this school. Rolands hands moved naturally as he spoke. Id like to see Bobby graduate from here just like my brother Ray and I did. I have friends with boys in grade school. They want to continue the tradition and send their sons to St. Joes. What do you think makes this school worth saving? the black-haired reporter asked. This school gives a solid education. Plus, the boys get the feeling of belonging to another familythe St. Joes family. Why do you think Badger agreed to do the concert? The spirit of St. Joes goes on with our students even after they leave here. And how you do feel about a female in the Devel-

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opment Office, Mr. Tovas? the shorter, blonde woman asked. How does the alumni feel having a woman represent an all-boys school? We were a little surprised at first. But everyones been impressed by Ms. Medinas plans. Im happy to see her represent us. Shes got the schools best interests at heart. Thank you, Mr. Tovas. The ladies moved on to talk to the program director from KYCK radio. Roland turned and saw Jessie grinning at him. At least, he had the good manners to look embarrassed. Jessie walked closer and whispered, I bet you guys have so m e trouble with a woman in charge, dont you? Roland raised an eyebrow. Whenever youre in charge, I never know what will happen next. He looked over her head around the gym. So wheres Gorilla? I wanted to meet him. If you mean Gonzo, hes out of town. She found his jealousy amusing, and wondered how deep his feelings ran. In the short span of a week, she had developed a strong attraction to the man who stood before her. She liked his pride and confidence. And he came in a handsome package, too. Most important, though, was the fact they were learning to respect each other. I still owe you a dinner in a restaurant, he said. Hows tonight? Jessie lowered her eyes. On Tuesdays, the Medina family always had supper together, a tradition that had begun when her brother Gilbert moved out years ago. She was tempted to ask Roland to join them, but if their relationship was destined to move to a more personal level, she wanted to take things slowly. Meeting a persons family was serious stuff. I guess youre hesitating because you have a meeting or something and cant figure out a way to tell me

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hey, Jessie! Its no big deal. I just owed you a nice dinner. But youre busy. What youre doing for St. Joes is more important, anyway. Well, its just that She began to explain about her family but he interrupted her. Like I said, its no big deal. Im a big boy. You wont hurt my feelings. After you and Godzilla work out all the details, I can sweep up the stage or something. He looked at his gold wristwatch. I really need to get back to the garage now. Goodbye. Roland turned, but Jessie grabbed his arm. She stepped closer to him. You dont have half the answers you think you do. From the very first day, I told you I needed your help. Were not talking about sweeping stages, either. Then she released him. Can we go to dinner tomorrow night instead? I think its time you and I had a heart-to-heart talk about concert promotions. Rolands eyes swept her face. I think I might like to have a heart-to-heart talk with you, too, but Jesse, it has nothing to do with concert promotions. Ill pick you up at seven. He left Jessie standing in the gym with the memory of his devilish grin firmly imprinted in her mind. The following evening, the doorbell of Jessies apartment rang exactly at seven. Jessie smoothed her dress, a pink cotton shift embroidered with red, yellow, and blue flowers. She wore the gathered neckline off her shoulders, and accented the dress with a red cinch belt. She moved to the door, her long brown hair swinging freely down her back. Jessie opened the door with a smile that grew more natural as she saw Rolands eyes glide over her. You look beautiful, Jessie. Her heart skipped for joy. Thank you. She had

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taken great pains not to look like a development director tonight. As Roland stepped into her apartment, she admired his attractive appearance in a green shirt and dark jeans. She closed the door behind him. Im glad you didnt have any problem finding the apartment. This is a nice place. Roland looked around the living room area. He turned around as she moved from the door. They almost collided. Less than an arms distance from one another, Jessie looked up into Rolands serious expression. He reached out to stroke her brunette hair. Since the days when her mother used to brush it for hours, Jessie always enjoyed when someone touched her hair. A seductive fever shivered through her body as Rolands fingers sifted through the brown strands, then lifted them off her bare shoulder. Goose bumps appeared where his fingers had touched her skin. Forgive me. His voice was deep and dusky. Its a silly superstition, I know. ButI just had to touch your hair. Jessie stared into his gaze, the color of midnight and shadows. She had no reason to fear his admiration, although she knew many people still believed if an admirer did not touch an object of beauty, something terrible might happen. I understand, she whispered. Slowly, his face descended, and then he kissed her. When he pulled away, her lips so carefully caressed, a tingling sensation made her believe she was safe from every superstition forever. Whats your pleasure tonight? Italian food? Chinese? Mexican? His black eyebrows raised above his shining eyes. Mexican, she told him, then smiled. Her pleasure

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tonight would not come from the food, but from the charms of this tejano who sought to protect her, even from himself. Have you ever been to Flavios? Roland asked as they walked outside. Nohey! Doesnt the man who owns the restaurant send his sons to St. Joes? Thats right. The youngest son, Mateo, is in my brother Bobbys class. As they left her apartment and drove down Bandera Road, Jessies mind drifted back to the concert. In her efforts to tap community and alumni resources, she could not neglect the parents of students. It was time to start recruiting volunteers to help her contact the parents. They had a big stake in the concerts success, too. Roland, Jessie said, as an idea began forming in her mind, does your mother work outside the home? She saw his mouth take an unpleasant twist. Depends on what you mean by work, Jessie. Shes very active in P.O.N.S. Really? I admire their work. I think its about time neighborhood groups hold politicians accountable to promises they make in order to get elected. I suppose. Roland shrugged. I just worry about my little brother. Hes home alone while shes complaining to City Council members. Jessies eyebrows raised. Your mother deserves a life apart from being a homemaker if she wants it. And isnt your brother old enough to take care of himself? Id expect you to see it that way. Personally, I believe a commitment to family should be a priority over volunteer work or any job for that matter. Jessie heard the bitter edge to his words, and it struck an unpleasant chord in her. In other words, the womans place is in the home. Period. Im not a caveman, Jessie. I just believe family comes

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first. So what about the father? she asked. Whats his job? A good father gives everything to his family. His paycheck, his love, and as much time as he can spare. My father worked hard so we could have a good education and a few luxuries, but he always found time to be with me and my brothers. Roland sighed. I hope I can balance things as well as he did. Im sure your mother is trying to balance things, too, Roland. Jessie tried to keep any judgment out of her voice. How does your brother feel about her work in P.O.N.S.? He shrugged. I dont know. We never talk about it. Its just a matter of fact that shes not home and we have to cook for ourselves. Jessies face opened in surprise. You still live at home with your mother? Actually, I live in a garage apartment in the back. I moved there when my father died. I didnt want my mother to be alone, and I knew Bobby needed extra attention. Actually, Bobby was the reason I got so involved in St. Joes. Jessie had to smile. Just like his father, Roland always made time for his family. Seor Tovas would be very proud of his oldest son. Rolands choice of restaurants also impressed her. She liked the atmosphere in the rectangular dining area, with colorful Mexican piatas hanging from the high ceilings, tiled floors, and waiters dressed in white guayabera shirts. Immediately, one of them came to take their drink orders after they sat down. So, do we have a place for our concert yet? Roland asked her when they were alone. Actually, I was hoping for Sunken Garden Theater. Her back rested against the tall cane chair. But theres a

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hold on the place by KSAN radio. And I couldnt get anyone there to return my calls. Sunken Garden? Thats an outdoor theater. What if it rains? Roland reached for one of the tortilla chips in a straw basket in the center of the green tablecloth. He dipped one in an enamel bowl of p ico d e gallo . Why would you pick that place? Its the cheapest place in the city, Roland. She shot a disapproving look in his direction. And we wont mention that R word again. She knew the risks of using an outdoor theater, but profits were a priority. She decided shed be completely honest with Roland, so he would know what was at stake, too. Actually, I feel like Im running out of time, Roland. Badgers manager expects me to confirm a date and place by Friday. Gonzo picked a terrible time to leave town. He knows the people at KSAN. You dont need him. I know someone at KSAN radio. Jessie stared. What? She couldnt believe what he had just said so calmly. Mike Esparza. On the air, hes Flying Mike, KSAN traffic reporter. I worked on his car just last week. Could you call him? Would he help us? She tried not to sound too anxious, but this connection was something short of a miracle for her. What do you need? Im new at all this concert stuff, you know. He enjoyed another chip piled with chopped tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro . Well, the lady who runs Sunken Garden told me the station still didnt have definite plans. I hoped I could convince KSAN to give up Sunken Garden to us, then join us in promoting Badgers concert. But I thought KYCK was doing that. They are. But KSAN might be willing to help us since they dont compete with KYCK. KSAN plays top

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40, and KYCK is a country-western station. If Mike could get me to the right people, maybe wed have a place for our concert that wouldnt eat into our profits. We can go by the garage after supper and get his number then, Roland said. Im glad I can help you like this. Jessie smiled, enjoying the unexpected surprises Roland brought to their relationship. She finally let herself relax and enjoy dinner. Roland was fascinated by the woman seated with him for dinner tonight. She was smart in her career and could talk about a variety of topics. The decorations in the restaurant inspired a conversation about places each had visited in Mexico. She knew many facts about Mexico as well as different places in America where she had traveled with her family. She talked more about her relationship with her parents and siblings. He envied the Medinas for their close ties, especially their Tuesdaynight suppers with both parents present. Eventually, the discussion returned to Badgers concert, and although Roland wanted to be involved and help Jessie, he began to wonder if he was merely another tool to insure the success of her plans. Especially after she asked Roland to introduce her to the owner of the restaurant, Flavio Martinez. First, she complimented Flavios cuisine. Then she asked him if he would consider donating food to feed the band and road crew before the concert. Roland was surprised by her direct approach for donations, but Flavio thought it was a wonderful idea. He offered his restaurant for the small party she had planned after the concert, too. Later they returned to Rolands garage to get Mike Esparzas phone number. He watched as Jessie called

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Mike and planned a meeting with him at ten in the morning. She had enlisted a total strangers help in convincing KSAN to help St. Joes. She amazed him more by the minute. Finally, Jessie invited Roland inside her apartment, and when she kicked off her red shoes, he thought it was time to get cozy on her blue sofa. Instead, Jessie pulled out her legal tablet filled with a list of things to do and began her inquisition. Were there any other people he knew that she could contact on behalf of St. Joes? This is all so wonderful! Jessie said with a laugh, near midnight, when she finally tossed the legal pad on the coffee table. She uncurled her legs from under her, and rested her head on the back of the sofa. Who would have thought you worked on the cars of so many influential people? And you gave me some great leads among the alumni who dont make the meetings, but probably still care about the school. Now, we just need to decide which people well talk to first. Roland tried to hide a yawn. We? I have a garage to run. But youre the boss. Jessie raised her head, her brown eyes glowing. And theres Jorge to run things, too. Roland, you know a lot of these people. I dont. That never stopped you before. Roland rested his arm along the couch, his hand pushing her brunette hair off her shoulder. He loved the softness of it. You talked to Mike Esparza tonight like you two were old army buddies. Jessie laughed self-consciously, her face turning a charming shade of pink. Roland knew if he did not move quickly, she would begin discussing something else she needed for the concert, and right now, he wanted something from her that had nothing to do with St. Joes. In one smooth motion, he slid across the sofa, closing the distance between

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them. He rounded his arm about her shoulders. Her lips parted as if she was surprised, and he solicited a delicious kiss. She tasted of flan, the cream vanilla dessert they had shared after dinner. Her silky hair brushed his arms, and he enjoyed losing his hands among the dark brown waves. He had never known anyone like Jessie, yet he knew he had to leave before his hormones took over his common sense. Ever so gently, he ended their kiss, but not before rewarding himself with two light, sweet ones. Its late, Jessie. His lips pressed against the satiny hair, trying to imprint the texture into his mind so he could dream about it tonight. He left her apartment after a brief kiss by the door. Roland realized it was going to be difficult to concentrate on mufflers and spark plugs tomorrow. His thoughts would also be on Jessie, who filled his mind with romance. He even admitted he would be wondering, too, about Jessies appointment with KSAN. He discovered he was unable to control his interest in her job, because now, it was important to both of them.

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Chapter Seven
Jessie tugged on the edge of her red jacket nervously, although she had made the same pitch four times in the same afternoon. She smiled at the middle-aged blondehaired woman, the general manager for KSAN radio. She hoped Christine MacRae received her ideas with the same enthusiasm as the promotion director, program director, and general sales manager. You impress me, Ms. Medina. Getting Badger McCloud to do a benefit for your school is quite a coup. Working with KYCK is no problem. She glanced over at the general sales manager, a tall man leaning against the file cabinet. We could donate some air time, but the school would need to buy at least $2,500 worth, wouldnt you agree, Phil? Yes. I gave Ms. Medina a figure like that earlier. We also agreed on ten backstage passes and fifty free tickets for contest winners. He looked at the promotion director, a short, overweight man named Henry Sitterle who stood behind Jessie. Well work out all the details in black and white once we get the go signal from you, Christine. Right, Henry? Sure, Phil. Which production company are you planning to hire, Ms. Medina? Christine asked Jessie. She turned to look at something on her computer screen, then typed a few words. Production company? Jessie shrugged. I thought

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Id handle the production end of it myself. Thats suicide, Ms. Medina. Christine looked back at her. You need to hire a company to set up and tear down, deal with contracts and management, and so on, or youll have Badger singing at your funeral the day after the concert. Jessie laughed in spite of herself. I guess youre right. I just wanted to keep costs down. Get the sponsors to help you keep costs down. We like to work with Big State Production Company. Phil has their card. Call them. Then you can sleep nights. The womans warm smile helped Jessie relax. She enjoyed dealing with a woman whose expertise would help Jessie keep from getting tangled up in details. Now Jessie would just concentrate on getting sponsors. Phil, you contact Sunken Gardens, and tell them were giving our venue to St. Joseph High School. Henry, lets get this on the air today. Make a special announcement. KSAN is an official Badger McCloud sponsor station. Do it up big. Christine stood up and extended her hand to Jessie. Youve got yourself another radio station and a place to hold your concert, Ms. Medina. The next week moved so quickly, Jessie barely made time to change clothes between trips to the printers, City Time Ticket Sellers, and San Antonio Eagle newspaper where she drafted another sponsor for the concert. She arranged cross-promotional deals with KYCK, KSAN, the Eagle, and television station KLLO, Channel Seven, so that everyone helped promote each other while they promoted the concert. Jessie had to go to the city offices with KSANs letter transferring the use of the theater to St. Joes. She battled with the city, who wanted to control food and beverage concessions in Sunken Garden Theater. It was a tough negotiation, but she finally got a deal for the city and school to share them. And she made sure the school con-

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trolled the all-important beer concessions, which always made the best money. After receiving Badgers contract from his manager, and she saw the list of specific riders of the production, Jessie hired Big State to manage the details she couldnt do. She met with the school PTA president to get a network of parents to begin promoting the concert at churches, work places, and within the school itself. As she sat in her office, late Wednesday afternoon, she could hear Badgers voice echoing off the walls. If I say yes, thats the easy p art. She sighed at the concert budget, the list of expenses, and her list of donations and knew that the see-saw hit the ground on the expenses side. She had appointments with M & M Management, Tech Refrigeration, and The N.D.S. Corporation. She also hoped her former connections with Texan Cola would pave the way for large donations. She wrapped the end of her braid around her hand. Texan Co la . She had to meet with them, too. Was she read y to go back ? The ring of the telephone interrupted her troubled thoughts about her former employer. Hello, St. Joseph High School Development Office. This is Jessie Medina. She was so tired, she sounded as enthusiastic as an answering machine. This is the president of the Alumni Association. For five days, youve said youre too busy to go out. If I bribe you with a three-thousand-dollar check from Imperial Tire Company, will you join me for dinner tonight? Three thousand dollars? Oh, Roland! Thats the best news Ive had all day. You wont believe what Ive been through! Someone stole the glossy picture of Badger from the marketing directors office at the newspapers, and the tickets went on sale today but three ticket locations had computer problems. The promotional rep for Badgers record label called me today and told me to

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expect at least twenty additional record company executives at the party after the concert. Do you think Flavios can hold three hundred people? And security! Do you realize that Ill have to pay the security people for a job on a holiday weekend? Triple time and a half! Why didnt I pick another weekend to do the concert? Suddenly, Jessie caught herself and realized she had never accepted Rolands invitation. Oh! Roland! Dinner. Yet, lets go to dinner. That would be wonderful. Im glad you remembered why I called. His words were quiet and slow. Ill meet you at your place at seven. Dress casual. Goodbye. Jessie replaced the receiver, knowing she probably had hurt Rolands feelings, but she promised herself to make it up to him. She flipped on the answering machine, then pushed herself away from the desk. Shed just think about her concert m aana. She was going to take a much-deserved break tonight with Roland and try not to worry about concert details. Roland took her to eat at Pintos, a small barbecue restaurant on Blanco Road. She enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, delicious food, and charming company. After negotiating and compromising for others the past two weeks, it was wonderful to have someone be concerned about her pleasures, her needs, and her wishes. You must be psychic or something, Jessie teased Roland as they walked outside the restaurant after supper. She slipped her hand through his. I needed time in blue jeans and tennis shoes. I wanted someone to make me laugh. Thanks so much! I always said this concert was a big undertaking. I admire your hard work and dedication, but I think you owe yourself some time off, Jessie. I told myself the same thing just this afternoon. Good. Come this way. I want to show you something. Roland pulled her around the log-cabin-style

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building into a small uncovered area with benches and picnic tables. Colored lanterns hung from tall cedar posts surrounding the patio. On weekends theres a live band and dancing, Roland told her as they walked onto the patio. Well have to come back. Jessie stared into the clear navy skies to see the startling white moon. She could count the stars twinkling, and realized she hadnt taken time to admire a spring evening in years. Where had all her time gone? First college, then straight into two demanding jobs. Why hadnt she made time to appreciate moments like this? Rolands arm circled her waist, and she leaned against him. True, she could handle any challenge life dealt her, but to have a special man share those challenges was something she had always wanted, too. They stopped by one of the railings, and Roland relaxed against it, pulling Jessie into his arms. She rested against his chest, feeling the soft cotton material of his polo shirt against her cheek. What did Roland really want from her? Someone to save St. Joes? A partner for an intimate relationship? She was willing to give all her energies to helping the school, but her body was another matter. She had made a firm decision as a teenager and had no plans to change her mind. Jessie lifted her head and stared into Rolands face. Slowly, her fingers outlined his square jaw. Despite the harried week, there wasnt an hour that passed when she didnt think of Roland. She worked where he went to school, and one day had discovered the box of pictures that had been displayed at his ten-year class reunion last summer. She spent an hour searching them for the younger Roland. It seemed like every day Jessie met people who knew Roland as an alumnus or as their mechanic. Their opinions and her own feelings told her he was a

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man of integrity. Her heart told her his honor, loyalty, and honesty were qualities any woman would want in a husband. Why arent you married? she asked suddenly. Rolands chuckle made her grin. I could ask you the same thing, Jessie. But I asked you first. He stared at her a long moment, then spoke in a quiet voice. I couldnt find a woman I liked who wanted to be married. Women I know are too busy establishing careers. And you? Jessie laughed a little. I wanted a career. Well, we have our answers, dont we? Despite the cynical tone in his voice, Roland pulled her closer. As his chin rested upon her head, she heard his sigh cover hers. Yearning to tell him the rest of her story, that she had her career, but wanted love, too, a twister of emotions whirled inside her. Instead of words, Jessie pulled back and raised her face so that he would kiss her. She wanted to take full advantage of this moment with Roland on a romantic moonlit night. Their passionate kiss spiraled down her body until she trembled. She couldnt breathe because her heart throbbed with an ache she feared would tear her in half. That teenage promise suddenly seemed unfair. Oh, Roland, this isnt supposed to happen. Her words were misted by a sigh of desire. Suddenly, he pushed her back to arms length, his midnight black eyes searching her face. What do you want from me, Jessie? What do you want? His words came between raspy breaths. She lowered her eyes as his words forced her to make decisions. What she wanted at this moment was something to which only a wife had a true right, just as the same gift would belong to her husband someday. She had always believed in total commitment, and couldnt

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believe her body betrayed her when her heart and mind had been in agreement since she first learned about the ways between men and women. What I wantneither of us should give right now, Roland. She raised her face, tears burning in her eyes. She could have sworn she saw a glistening in his black gaze, but he turned his face and moved away from her. Lets go home, Jessie. She fell into step beside him, their bodies close but not touching. They drove home in silence, but Rolands final kiss and quiet Good night never filled the distance between them. Friday morning, when the office door of the garage opened and closed, Roland looked up from the work order he was writing. His heart accelerated as Jessie walked up to the counter. Cynthia, his office assistant, greeted her. Hello. Can I help you? She sat on a wooden stool at the file cabinet. Jessies brown eyes moved to touch Rolands. I have the posters for the St. Joes concert and hoped you could put them up where your customers could see them. Im sure that will be no problem, Cynthia said. Roland walked to the counter, handing his clipboard to Cynthia. Give this to Jorge, please. Do you want me to take five minutes to find him or can I come right back? Cynthia arched one of her thin, black eyebrows as she took it. Her black eyes glowed with mischief. An unwelcome blush burned over his face. Just find, Jorge, okay? Cynthia gave a snicker, then wandered out a side door. When he looked at Jessie, her cheeks seemed more rosy than usual. Dont mind her. She reads too many

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paperback romances. Jessie cleared her throat, her eyes circling the room. Iuhjust came back fromumthe printers. The posters look terrific. Leave me three dozen. Ill put four up here, and pass out the others among my customers. Thanks, Roland. She gave him a smile, her first since she had come in. Id like to help you any way I can. Just ask. He walked closer and leaned his arms on the counter. Her scent carried between them, and he inhaled deeply as if he could smell the tiny lavender flowers on her blue dress as well. Ill be right back. The posters are in the car. Roland frowned as she rushed out. They hadnt spoken since the night on Pintos patio when his desire for her had come out so badly. She had told him she wasnt ready to give what he wanted. And that night, just like this morning, her career was uppermost in her mind. Where did that leave him? She returned with a stack of glossy, 11 x 14 color posters under her arm. I have twenty-five here. She laid them upon the counter. What do you think? Roland took a moment to admire them. A picture of Badger stood out in the center of the poster and above and below it, thick black letters giving information about tickets, St. Joes School, and the sponsors. Theyre simple. I like that. The St. Joes graphics class designed them. I wanted the students to feel a part of the preparations. Im taking six of the boys with me today when KSAN and I go over the commercials at the radio station. The counselor told me these students are interested in communication careers. Yo u w e re a p e rfe ct cho ice fo r this jo b , Roland

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thought. Thank yo u very m uch, Bro ther William . He said to her, Youre doing a lot of good things for St. Joes, Jessie. Im sure the boys appreciate it, too. I think so. Well, I need to go. Her eyes glanced down as if she couldnt look at him. I have a lot of posters to deliver. Why dont I come by later and help you deliver the rest? The words were out before he could think. His eyes widened, and he almost looked around to see if someone else had blurted out the suggestion. Jessie stepped back. No, I can handle this. Actually, I have a meeting today with some of the mothers. They want to organize parents who can deliver posters to their churches, offices, and other places. Your mothers going to be there, too. Im looking forward to meeting her. He knew she was talking about the job in order to avoid discussing their relationship. He had to talk about the two of them or he would never get any work done. Jessie, about the other night She held up her hand. Please. Lets not talk about But I think we need to talk. Frustration began to simmer inside him. Id like to settle things between us personally before we continue working together. Roland, please. Her fingers stroked her braid hanging over her shoulder. Im very confused about you and me right now. The only thing Im sure about right now is my job. If she had thrown a glass of cold water on him, it would have had the same effect. Her job. Of course! Only it was also her job that tied them together, regardless of their personal relationship. She had begun this career thinking he was a stubborn chauvinist, and he thought she was a bubble-headed ex-cheerleader with a crazy scheme to save his old high school. In a month, they had cut through the double-talk and had become a great team. Now he could use Jessies job to keep them together,

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despite what happened at Pintos. His mind began to create a nonthreatening atmosphere, and he spoke quickly as the ideas formed. Can I come by tonight, please? I really need to brief the alumni officers. Dont we need to keep them working on concert promotions, too? You told me it would take e ve ryo ne to make this concert work. Cooperation. Remember? He grinned. Wont yo u cooperate? Jessies hands stroked her braid again. Her eyes narrowed, but she was smiling. How can I refuse after that speech? He winked. Can I bring pizza? Jessie shook her head. Chinese. Ill see you at my place about seven. She waved her fingers and turned away. Roland watched her leave, remembering Bobbys first impression that Jessie Medina was great to watch both coming and going. He agreed one hundred percent. Shes a lot prettier than Jorge said. He jumped at the unexpected female voice behind him. Grinning, Cynthia sat on the corner of the desk. Have you told her youre in love with her yet? I beg your pardon? The heat of embarrassment crept over his face again. Ive known you since we were kids, Roland. She fluffed her straight, black hair. Ive been trying to figure out why youre so up and down lately. And I believe the reason why your temperatures rising just left the garage. He couldnt deny his bad mood the past two days, or the emotions evident on his face as he stared at Cynthia, so he just decided to avoid the discussion altogether. I need to get back to work, Roland answered. And so do you. He moved past her to go back into the work area, but her giggles followed his footsteps until he heard the metal door slam behind him. Near seven that night, Roland arrived at Jessies

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apartment with a grocery bag stacked with white cartons of Chinese food. He rang the doorbell, and heard her call from inside. Come in. The doors open. Roland twisted the doorknob as he opened the door. He had every intention of reprimanding her for her careless sense of security. But when he saw her, his irritation melted within unexpected feelings of concern. Jessie sat cross-legged on the sofa, her face drawn together in a deep frown. She was dressed casually in a tank top and red shorts. Her long hair hung freely around her shoulders. Roland placed the bag of food on the coffee table and sat down beside her. Instinctively, he took her hand. Is something wrong? She took a deep breath as her shoulders pinched together in a shrug. I dont know. No. I guess not. There was something unspoken about her manner that told him she had a problem. Whats wrong, Jessie? Please, tell me. Ive been trying to get in to see Max Delgado at Texan Cola. Her voice was dull and flat. He just called me back saying I could come see him next Friday. Im hoping theyll be our last big sponsor. He squeezed her hand, and relaxed against the sofa. Well, I would think getting Texan Cola as a sponsor would be easy. They know you over there. Ive seen you work on perfect strangers and convince them to help you. Id love to see what you do with old friends. Maybe Ill even come with you next Friday! Snatching her hand away, Jessie started to rise. Its okay. Ill be fine. Shall we eat now? Quickly, Roland took hold of both her arms and pulled her back down to the sofa. He made sure he was gentle, but he was also insistent that she wouldnt escape without talking to him first.

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Jessie, be honest with me. Whats wrong? he asked. You can trust me. She sighed and settled back on the sofa. Curling her legs under her, she leaned her head against her hand. I havent been back to Texan Cola since the day I resigned to take the job at St. Joes. I probably wouldnt even bother with Texan Cola, but theyre probably the most generous company in the city when it comes to nonprofits. Id be stupid to let my personal feelings stand in the way of getting money for the school. Youd never do that. Ive never seen anyone who had more professional integrity than you, Jessie. He wanted to see her smile, so he added, Except for me, of course. Her entire body stiffened as she gave him a fiery look. Yes, thats right, Roland. I do have professional integrity. A lot more than certain men I know. Her voice rose in pitch. Only the president of Texan Cola obviously didnt see it. He promoted a man whom I helped train into a job that should have been mine. Im a woman, and the president thought a woman shouldnt sit in the directors chair. Roland saw the pained expression in her eyes. It surprised him. He couldnt believe she wouldnt fight against unfair treatment. Is that why you left? Partly. After they promoted Max over me, I was angry and ready to scream job discrimination. Then I heard about the job at St. Joes. I decided to put my energies into a new challenge, instead of wasting time fighting with a narrow-minded boss I really didnt respect anymore. She looked at him directly. I wanted to work for people who would respect my talents. A job where I could make a difference and it wouldnt matter if I were a man or woman. Her pointed words were aimed directly at him. He knew she referred to their first meeting, and now he

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understood her determination with a new perspective. Rather than dwell in his past mistakes, though, he decided to focus on the present and future of their relationship. He reached out to gently place her hair back over one ear. I think everyone at St. Joes thinks of you as a guardian angel, Jessie. I know I do. What youve done in the last six weeks has amazed everyone. He grinned. Im almost jealous. You did what I wanted to do, but I didnt have the time, skill, or connections. Texan Colas loss was St. Joes gain. A hundred times over. Oh, Roland. She leaned over to kiss his cheek. Youre so sweet. I really needed to hear something positive right now. She smiled, her eyes shining with pleasure. Thanks for being my friend. His cheek still tingled where her moist lips touched. He wondered if she could read his face as easily as Cynthia had.

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Jessie deeply appreciated Rolands concern. She realized they had finally moved beyond the earlier relationship when both were so defensive about everything from roles of men and women to silly things like who would drive to Austin. Underneath the ridiculous arguments, had been two determined people who wanted to maintain some semblance of control. Roland hadnt been prepared for a woman representing St. Joes, and she was still hurting from Texan Colas treatment and was so zealous to prove herself, she had made a lot of rash judgments about Roland. Now they respected each other and worked well together. Jessie nestled against Roland, her head relaxing against his neck. She felt even better when he put his arms around her and held her close. This is the w ay its sup p o sed to be , she told herself. Jessie, Id like to come with you to Texan Cola next

week. His lips pressed against her head. Would you mind? She appreciated that he asked her first. Then she smiled because having Roland with her always boosted her confidence when things got shaky, and in dealing with Max Delgado, she wanted every ounce of confidence she could get. If you think you could get away from the garage awhile, Id like you to come with me, Roland. Im sure the garage will survive an hour or two while I do a little work for the school. Im the president of the Alumni Association, after all. His embrace tightened around her. Jessie felt she could succeed with Texan Cola because a lot of good people depended on her, and now, one very special man believed in her.

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Chapter Eight
Roland held open the glass door to Texan Cola, and Jessie walked inside. They walked down a short hallway decorated with large posters of the ten beverages the company distributed, and into a reception room area with four secretary desks and comfortable sofas, where a dozen people waited. A curvy brunette looked up from her desk. Jessie! she exclaimed, a smile lighting up her pretty face. Its so good to see you! Thanks, Rhoda. Its good to see you, too. I have an appointment with Max. Is he in? Yes, Ill let him know youre here. Jessie nodded, and Roland followed her to the modern sofa with leather cushions and chrome trim and sat down. She smoothed her peacock blue dress, then placed a white plastic bag in her lap. Whats in the bag? Roland asked her. A St. Joes baseball cap and school T-shirt. Theyre for Max. I dont understand, he said, a frown touching his face. Youll understand when we get into his office. Jessie smiled at Roland, pleased he had wanted to come with her, especially when she had the unique opportunity to see him dressed again in his black suit. She felt lucky to have him working with her today. Since their Chinese dinner, she had finally admitted to herself how much she loved sharing her experiences

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with Roland. He often gave her ideas from a businessmans point of view. Best of all, she loved his compliments and congratulatory kisses when she succeeded, and only yesterday, he had kept her spirits up when two companies had refused to help the school. Rhoda approached them. Max says hell see you now. Jessie and Roland followed her into Maxs office. Behind a desk piled with colorful folders, four black Tshirts, and a stuffed panda bear, sat Max Delgado. The telephone receiver rested between his chin and shoulder. He glanced up at his visitors only to wave them over to a pair of leather chairs on the other side of the desk. Jessie quickly surveyed the office. One wall was stacked with shelves of coffee mugs and glasses from every radio station, school, and city organization she could name. A large box in one corner overflowed with a variety of T-shirts. Plaques and certificates of recognition bearing Maxs name flooded the wall, along with countless pictures of celebrities, some of them shaking hands with Max. Various caps hung from a brass stand by the window, and nearby was a four-foot replica of Shamu, the whale mascot from San Antonios Sea World. Jessie stood by her chair, and purposely raised her arm to stare at her watch. Then she looked at Max. In the six weeks since she had seen him, he had gained about twenty pounds. His angular face now looked egg-shaped. His black curly hair was slick with mousse, and his skin was a shiny nut brown. His deepset black eyes glided over Jessie as he hung up the phone. Jessie! Jessie! Max rose from his chair, and came around the desk, his arms outstretched. You look wonderful! Jessie took a deep breath, adjusting her smile. She allowed herself to be taken into his arms, but strategically placed the plastic bag between them. She tried not to

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flinch as his lips slid off on her cheek. You look delicious! Been wondering what happened to you! And when you called about your little project for that run-down school, I told myself, Max, you just gotta help, Jess. For old times sake, of course. He straightened his striped tie, and tugged on the collar of his beige dress shirt. Ive missed your pretty face. Jessie stepped back, trying to stay pleasant, although his patronizing attitude made her want to scream. Max, let me introduce you to the alumni president for St. Joseph High School. This is Roland Tovas. Roland extended his hand, but Jessie noticed the cold gleam in his eyes and tight set of his jaw. Its a pleasure to meet you, Roland. Max pumped his hand. I guess youre Jessies new boss, eh? No, sir. His voice sounded cold, almost disrespectful. Jessie doesnt work for me. Im a mechanic. Jessie works for the school. Mechanic, huh? I could use a good mechanic. Do you? Max, Im here to discuss the concert for St. Joseph High School, Jessie interrupted before Max demanded a free tune-up from Rolands garage. Can we discuss Texan Colas part in my project? Sure! Sure! Put yourselves in my chairs, and lets talk. Max moved back to his desk, and shoved some papers out of the way. He sat down, resting his forearms on the desk. What do you need? Ill help you any way I can. Jessie sat in one brown leather chair as Roland took the other. We need sponsorship money to cover expenses, and drinks for concessions. Drinks are no problem. Well give you as much as you need. Well even take back what you dont sell. Max smiled, speaking with waving gestures. Ten percent above cost, okay? Ten percent? Nonprofit groups used to get the

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drinks at cost. She leaned forward in the chair. Max shrugged. Sorry, Jessie. Things are different now. Jessie took her small leather secretary from her purse. Maybe Ill talk to Niall Griffith. He might swing a special deal for St. Joes if I ask him. She glanced up to see Maxs back straighten in his swivel chair. His chuckle had a nervous, gurgling sound. Jessie, Jessieyou dont need to talk to Niall. I handle this stuff. Its just new company policy. Youve been gone a couple of months now. You cant expect special treatment just because you used to work here. Jessies eyes met Maxs stare from across the desk. Well, if I talk to Niall maybe hell make an exception for the school. Hes the company president, after all. Ill talk to him instead. No, no, no. Really, Jessie Max rubbed his hands together. Ill tell you what I can do. Ill give you drinks at cost. No problem. Ill square it with Niall. Just let me know what you need. Were old friends, after all. Max smiled up at Roland. Jessie helped me get started here, you know? Roland said nothing, and when she glanced over, his face looked etched in stone. She hurried through her spiel, anxious to leave the office before Roland did something chivalrous, like punch Maxs lights out. Okay, Max. What about expenses? Jessie continued to make her deal, ready to get through the business at hand and get out of this place. Max could open a flea market with all the freebies in the office. Mitchell Brewers gave us ten thousand. Can you match that? I need some free tickets, Jess. Three hundred maybe? She blinked in surprise, but kept her voice steady. Ill reserve three hundred for Texan Cola, but I can only give you one hundred free. Max sat back in his chair. Were giving you ten thou-

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sand dollars. For what? A hundred tickets? This is a huge company. Have you forgotten so quickly? Texan Cola gets good publicity, a great tax deduction, and the chance to give a good school a fighting chance to stay open. Im cutting corners every way I can. Im trying to maximize the profits for the school. Niall sent his girls to St. Theresas and his boys to St. Michaels. I know he has a soft spot for the private schools. I expect hell be glad to buy a block of tickets for his employees. I have an appointment with him Monday. Jessie kept her gaze steady, despite the nervous feelings tightening her stomach. Max licked his lips. He shot a look at Roland, then looked back at Jessie. How about twenty-five for my own personal use? Jessies heart pounded. Sitting on the other side of the desk asking for funds was harder than the job she used to do in this office, but she was never unreasonable when a nonprofit came for sponsorship. Maxs ticket demands were ridiculous. It wasnt his ten thousand dollars, after all, but Texan Colas. Rather than letting Max take the upper hand, Jessie relied on her knowledge of Max and his incredible ego to get what she wanted. Immediately, she changed her approach. She smiled so sweetly she could have attracted bees. I know you have a lot of friends, Max. And we wont even discuss all the women you know. She giggled like she knew a teenagers gossip, and grew more confident when he chuckled and flopped back in his chair with a conceited smile. But, look, Max, this is my first big project, and the school needs your help, too. I tell you what! Ill be sure my photographer gets a picture of you and Badger together. You can add it to this great collection. And ten free tickets just for me? Of course, Max. Ten free tickets.

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Max stood up. Then we have a deal, Jessie. You can pick up the check tomorrow. He came around his desk, and Jessie anticipated another rub-a-dub hug. When he approached, though, Jessie pressed the bag into his arms. Fumbling with the unexpected package, Maxs hands were too busy to reach for Jessie. Whoops! Jessie giggled like a teenager. Excuse me. I just wanted to give you a little present. Its just a hat and shirt, but I wanted you to know we consider you part of the St. Joes family now. She gave him another honey-coated smile. He opened the bag and pulled out his gifts. Thanks, Jessie. Jessie stepped around the chair. Have a nice day, Max. During the interchange, Roland had risen and waited by Maxs office door, now open for their escape. He reminded Jessie of Wade, Badgers bodyguard, who was a silent, but very capable companion. Call me if you need anything else, Jessie, Max was saying as he inspected the shirt and hat. Jessies face froze in an idiotic grin. She merely nodded, then walked towards Roland, who closed the door firmly behind them. With a quick wave at Rhoda, Jessie left the reception area, and almost ran out of the building. They were just outside the building when Roland grabbed her elbow. I cant believe it! His earlier, impassive face was colored in anger. Max Delgado is a self-serving jerk! No kidding. How do you think it makes me feel knowing that somebody promoted him over me? she said, feeling the old wound opening up again. Max Delgado probably takes that ten percent and gives himself a personal commission, Roland told her, his voice tempered by his disgust. I was thinking the same thing, but I didnt let him get away with it this time. Jessie sighed, suddenly

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exhausted by the emotional strain of dealing with Max. I just wanted to get out of there. You looked like you were ready to punch him. Rolands eyes avoided hers. I didnt like the way he did business, thats all. Jessie wondered if there was more behind Rolands behavior in Maxs office, but she didnt comment further. She pressed her hand against his arm. I think coming back here finally got rid of some extra baggage Ive been carrying around lately. I think I was judging everybody by the narrowed-minded experience here at Texan Cola. She smiled, hoping to bring Roland out of his foul mood. Im glad Im out of there. My new job is making me more creative by the minute. Who would have thought I could impersonate a maid and talk to Badger McCloud? And today, I got Don Juan Delgado to give the school ten thousand dollars for merely a picture and ten free tickets. Im learning how to deal with a variety of people and how to get them to work for me, and, in turn, help the school. Rolands eyes locked with hers. Does that include working with this alumni president only because he has the connections and the manpower to help put the concert together? Her eyes opened wide. Roland was the precious bonus to her job at St. Joes. Her emotions jumbled together midway between her desire to knock some sense into his head or kiss him until he knew her genuine feelings for him. Is that what you really think, Roland? She slid her hands up his arms, raising her lips to his. She wanted Roland the man, and right now, she didnt care if he was an alumni president or a ditchdigger. She was breathless when they ended the kiss. Does that answer your question? They spoke at the same time. Then both of them laughed.

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She smiled, her hand stroking his cheek. What I feel for you has nothing to do with my job. Words of love were on the tip of her tongue, but she wanted to be sure he felt the same way. A warm smile shimmered through his eyes. I think well go out for lunch and celebrate. What are we celebrating? She laughed softly. Another ten thousand dollars for our project? No, something far more important. He kissed her lips. You and me, Jessie. You and me. Yes, she whispered. Something very important. He kept his arm around her shoulders as they walked to the parking lot. Jessie smiled up at Roland, and he squeezed her closer. I swear, Jessie, if I get a backache after lugging this box around, you better be ready to kiss me and make me feel a whole lot better! Roland dropped the heavy cardboard box just inside Jessies office. He dusted his hands on his work pants, then looked up. Expecting to see Jessie sitting at her desk, he found himself staring at a well-groomed gentleman in a brown suit instead. Clearing his throat in embarrassment, Roland looked at the stranger apologetically. Uh-sorry, Roland said. I expected Jessie to be in here. Shell be sorry to have missed what you said. He was smiling. Actually, she got called to the principals office. Shell be right back. The strangers brown eyes traveled over Roland as if he was taking stock of him. You must be Roland Tovas. He smiled. Im Gonzalo Rangel. Roland stared as he accepted a handshake. Its nice to meet you. Finally. Jessie talks about you all the time. Gonzo was not as tall as Roland, but his body had

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well-defined muscles, which added strength to his youthful features. Dont believe half of what she tells you. Im not that bad. Gonzos deep laugh filled Jessies office. Roland merely raised an eyebrow. Jessie has nothing but good things to say about you, Gonzo. Actually, I was starting to believe you could even walk on water. I do! No, just kidding. His easy smile made his tanned face appear even friendlier. He was probably very good in his job. So, whats in the big box, Roland? T-shirts. Badger sent one to every boy in the school. I got volunteered to pick them up at the airport. Do these kids even know who Badger McCloud is? Thinking about his little brother, Roland shrugged. Theyre learning. Jessie videotaped Badgers latest music video and made sure each class saw it. Oh, you brought the shirts! Jessies voice sang from behind Roland. I cant wait to see them. She walked into the office. I guess you two met. She threw some papers on her desk. Im sorry we got interrupted, Gonzo. Channel Four did a feature on the three boys who won the state track meet last weekend. Brother Edward wanted to be sure I made a videotape for our next recruiting campaign. Now, lets get back to us. The promoter I spoke to in Dallas last Friday said he might not make the concert after all. Will that be a problem? Roland wondered if he had suddenly disappeared. Was he wrong to expect a special smile or even a quick kiss from Jessie? Especially after the past few weeks had been filled with just as many personal conversations, not to mention romantic moments, as meetings regarding the concert. At least, she might have mentioned that one of the boys who won a state crown was his little brother. She was totally focused on Gonzo, and Roland consciously turned to stare at the man, wondering if those muscles came from a fancy health club and the clothes

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from the exclusive shop where his brother Ray shopped. Then he realized his resentment was stupid. Gonzo had done a lot for Jessie and for the school. Besides, Roland was positive Jessie was in love with him , even if she hadnt said it. Jessie, if the guy from Dallas isnt here, it will put you in charge of the backstage the night of the concert, thats all, Gonzo was saying. Jessie wrote something on a legal pad, then sighed. Gosh, so much! I think Ill need a vacation in Cancun when this concert is over. Did I tell you Big State called me today and said theyll need to hire more roadies to set up and tear down? Thats the second time theyve upped the price another two thousand dollars. I told you not to work with those goons! Gonzo crossed his arms and sighed. I knew theyd pull something like this. Jessie straightened up, her eyebrows pulled together in an angry frown. Dont you give me that I told you so baloney, Gonzo! You were off in Cozumel getting a suntan, and the rest of us were trying to put together a concert. KSAN recommended Big State to me. Yeah, well, you know what I think about Henry Sitterle at KSAN. Gonzos brown eyes raised to the ceiling. Youre just jealous because I closed the deal at KSAN without you. Despite the irritated tone, her eyes twinkled as she pointed a finger at Gonzo. Admit it. You didnt think I could pull it off without you. Your chauvinistic little heart cringes over my success. Gonzo laughed and threw up his hands. I dont argue with crazy women! And I need to get back to the office. Should I come by your place later? Sure. Ill be home about five. Come on by. Now Roland knew he was invisible. At some point, he had just disappeared completely. She never once considered he might have plans for them. She never looked

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in his direction. Once Gonzo left, he would make sure she remembered that Roland had also been in her office this morning. Okay. Ill pick up Badgers CDS at five, then. Gonzo rubbed his hands together. My wife promised me a romantic evening for two. Enjoy it now. When the baby comes in June, things will be so different! Jessie teased him as she wagged her finger at her friend. Rolands eyes widened. Gonzo was married and had a child on the way. All this time, he had worried about Gonzo as a competitor for Jessies affection. He barely heard Gonzos friendly goodbye as they shook hands. Once Gonzo left, Jessie moved towards the box. Do you have a pocketknife so I can see the T-shirts? Roland walked to the door and closed it. He listened for the click of the lock, then reached out to pull Jessie into his arms. Forget the shirts for now. What are you doing? She gasped and looked into his face. His heart raced at their sudden closeness. Why didnt you tell me Gonzo was married? She laughed, her hands sliding up his arms, over his work shirt, and resting around his neck. You didnt ask me if Gonzo was married. You knew I was jealous of him from the start. His hands clasped behind her waist as he pressed her closer. He lowered his lips within a breath of hers. That wasnt very nice. Sorry, she murmured, then kissed him. He wanted to imprint himself in her mind and heart so she would know she belonged to him and he had no plans to share. Her body quivered in his arms, and because he knew her office wasnt the place to continue this passionate exchange, he released her from their kiss. With a soft sigh, she dropped her head to his shoulder.

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I wanted to be sure you knew I was here today. His lips pressed into her hair. You were so busy talking to Gonzo, you forgot all about me. She clutched his shoulders. I tend to get a little involved in my work. You always manage to remind me there are better things to do. One last thing, he said. If youre going to Cancun when the concert is over, Im going with you. Jessie raised her head. An almost intoxicated look shined in her eyes. I think I like that idea. Her words were a whisper. He concentrated on her for a long moment, then kissed her nose. I need to get back to work, but Ill come by your place after six. Now that I know Gonzos night plans dont include you, Ill keep you company this evening. That would be wonderful. We can discuss everything for next weeks alumni meeting. Roland sighed. Its always school business with you. Jessies finger traced his jaw. If you dont argue with me so much, well finish quicker, and then She paused. Then well attend to personal business. Yes, we will, he whispered, before he captured her lips in another kiss he guaranteed she wouldnt forget. Roland called the meeting to order. If you dont mind, were going to dispense with the usual procedure and go straight to the concert business. Ms. Medina is going to give you a quick rundown, then well take the rest of the meeting assembling the final work crews and assigning leaders to man the different areas. He turned to her. Ms. Medina, would you give us your report, please? Jessie smiled, knowing his professional distance was

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just an act. It was only a matter of time before everyone else guessed Jessie and Rolands personal feelings for one another. As she stood up, she forced her thoughts away from last nights romantic kisses, and focused on her speech before the Alumni Association members. As of today, were three thousand tickets away from a complete sellout. The place holds seven thousand. Id love to see a standing-room-only crowd for this concert. She glanced down at her legal pad and paused. Beside her outline for tonights meeting Roland had taken her pen, drawn a string of hearts down one side of her paper, and inside the last one wrote, I love you. She tried to fight the urge to blush, but heat tingled over her cheeks. He must have done his drawing when she went back to the office to make phone calls before the meeting. His romantic overture was touching, but she wanted to kill him at the same time for throwing off her concentration. She glanced at him, and saw his lips curve into a teasing smile. Jessie cleared her throat. Now we have the beer and soft-drink concessions, and well need alumni manpower to work those booths. Coach Sotello and the Athletic Boosters are selling fajitas, and we agreed they could share the profits from that booth for athletics. The Band Boosters are selling nachos and hamburgers. The other food booths are being staffed by city nonprofit groups, so we wont need to worry about them. Now I need to tell all of you, like I told the parents, that if youre working, you need to be at the park no later than two oclock. Once the people start lining up for the concert, well never be able to get you through the gates. I know thats a long wait, but there will be plenty to eat and drink. She saw a hand raise in the back. Jessie, what about T-shirts? They make big money at those concerts.

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We cant sell T-shirts. Theres a special merchandiser who handles all Badger McCloud T-shirts. I spoke to the company, and they agreed to donate one dollar from each shirt sold to the school, but they wouldnt let us sell our own. She tossed her tablet on the table. Let me tell you something. If we can sell out Sunken Gardens, well make close to one hundred thousand dollars for the school. We need to push those tickets. Yeah! someone yelled from one corner of the library. Lets push those tickets! Jessie laughed, suddenly feeling like a cheerleader at a pep rally. She turned back to see Roland smiling. The next two hours both Jessie and Roland answered questions, grouped workers, and set up a time-table for labor. When the meeting adjourned for beer at the Brothers Residence, Jessie knew the concert could be nothing but a success. We have everything settled, she told Roland as they carried all the various lists and schedules back to her office. Roland opened her office door and flipped on the light switch. I think so, too. If everyone does his job, we should have a very successful concert. Jessie put the papers on her desk, and her eyes landed on her legal pad with Rolands drawing. She slipped it out from under the stack and turned to him. What was the meaning of this? He glanced at his artwork, then smiled. Didnt you like my memo? Her eyes moved up his face until they met his stare. You might have picked a more romantic place to let me know your feelings, Roland. Instinctively, Jessie moved towards him, and he placed his arms around her. Jessie, he began, then sighed. II dont know how to begin

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She could hardly believe he was at a loss for words. He was a man with so many strong ideas. He took charge of situations, and infused others with confidence. But when it came to love, Roland was as vulnerable as anyone else. Gently, her hands cupped his face. On tiptoes, she reached up and kissed his lips. I love you, too, Roland. Inside a warm embrace, she rested against him, feeling the rhythm of his steady heartbeat. The close contact was comfortable and safe, far different from the usual sexual electricity between them. Both feelings were distinct, yet came from the most powerful emotion in the world. I love you, Jessie, co n to d o m i co raz n, p o r siem p re . And he sealed his declaration with a kiss.

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Chapter Nine
Memorial Day weekend arrived, and with Saturday morning, came all the nervous anticipation over Badger McClouds concert to benefit St. Joseph High School. Dressed in sneakers, blue jeans and her baggy football jersey, Jessie hurried across the shaded asphalt walkway leading from the parking lot to the Sunken Garden Theater, an outdoor arena on the edge of Brackenridge Park. Stone walls lined the path, which ended at a chainlink gate where two security men sat drinking coffee. Good morning. She smiled, showed them a pass hanging from the belt loop of her jeans, and passed through the gate. As she adjusted the denim bag on her shoulder, she admired the clear, blue skies with spots of cottony clouds. Bits of quartz sparkled in the rock cliffs surrounding the theater. She sent another prayer of thanks into the heavens and hoped the beautiful morning was a positive omen that today would be terrific from start to finish. Workmen were already busy setting up concession booths under the Spanish oak and pecan trees. She moved towards the theater itself and saw members of the production crew up on ladders and scaffolds, wiring lights. Others were hooking up the sound boards for the amplifiers and microphones. She moved towards the front of the theater and began counting off the aluminum chairs to rope off. Since there was no reserved seating in the theater, she wanted to be

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sure the radio and newspaper contest winners, important people like the mayor, Brother William, and the archbishop were able to sit in the front rows. Pulling a nylon rope from her large bag, she strung the rope over the appropriate seats and tied it off. She clipped her reserved signs in place. Roland assured her that the five alumni he had assigned to guard this area would keep the other concert fans away, and she depended on them to help her. She sighed, suddenly feeling lonely for Roland. They had done so much together the past month, she felt like a person without a shadow. She shook her head slightly to clear it, then pulled a list from her bag. She turned towards the stage to see what needed to be done next. The stage area was set between two narrow cement buildings, which were decorated with stone columns. Jessie walked through one side and down the steps into the open patio area that would be the central backstage area for tonights performance. Then she inspected the two smaller buildings set against the rock walls that were the dressing rooms for the performers. She made sure everything was prepared for Badgers people and the warm-up band, Cactus Blossom. Jessie spent the next hour on her cell phone doublechecking on the limousines to pick up Badger and his entourage, as well as verifying the equipment trucks had picked up the band instruments at the airport. By the time she came back out to the front part of the theater, Mitchell Brewers workers and Texan Cola employees were unloading beer and soft drinks. She spotted Henry Sitterle and another man stringing a long KSAN radio banner across the columns on each side of the stage. The roadies, a group of muscular men whose job it was to set up and tear down the stage, showed up about the same time the trucks arrived with the band equipment.

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Excitement grew within Jessie as everything progressed smoothly. She glanced at her watch, crossed things off her list as they occurred, and decided that if everyone kept to this schedule, she could run home, shower, change into her new jeans and western shirt, and be back before the sound check at three oclock. Hey! Are you Jessie Medina? She turned to see one of the roadies, a scruffy, overweight man, standing in the middle of the stage. Yes, Im Jessie. A call came in the dressing room. Badgers running late. Theyre going straight to the hotel. Theyll be out here at five for a sound check. The message delivered, the bulky brute lumbered away. Jessies fingers raked her hair. I k new things w ere go ing to o w ell. What the she said when she saw Gonzo standing in front of one side of the columned porches. Two young women were taking down one of the KSANs banners. Jessie ran over to where Gonzo stood. Hey! What are you doing? Henry just put those up. Gonzo frowned. KSAN isnt the only sponsor around here, Jessie. We need our banners up, too. She looked around the area. Cant we put your banners some place else? Hang them from the railing over there, or off one of the cliffs? Hey! Wheres your loyalty here? Gonzos dark eyes sharpened upon her. Im just trying to keep everyone happy. I just want this half of the stage area. We wont take down the other banner. Henrys famous for stealing other sponsors spaces. As you can see, I only brought one banner. Gonzo held up the red material tossed over one arm. See? Okay. Okay. But will you find another place to hang the KSAN banner you took down? Jessie asked, starting

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to feel a tightness in her stomach. If you give it to me, Ill hang it in the mens room. If you want it somewhere else, you hang it up. Jessie glared at her friend, angry to find that his loyalty to his radio station superseded their friendship. She marched over to the two women and took the banner from them. Without another word to Gonzo, she left to find a place to hang KSANs banner, and hoped Henry didnt show up until it was too late to complain. As she stood under a tree trying to decide what to do with the banner, a uniformed delivery man came up to her. The guards say youre in charge. Weve got some flowers and baskets of fruit for the dressing rooms. Great. Ill show you where to put them. She spent the next thirty minutes arranging everything in the dressing rooms until she was satisfied Badger would be pleased. Then she wandered outside. The two dozen roadies were enjoying the food Flavio Martnez had provided, and by the time Jessie had shown Flavios workers where to put the food for the singers and band members, the food outdoors was gone. It disappeared in the same tornado that left debris everywhere. Napkins, used paper plates, and empty cans littered the backstage area. She was grateful that the three men who delivered the food helped her clean up the area, and carted off the black garbage bags in their van. Jessie returned to the stage area, and saw the roadies had just about finished their job. She glanced at her watch. She had an hour before Cactus Blossom arrived to do its sound check. Then, she saw the red KYCK banner waving in the breeze, and suddenly remembered she had left the KSAN one in the dressing room. She went back to retrieve it, and then walked all over the facility trying to find somewhere to hang it. She had just about decided that her good intentions were wasted when she saw Roland come through the

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gate with two other alumni. When she saw him in a red western shirt and dark jeans, she suddenly recalled the first time they met. The thought was a subtle reminder that she needed to go home and change. She couldnt face Badger and all the other people tonight looking like a lady roadie. Roland smiled, although his eyes looked concerned as they moved over her. Hi. Everything going okay? I think so. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Im glad youre here. I need to go home and change. Can you guys try to figure out a place to hang this? She handed Roland the KSAN banner. Ill be back as quick as I can. Roland grabbed her arm. Jessie. Wait. She looked up, surprised by the urgent tone. He handed the banner to the other two men. Hang this some place. Gently, he took her elbow and led her under a tree. Whats going on? she asked, impatient to leave. I have something for you. He smiled. Because I love you. He reached into his shirt pocket and took out a small velvet pouch. He placed it in the palm of her hand. With trembling fingers, she opened the drawstring and poured out two gold earrings. She gasped as she realized they were identical to the ones she had given the hotel maid. She raised her eyes to Roland, blinking away the sting of tears. My earrings? New ones. His hands smoothed her hair away from her face. Wear them tonight. For me? She nodded, feeling her love for him surge in her heart. Slowly, she closed her hand upon the earrings, then lifted her face towards his. He kissed her, then smiled. Ill take care of things until you get back. And drive carefully. I will, she promised. She walked towards the gate, and she was smiling for the first time in the last two hours.

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By the time she returned in her new jeans, yellow western shirt, a freshly braided hairstyle, and the diamond earrings, Cactus Blossom was doing its sound check. She laughed when she saw that all the male workers had stopped to listen and watch the all-female band from San Marcos go through their songs for the benefit of the sound crew. She wove her way to the backstage area, and saw a few empty soda cans by a dressing-room door. Upon entering the room, she discovered someone had unwrapped one of the fruit baskets, taken much of the beer out of the cooler, then helped himself to the sandwiches. She suspected some hungry roadies, but all she could do was replace the drinks from the concessions and find someone to guard the rest of the food until the band members arrived. She found Roland in the Booster Clubs fajita booth. He was helping Chris Sotello feed the fire in a barbecue pit behind the booth. Hi, Jessie. Im glad youre back. A man from one of the radio stations was looking for you. I dont think he liked where we hung the banner you gave me. Roland shot a thumb behind his shoulder, and she saw the KSAN banner hanging between two branches in a hackberry tree to the left of the stage. Jessie sighed. Ill worry about that later. I need some help. Are there any alumni hanging around I can borrow for a few hours? Hands on his hips, he looked around. Theres Matthew and Kyle. They have a late shift in the beer booth. I see your brothers over there, too. She turned to see Vincent and Gilbert helping the Band Boosters hang a sign over their booth. Go get Gilbert and Vince. They love to boss people around. I need someone to keep people out of the dressing rooms.

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Ill take care of it. He turned and headed off in her brothers direction. She went back to the dressing rooms and waited until Roland and her brothers arrived. Jessie sent Vincent back to replenish the ice chest with drinks. She asked Gilbert to stand outside the other dressing room. Are you okay? Rolands hands gently massaged her shoulders as they stood alone in Badgers dressing room. She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of his strong fingers easing the tightness from her body. Im starting to feel like Im losing control of this concert. Badgers people called and said he wouldnt be here until five for the sound check. The gates are supposed to open at six. Just handle problems one at a time, Jessie. She felt his lips press against her cheek, and she turned into his arms for a much-needed hug. I dont know what Id do without you. She couldnt believe the words came from her, an independent woman who always fought her own battles. But she had discovered that even the strongest person needed someone to care about her and share her problems. Jessie had left the guest passes and tickets in appropriate envelopes at the Will Call window early, but she still had to wiggle through an anxious crowd in line outside the gates. The people had begun to line up at three, and she began to feel excitement rolling over her anxiety. Handing out backstage badges to the appropriate alumni, Jessie heard someone yell out that Badger had arrived. She glanced at her watch, and reminded herself there was nothing she could do about the delays but deal with them calmly. Within fifteen minutes, Badger came up on stage, and he and his band members sang and played to allow the sound people to set the balance within the special

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acoustics of the outdoor theater. In the meantime, Jessie was trying to placate the alumni ticket takers and security guards who were dealing with the angry fans who couldnt get into the theater as promised. Its after six, Jessie, one of the men told her. Im sorry. We cant let anyone in until the sound check is over. It cant be much longer. She walked away from the gate area, and headed for the backstage. She wanted to double-check that the other guards and alumni were in place before the crowd came through. The vice-president and treasurer of the Alumni Association were at one entrance to the backstage, and Roland and his friend Sonny were at the other. She glanced at the people milling around backstage to make sure they were supposed to be there. Most had badges, but before she could question the others, the music stopped and Badger came off the stage. She moved over to greet him for the first time. Hello, Badger. Is the sound check over? Sure. Im going into the dressing room for a cold one. Come in so we can talk about whats going on tonight. She looked into his shaded glasses, and wished she could see more of his face. He seemed less like a superstar and more like a person when she could see his eyes. I need to make sure the gates are opened; then Ill be right back, Jessie told him. She headed straight for Roland. Send someone over to the gate, and tell them to let the people in. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. I guess it all begins now. Good luck! Jessie nodded, then made her way back towards Badgers dressing room until someone grabbed her arm. She had been stopped by Badgers manager, a thin, longfaced man in a black suit. I wanted to know if anythings changed. Well do all

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this backstage business early, right? Yes, Jessie said. The newspaper winners, radio people, and television people should be here She pulled away from him and looked at her watch. She sighed. It was after six, and everyone was supposed to have been here by now. Uh, Ill get everyone in place and call Badger out, okay? The manager nodded and went into the dressing room. Jessie moved through the people backstage and headed past her brothers trying to find Gonzo or Henry. The crowds of people scrambling for good seats made her stop and stare at the noisy confusion. She heard people arguing over seats, and her eyes immediately went to her roped-off area, and saw the five alumni struggling to keep people from dragging the ropes off the chairs. When she saw they were doing their job, she told herself, Relax. She took a deep breath and moved down into the crowds. Circling the perimeter, she waved to friends and family, but didnt stop to be sociable. She noticed the food booths were busy and the beer booths had lines of people waiting to get drinks, and that made her happy. Finally, she returned to the backstage area, noticing only Sonny was in place. Wheres Roland? she asked the short man with a thick beard. Hes looking for you. Theres a photographer waiting for you back there. Moving backstage, she saw dozens of people standing around, many not wearing the special backstage passes she had printed. Then, she saw Gonzo standing with some people against the wall. Where have you been? she asked him. I thought we were going to do the pictures early? What the hells going on around here, Jessie? We

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couldnt even get in! The gates were supposed to open at six. Gonzos ugly tone cut through her like a knife. He had never lost his temper with her before. It wasnt my fault. Jessies voice was angry too. Badger didnt do a sound check until five-thirty. What was I supposed to do? So wheres the photographer? Gonzo demanded. Ill find him. You stay here. Dont leave! Jessie turned and pushed her way through the people. She felt someone grab her, and she jerked around to find Roland had her arm in a steel grip. Jessie, the photographer is waiting in Badgers dressing room. Did you know that? Now I do. She wiggled her arm free. Roland, where did all these people come from? You need to get back and be sure no one gets in here without a pass! She stomped off in the direction of Badgers dressing room, regretting she had taken out her frustration on Roland. But she couldnt take the time to worry about it now. Jessie found Gonzo and sent his party to take their pictures. Then, she bumped into Henry and his contest winners from KSAN, and sent them to meet Badger, too. As she searched for the newspaper winners, Max Delgado found her, demanding his picture with the singer, and she led him to meet Badger, too. By the time she introduced the newspaper contest winners, she knew both Badger and his manager were irritated with the lack of organization. As she apologized and left the dressing room, she bet the men never considered that their tardiness was partially responsible. Everyone wanted to blame her for things she couldnt control. Jessie! She saw Gonzo motioning to her. She moved through the crowds over to where he stood. She realized Henry was beside him, and both looked angry. Tell Henry here that my D.J.s going to introduce

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Badger, Gonzo told her. No way, Rangel! My station is sponsoring this concert, too. I got my D.J. ready to go. Henry glared down at Jessie. Well? Which D.J. do you want, lady? Jessie looked from one man to the other. She suddenly decided that since both men dumped so much of todays frustrations on her shoulders, she didnt owe either one anything. At that moment, she was in charge, and used her power for her own benefit. Listen, go find your seats both of youand Ill make that decision later. Ill send for the D.J. I want. I really cant be bothered with that problem now. Suddenly grateful for the crowds, she slipped through the people and went back to the dressing room. She wanted time to talk to Badger and thank him again for coming. As a representative of the school, she owed him the courtesy. After the bodyguard let her into the dressing room, she closed the door on all the confusion outside and took a moment to appreciate the muffled noise and her short escape. He was alone in the room, his glasses and hat on a table. Sitting on the sofa, he rolled a bottle of water between his hands. Hows it going, Miss Jessie? Fine, she said. Her face seemed to burn in the bright lights of the dressing room. A deep chuckle came from Badger. Youre a terrible liar. I know everything outside is more than you bargained for. Moving from the door, Jessie went to sit on the arm of the sofa. Next time I do this, Ill be better prepared for the things you cant prepare for. She laughed, scratching her head. Does that make sense? Only to you, Im sure.

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Maybe so. Jessie smiled. Badger, I just wanted to tell you again. Thank you. It was my way to say thank you, too, Jessie. His wide grin appeared under his moustache. Does that make sense? Only to you, Im sure. A loud knock on the door interrupted their laughter, and the manager came in with three men in western suits. The manager frowned in her direction, and she took the hint. Ill talk to you later, Badger. Jessie stood up and left the dressing room as one of the men started to complain about the crowds and asked, Whos in charge of this circus, anyway? Quickly closing the door on the reply, Jessie pushed her way through the people milling around backstage, and once again wondered why the crowd kept getting thicker. She noticed more alumni, women she assumed were their wives, St. Joes students in Badger McCloud Tshirts, and other strangers who werent wearing badges. Weaving back to the backstage entrance, she saw the two alumni officers, Mark Muller and Louis Bustamante, talking with two pretty women, and her eyes widened as the men glanced around and nodded, allowing the women through. Stop right there! Jessie blocked their path, her hand raised in front of them. Do you have a backstage pass? The taller of the two women blinked at her. I didnt know we needed one. Well, you do. And if you dont have one, you need to leave. Her voice rose sharply. Now! She saw the woman nudge her friend, and both of them turned to leave. Jessie followed them until they passed Mark and Louis, who shrugged at her as if they couldnt help themselves. Dont let anyone else through! No one! Even if they

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have a pass! There are too many people back there! Do you understand? She felt like she was breathing fire, and gave them the full power of her anger in a stare that made her eyes burn. No more people! No one! Do you understand? Sorry, Jessie. We wont let anyone else back there, Louis said, and Mark nodded quickly in agreement. As she spun around, her irritation made her regret not hiring more security, but she was trying to save the school money. She assumed Mark and Louis could muster up the authority to keep people out of the backstage area, but she didnt count on them letting friends and pretty women sweet-talk them into bending the rules. She heard cries of excitement and applause as she stepped off the cement steps. The ladies of Cactus Blossom came through the crowd on their way up to the stage. Once they were gone, Jessie moved through. By the time she reached the dressing room, she had been stepped upon, elbowed, and had her braid pulled. She was angry, and she was frustrated by the lack of crowd control. She saw that two bodyguards now stood outside Badgers door. Because of the darkness and dim lights, all she could tell was that they were big men. The warm-up band is about to start. Will you tell Badger? One grunted loudly, and the other moved from side to side, but didnt open the door. Then Jessie heard the echo of applause, and the first sounds of music coming from the stage. Excitement tingled over her body, as she indulged in a happy smile. No matter what else had happened before, the concert had begun as scheduled. Behind her, the dressing room suddenly popped open and an angry voice shattered her moment of success. Find that woman in charge! Jessie Medina! Jessies heart jumped into her throat. Immediately, a dreadful shiver ran down her back.

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Let me pass. She squeezed through the two bodyguards, and blinked into the bright lights of the dressing room. Whats wrong? Badger paced the room. His heavy steps harmonized with the beat of Jessies heart. His manager startled her when he slammed the door, and snorted in anger. Theres too many people in the backstage area. Get them out of here! The managers long face was pink with anger. Before Jessie could reply, Badger spun on the heel of his boot and came towards her. Jessie, get those people out of the backstage. His arms crossed upon his chest. I always like to listen to my warm-up bands, and when I opened the door, all I saw was this mob of people. Whats going on? Jessies face flushed with embarrassment. Im sorry, but Once again, the black hat and shaded glasses intimidated her. He was such a different person when he wore them. I wont go on stage with all those people out there. Ill call this whole thing off right now. Do you get me? An alarm clanged inside her, making her head ring and her body shake. Her heart pounded at the thought of Badger canceling the concert. Suddenly, she realized everyone else had stolen control from her all night long. Badgers threat was the final straw, and she refused to allow others to ruin everything she planned, even Badger himself. No one is canceling this concert. Do yo u understand? Jessie pointed a finger at him. If you want everyone out, then fine! Ill clear out the backstage. She whirled around and left the dressing room. She pushed the bodyguards aside, and looked around. She was angry enough to spew lava; however, she knew she was only one small person in the midst of this mob. She needed help.

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Chapter Ten
You think we sold out? Sonny leaned closer to be heard above the music of Cactus Blossom. Roland shrugged. Who knows? Were stuck back here. Jessie will let us know. He turned then, and saw her coming towards them. The lights shining on the stage gave some illumination to the walkway, and he could see the serious face and dark eyes shining with purpose. He had yet to see Jessie smile tonight. She grabbed his arm, pulling him towards her so he could hear her. Roland, I need your help. There are too many people backstage. If we dont clear them out, Badger says he wont do the show. Rolands eyes widened, but he didnt ask any other questions. He trusted Jessie and knew she wouldnt be asking for his help if she didnt need it. He nudged Sonny. Stay here! Jessie moved around Roland and grabbed Sonnys arm. You need to keep everyone out of the backstage area. Dont let anyone come through! She yelled over the music. Then she turned and Roland followed her behind the stage. Jessie seemed like an electrical charge of energy. She yelled at perfect strangers to leave the area immediately. He saw her pointing, even pushing people away, until they began moving towards the exits. She even told the bodyguards to help her with the crowd around Bad-

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gers dressing room. Roland followed her example, and when politeness didnt work, used a more direct approach. Get out! Now! He realized most of the people hanging around werent even wearing the badges Jessie had handed out. He recognized alumni and students from St. Joes. How did they manage to get backstage in the first place? Hadnt Mark and Louis done their job right at the other entrance? After clearing out both friends and strangers, Roland moved to a group of six men dressed in flashy western clothes. He cleared his throat loudly. Excuse me, gentlemen. You need to leave this area. One man straightened his bolo tie, fingering the turquoise slide. Were from Treehouse Recording. Were allowed backstage at all Badgers concerts. Not this one. We have orders for everyone to leave. His voice grew louder. And that means all of you, too. Before the man in the bolo tie or any of his associates could argue, Jessie appeared. You men need to leave right now. Badgers orders. Jessies brown eyes gleamed with authority. Listen, little lady one of the men began, but Jessie cut him off. You listen, Mister! Im in charge of this backstage area, and if you dont leave right now, Ill send one of Badgers bodyguards over to throw you out. But I dont have time for buts! Get going. Jessie moved away, heading for another group of women and students near the steps. You heard her, gentlemen. Lets go, Roland said, keeping his voice steady, although he was slightly amused by Hurricane Jessie blowing through, giving orders, and moving on to another group of unsuspecting victims. Roland escorted the grumbling men towards the exit.

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The man in the bolo tie paused to look back towards Jessie. She was pointing out the exit to a pair of complaining women. The urban cowboys lip drew up in a grin. From the moment I saw that lady in Badgers dressing room, I knew she was special. I could use someone with her spunk in my Houston office. He looked at Roland. Shes not married, is she? The unorthodox question stunned Roland. Married? Roland heard the mans lewd chuckle. The record company man walked away with the others. Go o d thing , Roland thought, since he almost grabbed the turquoise slide of the mans bolo tie. He wanted to shove it into the mans Adams apple. Roland turned around. He saw that most of the backstage area was finally clear of people. The bodyguards, three or four roadies, and a couple of men with television cameras remained. Jessie stood by the wall talking to a thin man in a black suit, and as Roland watched her, the record company mans words echoed in his thoughts. I co uld use so m eo ne lik e her in m y Ho usto n o ffice . Roland felt his stomach turn inside out. What if that man offered Jessie a job? The perfect opportunity would come at tonights party. A job with a big recording company that had a fancy office, a generous salary. A job that could offer more prestige than working for an all-boys school struggling to keep its doors open. Jessie could move to Houston, and begin traveling for the company. Their relationship would have to be scheduled in between her work. How could he let her go? He loved her. Being around Jessie made him less fearful of marriage to a woman who loved her job. Maybe becauseher job let them work together. But at this moment, it really didnt matter where Jessie worked as long as she didnt leave San Antonio.

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Quickly, Roland walked in Jessies direction. It was crucial she understand how much he wanted her to be a more permanent part of his life. Just as he approached, the thin man dressed in black walked away, and Jessie turned. He barely caught her hand. Wait. We have to talk, he said urgently. Not now, Roland. Badger and his manager want an estimate of the number of concert tickets sold. I need to get to the front gate. She tugged her hand out of his and ran off in the other direction.

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About a thousand tickets are left. Jessie smiled at Badger and his manager, and two other men, recording company executives, who were in the dressing room. The manager frowned. It doesnt surprise me. We were only in Austin two months ago. You should have done this concert next year. Then you would have sold out. We couldnt wait. The school was in trouble. We needed money immediately. Jessies irritation tempered her voice. You should be pleased. Getting down to a thousand tickets in Sunken Gardens means a successful concert. Badger stood up. I know youll send us facts and figures later. I think its time for me to get out there and give those people what they paid money for. The manager shrugged and moved to fix himself a drink. Jessie turned to Badger and saw him smile at her. A warm thrill curled down her body. Even if the manager wasnt happy, she knew Badger was satisfied. Got someone to introduce me, Miss Jessie? She stepped back, stammering. She realized then that she had not decided which D.J. should introduce Badger. Suddenly, she had her answer and she laughed. Yes. Im

going to introduce you. Are you ready? Lets go! Jessie turned and led the way out of the dressing room. She heard the whir of video cameras and blinked at a flashbulb, but she kept walking towards the stage. For one second, she questioned her sanity in doing something like standing on a stage in Sunken Gardens and introducing a superstar. An instant later, she told herself she had earned this one moment in the spotlight. Carefully, she stepped around the amplifiers, and kept her sights down so that she didnt trip over wires. Just as she reached the center microphone, a blinding spotlight flashed in her eyes. From behind her, she heard a wolf whistle from one of the band members, and she heard another make a comment about the way her jeans fit. But she couldnt see anything. Resisting the urge to raise her hand over her eyes, she stood behind the microphone and smiled, even though she felt like she had just stepped into an oven set at five hundred degrees. Im Jessie Medina, development director at St. Joseph High School. . . . When she looked out, the crowd was a blur. She heard catcalls and yells, and was reminded of moments when she had stood in a football stadium leading cheers, and the frame of reference gave her confidence. In a stronger voice, she called out. I want to thank you for coming to the show tonight. . . . She realized she was about to see a dream become reality. The thought made her entire body burst with pride. On behalf of St. Joseph High School and all the corporate sponsors, I want to introduce. . . . As she said Badger McCloud! the entire theater broke into a thunderous roar of applause. Jessie walked off the stage in the same direction that she had come on, passing Badger. He stopped her, and

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she felt his whiskers brush her face before his lips touched her cheek. When she heard a surge of female screaming, she could appreciate the fact that she had just been kissed by the famous Badger McCloud. It wasnt until she was off the stage and standing alone in the back area that she realized what she had done. She wondered if her introduction had made sense and then laughed. Who cares? Bad gers singing fo r St. Jo es! With Badgers upbeat melody surrounding her, Jessie wanted to find Roland and share her jubilation. He went out to check on the booths about ten minutes ago, Sonny told her. Things are pretty quiet since the music began. Following the walkway, Jessie moved out into the theater as Badger began his second song. Many in the audience were standing, some in the grassy areas were dancing, and others sat in the chairs, clapping to the music. She saw Brother Edward, the archbishop, and Brother William in the second row and waved. She saw Gonzo and his party behind them, and when he spotted her, he gave her a thumbs up sign, and she took it as a sign that their friendship was more important than his disc jockeys ego. Jessie walked back to the food booth areas. We sold out! Chris Sotello exclaimed when he saw Jessie. Those people stood in line so long, they bought everything out. Did you plan it that way? Hardly. Jessie allowed herself a smile. Now it was easy to laugh about the anxious moments preceding the concert. The school band sold out of everything, too. I dont know what kind of fundraiser you plan next, but I want to be a part of it. Congratulations! Jessie accepted the coachs handshake, then wandered

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over to the beer booths, where her brothers served beer. Joe grinned when he saw her. Hey, Jess! You sounded like a professional announcer. He leaned over the railing and gave her a hug. Going to change jobs now? This job isnt finished yet. She smiled. Hows the beer selling? Great. Of course, we caught Vince giving a beer away to some pretty blonde a while ago! Joe said. That blonde was my boss. And I paid for it. Vincent playfully punched his brother in the arm. Hey, Jessie, were all really proud of you. This concert is great. Gilbert finished with his customer and came up behind Joe, clapping him on the shoulder. Jessie! Do you think we made a million dollars? I know we made enough to get everyones attention. And this is only the beginning. She smiled, waved, and moved on to the next booth. She saw Roland standing on the other side, his arms folded across his chest. He was staring at the stage. She came up from behind him, slipping her arms around his waist. His body stiffened as if she had startled him, then she heard his chuckle. Roland lifted his arms, and she slid around him, keeping one arm around his waist. His arms were a loose ring around her shoulders. You must be very happy right now. His lips pressed against the top of her head. You did a great job on everything, Jessie. Im very proud of you. Her answer was a relaxed sigh. Her project was a success because she had worked hard, but also because everyone she contacted had believed in the school. And best of all, she had the love and support of the man beside her. As she thought about the past two months, she could remember moments of panic, and recalled how Roland had given her a boost of confidence. And it wasnt in anything he said, but just his strong presence

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and faithful support for her work. He did not always agree with her methods, but he had learned to trust her instincts, just as she had discovered the tender, caring man beneath the stubborn traditionalist. Her musings were interrupted by a loud burst of applause as Badger ended his song. She looked up at the stage, and saw him readjusting his guitar and moving the microphone so he could sit on a tall stool. Im going to change the mood a little. His deep voice carried out into the crowded outdoor theater. I want to dedicate this song to the people at St. Joes School, because I hold all of you close to the heart. After the initial applause and whistling, the audience quieted as Badger began to sing his famous ballad. Jessie. Rolands voice sounded like an echo. I need to talk to you. I love this song, Jessie whispered. It reminds me of us. Jessie Sh-sh-sh, she hissed. I want to hear this. We can chase o ur o w n d ream s fo rever And p retend w ere the best o f friend s But in the end w e o nly d rift ap art If w e chase o ur d ream s to gether Well stay clo se to the end And ho ld each o ther clo se to the heart. If w e chase o ur d ream s to gether Well stay clo se until the end And ho ld each o ther clo se to the heart.

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As she listened to Badger repeat the refrain, she realized the dream that had come true tonight belonged to everyone. She had other dreams, though, which only two people could share. As if he read her thoughts, Roland tightened his arms around her. She pressed her-

self against him, so he would hold her close to his heart and never let her go. After that romantic song, Roland was ready to propose to Jessie that they make a permanent plan to hold each other close to the heart. No sooner did the song end when one of the beer kegs sprouted a leak. Someone yelled for Roland. Meanwhile, Jessie ran off to telephone the restaurant about the post-concert party. Since he had promised to supervise all the cleanup after the concert, he didnt arrive at the party until after one in the morning. The whole time he was worried the record company man had made Jessie an offer she wouldnt refuse. What if she accepted before they could talk? Inside Flavios restaurant, Roland found her talking with Gonzo and his pregnant wife, and two gentlemen from Mitchell Brewers, whom Jessie introduced, but Roland barely acknowledged. Badger just left, Jessie said. Im sorry you missed him. She rested her hand on his arm casually. He nodded, trying to recognize faces in the crowded restaurant. I guess most of his record people left, too, huh? Not all of them. How did cleanup go? Fine. Fine. His eyes came to rest upon her face. She looked relaxed and happy for the first time all night, and it made him smile. Do you think we could go some place quiet and talk a moment, Jessie? Her eyebrows raised. Is something wrong? He didnt answer her, just took her elbow and led her towards the front part of the restaurant near the stone fountain shaped like a seahorse. The waiting area had several ornamental benches, which would provide a more romantic setting for all he had to say. Roland, youre acting very strange.

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Being strange is only part of my charm. He made a joke but she looked apprehensive. They walked past the cashiers counter, and he led her around a teakwood room divider. And standing on the other side were the man in the bolo tie and another man in a western shirt and jeans with a large silver belt buckle. Youre just the lady weve been talking about! said the man in the bolo tie, a wide grin sending an earthquake of lines and cracks over his weathered complexion. Gene said he met you in Badgers dressing room, but I havent had the pleasure. Im Bill Jarrett, vice-president of marketing for Treehouse Recording Company. Smiling, Jessie reached out and shook his hand. Its nice to meet you. Im Jessie Medina. This is Roland Tovas. Mr. Jarrett shook hands with both of them, then turned his gray eyes back on Jessie. Ive been talking to Gene. He said you put the show together from scratch. Im really impressed, Jessie. Roland understood what the man felt. He had been impressed by Jessies work, too. I didnt do it alone, she said modestly. There were a lot of people who helped me put this show together. Roland and the alumni Jessie, let me get straight to the point, Gene said, taking a step closer to Jessie. We need a new promotional and marketing rep in Houston, and Bill and I think youd be perfect for the job. Now, were a good outfit, and we got some big, big plans. Youd start at forty-five thousand, with a three-thousand-dollar monthly expense account. Well give you an allowance for moving to Houston, plus the usual perks and incentives, Bill told her. Perks and incentives? Roland inquired, wondering if Jessie understood all the jargon.

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The more stations you get to play our records, the more money you make. You can earn trips, cash, even double your base salary, Bill answered, although he explained it as if Jessie had asked. Everyone Ive talked to says you work hard and you dont take no for an answer. Heck, I saw you talking to Badger and his manager like you were old friends. We need a woman with your kind of confidence working for us. What do you say, Jessie? She stepped back, bumping directly into Roland, but she never stopped looking at the two men. Excitement beamed in her face. Roland put his hands on her arms, wanting to say, But I lo ve yo u. Do nt d o this to us, Jessie. Gentlemen, Im flattered by your offer she began, stammering over the words. Bill interrupted her. Youd have your own company car, do a lot of traveling, and get to meet a lot of famous people, Jessie. Im ready to hire you right now. I cant make a decision that quickly, Jessie told him. And you realize that I just cant just pick up and leave tomorrow. A weight seemed to drop on Rolands midsection. He kept waiting for Jessie to say she was committed to St. Joes, that she had everything she wanted right where she was. Gene pulled out his wallet, and handed Jessie a white card. You call us once this holiday weekend is over. Well set things up for you to come to Houston and work for us. I guess we can wait a week until you clean things up down here. Thank you. Jessie touched the edge of the card to her lips. Ill call you soon. I promise. The two men both shook her hand, and even Rolands, too, and went into the restaurant slapping each other on the back. Jessie spun around, her body almost melting against

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Rolands. Can you believe that? A promotional rep for Treehouse Recording Company. What a job! Rolands hands rested around her waist. Jessie, would you really take that job? An empty feeling settled upon him. Roland, did you hear that starting salary? Traveling and meeting all those famous people? Id be crazy not to think about taking that job. Oblivious to his anguish, her voice celebrated with laughter. I cant believe I got offered such a glamorous job. Me! But Jessie, I He swallowed hard, then opened his heart before her. I love you. I want to marry you someday. Oh, Roland. Her voice lowered, and her fingers outlined his jaw. I love you, too. And I-Id love to be your wifesomeday. She touched his lips with a feathery kiss. I could have everything Ive always wanted. A wonderful man who loves me and an exciting career. But, Jessie. The jobs in Houston. Rolands eyes burned into her smile. My work is in San Antonio. Roland, cars break down in Houston, too. You can open another Tovas Mechanics. Her ambitious enthusiasm had extended into his career as well, only she had no real idea of the investment of money and time involved in relocating in Houston. Unknowingly, she had ripped his heart in two. He couldnt just leave his business or his family and follow her to Houston. Jessie. The words hurt as they passed through his lips. Since I was fourteen years old, Ive worked in Tovas Mechanics. Now I own half of it. When Jorge retires in three years, the business will be all mine. I have an obligation to people who depend on me. I cant leave San Antonio. The sparkle in her dark brown eyes faded into an emotion he couldnt name, but he knew it wasnt some-

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thing that would help them stay together. Youre forcing me to choose between a new career and you, Roland. You want me to pass up the job of a lifetime so I can stay hereand marry you? Her hollow laugh filled the air. Is this a worn-out clich or what? And he didnt resist when she pulled out of his arms. Roland started to tell her that she could have any job she wanted as long as she stayed in San Antonio, but he realized she was not the person he thought she was if she could desert the school for a higher salary and a glamorous job. She didnt have the strong ties to the school Brother William thought she did. If Jessie could put her personal ambitions above a school community who needed her, would she put her career needs above her husband and children, too? And that was one choice he couldnt accept. He had learned all about compromise and sharing when he fell in love with Jessie. As much as he loved her, though, he couldnt toss aside his values and traditions on a dream of Jessies he didnt share. Lowering her eyes, she slowly slipped the business card into her shirt pocket. I guess I have a lot of thinking to do, Roland. I think I have some thinking to do, too, Jessie. Slowly, Jessies eyes moved up his stiff, lean body. He gave her a black look, as if his negative feelings were all her fault. Was it so wrong to feel flattered that important people noticed her work and offered her an impressive job? Why couldnt he share her excitement? Wasnt her happiness just as important as his? He never said, Lets talk about this. Lets discuss options and possibilities. He just said, I wont leave. An outdated Do it my way or not at all attitude resurfaced when she had wanted him to be open-minded.

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Was there really any way to discuss this further when she and Roland were both such stubborn individuals? Rather than subject herself to frustration and anger, Jessie chose to postpone any decision for now. Like Roland, she had people who depended on her, and many of them were enjoying a party in the next room. Roland, I really need to get back to the party. She was in no mood to celebrate anything right now, but she wanted to be available for all her guests. He cleared his throat. Well, my job is done. I made sure things got squared away at Sunken Gardens. And Im not hungry. So, Im going to leave. As if she had a sudden chill, Jessie crossed her arms. Thank you for everything you did tonight. She felt like she was talking to one of the corporate sponsors, not someone whose loyalty to St. Joes ran deep within his heart. He gave her a small salute, then he walked around her, and headed out the front door of Flavios restaurant. Jessies sigh barely released the disappointment filling her body and soul. She had expected to be happy, relieved, and proud when the concert was over, but right now those emotions seemed out of her reach. Her eyes drifted over the restaurant dining room, past faces of people who had made tonight such a success. Now she knew that the one man who should have shared her spotlight, had just left her standing alone in the dark. Drawing strength from every professional instinct inside her, Jessie pasted on a smile and returned to the post-concert party.

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Chapter Eleven
Roland sat on the bed and finished lacing his white leather sneakers. In one step he reached the window, then twisted the mini-blind rod to look outdoors. The day was blue skies and sunshineperfect holiday weather for family picnics. And it was the first Memorial Day in years that he wasnt groaning over sore muscles after playing two days of softball at the Alumni Tournament. Instead, this Memorial Monday, he suffered from a bruised heart. And whenever he tried to imagine what his life would be like without Jessie, he could feel anguish bleed through him again. Yesterday he had spent the day alone, replaying the conversation with Jessie and the two men from the recording company. He tried to find a solution that would make both Jessie and him happy. And while he knew she was busy yesterday tallying the concert profits, he kept hoping she would telephone. When the sun had set, and she hadnt called, he kept trying to consider things from her perspective. Even if he agreed to move, her new job would demand traveling. How would all the separation impact their relationship? Not to mention that he would be working long hours himself, trying to start up a new business in Houston. And what of his business here in San Antonio? None of Jorges sons were interested in Tovas Mechanics, and Jorge was close to retirement. How could Roland desert the man who was another father to him? How could he

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move away from his mother and brothers? If o nly Dad w ere still alive . If o nly I co uld talk to him abo uteverything! He sighed, blinking into the sunshine coming through the window. Today his mother expected Ray and Letty, Jorge and his family, and his Aunt Isabel and her family to come for a barbecue this evening, but Roland was in no mood for entertaining. He couldnt feel anything today beyond his own sadness. Nothing would be the same when Jessie left. Moving from the window, Roland carefully stepped between the bed and a navy blue chair. He made his way out of his crowded apartment, walking the short distance to his mothers house. He opened the back door and saw his mother alone, drinking coffee at the kitchen table. She wore her faded pink robe, but her curly brown hair was neatly brushed. She turned slightly at the sound of the door. Rolando, m ijo . Bueno s d as. Isnt it a perfect day for a party? What are we celebrating, Mom? Taking a white coffee mug from the cabinet, Roland poured himself a cup of coffee, then walked over to the kitchen table. Were celebrating so many blessings! The concert was a success for the school. Bobbys got a gold trophy for winning the state track meet. The City Councils going to give money for the drainage project we need on Avenida Sol.Consuelo Tovass round brown eyes shone with excitement. Rolando, the family hasnt been together since your father died. I think la fam ilia is reason enough to have a party. She passed the sugar container across the table to her oldest son. Even Ray said he would drop by for awhile. Thats good, he said, knowing it would make his mother happy to see Ray. His younger brother was usually too wrapped up in his job or with his wifes enter-

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taining to visit his family. He had even been too busy to help with the concert, although he did pledge a twothousand-dollar donation for expenses. Did you help Jessie count money yesterday? his mother asked. Roland shifted uncomfortably in his chair. I did my work at Sunken Gardens. When Jessie needs something else, shell call me. As he stirred more sugar into his coffee cup, he thought, If she d oesnt call me soon, I may go crazy. His mothers soft brown hand rested on Rolands arm. I like Jessie a lot, m ijo . Her words only made him feel worse. I like Jessie, too, Mom, he admitted in a quiet voice. When I first met her at the parents meeting, I was impressed by her hard work. And when she came to the Athletic Banquet when Bobby got his jacket, I noticed the way she looked at you. At the concert, I saw you two together, and I could tell that you feel like she does. He couldnt answer. What was there to say? Do you want some breakfast, m ijo ? Hue vo s ranchero s? He shook his head, even though it had been months since his mother had offered to cook his favorite breakfast. A pleasant surprise, but he didnt want his mother to do it. Thanks, Mom, but Ill just have coffee. He sipped the hot liquid. It burned his tongue, but he was almost relieved to feel a pain he could control. Will Jessie come to our barbecue today? his mother asked. He stared into his cup. I dont know. Why? I wanted her advice about getting better publicity for P.O.N.S. His mother laughed softly, her brown eyes twinkling. She has so many good ideas. Shes very smart, you know? His black eyes rose and met his mothers. Yes, I

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know shes smart. So do a lot of other people. He took a deep breath, hating to rain on his mothers good humor because the family was coming for a visit. But he found himself with an overwhelming need to share his turmoil with someone who loved him. Mom, I wouldnt count on Jessie. She may not be around to help P.O.N.S. or the school much longer. What are you talking about? His mother frowned at him. The night of the concert, two men from a recording company offered Jessie a job in Houston. A fancy job with a big salary. Probably twice as much as she makes at St. Joes. Rolando, I dont think you know Jessie like you think you do. Her careworn face brightened with a smile. I met her family at the concert. Theyre like us. Simple, good people. And shes a good person, too. She cares about people more than money. His fingers drummed on the table. Even a good person can have ambition. I know Jessie. Once she decides she wants something, she wont let anyone or anything stop her. But theres nothing wrong in caring so deeply, that you wont stop until you get what you want. Your mam fights every day with the same kind of spirit. What? His eyebrows slanted together. I dont understand. Rolando, dont you know why I work so hard with P.O.N.S.? I care about my home, the people who live on our street. I want to show my support for the police who try to keep drugs out of the barrio. I dont want to see politicians make promises and not keep them. I want the City Council to give our district money to fix up streets and build bridges so the kids can cross safely in rainy weather. Its only fair that we get what the north side neighborhoods do. I dont want my sons feeling they

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have to live across town in order to have a decent place to raise their families. Her urgent words caught Rolands attention. He had never asked his mother why she worked so hard with the group. He had just assumed she did it to fill in her time after his father died. He had no idea of his mothers commitment. He thought she was deserting Bobby to go to her meetings, when in fact she was fighting to keep him safe in his own neighborhood. And she had never before mentioned her feelings about Ray and Lettys choosing to build their house in Redland Hills, a thirtyminute drive from where Ray had grown up. His mothers fingers wrapped around Rolands. Ay, Rolando, do you really think Jessie would leave the school? I dont know, Mom. She was very excited when those men offered her the job in Houston. Roland sighed sadly, wishing he wasnt too old to climb into his mothers lap. If only she could kiss him and tell him everything would be okay. Theres nothing wrong if a woman wants a career, Rolando. I stayed home with my sons, but things have changed now. Women work and raise families, too. I know that. Why did everyone think he wanted to lock a woman in his house and let her serve his needs alone? All he wanted was for the woman he married to share his life and his dreams. But his dreams were here with his family, his friends, and his work. And with Jessie and St. Joes. His dreams didnt include relocating in Houston. Rolando, you love Jessie, dont you? Her voice broke through his thoughts. He swallowed something salty down his throat. Yes, I do love her, Mom. Then you need to give her a reason to stay. You need to offer her something a fancy job will never give her.

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Something better. Do you understand what I mean? Before he could answer, Bobby romped into the kitchen. His brown hair was still damp from a morning shower, and he wore only jean cutoffs and a white tank shirt. Morning, Mom. Hi, Rolo. Man, Im starving. He wandered over to the refrigerator, opened it, and pulled out the carton of eggs. Mom, you want some scrambled eggs? No, Bobby, not today. His mother stood up. Her fingers combed the strands of black hair off Rolands forehead. Look into your heart, m i`jo . Youll find all your answers there. Her voice changed as she turned to Bobby. Im going upstairs. Rolando, if you change your mind about huevo s ranchero s , Ill be glad to fix them later. As he listened to the familiar clap of her chanclas as his mother walked out of the kitchen, Roland took another drink of his coffee. His eyes shifted to Bobby, who sang some outrageous song under his breath. The boy had grabbed a frying pan from a lower cabinet and pretended to strum it like a guitar. Then he clanged it on the stove, lit the burner, and spun around on his bare feet before reaching for a couple of eggs. He couldnt help but smile at Bobbys performance. The boy moved though the motions of making breakfast with the same ease with which he ran a mile. When Roland was sixteen, he could only make toast. He always expected his mother to fix his meals. Roland suddenly noticed what an advantage Bobby had. He thought nothing of doing his own cooking, or his laundry, or helping with the housework when his mother was gone. Bobby would have it so much easier when he went off to college and had to do for himself. Roland had brought all his dirty laundry home his first years at college. He took advantage of his mothers good heart in numerous ways because he didnt have the con-

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fidence and independence Bobby had. Jessie was right when she had told him that his mother deserved a life outside her home if she wanted it. And Bobby was old enough to take care of himself. Though the boy had lost his father, he still had two brothers he could ask for help or advice when needed. His big brother didnt have to live in a cramped apartment over the garage when Tovas Mechanics was close by. And the way Bobby could run, the garage would be only minutes away from the house. As the last of the coffee went down his throat, Roland knew the time had come to reestablish his own independence. He had his own life to live, and wanted a special woman to share it. He had always told himself that he wanted to marry a woman just like his mother, not for homemade tortillas, but for her intelligence, loyalty, and devotion. He wanted a woman who was able to give herself to those who depended on her talents and skills, yet also commit herself to the man who loved her. He needed someone who believed in the same traditions he did, but now he knew those traditions were made to build upon, not to control and dominate their lives. And Roland admitted he had been trying to control this new situation with Jessie. He kept thinking he had to find the solution himself, when the problem involved both of them. And he already knew that together they were a great team. Together, they could resolve this problem, too, because they loved each other. His mother had said the answers would be inside his heart. Then they had to be inside Jessies heart, too. As all the figures on the paper blurred together for the third time, Jessie lowered her head into her hands. She was tired, and she belonged at home, but at home, there was nothing to do but try to find answers for ques-

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tions that made her head ache. She couldnt escape the pain haunting her, and no amount of aspirin would stop it. There was nothing to do but deal with the situation before her. But, how? Yesterday, she was glad to be busy with the business office staff, four alumni who were accountants, and Brother Edward, who all helped sort through the concert receipts. And even though she had insisted this job was best handled by the business office, she kept hoping Roland would come by the school. Roland had agreed to concentrate on the concert itself, and he was a man of his word. Wasnt it one of the reasons she loved him so much? She also knew Roland had enough stubborn pride to blame her for this problem between them and would expect her to come to him and say . . . say, what? Ro land , I lo ve yo u, but this jo b o ffer is w hat Ive alw ays w anted . Or, Ro land , I lo ve yo u, but I w ant to d o m o re w ith m y life than m ak e yo ur break fast every m o rning. Or, Ro land , I lo ve yo u, but if yo u d o nt m o ve w ith m e to Ho usto n, o ur relatio nship w ill never survive. She sighed. The only thing she knew was that she loved Roland. But if she turned down Treehouse, would she still be happy? Need an aspirin, Jessie? Her head shot up. Brother William Daniels stood in the doorway. His skinny frame did not come close to filling the gap the way Rolands body had so many times in the last two months. Hello, Brother William. No, I dont need an aspirin. I was just resting my eyes. He walked over to the window, his hands in the pocket of his black pants. Today is a holiday, you know? Why arent you off on a Memorial Day picnic with Roland? Her eyes lowered. Maybe later.

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Maybe so. She heard his shuffling steps as he moved around her office. Usually, she was glad to see the old man, but right now, so close to tears and too exhausted to keep them under control for long, she wished the old man would leave. Im not a man to go to a concert, but I had a lot of fun. You did a great job. Jessie swallowed hard before she could speak. Thanks. Again she was reminded of the compliments from the men from Treehouse Recording and their job offer. Who wouldnt want a spacious office, a secretary to take care of details, and the chance to travel at the companys expense? She had a chance to get everything she wanted in a career, didnt she? You gave the school endowment fund a great start, Jessie. Whats the next project? Guilt weighed heavily upon her as she faced Brother William. He had put the future of St. Joseph High School into her hands. What would happen when she left? You know, Jessie, this school means so much to me. His gravelly voice was touched by emotion. I taught here forty years before I retired to do development. We have a good school. The buildings are old, but theyre tough. Like a few of the brothers around here, wouldnt you say? She heard him flipping through something on the short cabinet behind her, but she kept her back to him, struggling to keep her shoulders from shaking. Jessie, did you know that weve had thirty new students register in the last month? Lots of people call every day asking about the school. Weve needed some good public relations around here for a long time. Next, well need to work on enrollment, maybe a Career Day and all the speakers could be our own alumni. Do you remember all those things we discussed on the day you applied

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for the job at St. Joes? Jessie chewed on her finger as her eyes closed. She remembered. They had discussed an alumni mentor program for the boys from single-parent homes. She wanted to help the counselor find more scholarships for the college-bound students. The boys on the Student Council had asked her to find more community service projects. Three corporate sponsors from the concert had already promised additional support for other fundraising events. Badger had even told her he wanted to return and play in the Alumni Softball Tournament next year. Every day her mind had spilled over with new ideas, new possibilities to make the school financially sound. St. Joes isnt a bunch of school buildings, Jessie. Its a community of people who want the best in education for their sons. He chuckled. I may need to eat my words, eh? Some day your daughter will be more than just a cheerleader for St. Joes. Jessies shoulders drooped. No t if m y d aughter lives in Ho usto n. Then, as if someone had blown an accumulation of dust off an old picture, she suddenly had a clear idea of her choices. Why should she travel all over the country promoting records and singers who meant nothing to her? Why had she thought that nomad life would even suit her? She liked living near her family, eating with them once a week, and watching her nieces and nephews grow up. It wasnt until Brother William walked into her office that she realized how much she wanted to keep fighting for St. Joes School. She wanted everyone to believe in this exceptional place where students could get a solid education in an environment that nurtured the total person. Why not stay in San Antonio and promote people and traditions she believed in? Right now she had an interesting job that challenged all her creative talents. Plus, she was free to set her own

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schedule. If necessary, she could also do her work at home. That would enable her to keep her position and raise a family, too. What good was a tremendous salary, perks, and incentives, if she was far away from everyone she loved? There was no better incentive to stay where she was than the fact that she had found a wonderful man who loved her. And he would always support her career because her success was something he wanted, too. You know, Brother William? I k no w my daughters coming to school at St. Joes. She turned in her chair and smiled at the old man. We just need to convince the old guard that coeducation is good for the school. Maybe you can give me some pointers on handling the more traditional types around here. Brother William, who was moving towards the door, started chuckling. Roland is definitely the man for that job. Our Pointer knows how to get those points on the scoreboard when everybody else thinks weve lost the game. Brother William turned to look at her. I might have started an alumni club, but you and Roland have built a network of workers who want to keep the school open. Beyond the alumni, you have the parents, students, and leaders in the community believing in our school. Thats what school development is all about. You two will keep St. Joes School open for a very long time. I knew in my heart that you were the perfect person for this job. His blue-gray eyes raised slightly, as if he looked beyond her to something out the window, but he quickly returned his gaze to her. I think you ought to close the office and go home. You dont get paid overtime around here, you know. Jessie laughed softly. I know that, Brother. Actually, I just need to make one phone call, then Im going home. Goodbye, Jessie.

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She watched him leave, then picked up the telephone.

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Roland reached the school building just as Brother William opened the door. Hi, Brother! The old mans white face was pinched together in a scowl. How come you dont have that pretty lady in there off on some picnic? She works too hard. If you dont take better care of her, shell go work for someone else. And we cant lose her, Pointer! No, sir, Roland said, gulping down his words. And where were you yesterday? the old man demanded to know. The years hadnt tarnished Brother Williams ability to intimidate him. Well, I Never mind. Brother William waved away Rolands explanation. Youre here now. Now get inside, and take Jessie home. Yes, sir! Roland grabbed the door and held it open so Brother could come out first before he entered the building. And, Pointer . . . Brother William stopped at the edge of the sidewalk. Yes? This time, be sure you close the blinds before you start kissing her, okay? Yes, Brother. Rolands face felt like it burned under a blowtorch. He quickly walked into the school building, trying not to think about the numerous times in the past three weeks he had taken a willing Jessie into his arms to share passionate kisses. He had always closed the door. He had forgotten about the window. Brother Williams teasing scrambled Rolands thoughts. So he paused outside Jessies office door trying

to remember all he wanted to say to her. As he stood there, her voice came through the open doorway. Im flattered you asked me. Notheres no way that I can leave this week. What about next Monday? I can take an early plane and be in Houston by eight. Roland held his breath. He couldnt believe she would make her decision without talking to him again. Thank you again, Gene, she said. I apologize again for calling you at home on a holiday. But I wanted to give you my answer right away. Ill see you on Monday. What d o I say no w ? He wondered. The telephone clicked into its receiver. Thats when he walked inside the doorway and glared at her. Jessie gasped, her hand slapping her chest. You scared me! Then she laughed, and stood up from her desk. I can usually hear you coming because of your boots. She glanced down, then up into his face. Nice hi-tops. Are you playing basketball today? How could she talk about his shoes after she had just turned their relationship inside out? He walked into the office. I came to find you, Jessie. So we could talk about that job in Houston. Theres nothing to talk about. Jessie took a step closer to him. I made up my mind a few minutes ago. Brother William was here, and after we spoke together, I knew what I wanted to do. How could she be so calm? How could he let her leave? His eyes moved to the window, and suddenly he knew what he had to do, too. He walked around her and quickly adjusted the window blinds closed. Roland, what are you doing? He pulled her directly into his arms. I love you, and I just cant let you leave. Im prepared to do whatever it takes to keep you here at St. Joes. Jessie raised her eyes to meet his determined stare. She had no intention of moving to Houston, but decided

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to play out the romantic drama unfolding before her. And just what exactly are you prepared to do? She fought to keep a straight face. Then his arms relaxed around her. Gently, his lips touched hers. Jessie, please dont leave. I love you. Ill do everything within my power to make you happy. And this school needs you. If its the salary. . . . He lowered his eyes a moment, swallowing hard. I know this might sound old-fashioned, even sillybut I make more than enough money to give us everything we need. I want you to have a career because you enjoy it, because I want you to be happy. I love you, Jessie. St. Joes needs you. Stay here, Jessie, andandmarry me. His tender admission touched her heart. She pulled back, so he could see her smile. Thats a pretty nice counter-offer, Mr. Alumni President. Can I get it in writing? Her teasing made him frown. No kidding around, Jessie. Are you taking the job in Houston or not? Jessie rested her hands on his arms. I couldnt leave St. Joes, Roland. My work has only just begun. But I heard you on the phone he began. Roland, Treehouse Recording wants me to come to Houston and give a formal presentation to their marketing staff about what I did in concert promotions. Theyre paying all my travel expenses and giving me a two-thousand-dollar consultants fee. Oh! And a five-thousanddollar donation for the school. She laughed happily when she saw the shock in his face. I just had to say yes to that offer. Dont you agree? WowyesI meanyou have to go! Im just glad those guys appreciate your talents as much as we do. He gave her a smile. You know, Jessie, you can visit Houston any time, as long as you always come home to me. I love you, Jessie Medina. They shared a passionate kiss that left her breathless.

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It took her a moment before she could speak from her heart. I know I couldnt be happy without you, Roland. And I cant leave St. Joes. They need me. Theres so much that I have right now that money cant buy. He kissed her again. Then his fingers began working on the bands holding her braid in place. Okay, Jessie. Brother Williams orders. No more work today. Its a holiday, and Ive come to invite you to a party. Moms inviting all the Tovas relatives she can find to our house later. Were cooking fajitas. As her brown hair fell around her shoulders, and his fingers moved through it, she gave him a quick kiss. Sounds delicious. Ill go home now and make some flour tortillas. She saw his jaw drop, and she had to laugh at his incredulous expression. Whats wrong, Roland? You can actually make tortillas? Of course I can. My grandmother taught me. My dad says that mine are even better than hers. But when you meet my abuela , please tell her that hers taste better, okay? Roland smiled as his hands wove through her long hair. I love you so much, Jessie. I want us to have a great life together. Well raise our children here among our families. And, of course, well send them to school at St. Joes. Our daughters, too? she asked him, just to be sure hed stand beside her as they jumped the next hurdle in school development at St. Joseph High School. Definitely, he said, before he sealed that new promise with their kiss. And from that moment forward, Jessie knew they could chase their dreams together to reach the same bright end, and always hold each other close to the heart.

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About the Author


Diane Gonzales Bertrand began writing novels when she was in fifth grade at Little Flower School in San Antonio, Texas. She continued writing humorous plays for her drama class, poetry for her relatives, and skits for Girl Scout camp. After she graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1979, she began teaching English at the middle school and high school levels. She started writing for publication after she earned her graduate degree in English-Communication Arts from Our Lady of the Lake University in 1992. Her focus has been on family reading, books appropriate for families to read and enjoy together. All of her books are published by Arte Publico Press in Houston, Texas. Other novels include Sw eet Fifteen, Lesso ns o f the Gam e , Alicias Treasure , and Trino s Cho ice , a novel for middle school readers that earned several book awards. Her picture book, Fam ily, Fam ilia, was voted best bi-lingual picture book by 2000 National Latino Literary Hall of Fame. Her book, Uncle Chentes Picnic earned the 2001 Reading with Energy Hispanic Childrens Book Award. Her new books are The Last Do ll and Trino s Tim e . Ms. Bertrand still lives in San Antonio with her husband, Nick, and their two teenage children. She is Writerin-Residence at St. Marys University, where she teaches creative writing and English composition.

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