There was a pause, then the associate approached him with a tentative question. “Are you sure you didn’t suffer some serious burns when you got that coffee dumped on you?”
“I told you, I’m fine. Why are you so concerned all of a sudden?”
“Because you don’t sound like yourself, man. Somebody’s gotta look out for you. And since you ain’t got a wife or significant other to make sure you take care of yourself, that job falls on me.” The man was jesting, of course.
George caught sight of Lily coming back from the restroom. “One of these days you’re going to make someone a fine mother, Carlos. Look, I need to go. I’ll see you in a couple of hours, okay?”
“Sure thing,” the man replied.
Tucking the phone into his coat pocket, he got to his feet. A shaft of sunlight highlighted the woman’s hair, and he noticed for the first time that it wasn’t colored. A few, almost unnoticeable gray hairs glittered among the red. Neither was it difficult to see the faint smattering of freckles on her pale complexion.
“Is everything all right at work?” she inquired as she joined him.
“It depends on who you ask. My associate says we’re at Defcon Two. In my estimation, it’s more likely a Four.”
“Pardon my ignorance, but I’m guessing a four is a lower classification?”
“You’d be correct in that assumption, madam. Unfortunately, because of it, it seems our time together is going to have to be brief today.”
She paused. “If you need to go, go. I promise, you’re not going to hurt my feelings.”
“Nonsense. I want to play tour guide. Come. Let’s go this way.”
She seemed delighted that he was going to stay with her, even for a short while. “Where are we going?”
“To visit Alice in Wonderland.”