April died a cold and dreary death, and May bloomed warm and sunny, filling the streets of Manhattan with life. Maggie dodged a gaggle of German tourists (Who else who would be wearing Birkenstocks with powder blue socks?) and mounted the steps to the library. Howard was on time--he was always on time--sitting on the top step reading his IPad. She hoped for his sake he was streaming a movie or flipping through a magazine, but she would have bet her modest paycheck he was reading the newly released edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.
She sat down next to him, confirming her suspicions, and kicked him with one of her sandals. He looked up and smiled, and stowed the tablet into the satchel which never strayed far from his side.
"Good morning Howard."
Howard nodded his greeting, and looked her over like a chest x-ray, examining every square inch for a clue to the diagnosis.
"How are you?"
Howard considered this like he considered everything, slowly and with ample deliberation. "Not so good."
"Not so good? You're one rotation and four weeks of vacation away from starting your plastics residency, something you have trained your whole life for. I would have thought you would be ecstatic."
"Ecstatic? Really? When you don't return my calls? When you act like a perfect stranger when we sit next to each other at a lecture? Ecstatic?"
Molly said nothing.
"Every time you ignore me it's like a spinal needle in the heart, Maggie."
"Don't be so dramatic, Howard. And don't forget you're moving in a month."
"To Boston, Maggie, not LA. It's a two-hour train ride."
"We barely see each other now, Howard. It wouldn't work."
"It would work if you want it to work."
"You do remember me telling you not to get too attached?"
Howard didn't say, but Maggie knew he had an eidetic memory and never forgot anything.
"Let's take a walk."
Howard nodded morosely and followed her around the steps and down to the green space on the other side. The pleasant weather had brought out a battalion of vendors, and Maggie strolled about, surveying the wares. She picked up a pair of earrings made from green sea glass.
"What do you think of these?"
"Since when do you ask me my opinion on jewelry?"
"I'll take that as a no."
She out them back and stopped in front of a kiosk selling hand-knit sweaters, and held a white one in front of Howard. "This would look nice on you."
"I don't need a sweater, Maggie."
She shrugged and continued her way down the row, examining sculptures made from refuse, ceramic dog bowls and vintage neck ties. Howard followed at a distance.
At the end of the line Maggie bought a pair of Carmel apples and sat down on a bench in the sunshine. Howard joined her but refused the snack, citing dental concerns.
"Maggie, we need to talk."
She didn't feel the least bit like talking but Howard didn't want to go quietly--it wasn't in his DNA.
"Ok, what do you want to talk about?"
Maggie had always hated the us talk, and she avoided it whenever possible. Two people moving in sync never needed to talk about us, because they intuitively understood what was happening. But two people moving at loggerheads... This was a different thing altogether. She wanted to blurt out 'There is no us' and just be done with it, but she nodded instead.
"What's going on with us?"
"We're friends, Howard."
"No, we're not."
Hooked, aren't you? Fortunately, here's the link again so you don't have to scroll up. A Spinal Needle in the Heart
And some Good News to end: Absolution, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series, is just about to be shopped to editors and publishers. With luck, I should have a publication date for you before the snow melts (for those of you who don't live in Vermont, that's usually sometime in March.)
Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at email@example.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at firstname.lastname@example.org.