by Liz Gregg
Splashes of white clouds drifted in stark contrast to the crystal blue sky. The air had that freshly-scrubbed scent, crisp and clean, that happens on rare autumn days.
Mary Margaret Skalany glanced at her watch for what seemed like the fifteenth time in as many minutes. Her mental timer logged the wait as twenty-four minutes and counting.
It's time to face it. He's not going to show up.
Sitting outside, alone at a table for two at a Chinese restaurant, Mary Margaret let the realization sink in. I shouldn't be surprised when Kwai Chang Caine misses a lunch date. He's probably off somewhere saving mankind. Tossing a look at her watch yet again, she considered ordering something to eat, but she couldn't help feeling annoyed, which overrode her hunger.
Surrounded by life in constant motion on the streets of Chinatown, Mary Margaret felt completely alone as she acknowledged her disappointment and accepted that Caine would not show up. It had been more than a month since she'd seen him, and she missed him. Their dates were already infrequent, too few as far as she was concerned. She'd spent more time than she cared to admit thinking about him, wishing she possessed the magic key to unlock his Shaolin heart.
"Waiting for someone?"
Startled by the intrusion on her reverie, she glanced up, squinted into the sun and saw Peter standing across from her. He grinned and said, "I saw you look at your watch five times in fifteen seconds."
"Very funny, Groucho," said Mary Margaret and gestured toward the seat across from her. "You might as well sit down. It looks like my lunch date is not going to make it."
Turning his head, Peter surveyed the area, then sat on the all-too-blatantly-empty chair. He looked at Mary Margaret, and she could read a mixture of amusement and sympathy in his eyes.
"I don't see him coming. Then again, I probably wouldn't."
"So you think you know who I'm meeting, huh?" said Mary Margaret, then watched Peter smirk, raising both eyebrows.
Who do I think I'm kidding, she thought. She sighed. "Never mind."
Peter said, "Welcome to the Bewildered by My Father club." He laughed--a short hollow sound. "I'm the president because I'm the most confused."
Not by a long shot, she thought. "So what are you doing here, anyway?"
"Same as you. Looking for Pop. I want to make plans for tomorrow, my day off." Peter drummed his fingers on the table. "He's not at his place, I just got back from there. Be happy that you didn't just slip his mind."
Mary Margaret wasn't in the mood to laugh and felt annoyed by Peter's comment. Folding her arms, she said grumpily, "This time he's made me mad. He asked me to meet him here for lunch, and then he doesn't show." She shook her head. "I'm going to tell him how I feel. I can't take being stood up anymore."
Peter leaned back in his chair, regarding her with a wry smile. "I'm sure he would have called you if he had a phone."
Mary Margaret snapped, "You're his son, buy him a phone for Father's Day! What is it with you men of the Caine dynasty, anyway?"
Peter held both hands in front, palms out. He said, "Whoa, wait a minute. I'm not the enemy."
"Who is the enemy, my son?"
Upon hearing Caine's voice, Mary Margaret felt the blush spread across her face. Then she felt his hands on her shoulders squeezing gently, felt his fingers brush against her neck and linger for a tender caress. Her body warmed to his touch as if the temperature of the air around her had suddenly risen ten degrees. Despite all that and the feathery tingling of her skin, she still seethed with frustration.
Caine slowly drew his hands away, pulled over a near-by chair and sat down.
Peter spoke first and said, "That's a good question, Dad. Mary Margaret, did you have something you wanted to tell my father?"
Fuming, she said, "Peter, butt out!" Although she was angry, she wanted to deal with it in her own way. Turning her head, she finally met Caine's dark eyes.
Before she could say anything, Caine took her hand in his and said, "Mary Margaret, I know I am late. I am sorry."
She sighed, then pressed her lips together. "You're really late. It's almost time for me to get back." Shaking her head, she silently cursed the man, angry now because he was so hard to stay mad at. "What happened this time, Caine?"
Caine sighed. "Early in the morning, a young woman, not far from being a child herself, went into labor. It was a difficult birth."
Peter said, "See, Skalany, a phone wouldn't have helped."
Mary Margaret glared at Peter, who winced and directed his attention back to Caine.
"Did you deliver the baby, Dad?" Peter asked
"No, but the family needed my help. I was only now able to break away." Caine focused on Mary Margaret and said, "I regret losing this chance to spend time with you."
Peter rolled his eyes and dramatically said, "Oh, please...."
Mid-sentence, a cellular phone produced its high-pitched chirp. Mary Margaret checked her purse and Peter reached into his pocket.
"It's mine, partner," said Mary Margaret. She spoke into the handset, "Yes. Yes. Oh, good! I'll be right there." She flipped shut the trim black phone and put it back in her handbag.
"I hate to break up the party, but I have to run. My suspect is about to confess." She stood quickly, but Caine rose just as fast.
"I know, Caine," she said. "Perhaps some other time."
Peter chimed in, "Not tomorrow night, he's taken."
Mary Margaret peered irritably at Peter. She started to speak, but stopped when Caine gently squeezed her arm.
"No, not tomorrow night. Tonight. If you are free, come by after work. I will make you dinner."
I don't need to go through this again, she thought, turning her head away from him. She looked down the street, then looked back at Caine. "If I say yes and you're not there, I swear I'll come in and snip the wicks off all your candles."
Caine nodded his head gravely. "I will be there."
She finally let a smile emerge. "All right then. I'll come by after my shift."
Caine winked and touched her chin.
She heard Peter complain, "Jeez, Louise. Break it up, kids."
Mary Margaret had only managed a few steps down the crowded sidewalk when she realized she had left her jacket on the chair. She walked back, stopping where she could see and hear both men, but they could not see her.
Peter grinned at his father and said, "Well, Dad, you pissed her off this time."
"I know, my son." Caine shrugged. "It could not be helped."
Peter's tone softened. "How about Mom. Did you used to get her this mad?"
Caine paused a moment. "I believe I did. There have been times when I seem to have that...effect on the women in my life," he admitted.
"Not just the women."
Tilting his head, Caine looked at him sharply. Peter smiled and said, "Forget it, Dad."
At that exact moment Caine straightened his head, lifted Mary Margaret's jacket from the back of the chair and held it up. Turning, he looked straight at her.
"I believe you forgot this." He smiled, and she saw the twinkle in his eye.
"Thanks, Caine." She bent over and kissed his cheek. "See you tonight."
As she turned to walk away, she heard Peter say, "Don't make it a late night. We'll meet early in the morning tomorrow. Go hiking."
"Not too early, my son." Caine replied
"You're kidding, right, Pop?"
In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought, and their voices faded from earshot as Mary Margaret smiled and headed back to the precinct.