When he didn’t respond, Gina continued. “Strider, I love you. I’m sorry this comes on such a bad day for you. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be together; I’m just saying we shouldn’t be sharing the same bed anymore. Not for a while.”

“So you’re going to live out here?”

She sighed. “No, I’m moving in with Kelli and Jen.”

“You’re leaving?” Strider rose to his feet, his eyes riveted to her. “No, I’m not leaving you.” She stood to face him. “I want us to be together — just not living together. Not until we get married — and I’m ready to do that whenever you are. This isn’t about breaking up; it’s about doing what’s right.”

“What’s right?” That heightened Strider’s suspicions. “Where is this coming from? Is this about the church that Kelli’s been dragging you to? Is that what this is about?”

Tears pooled in Gina’s eyes. She hated it when Strider raised his voice to her; it reminded her of her father’s drunken tirades when she was growing up. The last thing she wanted to do was cry. Softened by seeing her tears, Strider pulled her toward himself.

“Babe, what’s this about?” he asked in a gentler tone. She hugged him back, and now the tears flowed.

“I know . . . everybody lives together,” she said between sobs. She kept her head on his shoulder; it seemed easier to talk without looking him in the face. “But I’ve just been thinking a lot about relationships and love and sex — the pastor at Kelli’s church has been teaching on it, and I think he’s right about some things. I don’t want to lose you, Garry. Let’s just try it this way for a while. Please?” Strider was seething, but he knew enough not to argue with Gina when she was emotional like this. And he didn’t blame her, really — she was still young, impressionable. No, what he wanted to know was who this sanctimonious preacher was to butt into their lives? What kind of fundamentalist garbage was he peddling?

“Please,” she whispered.

Strider didn’t know what to say. “Gina . . .” He pulled away slightly, holding her by her shoulders and looking her in the eyes.

“Gina, it’s not the right time for this.”

“There’s never a right time. But let’s work this out. It’s not the end — just a new phase.”

Strider drank in the sight of her. Man, she was beautiful! Those deep brown eyes. He loved the way her short-cropped dark hair, tinged with auburn, fell so naturally into a perfect tousled look. He knew right then that he didn’t want to lose her, but didn’t know if it was within his power to keep them together.

In many ways, they were an unlikely pair. They had met two years earlier when Gina, an elementary teacher who had penned a few short stories in college, dropped by a workshop at Loyola University that she thought was going to be about creative writing. But the seminar, sponsored by the Examiner, actually was focused on writing articles for newspapers and magazines.

Strider, the main speaker, regaled the audience with insider stories about his colorful exploits at the paper, never failing to emerge as the hero of his own tales. She would later admit that she thought he was arrogant; spotting her in the small crowd, he thought she was pretty and insightful, asking the most provocative questions of the morning.

Afterward, he sought her out for coffee. He felt more comfortable with her away from the spotlight, chatting at length about her interest in teaching and writing. They talked about their favorite books (his: All the President’s Men, the catalyst that fueled his interest in investigative reporting when he was in college; hers: To Kill a Mockingbird, which she’d discovered in high school and restored her hope in human dignity and justice).