Come fly away to a sunnier day
The islands are calling your name
Feel the caress of warm, tropical breezes--
“Sadistic shits,” Lucy snapped off the radio and watched the wiper blades sweep the snow apathetically across the windshield, as if they sensed the sheer futility of the task. Her plane from Seattle had body surfed the crest of the rising storm into O’Hare barely an hour ago. Now the weather settled in enthusiastically. Snowflakes hit her windshield in drunken clumps and gummed up behind the wiper blades.
"Welcome home, Lucy Flint."
From across the street, a light went on in the house--a red brick Edwardian that had long since drifted past shabby chic and into dilapidated. It was a shame. It was a beautiful, old classic built square and solid out of wood and rufous brick, standing like a citadel against the hostile climate.
A shadow darted past the window as she watched. Lucy pictured her mother moving around in the golden glow from that second floor light. Mom moved like a squirrel, quick and fearful, darting away from danger as fast as she could and busy, busy, always busy.
Lucy wasn't holding her breath for the fatted calf. In that house, he would be waiting too, nursing his spite along with his nightly tipple of cheap drug store wine - one and no more. Lucy made a snorting sound. She'd obviously not inherited that from her father.
The silhouette was framed briefly against the curtains of her old bedroom and Lucy sighed. Mom would be getting her room ready. Lucy would rather dispense with the frenzy of anxious preparation. It couldn't be helped, however, when you were an only child.
She'd been away long enough to be shocked by the cold that felt as if like it would eat your face off before it quit. Ah, yes, Chicago. Other cities had climates, but Chicago had weather - lots of it and all the time.
Suddenly she thought of an old joke. “How cold is out there? Cold enough for hell to freeze over and the Cubs to win the pennant.” Lucy let out a huge guffaw that was so much more than the tired old workhorse of a joke deserved. Yup, she was so losing it, and she hadn't even got out of the car yet. As an augury, it pretty much sucked.
She stared through the snow at the waiting house and took a deep breath and then another. In her head, she chanted the Serenity Prayer. It was all she had against the angry mob of memories clustering around the wooden front porch and jeering at her. The prayer granted her a moment's reprieve, so she said it again. The knot in her stomach unraveled some. She was here for a reason, and that reason was good and just. Lucy reached for her phone and a teeny bit more reinforcement.
"Hey, you." Mads was waiting for her call and answered on the first ring.
"How was the flight?"
"Fine," Lucy snickered. "Boy, are my arms tired." It was her night for elementary school jokes.
"HA HA HA." A deep, resonant Madeline silence followed, filled, just like when she sang, with the richness of what you'd just experienced and the promise of more to come. "That bad, hmm?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm a big, old mess." Lucy tried to crank some more heat out of the engine. The chill seeped through the metal and surrounded her in her small, rental car. "And I haven't even got out of the car yet." The heater grudgingly agreed to a degree or two more. "I'm hoping to hide out here for most of the visit."
"Luce," Mads chuckled, hot chocolate over simmering coals. "You can't sit there all night."
"Maybe not all night," Lucy muttered.
From across the street, the light in her old bedroom went out. Lucy pictured her mother scuttling across the hallway to the bathroom. Fresh towels – check, full roll of toilet tissue – check, basin and surround – check and all the time that little refrain playing in Lynne's head. My Lucy is coming home. My Lucy is coming home.
Nope. Your Lucy is cowering out in her car and wondering why the hell she ever thought she could pull this off. Mom had been to see her in the intervening years, first in New York and then Seattle, but this was Lucy's first trip home in nine, long and undeniably interesting years.
"Are you still there?" Mads called her attention back to the phone pressed against her ear.
"Still hiding out?"
"Get out the car, ya big yeller dog."
"Na-Ah. You can't make me. You're all the way over there. You can't make me."
Man, Lucy loved that laugh as Mads chuckled again. Years of drinking gin and singing blues in smoky bars honed vocal chords like that. "You have a point. But here's what I can do." An expectant pause and Lucy groaned in anticipation. "I can remind you that you want to be free to move on with your life. It's time to do this, and you're ready. You've done the work, Lucy." Mads stopped crooning and got serious. "Now get out of the damn car."
"But it’s cold you there," Lucy whined.
"Get out the friggin' car." Mads didn’t want to play today.
"You can do this, babe." A complete change in tone and Lucy felt tears prick the back of her eyelids. The faith in her almost crippled her in its sincerity. "And, what's more, you need to do this."
"You're right," Lucy's voice broke slightly and she cleared her throat. "I am about to get out of the car."
"Hallelujah. Speak it, sister, speak it." The cheering section worked its magic, and Lucy fastened her coat right up to her chin.
"I love you, Maddy Mads."
"I love you too, Lucy Locket. Now, go and do what you went there to do. Then come home and I can give you a huge hug and tell you how proud I am of you."
"I am opening the door," Lucy reported dutifully. The grip of the metal felt insubstantial beneath her fingers.
"Shit, it's cold." A blast of wind tossed a handful of snow into her face.
"ARGH," Lucy screamed. A thing lurched out of the swirling snow right beside her. She jerked her legs back into the car just as the form flew close enough for the air to swirl around her. There was a tremendous thud. The car door was wrenched out of her hand and careened back drunkenly.
"Shit." Lucy grabbed the door and slammed it shut. As if she could quickly take back the last two minutes. No such luck.
A sickening crunch followed, and then an even worse silence. Lucy peered through her window at the spread-eagled shape on the pristine bed of snow.
"Ah shit, shit, shit." Her heart thudded so loudly it drowned out the sound of Mads on the other side of the phone. "This is not good."
Silence hung heavily over the phone lines. "Lucy? Lucy, are you all right?"
"Um, I am." Lucy peered into the gathering gloom nervously.
Her heart sank. Nothing outside the car had changed. The dark thing spread across the snow was definitely human shaped. The object near the human thing, wheels spinning senselessly, was the bicycle it had been riding. Riding, until someone had opened their door on it. And that someone was her. "I've gotta go."
"What was that noise?"
"I doored a cyclist."
"You what?" There was nothing dulcet or dreamy about Mads and her smoky vocal chords now.
"It seems I doored a cyclist. I'm going to have to go now."
"Is the cyclist okay?"
"It's moving." Lucy stepped from the car, shut her door and took a ginger step forward. A soft noise rode the steady sibilance of the wind. "And I think that's it groaning." She held the phone out nervously at the bipedal stain in the snow. "Can you hear it?"
"I can't hear anything but this howling noise. That's not it, is it?"
"Nope." Lucy was reasonably sure on this point. "That's the wind."
"I know, right?" Lucy took a half shuffle closer. "I think it's a him."
"How do you know it's a him? Can you see its face?"
"Nope." Lucy blinked away a sloppy snowflake. "But it's either a man or a very large woman, with a butt that looks like a man." And she certainly noticed the taut, muscular lines of his thighs and ass. She tilted her head to the side to get a better look. Those were male and not too bad, current situation aside. The Thinsulate pants could not be doing much good against the cold, because they left very little to the imagination. The figure on the ground moved again and rolled carefully onto his back. Yup, that was very definitely a he and not a she.
"Uh huh, it’s a him." She clarified for Mads without taking her eyes off the cyclist. "Excuse me? Are you all right?"
The cyclist cursed softly. Lucy inched a little closer, ready to launch a heroic retreat into her childhood home if the injured party got pissed at her, the front steps of which loomed tantalizingly close. Coward. Lucy tried to master her yellow streak.
"Should I call 911?"
"Does he look like he needs an ambulance?" Mads asked.
"I'll ask him." Lucy raised her voice. "Are you hurt? Should I call 911?" The man on the ground moaned and started to struggle into a sitting position. Her victim didn't look all that injured or dangerous, yet. He stretched out his legs with a hiss.
"I think he's getting up," Lucy whispered into the phone.
"Then he can't be too badly hurt, right?" Mads sounded hopeful. "Any blood? Exposed bones? That sort of thing?"
"I don't see any blood." Lucy leaned forward and peered. Now that the cyclist was moving she didn't want to risk getting any closer. "No bones either. I think that means he might be all right."
"I can hear you." He spoke.
"He can hear me," Lucy reported to Mads. "Oh." She stopped talking and stared.
"That's good." Mads kept it positive.
"I think he's going to be okay," Lucy whispered. The cyclist ignored her and started unbuckling his helmet. "It's a good thing he wore a helmet," Lucy reported into her phone.
"Why?" Mads whispered back.
"Because it's sort of ... busted up."
"And his head?"
"Seems fine." Lucy stood on her toes and peered again. "Are you sure you're all right?" Her voice shook slightly as she risked speaking to the cyclist.
"No thanks to you," growled the man as he examined his helmet. He shook his head angrily.
"I didn't see you," Lucy kept her tone conciliatory. "You came out of nowhere."
"Then perhaps you should stop talking on the phone and concentrate on what you’re doing."
She knew that voice. Lucy froze. "Ah shit."
The cyclist whipped off his goggles and tucked them into his helmet in short, angry movements.
"This is going to get ugly." She hadn't realized she'd spoken out loud until Mads replied.
"Well," Mads huffed, outraged on her behalf. "Okay, I know you hit the guy with your door. But for the love of God, what kind of dork rides a bike in a snowstorm?"
The wind dropped just then and Mad's voice squawked out of Lucy's phone loud and clear. The cyclist jerked his head up and Lucy swore again. All the way west in Seattle, Mads had no idea. Lucy ignored the steady stream of rationalizations coming through the phone as her stomach sped south, into her boots.
“Bye,” she whispered into her phone and hung up.
The man in the snow had gone dead still. His gaze locked on her like a heat seeking missile. And Lucy knew he knew that she knew and he knew that she knew he knew. Or something. Her mind went blank. There must be something to say in situations like this, but she had nothing. She stared at him and he stared right back.
"What the hell are you doing here?" All things considered it was a very reasonable question. His tone and the glare he bent her way shot to hell any vague hope she might have held that Richard had learned to forgive and forget.
"Hello, Richard," Lucy squeaked. His voice was deeper than she remembered, but she would have known it anywhere. Nine years was not long enough to forget any of the small details she could now make out.
Snow powdered one side of his face and stuck to his eyelashes. His face was leaner and the bones stronger and more decisive, but he was still Richard. Handsome in that Cary Grant, clean cut, one of the good guys way. It had played havoc with her teenage heart and hormones. Her grown up hormones were not dead to the appeal either. His eyes were the same pure, unadulterated cobalt. He blinked to clear snow from the dark veil of his lashes.
Lucy watched him with the helpless certainty that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. His head dropped forward almost onto his chest. He'd propped his elbows onto his knees. She should say something to ease the tension, but she was clueless. She tucked her chin deeper into her scarf and waited.
"Tell me it's not you," he said, eventually.
She huddled deeper into her coat and tried a friendly smile. "I didn't see you when I opened my door."
"Ah, Christ." A big man, he was surprisingly graceful as he rose to his feet, brushing snow off his butt and legs. She should have recognized those, Lucy thought, as a hysterical bubble of laughter caught in her throat.
"This cannot be happening to me," he rumbled without looking at her.
She really wanted to ask which part, but was equally sure she didn't want to hear his answer. "Sorry," she shrugged again. “I didn’t—“
“See me, yeah, I get it.” His beautiful blue eyes were colder than the snow seeping through her cheap boots. "What are you doing here, Lucy?"
It was like something out of Wuthering Heights. The wind howled, the snow drove against her face and the large, lurking former love of her life glowered at her in a very Bronte-esque manner. Kate Bush started wailing her lament to Heathcliff in a dark corner of Lucy’s mind.
“I came for my mom.” She dropped her eyes first. “My dad is sick.”
Richard made a strangled sound in the back of his throat. “So, you rushed home to take care of Mom and Dad?” He didn't wait for her reply, but bent to grab his bike and hauled it upright. He leaned over to examine it. Then, gave up with a snarl of exasperation. "Perfect, fucking perfect."
“My mom needs me.” It sounded lame. Richard shot her a look of clear skepticism. Okay, he thought so, too. She was tempted to set him right and opened her mouth to do that. She shut it again. There was no easy explanation to this one.
He gave her one last scowl before he turned and started to stomp away. His feet drove small divots into the snow as he went, dragging his bike behind him. He didn't look back, but strode towards the house next door. He tossed the helmet to one side. It hit the boards of the front porch with a broken splat. Lucy winced. The door slammed behind him with a resounding bang that made her jump. This was so not good.
From his kitchen window Richard watched Lucy pick her way carefully along the pathway up to her old home. It was cleared and salted, but would need to be done again when this storm let up. He made sure of that for Lynne, now Carl was no longer able to shovel. He tried not to look, but his eyes zeroed in like they were on autopilot. And, oh God, those legs. What they did to a man was nothing short of criminal. Richard yanked the fridge open.
He would have described himself as the quintessential leg man. Breasts were good, too. He was as partial as the next man to a great pair, but for him it would always be legs. And being a leg man meant he could never let a great ass pass him by without having a look either.
Breast men had it easy. A quick flick of the eyes down and up again and you were good to go. Leg men had more of a challenge. Over the years, and out of necessity, he'd perfected the swift, over the shoulder, window reflection, under armpit, smash and grab eyeful. Of course, that was before he'd had that particular fantasy eviscerated by her. Lucy mounted the three wooden steps to the porch that ran the side of her family home.
And now. Well, now he still loved legs; long, shapely pathways straight to heaven. As long as they didn't belong to blonde hell raisers who blew out of town with his heart in their backpack and never got around to giving it back.
"Ah, fuck it." The orange juice slapped erratically against the side of the carton and Richard took a deep breath. He was a doctor, right. So the shaking hands could be a direct result of the fall. Except it was not the fall. The snow had taken the worst of the impact away. It was her.
He took a long swig from the carton, taking a sort of savage satisfaction from an action that would make his mother stare at him, first in frank and honest amazement, because he never drank from the carton, and next in horror.
"Ah, fuck it." As far as variety went, he was a pitiful failure, but for impact, his vocabulary was perfect. Just what the doctor ordered.
Lucy Flint, back in town and doing what she always did. Taking his neatly ordered existence between her slender fingers, crumpling it up into a tiny ball and tossing it over her shoulder. She'd just arrived and she'd doored him, wrecked his helmet and almost his bike, and reduced him to swilling orange juice from the carton. It made him shudder to think what she would do for an encore.
Except he already knew. Richard pulled a glass from the cupboard and poured the remainder of the juice into it. When she got done with turning him ass over end, she would wrench out his innards, starting with his heart, pulverize them and disappear. Not this time, Lucy Flint. He made a silent promise to himself. Fool me once….
Her hair was different. It used to be shorter and curled around her beautiful face like a picture frame. This long, silky sweep of blonde she had now was like a weapon. Her green eyes played hide and seek with her sexy mane as she peered out at him. This new sex kitten thing was like a knee to the groin.
Who was he kidding? Richard put his glass in the dishwasher and wiped down the granite countertop. Lucy Flint was the quintessential kick in the balls.
"My only love?"
"Do you think I'm pretty?"
"Would you love me if I wasn't pretty?"
"Well, I don't know." He looked up from his anatomy text. "I'm very fond of you, old girl, but ...love. I don't know about that."
A shriek, as he'd known there would be, and he was attacked by a warm, fragrant armful of pure heaven. Lucy.
Richard hauled his mind back to the present. "Ah, fuck it."