Once Grace and Lucky hit the sidewalk in front of the Simonson house, she slowly withdrew her arm from his and sank to the bottom step. Cradling her head in her hands, the coldness from the concrete leeching through her pants, she sat taking deep cleansing breaths.
Lucky stood awkwardly in front of her, arms akimbo, wanting to offer solace but unsure how. He liked Grace, but he wasn’t fooled. Going for pie was nothing more than an attempt to mask her pain in front of the rest of the cast that had been assembled. No one had missed the red tide of embarrassment as it flooded her face when she realized she and Harper had an audience.
Shooting to a standing position, Grace squared her shoulders. “So, about that pie?”
Arms over his chest, Lucky regarded her through narrowed eyes. “Look. We don’t have to go for the pie. Not now. I get it. I was your escape hatch.”
Grace’s shoulders sagged. It seemed no one really wanted her around. Her father didn’t; he had just enough time to buy her things and make sure her credit card debt was paid off before jetting off to somewhere new. Sure, he sent her things all the time, but it wasn’t the same as having a dad home twenty-four seven like Harper did. Harper had been right about one thing. It was ridiculous that Grace owned a pair of boots that cost over a thousand dollars, but she didn’t buy them. Her father did.
Now, here Lucky was, giving her a way out. No, she hadn’t wanted to go for pie when she made the offer. If she were honest with herself, she didn’t want to go for pie now. But no way was she going back on her word. Grace Monroe didn’t do that. Giving herself a moment for composure, she unzipped her bag.
Rooting through her purse, Grace palmed her keys and met his gaze directly. “What’s the matter Lucky? Was it all just a bunch of bullshit talk on your part? Do you want to go for pie or not?”
“So I get to be the consolation prize?”
Fury rose, fast and ugly. So what if it hitched a ride on the back of the guilt train. “Fuck you, Lucky!”
Storming to the driver’s side of the car, Grace huffed as she forcibly pulled on the door with both hands before getting it open and sliding behind the wheel. Ramming the key into the ignition, she was just about to pull away from the curb when the passenger side door opened and Lucky joined her.
Mustering up his most charming smile, the one she was sure he practiced daily in the mirror, “Ok, I changed my mind. I want that pie after all.”
Still angry, but tempered by guilt, she answered, “Fine.”
A few minutes of silence passed between them as she turned the corner and came to a complete stop at the next red light before Lucky started to chuckle. Throwing back his head, the merriment went viral and his amusement showed itself in the tears raining down his cheeks.
Confused, because there was nothing remotely funny about anything that happened that evening as far as Grace was concerned, she frowned, “Are you okay? What’s so funny?”
Mimicking her haughty tone from a few moments earlier, he replied, “’Fuck you, Lucky.’ I can’t believe you said that.”
A smile worked the corners of Grace’s mouth even as her spine straightened a little. “Well you deserved it. Consolation prize? Really?”
Leaning his head against the window, he eyed Grace before deciding to take a chance and jump in, “So, tonight was pretty intense.”
“That’s a word for it.”
“You two will make up. You’re best friends and all that. Plus, O and I have knock-down, punch-throwing, in-your-face screaming matches. And the next day, we’re back to normal, you know?”
His statement was met with silence.
Trying again, “Oxford huh?”
The car rolled to a stop, and she made a point of looking to the left and right an extra time before continuing on.
“So what kind of pie do you like?”
Grace laughed softly and shook her head. “Quiet is not a word in your vocabulary is it?”
“Have you been to my house and seen the chaos that reigns there?” His goal-to make her relax-was working. The line across her shoulders relaxed, releasing the tension as they drove across town and away from the diner.
Away from the diner? What the… “I thought we were going for pie?”
“We are.” Turning and meeting his gaze she continued, “I thought we could just go to my house and have it. I’m not really up for other people right now. ‘Kay?”
Lucky took in her waning expression, the night clearly taking its toll, blotting out her usual shine.
Wanting to put a smile back on her face, he leaned closer and leered, “You just want to be alone with me, why didn’t you say so?”
Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, suddenly thankful Lucky had jumped into the car, she licked her lips and said, “You’re an ass. You know that right?”
His cockiness knew no bounds. “But you’re totally into me. Go ahead. You can admit it. It’s my cross to bear, this burden of being wanted.”
Grace pulled her car up the driveway, passed the house, stopping in front of the detached garage. Turning off the car, she kept both hands on the steering wheel as she quietly uttered, “Thanks, Lucky.”
Not ready for the previous seriousness of the evening to come back just yet, he quipped, “Does this mean we’re together now? Like a real couple?”
Another eye roll, Grace opened the car door and led the way to the back door which opened up directly into the kitchen. Expecting quiet, she was completely taken aback when she pushed the door open and heard top-forty music coming from the iPod plugged into her player. There was a stainless steel pot bubbling on the stove, and a sprightly blond woman shaking her hips as she leaned into the refrigerator.
The slam of the door behind them caught the women’s attention. Using her hip, she shut the refrigerator and whirled to face them, a bright, blinding smile claiming her face when her eyes lit upon Grace.
Grace’s mouth dropped open. The first real smile of the evening appeared as she squealed, “Abby!
What are you doing here?” Rushing around the island in the middle of the kitchen, she launched herself at her cousin. “I thought you were still in Italy.”
Abby hugged Grace tight before pushing her away to run a critical eye over the younger girl. “I was. But I heard you were going to be alone for Christmas, so I decided I would rather be here instead.”
“Awesome!” Remembering her manners, Grace turned. “Abby, this is my friend, Lucky. Lucky, cousin Abby.”
Lucky, never one to miss an opportunity, smiled, “Well, hel-lo Cousin Abby.” It was more of a leer, but one guaranteed to flatter and amuse.
Abby studied the young man for a moment before holding out her hand. “Hi, Lucky. Nice to meet you.” Turning to the stove, “Are you two hungry? I made spaghetti.”
“Spaghetti? It’s, like midnight.”
“Yeah sweetie, but I am still on Italy time.“
Lucky pulled his cell phone from his pocket and hit a key. “Hey O. Can you swing by and pick me up? I’m at Grace’s. Her cousin’s here, and I need a ride home.” Leaning on the counter top, he winked at Grace before looking at the clock on the stove. “Five minutes is good. I'll meet you out front.”
Before Grace could reassure him that it was alright to stay, he spoke up. “You need to spend some time with your family, and I still have something I need to do talk over with my Mom.”
“Oh-kay. Thanks for coming over tonight. And-everything else.”
Lucky swiveled his gaze to the cousin, “Abby, it was nice meeting you.” Turning back to Grace, “Walk me out?”
“Sure. Abs, I’ll be back in a sec.”
“Take your time, hon.” Her eyes followed both of them until they were out of sight. Hmm, very interesting.
At the front door, Grace stopped and turned. “Seems we’re destined to never get this right.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think eventually the odds will be in my favor.” Lucky glanced over his shoulder to make sure they were alone. Grace popped up on tip-toe to see what had captured his attention. Unaware, she wasn’t prepared when he swung back and captured her lips in a soft, barely-there kiss.
It was a brief lip bump that had Lucky yearning for more. Instead, he straightened and smiled at the surprised look on her face. “By the way, you still owe me that pie.”
The sound of the horn signaled Owen’s arrival. Lucky touched her cheek before heading out and pulling the door closed softly behind him.
Staring at the door, Grace jumped when the voice behind her piped up, “Seems like you neglected to mention a few things in your last e-mail.”
Leaning her forehead against the door, “Like?”
“Like, Lucky. Who is he?”
Swallowing, Grace turned and faced her cousin. “Friend. He’s just a friend."
Abby, leaning against the arch between the dining room and foyer, arms crossed, “Really? Too bad. He’s hot. And I liked him. Plus, I think it’s time to move on from the Truman incident, don’t you?”
Shaking her head, eyes not quite meeting Abby’s she confessed, “For me, it’s always been Truman. And now, with Oxford…”
“You want my advice?”
On a shrug, “Always.”
Moving toward the younger girl, Abby pushed the hair out of her face, before wrapping an arm around her and walking back to the kitchen. “You are too young to be pining for any boy. Enjoy today. Let tomorrow take care of itself.”
“I guess this means you’re officially Team Lucky?”
Abby, quick on the draw, replied, “Sure am. And if you’re ordering t-shirts, I need mine in a medium.”