She shook her head, pushed his big, fancy contract back at him, and walked away.
“Where you going?”
“You don’t have one.”
Maybe not. But that was simply a technicality. She knew where home was. Truthfully, she’d always known.
A day and a half later, she pulled into Lucky Harbor. It was dusk. It’d rained, making everything shiny and wet. The strings of white lights on the storefronts and in the tree-lined sidewalks glistened in the fading light like…
She drove by the senior center and slowed. The lot was completely packed, but what caught her eye was the fire truck, front and center.
She recognized that fire truck and knew exactly who’d be inside. Heart already thumping in anticipation, she parked and entered the building beneath a huge sign: SAFETY AWARENESS NIGHT.
The main room was packed to the gills, and up front stood Jack and Kevin. The former was giving a safety speech. The latter was snoozing at Jack’s feet, sprawled on his back, feet straight up in the air like a three-day-old carcass.
Unlike when Leah had once come to the senior center to give a cooking lesson, none of the seniors were napping or playing on their phones. In fact, everyone was riveted. Elsie was there, sitting next to Mr. Lyons.
Leah gave her a big hug. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “But there’s something I have to do before I can talk to you.”
“Go get him, honey,” Elsie said.
Leah realized the room had gone so silent she could have heard a pin drop.
Kevin gave one exuberant, joyous bark and leaped at her, knocking her back a step in his exuberance.
“Good boy,” she said, giving him a hug too.
Jack stood still at the front of the room, watching her with an unreadable face.
She waved at him.
His smile came slow and warm, and everyone craned their necks like they were watching a tennis match. “You’re home,” he said.
Some of the tension left her, but not all, because he still wasn’t giving much away. Not that she expected him to in front of their captive audience. Plus, it was her turn to give it all away. To give him everything. “I’m home.”
He gave her a finger crook, the universal sign for “come here.” She glanced at the crowd avidly soaking up her every move.
“Ignore them,” Jack said. “You’re only surrounded by fifty of Lucky Harbor’s finest gossips. Everything you say here will be repeated and posted on Facebook.”
“And tweeted,” Lucille called out. “I’ve found the Twitter.”
“I thought ‘tweet’ was a female body part,” one of the seniors said, sounding confused.
Anxious but holding her gaze steadily on Jack, Leah walked up the center aisle toward him.
“Damn,” she heard Lucille whisper. “Siri, remind me to download the bride’s march song on my iPhone.”
“Wait. She’s back?” someone else asked, sounding confused. “I thought she ran off.”
“She didn’t run off, you moron.” This from Elsie. “She went back to school. Don’t any of you read Facebook?”
Leah stopped at the foot of the stage and looked up at Jack. “I was wrong,” she said.
Jack curled a hand around his ear, like he hadn’t caught her words.
“I was wrong,” she repeated.
“Oh, I heard you.” He smiled. “I just like the sound of the words on your lips.”
The crowd tittered at this. Ignoring them, Jack reached down and gripped Leah by the wrist, easily lifting her to the stage. “And not that I don’t love those words, but what were you wrong about?”
“Walking away from you.” She stepped into him. “I’m done with that, by the way. I’m walking straight at you from now on.”
Around them came a collective “aww,” and Jack’s smile spread to his eyes as he finally pulled her into his arms.
Over his shoulder she could see her grandma beaming, and Kevin sitting in Lucille’s lap. Lucille was handing over money to Mr. Lyons.
“They were betting on whether you were going to break my heart or not,” Jack told her. “The stakes got so high I even put in my own bet.”
“Which way did you bet?” she asked.
Mr. Lyons walked to the front of the room and slapped some twenties into Jack’s palm and then stomped back to his seat.
“Let’s just say I won,” Jack said easily. And then he bent and kissed her to the whoops and hollers of their delighted audience.
“I wouldn’t mind a kiss like that,” Leah heard Lucille say.
“Me either,” Elsie said, and then squeaked in delighted surprise when Mr. Lyons pulled her close and gave her a smacking kiss right on the lips.
Against her, she could feel Jack shake with laughter just as he scooped her up and slung her over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold.
The crowd ate this up, especially when Jack turned and flashed them a grin. “Excuse us,” he said. “We need a minute in private.”
“Well that’s no fun,” Lucille complained as Jack strode out of the room, down a hall, and into the first room they came to—the dining room.
He set her down on the counter that ran along one wall, pinning her there with a hand on either side of her hips as he looked into her eyes. “Hey.”
Everything within her flooded with affection, need…love. “Hey.” She cupped his face. Beneath her fingers, his face was rough with at least a day’s growth. She wanted to feel it against her bare skin. “Last time I was home you asked me when I was going to realize that I deserve to be happy.” She paused. “Now,” she said. “I realize it now. I deserve it,” she said softly.
The very corners of his lips curved, and what might have been pride came into his expression. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. And I know something else I deserve,” she told him.
“You. I’m in love with you, Jack. And you’re in love with me too.”
There was a very slight quirk at the corners of his mouth. “You sound pretty sure.”
“I’ve never been so sure of anything.” She gave him a nudge, hopped down off the counter, and pushed him into a chair. “So you might as well give in now.”
“You think so, huh?”
She climbed into his lap. “I really do.”
Someone knocked on the door.
“Lucille,” Jack called out, not taking his gaze off Leah. “This conversation is off limits. Go practice your safety techniques. There’s going to be a quiz.”
“Oh!” She squealed in delight through the door. “I love quizzes.”
And then there was blessed silence.
“So,” Jack said. “Back to this you love me thing.”
She pressed closer and slid her fingers into his hair. “I do love you, Jack. I don’t want to be without you.”
“Neither do I.”
Hearing the true emotion in his voice, in the grip he had on her, she felt herself begin to let loose of the last of the tension in her gut.
“New rule,” he said. “No more rules.”
She smiled. “And if I agree to this ‘no more rules,’ what’s in it for me?”
She felt the smile burst full bloom across her face. “Well, if that’s not the best offer I’ve ever had,” she said.
He was grinning as he kissed her until she was dizzy.
“Come on,” he said, and then stood up with her still wrapped around him.
“Wait!” she said, panicked, when he headed toward the door.
“Oh no you don’t,” he said, tightening his grip on her. “Not now, not when I finally have you where I want you.”
“And where is that?”
“With me.” He stepped back into the front room, and everyone clapped until he held up a hand for silence, letting Leah slide down his body. “We have an announcement.”
“We do?” Leah said, her world spinning out of control, like a dream. The best dream she’d ever had.
“We do.” He brought their entwined hands up and brushed his mouth across her knuckles as everyone in the room leaned forward in unison, straining to catch his next words.
“What?” Lucille finally demanded. “What’s the announcement?”
Jack smiled at Leah. “We’re taking this relationship off the radar.”
“Well dammit,” Lucille said as the rest of the room groaned.
Ignoring all of them, Jack tugged Leah into his side, kissed her softly, and smiled into her eyes. “Class dismissed,” he said.
And then kissed her again.