“A lapse in judgment. It won’t happen again,” I said dryly, standing up straight.
“Oh, how I wish that it would.” Our eyes locked as we stood inches away from each other, no words finding either of us. Her blond hair was wild with tight curls, and it seemed to be her natural state; even at the funeral, her hair had been a mess.
A beautiful mess, somehow.
A loose curl fell over her left shoulder and I reached out to move it when I saw something caught in it. The closer my hand got to her, the more I noticed her tensing up. “Graham,” she whispered. “What are you doing?”
I combed my fingers through her hair, and she shut her eyes, her nervousness plain to see. “Turn around,” I commanded her.
“Just do it,” I told her. She cocked an eyebrow, and I rolled my eyes before tossing in a “Please.” She did as I said, and I grimaced. “Lucille?” I whispered, leaning in closer to her, my mouth inches away from her ear.
“Yes, Graham Cracker?”
“There’s vomit all over your back.”
“What?!” she exclaimed, twisting around in circles, trying to view the back of her sundress, which was covered in Talon’s spit-up. “Oh my God,” she groaned.
“It’s in your hair, too.”
“Oh, fuck me backward.” She realized her words and covered her mouth. “Sorry, I mean, oh crap. I was just hoping to not go back into the real world covered in vomit.”
I almost laughed again. “You can use my shower, and I can loan you some clothes while I toss this into the washer.”
She smiled, something she did quite often. “Is that your sly way of asking me to stay to help with Talon for a few more hours?”
“No,” I said harshly, offended by her comment. “That’s ridiculous.”
Her grin dropped and she laughed. “I’m just kidding, Graham. Don’t take everything so seriously. Loosen up a little. But, yes, if it’s okay, I’d love to take you up on your offer. This is my lucky dress.”
“It can’t be that lucky if it has vomit on it. Your definition of luck is off.”
“Wow.” Lucy whistled, shaking her head. “Your charm is almost sickening,” she mocked.
“I didn’t mean it in…” My words died off, and even though she kept smiling, I saw the small tremble in her bottom lip. I’d offended her. Of course I’d offended her—not on purpose, but still, it had happened. I shifted around before standing taller. I should’ve said more, but no words came to mind.
“I think I’ll head home to wash it,” she said, her voice lowering as she reached for her purse.
I nodded in understanding; I wouldn’t want to stay near me either.
As she walked outside, I spoke. “I’m bad with words.”
She turned around and shook her head. “No, I’ve read your books, and you’re great with words—almost too good. What you lack are people skills.”
“I live in my head a lot. I don’t interact with people very often.”
“What about my sister?”
“We didn’t speak much.”
Lucy laughed. “That makes for a hard relationship, I’m sure.”
“We were close enough to being content.”
Her head shook back and forth, and her eyes narrowed. “No one in love should ever be anything less than content.”
“Who ever said anything about love?” I replied. The sadness that flooded her stare made me shift.
When she blinked, the sadness was gone. I appreciated the way she didn’t live too long in the emotion. “You know what will help your people skills?” she asked. “Smiling.”
“I do smile.”
“No.” She laughed. “You frown. You scowl. You grimace. That’s about it. I haven’t seen you smile once.”
“When I encounter a valid reason to do so, I’ll be sure to notify you. By the way, I am sorry, you know—for offending you. I-I know I can come off as somewhat cold.”
“Understatement of the year.” She laughed.
“I know I don’t say much, and what I do say is normally the wrong thing, so I apologize for offending you. You’ve been nothing but giving to Talon and me, which is why I’m a bit thrown off. I’m not used to people giving just to…give.”
“Wait, let me finish before I say something else to ruin it all. I just wanted to say thank you for today, and for the hospital visits. I know I’m not easy to deal with, but the fact that you still helped means more to me than you’ll ever know.”
“You’re welcome.” She bit her bottom lip and groaned as she muttered the word maktub repeatedly before she spoke to me again. “Listen, I might really, really end up regretting this, but if you want, I can stop by early mornings before work, and I can come help afterward. I know at some point you’ll have to get back to writing your next bestseller, and I can watch her as you write.”
“I…I can pay you for your services.”
“It’s not services, Graham, it’s help, and I don’t need your money.”
“I’d feel better if I paid you.”
“And I’d feel better if you didn’t. Seriously. I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t mean it.”
“Thank you, and, Lucille?”
She raised an eyebrow, waiting for my comment.
“That’s a very nice dress.”
She slightly twirled on her tiptoes. “Vomit and all?”
“Vomit and all.”
Her head lowered for a moment before she looked back toward me. “You’re both hot and cold all at once, and I cannot for the life of me figure you out. I don’t know how to read you, Graham Russell. I pride myself on being able to read people, but you are different.”
“Perhaps I’m one of those novels where you have to keep turning the page until the very end to understand the meaning.”
Her smile stretched, and she started walking backward toward my bathroom to clean off the vomit. Her eyes stayed locked with mine. “A part of me wants to skip to the last page to see how it ends, but I hate spoilers, and I love a good suspense.” After she finished cleaning up, she headed to the foyer. “I’ll text to see if you need me tonight, otherwise I’ll stop by early tomorrow morning, and, Graham?”
“Don’t forget to smile.”
The next few weeks revolved around flower arrangements and Talon. If I wasn’t at Monet’s Gardens, I was helping Graham out. Whenever I went to his house, we hardly spoke. He’d pass Talon to me then head into his office, where he’d close the door and write. He was a man of very few words, and if I’d learned anything, it was that his few words were harsh. Therefore, his silence didn’t bring me any harm.
If anything, it brought me peace.
Sometimes I’d wander by his office, and I’d hear him leaving voice messages for Lyric. Each message was an update on Talon’s life, detailing her highs and lows.
One Saturday evening when I pulled up to Graham’s house, I was somewhat surprised to see a brown station wagon sitting in the driveway. I parked my car, walked up to the front door, and rang the doorbell.
As I waited, swaying back and forth, my ears perked up when I heard laughter coming from inside.