"Are we going to your cousin Thea's recital Thursday? Your mum said H would be there."
Rachel took her hand off the faucet, wondering how Luce always knew she was about to turn the water on, even from another room. "Uh. I mean, I'd like to; I haven't seen H in months, and Thea's a sweetie, but a recital--" she called back. "And don't you have...something?" She hated to admit that maybe she hadn't been listening earlier.
Luce stepped into the bathroom, half dressed, messy and beautiful with it. She leaned forward and kissed Rachel beneath her ear, knowing she didn't like mouth kisses before she brushed her teeth. "I could probably be done with the Hogkins' wedding early if you want to go. They just want roses and baby's breath; easy as pie."
"Well--then let's. I'll call Mum and tell her." She reached out and fluffed Luce's fine curls, pulling them back a little from her face. She was developing a streak of white right in the middle that Rachel thought very dramatic.
"I'm going to stop in on my mum at lunch, I think." Luce darted in again, kissing her forehead this time. "Let's meet at the recital, in case I'm running late, okay? See you tonight!"
Rachel watched her bound down the stairs. Luce was forty now, but never seemed to show it. Rachel was a little jealous of all that energy, especially with her a year younger. She looked at the dusty basket of supplies--thermometer, ovulation chart, folic acid--tucked under the bed and sighed. Now she couldn't remember why they'd given up. She went back to brushing her teeth and tongue, hoping the clock in the bathroom was a few minutes early. She hated started the day running late; she never seemed to catch up.
"I don't know when recitals started to have buffet tables."
Rachel smiled indulgently at her as Luce gazed with hungrily across the array of goodies.
"I probably shouldn't--"
"Are you kidding?" Rachel asked. "After that last mangled Mendelssohn? We deserve champagne and truffles!"
Luce smiled at her. "You don't even like champagne."
"That isn't the point."
She grinned as Rachel grabbed one small sugar-covered biscuit and resolutely stepped away from the table. She knew she'd be back.
"Oh my goodness, it's Heck, there with his back to us." Rachel attempted to discreetly point across the room with her biscuit. "Wow, I haven't seen him--"
"Since he left for Argentina in the spring." Funny how in a relationship something like, "remembering dates" become one person's job.
They headed over, saying 'hi' to friends and relations as they went.
"Heck!" Rachel reached way up and put her hands over his eyes.
"Rachel!" He turned, slipping her hands and reached out for a hug. Luce smiled at them, trying not to think of what a good looking couple they still made. They parted and Heck smiled his huge smile at her, as he always did; the best behaved ex-husband in the world. "Luce; you're looking great."
"You are, Luce," agreed H. You put us all to shame."
"H!" Rachel said happily. "Mum told me you'd be here, but I'd begun to doubt her."
Rachel's sister Henrietta looked fabulous; every inch of the near-uni graduate that she was. She was taller, and her hair a little darker, but Luce thought she was amazingly close to the picture in her head of Rachel ten years ago when they first met.
"Yes, Heck and I were supposed to keep an eye out for you two, but we got caught up in catching up." Luce watched them smile at each other, and winced. Maybe too much like her sister.
"And now you have to catch us up--what have you been doing?"
Luce lost track quickly; they were pretty much talking at the same time, adding comments to each other's stories like couples do--or maybe just close friends, she chided herself. They were both up, excited and happy, and she decided to be happy for them. "Wait, did you say you sold a book?"
Heck looked shy and thrilled at the same time. "I got a nibble last year, but I didn't want to say anything until I'd finished it. It's coming out in May!"
"It's his first travel book; first of many, I'm sure." Henrietta looked as proud as if she'd created him from whole cloth.
"Yes, yes, but have you heard that H is graduating with distinction?" Again, they grinned at each other.
"My god, look at the two of you wunderkind. We definitely owe you both drinks." She glanced over and Rachel hinted 'more'. "Or dinner! Definitely dinner--you have to catch us up on everything."
Henrietta gave them both quick Chanel-scented hugs, nearly spilling her drink down Rachel's back. "Oh, and Coop sends 'hellos' to you both."
Rachel said, surprised, "You're keeping in touch with Coop?"
Henrietta turned to Heck, who said, "we all went out to dinner last night; bit of a welcome back. I only left Buenos Aires on Monday."
"Well, how the hell is Coop, these days?"
Henrietta started to giggle; Luce was dying to know what she would have said if Rachel's Aunt Tami hadn't stopped by then.
"Oh, how good to see you all. I'm sure Thea's thrilled you could all come, especially with Tess not coming."
Luce grabbed Rachel's glass, promised a refill, and wandered off; Tami wasn't her favorite of Rachel's relatives. Once around a corner, she pulled out her mobile and texted H. "Saturday night okay? How about Hillers at 8? Let Heck know." She finished her drink while she waited for H's okay, then sent: "Anything you want to tell me?"
Not to her surprise, all she got was a heart icon. Well, H was a sweetie, no doubt.
She looked idly for Thea, then harder when it was clear all of the kids in the recital had found their own place to hang out. Still with two drinks in her hand, she headed down the stairs, compelled by the tinny sounds of Just Dance 3.
By the time Rachel found her, Thea had taught Luce a new crack for Angry Hippos, and was telling her all about how hard it was to meet boys in an all girls school, and both glasses of punch were long gone.
"There you are!" Rachel gave her a peck and smiled at Thea and the other kids hiding out. "I should have known you'd be down here."
Luce shot her a look. Rachel sounded sad, but she had a big smile on for Thea... "You know me; I'm unpredictably predictable at parties."
"Thea, you did wonderfully, today." Rachel sat on a stool so she could talk at Thea's level. "I can't believe how recently it was your mum was having us listening to you play chopsticks."
Luce put down the game control and turned off the game before sitting back to watch Rachel and Thea together. They looked nothing alike--Thea had been adopted from Korea as a baby--but there was a familial similarity in the way they sat and held themselves; Thea was going to have the same way of holding her head high and straight. It was good to see them spending time together.
Luce watched Rachel walk down the stairs next morning, admiring the show through the slit in her robe. "It's the weekend-- you want something fun for breakfast?"
"Nah, cereal's fine."
Luce frowned, too lazy to make pancakes for just herself. She passed out tea and milk and cereal for Rachel, stealing a kiss as she passed by, as always loving Rachel's generous mouth and warm lips. "Ned says Tess is feeling punky; that's why she missed the recital. He thinks you should come over for a few."
"My dad never said punky in his life. He probably said something about her being near death, and him being near freedom."
"Okay, the word freedom might have been mentioned." They grinned at each other.
Luce changed her mind and started making pancakes after all; maybe Rachel'd have a couple if they were right in front of her.
She mixed up batter and warmed up a burner, happy to cook without being in a hurry for once. It was remarkably nice for April, and the sun felt good in front of the kitchen windows. "So, you going over?" she asked, stacking the first couple of pancakes.
"What?" Rachel was buried in her slate, reading her blogs.
"To your mum's?" Damn. The burner was a little high, and she scorched the next batch. "Rachel?" She was already back reading. "Rachel!"
She put a stack of cakes on a plate in front of her. "Are you going to your Mum's today?"
"Damn it, Luce! I told you, I didn't want pancakes!"
"Then don't eat them, and I'll stick them in the fridge." Luce took a deep breath. She knew Rachel turned from classic morning person during the week, to 10am space cadet on the weekend. But she was easily hacked off, recently. "Hey, are you okay?"
Rachel just looked stubborn. "Of course I am." She finished the last spoonfuls of cereal in a hurry, and took two large swallows of tea. "I'm cold; I'm off to dress."
In this mood, Luce was just as glad that Ned asked for Rachel to go over to her mum's for a while. Good riddance, she whispered as she started cleaning up.
But she couldn't stay mad. Rachel came down with an apologetic smile and a kiss that melted her; the sort of barnburner that made her wish they'd stayed in bed. "I'm sorry, honey. I think I can multitask, and then I get mad that I haven't heard you clearly."
She kissed her back. "It's okay. Give Tess and Ned my love, okay?"
Rachel grabbed her coat off the chair and gave her a hug. "I never said I was going there. I could be going to the store, or the office, or to see my secret lover, you know."
"Absolutely you could. And ask Tess if she's doing her big Easter do this year again, will you? The shop always has so much work for Easter; I need all the warning I can get."
"I don't know how my secret lover will know that, but I'll ask." They smiled and exchanged another kiss, and Luce watched her leave, wondering if maybe nothing was wrong at all.
Luce startled, hearing her phone vibrate on the flower shelf next to her--when had she taken it out of her pocket?
"Be there in 5; okay, maybe ten. or twelve. xox."
Luce smiled, and carefully tucked the phone back in her work jeans. She'd intended to head home and to dress up a little, but it sounded like they were just going to leave from Flowers Up. Maybe she could take off a scarf or two--it was chilly with the door open most of the day--but Heck and H were both old friends, and she was always more comfortable in jeans, anyway.
She started pulling in the flowers from the sidewalk--lilies and larkspur; daisies and drumstick flowers--all the tough girls that could take days outside without freezing. She smiled at the passersby as she came in and out; she wouldn't mind one more sale before locking up.
Should she say something about H and Heck to Rachel? It was probably nothing. H had had a crush on Heck for years as a girl, and probably still adored him a little. Nothing more to it. And Rachel was a little off recently; best not to borrow trouble.
She stuck the tropicals into her fridge-turned-hotbox and heard the door shut in the front room.
"Don't worry, it's just me," Rachel called out, and came on through. "You're more beautiful than all your flowers."
Rachel had said variants on that before, but it still made her smile. "You're not even late--what's the world coming to?"
Rachel gave her a quick kiss and pushed her back against the wide workshelf behind her. "Kept thinking of you; made it easy to get out of work." She slid her hands around Luce's jaw, warm against Luce's cool skin, and grabbed another kiss; this one longer and slower.
Luce grabbed and hugged her hard; this was her Rachel, warm and loving and beautiful. Rachel hugged back, but also slid one thigh between Luce's. "Oh, it's that, is it."
Rachel kissed her, and muttered, "If you're willing," before kissing her again, and starting to nibble down her neck. "I locked the door, and we've gobs of time before meeting them."
Luce ground down just a little on Rachel's thigh, loving the warmth of Rachel's skin and breath on her. Why not? She hugged her close again, and ran her hands up the sides of Rachel's chest, flirting with the edges of her breasts. "How long have you been thinking about this?" she whispered, burying her face in Rachel's neck, nuzzling into her dark blonde curls.
"Lunch. And trust me, the rest of the day? Pretty much a wash. Turkish economics can't possibly win over thinking about this."
Luce smiled, imagining Rachel at her desk, her eyes glazed over. She ran her hands up the sides of Rachel's chest again, this time inside her shirt, loving the shiver her cold hands caused. "Too cold?"
"No, it feels good."
She pressed harder, pushing Rachel's bra up and cupped her breasts, her cold hands immediately turning Rachel's nipples hard and crinkled. She pushed her shirt up a little more and bent down to lick and nuzzle, again loving the contrast between her cold face and Rachel's warm skin, loving the concentrated smell inside her shirt. "Excellent idea," she said, not caring if Rachel could understand her or not.
She felt Rachel trying to nuzzle her neck too, getting frustrated by her double scarves, but didn't help her out; instead she reached down and popped the button on Rachel's trousers, then slid the zip down. Thank god Rachel wore them tight, or the trousers would have fallen down altogether. She glided her hand down into her thin pants, cupping her, getting distracted from her breasts and letting her head slide back out of Rachel's shirt.
Oh, and that let her rock back on Rachel's thigh again. Yum. She slid a finger, and then a second one, past Rachel's mons, happy to find it slick and wet; it always sparked something deep in her whenever she felt that--ten years now, and their arousal was nearly always wonderfully reciprocal.
Rachel pinned her back against the workbench and took over a little; unbuttoning Luce's jeans and sliding two fingers right in. "Oh," she moaned. Rachel's warm fingers felt like heaven, touching just where she needed it. Luce wrapped her other arm around Rache's shoulder and pulled her in for a kiss, a long one, with lots of tongue, the sort that felt like food, like eating, like diving in. She rubbed Rachel's cunt with her other hand, unintentionally falling into the rhythm of Rachel's hand on her clit, rubbing intently, the cramped space within her pants making it more urgent. She was warm now; crazy warm, the cool air sharp on her skin.
She moved back to Rachel's long neck, rubbed her nose along her skin, kissed, then bit a little as Rachel's fingers brought her closer, oh, half speed, half technique--all the advantages of knowing someone well, plus the fun of just having it off with no planning or warning.
Rachel writhed against her, pressing her back against the bench. Luce wanted to swing her around, knock her flat onto the bench, rip her trousers off and bury herself in her, but she was too close now. She just kept touching slickly, each one of Rachel's sharp cries pushing her closer.
She kissed her again, a little more desperate, out of breath but still needing her: her mouth, her soft cheek, the edge of her eyelid, wanting to cover her completely.
"Luce!" She felt Rachel coming, wiggled until Rachel had a finger perfectly pressing over her clit and that was all it took, she came like a rocket, like when they were new, back arched and mouth open and completely out of breath. Wow. She stood, panting, her entire body warm and soft like taffy, so much in love she could hardly stand it. She caressed up and down Rachel's sweaty spine slowly with one hand, slowly freeing her other sticky hand, and nearly giggling, she felt so good.
"Well, damn, girl!" She gave Rachel a hard happy smack on the lips, and went to the sink to rinse her sticky hand with cold water. Rachel joined her, her skin flushed and beautiful, adding soap and pulling her other hand in, rubbing their four hands all together, playing with the slickness and the water. Luce pulled her arm out, dried it quickly on her jeans, and put it around Rachel's shoulder, just needing to hold her a minute longer.
They picked their way through the crowded bar, muttering excuses as they went. Luce finally saw H and Heck's table up ahead and pointed them out, only to see H bend over and give Heck a kiss. She stopped and looked back. Rachel's face was a picture, her wide jaw clenched. "Um." She glanced back. H and Heck were still kissing. So much for the chance it might have been a casual peck.
"Do you see that?" Rachel was stuck behind her between two big tables of partyers, but looked like she was ready to barrel through.
She was virtually certain Heck and H hadn't seen them. "Rachel, why don't we go outside for a second?"
"Outside? I--" she swallowed and looked around at the packed room. "Fine." She didn't stomp, but she did turn with an almost martial swish.
"Did you see that?"
"Honey, the whole bar saw that." Luce kept them moving back out onto the sidewalk.
"Where are you--" She took a angry breath. "He's almost 15 years older than her." Rachel pulled her hair back from her face, crossly pulling it into order.
"And she's two months from graduating uni, and she can date anyone she pleases."
Rachel muttered angrily, her hands shaking tensely out in front of her.
Luce thought; they were wearing sensible shoes, which made her laugh for a second; the weather was still decent--she pointed them away from their tube stop and started up the street. Maybe Rachel would walk it off.
"You love him like crazy, Rachel. You have every single magazine he's ever had an article in, in a pile in the bedroom. You even dust it." She guided them around a clump of MU fans taking up too much sidewalk. "You love them both. Can this really be that bad?"
"Are you saying they're in love? They're not in love; it's just a pash, isn't it?"
"Absolutely; that kiss looked like an innocent crush." Rachel's face was still red; she looked furious. "Oh, sweetie. It'll be okay."
"No it won't." Rachel sounded pouty, but thankfully noticed it enough to smile a little at her own vehemence. "Tess is going to go spare. H is her little girl."
"Absolutely, and Tess needs your help to get upset about this?" She suddenly realized they'd completely ditched Henrietta and Heck, and flipped out her mobile. "Wait a minute; what do I tell them?"
"Tell them to stop kissing each other."
She laughed, unable to stay mad at Rachel no matter how silly she was being. "Thanks; that's exactly what I was thinking." Luce spent a couple of blocks thinking before finally deciding on the simple; "Got caught up; let's reschedule next week." She hit send and tucked it back in her pocket without waiting; Henrietta and Heck were the least of her worries.
She led them past the next tube stop, too; they were almost there at this rate. Too bad she was famished. "Hey, let's stop and get a sausage in a roll."
Rachel followed her over to the food kiosk without slowing down for an instant. "It's ridiculous; he's hardly even in England with all his travel." Rachel's wide lips were compressed into a thin line, completely unlike her.
"Honey, they've known each other for years. Even if it doesn't work out, I think they'll be kind to each other." Luce felt like she was seesawing between ignoring Rachel, and trying to say sensible but pointless things for Rachel to ignore. "Mustard?" She held up the first sausage."
"No, just pickles." Rachel took a big bite of her sausage, and Luce hoped for a second she'd distracted her, but no.
"Kindness: as if that helps. I tried to be kind to Heck, and ripped his heart out."
"Which helped him change his entire life, and led him to travel, which he loves."
Luce thought she'd scored one that time, but Rachel immediately came back with, "And he's so happy, we haven't seen him date in years."
"You should be glad he's finally ready for something," Luce said. She took Rachel's sausage wrapper, and threw them both in the trash bin.
"Oh my god, you do think they're serious!"
Luce put her hand on Rachel's lower back and guided her up the steps into their flat, realizing they'd managed to fight the entire way home. I'm missing something here, Luce thought. She unlocked the door and flipped the entry light. "Rachel, why are you so mad?"
"Damn it, I wanted one of us to do it right!"
Luce felt slapped.
"Oh god, I didn't mean it like that."
"You sure as hell did, Rachel. What the fuck!"
Luce felt utterly shredded. What the hell did that mean? "All this time, you still-- What, think we're not right? Not a couple? Not a fam--" she choked, and coughed, determined not to cry, feeling as sandbagged, as blindsided, as a woman could be.
"I just--" Rachel tried to pull her into a hug, but she wrenched back, hard.
"You just what?" she said harshly, not giving an inch. Ten years together, and she says we're not 'right'!
"I wanted us to have kids," Rachel said, starting to cry. "I wanted to give you kids."
"And we tried," Luce quietly prompted, "and it didn't work, and we said we were okay."
"And I was, I thought I was...and I'm not. I'm not. I love you, and, and somehow, despite every rude thing that my dad, and even my mum have said about how horrible children are, I want to," she sniffed, barely able to breathe, "I want to have children with you."
In her head, Luce was saying, "Rachel, you're an idiot," but in her heart, all she could see were the silly tears running down her ever-so-loved face. She handed her a napkin and drew her down to the couch, then wrapped her up in her arms and let her cry, wondering how long this had been building.
"I've heard of people ruining their relationships trying too hard. And we tried, and it was weird, using the thermometer, getting donor sperm, 'donor sperm!' How crazy is that." She shrugged but didn't meet her eyes. "And I thought I was okay, and, oh Luce...can we try again? Really try? Give it six months...or a year?"
"Oh, sweetie. Of course we can. We can even ask Heck for 'help' if you want."
Rachel laughed damply. "Yuck!"
"If it's good enough for your sister--"
"Stop it!" Rachel pushed her, laughing. "Never make me think about H having sex." She wiped her face dry with her fingers, looking like a little girl for a moment. "Luce, I love you."
Luce stood up, and pulled Rachel up with her. "I am very mad at you right now." She realized Rachel was breathing out of her mouth, and reached out for a tissue. "Here, silly, blow your nose."
Rachel made a silly honk, which made Luce laugh till she snorted, and completely disrupted whatever she was trying to say. "Okay, I'm apparently not all that mad at you right now." Rachel kissed her, and she kissed back, still nervy, feeling like she'd just nearly fallen or tripped. "But you'll never do that again, right?" Luce turned off the living room light and herded Rachel upstairs. "We're not suffer in silence types."
"You'd better." She gave Rachel a light kiss, still feeling off center, but starting to get her balance back. "Let's go to bed early, and wake up to a new day."
Rachel kissed her back; still looking fragile in her own way.
"Never again," Luce repeated. "I thought I taught you years ago, if you want something badly enough; you have to yell."
"What a minute; who yelled at whom?" Rachel tugged her, pulling her down onto the bed with a slightly tremulous laugh. "Who was going to give up?"
"Never again," Luce said, curling tightly around her. "Never again."
Ten months and three days later
"It is disgusting how cute this baby is," Ned said, vainly trying to get her to smile at him.
"I'd be less worried if I didn't think you will still be saying that when she's sixteen."
Luce watched Tess and Ned bicker back and forth in front of the baby. She didn't have much to say, but she was definitely was a cutie.
"Well, she's cuter than Prince William and Kate's fat little infant; you have to admit that."
Luce bit her lip and decided to be elsewhere for a while; Ned was less than sane about his new grandchild, and she was still a little raw about the whole near-disaster, even if it hadn't exactly been Ned's fault.
She checked her watch; just past three. It'd had been a great brunch, but she was thick-headed from the mimosas and all the people. If she could find Rachel in this madhouse, she wouldn't mind heading home soon. After checking the kitchen, and Tess's study, she headed down to the basement. She stopped on the steps when she heard voices, not wanting to interrupt.
"I always knew I wanted to marry Heck. And when I said that at twelve, you guys thought it was cute or funny. When I was fourteen or fifteen, you looked worried, and I stopped saying it. But I never gave up."
Luce peered around the corner. Henrietta and Rachel were curled up on the couch together, like they used to when Henrietta was still a kid. It was good to see, after the craziness of the last year.
Henrietta put her hand on Rachel's wrist. "You said once that you knew Luce was the one for you three seconds after meeting her. That's how it was for me."
"Did Heck have a say in this?"
Henrietta laughed. "I let him pick her name, didn't I? And Dad has finally fallen for him, now that he's married the correct daughter, and given the family a grandchild--even if he only barely managed to do it in order."
"Heck is just fine, thank you very much. I should let him tell everyone, but he's got a new contract; Traveling Europe with a Baby."
Luce slid up a couple of stairs and walked back down, embarrassed that she'd eavesdropped so long.
"A new book; that's wonderful." She came up behind Rachel and put her arm around her, checking in.
Rachel gave a mock shudder. "'Traveling Europe.' Oh god, that means you're taking her away, aren't you, H? Tess and Ned are going to cry buckets. In fact, you'll probably need to call the police just to get them to let her go."
"Don't be silly. They're getting old. We'll just wait until they're asleep and leave under cover of darkness." They laughed.
"Seriously," Rachel said, "it's nice to you to stay here with the baby while you're between travels. They've wanted a grandchild so much, and you've made them so happy."
"I'm fine." She reached back behind her to hold Luce's hand. "We're fine. We got a little confused there for a while. I wanted to make them happy a little too much, I think. But--"
They heard the unmistakable sound of a small baby started to cry.
"Oh, leave it; there are ten people upstairs ready and willing to help."
Henrietta looked torn, and when the crying got louder, she grinned helplessly and headed up the stairs back to her daughter.
Luce pulled Rachel into a hug and held her for a minute. "You okay?"
Rachel gave her a kiss and a smile. "You know, I think I am," Rachel said happily.
"I'm so glad." She brushed Rachel's hair back away from her face. "I love your family, you know I do. But let's get out of here."
"What an excellent idea." Rachel gave her another kiss, longer, hot, unmistakable.
And as always, Luce kissed her back.