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Page 8

Silence for one second on the other end. “I missed you so damn much, too?” was the uncertain reply. The female reply.

“Holly?”

“Most days,” she answered.

“Oh,” I said, trying not to sound upset. “Sorry. I thought you were Jude.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Lucy,” she said, as little Jude started talking up a storm in the background.

“No. I’m glad it’s you,” I said, telling a half-truth.

“Liar.” She paused, hushing little Jude, and told him to go play with his blocks. “What? Did you and Jude have some sort of phone sex date tonight?”

I rolled my eyes. If only Holly knew. “How many times do I have to tell you that our sex life is none of your business?”

“You can tell me as many times as you want. I’m never going to stop sticking my nose in you and Jude’s freaky business,” she said. “I’m a single mom, Lucy. I have a better chance of dying in a plane crash than I do of getting laid again, so stop acting like such a prude and let me keep on living vicariously through you.”

Another eye roll, but only because we were on the phone. Holly didn’t tolerate eye rolling in her presence, especially if it was directed at her. “Go find another couple to live vicariously through. Jude and I are officially off-vicarious-limits.”

“Repeating. I’m a single mom. The only thing that’s more unlikely than getting laid is making friends with another couple I can live vicariously through.” Jude went off like a siren again. She let him go this time. “And now I’m officially an unemployed single mom,” she said with a sigh.

“What?” I said, sitting up on the couch. “You got fired from the salon? You’ve been there for years. What happened?”

She cleared her throat. “I may or may not have ‘accidentally’ mixed up hair dyes. I ‘might’ have applied bright green hair color to a customer who also happened to be my brother’s ex-girlfriend, who became an ex after screwing half the county’s male population behind his back.” I could hear the sly smile in Holly’s voice. “It was a total coincidence.”

“Of course it was,” I deadpanned.

“Anyways, my boss said coincidence or not, a stylist mixing up platinum blond for neon green was a fireable offense.”

“Please. Like every stylist doesn’t have a similar story,” I said. “At least your ‘coincidence’ came with a swift kick in the ass from karma to your cheating client.”

Holly chuckled. “This is why I called you, Lucy. I know cheer isn’t really your thing, but you always manage to cheer me up whenever I need it.”

“Cheer aside,” I said, “I’m glad I could help.”

Holly replied back with something, but she was drowned out as little Jude beat on something that sounded like drums. Or cymbals. Or something that was up to the task of making my eardrums ring.

“So what are you going to do now?” I asked, after the musical explosion in the background ended.

Another sigh from Holly. “The only other ‘salon’ in this town, and I use the word loosely, is Supercuts,” she said. I could see her cringing. “And since I can’t afford to have any pride when I’ve got milk and shoes to provide for a little man, I already stopped by to see if they were hiring. That would be a whole lotta nada.”

This time, I sighed with her. “That sucks, Holly. You’ve worked so hard to be independent and provide for little Jude . . .”

“My mom was right all along. From the time I was a little girl she always told me I was destined for not-so-great things. She predicted I’d be knocked up and on food stamps before my nineteenth birthday.” She paused, her voice lower than normal. “Knocked up before nineteen, food stamps a few years later. It feels supergreat knowing I’ve lived up to my mom’s expectations.”

“Oh, Hol,” I began, feeling useless from all the way across the country. I wanted to give her a big hug, make her a cup of tea, and figure this thing out. If she was here, I could do more than offer empty words.

And that was when an answer of the genius quality came to me.

“Move in with me.” The words were out a moment after the idea had popped in to my mind.

Holly was silent on the other end. So silent I had to check to make sure the call hadn’t failed.

“What?” was her response.

“You heard me,” I said in a hurry. I was getting more and more excited with the idea. “Pack up your stuff and fly out here. You can live with me rent free, and there are a ton of salons within walking distance where I’m sure you could work.”

More silence. “And little Jude?”

It took me a few moments to figure out what she was asking. “And there’s nothing little Jude can do to this place that could possibly leave it in worse condition than it already is.” I was surprised, and a little hurt, that she thought she’d have to ask about little Jude. They were a package deal. I wouldn’t invite one without the other.

“You’d do that?” she said, followed by a sniffle. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that stonewall Holly Reed was close to tears. “You’d really let a crazy, destructive caveman and me move in with you?”

“Hol,” I said, “I’ve been sharing this place with a crazy, destructive caveman every weekend for three years, until he got himself drafted and moved across the country. I’ve got a caveman vacancy that needs to be filled ASAP.”

The little caveman picked that time to scream, “I’ve got to go poo-poo, Mom!”

“You know how to go to the bathroom on your own,” Holly replied.

“I can’t get my pants off!” was little Jude’s reply. “I need your help!”

“I’ll be there in one minute!”

“See?” I said through my laughter. “He’ll fill Jude’s caveman shoes perfectly.”

“I love you so hard, Lucy,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Jude.”

“Please. You’re the toughest girl I know. You’re a fighter, Holly. You’d be just fine.”

“Boy, have I got you fooled,” she replied softly. So much like Jude. Long stretches of tough, interrupted by brief glimpses of vulnerability.

“You know, if you need any money to get you by . . .” I began, clearing my throat. “Your best friend just landed himself a pretty decent job, and I’ve got some money saved up, too. All you have to do is ask, Holly.”

She was silent for a while. Then she sniffled again. “Love. You. So. Hard,” she repeated. “And that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever offered, but I can’t take money from you guys, Lucy. I just can’t. Okay?”

I didn’t need an explanation. I got it.

“Okay,” I said, realizing Holly was as much like me as she was like Jude.

“Mom!”

“Holy bloodcurdling scream, caveman,” I said, making a mental note to start baking brownies for my neighbors now so I’d be in their good graces when the shrieking little boy moved in.

“I gotta go. I’ve got thirty seconds before he craps his pants,” she said, sounding like she was rushing across the room. “Call you tomorrow to work out the details?”

“Call me tonight after you put caveman to bed so you can be here tomorrow,” I said, popping off the couch. I needed to start preparing for new housemates.

Holly chuckled. “Someone have a bad case of the lonelies?”

I blew out a breath. “The worst case.”

“Don’t worry. Soon you’ll be done with school, married to one of the top-paid football players in the nation, and living in some house the size of this craptastic town.”

That statement, minus the marrying Jude part, made my stomach queasy.

SEVEN

Even though it felt like Wednesday night would never arrive, it was finally here. After a grueling afternoon session at the dance studio, I’d come back to the apartment and enjoyed tofu stir-fry for one. I was lonely. Morbidly so. I never thought I’d be the girl who couldn’t stand to be alone, but this was the first time I’d lived on my own. Alone. All alone.

I was one of those girls.

However, tonight was the last night I’d have to spend all by my lonesome, because I would be with Jude tomorrow night through the weekend, and then Holly and little Jude were flying in Monday afternoon.

In the course of four days, Holly had managed to score a sweet deal on airline tickets, find someone to buy her trailer back home, get packed up, apply to every last one of the salons in White Plains, and start looking for child care for little Jude.

I took a while with the dinner dishes, deciding what to do with myself for the next couple of hours. It was too early to go to bed, I’d scrubbed and sanitized every surface in the apartment three times this past week, and we were smack into summer rerun season.

I was heading toward the bathroom to take a long bubble bath when a knock sounded at the door. I jumped—it had been a while since I’d had a visitor.

“Coming!” I called out as I headed to the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and none of Jude’s or my friends lived close enough to make the drive this late at night just to say hi.

“Come on already! Put a robe on, and get one of your asses to the door!” a familiar voice yelled on the other side of the door. “I’m developing crow’s-feet out here.”

I was smiling when I opened the door. “Hey, India.”

“Hey, girl,” she said, propping a hand on her hip. “What took you so long?” She peered over my shoulder.

“He’s not here,” I said. “But if he was you would have been waiting a lot longer than you were. A lot longer.”

I matched my straight face to India’s, waiting for one of us to crack. She did first.

The corner of her mouth moved. “There’s my girl. Now get your bony ass over here and give me some sugar.”

Laughing, I wrapped my arms around her. She was in platforms, so she was freakishly tall—so tall her chin fit over my head.

“This is a surprise,” I said, motioning her into the apartment.

India sauntered in, peeking into the bedroom like she didn’t believe Jude wasn’t in there. “A good or a bad surprise?”

“When it comes to you, Indie,” I said, walking into the kitchen, “the best kind of surprise.”

She winked. “Yeah. I’m pretty great, aren’t I?”

“Like you and half the male population on the eastern seaboard aren’t aware of that,” I teased, filling the kettle with water. “You want some tea?”

“Only if you’ve got the kind I like.” Dropping her purse on the dining table, she took a seat.

I rolled my eyes as I thumbed through my tea stash. “Will this do, Your Highness?” I asked, waving the packet in the air.

India inspected it before nodding. “Perfect.”

I turned on a burner and set the kettle on it. “So predictable,” I chided.

***

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