DISCLAIMER: Imagine Me & You and these characters (except for one) belong to Ol Parker... if they were mine, we'd already have a sequel.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: We know nothing about Luce's past, and I thought that we should. The idea for this story came to me while I was at work, and by the end of the day I had written it in my mind. It may be the only fanfic I ever write, so feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to J for the beta read.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Luce sighed as she watched Rachel pick out a dress.
"Do we HAVE to go?" she asked for the tenth time.
"Yes, I do. It's a reception for a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and I really have to be there. You don't have to go, though ." She let her words trail off as Luce sighed again.
"Fine, I'll go but I would really just rather stay home with you." She stuck out her lip in that pout that Rachel normally found adorable.
"Then get dressed, we don't want to be late." She swatted Luce's shoulder to prod her into movement.
They were casually mingling with some of Rachel's co-workers when a buzz went through the room. "She's here, she's here." The crowd surrounding the guest of honor was so large Luce and Rachel couldn't even see her.
"Well, get up there and get your meeting with the celebrity," Luce said into Rachel's ear. "Isn't that why we are here?"
"I will, I will. I'm just a little nervous. It's not every day that I get to meet a famous globe trotting prize winning journalist and I want to have an intelligent conversation with her."
"You're the most intelligent person I know. You have nothing to worry about. Now go."
Rachel smiled and started through the crowd then hurried back to Luce. "I don't have to go, she's coming this way."
"Well, how lovely. I'm glad to see she knows how to mingle too," Luce said with a bit more irritation than she felt. She just really wanted to get the whole thing over and take Rachel home and show her how much more fun staying home could be. She had turned her head to answer Beth's question when she heard a voice that sounded all too familiar. She turned her head and found herself staring into the bluest eyes she had ever seen.
Luce's eyes widened as it slowly dawned on her WHO the reception was honoring. Mentally kicking herself for not figuring it out sooner and staying home, she forced a smile as Rachel introduced herself.
"I'm Rachel, and it is such an honor to meet you," she said as she extended her hand.
"Rae Cross. And the pleasure is mine." Her voice was surprisingly soft. Rachel couldn't help but think, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a black suit and blue shirt, this woman is gorgeous then immediately felt a pang of guilt and rushed to introduce Luce.
Luce shook Rae's hand with little enthusiasm, and her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "It's good to see you again, Rae."
Rachel looked from one woman to the other. "Again?"
"Maybe you'd better handle this one, Luce." Rae leveled her gaze at Luce. "Elsewhere." Smiling slightly, Rae walked away.
"Yes, Luce, maybe you'd better." Rachel spoke softly but with the warning tone Luce had come to know so well.
"Let's go home. This is a long story."
The next day, Luce was tired and in a foul mood. She had to force herself to smile at the customers when all she wanted to do was go home and sit in front of the video game and work out her frustrations.
Rachel, behind her desk, didn't feel much better.
Luce had been up most of the night explaining how she and Rae Cross knew each other, and the explanation didn't exactly thrill Rachel. Of course, Rachel knew there had been other women before her, but she had never met one in person. And had hoped she wouldn't. But she knew at the same time the other women had helped lead Luce to her.
It just would have been a lot easier if she had been unattractive. But Rae was gorgeous and Rachel had to admit, when she was standing next to them, that she and Luce looked great together. Both had well defined facial features and Rae's dark hair, almost black, was a perfect contrast with Luce's red.
"Hey, where did you go last night?" Beth asked, snapping Rachel out of her thoughts. "You two just sort of disappeared. Did you get to meet our guest?"
Rachel scowled. "Oh, I certainly did, but it turns out Luce met her first."
"What?" Beth looked puzzled. "She met her first last night? I thought you two were always glued together."
"No, not last night. A few years ago. She and Luce used to be lovers."
"Go on! You're kidding, right? Your Luce? And Rae Cross? Wow. I don't even know what to say to that."
"Well, it was over a long time ago, but Luce was almost upset by seeing her and she wouldn't tell me why. That's what bothers me more than the fact they were involved, that Luce won't talk about it. I didn't think we had any secrets from each other."
"I'm sure she will tell you. It had to be kind of a shock for her, don't you think, seeing Rae unexpectedly like that?" Beth smiled at her friend.
"I know it was. Actually if I didn't know better I'd think Rae was just as startled to see Luce as Luce was to see her." Rachel thought back to the expression on the journalist's face when Luce had turned around.
"You'll work it out. I have faith in you two. You're practically the only thing I do have faith in these days." Beth patted Rachel's shoulder and walked away.
"I hope so." Rachel muttered.
The bell on the door and the soft footsteps told Luce that she had another customer. Laying her paperwork down, she opened the door to the back room and spotted a black leather jacket bending over a vase of roses.
"Can I help you?" she asked. "Looking for anything in particular?"
The customer straightened up and grinned at her. "Yes, and I just found it."
"Rae, what are you doing here?"
Rae looked around. "Where's that beautiful girl that was with you last night? She's your-"
"Girlfriend. Wife. Soul mate. Everything."
Rae winced slightly and her emotions flickered across her face.
"Luce, I had to see you. We didn't handle ourselves very well last night. And I'm sure you had it much tougher than me, having to explain US to HER." Rae took a deep breath.
"It wasn't easy, but I managed." Luce frowned slightly when she thought of just how not easy it had been.
Rae pursed her lips and slowly nodded her head. What made her such a good journalist was the ability to read people, read what they weren't saying, and it was coming in handy now. Luce was certainly not going to give her details. She felt somewhat bad, knowing they probably had a long and sleepless night, and she was partially responsible.
"So how about dinner?" The words came out before she could stop them.
"Dinner? You can't be serious."
"I am. And bring Rachel. I want to really meet and get to know the woman that captured your heart and put that look in your eyes." Rae stared at the ground and smiled sadly before looking back at Luce. "God knows I wanted it to be me, but that was never going to happen, was it?"
"Look, here's where I'm staying." She wrote a number on a scrap of paper. "I'm only going to be here a few days. Go home and talk it over with Rachel. But I really hope you call." She turned on her heel and left the shop before Luce had a chance to answer.
"Luce, I think it's nice she asked. WHY don't you want to go to dinner with her?"
"Oh, I don't know why I wouldn't want to have dinner with my ex and my wife. Maybe because it might be a little uncomfortable for me?"
"But Luce. I really want to go." At the look of surprise in Luce's green eyes Rachel smiled. "Maybe I want to get to know the woman who was stupid enough to let you go." She chuckled. "And thank her for it."
"I'm sure there's some people out there that would think I am the stupid one, letting a famous journalist get away from me."
"In that case, thank you for being stupid. Now can we go?"
Luce picked up the phone, looking like she was planning her own execution, and dialed the numbers neatly printed on the paper.
"Rae? We'll see you tomorrow night. Where and when?"
They actually had a nice time, Luce had to admit. Rae was at her most charming, which meant her most disarming, and she and Rachel had talked at some length about writing and careers and travel. Rachel had mentioned that her ex-husband was now traveling to write guides to hot party spots all over the world, and Rae had given her a card.
"Tell him to call me if he needs anything. I have a few connections here and there," she said. Luce snorted. Rae looked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Problem?"
"No, you just say that so casually. 'I have a few connections.' Of course you do, all over the world."
"And there's no point in having them if they aren't useful." She turned her eyes to Rachel. "Tell him to call."
"I will. Thank you so much. I'm sure he will appreciate it. He's just starting out and it's been kind of tough on him."
"Glad to help. I remember when I was new, too, and would've loved to have some help from anyone. I guess that's why I do so much now to give back to students and anyone who really loves writing."
Rachel glanced at her watch. "Oh, dear, it's later than I thought. We really have to go. But I have had a wonderful time. Thank you for the invitation, Rae. It was very nice of you to take us to dinner like this."
She and Rae stood up as Luce continued to sit. Rachel didn't know whether to shake Rae's hand or hug her, although she was pretty sure Luce wouldn't like the hugging part. Making up her mind, she stepped around the table and put her arms around the dark haired woman anyway. Rae's face registered surprise then she returned the hug, lightly, as Luce frowned at them.
Bending over so her lips were level with Luce's ear, she whispered, "Don't be jealous. Good night, Luce." Straightening up, she smiled and walked out of the dining room. Luce's eyes followed her as she left, and her mind flashed back to the times that that voice would whisper in her ear just as she fell asleep, usually after making love
"Luce." Rachel's voice brought her back. "Stop daydreaming about old flames." Luce blushed.
Rachel chortled. The look on Luce's face was trying so hard to convince her, but she had seen the look as Rae left the room. Not that she was worried. She was one of the lucky ones, she told herself. She knew where her partner was every night, and that was next to her, in their bed.
"So how was your dinner with the famous writer?" Beth asked. She checked her reflection in the mirror, smoothing back a stray hair.
"It was fabulous. She's brilliant, charming, and gorgeous," Rachel answered with a smile. "She even offered to help Heck if he needed anything."
"And how was Luce?"
"Well, she wasn't too thrilled at first, but she got over that. I think she still has some feelings for Rae even if she won't admit it. But I can't blame her. I'd probably feel the same way."
"You're certainly open-minded about it."
"Why shouldn't I be? I have nothing to worry about. Besides, Rae is leaving today. Who knows when or if she will be back here. We had a nice dinner and I got to talk to a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. End of story."
Rachel shook her head. She loved Beth but sometimes she could strangle her, too.
When she got back to her desk Zina smiled and motioned with her head. "You've got a visitor, Rachel."
Rachel looked up to see Rae Cross waiting for her, leaning against a desk with her hands in her pockets. Beth smirked. "I won't tell Luce if you don't."
"Oh, stop it." She walked over to Rae and smiled. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes. You can answer me honestly when I ask this question."
"All right." Rachel wondered where this was leading. Rae knew she and Luce were quite happily together, so it wasn't for a date.
"Are you and Luce okay? With me showing up like this? It was completely accidental, but still I just feel like there's something not right." She frowned. "I'm leaving later today and I just don't want there to be any problems between you two."
Rachel was touched by the other woman's concern.
"We're fine. Luce was a little uneasy at first, but she's okay now. I think having dinner together was the best thing we could have done."
Rae sighed. The relief was evident in her voice as she said, "I'm glad to hear that."
She stepped closer to Rachel and pulled her into a hug. Rachel returned it, breathing in the scent of leather and soap and a slightly woodsy cologne. No wonder Luce loved her, she thought. How could anyone not?
Rae broke the embrace first, much to Rachel's embarrassment. "I hate to hug and run, but I have a plane to catch. Duty calls, you know."
Rachel smiled brightly. "When will you be back? I hope we see you."
"I don't know exactly, but you will see me. Count on it." Rae winked at her and was gone.
Rachel turned to see two highly amused co-workers.
She pointed her finger at them. "Not a word."
"Of course not." Zina put her index finger in front of her lips.
"But she certainly is sexy in a leather jacketed sort of way, isn't she?" Beth couldn't let it go.
"Maybe you should have gone out with her then, Beth." Rachel's exasperation was reaching its peak.
Beth looked thoughtful for a moment. "I could think of worse things."
Rachel opened the door to their flat. She knew Luce was already here, she could smell something cooking on the stove, and she had to smile when she thought about how hard Luce was trying to be domestic for her. But sometimes her cooking projects didn't turn out much better than the terrible dinner Heck had cooked the night she had invited Luce to dinner. Invited Luce so she could fall for Coop and Rachel had ended up falling for her instead. She shook her head. How many twists life could throw at a person, she thought.
Luce popped around the corner. "Hi baby." She gave Rachel a long and thorough kiss.
"Well. What was that for?"
"Do I need a reason to kiss my beautiful wife?"
"Like that, yes you do." Rachel waved her hand in the air. "So get on with it. What have you done? Or how much did you spend?"
Luce grinned from ear to ear. "I haven't done anything. But I had a visitor today."
"Rae came by the shop. She was worried about us." Luce shrugged one shoulder dismissively. "I told her everything was fine."
"She must not have believed you."
"What do you mean?"
"She came to see me too. Caused quite a stir amongst my nosy co-workers. I think some of them actually wanted to ask her for her autograph." Rachel laughed when she remembered the looks on the faces of the others in the office when Rae Cross went striding out with that confident swagger.
"I'll bet you took some teasing, too." Luce barely contained the amusement she felt.
"Only from Beth." Rachel's eyes twinkled. "But I got Beth to admit she would have gone out on a date with her."
The water Luce was drinking sprayed across the kitchen. "What did you say?"
"Well, Beth said she thought she was sexy in a leather jacket sort of way, and I told her maybe she should have gone out with her, and then Beth said-" Rachel giggled, "'I could think of worse things.'"
Now Luce was laughing too. "Oh, no."
Rachel sniffed. "What smells so good?"
"New recipe. Your ex husband has a quite good collection. I just hope it turns out."
They had a surprisingly tasty dinner, followed by a little television, and fell asleep in each other's arms.
A year later
Rachel made cooing noises at the baby in the crib and turned to smile at Luce. "I still can't believe we have a daughter. Can you? We're parents now."
Luce bent over and beamed with pride at the now sleeping infant. "She's as beautiful as her mom," she said softly.
"Her moms." Rachel wrapped her arm in Luce's. "She's yours too, you know."
"Yes, but I don't think I did as much as you did." Luce smirked. "I love you, Rach, but I'm glad it was you instead of me."
Rachel squeezed her arm.
"Ow! That hurt just a little. Isn't motherhood supposed to mellow you?"
"You wish." Rachel cocked her head. "Or maybe not."
The baby shifted and made a small noise. "Shh, Lily Rae. We're right here. We'll always be right here," Rachel whispered.
The baby's name had been a sticking point for a while. Rachel was stubbornly insistent on the middle name Rae. Claiming she "just liked the way the names sounded," she slowly wore Luce down until she agreed.
Of course, telling their mothers the name they had chosen was a bit more difficult. Tessa couldn't understand why on earth Rachel would want to name her baby after Luce's ex-lover. Ella was more understanding, saying she "liked the name, and it didn't really matter what her grandchild was named," she was just "thrilled to have one on the way."
H didn't care as long as it wasn't her name.
"When was the last time you heard from Rae?" Rachel asked Luce as they sat on the sofa.
Luce glanced over at her sleeping daughter. "I don't know. It's been a while, I guess. About six weeks, two months, something like that. But you know sometimes where she goes she can't always write or call."
"I know, but it just seems strange that it's been so long. She doesn't even know we named the baby after her."
Luce looked thoughtful. "She was pretty faithful about making sure we knew where she was, wasn't she?" She looked around the room at the little trinkets and gifts that had been sent from all over the world, and smiled. Her ex had become a good friend, something she hadn't thought possible. "Maybe you could find out?"
"I guess I could make a few calls tomorrow. No promises though. My contacts can only do so much." A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.
"Whatever you- and they- can do," Luce answered. She stood up and yawned. "It's past my bedtime. Are you coming?"
"In a few minutes." Rachel kissed her as she walked by.
"Don't be too long." Luce raised one eyebrow at her.
Rachel walked home, barely feeling the ground under her feet. She suddenly felt very tired and very drained. She opened the door, hoping she was home first. She needed some time to compose herself before facing Luce.
"Luce? Are you here?" Silence. Blissful silence. She had taken the baby to her parents, and they were so excited to have a grandparent's night they didn't even notice her mind was a million miles away.
She tossed her purse on a chair, kicked off her shoes and poured herself a glass of wine. She was going to need it.
She was halfway through the glass and thinking about another one when she heard keys rattling at the front door. "It's open, I just got home," she called.
Luce came bounding into the room. "Well? Did you call anyone? Did you find her?"
Rachel took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Yes, I made some calls."
"And?" Luce wasn't going to stop.
Rachel drained her glass. "Come sit with me." She took Luce's hand and led her to the sofa.
Luce looked at her with a question in her eyes.
Rachel slid off of the sofa and knelt in front of Luce. Taking both of Luce's hands in hers, she drew in her breath to steady herself. Willing her voice not to break, she said softly, "I found out why we haven't heard from Rae, Luce." She clenched and unclenched her teeth. By now Luce was looking at her with an expression of dread.
"I'm so sorry, baby. She was out on an assignment Rae was killed a little over a month ago. A mine. There's nothing anyone could have done."
Luce sat for a minute, trying to process the words she had just heard. A numbness had come over her when Rachel took her hands, and now she knew why. She closed her eyes as a wave of pain went over her. She opened them and looked at Rachel, who had tears in her eyes.
"Are you sure? I mean, sometimes out in the middle of nowhere, mistakes get made "
Rachel shook her head sadly. "It's no mistake. I wish it were, but it's not."
Twin tears escaped Luce's eyes. Rachel moved up to sit next to her as she collapsed against Rachel's shoulder and began to sob. "Oh God," she cried. "Why did it have to be her? Why now?"
The emotions Rachel had held back all day, since she got the news, gave way. Her own tears flowing, Rachel smoothed her hair and kissed the top of Luce's head. Rocking her gently, she whispered over and over, "I'm sorry."
Luce cried in Rachel's arms all night. The next morning Rachel arranged for Ella to watch Flowered Up, since Luce was in no shape to do anything. Rachel called in sick so she could stay with her.
"You should go to work." Luce sniffled.
"I don't want to leave you." Rachel looked at Luce with concern in her eyes.
"I'll be all right. Really, you should go. One of us has to work. We have a baby to support now."
Rachel immediately dialed her parents, who were thrilled to keep their grandchild for the day. Without explaining too much on the phone, she told them what had happened.
"Oh no," Tessa exclaimed. "That's awful. How is Luce taking this?"
"Not well. She cried all night. I'm a little worried about her but she is insisting I go to work."
"Well, do you think you should?"
"I don't know. She claims she will be all right but she looks terrible."
"If someone stops over to check on her, will that be fine?"
Rachel breathed a sigh of relief. "I would certainly feel better."
"Then it's settled. You go to work and we will take care of the rest."
The parents got together and talked Edie into checking on Luce. It didn't take much convincing, though. She'd known Luce long enough to remember the relationship with Rae, and knew Luce had to be taking it hard. Luce and Rae had been deeply in love, but there was just one thing they couldn't agree on. That one thing was what tore their relationship apart.
Edie was still sitting with Luce when Rachel got home. Motioning Edie into the hall, "How is she?" Rachel asked quietly.
"I don't think I've ever seen her like this before. You better take good care of yourself, Barbie. I don't know if she'd make it if something happened to you." Edie was completely serious.
"Thank you for staying with her, Edie. It means a lot."
"No problem. Call if you need anything else. See ya, Barbie." She went back into the living room and kissed Luce's cheek. "Call me if you need me."
Luce raised red-rimmed eyes. "Thank you."
Rachel gave Edie a hug and closed the door. She walked in and sat down next to Luce.
"What are you doing?" She shook her head. "Do you think Rae would want you to be like this?"
"Probably not." Luce looked at Rachel. "Why didn't we know? Why didn't we know when- it happened?"
Rachel looked sad. "Honey, she was an American journalist. An American journalist dying in the Middle East isn't going to be headlines here. And we don't watch the news or read the paper every day. Maybe if we had been watching on the right day- but maybe not."
"She was a Pulitzer winner. Shouldn't that have made it news?" Luce was stubborn.
"Yes, across the pond. But not here. A lot of Pulitzer winners have died. Even that isn't enough to be newsworthy any more."
"It's just not fair." Luce started to cry again.
"I know, baby. I know." Rachel paused. She had an item in her possession that she thought Luce should see, but she wasn't sure if Luce could handle it. She argued silently with herself until she finally said, "I have something you might want to see later."
Kicking herself for ever mentioning it, she said, "I have a news clip from the Middle East."
"Yes." Rachel tried to figure out how she could just show part of it to Luce. She knew Luce wouldn't want to see the ending.
"Luce, I don't know. It's-"
"Show me. Now."
Rachel sighed and went to get the disk from its hiding place. She hadn't wanted Luce to find it and play it when she was alone. Slipping it into the slot, she pressed play on the remote and sat next to Luce, ready to catch her, hold her, whatever she needed to do.
The clip seemed like a documentary, with the journalists all sitting around in a tent, eating, laughing and talking. A smiling Rae appeared on the screen and Luce felt her heart twist. She drew in a long shuddering breath and felt Rachel's arm around her. She rubbed her hands over her face and willed herself to keep watching.
Now the journalists were packing to go out on their assignments. Silent tears ran down Luce's cheeks as she realized she was watching the last moments of some of these people's lives. Something they didn't know, how else would they be able to laugh and tease each other? They all knew the risks, but
The video continued inside Rae's vehicle. She looked so happy, so alive, Luce thought.
Suddenly the video was filled with the sound of an explosion. The riders inside the armored vehicle all looked at each other and shrugged as if to say, "so what? It can't hurt us." Another explosion. Then the angle of view changed. Flipped over. Sounds of screaming and shouting.
Luce's fingers dug into Rachel's arm. "Turn it off. Turn it off. Turn it off." Rachel pushed the stop button as Luce began sobbing again. "This isn't a movie. I know what happens next."
Her voice rose to a wail. "Oh God, I just watched her die."
"No," Rachel said softly. She knew all of the details, but rightly concluded Luce would not be able to hear them. "It didn't happen then."
"But- when- how?"
"No." Rachel paused. "She made it out of the armored car." Deep breath. "She was killed trying to save another journalist. He was wandering around, disoriented, and was heading for what she knew was a minefield. She ran to stop him "
"Please. Don't say any more. It's bad enough knowing she's not coming back." A fresh sob escaped. "I don't want to know enough to be able to picture how it happened."
Rachel wrapped her arms around Luce as they slid to the floor. "She saved him. She died a hero, Luce. A real hero. Her little namesake is going to have a lot to be proud of."
Luce smiled through her tears. "Yes, she will."
They sat that way for hours, until Rachel suggested they go to bed. Luce nodded her agreement, too tired to speak, and followed Rachel to the bedroom. She stood quietly as Rachel undressed her.
"Lay down and close your eyes, baby. I'll be there in a minute." Luce slowly climbed into bed and stared up at the ceiling. It was almost worse to close her eyes, the instant she did scenes started playing like a movie. And the ending was always the same. Blackness and death.
Rachel slipped under the covers and turned out the light. Luce immediately turned and reached for her, clinging to her as if she would never let go. Rachel smiled sadly into the darkness, wondering just who Luce was holding at that moment.
The next morning, Rachel had made up her mind to find out more about Luce and Rae's relationship, whether she really wanted to know or not. Somehow she felt that the only way to help Luce was to understand that part of her past.
She picked up the phone and dialed a beginning-to-be-familiar number.
"Edie? It's Rachel. We need to talk."
Edie had agreed to meet her although she wasn't fond of the idea. But, as Rachel explained, if it would help her help Luce, she had to try.
Rachel sat down across from Edie and ordered a glass of wine. Edie's pint was untouched so far, leaving Rachel to wonder if she had waited for her to start drinking, or she really didn't want it and just ordered it out of habit.
"Ok, Edie. I need to know about Luce and Rae. I know you know, so tell me. I want to know about their relationship, how they were, what happened when they split. Everything. I want to know the truth."
Edie looked into the ale as if she were looking for an answer. "Everything? Everything everything? The truth everything?"
"The truth." Rachel's voice was soft but firm. "Now. Please."
"Well, they were together a little over a year."
"Were they in love?"
Edie nodded slowly. "Yeah. Very much. Not as intense as you two- I've never seen anything like that- but they were in love, yeah. Almost inseparable."
"Then what happened? Why did they leave each other?"
Edie sighed heavily. "Rae got a chance at an assignment. A dandy. She was going to be gone for a while and Luce didn't want her to go. She wanted Luce to go with her. They fought and fought about it. I think it's the only thing they did fight about while they were together. Finally Rae just said, 'I have to do this Luce, it's my career,' and she took the assignment and left."
Rachel let out a puff of breath and rolled the stem of her wine glass between her fingers. "How did Luce handle that?"
"She wasn't real understanding at first. She said Rae abandoned her. Of course she didn't really mean that, she knew better, but she was hurt. She saw it as Rae choosing her work and career over her." Edie paused and traced designs in the moisture on her pint glass.
"What happened next?"
"Well, it turned out that the assignment was the best thing Rae could have done. It's the one that won her the Pulitzer Prize." She sighed. "Luce didn't take that news well either. When she found out the assignment- story- that won the Pulitzer was the one Rae almost didn't take because she didn't want Rae to go, she just withdrew. Didn't want to go anywhere or do anything. And when Rae came back-"
"Rae came back?"
"She sure did. Came back for Luce. But Luce felt so guilty over what Rae had almost given up because of her, she wouldn't even return her calls. Rae went to the shop, and Luce locked herself in the back room and wouldn't come out. Rae tried hard, she did, for two weeks, but Luce still refused to see her. Finally Rae came to see me. Told me what had happened before she left and that Luce wouldn't even see her now. Asked me what she had done wrong."
"She blamed herself?"
Edie nodded, slowly. "She didn't know what else to think. She knew that she had made a choice, and while it had paid off in a big way, she still felt empty. Like something was missing. She really wanted Luce to be there to share in her award, her success, but Luce just couldn't move past her own guilt."
"She must have really loved her to take it that hard."
A big sigh. "She did. Again- not the same fate and destiny sort of way that you two have, but if it wasn't for that, they probably would've still been together." Edie frowned. "At least until you two met." She moved her glass and started playing with the coaster. "Rae finally gave up. It broke her heart, but she realized things weren't going to be the way they were. She didn't want to leave on bad terms and have things unsettled with Luce again, but she didn't have a choice. The night of your work party was the first time they had seen each other since then. That's why they both acted so odd."
Rachel nodded, finally understanding a little better. "They both did have 'that look.'"
"I talked to Luce about it. She said all she wanted to do was run as far as she could. Then you insisted on having dinner with Rae. She wasn't thrilled about that, but she would do anything for you." Edie smiled at the memory of Luce, pacing in frustration as she told Edie about the dinner plans. "You never saw Rae after that?"
"No. The next day was the last time we saw her. She paid each of us a visit to make sure that seeing her hadn't caused any problems between us. Wherever she went, she sent little gifts, especially after we told her we were having a baby. Lily Rae has things from all over the world that no one else will have."
Edie sat and waited while Rachel stared at her hands. "She never even knew we named our baby after her. We were waiting for her to come back to tell her. Now I wish I had, that last time she called. At least then she would have known."
Edie leveled her gaze at Rachel. "Be honest with me, Barbie. How are you and Luce?"
"We've been better," Rachel admitted softly. "But we will work it out. This is just a really tough thing to get through. Now that I know a little about the past, I think I can help Luce deal with the future."
"I sure hope so, Barbie. I sure hope so."
Rachel paused at the door to the flat before unlocking it. She heard the TV which meant Luce was home already. Rachel considered it a victory that she had persuaded Luce to go back to the shop before she got too far behind on orders. Ella and Edie had taken turns running Flowered Up but only Luce could do the actual arrangements. Rachel was also hoping getting Luce to go back to work would be therapy for her.
It had been two weeks since Rachel had delivered the news to Luce that Rae was dead. Two weeks of near-silence and sniffles in the night. There was something hurting Luce far more than just Rae's death, but Rachel now believed she knew what that was. She didn't know if she would be able to fix it, but at least she had what she needed to try.
Rachel walked down the hall to the living room. Dropping her purse on a chair, she sat down on the sofa and put Luce's legs across her lap. One hand idly running the length of Luce's calf, she said, "I need to talk to you about something, honey."
Luce turned off the TV and faced her.
"No, sit up. I really need to talk to you and this is serious. And I can't do it with you all sprawled out like that."
Luce pulled herself into a sitting position and looked expectantly at Rachel. "Ok. I knew this was coming. The pull yourself together talk."
"Wrong. It's not that talk at all." Luce's eyebrows rose in a flash of surprise. Rachel took one single deep breath. She knew Luce was going to be unhappy about the meeting with Edie. Very unhappy. But it was something she had to do, and Luce would just have to understand that.
"I saw Edie today."
"Oh? Shopping? Walking down the street? What?"
"I called her to meet me. She didn't want to but she did it for you, so don't get mad at her. There were a few things I needed to ask her."
Luce sat back with a look of understanding. Rachel had gone to Edie for information about her and Rae's relationship. She just hoped-
"What kind of things? About what?"
"You and Rae. You aren't exactly talkative about the two of you and I wanted to know well, what you wouldn't tell me. So I went to the expert. I knew if anyone would be able to tell me it would be Edie."
Luce frowned and closed her eyes. "What did she tell you?"
"Everything. Everything. The truth. She answered my questions. Don't be angry at her," Rachel repeated.
Taking one of Luce's hands in her own, she smiled. "I'm glad you loved her, Luce. I can see why you would have. And I'm sorry you left each other."
At Luce's look of shock, she held up a hand and continued. "I'm selfishly not sorry you split up, but for the way it happened. I think I understand now, Luce. You've been bothered by guilt ever since. I think you wanted to tell her you were sorry for the way things happened, but you just couldn't. Then we found out she was killed, and you realized you never will tell her. It's too late." Luce was watching her with serious eyes. "And you feel guilty about that too. That you had the chance, several, to have that discussion with her and you didn't do it."
Luce looked like she was about to speak but Rachel hurried to continue before she could.
"But I don't think you should carry this any more, Luce. You have to let it go. For your sake. For mine. For our daughter's. Even for Rae's."
"Please hear me out, Luce. You know Rae wouldn't want you to be in pain over this. Not any more. You have to find some way to forgive yourself. For what it's worth, I think Rae had."
"What do you mean? Did she say something?"
"No. She didn't have to. She invited us to dinner when she could've just as easily not seen us again. Then she made a special point to make sure we were okay. She called when she could and sent all these presents, especially for the baby. Does that sound like someone with any issues?"
Luce looked at her hands. "No," she said softly. "It doesn't."
"Luce, baby, if Rae hadn't forgiven the past she wouldn't have become a part of our present. That was her choice too. I believe she valued having you in her life. Admit it, you liked having her back in yours too."
Luce nodded. "I did. I didn't want to say anything, but I really started to look forward to her packages. Seeing where in the world she was then. And being able to be her friend after all we-" she sighed. "After all that happened." She closed her eyes for a second. "I should have told her. I should have had the talk with her. But part of me was so afraid that if I brought it up, mentioned our past, it might ruin things. I wasn't willing to do that."
"Honey, I don't blame you for that. It's kind of nice for me, having Heck still in my life as my friend. When someone is important to you, you like having them around. So I understand how you felt. It doesn't make our relationship any less than it is. If anything, it strengthens it. And I love you with all of my heart. More than I realized it was possible for me to love."
"Oh, Rach. I want to stop feeling like this. I want to. But I need help." Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "Will you help me?"
Rachel wrapped her arms around her and held her as tightly as she could. "Honey, you know I'll do anything for you."
The day of the party started out cold and dreary. Luce stared out of the window, sulking at the weather, silently cursing it. Rae, if you can hear me, it sure would be nice if it warmed up a little. We don't want Lily Rae catching a cold at her first big party.
She smiled to herself at that. She found herself talking to Rae quite often, at Rachel's suggestion. It usually made her feel better, too. Rachel had explained to her, 'Rae is a part of your heart, Luce. That didn't stop when she died. I wouldn't want it to, either. You shouldn't forget her or stop loving her just because she's gone.'
It had taken Luce a while to fully embrace the fact that Rachel wanted her to remember Rae. What a special woman she had found, she thought. Not every woman would encourage her to think of and talk to her ex whenever she felt like it.
"Luce? It's almost time. Don't you have to go by the shop?" Rachel walked out of the bedroom attempting to fasten her necklace.
Luce held out her hand and motioned for Rachel to turn around. She put the necklace on Rachel and kissed the bare spot on the back of her neck. Rachel turned around in Luce's arms and smiled. "You start that and we'll be late to our own party. How would that look?"
"Like we found something else to do," Luce said with a smirk.
"Stop it. This is our daughter's day, not ours." Rachel forced a scowl.
"You're right. Sorry. I guess I'll just have to be good."
"At least until we get back home. Then you can be very bad."
"Go get the flowers." Rachel turned Luce around, swatted her on the rear, and pushed her towards the door.
Luce turned the arrangement around and around. There was something different, she knew it, she just couldn't figure it out. And she had put this one together so carefully, to be so perfect, the best she had ever done. Her daughter deserved no less.
"Well, I guess I'll have to find the problem when I get to the party, won't I? Unless you'd like to tell me what's different about you," she said to the flowers.
All of their friends were there to celebrate Lily Rae. "Everyone came," Luce said, shaking her head. "Even Heck."
"Hey, it's not every day we throw a bash like this. We are lucky the sun came out. Just imagine what her first birthday party is going to be like," Rachel smiled.
"Honey, would you look at these flowers? There's something about them that's not right and I can't seem to find it. It's going to bother me until I do."
Rachel turned the flowers around and around. "The only thing I can see is one thing out of balance."
Luce's eyebrows shot up. "Out of balance? Impossible. I made sure this was perfect "
"You asked, and I did my best. I just think this one single flower is odd because all of the others have at least one mate."
"Single flower? What single flower?"
Rachel pointed. "That one, there."
Luce covered her mouth. "How did I not notice that? Oh, my God."
"Luce? Is something wrong?"
Luce had gone pale. "No. Not wrong, but I think someone is trying to tell us something."
"What do you mean?"
Luce gently touched the single flower. "It's a blue violet."
"Meaning?" Rachel knew Luce would know.
"It's a message. One of the meanings of the blue violet is watchfulness."
Rachel's eyes widened. "Do you mean "
"I mean, I think Rae put this there. I know it sounds crazy, but " Luce shook her head at the thought. "I didn't. I don't even have any in the shop right now. I believe she is trying to tell us that she's going to be watching over our daughter."
"Would you think I was crazy if I said that makes me feel good?"
The corner of Luce's mouth turned up. "No. It gives me that feeling too. It's funny, Rachel, but for the first time since we found out Rae died, I feel at peace. Like I know things really will be okay." She suddenly felt a breeze on her cheek, just a little wisp, then it was gone. "Did you feel that?"
"Nothing." Luce put her hand to her cheek, raised her eyes, and smiled. "Let's go join our guests."
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