Lucy Williams’ eyes slowly fluttered open. She scanned the darkness, identifying the furniture, paintings on the walls and modern ceiling fan above as the shadows took shape. Nothing but breathing penetrated the quiet room. After a couple crusty blinks, she finally registered where she was.
Taking a deep breath, the weight on her chest didn’t allow her lungs to completely expand. She rolled her head to the side on the pillow, putting her face only a couple inches from Dillon’s. She watched him take a couple steady breaths before she carefully, with an art of finesse, lifted his limp arm sprawled across her chest and placed it on his side. He grunted, but stayed asleep.
She mapped Dillon’s face, soaking in his long eyelashes that fanned atop his cheekbones. His dark, coarse hair that showed off his Italian heritage no longer stayed perfectly in place. She’d swipe a lock of his hair off his forehead, but she didn’t want to chance waking him up. Her eyes ran down the column of his neck and over his bare shoulders and chest.
With a slight twist of her body, she laid on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Now that his arm no longer draped over her chest, she expected the weight to feel removed, but instead her chest continued to tighten. Her heart began to beat wildly, pulsing in her ears. Maybe she was having heart palpitations or the beginning of an anxiety attack? She closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled at a slower pace out through her nose.
Who was she trying to deceive? Herself. A doctor would find nothing physically wrong with her. Yes, something was wrong with her heart and mind alright, but nothing a physician could fix.
Not only had she walked away from God, but for weeks she had been sleeping with a man. Not only was he a man that was not her husband, but a man she really wasn’t even in a relationship with. And to thicken the drama, he was technically her boss. Not that it mattered anyway. A sin was a sin. Growing up in the church had taught her that much.
Still lacking in oxygen she pushed off the silk sheets, slipped her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. Hunched over, she rested her elbows on her thighs and buried her face in her sweaty palms. From a glance through her slotted fingers, she spotted her leftover wine from the night before. With a slight tremble in her hand, she lifted the glass to her lips and let the liquid slide down her throat. She had been depending on alcohol too much lately to mask her problems and numb her pain, just like it coated her insides now.
How had she gotten to this point?
She knew better than to walk away from God and take the slippery slope that led her to a broken life next to Dillon in bed. It wasn’t like she woke up one morning a different person. The road began by taking footholds that slowly diverted her away from God. She started with the ceasing of Bible reading, which turned into a lack of communication through prayer. Then came her heart hardening to God’s truths, which turned into bad decisions that morphed into worse decisions.
This wasn’t the life she wanted.
So how did she fix it?
Dillon began snoring, and already fully awake, sleep wouldn’t come again, at least not here. The clock on the nightstand made her cringe, mocking her. It was only 4:07 in the morning. She didn’t have to be at the restaurant until ten-thirty for the daily staff meeting. It would be a long, weary day if she didn’t acquire more sleep than this.
Behind her, Dillon took another deep breath that rattled along his throat and cemented her decision to head home in hopes for another couple hours of sleep. Tiptoeing along the hardwood floor, Lucy picked up her clothing strewn along the way to the bathroom – like Hansel and Gretel had left breadcrumbs to find their way back home. She shook her head, embarrassed by how fuzzy the memories of last night’s activities were. Fully dressed now, she found her coat, purse and keys by the door and made her exit into the cold February night.
She parked outside her house and wrapped her coat tighter against her midsection to keep the cold out. Unlocking the front door, she about jumped out of her skin when she heard, “Hey, Luce.”
Lucy stopped short and gasped, putting her hand over her heart. This was the second time in a month this had happened. “Jules, you scared me. What are you doing up so early?” Her friend Jules had needed a place to stay after her house had caught on fire last month and she offered her spare bedroom. So far they had a good groove going – minus Jules scaring the life out of her.
“I’m on shift today, getting an early start to my day.” She picked up her Bible and placed it back down on her lap. An invisible dagger hit Lucy’s heart square on at the sight of the Bible and the sound of Jules’ question, “Are you just getting home?”
She turned to hang up her coat, giving her more time to come up with a cover story. “Oh, um, yeah. After working at the restaurant I headed over to a friend’s house from art class and we worked on our projects together. Time just got away from me.” The lie slipped out with no hesitation. She had become a pro at hiding her life.
Not only was Lucy a sous chef at the restaurant Riverside, but she had been pursuing her love of art on the side by taking a second job at the local art gallery. One night a week she worked the showroom at the art gallery. She would do the job for free if she had to, she so loved being up close to the painting and talking to the patrons as they came in. Lucy had also joined the art class they provided on the top floor twice a month. Dillon had seen her work and was impressed enough to offer her the chance to have her own first showing in the artist competition the gallery was having this coming summer.
“Is this project for the collection you’re building for the competition?”
“Yes, it’s my expressionism piece.” She’d go into more detail of the paint, the contrast in the lighting and the emotions behind the strokes, but she had learned early on that people didn’t understand the lingo. “My boss, Dillon, says it’s my best piece yet.” Lucy winced. She had to be careful. She had been mentioning Dillon more in conversations lately and didn’t want to tip anyone off. Their romance had to be hidden for now, and she hoped forever.
Lucy stepped into the room and found a seat on the couch across from Jules. Her shoulders slumped and her heart began pumping wildly again as Jules looked her over, concern etched in her emerald eyes. “That’s great. Derek and I are looking forward to attending your show and seeing how much all your hard work and time has paid off.”
Lucy’s resolve began to crumble. She was going to break. “Thanks. I appreciate it.” She had to change the subject. Leaning her head back against the headrest, she asked, “Enough about me. How’s the newly engaged couple doing?”
Last month Jules and her boyfriend – of like a week – Derek, had gotten engaged. It had been a whirlwind romance and even if she didn’t understand their urgent need to be married, she was still happy for them. Just because she was anti-marriage, or more like, anti-settling down, didn’t mean the rest of the world had to take on her phobia. Granted, Derek and Jules knew each other for months beforehand and had long ago fallen for each other before they made it official. But seriously. A week. She’d had the flu longer than that.
Jules beamed, a little too perky for Lucy this early in the morning. “We are doing great. Last night we finally decided on a date.”
Lucy almost fell off the couch. “Of this year?”
“Yes. Neither of us wants to wait. When you know, you know, right?”
Lucy didn’t think Jules truly wanted her marriage-is-a-trap-to-suck-the-life-and-dreams-out-of-you opinion. Once again, it wasn’t her life and she needed to be supportive. “Right.”
“We also finalized our wedding party.” Jules stood up, her long legs crossing the room with elegance. She sat down beside her on the couch. “I’d be honored if you’d stand up with me as a bridesmaid.”
A bridesmaid? That was like asking her to paint with her left hand. Or cook with ingredients from Walmart. Throughout the years Jules had been best friends with her sister, Ava, but in the last year they had also gotten close. And she would never want her cynical attitude to ruin any of the joy that radiated from Jules’ eyes.
She made it through Matt and Ava’s wedding last month, she could endure another one. Lucy reached over and gave Jules a tight hug. “I’d love to.”
“Great! I’ll let you know when we’ll go shopping for dresses. Ava is my matron of honor and then you, Lauren, and Claire will be my bridesmaids. If they agree. I haven’t asked Derek’s sisters yet.” She barely paused long enough to breathe. “I guess we should figure out our colors first.” She slapped a hand to her forehead. “Oh my goodness, there is so much to do in such little time.”
“You could always wait until next June.”
Jules giggled and pulled her long auburn hair over her shoulder, “Oh Luce, you’re so funny.”
Yeah. Hilarious. And totally serious.
Jules placed a hand on her arm. “Hey, if you aren’t doing anything tonight, Derek and I are having a few friends over for dinner. We’d love for you to join us.”
It had been a long time since she had done anything outside of work other than going to Dillon’s place. It would probably be good for her to go if she didn’t have to work. “Sorry, but I work tonight.”
“You should come over later.”
That could be a possibility. It’d be better than coming home to an empty house or ending up in Dillon’s bed. “Who are you having?”
“Matt and Ava, a couple co-workers of mine from the hospital, a guy from our small group,” she paused, “and Trevor Hudson.”
“That detective?” She could feel her face scrunch up, just picturing the arrogant man. Matt and Derek were good friends with him, in fact her whole family was, and she struggled to understand why. Back in December Ava had gone missing and Trevor had come on the case to help with searching for her. Lucy had tried to give her opinion and he had shot it down without any consideration. And she had been right. She didn’t plan to ever see him again, but if she did, she would remind him of that fact.
“Ah, I see your feelings are still the same for him.”
“Am I that transparent?”
“Like a piece of clear glass.”
Lucy smirked. “I probably won’t make it.”
“Seriously, you should give him another chance,” Jules encouraged. “I know your first impression of him wasn’t ideal, but he really is a great guy.”
“Thanks for the invite, but I’m sure I’ll be tired after work.”
“Well, if you change your mind and want to stop by later, chances are he won’t make it. He works a ridiculous amount of hours.”
Her refusal to attend didn’t really have anything to do with Trevor. Okay, maybe a little. What really tipped the scale was because it was hard for her to be around people and keep up her front. To watch everyone around her happy while her own life was falling apart. To keep her secrets hidden from the people she loved most.
Jules sat, watching her, as if she was trying to dissect everything Lucy had said. “Want some coffee? I can make us a pot and we can sit and chat. I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks. I miss you.”
She couldn’t let that happen. Having a little heart-to-heart with Jules would press her to share things. “No, thanks. Maybe another time? I’m going to try and get a little sleep before I have to get back to the restaurant.” Lucy stood, rubbing her red-lined eyes. Her body betrayed the weight of the world that rested on her shoulders.
“Hey, Luce.” Jules waited to continue until she had her full attention. “I’m praying for you.”
Lucy paused, forming a strained smile. Could Jules see straight through her? She was one of the most observant people she knew. If she wasn’t more careful, the lies and sin she had been hiding would become exposed. With a hand running through her dark pixie cut hair, she said, “Thanks.”
Stepping into her bedroom, she stopped at the edge of the bed. She needed a shower first, to wash off the filth that had nothing to do with dirt. Twenty minutes later she lay in bed, the quiet deafening. The last few months rushed through her mind as a knot formed in her throat.
Something had to change.
And she finally conceded with where it had to start.
“God,” she whispered, prayer feeling foreign on her lips, “I’m sorry I’ve walked away from you. Forgive me. I want to change and make my way back to you. Please, God, please…rescue my life.”