We all have these in our real lives and we seem to love them in our romantic fiction lives too. We want that moment when there are just no answers. Oh sure, in romance we know it’s all going to work out in the end, but, we don’t know anything like that in real life and more often than not, they don’t work out. At least, that was my experience…
I’m picking a scene from Stick Shift. It’s between a secondary character and the heroine, Lily. There’s tension and strife and while both want what’s best for the hero, Cam, no one is really sure it’s all going to work out…least of all, Lily.
Lily walked into the bathroom and was immediately cloaked in steam. The man took longer, hotter showers than any woman she knew. She set a cup of coffee beside the sink. “There’s someone at the door, Cam.”
“I don’t know. The doorbell rang as I was coming upstairs. I didn’t know if I should answer it or not.”
“Yeah, just make sure it isn’t press of any kind. It shouldn’t be, but…I’ll be down in a minute.”
If she didn’t know better, she’d swear their relationship was a scene right out of Relationships, Inc., one of those stupid reality shows she couldn’t stand. They were casual, acting as though they weren’t merely lovers. They talked; they carried on domestic situations with breakfast, reading the paper, making love until noon, talking politics. It was all rather surreal, and she seriously didn’t know what to make of it.
She looked out the peephole, and a relaxed smile crossed her face. “Ronnie. Hi,” she said after opening the door to him.
“Afternoon, Lily. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Her smile faltered a little at the look on his face, the tensing of his shoulders, the strain of his own smile. No, he hadn’t expected her, and she was suddenly even more uncertain about things. Did he know something she didn’t? “Come on in. Cam said he’d be down in a minute.”
She closed the door behind him. “Would you like some coffee? I just made a fresh pot.”
He followed her as they went to the kitchen. She busied herself with coffee mugs and creamer. He simply watched her, watched every move she made. The easy manner from the night before and from all other meetings with him was gone. In its place was tension.
She placed the mug in front of him at the end of the counter, then turned and stared out at the backyard. Well, it would have been a backyard. Instead, though, it was the tee box of the sixteenth hole on a golf course. She actually enjoyed the mornings she’d been at Cam’s, watching group after group tee off. She’d sit out on the deck, or they’d sit out there and talk as though they were any other normal couple and not some unknown woman and a famous, hot, young race car driver.
She had a feeling her surreal reality was about to come to an end.
Ronnie cleared his throat behind her. “How is he today?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “He’s fine.”
“Any lingering effects from the crash?”
“No, not that I can tell.”
“Has he talked about it at all?”
“He did some last night and a little this morning.” She moved to the sink and placed the midnight-snack dishes in the dishwasher. They’d gotten up around two in the morning for grilled cheese and milk. “What’s wrong, Ronnie?”
“I was worried about him when he didn’t show up in the shop this morning. He usually comes in to look at the car, see what news there is.”
“Lily, look, I like you a lot. We all do. You’ve made that boy smile more than anyone or anything else in a long while.”
“But?” She knew there was a “but.” There had to be. The soft, placating tone of Ronnie’s voice, the grim set of his mouth, the way he wouldn’t really look at her when he talked — there had to be a “but” coming.
“He’s distracted. He’s never distracted. He wasn’t focused last night like he should have been.”
“The wreck wasn’t his fault.”
“No, it wasn’t. It might have been avoided though, if he’d been paying more attention to what was going on on the track rather than asking me how you were doing and if you were enjoying yourself.”
Heat bloomed in her cheeks. She hadn’t heard that on the radio. True, she’d been kind of out of it herself, lost in thought, but she felt sure she’d have remembered or tuned in had she heard her name. “I’m sorry, Ronnie. I didn’t realize.”
“I know you didn’t, and I can’t put this solely on your shoulders. All this time he’s been spending with you makes me think his head isn’t in the right place. He’s running for a championship, and he’s not going to get it if he continues to be distracted.”
“Are you asking me to stop seeing him?” She stopped all her fiddling and faced the weathered and seasoned crew chief. She knew Cam thought of him as a second father, and she would hate to be the cause of any strife between them. She didn’t want to know the answer to the question she hadn’t wanted to ask.
“No. I’m just saying that maybe it would be better for him — and for the team — if you and he didn’t spend quite so much time together.”
“He’s asked me to come to California with him.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now, Lily.”
“What don’t you think is a good idea?”
They both turned to see Cam walking into the kitchen, a grin on his face that was aimed right at her. It broke her heart. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with bare feet, he looked more like a college student than the one of the top five stock car drivers in the nation. This was one of those times when she seemed to be reaching for stars.
“I was just telling Lily that I don’t think it’s a good idea for her to sit in the stands at the race next weekend. People have seen her with you, and I’m just not sure that sitting with the regular race crowd is safe for her.”
Lily was both grateful and not at Ronnie’s blatant lie. She knew why he’d done it; she just wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. At the same time, how could either of them tell Cam the truth of what Ronnie had said? He wanted her to distance herself from Cam, and she knew Cam wouldn’t take that well at all.
Cam smoothed her hair in a gentle caress and kissed her. “Why don’t you want to sit on the pit box?”
She hoped her lie was just as convincing. “Alli couldn’t find anyone to buy the tickets, and we don’t want them to go to waste. Candi paid good money for them.”
“Really? I guess I can understand that. I’d rather have you on the pit box, though.”
“I know. Me too.” Was her smile convincing? “Look, I’m sure you two have things to talk about, so I’m going to go out on the deck.”
Cam let her go, his face full of questions, but when she kissed his lips, his smile was back. The French doors were already open, so she closed them behind her after stepping outside. What would Ronnie say to Cam? Would he now tell her lover the truth of what was being discussed before he had walked in?
She took a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs and closed her eyes against the warm spring day and tried not to think about her heart unraveling.
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