KayKeppler_LovingLucy_200By Kay Keppler

The door swung open. A tall, voluptuous woman with the kind of lusciously waving hair that Lucy had always envied stood in the doorway. Her bathrobe gaped in front, and she wasn’t wearing anything under it.

Lucy swallowed, her stomach one big knot of hurt. She had clearly misjudged the situation. Misjudged Jonas.

Would she never learn?

“Well, hello,” the woman said. “Aren’t you the sweetest little thing.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Jonas, honey, better get decent and get out here. We got company.”

Jonas had spent a lousy night and this morning he was mad at Rita and mad at himself for letting her get away with her old tricks. He’d slept in his bed, and he’d slept alone, but he’d been awakened several times by Rita’s prowling around the apartment. Twice she’d come into his room to ask him if she was keeping him awake—hell, yes—and if she could do something to help—hell, no.

Today she was leaving. If he had to take the day off and tow her car back to LA with her locked in the trunk, he’d do it.

He pulled on his pants and grabbed a shirt, buttoning it as he entered the living room, pasting a smile on his face.

“Yeah?” he said. “What’s up?” And then he saw Lucy.

She’d come to see him. Except—she seemed tired. Anxious.

“Lucy,” he said, going to the door. “Is everything all right? Your grandmother?”

“Um, yes,” she said, her eyes too bright. “I thought—I shouldn’t have come. You’re busy. I’ll call you later.”

“No, don’t go,” Jonas said quickly, shouldering past Rita. “Come on in.”

“Excuse me,” Rita said, looking annoyed.

“Well, stop blocking the door. Lucy, this is Rita. She got stranded here on her way to LA and I put her up. For one night only.

“That’s not quite how it happened.” Rita smiled tightly at Jonas. She turned to Lucy. “I’m Jonas’s wife.”

Ex-wife,” Jonas said. “Very ex.”

“Oh, yes. Didn’t I say ‘ex’? My mistake.”

“One of many,” Jonas said. “Don’t you have to take a shower, or something? For your trip back to LA?”

“Ex,” Jonas said to Lucy fiercely as Rita, hips swinging, turned for the bathroom. “She is very, very ex.”

“I understand ex,” Lucy said. “I’m ex myself.”

Jonas took her hand and squeezed it. “I’m really happy to see you. But you came for a reason. Tell me.”

Guys had suckered her before, and she clearly was no judge of what was good for her—but she believed him anyway. She took a deep breath.

“Well, you’d said you had cartons. And—I need some today. But I really think I should go.”

“I can fix you up. Come with me.” Jonas laced his fingers with Lucy’s and led her into the kitchen, where a tall, skinny kid stood drinking orange juice out of the carton.

“Oh!” Lucy said, taken aback. Did Jonas have a son?

Jonas went to the cupboard and opened it. “Lucy, this is Kyle Blatz,” he said. “Rita and Digger’s boy.”

“Hi,” she said, trying not to feel relieved. Not that it mattered. Jonas had a naked ex in his living room. That’s what mattered.

Kyle turned around, blinking owlishly. “Hey. Jonas, there’s no more juice.”

“Can I have the carton?” Lucy asked Kyle.

“Sure,” he said, handing it to her and ambling out of the kitchen.

“One down.”

“I have tons of that kind of stuff,” Jonas said. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out cartons of cottage cheese and yogurt. He opened a box of butter and put the sticks back in the refrigerator and put the box on the counter. He took out a quart of milk. He took out the egg carton.

Lucy watched, feeling confused. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to empty the cartons.” From the cupboard, Jonas took out a can of coffee. He opened it, and the rich smell flooded the kitchen. He lifted down a bowl and dumped the coffee into it and handed her the empty coffee can with its plastic lid.

“There’s two,” he said. “The butter box makes three.”

“You can’t empty all this stuff to give me the cartons!”

“Why not? This stuff will keep in bowls as well as in cartons. I have bowls.”

“But—”

“Find a bowl for the cottage cheese. Second cupboard to the right.” Jonas opened the egg carton and piled the eggs into a mixing bowl and then reached for the quart of milk and a saucepan.

Lucy watched in astonishment while he poured the milk into the saucepan and put the saucepan back in the refrigerator. Was he crazy? Who would pour out all his food just so she could have the cartons?

She cleared her throat, taking the milk carton from him and handing him a bowl for the cottage cheese. “I appreciate this, don’t think that I don’t. But maybe you’re going a little too far.”

“You need cartons, right?” Jonas said, spooning out cottage cheese. “Yes, Kyle, you wanted something?”

Kyle stood in the doorway, looking somewhat less owlish. “Are you making breakfast?” he asked.

“Yes.” Jonas dropped the empty cottage cheese container into the sink. He took the yogurt from the refrigerator, dumped it into a bowl, and handed Kyle the bowl. “This morning it’s yogurt.”

Kyle blinked at the quivering white mass in the mixing bowl. “Isn’t there cereal?”

Jonas opened another cupboard and took down a box of Cheerios. “There is,” he said, tearing it open and pouring some over the yogurt, “but only if you eat it over the yogurt.”

“Cool.” Kyle took the bowl and ambled back out to the living room.

“Cereal box okay?” he asked Lucy, pouring the rest of the Cheerios into a frying pan and handing her the box.

“Perfect,” Lucy said. She took the box and then looked up at Jonas. He was amazing.

“What?” Jonas asked, opening a bottle of ketchup.

“Nothing,” Lucy said, as Jonas squeezed the ketchup into a drinking glass and handed her the bottle. “It’s just—”

What?” Jonas opened a can of creamed corn and poured it into a bowl. He looked up and saw her watching him. “Okay, I’m sure everything is wrong with creamed corn nutritionally, but I happen to like it.”

“That’s not it,” Lucy said. You’re funny, you’re smart, you’re a cop, so you must be brave, and now you’re putting all your food into bowls for me. But Rita—

“What is it, then?” He handed her the creamed corn can and then frowned at it. “I didn’t think that through,” he said. “This isn’t such a great container. You’ll have to tape the lid back on, or something. I guess I got caught up in the moment.”

“I can make it work.” Lucy swallowed. “It’s just—you’re emptying your cupboards for me. You’re opening all these cartons.”

“Don’t you need them? I thought you needed cartons,” Jonas said, looking confused. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I do need cartons, but—I don’t know. Aren’t you—I mean, Rita—”

Jonas stepped in closer and took the creamed corn can from her unresisting fingers and dropped it into the sink. He slid his hand up her arm.

“Forget about Rita. I’m really glad you came over this morning, Lucy. I was wondering—”

“I hope I’m not interrupting.” Rita’s breathy voice was like fingernails grating on a blackboard. “But I smelled coffee. Are you making breakfast?”

“I am,” Jonas said, scowling as he turned away from Lucy. “This morning it’s creamed corn.” He handed Rita the bowl. Rita took the bowl automatically but she looked at it with a revolted look in her eye—a look that Jonas ignored.

Right now Jonas didn’t seem that interested in Rita. Lucy felt her spirits rise. She held out the drinking glass.

“Ketchup with that?”

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