Allie realized straightaway she should have just let him introduce himself and be done with it. Sometimes she didn’t know when to leave well enough alone. She understood that, and yet she still managed to open her mouth and stick her foot in on a regular basis.
She watched his hand drop from the door knob. He bent and scooped his daughter up onto his hip, his expression caught between troubled and curious. Allie wanted to kick herself, or turn and walk away with a casual ‘see you later’, as if she hadn’t said anything. Instead, she took a step closer.
“Have we met?” Luke asked.
“A long time ago.”
“I…I don’t remember.”
“Yes,” said Allie. “I can see that.”
He stood silently in contemplation. Someone attempted to enter, bumping him in the elbow with the door. He moved to the side, Lydia in his arms. The customer entered, easing past them both.
“More than half a lifetime ago.”
“So we were kids.”
“It’s no wonder I don’t remember. I’m surprised you do.”
“You kissed me.” Damn it, why couldn’t she just shut up?
Luke’s eyes widened. He glanced down at Lydia, who looked both bewildered and amused. “Well, I—”
“It was no big deal.”
“Obviously it was.”
“No. It was a silly peck between two kids. It was what came after that made the incident significant.”
His blue eyes narrowed. “What came after?”
She might as well get it over with, rip the bandage off with one quick pull, expose an old wound to the air. She’d forced the conversation and couldn’t back down now. “I fell. On the ice on your father’s pond. Broke my wrist.”
“Yep,” said Allie, as the skin on her cheeks heated up. He definitely remembered now. She could see memory blossom across his face. As a scrawny kid a couple of years ahead of her in school, he’d been awfully damned cute. As an adult, a father, a man grown into his own strength, he was handsome enough to make her stutter. Somehow, she’d been managing not to.
“I’m sorry,” said Luke. “How could I have forgotten?”
“It wasn’t quite as traumatic an experience for you,” Allie said.
“Do you still skate?”
Allie faltered. “Oh. Sure. But I don’t allow strange males to kiss me on the ice.”
Luke threw back his head with a deep, rolling laugh. From the way Lydia looked at him, Allie figured he didn’t do it often enough. He stopped, breathless from his amusement. “Did I know your name then?”
“I don’t…I don’t know.”
“Wait. Sure I did. Allie, better than Allison. I knew that phrase sounded familiar.”
The temperature in Allie’s cheeks zoomed. “I really do have to get back to work, so…”
“I understand.” He chuckled again. “We’re leaving. Are you still stopping by later?”
“A free tree? I’d be crazy not to.”
“Bye, Allie,” called Lydia with a wave as the door closed behind them. Allie watched the two of them walk past the plate glass window, dark heads close together. Lydia twisted in her dad’s arms, waving again like a participant in a parade. Allie lifted her hand in response, holding it aloft until they were out of sight.
“Why’d you tell him that?”
Allie jerked toward the sound of her employee’s voice. “Don’t you have work to do, Todd?”
“Yeah. And I was working right here. I heard the whole thing.”
“He was bound to remember at some point,” Allie said. “Better a preemptive strike before he did recall and I had to admit I’d never forgotten the incident, or lie. Either action would have been distinctly creepy.”
Todd, eighteen years old and apparently blasé about matters creepy or otherwise, shrugged, lifting and placing the last book from the open cardboard box at his feet onto the display table. “So, once you get the tree, what are you going to do about the window? I don’t ever remember you leaving it empty this long. People are going to start to wonder.”
“If we’re open or closed.”
“Good point,” Allie said.
“I know. That’s why I deserve a raise.”
“Oh, hush, I’m trying to think.”
“About what? That guy you kissed when you were fourteen?”
“How do you know how old I was?”
“Just a guess.”
Allie surveyed the window again, twinkling lights reflecting off glass. “Well, I’m not thinking about him. I’m trying to figure out what to do with that blasted window. If worse comes to worse, I suppose I could recycle last year’s idea.”
“I wouldn’t,” Todd mumbled. He bent and picked up the empty carton, tucking it under his arm. Tossing his shoulder-length, yellow hair away from his face, he set a tiny jingle bell dangling from the wire in his ear to tinkling.
“Isn’t that like wearing the same dress to a party two nights in a row? People tend to notice.”
Allie laughed. “What would you know about that?”
“I have a sister.”
Shaking her head vigorously, Allie left him and went to answer the ringing phone. On her way across the floor, she reflected on that long-ago kiss. Although it meant nothing to Luke, she’d been a fourteen-year-old with an awful crush on a boy who didn’t even know her name. The kiss had caught her so off guard, she’d lost her balance and fallen on the ice, causing the night among her friends to go from something magical to an embarrassing—and painful—mess. Luke had managed to find her a few days later at school to ask how she was doing. After that, she avoided him and his circle of friends like the plague. He graduated later that year, solving her dilemma.
As she lifted the phone from the cradle, she thought perhaps Todd had been right. She really did need to keep her mouth shut. What point had there been in reminding Luke of the fool she’d made of herself? And now, she had to meet him in a few hours to pick out a tree, right near where the whole incident had taken place. It didn’t matter how many years had passed since, because she’d been stupid enough to remind him. For crying out loud, she needed to carry a sock around to stuff in her mouth next time she opened it.
Thanks for coming by. I hope you stop back tomorrow for Excerpt 4 of Winter Light. See you then!