Back to School, Part 2

The following is the second part of an early character sketch of Lacey. It shows how she happened to fall in love with Fox Becnel. It was a bit long, so I split it up; and I couldn’t resist editing it a touch. I updated some names, for consistency’s sake, and attempted to make some groan-worthy phrasing less groan-worthy.

But I didn’t do any fact-checking, so if some of the details about life at LSU, and the French, aren’t exactly right, that’s why.

Photo credit: Cecelia Morise
Photo credit: Cecelia Morise

As Lacey watched the younger version of herself underneath the oak tree, the sequence of events leading up to that time came back to her, as if the last thirteen years had not transpired at all. It was all there, in vivid relief—after their first intriguing exchange in the library, came the growing interchange between herself and Fox. The calls about “the project” that somehow morphed into hours-long conversations. She had been wrong about him—he was not the non-performer, he had actually taken on a shared leadership role in the group.

All that while, Lacey struggled to keep her exponentially expanding crush in check. It had taken precisely a week for her to become smitten, less than a month to become besotted, and she wasn’t sure there was a word to describe her feelings at that point, underneath the oak tree.

It was a strange sensation, like being cleaved in two, with all the pain that would accompany it. One half of her detached, watching her younger self, with all the knowledge of the past thirteen years weighing like a counterbalance. But the other half experiencing all the emotion, that no-word-to-describe-the-big-love-feeling.

Fox had asked her to meet him at the end of the day by the oak tree. They both had other classes right after International Marketing.

“So how do you think it went?” Fox asked about their presentation. They still had a report to turn in, due after Easter, but the bulk of the work was over.

Lacey looked up at him, and hoped the lump in her throat wasn’t showing. “Fine, fine, I think we’ll be okay! I was trying to gauge Professor Kambur’s reaction when Frannie delivered her section—he was hard to read—but I think Frannie did an okay job. I think everyone did. What about you?”

She realized she sounded almost frantic.

Fox nodded, still standing. “I talked to Kambur after class. We got the highest score of any of the groups.” He gave her that one-sided grin.

“What? How the hell did you get him to tell you our score? You amaze me!”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet, sister.” Fox crouched down to look Lacey in the eye.

“Wow. Well that certainly takes the pressure off the final report. Guess I’ll get to enjoy my Easter now.” What she didn’t say was how much she had been dreading the presentation. But not because of any performance anxiety—it was because she feared it would be the end of their time together. No more reason for marathon conversations, no more excuses to get together to hash out a detail for the project.

“Hot damn, I can’t wait for this weekend!” Fox said. He proceeded to lay out a set of plans that included a fishing charter, a round of golf, and at least two crawfish boils. His Cajun came out thicker the more he spoke. Funny thing was, it was all stuff that would have bored Lacey to tears, just two months earlier. Except maybe for the crawfish. But hearing him so enthusiastic, she felt like her heart might break, right there.

“What about you, Cherie?” he asked, with a wink.

She looked at him, unable to speak. He had not called her Cherie since his French put-down in the library. It was like book-ends to her time with him. What would happen to this intense feeling once she no longer spoke to him every day? Lacey suspected it would do her more damage than him.

She was relieved to remember the one upcoming thing she was excited about. “Oh, Jimmy’s gonna be in town. You know, my brother?”

“Oh right, the rock star.”

“The working musician,” she corrected. This was before his band had hit it.

“So far,” Fox said. He had an odd look on his face.

Lacey thought it was finally safe to share something she had been keeping from Fox, for fear of jinxing it. “His band’s playing a gig here, at the Varsity. Jimmy’s sticking around to come down and spend Easter with the fam.”

“Hmmm,” Fox rubbed his chin to exaggerated effect. “I wonder what he’s going to think of me.”

Lacey’s eyes widened. “What?”

Fox laughed, flashing his inimitable charm. “I know the show’s tonight, Lacey. I’m going. Aren’t you?”

“Well, of course,” she stammered. “But,”

“But, what? I can’t go see a band? I’m twenty-one. And you’re not yet.”

Lacey’s ire flared. “It’s an all-ages show, jackass.”

At that, Fox, still in a crouched position, grabbed one of Lacey’s hands in both of his. It was the first time their hands touched. There had been some good-natured shoulder-jostling and arm pokes prior to that. All coming from Fox. He was a very touchy kind of guy. Every one of those touches had lingered with Lacey, but this one was different.

The thirteen-years-later Lacey caught her breath. She had forgotten about the shock. The air was still a little cool, and the grass was dry, and Fox let out a charge when he grabbed her hand. She realized now that he must have done it on purpose.

Early Lacey giggled, and tried—not very hard—to pull her hand away. “Ow!”

Oo, so désolée, Cherie,” Fox laughed in return. “Did I hurt you?” He settled in a little closer to her, keeping hold of her hand with one of his. With the other, he gently tucked an errant strand of her thick hair behind her ear.

Early Lacey was insensible. And Later Lacey was already mouthing the words that would come next.

“Lacey. I know what you’re thinking, and this is not the end. Far from it. We are two sides of the same coin.” And with that, Fox leaned in to kiss her. A slow, revealing, exploratory kiss.

The first kiss from the only man she’d ever loved.

While Early Lacey nearly lapsed into shock, the picture started to fade for Later Lacey. She was pierced again by an intense longing. A desire to re-experience everything that happened in those next twenty-four hours. Later that night would be the first time they made love.

But it was all fading. And taking its place was an echo of her newly emergent ability, and the sense of completeness that accompanied it. It made the longing seem childish.

The Incident Under the Overpass is available now: Kindle editionPaperback

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