His stomach hurt. His muscles ached. He couldn’t get very far from his bucket. There’d be no work for Lucas on Wednesday. The lamplight burned his eyes. A good thing it rained buckets outside today and gloom settled over Willow Creek.
Just like the kids, he pulled a blanket tight on the couch while he watched TV. The shows proved a small distraction, but nothing to brag about. He hadn’t felt this crappy since he couldn’t remember. He scowled at the dark sky outside his windows. Hercules pressed tighter against his leg when thunder rumbled. The dog hated storms.
His home phone rang and he glanced at the I.D. His mom. He picked up and she sounded caught off guard. And then he got it. She was hoping to reach his answering machine. She tried to regroup and said, “Hi! I didn’t expect to catch you at home.”
No kidding. He growled, grumpier than usual. “I caught the kids’ flu.”
She had the grace to hesitate, feeling awkward. “I wanted to let you know ahead of time that I can’t make Thanksgiving this year. My friend invited me to a long weekend in Key West with his parents.”
“His?” Lucas let the one word hang.
He could hear her clear her throat. “I’ve met a very nice man.”
“Someone you’re serious about?”
“We might get married in Florida.”
That caught him off-guard. “You don’t even want him to meet us first? Or is it that you don’t want us to meet him?”
“It’s not like that. This just sort of came up, spur of the moment, and we decided to go for it.”
His stomach rolled, and he pressed his hand to it. “How long have you been seeing him?”
“For a while now. When you meet him, you’ll like him.”
“Are we ever going to meet him?”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “You’re my sons. Of course, you’ll meet him.”
Bile rose in his throat. “Sorry, Mom, but I have to go. I’m going to be sick again.”
“Because of me?” She sounded offended.
“Because of the flu!” That’s all he had time to say before pulling the bucket to him. He dropped the phone back into its receiver so that she didn’t have to listen.
He and Hercules fell asleep in the afternoon. When the phone rang this time, he had trouble orienting himself. He was home. On a Wednesday. Because he was sick. His stomach felt better than before. He grabbed the phone, expecting it to be his mom again, but his dad sounded startled.
“I didn’t expect you to be home.”
Really? Did everyone wait for him to leave before they phoned his house? “Hi, Dad. I’m sick.”
“That flu that’s going around?”
“It got me.”
Dad hesitated. “I’m not going to be able to make it for Thanksgiving this year. I’m going to my girlfriend’s instead.”
“You have a girlfriend?”
His dad sounded huffy. “You didn’t expect me to sit around, crying about the divorce, did you?”
Apparently not. “Are you two getting serious?”
“She’s a wonderful woman, a gem when it comes to entertaining.”
That was important to his dad.
“I hate to say it,” Dad went on, “but it’s time you three boys find someone, too.”
“Probably. Have a nice Thanksgiving, Dad.” They never had much to say to each other. When they hung up, Lucas propped more pillows behind him and turned on the TV again. Next year, would his mom bring her husband and his dad bring his new wife to Thanksgiving? That would be fun to watch. Lots of fireworks. Maybe they’d take turns. Mom would come one year, his dad the next. He really didn’t care.
He felt like the worst of the flu had left him, taking all of his energy with it. He padded to the kitchen and returned with a glass of Sprite and a tube of crackers. He crossed his fingers and hoped they’d stay down. Later, he drifted off to sleep again until someone knocked on his door. Probably Dylan.
‘It’s open. Come in.”
Miss Doore stepped into the living room. She wore jeans and a green sweater. Her copper hair was pulled back in a headband, and she looked especially pretty. He jerked higher on his pillows. He had on his striped pajama bottoms, but his robe was open. He hadn’t washed his face or brushed his teeth, and his hair must be a mess.
She stared at his bare chest for a minute, jerked her gaze up to meet his, and squirmed. “I know you live alone, so I thought I’d bring you some beef and noodles and Jello for when you feel good enough to eat something.”
He stared. “You made them yourself?”
“I like to make a big pot of food to eat during the week so I don’t have to cook when I come home.” She blushed when she told him that. Interesting.
Would Miss Doore stretch the truth? “A smart idea.”
“Some people find me fairly intelligent.”
He grimaced. How did he always feel off-balance with her? “That’s not what I meant. Sorry. My head’s a little fuzzy today.”
She looked sympathetic. “Are you over the worst? I figured you must be. Jordy told me you were up and down most of the night. One of your brothers told him.”
Lucas nodded. “Toby called to check on me since I had the kids when they got sick. We keep track of each other. I ate some crackers and they helped. I might be on the mend.”
“Nice.” She turned toward the door. “I left the food on your kitchen counter. I hope you feel better soon.”
He didn’t want her to leave. “It was awfully nice of you to think of me.”
“You changed my flat tire. I owe you.”
Was that all it was? She’d be like that, ready to return a favor. She looked pointedly at his empty glass. “Would you like me to get you something first? Seven-up?”
“I am thirsty, but I don’t want you to catch this.”
“I can’t miss it. Three kids got sick in class today.”
He wrinkled his nose. “That had to be horrible.”
“Part of teaching.” She went to the kitchen and opened his refrigerator. “What sounds good to you?”
He settled on Sprite and took a quick gulp when she brought it. “Thanks.”
She turned away again. “I’ll let you get more sleep. Feel better soon.”
He felt better already. He’d love to be nursed by Miss Doore seven days a week. After she left, the aroma of beef and noodles made him wander into the kitchen to dish up a bowl. It was delicious.
The woman was smart. She was pretty. And she could cook. He wanted her.