“Piece of shit stove!” I glared at the offending appliance and grabbed the skillet. I muttered to myself as I scraped the burned eggs into the trash. “I am a good cook, damn it. I can make a spinach frittata, but now I can’t make edible scrambled eggs.” Ever since Tommy and I had moved in, the stove had become the bane of my existence. The burners all seemed to be completely uninhibited by dials; no matter what I set them to, they seemed to be stuck perpetually on high. The oven was no better; I needed to crank it up to five hundred just to get the temperature to a useable three-fifty.
I threw the blackened skillet into the sink and settled on making myself a bowl of cereal. At least the fridge mostly did its job, although anything pushed to the very back was at risk of freezing. Cereal in hand, I turned on the news as I sat down on the couch. The anchor was rambling on about something, but he was halfway through the report, so I didn’t struggle to figure out the details. I’d much rather be watching Simton Abbey, but I needed to know things that were going on. I was sick of looking like the ignorant teenager at work, only knowing what’s happening in a fictional world.
Speaking of work. I glanced down at my phone. I still had a few hours before I had to leave for the restaurant. And a few hours after I went to work, Tommy would get home from the academy. Hopefully, he’d still be up when I got home; I hadn’t even seen him today. Our schedules were so horribly misaligned that our days off didn’t even correspond. It almost felt like we were living in separate houses on the days we both had to work.
A commercial caught my eye, distracting me. A fast-talking man was displaying a beautiful set of stone-wear pots and pans. I leaned closer to the TV, looking almost covetously at the display. Nothing like my cheap, chain-store set I’d bought with Tommy. I bet I wouldn’t burn eggs with those. My fingers actually twitched, itching to grab my phone and dial the number they advertised. Instead, I turned the TV off. We couldn’t afford such a luxury. My set may not be the best out there, but they were perfectly functional. Getting a new stove sooner rather than later was much more important than fancy skillets.
You’re getting better, I congratulated myself, flipping the TV off and removing the temptation. As I’d quickly realized, I was actually pretty terrible with money. Though I’d been incredibly frugal with the money I’d earned from Simmie’s, I’d had no problem getting and spending an allowance from my parents. In the month after we’d moved in, I’d bought considerably more than I really should have in the name of furnishing our apartment. Did we really need a vase, random pictures, or houseplants? Tommy was much better with money and was teaching me how to budget.
“Lucy, I’m home!”
I leapt to my feet, turning to face the figure who had just stepped through the door. “Tommy! What are you doing here?” I smiled and crossed the room, kissing him deeply.
He smiled against my lips. “I came home early, said I had a family emergency.”
I twined my arms around his neck. “Why would you go and do a thing like that?”
His wonderful smile turned crooked. “Because I miss you, obviously.” His arms squeezed me tightly against his body. “I wanted to see you.”
My heart melted and my frustration slipped away as I was so lovingly reminded why this was all worth it. “Why don’t I make lunch?” I’d force the stove to cooperate with me.
“Actually, I’ve got a better idea.” He grinned wickedly and took my hand, pulling me into the bedroom.
I giggled as he pressed me back against the closet door. “I like your ideas.”
“When did they do all this?” I looked around the park as Alison and I strolled through it. It was nothing remotely like the park I’d played with her as a kid. “I know it’s been a while since I’ve been here…”
Alison snorted softly. “Josh, they’ve been remodeling the park for a couple of years now. Pay less attention, why don’t you.”
“Hey, I pay attention.” I leaned in and kissed her cheek. “To you.”
Her lips brushed mine as she turned to look at me. “You’re being too sweet. You’re trying to butter me up for something.”
“Can’t a guy just be sweet to his girlfriend? Honestly, you’re paranoid, Allie.”
“Alison?” And older woman smiled and walked over to us. “Alison Harrison, that is you! It’s been ages since I saw you.”
Alison’s nose crinkled as she looked with some confusion at the woman before recognition set in. “Mrs. Holloway! It’s so nice to see you.”
“I think the last time I saw you was right before your graduation! How are you doing, honey?”
“Oh, I’m good. I’m going to school for business. How are you?”
Mrs. Holloway smiled kindly. “Oh, you know. Old and creaky, but I’m getting by. Who is this young man you’re with?”
Alison smiled over at me. “This is Josh Yuen. I think you’ve met, actually.”
“Of course! The little blond boy who was at all of your birthday parties!” She reached out and shook my hand. “You’re Carter’s step-son.”
The smile on my face froze, and I glanced down at Alison to find her expression similarly frosted over. She cleared her throat. “Ah, yeah, he is. Actually, we’re dating now.”
The other woman’s face darkened with a frown. “You’re dating? Oh, well. How very…ah, modern of you.”
She made a very quick exit after that, claiming to have seen someone else she needed to talk to. I winced as she walked away. “I’ll admit, that was pretty awkward.”
“Yeah.” I looked down at Alison. She had a far-away look in her eye as she stared off down the path. “Let’s go home.” I frowned but agreed. As I reached over to take her hand, though, she shook me off. “Sorry, just…I don’t know. Not right now.” She started walking back towards the car.
I hung back, watching her go. Years ago, nearly this exact scenario had been what had kept Alison from taking a chance on us. I’d thought she was over caring about what other people thought. I shook my head and started walking after her. I’d remind her back at the apartment why she was smart to ignore other people’s opinions of us.