Lewis reached Maddie’s house just in time. There were three little beggars standing before the front door in ambush mode – a ninja, a cowboy whose jeans hung low enough to be gangsta, and a mummy with something that looked like moss dripping from his armpits. Leading the assault was a tow headed, tiny but mighty little girl dressed as a pumpkin with striped green legs and purple arms. She stood on tiptoe, leaning on the doorbell and bleating the war cry – “Trickortreat! Trickortreat! Trickortreeeeat!”
Ninja, Cowboy-Gangsta and Mummy gave her space.
Memories of an earlier Halloween rushed into his mind. Of just-turned- four Tacoma in a lion suit his sister had fashioned from pajamas and an old fuzzy bathmat and Lewis, Maddie, and Mimi all dressed as her lion tamers – he chuckled at the irony of it. “I still don’t think the doggie harness and leash is a good idea,” Maddie had grumbled.
“It’s funny! And it keeps her from running away!” Mimi was always ready to justify the questionable – her coping skill.
“It’s not funny – it’s obnoxious,” Maddie grumbled. “The whole ‘pretending to be somehting you’re not’ thing is misleading and probably harmful to childrens’ self-esteems.”
Mimi rolled her eyes. To keep the peace, Lewis picked up Tacoma and let her ride his back the rest of the night- though he knew he’d be sore the next day. But he didn’t care – he was having the time of his life. Finally under his sister’s guardianship he was thriving, getting a second chance at all the childhood rituals he’d missed back when it was age appropriate.
A sudden urge to see Maddie again at her door, grumbling about pretending and obnoxious holidays and flinging candy into pumpkin pails swamped over Lewis. Just one more time… to see her again. To explain….
An ache hit his heart. Maddie had come back to her mother’s home to clean it out, plant a For Sale sign in the front yard, and go back to living and working in the big city.
But so many ‘what if’s’ nagged him….
What if she was lonely, what if working day in and day out up there in the glass tower wasn’t fufilling for her, what if she was surrounded all day by idiots and asshats…? What if life moved too fast to enjoy the little things, like a four year old dressed like a lion or a pumpkin, chanting the Song That Doesn’t End?
What if she wants to create a family of her own, even wants to come back here, like I did?
Right Lewis – and what if she wants to stay far away from here… away from the memories of her mom and her pain … away from her crazy Aunt Lucille? That For Sale sign is looking better and better.
He shook his head in self disgust. He was a computer whizkid with a successful website catering to people who needed to say the words they could have – should have – said when the time was right, and here he was –
A total failure at mustering up the three most basic – most important – words ever to utter to another human being…
Please don’t go.
Be with me.
I love you.
The silence jarred him out of his thoughts. He realized suddenly that they had all stood there, mesmerized by the constant “Trick or Treat” chant, and that Maddie had not opened the door to give out candy.
The mummy moaned. “Nobody’s home. Let’s go next door.”
The image of her house – empty, dark, hollow – stirred up a sense of urgency in his belly. But something else made his feet move– the unmistakeable smell of smoke.
The thought of something on fire – of Maddie’s house on fire! – made Lewis’ brain finally click with his heart…
He couldn’t live without Maddie!
Hero instincts kicked in. Lewis leaped up the steps scattering the children. He threw his weight against the door, ready to rescue the woman he loved from an inferno–
– and crashed through two inches of solid oak, falling into Maddie – and an enormous bowl of candy. Together they landed on the wooden floor, tumbling in a heap of arms and legs and chocolate peanut butter cups.
“Lewis! What are you doing?!” Maddie screamed.
“There’s no fire! What do you mean you smelled smoke?! ” Maddie was pinned under Lewis’ weight, which – if she were forced to admit it – was not entirely unpleasant. Neither was the thought that Lewis cared enough about her to run into a burning building to save her.
“There was smoke! I know I smelled smoke!”
Maddie stared up into his face. When did Lewis get to be … attractive? She’d always liked him, though she’d kept him in the friend zone… was that actually stubble on his jaw? His lips … he smells… edible.
The only smoke she noticed was the smoky look in his eyes… and the way he seemed to be pressing himself in just… the right…places.
“Mommeeee! That man just broke down the door!” Yes, yes he did… to rescue me.
“He’s killing her!” Oh yeah… he’s killing me all right. Kill me some more… a little … harder…please….
“Quick! Grab the candy!” Yes, yes… grab the candy…. Wait…
Her fantasies – and her body’s responses – went from XXX to G in a nanosecond. “Get. Off. Now,” she gritted through clenched teeth. She peeked at the kids scrabbling around them for candy, and from the way that cowboy was staring, she could tell he knew more than he should at his age.
“Right.” Lewis awkwardly scooted over, trying to keep the bulging front of his pants out of sight – but Maddie couldn’t help but take note that she was responsible for it.
“Uh…is your furnace okay? Maybe the oven’s on. I’ll go check.” He got to his feet and headed for the kitchen, slowly.
“Why did you come back here?” Maddie asked, once she’d dispatched the kids, left the candy bowl outside and turned off the porch light .
“I was thinking about that year we took Tacoma out for Halloween, before we went our separate ways – do you remember?Before you left for that fancy college and I went to work.” He rubbed a hand over his mouth. He could still feel the barest touch of her lips, just there. Wait… talk to her. “And I guess I just wanted….” His words trailed off. To feel those lips there again, to feel her in his arms again…. Talk. To. Her. “I just thought… that I could make everything right. Make it so you’d come back. To be with me. Here. You know?” His brown eyes darkened and fixed on Maddie’s face. “Don’t leave Maddie. Please. Don’t go away again.”
Lewis stepped towards her. If Maddie couldn’t see his heart beating, he hoped it was because her eyes were filling with tears. The good kind. The kind that were making his throat thick and his heart going into full attack mode. But that was okay, because his eyes would be enough for the both of them. And he could swear he could see Maddie’s heart beating just as hard as his.
He took her face into his hands, kissed the tears tracking her cheeks. “Don’t. Go. Away. Again.” A kiss for each tear. Until he reached her lips —
The dinette chair screeched out from the table and wedged itself between them. In the living room the lamp – the one Maddie had thrown away earlier – turned off, then on, and then off again. Over and over.
The stove sent up a hissssss! and gas fumes filled the air.
Lewis moved toward the stove to turn off the knobs, stop the gas, and Maddie tried to follow – but the chair wouldn’t budge. It moved back and forth, forcing her backwards into the walk in pantry and barricading her there. Drawers of utensils jangled open and slammed shut, bouncing the utensils and making them fall out onto the floor. A large knife fell next to Lewis’ toe, so close it shaved off a layer of leather from his shoe.
“Madison,” her mother’s voice rang out from the computer. “You just won’t listen, will you? I’ve warned you not to let them get close – they’ll keep you down. They’ll get what they want from you, and for what? To be deserted with a child to raise and no money! That’s what!”
A cold dread slid down Maddie’s back. This was about her father. How he’d abandoned them for a second chance – the trophy family, the corporate life – he felt he deserved. Taking Maddie away from her mother with an offer she had found impossible to resist was the ultimate insult.
And now her mother was determined to keep her. All to herself.
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