Excerpt From Love (Again)

Lacey’s eyes blazed when Zack approached her on the sidewalk in front of Oliver’s corner cafe. Her skin looked translucent through the sheer and beaded blouse she wore tucked into high-waisted palazzo pants with a navy bralette and navy pumps. It was Zack’s first time seeing Lacey in color. It complemented the navy sport coat Zack settled on. She met him with a solid, longer-than-formal kiss. They were growing more intimate with each encounter and finding it harder to separate.

“Hey,” Lacey said, her voice heavy and lusty.

“Hey.” Zack and Lacey stood swaying to a song only they two could hear. “We’re matching.”

Lacey stepped back, holding Zack’s arms out. “We are! You look very handsome. Want to skip this and head back to my place? Or to a dark alley?” She said, with a flirty wink.

“Stop it, woman. Don’t arouse me when I have to present well.”

“Present?” Lacey asked, scrunching her pretty face.

“Yes. This is important. I want to make a good impression. Essentially, I’m asking Oliver for his blessing to be a part of his son’s life.”

Lacey put a hand to her heart, softening. “That means a lot to me, Zack.”

“And you mean a lot to me. So...” He twirled her around to the door. “Stop calling up my manhood—until we get out of here. Deal?”

“Deal,” Lacey said with a playful salute. She stopped and faced Zack again. “But, babe, this is a courtesy, not a trial. We’re not here to defend our relationship. I’ve already convicted you and sentenced you to serving time with me. And I’m a lot—a whole lot.”

Zack dipped his head and kissed Lacey’s forehead. “Noted, and I still accept the sentence.”

A myriad of emotions colored Oliver’s face when Zack entered the cafe. It opened with fondness, then gathered in confusion. Lacey sauntered through the door, glowing and holding Zack’s hand. Oliver’s unremarkable brow came to a single point and his top lip curled—ever so slightly. A less trained eye may have missed the scowl, but his wife’s eye was well-versed in every configuration of his countenance. Sunrise met the cheery couple in the waiting area with an uneasy smile. Luca barreled towards his football coach, stopping inches shy of bowling the man over. They exchanged a choreographed handshake that ended with a loud snap and forearm bumps.

“What’s up, corner boy?”

Zack shook Sunrise’s hand, greeting her warmly, while Lacey removed her jacket.

Luca lifted his chest and chin. Zack had uncovered Luca’s strong point on the football field as a defensive back at corner. Oliver watched the group with a sour face simmering just beneath his tight smile. The restaurant was slow. There was usually a lull between the late lunch crowd and the dinner crowd. Oliver used the time to prepare supper for his family—Sunrise, Luca and Lacey.

“What’s good, Coach?” Oliver drew Zack into a halfhearted bro hug. “Lace. You didn’t mention bringing Luca’s football coach.”

Lacey’s mouth fell open, and she raised an eyebrow. Luca stood beaming between, she and Zack.

“Dad, you know Coach Zack? Did Uncle Izz, introduce you?”

“No. I did some work for Zack. Y’all come on in. Lacey knows where we sit.”

The meal of Beef Burgundy and a simple salad went on with little consequence. Luca dominated the conversation with questions about football and Zack’s motorcycle. Over the hour, the eager boy invited Zack to Sunday dinner in Alabama and to Thanksgiving. Oliver interjected when Luca started in about their plans for Christmas.

“Lukey, Coach Zack has his own family. You can’t book the man’s entire Holiday season,” he said, with an uncomfortable cackle.

Sunrise and Lacey both frowned at Oliver.

“Dad, no one calls me Lukey.”

“We used to.”

Lacey guffawed and pushed her glasses up her nose. “Luca, clear the table and load the dishwasher. The grown-ups need to talk,” Lacey said.

Sunrise stood too, “I’ll grab a bottle of wine.”

“Grab a bottle of Jack, too,” Lacey said.

Sunrise glared at her husband, then pinched him as she passed. Oliver checked over his shoulder for her.

“Do you think it’s a good idea to hook up with Luca’s football coach?” He asked in an irritated whisper, glancing over his shoulder again.

Lacey flopped against the vinyl booth and smacked the seat. Zack covered her hand with his.

“I understand your concern, but this is not a hookup and with all due respect—”

Oliver huffed and threw his hands up. “With all due respect,” he spat.

“I cannot believe you, Oliver,” Lacey said, leaning over the table, keeping a watchful eye on the kitchen door. “I don’t owe you any explanations. He didn’t have to, but he wanted to come here to talk to you and Luca about us. You will show him some goddamn respect!”

“No, he didn’t have to come here. He was already here, and he didn’t say a motherfucking word about you.” Oliver checked his surroundings again and leaned towards Lacey. “And from the looks of this,” he said, gesturing to Lacey and Zack’s closeness. “This shit ain’t new. Did you come here to tell me about this the other day and back out? Yeah, you did. You sat in my face and lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie,” Zack said.

“You lied by omission. And that’s not a good start.”

“You listen to me, Oliver Barnett,” Lacey said, springing to her feet. “This is over. No one’s here asking your permission. You have a wife, and I am not she. We came to talk to Luca about Zack being around more. We wanted to tell him Zack’s someone special to me. We’ve done that,” Lacey said, grabbing her purse. “And now you know too, so goodnight. Thanks for dinner. Thanks, Sunrise. Kiss Luca for me.”

Zack stood after Lacey stormed off, but stopped and looked down at Oliver. “Luca’s the most important person in her life. I wanted to give him and you, as his father the respect you both deserve, because you are important to her, too. It’s my full intent to be a part of their lives, therefore a part of yours and Sunrise’s lives,” Zack said, acknowledging Oliver’s wife, who they’d largely ignored throughout the entire affair. “I don’t hook up and neither does Lacey. That shit you said was uncool, and man to man, I won’t let you disrespect her or our relationship.”

“You won’t let me?” Oliver said, standing.

Zack chuckled, casting his eyes down at Oliver. “You can’t have it all, Chef.”

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