I inhaled and counted to five, trying to compose myself enough to reassure him I wasn’t dying in some back alley. “I need you, Jude,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry. I know it’s late and I know you’ve got practice in the morning”—it was next to impossible to get words out, and each one felt like a victory—“but I need you.”
I heard him curse under his breath. I don’t know if my idea of composing myself had calmed him or made him more panicked. “I’m coming, baby. I’m coming,” he said, definitely running now, because I could hear the air cutting through the phone. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I hated feeling so weak, like I needed someone else to hold me together, but I tried not to focus on that. I tried to focus on how lucky I was to have someone to call when I needed to be held together.
“Thank you,” I whispered as I tried to start the car. My hands were shaking, making it difficult.
“Are you safe, Luce?” he asked. “Are you hurt?”
I knew he was talking about the physical safe and hurt, so that was why I replied, “Yes, I’m safe, and no, I’m not hurt.”
“Where are you?” he asked, before talking in a clipped tone to someone. A taxi driver, maybe?
“I’m in my car. I’m heading back to the apartment.”
“Are you okay to drive?”
I took a few more deep breaths until my shaking stopped. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, Luce. Wait for me at the apartment. I’m on my way, baby.”
“Thank you.” There was nothing else I could say.
“I love you, Luce.” His voice was still anxious, but it soothed me.
“I know, Jude,” I said. “I know.”
I hoped he would feel the same way once I told him everything I’d been keeping from him.
After a teary drive home, I found Holly waiting for me. Thomas and LJ were gone.
“Did you get off work early?” I asked, faking a smile.
“Jude called me,” she said, pulling me into her arms. “He was freaking out and asked me to meet you here until he flew in.”
“I’m sorry you had to leave work early,” I said, melting into her arms.
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she said, steering me toward the couch. “I’m worried about you. What happened?” She inspected me as she sat me down. “Jude said you’d told him you were okay, but he wasn’t so convinced.”
“I’m okay in the way he was worried about,” I said, as she slid my heels off.
“Jude’s worried about you being okay in all the ways you can be, Lucy,” she said, grabbing the pillow and blanket over on the chair.
“I know he is. And I guess I’m both okay and not okay. If that’s even possible.” I let Holly ease me down on the couch until my head crashed into the pillow.
“What happened?” she asked as she layered the blanket over me.
Suddenly, just having my feet up and my head on a pillow, I felt exhausted. Utterly spent from the month, the day, and the past hour. It had all caught up with me, and my body was going to revolt if I didn’t let it shut down for a while.
“I’ll tell you later, Holly,” I said, yawning as I closed my eyes. “Will you wake me when Jude gets here?”
“Of course, Lucy,” she said. “Sleep tight.” She pressed a kiss to my temple, and then I was asleep.
“How long has she been out?” Jude’s voice broke through my dreams, but didn’t fully free me from them. Dreams that had been more dark than light, more nightmare than dream.
“Since she basically walked through the door,” Holly replied, sounding far-off.
“What’s going on, Hol?” His fingers started stroking my hair.
“She wouldn’t say, but I’ve got a few ideas.”
“What ideas?” His voice was so tight with worry, and something else. Exhaustion, maybe?
“Nope, not my place to say. Lucy can tell you what’s going on when she wakes up.”
Jude’s mouth pressed into my temple and stayed there for a beat, like he was trying to breathe me in. “I was so worried, Hol. So f**king worried.”
“It’s going to be all right, Jude. Whatever Lucy needed you for, you two will work out.”
“Yeah,” he said against my skin, “I know.”
It might have been his lips, or it might have been his words, but one of the two freed me at last from the curtain of dreamland.
“Luce?” Jude’s face was blurry as my eyes adjusted. “Baby? Are you all right?”
“You made it,” I said, smiling up at him. I already felt ten times better just having him close.
“I told you I would.”
“I know,” I said, shifting below him. “What time is it?”
“A little before midnight.”
“How did you get here so fast?”
His fingers continued running through my hair, soothing me. “I chartered a plane,” he answered. “A fast one.”
This time, the price tag didn’t bother me. He was here in less than eight hours’ time. “Thank you,” I said, knowing two words were inadequate, but not being able to offer him anything else right now.
Jude smiled his reply. He was so close I could smell the scent of his favorite soap. Having him here, his presence, his smile, his scent . . . I was home.