CHAPTER 12

Ginger knew exactly what she was looking for. She even knew in which large green plastic storage tub it was buried and in which section of the attic. Of course she hadn’t labeled and alphabetized the contents of her storage areasthat would have been neuroticbut Ginger was no slouch when it came to household organization.

That one, she said to Josh, pointing to a top shelf. Can you grab it for me?

Joshua reached high and pulled it down from a shelf against the eaves. Where’s it going? he asked, carrying the container across the wood plank floor.

My room. On the floor by the bed would be great.

What’s in here, anyway? Josh headed down the steep, narrow attic stairs.

Ginger followed him. Just a bunch of Grams’s old clothes. Stuff from her Hollywood days.

Cool. Can I see it?

Her son’s interest in fashion made her smile. She wondered if it would be possible for Josh to be both the leader of the free world as well as a personal shopper.

Sure.

Josh let the box drop to the floor of Ginger’s room, then bent to pry open the lid. What are you looking for, Mom?

Well Ginger laughed a little to herself, knowing that once she told Josh what she was up to, she’d never hear the end of it from her boys. Grams’s old bikini, you know, from her beach-blanket B-movie days.

Josh narrowed his eyes.

And there’s a big floppy sun hat in there, and some big white sunglasses.

You going on vacation?

Ginger laughed loudly. No, sweetie. It’s for my photo with HeatherLynn. Lucio and I thought it would be fun for me to pose like

Like Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, he cut her off, smiling. That’ll be awesome!

Yet again, her idea hadn’t been a surprise. She was disappointed.

Mom, c’mon! It’s a no-brainer, Josh said. What’s HeatherLynn going to wear?

That was something Ginger hadn’t yet figured out.

Wow! Josh tossed the lid aside and the clothes began flying out of the storage container, landing all over the floor. Josh threw the bikini pieces toward Ginger, then the sun hat and glasses. Eventually he pulled out what had piqued his interest. There’s a cover-up! He held the blue tropical-print robe above his head. I can make HeatherLynn a little matching bikini with this!

He could? Ginger was baffled. You can do that?

Sure.

You know how to sew?

Sure, he said, shrugging. That’s what I do on the costuming crew at school, Mom. I’ve been doing it for two years.

Her mouth opened. You have? Ginger suddenly felt guilty. She should have known this about her own kid! Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you just helped with costume rental.

That, too, but I also make stuff. It’s no big deal. He folded the fabric and shoved it under his arm. I’ll work on it after school tomorrow. When’s Lucio taking your picture?

She smiled involuntarily. Friday night.

I can do it by then, he said, bending down to place a kiss on her cheek.

Ginger brought her hand to her face in astonishment. Once her son, the designer, had left the room, her gaze fell to the pile of clothes on the floor, and she was hit by a stroke of genius.

Lucio! C’mon in!

The fact that Jason opened the door for him with such enthusiasm was Lucio’s first surprise. The second came when he nearly tripped over a large green storage container in the middle of the foyer. The third surprise was how Josh enthusiastically volunteered to load the container in the car for Lucio, while Jason invited him to have a seat in the living room and relax. Mom will be just a minute, he said.

Lucio sat awkwardly on a chair, aware that things were stranger than usual in the Garrison habitat. Just then, HeatherLynn came careening around the corner from the dining room, headed right for Lucio. She stopped at his feet, placed her cute white paws on his knees, and wagged her feather-duster tail. He picked her up and she began licking his face.

Care for a cocktail? Jason asked. Martini? Whiskey sour? Gin and tonic?

Lucio tried to pry the dog off his face while scanning the room, half expecting to find video cameras trained on his every move. You know how to prepare cocktails?

Jason laughed. Not really. That’s just what people are always saying in those old movies from the sixtiesyou know, ‘Would you care for a drink?’ He laughed some more.

Ah. Lucio nodded, as if he now understood everything.

Josh returned to the living room and sat next to his brother on the sofa. It was the first time Lucio had seen them at ease, relatively still, so close to each other. They were identical twins, yes, but they were not identical human beings. Jason’s left eye sat just slightly lower than his right, while Josh’s were more symmetrical and closer-set. When Josh smiled his lips went decidedly crooked, while Jason’s were straight. Jason seemed a little more muscular than Josh, and Josh was probably about a half inch taller than his brother. They were Larry Garrison redux, only with a more delicately shaped nose that they’d inherited from their mother. They were handsome young men.

And at that particular moment, both looked as if they were ready to bust out laughing.

What’s going on, gentlemen? Lucio asked. What’s the big secret?

Josh punched Jason in the leg. You told him Mom has a secret?

No, piss-face! I didn’t say anything! He punched Josh back, harder.

Lucio laughed a little, still wrangling HeatherLynn. He hadn’t had the burdenor the pleasureof growing up with a sibling. He could not imagine what life was like for Genevieve’s two boys, who faced the world every day as a team.

Then why did he ask what the secret was? Josh yelled.

I don’t know! Jason yelled back.

The boys abruptly stopped their arguing and turned to Lucio. Hey, uh, can I start tonight? Jason asked.

For a second, Lucio had no idea what the kid was talking about, but then it dawned on him that he was referring to his duties as photographer’s assistant. Yes, Lucio did look forward to introducing Jason to the world of photography and getting to know him better. But tonight? No. It would not fit in with what Lucio had planned for the boy’s mother.

Doofus, Josh said to Jason, shaking his head. Tonight is more of a date than a photo shoot! Didn’t you see how Mom’s getting all dressed for He stopped himself.

I’m the doofus? Jason asked, looking to the ceiling as if asking God to give him strength.

Lucio buried his face in HeatherLynn’s soft fur, hiding his smile. So that was the big secret. Genevieve was getting dressed up to come over to his place. He’d mentioned they’d be having a bite to eat before he took pictures, but he didn’t expect her to go to any trouble. She’d have to change into her costume eventually, after all.

Next time, yes? Lucio nodded to Jason. Did you read the book I suggested?

Yeah, he said. I have a million questions about lenses and exposure and shutter speed, though.

I hope I have a fraction of the answers, Lucio said.

Here’s a question for you, Joshua said. Are you and my mom, you know, together?

Lucio leaned back in surprise.

We know that has nothing to do with photography, Jason said sheepishly. But it’s something we were wondering.

Lucio nodded, impressed and touched by the protective streak coming out in Genevieve’s sons. It is my hope that we are, he said. I would like very much to be your mother’s man. I offered to ask her father’s permission to court her, but she told me he had passed away.

The boys nodded sadly. When we were in fourth grade, Josh said.

So I offered to ask her mother.

Josh and Jason looked to each other and promptly cracked up.

What is so funny?

Well, it’s weird enough that you’d want to ask permission to date a grown lady, but it’s even weirder that you’d want to ask Grams. She’s, uh Josh paused to find the right words.

A man-eater, Jason said. She’s had five husbands.

I see.

Josh nodded in Lucio’s direction as if he were sharing a private joke with him. Mom’s not exactly interested in her advice when it comes to men. After all, Grams absolutely loved Dad. She still does.

Ah, Lucio said, biting down on the inside of his cheek.

But you can ask us for permission! Josh suggested brightly. Yeah! Ask us!

Jason stared at his brother in horror. What are you, brain-damaged? Lucio doesn’t have to ask uswe’re fifteen and he’s probably, like, fifty or something!

Actually, I’m quite close to your mother’s age, and asking your permission is a very good idea. Lucio put HeatherLynn on the floor. You are the men of the house, yes? I would like to know your opinion.

Uh, okay, Josh said.

How do you feel about me dating your mother?

After exchanging a quick glance with his brother, Jason shrugged. Fine, I guess. You’re really cool. So, you know, as long as you’re good to her and everything, I don’t see any problem.

I am happy to hear it.

Joshua tipped his head and studied Lucio. So what are your plans for Mom?

Lucio didn’t bother trying to suppress his smileit would have been a losing battle. I only have the best intentions, he said. I plan to stay here in San Francisco and spend as much time with her as possible. I think your mother is a very special woman and I want to know everything about her.

Jason squinted. Seriously? Everything?

Yes.

Like how many layers of antiwrinkle crap she puts on her face before bed? he asked.

Uh

Or how soy milk gives her hives? Josh asked.

That is all quite interesting, but

Or how she goes totally psycho if we’re at a restaurant and the waiter comes over and squats by the table? Jason said, giggling.

She really, really hates that, Josh said. She made us leave an Outback Steakhouse once because the waiter got to the table and squatted to take our drink orders. And my mouth was watering for their onion rings!

So if you make her dinner or something, don’t squat by the table, whatever you do, Jason added helpfully.

Lucio was thoroughly puzzled. Squatting waiters? He’d never heard of such a thing! I appreciate all this help, but I was thinking more along the lines of your mother’s favorite flower, or her favorite music, or who the lucky man was who got to give your mother her very first kiss.

The boys stared at each other, their brows furrowed.

Hydrangeas, Josh said.

Nirvana, Jason said.

But you’re on your own with the kissing thing, Josh added.

Thank you for your help, gentlemen. Lucio chuckled softly to himself as he checked his watch. Do you know how much longer your mother might be?

Hold on. I’ll check. Jason twisted his body around and leaned over the back of the sofa. MOM?

Lucio heard Genevieve’s voice upstairs. Yes?

Lucio’s waiting!

Okay! Be right down!

Jason flopped back around on the couch, smiling at Lucio. She’ll be right down, he said, as if Lucio had not heard the exchangeas if anyone in the Bay Area had not heard it.

Thank you.

Wait till you see her. You’re going to love it, Josh added conspiratorially.

I know I will.

But you’re going to be sweet to her, right? Jason asked. The worry Lucio saw in his face was touching.

You won’t make her cry or anything, right? Josh added.

You have my word, Lucio said. I

The moment Genevieve appeared at the foot of the stairs, Lucio jumped from his chair, forgetting what he was about to say. If anyone had pressed him at that moment, he would not have been able to remember his own name.

Whoa, Josh whispered.

See? Jason said, pointing toward his mother. Didn’t I tell you?

I was the one who told him! Josh said, punching his brother’s arm.

Lucio stared.

Genevieve had poured herself into a vintage cocktail dress and was now a cross between a Bond girl and a living, breathing Vargas pinup. Her auburn hair had been flipped up at the ends and teased a few inches at the top. She’d applied black mascara and thick eyeliner in a provocative upward sweep at the edge of her upper lids. Her lips glistened in a shade of light pink. She’d added a small, dark beauty mark just above and to the side of her mouth.

And her skin! Lucio ran a hand nervously through his hair as he noted how her skin gleamed against the pale olive silk of the dress, her bosom full and succulent as it rose above the low, square neckline.

Lucio’s gaze continued on to appreciate how her firm upper arms looked restrained by the tiny cap sleeves. The sight of that made him flare his nostrils. And he stared at how her waist was nipped by the darted silk, how her hips, belly, and thighs were accentuated by the tight, shiny fabric. Lucio did not think it would be possible to shove a single sheet of paper between Genevieve’s body and that dress.

Which did not matter, of course, because the only thing that would be shoved in that dress tonight would be his hands.

Me dejas sin palabras, Lucio breathed. Truly, you leave me speechless.

Genevieve gave him a knowing little smile, then she pivoted on a pair of pointy-toed black pumps, providing the view from the back. It was all Lucio could do to keep his composure in front of the boys. He stood stock-still, his breath ragged, his instincts telling him to get down on his hands and knees and crawl to her like a well-trained dog.

The Host! He had begun to sweat! That dress was cut all the way down to her lower spine. The entire back was open. He had to get her out of this housenowbefore he went back on his promise to the boys and began to behave in a decidedly un sweet fashion toward their mother.

Lucio took several controlled steps in Genevieve’s direction. He kissed her cheek chastely and offered her his arm.

Shall we? he asked.

Yes, let’s, Genevieve said, her eyes never leaving Lucio’s. Please remember to lock up when you leave for your dad’s, she added without a glance back.

They’d reached the door when the boys began to laugh. They turned to see Josh holding the satin pillow and Jason holding HeatherLynn’s leash. The dog herself sat patiently on the carpet, her tiny pink tongue poking out, waiting to be picked up.

Aren’t you forgetting something? Josh asked.

Lucio was thoroughly embarrassed that they’d forgotten the pet that would be required for the pet portrait. Of course, he said, accepting the leash from Jason. Thank you for all your help tonight, gentlemen.

Josh leaned close and whispered, Looks like you’re going to need all the help you can get, dude.

I believe you may be right about that, Lucio whispered back, giving the boys a wink.

* * *

I must askwhere did you get the incredible dress?

Ginger smiled to herself as she pushed around her salad with a fork. It was a pity that Lucio had gone to all this trouble with dinner when she didn’t feel hungry. He’d tidied up Rick’s lovely home and lit candles on the table. He’d poured wine. He’d pulled her chair out for her.

It was my mother’s, she said. She had roles in a bunch of low-budget movies in the mid to late sixties, and I think this may have been a costume from one of them, though I can’t be sure. She’s given me a bunch of her old clothes over the years.

But it fits you perfectly. Did you have it altered?

Ginger laughed. No. I barely had time to have it cleaned. And it’s a little tight around the hips.

I do not mind that at all, Lucio said.

She laughed. Somehow, I knew you wouldn’t.

But I do not want any other man seeing you in that dress, all right? Lucio’s dark eyes sparkled.

Why is that?

Because any man with the gift of sight will try to steal you away, mi amor. I will have to fight him off with my bare, bloodied fists!

Ginger laughed. The poor guy could try all he wanted, but I’m only interested in you, Lucio.

I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear it. Lucio placed his elbows on the table and folded his hands, studying her. But I see that you are not at all interested in la tortilla de patatas y la ensalada. You’ve hardly eaten a thing.

No! It’s very good, actually. You’re an excellent cook. Ginger looked down at her lap, smoothing the napkin out over her dress, wondering how she’d tell him she didn’t feel like eating.

Then why are you not enjoying it?

She looked up. Lucio was obviously puzzled, and she supposed the truth was the only way to put him at ease. She’d had sex with the manand it was the best sex of her entire lifeso why shouldn’t he know where she was in her menstrual cycle?

I’m a little sick to my stomach, she said.

Lucio’s eyes flew open. He looked scared to death.

I’m fine! she added, laughing in surprise at his reaction. She reached out to touch his clasped hands, his knuckles now white with tension. I just finished my period today, is all. It’s nothing, really.

She watched Lucio’s body nearly melt with relief. He hung his head and slowly shook it side to side, exhaling deeply.

Bonita, he said, looking up, his eyes wide. I was certain you were going to tell me you were pregnant.

Ginger stiffened, balling up the linen napkin in her lap, stung by how happy he seemed. But of course he was happy. She was happy! They were both damn happy that the whole broken-condom incident hadn’t put an end to life as they knew it.

Looks like we dodged that bullet, she said, trying to sound lighthearted.

He reached for her, cradling both her hands in his. I see that my reaction hurt you. I did not mean to. Of course I am relieved, but if you were pregnant, it would not be a catastrophe, yes?

Ginger kept her face expressionless. She willed herself not to cry. What was wrong with her? Why had Lucio’s reaction stung so? Did she want to be pregnant? Did she expect him to be crushed that she wasn’t? What was her problem?

Right then, Ginger decided she didn’t care what the doctors said. She really was going through menopause. Her period had lasted just two days and barely warranted unwrapping a tampon. And now she felt as though she had a raging case of PMS. Maybe, in her case, the acronym stood for Pretty bad Menopausal Syndrome.

Ginger took her hand from Lucio’s and placed the wadded-up napkin on the table. She stood. She walked from the huge open dining area of Rick’s modern house and went into the living room, now Lucio’s studio. She hadn’t been here since the night all hell broke loosethe night Josie got kidnapped by crazy Bennett Cummings.

Tonight felt much the same, since all hell was breaking loose in her heart.

Please tell me what’s wrong. Lucio had come up behind her. He placed his hands on her hips and breathed onto her neck.

I don’t know what’s wrong, she said. I feel ridiculous for being so emotional. I know you probably hate it. Larry always hated it when

I am not Larry, Lucio said, spinning Ginger around so that she faced him, his equal in height in those heels. I want to know all the little things about you, yes? All the hidden corners in your mind and heart. Do not apologize for them and do not assume I will react like Larry did when you allow me to see them.

Ginger’s mouth fell open.

You understand, yes?

I guess, she said, baffled.

Share it all with me, Genevieve. That is what I ask. Lucio leaned forward and kissed her forehead, then smiled at her. If you get moody in your cycle, so what? Who cares? It’s natural! And if you aren’t hungry for my famous potato omelet? We’ll wrap it up for later. It doesn’t matter. But if you are angry with me because I am relieved you aren’t pregnantthen you must tell me you are angry. Share it with me, bonita. This is what I want.

Ginger swallowed hard. Seriously?

Lucio laughed. Seriously. He reached for her and drew her close to his chest, though Ginger could tell he was being careful not to smear her makeup.

Suddenly, it all made sense to her. This is what happened to you before, isn’t it? Ginger asked, still wrapped in his arms.

Before?

She slipped from Lucio’s embrace and stood before him. Is that why you had to get married when you were young? Was she pregnant? Do you have a child in Spain?

Lucio shook his head. No, guapa. It has never happened before. She was pregnant, yes, but I was seventeen and ignorant and I did not even bother to use a condom at all.

Ginger was shocked. So you do have a child! Why didn’t you tell me?

There is no child, Lucio said abruptly. He ran his hands through his hair. She lost the baby three weeks after the wedding and immediately asked for an annulment. He shrugged, a faint shadow of sadness falling over his face. It seems so far away now that it is almost like it never happened.

Ginger did not know how to respond to that story. I am sorry about the baby, was all she could come up with.

Lucio tried to smile. I believe that things happen for a reason, yes? I have often thought that God or the universe or whatever you want to call it actually wanted me to have the life I’ve had. Perhaps God knew I’d make a better photographer than father. His voice was soft as he brought his face to hers. All I know is I could not have accomplished all I have if there was a child and a wife in my life.

Ginger understood. On good days, she could see her years with Larry in the same light. If she hadn’t met him in college then she wouldn’t have Jason and Joshuaan unthinkable possibility.

It must sound harsh to hear me say that, but it is true. Lucio let his forehead rest upon Ginger’s. She felt his hands stroke her back. I have never told anyone this, but there are times I truly believe that I would trade all my adventures and success to be able to know the child who was never born.

Lucio

He would be a grown man now.

Ginger put her arms around him, holding him tight.

And your boys Lucio made a sound somewhere in between a laugh and a sigh. They are a funny pair, yes? And I watch them and I can’t help but think of my own son. I know that dwelling on this is ah, the word

Ginger smiled, now accustomed to the pause that occurred when Lucio couldn’t come up with the English needed to finish his thought. Dwelling on it is sad?

Yes, but that is not the word I was thinking of.

Pointless?

Almost.

Maudlin. Morose? Self-pitying?

Lucio laughed. You know too many words, pelirroja. But you do understand. He tightened his hold on her and adjusted his head so that he could rest his cheek against hers. What I am trying to tell you is that I am relieved you’re not pregnant, it is true, because I do not know if I could be a good father right now in my life. But it is not so simple. I often wonder about it, what it would be like to have a child.

Ginger closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of him. It was spicy and clean and delivered a shot of heat through her veins. She’d missed himhis voice, his touch, his scentover the last week.

He pulled his cheek from hers and steadied her in front of him. I have something I need to ask you.

Ginger smiled. You can ask me anything.

You have just finished bleeding. I understand this. And you have taken great care with your hair and makeup and it is all so perfect for the picture. But none of it can deter me. I want you.

Ginger swallowed hard.

Lucio ran his fingers inside the low, square neckline, brushing a fingertip just above her nipples. She gasped, trembling under his touch.

The moment I saw you in this dress I was the word yes! I was reduced! Reduced to my most base self. All I wanted was to throw you down in the sand next to the bamboo hut you share with MaryAnn.

Oh, reeelly?

I wanted to rip the dress off you, muss up your hair, and get inside you. Lucio’s grin widened and he cupped her face with his hands. Do you have any idea how sexy you are dressed like this, Genevieve? Do you have any idea what you have done to me tonight, how you have made a ruined man of me?

Ginger tilted her head back and laughed at Lucio’s speech. Wow, she said, catching her breath. So this is your way of telling me you’ve always had a thing for the girls of Gilligan’s Island?

What normal man has not? he murmured, nuzzling her ear.

But which one really did it for you, Lucio? Ginger captured Lucio’s earlobe between her lips and sucked gently. Tell me who you liked the best.

Ginger, of course. When Lucio chuckled it tickled her neck. For me, it has always been about Ginger.

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