Ten Seconds to Fall

Lucy doesn't know what to do with herself after graduation. That is, until she stumbles upon The 10 Second Fiesta.

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7. A Week In

My dad had planned for the dinner to be at our house. I tried to veto that, as it wasn't neutral territory and mom would freak out about the pressure and the clean up. But, dad insisted it was the most comfortable place for her, that she felt like she was in control. I told him that's exactly why it sucked, but he just got into me for saying something mildly vulgar.

So, Jude was coming over to my house.

I fretted with my hair and makeup, wanting to look nice but not like I was trying to hard. In the end, I settled on a white cotton dress and some flip flops. I combed through my straight hair to tame any flyaways and put on lip gloss.

The doorbell rang and I hurried downstairs.

Jude stood there holding a bottle of wine.

"We're going to need that," I smiled nervously and pulled him into the house.

"Hello to you, too," he smiled and kissed me on the cheek. "You look beautiful."

"You clean up pretty nicely yourself," I reached up and straightened his collar. "Let's get this train out of the station."

I took his hand and led him into the dining room. My parents were already seated. My mother seemed normal. I wondered at how many Xanax she had taken to be this zoned out.

She smiled serenely at Jude and reached her hand out from her seat, "You must be Jude. I'm Stacy Caldwell."

"Nice to meet you, ma'am," he was trying to be charming and he was charming.

"Jude, good to meet you," my father stood from his chair and reached over the table to shake Jude's hand. "Name is Allen."

Jude looked confused for a moment, "Good to meet you, sir."

He looked at me sideways and I shrugged my shoulders. I was used to this ruse. If my mom knew they had met before, she'd lose it over my dad doing something behind her back. If she found out he'd had lunch with me, but without her, she would shout about being cut out from her own family. It was such a normal lie to me that it didn't even occur to me that I should warn Jude about it. I suddenly felt overwhelmed with guilt, but he simply squeezed my hand before he pulled a chair out for me.

Dinner conversation was awkward. I didn't realize how unnatural our family conversations has become until I tried to listen to it from Jude's perspective.

"So, what region do you think grows the best coffee?" Dad asked Jude.

"That's a loaded question, sir," Jude smiled. "Each region has its own flavor and complexities. I don't know if I could pick."

"It's easy," my mother cut in. "South America has the best climate for growing coffee. But, it's driven by slave labor and no one ever wants to talk about that. I make it a point to never drink coffee from South America if I can avoid it. It's a personal sacrifice to do my part in the fifth against human trafficking."

And this is what she did the entire night. Everything was a struggle, a moral stand, and she was always the righteous hero on every topic. Everyone else was always wrong. Jude, the expert on coffee in the room, was an uneducated layman across from her. I was thoroughly embarrassed.

We went to the back patio after dinner and Jude opened the bottle of wine he'd brought. I took the first glass and downed it.

"Easy," he chuckled. "I've never seen you drink before. I'm still not sure I actually got to see it."

"Pour me another glass and I promise to take my time."

He gave me an uncertain look.

"I'm home. It's not like I can get into a car accident tonight," I said.

He pour me half a glass and I took it without even sipping it.

We all sat around the little fire pit my dad and I had built last summer. Jude sat beside me on a bench. My parents sat in separate chairs across from us.

"You can't take her, you know," my mother said suddenly, unprovoked. "You can date her, but you can't have her. She isn't yours."

"Mom, what are you talking about?" I asked out of habit.

"You can't leave," she started to shake angrily. "If you go, what will I have? Nothing. Nobody."

"Dad is right here with you," i offered, but dad had a distant and sad look in his eyes.

"If you're leaving me, you're leaving now," my mother said and stood. She grabbed my wrist, "Go and pack your things. I want you out of my house. You're selfish and you were always going to leave me anyway."

I started to cry and Jude stood, trying to pry her hand from my wrist. She wouldn't let go. She pulled me toward her and hugged me over the short fire.

"No one will ever love you as much as in love you, sweetie," she whispered. "He won't love you as much as your mother loves you."

I was shaking. She'd pulled me close to the fire, and she was always strangely strong when she got like this.

Jude finally managed to separate me from her once dad had joined in to help by pulling mom into an protective hug. She was struggling to get free of him, but he had a good hold.

"Get out of my house," she said in an eerily calm voice.

"I'm sorry," my dad said softly, looking helpless.

I was in shambles.

Jude was practically holding me up as he walked me into the house. He propped me against the wall and quickly wiped tears away from my cheeks.

"Hey, are you okay?" He asked like he knew it was a dumb question.

I shook my head. He pulled me against his chest.

"Why don't you come stay at the cafe?" He asked. "Until this all gets sorted out. Mi casa es su casa. I'll help you pack some things."

I nodded my head.

We both waited for the other to make the next move.

"I don't know where your room is," he said and I caught myself in a ridiculous laugh.

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