The Long Road Home(5)

By: H.D. Thomson

Leaning through the open window, Vivian returned Clarisse’s smile. A cloud of blazing red hair framed a pale, expertly made-up face. A model. How ironic.

Vivian’s blue eyes widened. “Your face!”

Frowning, Clarisse cautiously brushed her fingers against her chin and nose, thinking that somehow dirt must have found its way on her.

“I used to see it on all the mags. You went under the name of Claire.” She shook her head in amazement. “This is hilarious. I’m riding with an honest-to-goodness super model!”

The skin across Clarisse’s cheekbones and jaw tightened. “That was a long time ago.”

“Why, you disappeared off the face of the earth.” Vivian shook her head in obvious amazement. “I seem to remember—” Something in Clarisse’s expression must have stopped her from elaborating. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I always wanted to make it as a model. I did have a taste of it in high school. I managed to do a couple of jobs locally, but nothing came of it. I guess I just never had the look.”

The look. That was right. Clarisse’d had that look. She and her bank account were thankful for it; without it she wouldn’t be financially secure today. Hoarding every cent during her short career, plain luck, and some smart business decisions had given Clarisse the mobility and freedom of never having to work again.

“So, is that it?” John asked, both hands on the hatch of the Explorer.

“Yes.” Clarisse winced when he slammed the door.

“Then let’s get going.” He turned his back, moving around to the driver’s side of the vehicle, his stride long and powerful.

Heaving herself up onto the back seat behind Vivian, Clarisse bit her lip, cutting off her cry of pain. She struggled into a sitting position, trying to look as graceful as possible. Beads of perspiration dotted her brow and clung to her temples. She closed the door, then leaned against the leather backrest. Fighting against the exhaustion pressing down on her limbs, she slid along the back and lifted her right leg across the seat. Finally in a comfortable position, she sighed, looked up and met Jennifer’s gaze.

“Don’t forget to give me a call.” Jennifer warned, concern etched in her face. She pointed back to the house. “Do you need any help?”

Vehemently, Clarisse shook her head, knowing Jennifer was referring to her cane. It was going to stay on that bed until she was ready for it.

When her best friend frowned as if in disagreement, Clarisse responded with a mouthed, “Don’t worry.”

John stomped on the gas pedal and the Explorer jerked backward. He pulled out of the driveway and turned west. She looked out the rear window until Jennifer’s diminishing form disappeared from view.


“John tells me you’re also going to Laura and Darren’s wedding?” Vivian asked.

“Yes,” Clarisse retorted more abruptly than she intended. She closed her eyes, attempting to ignore the dull throbbing in her leg. Then her eyes snapped open. Something wasn’t quite right with Vivian’s question. “Also? I didn’t know you knew Laura.”

Vivian gave a deep, throaty chuckle. “I don’t. John’s the one that got the invite. Isn’t that right?”

At his affirmative murmur, Clarisse sank lower in her seat. “Funny. Laura never mentioned you were coming.”

“She probably didn’t think it important, or she might have just forgotten,” John said. “She sounded pretty distracted the last time I talked to her on the phone. She wanted me to photograph the wedding. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

And here she thought she’d be able to dump John in San Diego. Now it looked like she would have to endure his company throughout Laura’s wedding and reception. What fun. Thank goodness she had a ride back with her parents, because just the idea of returning with John had her cringing in horror.

Vivian’s long, red, perfectly manicured nails appeared through the gap of the Explorer’s bucket seats. They brushed slowly across John’s forearm lying on the armrest, then caressed the back of his hand in a random pattern. It was a touch between lovers. Uncomfortable at the intimate display, Clarisse looked away and caught him watching her in the rearview mirror. She felt herself flush.