It had been two weeks since my disastrous date with Lily then my run in with her soon-to-be-ex. I’d known who he was, had seen him at soccer week after week flirting up a storm. My sister had actually felt bad for the children with their absentee mother. To be fair, Paul seemed like a good father, only my experience with Lily told me he wasn’t a great husband to her. He was charming with the women, friendly with the men, and appropriately attentive to the boys and other kids that floated around. He seemed like a real catch. Maybe he was. I wasn’t in a position to judge. I didn’t know why their marriage had failed beyond a few comments Lily had made about him being controlling and manipulative.

But his attitude towards ‘Lillian’ had been condescending and dismissive; as if he didn’t believe she could leave him and do anything on her own.  I’d been angry that she hadn’t told me what was going on even as I understood her reasons. She was trying to be independent and strong, all of the things her husband hadn’t let her be for years, and I admired her for that, but no way was I letting her face this alone. I knew her moving into my house wouldn’t be a great solution but it had to be better than staying with him. I had the space though I worried about how it would affect us but I would put that aside, put her well-being ahead of our relationship.

That had been my plan when I dropped a subdued Lily off at work that night. I even went home and started thinking about changing one of the rooms for her and one for her kids. Would they like bunk beds? What colour scheme would she like? I’d sent her a goodnight text before I went to bed then a good morning one after I got home from my run. Got back a ‘good morning and see you tonight’ one from her that let me know she was expecting me to pick her up which set my mind at ease. I didn’t exactly count the hours until I saw her but I was a few minutes early pulling into the driveway.

I’d barely opened my door when her front door opened and she walked out, a huge smile on her face. What a change from the woman I’d left the night before. I went around the car and opened the door for her, smiling at her breathy, “Hello,” as she slid in.

I waited until we were on the road to speak, flicking her a quick look to say, “Well you look happy?”

“I am,” she agreed with a quick nod then a rushed, “Can I ask a favour?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Of course.” If only she knew. She could ask me for anything and if it was within my power to help, I would.”

“Can you take me to Margie’s place please?”

At my nod she rattled off the address and I few minutes later I was pulling into the driveway of a modest house in a nice neighbourhood.

“Are you going to keep me in suspense all night?” I asked as her seatbelt clicked and she reached for the door handle.

“Oh right.” She gave a self-conscious laugh and shook her head. “Sorry, I’m all scattered.”

“Scattered looks good on you,” I teased, loving the way she smiled, the sparkle in her eyes.

“Margie, my boss? She has a place I might be able to rent.”

“Oh?” Visions of sharing a meal before I drove her to work, disappeared from my mind with a little pop. I knew it was for the best but some dreams die hard. “A place?”

“A house. It’s only two bedrooms but that’s all I need really,” she said with a shrug. “She said if I came over tonight she would show it to me. You don’t have to stay either, she’ll take me into work after.”

I kept an easy smile on my face at her words but it took effort. It killed me that she was constantly pushing me away, not wanting to ‘impose’ or ‘waste my time’.

“Are you kidding? I want to check out your new place too,” I protested.

“Really?”

“Of course. Let’s go get Margie.”

Margie eyed me with suspicion and insisted on driving herself the short distance to the rental property. The place was small but cosy. The neighbourhood wasn’t as good as mine, but with a decent security system Lily should be okay there for a while. Margie’s son had been living there but had recently moved in with his girlfriend and the other woman had Lily convinced she was doing her a favour by taking the place. The rent she named was well below market value and Lily tried to argue the point but Margie had stood firm.

The two women were stubborn until I stepped in with a suggestion. “Lily maybe you could fix the place up a bit for Margie. Fresh paint, some gardening?”

Margie had given me a nod of approval and an agreement was struck. Luckily there hadn’t been time to argue over the furniture that Margie insisted had to stay or else she would have to find a place to store it all, which was how Lily came to be moving into a furnished two bedroom.

Did I mention Margie also ‘found’ some paint that she must have bought and never used. It was a bright sunny yellow that would contrast nicely with the white cupboards in the kitchen.

I had dropped Lily off at work in a great mood, her head full of plans and ideas for her new home. The next night had been a different story. Sad and subdued Lily was back, the reality of not living with her sons sinking in. I’d taken her home and held her while she’d cried, wishing fervently that I had a solution for her.

It had been a rough couple of weeks, Lily’s mood changing from day to day, and all I could do was listen to her talk, hold her when she cried, and when she was ready, help her move. I’d left her organising things while I went to buy a pizza so we could eat before she had to work but she’s obviously decided painting would be more fun.

I stopped in the open doorway and took in the chaos. Boxes were stacked in the centre of the room along with the furniture covered in drop cloths while the room got a fresh coat of paint. She had her back to me as she worked a roller and swayed her hips to the music playing on the radio. I could see paint smeared down her leg and cobwebs in her hair, such a beautiful mess. I cleared my throat and she spun, the look of caution on her face morphing into delighted surprise in an instant.

I set the pizza on the kitchen bench then took the few steps across the room to her and lifted my hand to wipe paint from her cheek as she smiled up at me, the welcome in her eyes heating my blood. “That’s how I know.”

“Know what?” she said, as usual unaware of the effect she had on me.

I brushed her lips with a teasing kiss, meaning to keep it light, but she opened to me and with a groan I fell into her. We broke apart a minute later and her hand was in my hair while mine were on her hips holding her close. I heard a soft splatting noise and looked down to see paint dripping from the roller onto my boot. I shook my head at her sheepish expression, couldn’t do anything but grin and say, “That you’re worth the effort.”

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