Jun. 20th, 2011

marsabi1: (Default)
Title: Anywhere USA
Author: Marsabi
Summary: This is a two part story with multiple chapters.
Part One: Abandoned as a teen, Reid is forced to live on the Snyder farm as a foster kid for a few months, before he heads off on his own, but will a certain child worm his way into Reid’s heart?
Part Two: Reid returns to Oakdale as a favor for Bob, something he planned never to do, and he can’t wait to leave town, until his past slams into him in the form of Luke Snyder and damn if Luke isn’t all grown up.
Warning: Sexual Content in some parts
Rating: PG-NC-17
Thanks to the following friends for their support of this story: shadownyc, traciamc, and Rhiannonhero
Author’s notes: This was bid on by Rhiannon Hero for the Japanese auction. Because I know Rhiannonhero loathes short chapters, these chapters will be long.



Chapter Four

When Reid came back to Ameera’s room, Noah was by her bed. Luke was there too, his back to Reid, hands jammed in his pockets.

Neither of them seemed to notice Reid standing at the door.

“I just think you should consider the risk first, “Luke was saying, “before you sign it. Read the risks- “

“This isn’t your decision to make, Luke,” Noah said in a nasty voice. “It’s mine. This is my wife.”

“I know that.” Luke’s voice sounded hoarse and desperate, “I just want to be sure before-“

“And I just want to do this thing. Now. Or don’t you want Ameera to get better?”

Luke visibly flinched.

Reid cleared his throat. “Actually, he’s right. You should read all the information I left you.”

Luke jumped in surprise and turned to Reid. Reid saw a quick flash of gratitude in Luke’s eyes. He hitched his mouth up a moment and let his eyes just rest on Luke.

“Come in,” Noah said “Don’t just stand in the door way. Luke, make room for Dr. Oliver. “

As Reid approached, Noah’s expression changed. He was all smiles . Luke moved into the corner and rocked back and forth on his heels.

Noah focused on Reid intently. “I’m so ready to have you start, Doctor Oliver. I want Ameera to get well!”

“We all want that,” Luke said. His eyes looked pleadingly at Noah, who ignored him.

Reid glanced from one to the other. “We need to discuss the possibility of your wife having suffered permanent tissue damage,” Reid said to Noah. “It could be minor or be substantial. I won’t know until I get in there. Do you understand?”

Luke made a guilty noise and started near Noah, his face full of sadness and sympathy.

“She could have brain damage?” Noah said slowly, his eyes stunned.

It always shocked Reid how much a family member often live in denial. Of course, his wife might be damaged; her brain could be smashed like rotted fruit. She might wake up fine, or she might wake up a quadriplegic, or with the thought-process of a child.

“I’m sure she’ll be okay,” Luke said. “She’s young and strong and –“

“Stop,” Noah said. “This is my problem, my wife.” He made a face like a lemon was in his mouth, his thick eyebrows knitted together angrily. “Dr. Oliver, I’d like to talk with you. In private, okay Luke?”

Luke’s expression reminded Reid of the day Luke was hurt at the pond. He’d held his hand up to his head with a look of confusion, the blood staining his fingers before Reid had carried him away. The walk back to the house, holding Luke, had felt like forever. Reid nearly tripped several times. Reid remembered that Luke hadn’t cried; he’d been dazed, and shocked that something in this world would hurt him, but he hadn’t cried.

That was how he looked right now. Like Noah had just given him an unexpected blow.

Reid sawed his finger back and forth under his jaw. He was being idiotic, remembering all this old stuff. Luke was not a child and Reid wasn’t here to fix Luke. Reid’s lips clamped together. He busied himself with the chart, fiddling with his pen.

“You understand, right?” Noah asked Luke now, his voice slightly dismissive, so different from the obsequious tones that he’d addressed Reid with earlier.

“Fine,” Luke said abruptly and turned. He briefly looked Reid’s way. Reid hadn’t planned to look up at him, but he lifted his head and met Luke’s eyes. When Reid saw embarrassment and misery reflected there, Reid’s hands curled into fists.

Luke stared dumbly at him for one more second and then he left.

“Dr. Oliver-“ Noah started to say.

Reid held up a commanding hand. He gave Noah a measuring look.

He took out his stethoscope and bent over Ameera. Whatever Noah wanted to say to him could damn well wait a moment. It was difficult to put Luke’s agonized face out of his mind as Reid checked Ameera’s vitals. He listened to her heart. He deliberately took his time with the exam.

“She sounds strong,” he informed Noah at last, “but that could change instantly.”

“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” Noah said.

“Actually,“ Reid replied, “it’s not. “ He gestured toward Ameera.

But Noah wasn’t listening; his face was buried in his hands.

“She was fine the morning I left her to go to Java. She was singing an Iraqi song.“ He looked up at Reid, “Singing! And then I come home to find Luke there dialing 911, and Ameera on the floor-“

“Luke called 911?” Reid repeated. It seemed odd to him how involved Luke seemed in this case.

“Yeah, Luke was with her and I know he’s upset about Ameera.” Noah said. “But I just can’t deal with his needs right now. This isn’t about him.” Noah looked at Reid, “Can you keep Luke out of the room?”

“He isn’t family or anything, right? “ Reid said slowly. “I don’t see a problem.”

“He’s not family, and she’s my wife.” Noah’s tone turned indignant again, as if his wife were a toy he owned and he was five. “I don’t want Luke trying to control it all. Even if he’s paying for her room and everything, I should be the one to decide for my wife what to do.”

“He’s picking up your medical costs?” Reid said. “But you don’t want him here?” This whole thing got stranger and stranger.

Noah nodded, clearly not bothered that Luke was paying for it all, even as he treated Luke like dirt.

“Yeah, Luke’s great to help out,” Noah said automatically, without any warmth. “But I need to concentrate on Ameera right now and nothing else.”

Reid felt puzzled . Somewhere there was a hidden piece here and he just wasn’t seeing it. He usually excelled at puzzles of any kind. Reid must have consumed too much of Bob’s lousy coffee; his head throbbed. He held his fingers up to his temples a moment and rubbed.

“She’s my wife,” Noah repeated possessively, giving Reid his answer.

Both men must be in love with her. Luke must be in love with Noah’s wife. That was the missing piece of the puzzle. Reid recoiled from the thought, but it was the only explanation that made sense. It explained why Luke was picking up the cost and why he looked so devastated, and why Noah looked so resentful. Reid looked at Ameera. She was a nice-looking girl. She had dark hair and a delicate face. Reid touched the girl’s cheek a moment. He thought about Luke. Right or wrong, if she was the person that Luke loved, then Reid wanted her well. He would never do less than his best for a patient, but now Reid felt a strange urgency about it.

“It’s your wife,” Reid agreed, his voice tight. “So what is it you want to do?” Reid asked carefully. “Are you going ahead with the surgery?”

“Dr. Oliver,” Noah said, “what do you think I should do?”

Reid said nothing. His freaking headache was becoming worse, and Noah’s voice was like a hammer at the back of his skull.

“Do you think we should operate?” Noah persisted.

Reid shrugged. “Yes, but –“

“Then that’s good enough for me.”

So much for this guy wanting to make his own decisions. What an ass. If he and Luke were in some sort of love triangle with Ameera, it seemed astonishing to Reid that Luke had any competition. Why would anybody want Noah over Luke? Reid blew out a breath. He needed to let this go. It wasn’t his job to care about any of this. It didn’t matter. Noah’s agreement gave Reid what he wanted-a magnificent operation, and then he’d take the fastest exit out of this insane asylum.

“Fine” he looked abruptly at Noah. “We’ll proceed with the operation.”

Noah nodded. He picked up the consent forms and dutifully signed them.

***

The Snyder farm practically glowed in the setting sun. It seemed smaller than Reid recalled, but still beautiful. The leaves hadn’t started to turn yet, but soon they would be glowing with color. The fields stretched out as far as you could see. Reid knew that just beyond the ridge, the pond was waiting.

Reid smiled slightly. He almost missed that pit of black water. He remembered how the bottom of it would coat his toes in soft mud and the water was always crisp, even on the hottest day. It always smelled like wet grass and flowers there. Now he swam in chlorinated water of YMCAs, where the only smell was of chemicals.

He loosened his tie a little and looked around. He should have stopped first at Yo’s and had a few beers. Reid yanked at his tie some more; it still felt too damn tight. He estimated how long he could just stand on the Snyder porch before somebody found him. He walked up another step. Finally, he reached the front door and knocked.

Emma answered the door. Her round face broke into a smile of welcome. She dusted some flour from her hands and greeted Reid warmly.

“It’s so good to see you, “she said.

“You too.” Reid had always felt comfortable with Emma. They’d had a simple relationship of food.

He was about to comment on how nice the farm looked, when Lily appeared.

“Reid, it’s been a long time.” Lily said in a more formal tone than Emma’s. “How are you?”
Lily looked around at him and Reid suddenly realized he’d forgotten to bring anything like flowers or wine to the dinner.

“You look good,” Lily added, going in for a hug.

Reid grimaced at the little squeeze she gave him. But he managed a smile.

Just then, a couple of kids barreled into Reid as they dashed for the door.

“You’re it!”

“You are!”

They ran down the porch and out to the yard like crazed puppies.

“Children!” Emma called them, “We have a guest.”

“What can you do?” Lily said with a tiny shrug. She went back into the house.

“I got you both!” Luke bellowed out at the kids, appearing quite suddenly from behind the house. He chased them around in circles.

“Goodness! Stop it,” Emma scolded. They stopped and Reid saw that all three had the same wide smile.

“Ethan and Natalie - go upstairs and wash up. Natalie it’s your night to set the table.” Emma shook her head at them . “And say hello to Dr. Oliver.”

“Hello,” the kids dutifully chorused. Reid offered a hand to them and they just giggled. They ran inside.

“You came,” Luke said, still in the yard. He smiled at Reid.

“I did.”

“I’m glad,” Luke said simply, but his eyes shined.

“Luke,” Emma instructed. “Dinner won’t be for a little bit. Why not show Reid around the farm again? He might enjoy that.”

“Okay.”

Luke gestured for Reid to come down and join him.

“Want to go to the barn first?”

“Sure. Might as well start with the appetizing smell of manure.”

Luke laughed and then led the way. As he unlocked the barn door, he said, “Don’t let my dad hear you say that. He’d bottle this smell if he could.”

“Ahh, now I know his secret with the ladies.”

Luke sighed. “That would be funny, Reid. If my mom wasn’t hoping he’ll show up tonight.”

“Oh. So Holden and Lily….“

“Split up,” Luke smiled painfully. “Again.”

“Sorry,” Reid said, his eyes softening on Luke.

“Oh well,” Luke tried to shrug it off. “Hope springs eternal.”

So did dysfunction, Reid thought, but he said nothing.

“We don’t even live at the farm right now. Mom has a place in town. We come to see Emma and Dad, but if Mom comes then he usually isn’t around.” Luke went over and gently patted a cow.

Reid listened, but he didn’t know what to say.

“So,” Luke said in an overly bright tone, still patting the stupid cow. “How’ve you been?”

Reid nodded. “No complaints.”

“Are you happy at the Mayo Clinic?”

“For the most part.”

Luke studied him with his expressive eyes. “Are you happy outside of work? “

“There’s a life outside of work?”

Luke half-smiled at that. He gave the cow one last pat. Reid made a face at the animal. Milking bovines was one job he never wanted again. It had taken him years to forget the rubbery teat in his hand.

“Is being a doctor really everything? “ Luke said.

Before Reid could respond, Luke walked closer to him.

“There’s nothing else you want in life?”

He was close enough that Reid felt the heat from his body and smelled the sweetness of his breath.

“What about your life?” Reid asked quickly. He tactfully moved away from Luke. “You’re in what? Your last year of college?” Reid was genuinely curious about Luke’s life, which he marked as an oddity. Usually, anything outside of medicine, Reid just tuned out.

Luke took a moment to answer. “I’m not in school right now, actually.” Luke studied his feet.

“Oh? “ Reid frowned slightly. “You decided to drop out?”

Luke hesitated. “Not exactly.” Luke glanced away. “I made a pretty big mistake and was asked to leave.“ He had a red spot of humiliation on his cheeks now. Reluctantly, he looked back at Reid. “Can we just change the subject?”

Reid nodded. “Sure.” Then he paused a second. “But how bad could it be? Did you hurt somebody?”

“No, of course not. It wasn’t anything like that.”

“Okay. But Holden and Lily didn’t defend you? Stick up for you?”

Luke walked back over to the cow’s pen. He rubbed his hands over the wood.

“Why should they?” Luke gave a slight shake of his head. ”I told you that I made a mistake. I deserved it.”

Reid tapped his hand against his thigh impatiently. “And nobody else in Oakdale has ever made one of those?” Reid scoffed. He hitched his body forward a little and took a small step toward Luke. “No matter what, they should have stuck up for you.” Then, as his eyes met Luke’s, Reid tried to lighten the mood. “Besides, couldn’t they just buy you a new university or something?”

Luke stared at him. “You know, nobody else is like you, Reid.”

Reid wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a criticism.

“I’m unique,” Reid agreed, a little awkwardly.

Luke nodded. He skimmed his hands over the wood again.

“You’ll get a splinter doing that,” Reid warned.

Luke grinned then. “Unique,” he repeated suddenly.

He crossed the distance between them and gently brushed his hand at Reid’s collar. “I really missed you sometimes.”

Reid was silent. Luke played with his collar. He looked into Reid’s eyes. “Did you ever miss us? Miss Oakdale?”

“I’m too busy to miss things. “

“Are you?” Luke said softly.

Reid forced his gaze away from Luke’s. The barn suddenly felt like a furnace. Reid wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and then glanced up.

“’Remember when we used to go up there? “ he asked Luke, pointing to the hayloft.

Luke, thank goodness, had stopped with his collar. His hand fell away and followed Reid’s gaze.

“I loved it up there. I used to hide out and just think.”

Reid nodded, suddenly he could see Luke as a boy again. He’d come back from his job at Memorial and often find him in the barn. It didn’t matter that the days were hot and the barn stunk, Luke would be in shorts and a T-shirt, barefoot, and drinking a Coke. He’d usually been surrounded by papers and markers too.

“Didn’t you write up there? “ Reid said now. “Filled up that notebook with those superhero cartoons, right?”

“You remember? “ Luke laughed, color flooding his cheeks. “I thought I’d be the next Stan Lee. “ He smiled sweetly at Reid.

“You were pretty good at writing.” Reid gave him a quick smile in return. Then he began to climb up to the hay bales.

Luke followed him. Soon they were sitting side by side, swinging their legs off the ledge, surrounded by hay.

“And you were all about medicine,” Luke smiled. “What’s being a surgeon like?”

Reid shrugged. “Like connecting the dots.”

“I doubt operating is that simple,” Luke laughed.

Reid smiled. “You’d be surprised how it all goes together so easily. If you understand it, it’s like the patterns stars make in the sky, you know? Do you remember how you used to like to look up at them as a kid? We took out Holden’s binoculars a few times and tried to find Orion and the Great Bear, right? “ Reid’s body relaxed as he became lost in the memory. The binoculars were second rate, but the stars out at the farm were always clear.

Reid turned to Luke. “Remember looking with me at them? You didn’t see the connection at first, but then you got it. From then on, we saw all these amazing constellations. The brain is like that. At first, it just looks like this alien spaghetti, but then it begins to reveal its true beauty and it has a shape and a pattern, you know? It’s incredible. No two are alike. ”

Pulling back, Reid suddenly realized that he was doing all the talking. Luke’s head was tilted close to his own, almost touching. Crap. Had he really just geeked out like that? It was Luke’s fault; he was too good a listener. Reid hadn’t babbled like that in years.

Reid cleared his throat several times.

Luke nudged him gently. His eyes were soft, his lips smiling gently. “Hmm, the brain and constellations? Are you a bit romantic about your job, Reid?” Luke teased.

Reid smacked his forehead. “Oh, I forgot to tell you about the fungus, the bad food, and the moronic interns too.”

“Now that sounds like you.“ Luke grinned.

They both laughed.

“It isn’t romantic,” Reid admitted sheepishly. “It’s bleeding and vomiting and pissing and fighting – it’s life and death. But on a good day, it’s saving somebody too.”

Reid picked up a few stray pieces of hay and started to braid them together. He was still curious about Luke and college, but he also wanted the night to go well. He was enjoying it. He liked just sitting next to Luke, high up in the barn, talking. Reid couldn’t recall the last time he just shared his thoughts with anybody, outside of medicine.

“I didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject before,” Reid offered. “With college.”

Luke turned to him. “It’s not you. You’re fine.”

There was a silence. It occurred to Reid that he should be asking Luke more about his life.

“So what do you do with your time now? Work here?”

“I run a foundation. We work with charities.”

“Impressive.” Reid was about to ask what exact charities Luke sponsored, when Luke shook his head.

“Not really,” Luke caught his lip with his teeth. “The money came from Damian.”

Reid knew Damian was a tender issue for Luke. In all the months that Reid had spent on the farm, Damian had never called Luke. His questions had again hit upon something bruised inside of Luke. He thought about what to say.

“Does that matter?” Reid asked at last. “It’s not where you got it, right? It’s what you do with it.”

“Yeah?” Luke said. His eyes grew larger. “Maybe you’re right.”

“I’m always right.”

Luke snorted and then laughed.

“You know what, Reid? Things have been kind of rough lately. But seeing you again has been one of the few bright spots.” Luke gently covered Reid’s hand with his own a moment.

Reid was aware of his mouth suddenly being dry. Luke’s touch almost made him feel light-headed. He took his hand away.

Luke looked disconcerted too. He jammed his hand into his pocket.

“Tell me more about your foundation,” Reid suggested.

Luke nodded eagerly. “I’ve actually been thinking about the foundation a lot. And about hospitals. I’m considering working on some funding for Memorial. I hate how the walls are always white. I hate the smells, and the way families have nowhere to relax. Wouldn’t it be great to have a special wing where families can gather and maybe even spend the night? My foundation might actually be able to build that. One day, I hope to do it,” Luke said. Then he bit his lip. “You probably hate that idea.”

“No,” Reid answered slowly, “It’s not completely dumb.” He flashed Luke a fast smile. “And it keeps the families out of my way.”

“Gee , thanks,” Luke said dryly. “That was exactly my goal.”

“Any time.”

Luke shook his head at him. “Seriously though, it’s awful for the people doing the waiting in the hospital. Ever since Ameera got ill, I’ve been thinking about it.”

“Speaking of Ameera,” Reid replied, “what’s up with that? What’s going on with the three of you there?” The moment the words left Reid’s mouth, he could tell he once again said the exact wrong thing.

Luke’s face closed up.

That was why he hated making conversation. Trying to relate to people always just ended in a mess.

Luke started to climb down the ladder.

“What?” Reid asked, following. “You’re leaving?”

“Well, dinner is pretty soon.“ Luke said, walking at rapid speed toward the door. “We should go wash up.”

“Luke-“ Reid called. But he wouldn’t stop or look at Reid.

Reid went after him, knocking down a few empty milk jugs in his pursuit.

“Hey,” Reid caught Luke on the arm and turned him around. “Why are you so upset about her?”

“I-I’m not.” Luke wouldn’t meet his gaze; he seemed to be somewhere deep inside himself.

Reid was tempted to give him a little shake.

“You’re practically running out the door,” Reid said. “I get you care about her, but –“

Luke’s dark eyes turned fearful. “Is she going to be okay?”

“I’ll do my best. “ Reid studied him. “But I can’t make you any promises.”

Nodding, Luke tried to smile. “I know that. And Noah and I will be there for her when she wakes up.”

Reid didn’t say anything for a moment. Then honesty forced him to speak. He shook his head. “I doubt that. Noah asked that you keep out for now. He requested-”

“Noah said that?” Luke interrupted. “He doesn’t want me there now?”

“Only Noah or family.”

“Why would he say that?” Luke asked stiffly. “I -I was just trying to help.” Then Luke gave a shrug, his smile failed again. “Well, if that’s what Noah wants…”

Reid stared at Luke, at the intense hurt on his face, bewildered by it.

“Why do you care?” Reid asked finally. “It makes sense that he might only want his family there. I get you’re close, but he wants to take care of his wife-“ Reid was fishing slightly, waiting for Luke to confess to a love affair with Ameera or a broken heart or something.

“Noah has no family,” Luke said abruptly. “And forgive me if I want to take care of my friends.” Pouting, Luke ran a hand through his hair.

“Yeah,” Reid said, “I heard about how you’re taking care of them. Do you pay all of your other friends’ bills too? If so, sign me up. I got some loans from medical school still hanging over my head.”

“You don’t understand. “ Luke said.

“Enlighten me.”

Luke didn’t answer. He seemed unable to say a word. He had a guilty expression, the same one he’d have as a boy when he took too much candy or stole flowers from the neighbor’s garden to give to his mother. He averted his eyes.

Reid touched him on the shoulder.

“Tell me,” Reid said.

Luke stared into his eyes. Then he drew in a deep breath.

Reid steeled himself, ready to hear some sappy love confession.

“Look, I can’t get into the whole thing, but what happened with Ameera? Noah kind of blames me. And it’s –“ Luke’s eyes filled. “It is kind of my fault.”

“Your fault?” Reid eyes bugged. “Because you were in the room when she collapsed?”

Reid watched as Luke shuddered with emotion. He gave a barely perceptible nod. “Ameera and I – we were arguing that day. Really badly. “

“About what?”

Luke waved his hand away. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is I yelled at her. I said things. I was,” he sniffed, “awful to her And she became upset, and then she just-“His eyes widened. “She just began to seize and fell on the floor…”

“Luke,” Reid said sternly. “That’s not your fault. “

“I was so mean and Noah came in and he –“

“He’s an upset husband looking to blame somebody. I’m telling you that you can’t cause a seizure like that-“

Luke’s head snapped up. Reid was taken aback by the raw emotion on Luke’s face. “Noah thinks I got her so agitated that she just- “

“Sure,“ Reid drawled. “By all means let’s ignore the world class doctor.”

“But I screamed at her, Reid, I -“Luke looked away.

“So what?” Reid made a sour face. “If yelling at somebody and making them be emotional caused brain trauma, then half the staff working for me would have succumbed to a brain hemorrhage by now.”

Reid tucked his hand under Luke’s chin and forced their eyes to meet again. “Bad things happen sometimes. The body fails. Her brain might have had this problem lying dormant for years already. It just happened. That’s all. “

There was a silence as Luke thought this over.

“I know the Luke Snyder Way was always to take the world on your shoulders, “ Reid said. “But listen to me. This wasn’t because of you.” He released Luke’s chin.

Luke still said nothing.

“It’s not your fault,“ Reid repeated once more. “Don’t make me tattoo it on your ass,” he threatened.

Luke looked at him then and gave a small grin.

Reid smiled back. He liked how the light was back in Luke’s eyes again. He’d looked so depressed for a moment.

“Listen, I know you’re trying to make me feel better,” Luke said. “In your strange way.”

“I’m not.” Reid denied. “I just have nothing better to do until dinner.”

Luke nodded, “Right okay, Reid. “ He smiled at him again.

Just then the door to the barn swung open with a crash that startled them both.

“Dinner,” Natalie said, “Come on.”

***

At dinner, Reid immediately saw that Lily had not changed. She was still beautiful and still all about her own needs. She rambled on about some perfume factory she wanted to invest in, all the while looking at the door for Holden to magically appear. Lily moped the entire meal, and Luke sympathetically and patiently patted her back.

Faith, now a sulky teen, barely said a word. She just gave her mother evil glares and pushed her food around on her plate. Luke acted like he didn’t see Faith’s sour expression and he talked with his sister warmly, even kissing the top of her head. Faith’s expression softened just a second for her brother, before she returned to a gloomy, long-suffering pose.

The two younger ones, Natalie and Ethan, were pretty cute for little crumb snatchers. Reid watched as Luke easily gave them both piggy back rides around the kitchen on his shoulders. Then, with his face glowing with real affection, Luke listened to each of his siblings tell him about their day. Watching him, Reid felt lighter too and allowed a tiny smile to touch his own lips.

Reid knew from the start that his Uncle Angus was a bastard. It had made him tough and wary about life. When he’d come to Oakdale as a boy, he’d easily seen the train-wreck of a marriage Holden and Lily had too. So seeing Luke now pushing fire trucks up the stairs with Ethan and then having a tea party with Natalie’s dolls, Reid was amazed that goodness, that gentleness in Luke was still so visible. It was right there for the whole world to see. Given his model for family life, Luke should have grown up to be guarded or selfish.

“Luke, Luke,” Natalie cheered him as Luke laughingly gave in to her request for a hand stand. He planted his hands down and then attempted to straighten his legs up over his head. Luke’s tee-shirt fell, exposing his flat stomach. Reid caught a glimpse of some golden hairs starting just underneath his navel and trailing downward; he looked away.

“Ahh,” Luke yelled out as he fell over. “I almost had it.”

Natalie and Ethan clapped for him anyhow. Lily even smiled for a moment.

“Thank you, thank you,” Luke said to the applause and pretended to brush at his shoulders with mock importance.

“Smooth move,” Reid said to him dryly. “Maybe you could put your foundation’s money into supporting the circus.”

“Only if they hire me for the opening act,” Luke replied him with a beaming smile, not at all insulted.

The best part of the meal was still Emma’s cooking. Luke was right; she hadn’t lost her touch. He gobbled up the roasted chicken and twice-baked potatoes and apple crumb cake.

Emma seemed delighted with Reid’s appetite. She kept scooping him out more with a please expression on her face. “You always were a good eater,” she praised him, and Reid felt foolish at the rush of warmth spreading through his body at Emma’s proud smile.

“I was,” he agreed, his mouth still full of potato.

“But such a serious boy too,” Emma mused, as she topped his potato with more sour cream.

Reid said nothing to that. For serious, his mind heard ‘nerd’ and ‘geek.’

After dinner, Emma and Luke both walked Reid to his car.

“Come again tomorrow,” Emma told him. “I insist.”

“No I-“

“Oh come on Reid,” Luke laughed. “You’re going to turn grandma down?”

“It’s how I show my love,” Emma teased sweetly. “By fattening you up.”

Reid smiled. “Okay. Tomorrow.”

Emma nodded and went into the house.

“Tomorrow,” Luke repeated and clasped Reid gently on the arm. Reid looked at Luke’s fingers holding him, then he backed away.

Reid climbed into his car quickly. Luke still stood there watching him. As he started the car, Luke smiled and gave him a small wave. Reid frowned at him. He never waved. He nodded his head curtly at Luke.

Luke waved again, more enthusiastically.

“Bye!” he shouted. “Come back tomorrow.”

Reid lifted up his hand like a magnetic was pulling it. He waved at Luke. As he drove off into the night, Reid fought a desire to keep on driving, until he was well past the boundaries of Oakdale and all the sloppy emotions churning inside of him.

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