Lucas Rivera knows how to keep up appearances. He’s all Hollywood; big, toothy, overbleached smile, alligator skin shoes that cost more than a three-credit course at the local community college, slacks so freshly pressed that the crease down the thigh looks like it would be sharp to the touch. To an outsider, his presence can be intoxicating. He’s warm. Unafraid to shake the hands of strangers or offer a knowing pat to a shoulder. Lucas is the proud owner of the magnetic type of personality that garnered him a seven-figure deal with a major network. A yacht that is the envy of the marina. A six-bedroom mansion in Malibu that overlooks the Pacific. People can’t help but to buy what he’s selling – a fact that is glaringly apparent as he flits his way around the mess hall, taking inventory of the people willing to give him the time of day with that contagious smile, selling his snake oil to anyone who will listen.
It flips her stomach. Raina knows him well enough to know his tricks. His diversions. There’s a cold, disconnected look in his eye every time he meets her gaze that tells her she’s found herself directly in the eye of the storm. There’s tension brewing between the two of them, thick enough to slice through with a knife, and though she’s not sure what she did this time – she’s been so careful about what she’s divulged through letters and phone calls – she knows that her father isn’t going to get back into his overpriced rental car without telling her about it.
There’s a fleeting moment during dinner, between forkfuls of whatever the mess hall is trying to pass off as prime rib, that she thinks that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. They’re almost home free. Another hour or so and she’ll be watching the taillights as they disappear into the pine trees – she just needs to make it another hour. Rae’s sandwiched between her father and Arwen which, in hindsight, was poor decision making on her part, but Arwen promised that she would be on her best behavior. And so far, incredibly and against all odds, she’d delivered. Rae is afraid to even look at the redhead, positive that one glance in her direction would be like taking out a skywriter to splash her secret across the sky.
So, she stays quiet. Speaks when spoken to, because that’s the idiom that’s been drilled into her brain since birth. Between bites, her hands remain in her lap, her eyes focused intently on the remnants of her dinner. And then Arwen drops her fork beneath the table, and her curtain of red hair sweeps across Rae’s thigh when she bends down to retrieve it, the warmth of her hand molding around her knee for leverage. The violent flush that floods into the apples of her cheeks paired with the involuntary sharp inhalation might as well be a scarlet letter stapled to the center of her chest. Her posture couldn’t have been more rigid if she had an iron bar strapped to her spine. He knows, the voice in her head whispers accusatorily as she clamps down on the inside of her cheek with her teeth.
For the duration of dinner, she’s aware of every involuntary movement she makes. She can count the number of times she blinks, the number of times she breathes, the number of times she fidgets with her fork. When their plates are finally empty, Rae makes a move to collect them from the table, stopped suddenly by the vice grip her father takes out on her wrist. For the first time since they sat down for dinner, her eyes lock on to his. The familiar glint of disappointment mixed with anger is impossible to miss.
“Looks like you’ve got a few things to catch me up on, querida.” There’s a sickly-sweet lilt to his voice as he gently tugs her from the table with a bright, unconvincing grin, his grasp tight enough to blanch the outline of his handprint against her skin.
The conversation that follows is nothing she hasn’t heard a thousand times before. It’s a carefully rehearsed spiel about what a disappointment she’s been where he pays special attention to all of the ways that she's sinning. Because the relationship between a woman and another woman is inherently wrong. It's a whole thing. At this point, it’s easier to apologize than to argue (even though it's glaringly half-assed on her part), and when Lucas piles into the driver’s side of his car, content for the time being that the words Raina has mollified him with are true, she’s left on the empty porch with her arms crossed over her chest, knowing that they’re going to have the same conversation again. And again. And again, and again, because despite the verbal lashing, she doesn't feel that anything she's been doing since June is inherently wrong.
In fact, despite the harsh words and the unbecoming jealousy that popped up out of nowhere, it feels inherently right.