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Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest: "The Secrets of Celestial Navigation"

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Illustrations by Becca Stadtlander

I am flossing, staring into the mirror, when I find myself staring back. The face is not altogether unpleasing, although I make a note to pick up a magnifying mirror and do some closer scrutiny another time. I forgo plaiting my wet hair and use the blow dryer to good effect. I think I may have subtracted a year or so from my soon to be 40 and I decide that a bit of mascara and some lip gloss couldn't hurt either.

On the way out the door I stop and leave the chip for Blue Danube in Kara's room and Willow Waltz in mine. You can imagine what Blue Danube looks like and Willow Waltz is the soft green of new leaves. I take a mug out of the cabinet and get the coffee pot set with a fresh pot of Mocha Java. Unsure of Lucca's tastes I also bring out the box of English breakfast tea and put some cookies on a plate. Finally I leave a check for the deposit and a note for Lucca to help himself to the coffee or tea and to have a good first day on the job.

Sadie suggested I take a few days off to "supervise" the redecorating. Hugging me as she said, "You think I wouldn't notice? The hair and the clothes... not for me, am I right?"

So far I feel like a reluctant voyeur, as Lucca has refused my overtures of coffee, tea or conversation. He has an iPod and after a standard, "Good Morning, Mrs. Steele" he sets to work and doesn't take a break until lunch, which he brings with him and eats outside under a trio of birch trees. A knife and fork are required along with plastic containers filled with mystery food. He never litters and rarely smiles. I imagine he has arrived from a country that suffered a revolution. I imagine his wife left him for his best friend. I imagine that his chest is smooth. His hands are graceful, the nails trimmed short. He smells of shampoo and paint thinner.

By Thursday Lucca has finished painting everything except for the bathroom. I am beginning to love not only the new colors, but the smell of fresh paint. He arrives each morning by eight o'clock and finishes up around three in the afternoon, leaving everything bright and clean. Friday will be Lucca's last day of work.

I've asked Kara if I can bring her a picnic lunch on the beach and she has agreed. I'm anxious to watch her in action but not be obnoxiously present. With that in mind, I've brought a book and a beach chair and will retreat to the cliffs after we've eaten. Kara and I arrive home within minutes of each other and she spots the note on the table before I do. Scanning it, she hands it to me and vaults upstairs. Seconds later, laughter erupts from above and my heart begins to sink.

My Dear Lauren,
The twist was a wonderful dance in its time. A craze; but like a woman who has stayed too long at the ball, I fear the light of day will find her blushing. I can leave it as is or fix it if you wish. Please phone with your decision.
Lucca

I swear I can see the room glowing before I get to where Kara stands in the doorway, arms akimbo.

"Tequila Sunrise anyone?" she says grinning.

"I think it's more like Pepto Bismol," I say and we laugh together.

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