Chapter One

The road ahead was engulfed in an inky blackness. Sheets of rain pelted against the windscreen, bouncing off the hood, filling Lydia's ears with a continous hollow thudding sound. The radio was on low, switched to a a talk show, the male hosts voice was monotonous and flat. Lydia stiffled a yawn and rubbed at her eyes, willing herself to stay awake. One of the headlights on the car began to dim and suddenly started to blink out.

'Shit,' Lydia cursed softly. 'Just whay I need.' Up ahead in the distance she caught sight of a cluster of neon lights, blurred by the rain. As the car drew closer they began to take shape, a form becoming clear. Lydia recognised the building. Pinky's Diner. Talk about a God send, Lydia thought to herself. She was desperate for a caffine fix.

Cautiously, she steered her dilapadated car into the parking lot and switched off the engine. She sat still and silent for a moment, eyes closed, listening to the rain beating down on th metal roof. Lydia let out a low sigh and and reached across to the passenger seat, grabbing her jacket. She unbuckled her seatbelt and held her coat over her head, flinging the door open and jumping out.

Quickly, she slammed it shut behind her and swiftly locked it before sprinting up to the diner. A gust of hot air hit her head on as she pushed the door open the door and stepped inside. The odour of grease and coffee hung in the air, the sound of an upbeat christmas song providing the background noise.

Lydia took the coat down from above her head and shook herself off a little. In the space of ten seconds she had managed to get herself completely soaked. Suddenly she realised all eyes were on her. She ignored the stares and made her way over to the counter, one squelching footstep at a time. Behind the counter the door to the kitchen flew open and out came a familiar loking woman.

Almost as small as Lydia was, the middle aged woman had peroxide blonde hair piled on top of her head, cheeks rouged to within an inch of their life, large red shiny looking lips and tiny santa clauses handing from her ears. Lydia felt a smile forming on her lips.

The blonde woman welcomed Lydia with a huge grin, displaying a perfect set of pearly white teeth.

'Wowee, looks like you got caught in it,' the woman said adressing Lydia in a broad southern accent that was a little out of place in small town Maine. 'Hell, it's raining cats and dogs out there, huh?'

'Pinky,' Lydia said with a smile, genuinely happy to see her.

'That's my name hun,' Pinky said taking a small notepad and pencil out of her pocket.

'You don't recognize me do you?" Lydia said feeling slightly amused.

'Should I?" Pinky asked, pencil poised over pad.

'I guess not,' Lydia replied. 'It has been a long time. Ten years almost. I'm Lydia. Lydia Marino. I lived right here in Trenton until I was eleven when my Mom and I moved away.'

Pinky's face lit up as recognition slowly dawned on her. 'Oh my Lord! Little Lydia Marino! It is you! Wowee, you've done some growing up girl!' Lydia laughed as Pinky continued to stare at her in surprise. 'What are you doing back here in Trenton?'

Lydia shrugged her shoulders and let her eyes drop to the ground for a second. 'I'm visiting my Dad.' She tried to sound emotionless, but her voice cracked a little. She hadn't seen him since that day. That day when she was eleven years old and her Mom had announced they were leaving and her father wasn't coming with them. There had been no explanations, no reasons.

Lydia had come home from school to find her mother packing the car up, her father begging and pleading for her to listen to him. But Missy Marino wasn't going to listen, she just finished loading up the car, bundled Lydia into the passenger seat and drove away. No one had ever explained to her what had actually happened that day. Lydia just assumed her father had been cheating on her mother. What else could it be? Whatever it was it had made Missy Marino very angry.

She swore that she would never go near him again, nor should we allow Lydia to have any contact with him. And so she hadn't. It wasn't until the beginning of this past semester at NYU where Lydia was in her senior year that she actually thought about disobeying her mothers orders and seeing her father.

She had been in the library one day looking for the latest edition of one of the books on her reading list when a shriek filled the air.

'Omigod! Omigod! Lydia! Is that you?!' Lydia turned around to see an unfamiliar looking girl in four inch heels and what looked like a shrink wrapped mini skirt tottering towards her. Lydia stared at her for a few seconds letting the girls appearance register in her brain.

'Michelle?' Lydia said finally.

'Omigod! It is you!' the girl cried flinging herself at Lydia and wrapping her in a suffocating bear hug. Lydia couldn't believe that this - for want of a better word - this bimbo was actually her cousin Michelle, the shy, unassuming little eight year old she'd left behind in Trenton.

'What are you doing here?' Lydia asked stepping back, dissentangling herself from Michelle's vice like grip.

'I just started here this semester,' Michelle replied excitedly. 'What's the matter? Aren't you pleased to see me?'

Lydia shook her head quickly. 'No, I mean yeah, of course I am. I'm just a little shocked.' Michelle wsa the daughter of her fathers younger brother, Dominic. Lydia hadn't had any contact with her fathers side of the family since she'd left Trenton.

A liitle while later they were both sat in a small coffee house, sipping lattes and looking out of the window at the bustling streets of New York City.

'It's got to be fate that's brought us together like this,' Michelle chirped as she wiped a milky mustache off her top lip. 'It's just got to be! Uncle Joe's been talking a lot about you lately. I mean he's always talked about you since you left, but recently you're the ONLY thing he's talked about. He was really bummed that he missed your twenty first birthday.'

Lydia was filled with sadness. She'd been really upset that he hadn't been there to share it with her too, but her mother had been adamant. No contact. It was in that coffee house, looking at her cousin - a girl who she had once been so close to but was now a stranger - it was then and there that Lydia had decided to contact her father. After all, she was an adult now. Her mother could no longer run her life the way she had for all those years.

Pinky's bright and brassy voice jolted Lydia out of her thoughts. 'So you're here for the holdays?

Lydia nodded. 'Yeah, yeah I am. That' s if my Dad will let me stay with him.'

'Are you kidding?' Pinky laughed. 'Honey, your Daddy's gonna be thrilled to see you! He just ain't been the same since you and your Momma left.'

Lydia suddenly felt very shy. She wasn't comfortable discussing her family's business. It was personal, private. If she told Pinky about it she was certain it would become town gossip. 'Can I have a coffee?' Lydia asked changing the subject.

'Sure thing, hun,' Pinky beamed. 'And how about I throw in a slice of the banana bread you used to like so much, on the house! Call it a coming home present.'

Lydia smiled and nodded. 'Thanks Pinky, that'd be great.'

'Alright,' Pinky said cheerfully. 'You go and grab yourself a seat and I'll bring it over.' Lydia walked across the diner and squeezed into an empty booth. A high pitched squeak sounded as her wet clothes slid against the red vinyl. Outside it was almost pitch black, a few bars of illumination were cast down from the neon lights onto the parking lot, reflected in the rippling pools of rain water.

Lydia looked down at her watch. It was almost nine thirty. She had left her friend Cindy's house in Conneticut early that morning. When school had let out for christmas break she and Cindy had packed their cars and drove from New York to Cindy's family home.

Lydia had told her mother that she was going to spend christmas with Cindy and her family this year, as she just couldn't bear to spend it in the presence of her mothers new boyfriend, Bud. It was partly true, Lydia really couldn't stand Bud, but that was not the reason she was spending the holidays away. The real reason was her desire to spend it with her long lost paternal side of the family.

Lydia flopped back against the red vinyl of the booth, yawning as she extended her legs under the table. She was dead tired. Her eyelids were heavy and Lydia gave into the urge to let them close. A few seconds later she heard the sound of laughing and animated conversation coming from the other end of the diner. Her eyes flickered open and she saw a group of people around her age filtering through the door.

Lydia tried to focus on their faces to see if she could pick out anyone she knew, but it was no use, most of them had their backs to her. She suddenly had the urge to go over and introduce herself to see if anyone recognized her. She hadn't changed that much in the past ten years. She was still short for her age, still had the same midnight blue eyes, the same jet black hair.

Pinky tottered over and placed a mug and a plate on the table in front of Lydia. 'There you go, hun. Enjoy.'

'Thanks,' Lydia said automatically. She didn't notice Pinky leave her table. She'd been distracted. The group who had just entered the diner had settled in a booth a few ahead of her, but one of them had broken away and was heading up to the counter.

He was tall, with a lean, flat muscled body. He was slightly tanned and had short light brown. His profile was that of a classical sculpture, high well formed cheekbones, a classic, almost aquiline nose, sensuous pouting lips and a strong jaw. He was dressed casually in jeans and a leather jacket with the collar turned up. He leaned on the counter lazily.

Lydia tried to picture him as an eleven year old boy, but she couldn't. None of the boys she remembered from Trenton had that natural cool that was emanating from this guy. None of them had been as attractive or as magnetic as he was. But then again they had all been eleven years old. They were all grown men now. Could one of them matured into such an effortlessly gorgeous guy?

Lydia thought back to the boys she grew up with. The best looking ones, the most popular ones with the most potential had been Donny Mason and Stevie Carlson, but this guy didn't look like either of them. She continued to stare at him, her eyes narrowed, biting her lip in concentration. Slowly, almost idly, the guy turned his head to survey the diner.

As his gaze fell upon Lydia he stopped, looking straight at her, their eyes locked. Lydia felt her chest swell as her breath caught in her throat. He was gorgeous. And not in an obvious, stereotypical way. He had the face of an angelic rebel. Eyes that could make you melt in an instant. Who was this guy?

He continued to return Lydia's gaze with a slight curiosity. Suddenly, she realized she was staring and jerked her head to face forward, eyes fixed on the table. Lydia grabbed the cup of coffee and brought it to her lips, sipping it slowly as she tried to track the mystery guy with her peripheral vision.

A few moments later she heard the sound of soft footsteps approaching. She put the coffee cup down and looked up. There at the end of the table was the gorgeous guy. He tilted his head to one side and stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets as he gazed at her. "You look familiar,' he said in a voice that made Lydia tingle from head to toe. 'Do I know you?'

Lydia took a breath trying to gather her composure. 'I don't know. Maybe. I used to live here when I was a kid. I moved away about ten years ago.'

The tight curiosity on his face suddenly melted away and was replaced by a look of shock. 'Lydia Marino?'

Lydia smiled a little and nodded her head. 'Yeah.'

A warmth filled his face and lit up his eyes as he smiled. 'I thought I recognized you! Mind if I sit down?'

'Sure,' Lydia replied gesturing to the empty side of the booth. He slid into the seat opposite her with a cool grace, the smile still beaming on his face.

'God,' he said shaking his head, 'You look so grown up!'

Lydia smiled again. 'Ten years tends to have that effect.'

The guy nodded. 'I mean you haven't changed that much. It's just whenever I think of you I think of an eleven year old girl.'

Whenever he thought of her, Lydia thought to herself. So they really had know each other back in the day. Still, she couldn't think who he might be.

'I'm sorry,' Lydia giggled nervously. 'I feel really bad, but I don't think I remember you.'

The guy leaned in a little, his smile broadening. 'Sure you do,' he laughed. 'I lived three doors down from you. Toby Jaworsky.' The nervous smile disappeared from her face and was replaced by utter disbelief.

'Toby Jaworsky?' she said raising an eyebrow. 'No way!' This guy who was sat in front of her, the guy who's amazing good looks were a mix of angel and rebel, the guy with the effortless cool and sexiness, he was Toby Jaworsky? Toby Jaworsky the geek? Toby Jaworsky all grown up? Lydia shook her head and gave a little disbelieving laugh as she leant back in her seat.

'God,' she said. 'You.....'

Toby nodded slightly, still smiling but with what was almost shyness. He looked down at the table as he spoke. 'I've changed a little, huh?'

Lydia returned his nod. 'You've changed a lot. I can hardly believe it's you.'

'You didn't recognize me at all?' he asked. 'It's just the way you were staring at me....' Lydia felt her face grow hot with embarassment.

'Oh, I just, I was trying to figure out if I knew you.' An awkward silence hung in the air for a few seconds until Toby finally broke it.

'Well it's great to see you. What are you doing back in Trenton?'

'Visiting my Dad. I should actually get going. I don't want to arrive at his place too late.'

Toby nodded and got to his feet, Lydia doing the same. 'Are you staying around for a while?' he asked.

'Yeah, for most of Christmas hopefully.' Lydia replied.

'Great,' he said flashing his effortlessly sexy smile. 'We should get together before you leave. Catch upon old times.'

Lydia nodded. 'That'd be good.'

'Well I guess I'll see you around,' Toby said. He took a step closer to her and gave her an affectionate tap on the shoulder. 'Take care.'

Lydia smiled like a shy school girl. God, she scolded herself silently. Get a grip! She grabbed her coat and headed for the door. 'Bye,' she said quietly.

'Bye.' He gave her one last wave and headed back to his booth.

As Lydia walked to her car she felt as light as a feather, filled with a fuzzy giddiness. It was as if she was walking on four feet of air, not four inches of rain water. She couldn't believe that it was Toby Jaworsky, of all people, who had made her feel that way.