"Oh, my gosh, Dad," Lucy stomped into the kitchen and slammed herself down in the chair next to the table, "why do you have to control everything?"
"I'm your father – I'm looking out for you," McClane frowned. "You need a guy who can –"
"Take care of me? This is the 21st century – not Victorian England. I'm going to college - I'm going to get a job. I will be all right on my own."
"Of course, you will. You're my daughter, and your mother and I raised you to be independent. You're smart and capable, and you'll do fine."
"So wait a minute," Lucy shook her head in the same exaggerated way she had done as a teenager. "One minute I need a big strong guy to take care of me, and the next I'm fine on my own?"
"That's not what I said," McClane crossed his arms. "You will do fine on your own. But . . . if you choose to be with someone, it has to be a guy who can take care of you, not someone you have to take care of."
Lucy had opened her mouth, furious, but she stopped, eyes going wide. "Dad, do you really think Matt is such a loser that I'm going to need to take care of him? He helped save your life and the whole country. How can you think so little of him?"
"I don't think he's a loser. I think he has a lot of growing up to do. He's like a little kid, a teenager, and he has no idea what to do with his future, and I can't have you with someone who's floundering."
McClane looked down at his hands, bracing himself for a fight. Lucy had a temper and she was stubborn. McClane had always pretended that the temper and the stubbornness had come from his ex-wife, but he knew Lucy was her father's daughter in every way. They would be screaming at each other in a few minutes.
To his absolute shock, Lucy lowered her head and covered her face as she started crying.
McClane froze, but she kept crying softly.
"Lucy, baby, no, honey, don't," McClane sat down beside her. He tentatively put a hand on her shoulder, expecting her to shake it off. But she dropped one of her hands and reached back to press her cold, slim fingers over his worn, calloused hand.
"Honey, you never cry. Tell me what's wrong. Please – tell me how I can help."
"You never listen," her voice was muffled under her remaining hand.
"No, I'll listen. I'm listening now. I won't say anything and I'll listen until you're done."
"You always interrupt and I don't get to finish."
"No, I won't interrupt," McClane moved closer. Had she been ten years younger he would have lifted her up and had her sit on his lap like when she was a little girl and he used to read her bedtime stories. "Just talk to me, baby. I'm right here, and I'm not going to interrupt."
Lucy gave a hoarse sob, but she wiped her face with both hands. "It's just that something – I'm like all – it's so – so . . ."
McClane braced himself for more young people talk – phrases that meant nothing, but kids had to say them just to get started. "Still listening," he patted her shoulder.
"I was so scared, Dad," two tears rolled down her cheeks. "There in the hospital. They were hooking you up to IVs and giving you blood, and the whole world was recovering from the fire sale. Matt's room was right next to yours, and once they sewed him up and put him in a wheelchair to rest his leg, I spent some time with him. He – he got stuck in the elevator because he couldn't operate the controls on the wheelchair. He laughed and said 'I can hack almost any program in the world, but I can't get this stupid chair to go anywhere.' I laughed and asked if he was good at video games, because then it would really be embarrassing. I helped him figure it out and we went to the cafeteria together."
More than anything McClane wanted to point out, "See, you're taking care of him. I told you you'd have to." But he made himself stay quiet.
"He was really worried about you, too. And even once you were going to be okay, he kept saying that we should all sit down and get to know each other, but I said no. I wanted to get to know him without you there to control every little thing. The first night he stayed at my place he was a nervous wreck –"
"You two slept together?" McClane stiffened.
"You promised you wouldn't interrupt."
"That was before I knew he slept with you," McClane stood. "I'm going to break his neck, the lying, scheming, horny bastard."
"Daddy, sit down!" the old Lucy was back, her voice sharp and commanding. "We are both adults and if I want to sleep with someone I can. I can sleep with anyone I choose to, just like you did at my age."
McClane reluctantly lowered himself into the chair. "I did not whore around at your age."
Lucy flushed, but she kept her eyes and voice steady. "Did you really think I was a virgin at my age?"
"Yes! Well, okay, no, but still . . . I'm your dad."
Lucy's face softened. "Actually . . . Matt was my first."
The entire kitchen seemed to stop. The ticking clock was like a counting bomb as McClane stared at her.
"I know it's stupid," she shrugged, blushing even more. "But I needed my first time to be special, and everyone else was okay, but kind of lame, you know. Matt was surprised, too, and he said if I had waited this long then I was probably waiting for marriage and he offered to propose, but I said not now. He was really sweet and gentle –"
"Lucy, some things a father doesn't need to hear."
"I'm in love with him," she placed a hand over the base of her throat, and she looked so young and in love that McClane stared at her as if she were a stranger. "I'm in love with him, Daddy. And I need you to be okay with this, because if you aren't, then I have to choose between you. I can't choose. Dad, please," she grabbed both of his hands, "don't make me choose. Ten years from now, I want to be able to introduce my children to their father and their grandfather, and have both men stand in the same room without hating each other. That's all I'm asking."
"Jesus, Lucy," McClane slumped in the chair, still holding her hands. "I mean, damn it all to hell tonight, springing this on me."
She smiled. "You're swearing so you must be halfway okay. You don't have to be really okay with this tonight. I should have told you, but I didn't know how I felt about Matt until the other day. He called to ask if he should cut his hair or not, and I blurted it out over the phone. There was a two second pause that lasted forever, and then he said he loved me, too."
McClane dropped her hands. "He had to think before he said it back? He's dead now."
"Dad, Dad, no," Lucy was laughing even though her eyes had filled with tears again. "Don't you see how much potential he has? He told me everything – that before he met you, he didn't care about anyone except himself and now he's so different. He wants to work in the government and make it a better place. He talks about the future as a time when the world will be better because he cares enough to change himself for the better."
"Never be with someone who wants you to change them," McClane shook his head. "You are asking for a world of heartache that way."
"But I don't care if he changes," she smiled, almost shyly. "I love him for who he is now – awkward, goofy, geeky, clumsy, Star-Wars-loving bozo with a good heart. That's enough for me."
"But it's not enough for me."
Lucy's eyes began to fill with tears again, but McClane leaned forward. "No, baby, don't cry. I need a while to think about it. Matt's going to be staying here for a few days, and I want to have some talks with him."
Lucy tensed. "You had a talk tonight, and he got conked on the face. Can I trust you not to hurt him?"
"We'll just talk, no beatings," McClane promised. "I want you to stay over for tonight. Do you have class tomorrow?"
"No, it's the weekend. I can stay for a few days. We'll all three get to know each other better. Have you been taking care of yourself since the hospital?"
"Yes," McClane lied, but she had already stood up and opened the fridge.
"Dad! There's nothing healthy in here. You're worse than Matt about taking care of yourself. Are those corndogs?"
"Protein," he sunk down in his seat a little.
"Carbs. Lucy, this is my place and I can eat whatever –"
She shut the fridge and frowned at him. "I'm going to the grocery store for healthy food."
"It's after nine," he protested, but she reached for her purse.
"Curfew isn't until midnight," she said, referring to the nation-wide curfew that the government had established to prevent looting and crimes against those who couldn't protect themselves. "The store isn't four blocks from here. I'll be back in thirty minutes. I have forty items left on this week's rations."
"Here, mine has seventy," McClane handed her the plastic card that the police had distributed to keep the public from hoarding food. Farms and factories were back to working again, and no one was going hungry, but only because the authorities had monitored it carefully to prevent an economic crisis. The first month had been the roughest, but the country was committed to rebuilding, and intel and products were returning slowly.
"Thanks," she took it.
McClane sat in the kitchen once she was gone. He gazed off into space, remembering the days when she was in bed by this time, times when she needed a nightlight to keep the "Creepers" away which referred to some monster movie that Jack had shown her. It seemed ridiculous that she should live away from him, completely on her own in college. The idea that she could be in love with the bum down the hallway seemed beyond belief.
McClane got up from the chair and went down the hall. He opened the bedroom door, and Matt stirred on the bed, raising a hand to shield his eyes.
"What? What's going on?"
"Lucy's gone to the store," McClane crossed his arms. "She told me that you two slept together."
Matt was too sleepy to be properly terrified, but he half-sat up and protested, "No, we agreed not to tell you until the time was right."
"And when would the time be right?" McClane's face hardened.
"On my deathbed. Or hers. Or yours, but someone would need to be dying. Oh, no!" Matt ducked under the covers as McClane strode to the bed. "Don't kill me. She initiated it. Oh, jeez, I'm dead."
"Shut up," McClane ordered. "I have two questions to ask and depending on how you answer, you get to sleep in this nice bed or you get hung by your ankles from the window."
Matt peeked his head out of the covers. "I'm listening."
"Do you love my daughter?"
"Yes?" Matt's answer was tentative, but at McClane's growing outrage, he amended, "Yes, of course, I do."
"Are you willing to do whatever I require to make you worthy of my daughter?"
Matt pushed himself to his elbows. "I'm – I'm not worthy? After everything we did together? I'm not worthy?"
The kid's eyes glassed, and McClane knew he was in danger of witnessing tears for the second time in an hour.
"Right now, you're the only person who I would let touch my daughter without breaking his neck. But that doesn't mean you're ready to get her. You have a lot to work on kid. I haven't decided what all you're going to work on, but I'll know by the morning. Do you agree to that?"
"What am I agreeing to?"
"For the next few months, while you're getting to know your new job, you live here with me and follow my rules to the letter. I'm going to train you, groom you, and make you into a man who can take care of my daughter and ensure that she will be safe and happy. Do you agree to that?"
Matt blinked and glanced around the room, trying to digest what he had just heard. "Train me? Like a dog?"
"No, like a soldier. A cop, or warrior, or whatever you want to call it. At the same time, we'll go over money management and home repair and other types of skills that you'll need to know in order not to screw up your marriage. I'll teach you everything that I should have known to save my own marriage."
"And I get to stay here?" Matt looked him straight in the eye. "We're going to be roommates?"
"No, you're staying here as a guest, and after a week of my training, you'll be a very unhappy, probably ungrateful guest."
"I won't," Matt leaned back on the pillow. "I'll be good, even great, at whatever you want me to do. I really do love Lucy."
"Then you agree?" McClane put out his hand.
The kid took it with an eagerness that made McClane almost roll his eyes. "Get some sleep, kid."
"Why?" Matt yawned. "Am I going to need it?"
"You have no idea," McClane went out and shut the door, wearing a wry smile, almost a smirk. The kid had no idea what he had just agreed to.