Unspoken Vows, Book 1 of the Heartbeat Series

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Chapter 37. Good-Bye Yesterday, Hello Tomorrow

The next morning we had breakfast and dressed casually in jeans and sweatshirts. The desk clerk called a rental company and had them bring a car out for us. I handed the rep my credit card and within minutes, we were leaving the hotel for her cave on the edge of her parents’ property.

“We need to get a flashlight,” she said to me, and pointed at a hardware store. I bought a big one, making Meg roll her eyes at me and laugh as I put the stack of batteries in it and tested the light before we drove up the broken asphalt street where her house had at one time stood.

“Have you been out here lately?”

“No, Father Ralph offered, but I couldn’t. If I fell apart on him, I might have given him a heart attack.”

“And what about my heart?”

“Yours is reinforced with love for me. I’m not so worried about your ticker.”

I parked the car in front of where the burnt out house once stood amid the bits of leftover snow and weeds that had been trodden down from the weather. I followed Meg as she walked up to the broken foundation, where only a few bricks remained above ground. She stopped and stared at it for a moment.

“Where are you?”

“I’m here, just thinking about the fire.”

“Tell me about the fire. You’ve never told me about it.”

“Ethel caught the house on fire with a cigarette. She was on a binge, after discovering Howie and me together that night. I tried to explain. Ethel called me a whore, and then beat the shit out of me until my lip was bleeding and I was black and blue with bruises on my face and arms and back. As soon as I could escape her, I hid in my closet.” Meg sighed, and I reached for her hand and squeezed it.

“I had my headset on, Heartbeat’s final album playing. I fell asleep in the closet until I smelled smoke. When I unlocked the door and ran out, my headphones were around my neck and my Walkman was in my pocket. I found Howie and pulled him out then saw that Ethel was on the couch with flames all around her. I broke the window and was able to wake her when the fire department arrived. They got her out, but the house burned to the ground. This is all that was left. The paramedics wanted to know what happened to my face, but Ethel glared at me. Out of fear I said that I was in a fight at school.”

“When the paramedics took me to the ambulance to clean me up, they confronted me on the truth about my face. ‘You’re protecting her. You need to get the hell out of there while you can. Here’s the opportunity. Tell me what happened, and I’ll make sure you get out and stay out,’ a paramedic said to me.”

“I can’t,” I said to him.

“For your own life, you must.” He pulled a mirror out of his bag and handed it to me. “Look at your face.” He pulled one of the cops into the ambulance, and I told them everything. He called Social Services and a social worker was out in minutes to collect me. That night I slept at a group home and went to another family in the town for a week. By the end of the week, Father Ralph had convinced Children Services to let me live in the convent with the nuns.”

“The sisters were good to me during my senior year of high school, and I helped with chores and the like. They taught me to bake, and they taught me to pray when I still believed that God was dead. If I was running late for mass and didn’t have time to do a rosary beforehand, Sister Marguerite would make me do a holy rosary on the stone floor on my knees next to her and then I would go to school. I attended a community college that fall and had gotten an apartment and a job that summer. I was determined to put myself through college and bit by bit, I did with whatever financial aid and loans I could get.”

Rain drizzled from the sky. Meg put the hood up on her down coat. I put up her umbrella before I followed her around the side of the foundation and watched as she bit her lip and wrung her hands before pointing.

“My room was there and that’s where my closet was.” I steadied her and held her arm as she stepped about the muddy ground covered in dead weeds and leaves.

“Then leave it here.”

She nodded and stood there for a few minutes in silence. I said nothing but waited until she walked away from the burnt out house and down towards the woods.

“Are there any bears in these woods?” I asked, making her laugh.

“No, not these, they’re too close to a residential area. Maybe some deer though. We’ll probably see a couple white tails waving at us as they run off into the woods, if they’re not there already.”

“Was your dad a hunter?”

“No, not a hunter. The only thing that mattered to Howie was booze and sex.”

“How old were you the first time he—”

“Ten.”

We climbed a hill, and I held her hand as we climbed over a fallen tree. I saw the cave through the brush. As she turned on the flashlight, a bat flew out, and I about hit the ground. Meg laughed at me.

“It won’t hurt you, City Boy. C’mon.”

“I’m glad you’re getting such a charge out of this.”

Meg shined the light into the cave. There was nothing there but rocks and moss, and she said she saw a mouse.

“Hold the light, will you?” she asked me. I held it as she moved a rock away from the wall. It would barely budge at first, and then it moved for her.

“Here, let me have the light,” she said, I passed it to her. She sighed.

“What? Is it not there?”

“No, it is. All of it.”

Meg extracted a box from the hole and took it out to the mouth of the cave, where we were sheltered from the rain.

There were dead spiders in it and spider eggs. The box was black with mildew and hardly together. Meg pulled from it one of those big Ziploc bags. She opened it up then opened two more. I laid the empty bags inside of the box. Meg took the last Ziploc bag and started to walk down the path back to the car. I followed her. She said nothing to me.

“What’s in there?”

“You and me.”

“What?”

“You and me. It holds the key to us having a future, if I can let go of it.”

“Can you?”

“I’ll try.”

When we arrived back at the car, Meg was winded. I helped her inside, and she sat there. The bag set closed on her lap.

“I need a cup of coffee.”

“I thought pregnant women aren’t supposed to—”

“Decaf then, let’s get a cup.”

“Okay, are you sure you want to be in public when you open that?”

“I don’t think I’m the one you should be worried about. I can deal with this the same way I have all these years—absolutely numb.”

Not even attempting to beg her for an explanation to another one of her cryptic codes, I revved the car and turned around, and then drove down the road towards the diner we passed on our way out here. Inside, we ordered coffee, and Meg ordered us each a piece of pie.

“I’m not hungry and you just ate a huge breakfast an hour ago.”

She shrugged her shoulders and opened the bag. I moved closer to her as we sat in the U-shaped booth in the back of the restaurant. Meg extracted cut-out magazine pictures of me that I hadn’t seen in years, if I ever did and a couple tape cassette cases with pictures of me and the rest of the guys on the front.

“How’d you get a U.K. version of this one?”

“I couldn’t even tell you, but I think I sent away for it with babysitting money.”

Meg and I looked through the pictures. The pictures of Nicky broke me up. I really missed him. AIDS took him too soon in our careers and our lives. I often thought what we would have been with Nicky still alive because once he died, it was over for us as a band. None of us could work without him. He gelled us. Mitch and Andy, like Paul and me were great together, but when it came to music, none of us could agree on anything. Nicky was the diplomat of the group. He knew how to compromise so well that one minute we’d be in the middle of an argument and the next we were having drinks like friends again. “Give him his lyric, Alex, and you, Andy, you give Alex the coda in the minor.”

“Where are you?” she asked me.

“Thinking about Nicky in the studio. We were too young, you know? Nicky had about ten years on all of us. He was like the Yoda of the group--the wise master. He could get us to compromise on something in minutes that we fought over for a week. Once he stepped in, it was over. I really miss him.”

“Do you remember this picture?” she asked me and handed me a photograph.

“A fan after a concert. Someone backstage. There were so many, so long ago.”

I stared at the picture. The girl in the valley girl get up, the big earrings, the big moussed out hair styled in the front, long highlighted brown hair in the back. A low cut shirt and one of those big belts over stretch pants.

“Who?” I asked. She giggled.

“No!”

Meg nodded. “I worked six months to pay for that backstage ticket. I was a freshman in college. When your headhunter sought me out last year, I had no idea that it was you who was after me. When I met you, it was a miracle that I didn’t faint.”

“You were pretty speechless throughout the interview.”

“Well, look who was interviewing me—you, my absolute idol as a teenager and Sean Van Nyes, Billy’s favorite recording artist. He had all of his albums, but they burned up in the fire.”

“Unreal. So seeing Sean reminded you of Billy and seeing me--wow, it’s no wonder you blew into that office like a tornado!”

“Let me tell you, for the first week, I didn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t believe that I actually was there, in your house, working for your foundation and you, Alex Corwynn, YOU!”

“And not once during that time did I ever imagine that you were an actual fan. This was a shock to me. Well, not really, I mean, I learned while Randy was stalking you that you were a fan. Now that flipped me for a few days. But when I think back to that time, when you first came to work for me, I was the one in awe. You took an office full of mismanaged files, machines, and me, and look what you did. You got the foundation its first million within six months of your arrival—three million this year alone! You doubled the programs we could fund and found agencies who lined up homes for kids whose parents died of AIDS.”

“You helped.”

“You orchestrated it. You’re an incredible woman, Megan.” I stared at the picture. How incredibly different we both appeared here. I wondered why it was in the box and not with her. That’s something I supposed would have been in the drawer with the CD’s. Maybe she thought she was taking a big enough risk with the CD’s that she couldn’t afford to be found out in fear of what I might think of her.

“I had to show you that picture.”

“We’ll frame it, okay?”

“Yeah, we will. We’ll show it to the baby someday.”

“We’ll show it to Ryan. That’s him back there.”

“What?”

“Ryan and I met when I was in Heartbeat. He did the photography for us. Then he met Sean and retired.”

“I need to show you something else.”

“What’s that?” I asked, as she handed the journal notebook to me.

“Poems from a teenager to you.”

I opened them. They were quite good, and her handwriting, for once, legible. The lovely little poems of a star struck teenager made me smile, and I didn’t expect what I found on the following page when I read an account of her abuse. My countenance fell as my eyes zipped across the page before she had a chance to pull it out of my hands. Meg sipped the coffee and ate her pie. I ignored mine and read the pages to follow. Five pages. They disturbed me. I shut the journal. So that’s what she meant. She lived through it, so to her it was nothing.

To someone like me, who couldn’t trade numbness for emotions as well as she had throughout her life, this agitated me. Every hit, every word, every motion to sexually take her, I couldn’t imagine. She was only sixteen when she wrote that from what the date in the book said.

“How did you make it out of there as well as you did?”

“I just did. I’m a survivor.”

I couldn’t eat the pie. I took a bite, for her sake, but I couldn’t eat it.

“Alex, you love blackberry pie.”

“I can’t,” I said, finding it hard to keep it together.

“I understand, to normal people from loving families, this stuff is really overwhelming.”

“Yeah, it is. My dad never raised a hand to my Mom. We got spanked when we were real little but by school age, it wasn’t necessary.”

“We’ll not go there.”

“How are you going to be towards a baby?”

“I’m not going to say that I won’t lose my temper and react as I was taught. I had hoped for a few more years of therapy before I had a child, but I’ll keep at it with Ruby if she’ll have me.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

“She said that I needed time to heal and know that not every guy is Randy Davenport. But then again, you could never be him if you tried.”

“Thank God for that.”

“You’re a wonderful father. I couldn’t ask for a better one for this baby.”

“What are we going to do with this book?”

“It’s going to Ruby. She’s going to keep it.”

“So what I just read, that’s all I’ll be able to read?”

“I don’t want you to read it all.”

“Why not?”

“Didn’t you get enough of that in fan mail?”

“I never read fan mail. None of us did.”

“Then why do they post the address for fans to write?”

“They gauge a group’s popularity to some extent. We did get some lovely gifts though. Some we kept, the real good ones. Others, we donated elsewhere. Andy has all those bears, you know. When we fill up a crate of them at ACR we mail them to him up in the Poconos. He takes them whenever he’s touring or visiting somewhere and stop at a children’s hospital and deliver them to the children with Leukemia.”

Meg sipped her coffee and didn’t respond. “Meg, if I really wanted to read this, would you let me?” She sighed, then shook her head.

“I don’t want you to think any less of me than you already do. It’s better for both of us if it just goes to Ruby.”

“Aren’t you going to read it?”

“No. As far as I’m concerned, that book should go in the fireplace and be burned.”

“Would you like to do that?”

“You know, I would. I mean it, Alex, I would like to do it. Almost to say good-bye, the same way I did to living at home.”

“Then, that’s what we’ll do.”

“You build the fire, I’ll do the rest.”

“Okay, sounds good. I have to ask you something that has been bothering me since we arrived at your parents’ house. When they were dying, why did you come back to take care of them?”

“It’s who I am, Alex. I’m a caretaker. I was the parent, and they were the disobedient children. That was just another opportunity to be that person. It was my good-bye to who they were to me. It was a chance for them to make amends to me for what happened in that house.”

“Did they?”

“No, but I came to peace with it. The thing about addicts, alcoholics, whatever; in their minds, they are always right, even if they are dead wrong, they’re always right.”

The waitress brought us the check and I paid it while Meg collected her things back into the Ziploc bag. After we left the diner, we went to Maggie’s nursing home for the last time. Meg introduced me to Maggie who was hooked up to a ventilator in her room and oblivious to our presence in her room. For sisters they didn’t look a thing alike. Their skin was different in pigmentation with Megan’s fairer than her dark sister.

“No DNR order. She’ll die when her body can’t handle being hooked up any longer or Medicaid runs out and they take it to court.”

“You’re not going to be responsible for her any longer. I’m going to see to that. I’m calling Daniel when we get back to the inn.”

When I was ready to lead her out of her sister’s room and begin her departure from this life, Meg released my hand and went to the chair in the corner of the room to pick up a tattered stuffed dog and tucked it under Maggies’ hand so she felt the dog in it.

“Ethel used to take it from her and hide it. I’d find it and give it back to Maggie then get up early to put it back.”

“Were you ever discovered?”

“Yeah, I have a scar from that one. Billy intervened for me.”

“You don’t talk much about Billy.”

“He lived a miserable life because he was gay and under my father’s roof. Leaving Vermont, even if it were for the streets of San Francisco and thumbing his way across the country turning tricks, gave him the right to be gay and not some atrocity in my father’s eyes.”

“You are so tough, Megan. It’s no wonder—” I said breaking up, not certain if I wanted to go there since we rarely spoke Randy’s name between us.

“What?”

“It’s no wonder you pulled through this with Randy.”

“I belong in a rubber room somewhere, but the meds keep me sane.”

“Do you still have flashbacks?”

“The last one was when the OB/GYN put the speculum in me when I was in the hospital. The metal...it reminded me... of the curling iron and the scissors...” The thought made me shudder.

“Say good-bye, Megan. I’m taking you home.”

“Tonight?”

“Yes, tonight. We’ll drive home. It’s time to say good-bye to all of this and start living a life without it jading you.”

“I’ll always be jaded to some extent.”

“But you’ll have me to reinforce the good person that you really are.”

Meg kissed her sister’s forehead and left the room altogether. I followed her.

Informing Tom of our departure, he told me that Serena drove home that morning. She’d send me the bill. I called Tom’s mechanic and worked it out with him to overnight me his invoice, and I would overnight him back the check. That was acceptable to him.

The drive home was good for both of us. The spring colors were coming out and Megan needed the relaxation of being with me without work or the emotional stress of her past in Vermont. An hour into the trip, I noticed her fighting sleep.

“Sleep, Love, you need some rest.”

Meg did just that. I reclined the seat for her and she slept for a couple hours. When she woke, we had just passed into Connecticut’s Cross Parkway.

“Hey there, sleepyhead. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, thanks, but I’ve got to pee.”

I laughed and said I’d stop at the next rest area. At the next truck plaza on the interstate, we stopped for her to use the restroom, and ended up eating and hunting through a gift shop so she could stretch her legs. She found some Vermont Maple Sugar candy and bought it for Anna.

When she went to pay for it, I beat her to it.

“Get used to it,” I said to her as she shot me one of those I-can-pay-for-myself-thank-you looks. She rolled her eyes and said nothing.

I led her back out to the car and we climbed in.

“How much longer until we’re home?” she asked.

“About three hours. We’ll be home by dinner. I called Anna and Brandon. They’ll have dinner waiting for us. Angie can’t wait for us to get there.”

“That’s good,” she said, picking up the journal from the bag at her feet. She opened it.

“I thought you weren’t going to read it.”

“I know, but I thought of something.”

“Tell me.”

“I think I had written an account of that night in here.”

“What night?”

“The picture.”

“Oh, right.” While she thumbed through it, I searched for a radio station, stopping to listen to talk radio for a few minutes until Meg raised an eyebrow at me and I pressed scan again. Deciding not to get into it with her about politics again, I turned the channel back to FM and searched for a station. She stopped me at a classical music station.

“If you want classical, you’re going to drive.”

“Why?”

“What happens every time you play the Steinway?”

“Oh, that’s right, you fall asleep.”

“I miss hearing you play.”

“I miss playing. You know, if I start playing for you in the evening and you take your nap, then by the time I’m ready to go to bed, then you’ll really be ready for bed!”

“That sounds about right. But, I’m an old man, so you got to give me a nap every now and then.”

“Old my ass. You run circles around the thirty-something’s at ACR.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I found it,” she exclaimed and began to read it to me.

“I must have spent the whole day getting ready for tonight’s concert. Against Sister Margarite’s better judgment, when Heartbeat tickets went on sale, I bought a backstage pass--after spending the night on a sidewalk with Brother Adam, who got the job of keeping me safe and out of trouble. Brother Adam got hit on and flirted with by the girls around us who seemed harmless until he told them he was studying to be a priest, then the flirts became more of a competition as to who could break the boy priests’ vow of celibacy. Well I got my ticket, and Brother Adam got a lot of phone numbers in case he changed his mind.”

“What?” I asked. “How much was the pass and did brother Adam ever become a priest?”

“Two hundred. Nope, soon after I moved out on my own, Brother Adam became a daddy, not a father. May I continue?”

“By all means,” I replied with a laugh.

“I spent all day getting ready and I even had my hair done. I was so excited that I could barely sit still in the salon chair. I drove to the arena, parked and went inside so nervous and excited as the security person pointed me in the right direction. I watched the opening act from the side of the stage and Paul Lenci walked right up next to me and watched them while smoking a cigarette. He asked me what I thought of them and I said, “They’re okay, but they’re not Heartbeat.”

He smiled at me and asked me my name. “Megan,” I could barely get out.

“Do you have a favorite or do you just love us all?”

“I adore you all, but I’d do just about anything to meet Alex.”

“After the show, Megan. He’s a bear before it.”

I laughed and nodded, as it was the case back then. Trying to get those four on stage on time was like herding cats.

“With that Paul Lenci kissed me on the cheek and the girl near me wanted a kiss too. A few minutes later they were all there, but Alex was on the opposite side of the stage. Andy Blake was in leather pants and Nick Grant was in ripped blue jeans. Mitch’s hair looked so great. I wonder how long it takes him to do it?” she read, making me laugh.

“It took him forever and about three cans of mousse and hair spray, trust me.”

Meg continued to read on:

“I probably should have watched the opening act more, but my eyes were across the stage on Alex. Those hot white pants with a red tank beneath and a white linen jacket on top… he just looked incredible! My heart raced and I thought I would faint as the guys rushed out and Alex met them on stage. The concert was awesome my heart finally found more to love than just the music. Alex’s voice was perfect and crisp although when I met him back stage he was so hoarse he seemed sick.”

“I probably was,” I replied with a laugh.

“We talked briefly and he asked me a strange question, “Do you dream a lot?”

“Only about you, is what I want to say but I behaved myself.”

“You should have said that, I would have taken your back to the hotel that night.”

“No you wouldn’t have,” Megan replied.

“So what did you say?”

“Sometimes,” I replied and he saw my camera and had someone else take a picture of me with him. He kissed my cheek and I hugged him. I went to bed smiling for the first time in forever.”

“Tear it out of the book.”

“Really?”

“Tear it out. You’re not allowed to burn that.”

Meg tore it out as carefully as possible. She looked on the back page and giggled.

“What is it?”

“Something I wrote . . .”

“What?”

“You’ll read it later, I’m sure.”

“C’mon, it’s not that embarrassing, is it?”

“Sure it is!”

The next time we stopped for her to use the bathroom, I stayed in the car and waited until she disappeared inside before I pulled the story out of her bag and read the back page. I smirked as I read it and quickly replaced it as she was coming out of the rest area bathroom. Already Meg’s walk had become a little slower with a gentle sway and a noticed her hand go to her belly.

“Wow, you have really surprised me today,” I said.

“For the longest time I wanted to share that whole experience with you.”

“I’m glad you did. That’s something to put in a scrapbook, maybe in our wedding photo album.” Megan reached over and kissed me on the cheek.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Don’t you look like the cat who swallowed the canary?”

“I liked it. Maybe we could try that sometime.”

Megan was so red in the face that I just kept quiet and keyed the ignition to drive home.

“What, aren’t you as daring as your imagination?”

“Are you going to sing to me?”

“You probably remember the lyrics better than me.”

“Okay, so you’ll have to practice.”

“Geez, I don’t think I even know where the music to that is anymore.”

“Not to worry, I have every Heartbeat songbook with music and lyrics.”

“You know, I was afraid you’d say that. Okay, dumb question time. If you had the choice to go to the symphony or a pop concert, which would you go to?” I asked her as I merged onto the interstate.

“The pop concert. I love classical music but sitting there doing nothing drives me crazy!”

“I think you’re hyper.”

“High metabolism.”

“Because of being so hyper.”

“I have a ball at concerts. I like every bit of it, the music, the crowd, the lights and effects, all of it.”

“I hate smoke machines. After the first tour, I told Cramer that we weren’t revisiting smoke machines from then on.”

“Did he listen?”

“Hell no. Cramer never listened to us. He told us what to do.”

“You all were just dumb inexperienced kids to him?”

“You could say that. He wants to buy ACR.”

“And?”

“It ain’t going to happen.”

“What is going to happen, Alex?”

“Merker has a pretty sound arrangement thus far, but we’re still fleshing it out.”

“Do you really want to retire from the music industry?”

I didn’t answer her at first. I didn’t know how she’d react to what I was about to say.

“Okay, Alex, just like my book, if you could, what would you do?”

“Get out before the end of the year. Sell the house in the Hills and St. Tropez, then build a house across the street, back in the woods so the stream ran through the back yard.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“You mean it?”

“Sure I do.”

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