I was waiting for Andrew at the park when he appeared, the sax case hung on his shoulder. He gave me an odd look before he sat on the grassy ground eastern-style. That was when I noticed he had a black eye and bruises all over his arms.
Eyes widening, I sat before him and asked, “Who did it to you?”
His eyes changed, the odd look turning into the hollow one I was accustomed to. “Some people don’t like me much.”
Something inside my chest cooled a few degrees. “Some people?”
“Family’s dead,” he said, shrugging nonchalantly, “I’m in a foster house with a few other kids. No one likes hearing me play.” He pointed at his black eye. “The oldest one, Rick, gave me this. He said it might help me stop playing. He’s not very bright.”
A normal woman would’ve put her arms around the boy and muttered unintelligible stuff about how everything was going to be alright and some shit like that. I took one look at the boy and knew that touching him would be the last thing he needed now. He seemed to need to talk, though, and that I could do. I could listen.
I pointed at the case. “Is the sax okay?”
He nodded. “I protected it.” He showed me his bruised arms. “It’s the only thing I have from my real parents.”
“How did they die?” I asked, my eyes scanning his arms. Such graceful arms with long fingers. He could’ve made a great pianist as well.
Shrugging again, he said, “In a car accident three years ago. I have no other family.”
“If my family died in a car accident, I would’ve been the happiest person alive,” I said before I could think the words through. When Andrew shot me a confused look, I sighed. “In certain cases, it’s better not to have a family at all. Not when the family is not acting like a family should.”
His eyes bore into mine. “I figured you’re as fuck up as I am. That’s why I knew you would understand.”
He didn’t need to emphasize what I understood. “Do you want to come over to my place? I’ll make you hot chocolate or something.”
Startled, he blinked at me. “Why would you invite me to your home?”
“Because you need to have these wounds treated and I have a first-aid kit at home,” I informed him, rising to my feet. “Come.”
I took Andrew to my apartment. The drive was quiet, and while I was driving, I heard my phone going off. Someone was calling me. Probably Wayne; he’d been meaning to come over later today. I would have to tell him it was not going to work out tonight. Andrew might be practically a stranger to me, but he was hurt and he needed to be well enough to play the sax.
Back at my apartment, I sat him in the living room and brought the first-aid kit. I was no doctor, but I knew how to put some iodine and plaster it afterwards. And that was exactly what I did, and the entire time I drowned his arms in iodine, Andrew said nothing, showed no emotion, even though I knew he must be pained.
Once I had him plastered up, I brew him some chocolate. When there was knock on the door, I remembered I hadn’t returned the call to Wayne.
Before I could hurry to the door, Andrew had already opened it. As expected, Wayne stood there, staring down at the boy with a frown. He was good head taller than him, although in my opinion Andrew would grow to be even taller in about a year or so. “Hello,” he now said to Andrew, and then saw me coming behind and smiled. “Picking up strays, Cleo?”
I shrugged and put a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “This is Wayne,” I told the boy, who still seized the man up, “he’s my boyfriend. Let him through.”
Moving aside, Wayne went inside and I returned to the kitchen. Finished up both hot chocolate drink for Andrew and black coffee for Wayne, I brought the cups to the living room and each to the respectful drinker. Then I sat between the two men.
“So,” Wayne looked at Andrew again. “How do you two know each other?”
Andrew answered before I could. “We play together,” he said, and to my surprise grabbed the hem of my shirt with his rough hand. “She’s my music mentor.”
That was fluttering. “And he’s my apprentice,” I said, looking at Wayne a little bewildered. “Andrew is a very good saxophonist.”
“I remember,” Wayne said, smiling now at the boy. “I saw you performing at a restaurant a while ago. You are very good.”
Andrew nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“Call me Holden,” Wayne chuckled. “‘Sir’ makes me feel old.”
“That’s because you are old,” I mumbled.
Andrew cocked his head, “I thought your name was Wayne.”
“That’s another name I have, but it’s reserved for only Cleo – Blair – to say.” He winked at him.
The boy, for my shock, grinned a little. “Does it have anything to do with Bruce Wayne?”
“You like Batman too?” Wayne grinned back. “A guy after my own heart.”
Catching up on the idea behind the names, Andrew shot me a funny look. “Seriously, Blair? Cleo? Was it the best you could come up with?”
“Cleopatra is a very important woman,” I told him, folding my arms. “Now drink you hot chocolate.”
“Beware, kid,” Wayne said as his sipped his own coffee to hide his smirk, “Cleo’s a force to be reckoned with when angered. Try to stay on her good grace.”
“Duly noted,” Andrew nodded gravelly. “I’m Andrew, by the way. Andrew Dolan.”
Wayne seemed to be the one seizing up the boy now. “Andrew Dolan. You got good looks and a good, catchy name,” he said, “I can make you famous, if you want to.”
The boy frowned. “You can?”
“I doubt he recognizes you, Wayne,” I told my silly boyfriend. Considering what Andrew told me today, it would be odd for him to be informed of the latest hot news in the entertainment industry.
Andrew seemed even more confused, and so Wayne explained. “I’m a movie director,” he said, “and I have connections. If you want, I can make sure you make it as a professional musician.”
The boy didn’t seem very hopeful. In fact, I kind of liked him for the suspicion rising on his handsome face. “Give me a proof.”
Still smiling, Wayne glanced at me. “I like this kid.”
My lips twitched and I found myself smiling back. Not a mechanic smile, but something different. A smile I hadn’t produced in a very long time, so long that I couldn’t remember the last time I did smile like that. “I like him, too.”
Wayne’s eyes flashed at the expression on my face, so unlike me, and then he turned to Andrew, not before giving me a lingering, heated gaze that was meant to tell me he couldn’t wait for us to be alone. “Come, Andrew,” he said to the boy now, “let me give you the proof you need.”
As Wayne took Andrew to my computer, I decided to use the time I have to play some piano. I didn’t practice yesterday and I felt my fingers begging me to work them out. And since Andrew was in no state to play, I could.
I played for a while, and it must’ve been two hours or so when I realized I still had guests over. Closing the piano, I walked back to the living room to find Wayne all by himself sitting there and reading the newspaper. He glanced at me and smiled. “I dropped Andrew back at his home and warned off the kids who lived there. Anyone touches him and I make sure they end up in juvie.”
My chest tightened hearing this, and I walked toward him, settling on the couch next to him. Before I knew what I was doing, I put my head on his shoulder, plastering myself to his side. Without a word, Wayne put the newspaper down and put his arms around me, drawing me to him. We sat cuddled like that in silence for a while.
Then, I knew I should tell him. “I feel.”
“I know,” he responded.
“When Andrew told me about what was done to him, I felt compassion,” I said, my voice not as dry as it usually was. No, it was different now. Warmer. Softer. “I wanted to protect him. He’s a good boy. He doesn’t deserve to be as corrupted as I am.”
“I know,” Wayne murmured, pressing his lips to my hair.
“I smiled today. I smiled for real.” There was no hiding the wonder in my tone. “And I cried when I remembered what happened two years ago. I never cry about it. But I did. I cried. And for the first time, I felt like my family doesn’t deserve me. Like I am worthy of some respect, at least more than they ever gave me.”
“Good,” his lips were on my temple, my cheek, sliding to my neck. “I’m happy to hear that, Cleo.”
“I’m not coming to the wedding,” I told him. “I’m going to cut them all off and I won’t be coming to the wedding.”
He paused, then raised his head. His eyes clashed with mine. “Why?”
“Because,” I said, not backing away, “two years ago, the day after we slept together, after everything that happened with my ex, my father beat me up.”
Turning rigid, Wayne’s eyes flashed with something very dangerous. I put my hands on his shoulders and told him with my eyes to hear me out. He listened. “He beat me up so badly for allegedly disgracing him by chasing that stupid asshole off. Everyone watched; Emma, Ford, Rosalyn... They all watched and did nothing to help.”
I cupped his face. “I can’t bear children because of him. True, I never had any need to spawn babies, but I never knew I wanted to have the choice until it was decided for me. I’m infertile. I’m damaged. And it’s because of them.” My jaw locked. “I’m done taking crap from them. I’m done with them. I’m done with their lies and secrets and bullshit. Did you know my father cheats on Scarlet? Yes,” I smiled bitterly when Wayne’s eyes widened a little in surprise, “he sleeps with everything that moves, in addition to his second wife. And did you know Emma started her career secretly as a porn star? Yeah, I doubt she told Ford about that.”
Wayne said nothing about what I just revealed. Instead, his face turned blank, and his hands, still around me, were shaking. I realized then he was angry. Really angry. His eyes were like two gleaming coins in the dimness of the living room. “Your father beat you up,” he said, voice taut.
“And he caused you to be infertile,” he gritted his teeth.
My heart pounded louder than usual. “Yes, he did.”
“And they’re supposed to be your family,” the look on his face was murderous.”
“Yes,” I retorted, studying his face, “they are.”
His eyes snapped to me before he cupped my face in his hands. “Marry me.”