Laying in bed, I’m wide awake with Thomas’s head laying across my chest. My fingers are playing with the soft strands of his hair as he sleeps. After we left the bar, Thomas wasn’t interested in talking. I know why, but he doesn’t know that. I wasn’t really sure how to approach the subject either. I’ve never had someone I love, not only lose his dad but his mom too in a horrible car crash. I did break my cardinal rule when I first started and researched the accident. The photos that were stolen of that day are horrific. I’m honestly not sure how Thomas survived or how the car did not plunge off the road.
But Thomas found his own way to distract himself from the memory of what this week has held; he was busy fingering me until I screamed his name as we sat in traffic. I think that’s one of the reasons why he refused to let me drive back home. That, or it could be because my driving scares the shit out of him.
And when we got back home, it was straight to the bedroom. We knocked over a table lamp on our way to the bedroom. The bulb and base, I’m fairly sure shattered on impact. But this is where we’ve been since. Both of us refusing to leave the bed as we lay in each other’s arms. The only light is the glow coming from the television. I’m not even sure what’s on. Some crap dude movie, but the remote is on Thomas’s side of the bed, and I can’t move. Not with him laying on me like a dumbbell. And it’s leaving me time with my mind, a curse, and a blessing.
I’m thinking and overanalyzing what I need to do and my thoughts. I’m not sure how in the hell I didn’t know this was the week of the car crash. For fucks sake, I looked it up. But I also didn’t really read any of the articles or checked the date. God, I’d be a shit investigator. Jen is good at digging up information. She has sources and websites that she uses, and she’s able to dig up your deepest darkest secrets. Probably why her job tasks her with background checks whenever they hire new employees on. Too bad she never took the time to dig deep into my past, to dig into Jamie’s. Maybe our sisterly relationship would be different.
Feeling suffocated from the weight of what’s on my mind and Thomas, I manage to wiggle myself free from under Thomas. He groans out in protest, but never fully wakes. Before leaving the bedroom, I put on underwear and one of Thomas’s tees and make my way into the large and vast living room. A house that suddenly feels exceptionally large, and I’m starting to feel lost as I wander aimlessly with my thoughts.
Somehow, I’ve found myself in the basement. A place I seldom come to. Mostly because it still seems to be off-limits in a sense. Thomas will disappear down here when he needs a moment. And during those moments, I find myself hiding under the faux waterfall in the heated pool. We each have our space when we need it, or sometimes we just push each other until it ends in sex.
His basement is just as large as the main floor of the house. There is a small little kitchen/bar area along the back wall of the basement. Complete with what used to be a full-service bar that is now used only as storage for glasses, plates, and bowls for drinks. There is also a full-size refrigerator filled with easily prepared food that can be cooked in a microwave or on a large hotplate. Thomas is in the process of renovating this part of the basement to include - essentially a full-size kitchen. I’m not sure what his official plans are for this space, but he told me the bar needed to go. On the opposite wall is a massive movie theater-style screen that practically takes up the entirety of the wall. And to complete the viewing room look, there are theater-style seating for a movie night. Though, I’m not sure the last time Thomas held a movie night or even hosted a sporting event.
Walking into a room that is slightly catawampus to the movie-style theater screen, I flip the light switch on and find a grand piano in the center of the dark-blue room. Walking up to the piano, I run my fingers over the keys. The notes ring out as I glide my fingers across the smooth white keys. I’m not a musician by any means. I can barely play Mary has a Little Lamb on the piano without it sounding flat. Don’t get me wrong, I did try to play. But my finger, foot, and brain ability to work in coordination was never there.
My eyes roam around the large room as I take it in. There are giant grey acoustic sound panels across the rich dark blue walls and each panel has photos placed strategically between them. The photos seem to hold a different version of Thomas with a woman he looks so much like. The woman is short, and her hair is a slightly darker brown than Thomas’s, but her eyes are the same vibrant green. It’s then that it hits me, hard. My heart breaks as a heavy feeling of sadness creeps its way into my veins.
The woman in the photos must be Thomas’s mom, Helena.
Suddenly, I feel as if I just walked into a room that is meant to be under lock and key. Hidden away and not for anyone other than Thomas to be in. For him to see, but I can’t seem to leave. I wander around the room. Looking at every photo. The last one bringing tears to my eyes as I see Mauve, Bobby, and a now teenage Thomas all dressed in black. The picture of their backs as they stand around a memorial showered in an arrangement of flowers.
Taking in a deep, shaky breath, I go to break for the door. But I stop in my tracks when I see a Rogue acoustic guitar tucked away. Picking the instrument up by the neck, my fingers press the strings down firmly. The feeling one I haven’t felt in years. Making my way to the piano bench, I sit down and rest the body-of-the-guitar across my knees. I feel my fingers taking their place along the strings as I strum out a familiar cord.
My ability to play the guitar exists to a few cords and a song I learned while I was in rehab. I was bored and, in a funk, and I thought why not. Picked up a guitar that was left by one of the other patients, and one of the other residents taught me how to play. I even asked him to teach me how to play one of my favorite songs.
Home by ZZ Ward.
As soon as my fingers start to strum the cords, my eyes closed as the beat and melody take hold. My body rocks with each cord I play. My fingers are flexing and pressing into the strings with ease as I struggle slightly to remember the musical notes to play. Even with the notes sounding a little flat or sharp, I can make it work with this song.
I don’t need another taste of your lips.
To know I’m home when we’re lying here like this.
The world could end today, the sun could just fall.
Here in this bed, we made, we’re safe from it all.
My voice isn’t soulful or has that raspy-edge like ZZ, but the raw emotion isn’t lost with each word that leaves my mouth, and the acoustics in here are amazing. I’m starting to love the way I sound with the way the notes from the guitar mixes with my voice.
We don’t need my father to give his blessing.
We don’t match on paper but it don’t mean a thing.
When all my walls cave in, you pull me through it.
When there’s a gun at me, you’d take the bullet.
When nobody believes me, I know you will.
When nobody can reach me, I know you will.
When nobody can please me, I know you will.
I’m crazy, I get mean but baby, you adore......
My eyes fly open with the sudden feeling of someone watching me. The words and the musical notes freezing as I freeze to the spot I’m sitting. Thomas is sitting in front of me on the floor like he’s attending a concert for one. He’s in his athletic shorts, his chest bare, his hair disheveled, and he looks absolutely adorable. Minus the fact, he just scared the piss out of me. I didn’t think I was singing loud enough to wake him.
“Jesus Christ, you’re gonna have to start wearing those bells around your neck.”
Thomas cocks his head to the side, “Why did you stop?”
Now, I’m suddenly nervous. Jittery. Why am I so nervous that he heard me singing? He’s heard me before, but I also have no clue how long he’s been sitting there. Listening to my amateur guitar playing and singing hour. “Because you scared me.” Just brush that question off to the side.
I watch Thomas straighten his back, “Maybe, but that’s not why. Who were you singing?”
Nodding his head, he points to the black guitar, “And how long have you been playing? You never told me you could play.”
Shaking my head, “I can’t. Only know a few chords and this song.” Pausing, I look down to the guitar as my fingers strum across the strings again. “Well, kinda.” I watch Thomas get to his feet and take a seat next to me on the piano bench. His hands taking hold of the guitar as I hand it over. He doesn’t seem upset or annoyed that I was playing it. If anything, he looks in complete awe of what he was seeing. “How much did you hear?”
Thomas looks over the guitar with a fondness before getting to his feet and setting it back into the tucked away stand. His fingers are running down the neck and strings before returning to his seat next to me. “You don’t need another taste of my lips to the last line.” He muses with a devious and sexy smile. “When I came into the room, your eyes were closed, and you seemed really into the mood of the song. I mean.... I could feel your heart and soul in the words you were singing.”
“I was just singing to sing. Sorry, I shouldn’t have come down here without you.”
Thomas shakes his head as he takes my hand, “Babydoll, you don’t ever sing to just sing. Your singing is raw and emotional. You sing what you’re feeling, and it’s absolutely beautiful. You’re absolutely stunningly beautiful.” He tells me as he places a kiss to the side of my head. “And you’re so unique, Ryann.”
My heart is full from his admission, “Do you play?” I asked, pointing towards the guitar.
Letting go of my hand, he turns himself on the bench towards the keys of the piano. Turning my head, I watch his fingers skim across the white keys before pressing one down. The note rings out across the room. “No. I don’t. It belonged to my mom.”
Ohh, I shouldn’t have picked it up. Shit. My heart is pumping a million beats a minute. A part of me is a little nervous about what Thomas’s next words maybe, or if he’s going off into some flashback. “I’m....I shouldn’t have...” Fuck! What the hell do I say? I mean, it belonged to his mom. Most people, including me, wouldn’t want anyone to touch something like that. Not when it holds so much sentimental value.
“No, it was good to hear it being played again. I haven’t touched it since she passed. It’s just sat in my room until I had this house built.” His tone is soft and melancholy. “I’ve kept it tuned, but....I don’t play.”
Spinning myself on the bench, I lay my hand atop his, “I saw the pictures on the wall. Your mom was beautiful.”
I watch the corners of Thomas’s lips quirk into a small smile, “She really was. She was so full of life and always knew how to have fun. She taught me so much. If she saw me now....” He trails off, and the brokenness in his voice is breaking my heart.
“She’d be proud,” I interject. Thomas gives me a disbelieving look. “I mean it, Thomas.” Is say as I brush away a lock of his hair off his forehead. “She’d be proud. Of everything you’ve done and most of all, how you’re getting your life back.”
“If she were alive, my life wouldn’t be down this road. We’d be in Tennessee. All of us would be.” He pauses as his hand moves from under mine and traces the piano keys. “And she would have divorced dad. We finally would have been happy. But I would have never met you.”
Leaning into his shoulder, I rest my head against him. The weight of his words filled heavy with the what-ifs. What if we went down this path with our life instead of the wrong one. What if we chose not to do the things that lead us to our addictions. What if we never allowed others to control our lives. All of the what-ifs in the world can’t change the decisions we’ve made.
“I think we would have met at some point in our lives,” I say softly. I can feel Thomas shift slightly beside me, and I imagine his bright greens boring down onto the top of my head.
“You think so, babydoll?”
I know so. I think our paths have always been destined to cross. There is a force guiding us even when we are millions of miles apart. We always seem to find each other. It happened in Indy, it happened with this job opportunity, and it happened when he found me in New York.
“I really do,” I answer.
I watch Thomas start to play a slow, soothing, and sweet melody on the piano. The notes are warming the room as he plays a warmup from memory. “Why? I mean, what would have brought you to Tennessee.”
Smiling, I sit up from Thomas’s shoulder and watch him play before turning slightly on the bench to face him. “Because the job opportunity for Cali wouldn’t have presented itself.” He stops playing as he takes my hand with his. Squeezing his hand, I feel that surge coursing through me, “My options were either Cali or Tennessee.”
“And you choose Cali because you knew it was with me?” I know he’s joking, but ohh, when his cocky side comes out, it comes out.
Laughing at his bold cockiness, he knows I didn’t find out who I was working for until I agreed to take the position. Then it was like a weighted bombshell that sent my heart fluttering. “No. I was outside on the pond deck back home and had California and Tennessee written on two little pieces of paper. I had no clue which way to go. Tennessee is closer to home, and Cali is across the country. A part of me wanted to be closed to home, and the other half wanted to run the hell away.” I pause as my fingers begin to shift between A and the A# keys. Creating an almost strumming rhythm sound and sounding god-awful compared to what Thomas just played. “I chose Cali because I had a sign.”
When I steal a glimpse at Thomas, and he has a befuddled look on his face. “A sign? Like what?”
“Erm....a butterfly landed on the piece of paper that had Cali written on it. I know this is going to sound crazy, but my grandma used to always tell me that when you saw a Monarch Butterfly, it was a loved one trying to guide and help you onto the right path.” I pause as I look down at my grandmother’s wedding ring and spin it around a couple of times before clasping my hands onto my thighs. “She loved butterflies. So much so my grandfather made her a jewelry box with a Monarch engraved on the lid.” My voice falls as I realize once again, I’ll never see the small delicate round jewelry box again. I’ve accepted that someone must have stolen it when my apartment was destroyed, but it’s still not easy to come to terms with. “It was their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Grandpa always dotted on grandma and always swore up and down that she was always his path. That she guided him to her.”
I smile at the fond memory of my grandparents. They were devoted to each other and loved unconditionally no matter what was going on in your life. They never once judged me for the shit I did, and my grandpa hated Jamie. My heart shattered when I lost both of them in such a short amount of time. Grandpa passed from cancer, and grandma passed a year later. I’m convinced she died of a broken heart.
“Anyway, I took it as a sign she was telling me Cali was where I needed to go, and if you were in Tennessee, she would have somehow given me a sign that is where I needed to be.”
Thomas places his fingers gently under my chin and urges me to turn towards him, “You are so damn unique. You know that, right?”
My stomach flips each and every time he tells me this. It’s like he’s reaffirming what he’s feeling. Forcing me to see how he sees me.
I just have one question for him, “Will you play for me?”
Thomas places a soft and delicate kiss to my lips before pulling away slightly, “For you babydoll, I’ll always play.”