The plane back to Wisconsin was sparsely populated. I didn’t realize I would need to use Brandt’s voucher so soon after coming to California and it hurt. I kept to myself and avoided any conversation with the others. My life spiraled out of control, and I became numb to the transition, the feeling eerily similar to the pain I had six years ago.
Leaving the only piece of new technology I had, the phone he bought for me, made it difficult to alert Ami of my return, but I didn’t know if I could talk to her yet. It would be bad enough to tell my family why I came back to town, and I felt comfortable putting off the inevitable for at least a little while until I could get my emotions under control.
The plane ride afforded me much-needed time to ponder my life. I realized how absurd the whole situation was. Within weeks, I went from having sex with a stranger to moving halfway across the states to be with him despite not knowing his true self at all. I fell in love with a person I never took the time to get to know, finding out he used women, used sex lackadaisically, and had no qualms about it. I had found out about at least three past lovers and attended a house party that looked similar to a drug-infested porno, all with me trying desperately to fit into his world. It made me feel so alone, so irresponsible.
Spending six years putting up walls did nothing to help me recapture any sense of pride in myself after what happened with my ex-boyfriend, Dan. I thought the mistakes I’d made with him would never happen again. Did Brandt bring me to California to use me and throw me away? I didn’t think so. I did not want to compare him to Dan, but I had no choice. Regardless of how we met, neither of them appeared too good for me. The only difference I saw at this point was Dan used me and never loved me. I felt love with Brandt, but it made what we had seemed worlds apart. What pushed me to move close to him seemed to be also driving me away. Brandt would have given up his lifestyle for me, but instead I rushed to integrate myself into his world, and I felt as though if I lost part of myself along the way.
I could not give Brandt what he desired. LuAnn said I wasn’t enough and I couldn’t agree more. Our sex life would get too boring for him. I could never do the things he had done with those women in the past. Being more advanced than me, I would surely fail him. Sex with another woman would be well out of my wheelhouse. Hell, I couldn’t even let him go down on me. What I gave him now would surely cause him to lose interest sooner or later.
Brandt loved me, but he said he loved Cami too. It didn’t stop him from cheating on her and with more than one woman.
Did Brandt even know how to love? Had he confused love with sex? Or maybe I was the one who had it wrong. Did I only see what I wanted to see? What did love mean to him?
I gave myself to him. I gave myself to him only because I loved him. But it certainly wasn’t love he shared with all those women.
How could I be with someone who would use sex so impassively? My feelings on the subject couldn’t be all from my religious upbringing. Love and sex meant more than a physical release. It meant everything to me, and he used it so freely without any thought besides his own pleasure. Well, it backfired on him now.
Was he too ashamed to tell me he had a son? He knew my values as far as family went. Did Brandt think he could avoid the fact he had a child? What father did that? He wasn’t giving her child support. Was it possible he’d just found out or did it demonstrate the fact he didn’t want it affecting his new life? Either way, it had and it would affect him. When we talked recently, it seemed Brandt had shared in my core family values. The fact he was adopted bothered him, and he wanted better for his children, so why would he deny his child now? Actions spoke louder than words.
When the taxi pulled up to my old apartment, I let myself in with my key surprised Amilyn was home. I intended on returning one day and cleaning out my space but never thought one day would be this soon, and now possibly for good.
Opening the door, I saw Amilyn at the kitchen table, dressed in a bathrobe. She had a male acquaintance dressed wearing only his underwear, removing dishes from the table, and it horrified me I didn’t think to call ahead or at the very least, not barge in on them. “Sorry, I should have knocked.”
“Chelsea, what a wonderful surprise.” Amilyn got up from the dinner table and gave me a hug. She held the door further open as I walked through and set down my bag. “I didn’t realize you were coming back to pick up your stuff. You should have called.” She turned to the semi-naked man, “Roberto, come and meet Chelsea.” Roberto didn’t seem to mind me staring at him in his underwear. She placed her hand on the side of her mouth and whispered, “Roberto speaks Spanish and little English.”
“Ah, nice to meet you, Roberto. I am sorry to interrupt.”
“Nonsense. The more, the merrier. Tell me about California. Oh, you look so tan. How is life with the rock star?” My eyes wandered, unable to meet her gaze.
“I left Brandt.” Having it out in the open made me realize how permanent it felt. My eyes grew heavy, and I slumped in the chair next to her, not even concerned with the half-naked man in the room anymore.
Amilyn replaced her jovial manner with a more serious expression. “Roberto, I need time alone with Chelsea. Can you leave?”
“Oh no, Ami. Really, I can go. Please, Roberto, don’t leave.” But she dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
He finished putting the dishes in the sink and left for her bedroom. She turned back to me with concern in her eyes. “Okay, dish.”
The revelations of the past several days weighed heavily on my shoulders, and I cried as I went over the details of my relationship’s demise. Amilyn was the only friend I could tell all the minute facts to as she never judged me unjustly. By the time I reached the part about the child and his past sexual prowess, I had relinquished my tears.
Leave it to her to sum it up in a few sentences. “So, you are telling me that California differs from Wisconsin and that Brandt has a son from some love-sick groupie. Oh, also that he has had a past sex life.”
“Ami, you make it seem trivial. These past couple of weeks showed me what his world entails and you make it sound as though I am being pretentious. He has a child that he didn’t tell me about!”
“Yes, I know that’s a little hard to swallow, but you love him, don’t you? I mean you moped around here for six years and the first person to break down your walls convinced you to fly to the opposite side of the States, so I assume that you must at least love him some?”
“Of course, I love him, but I can’t afford to make the same mistakes.”
She looked at me, narrowing her eyes, “Dan was an asshole plain and simple. Brandt has skeletons in his closet, but he is no Dan.”
“Ami, so far I found out he sleeps with a majority of women around the United States on whatever whim he chooses. He has a son he has been hiding from me, albeit for a couple of days. Oh, and in his free time, he enjoys partying with drugged-out space cadets and prostitutes. I think we are worlds apart in the value department.”
“Yes, I guess you are pretty far apart when you look at it that way. But...” She smiled and said, “Opposites attract, right?” Although I let out a weak chuckle, it did nothing to cheer me up. Her comment, obviously intended to make me laugh, only produced a small smile.
“I do love him, Ami. That makes it so hard to walk away, but I am not the girl he needs.”
She placed her arms around me and gave me a big hug. “He needs a girl who loves him.”
“Then maybe I don’t love him enough.”
“Only time will tell.” She let her arms fall to her side and took her coffee cup over to the kitchen sink, rinsing it out before placing it on the dish tray to the side.
“Does Edwin know you are in Wisconsin?” She never mentioned him as my dad or called my mom by her first name, for that matter. Dad hated the name Edwin and only let my mother and his sister Verona use it. Ami thought the name Edwin fit his German farmer disposition, but even she didn’t use it to his face. To most people, he was Ed, and Dad to me. She didn’t like my father, hating him for being so pious. Amilyn followed the beat of her own drummer, more of a free spirit, so she thought the religious values of my father held me back.
“No, my family doesn’t realize I am back.”
“Well, make sure you call Edwin and let him know. He would shit a brick if he found out you were back in town without telling him.” Although right, I thought I wouldn’t be able to muster up the courage for that conversation.
“I guess I should get it over with.” He would find out eventually.
“Okay, you make the call, and then we are going out for cigarettes and wine. Might as well get drunk and stupid. Nothing like a hangover to make facing the parents more palatable.”
Talking to my parents resulted in me chickening out about the real reason for my return. It led to an invitation to my nephew’s baseball tournament tomorrow they wouldn’t let me refuse. The last thing I wanted was to sit with all my family and pretend Brandt and I were still together. I tried to figure out what to say tomorrow as I let them think my travel back to Wisconsin dealt more with tying up a few loose ends then a return for good, knowing the lie would only last for so long.
True to her word Ami drank and listened to me cry all afternoon and into the evening while Roberto made himself scarce. Even though I already had a hangover from the previous night, I found I could easily sit and talk with her and, of course, drink with her. I missed her and I missed the frank conversations I’d had over the years with her. She rarely gave advice, letting me figure out what I wanted to do on my own. The problem was that this time, there were no answers.
After she left, I hid in my in-home studio, letting the pain come out in my music. From high school on, I used music to convey my emotions. That was why it had been such a force in my life. When I had the world by the balls, the good time rock poured out like a fountain, and even when the disappointment in life surfaced, the music kept me sane. I strummed my guitar and followed a sad melody until a more reasonable hour came and I could go to the studio.
Getting to the studio before the others afforded me the time to sit at the piano and adjust the chorus of one of the two ballads planned for the record. I couldn’t play the one I had written for Chelsea. The song still being worked on by the band, hurt too much to play with our relationship in its current condition. It didn’t even have a title yet, and now the ending was as much in the air as our relationship’s outcome.
One by one, the rest of the group showed up, talking and carrying on oblivious to my suffering although I wouldn’t want it any other way. I couldn’t explain what happened between us anyway. I was sure they felt I’d been a walking time bomb over the past several days, especially when I would lash out or forget my lyrics for the umpteenth time, having LuAnn and the baby to overshadow me.
It was noon before we took our first break, but I wanted to keep going, happy to lose myself in the work ahead, trying to forget the pain of being apart from the person who held my heart so securely even though she left me. Ron pulled me aside and told me to straighten up my act. “I told you I would take care of it now so get your shit together.”
His words of encouragement did nothing for my demeanor. My mind kept focusing on Chelsea. She must be back in Wisconsin. Did she go to her old house or did she go to her parents’ house? Did she tell them about what an asshole I turned out to be? Her father would certainly agree and tell her he knew all along how much of a devious shit I was, and how better her life would be without me around to hurt her anymore.
By early afternoon, we stopped for the day. Nothing turned up even remotely useful for us to incorporate on the record. Despite Ron’s badgering earlier, I still couldn’t concentrate resulting in him throwing a fit and telling us not to come back unless we had our heads removed from our asses. He pulled me aside and handed me an envelope. “What is this?”
“That, my son, is your saving grace. You can thank me by getting out of your funk and acting like a fucking rock star for once. I paid off an employee of the hospital where the little bastard child was born, and it turns out you are not the father. Mom’s blood type is A negative and you are O positive. The baby is AB negative which takes you off the hook. It saves us time as the court-ordered DNA test would bring it out in the open.” I looked down, not sure if he was serious and afraid to hope. “It is all in the report, check it out.” I tore open the envelope cautiously reading the report and what it said. “Turns out she is just interested in a payout. I don’t doubt that the stupid bitch didn’t rub the condom all the way up her large cunt, hoping to rake in the big dollars, but you won’t be the one forking over a new Mercedes for her on each of the little bastard’s birthdays.”
“Who is the father?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t give a shit. I only hope you turn out to shoot blanks, so I never need to deal with this shit again. Wrap up your fucking dick next time and flush the fucking rubber too, got it?”
He walked away and left me with the proof I needed to leave this all behind me. The first thought being Chelsea. I could call her with the news, but really this was only a part of the problem. A large part of the problem, but it still didn’t seem like enough. I felt I needed to close this issue first.
I looked again at the illegal hospital record and saw LuAnn’s address listed on it knowing the results were better off coming from me, than for her to hear the news from Ron. I didn’t owe her anything, but she didn’t deserve his ruthless wrath. Besides, I needed to know why.
It took an hour to find her house in the shitty neighborhood listed on the record. The streets were littered with trash, and the buildings were in disrepair. I could hear sirens in the distance and felt my car might not be the safest in this area. It wasn’t too far from the shithole I called home when I first came to California. It made me remember, once again, how far I’d come.
When she answered the door, she had a little boy on her hip. She dressed him in a colorful outfit with trains on it. He had a little chubby face with wistful blond hair and blue eyes.
This could have been my son.
She looked at me shocked. “How did you find out where I lived? You can’t visit with him until you fork over the child support.”
“LuAnn, can I come in? We need to talk.” She hesitated and looked worried, sensing trouble.
“Only if you are ready to pay. Otherwise, I am on my way out the door.” She didn’t look as though she was getting ready to leave but I didn’t mention it to her. I didn’t want to be here any longer than I needed to either. I looked around the small apartment with dread. She didn’t have much in the way of furniture. I tried to think if she even had a job. Dirty dishes lined the sink, and the stench of cigarette smoke hung in the air. Not the family-friendly environment in which to raise a child but it was none of my business anymore.
Handing her the envelope, she looked defensive, “What is this?”
“Proof I am not the boy’s father, but I think you knew all along, didn’t you?” The look in her eyes darkened lending to her guilt. I should have been mad. She caused Chelsea to leave me, but then again, my past was the real culprit.
“I didn’t know for sure, and I never gave the okay for the DNA test. How did you find out?” Her defensiveness slowly dwindled knowing her lie had been discovered.
“It doesn’t matter how I found out. Who is the father LuAnn?” What other shmuck must deal with this? She looked at me, thinking of how to answer. She had nothing to lose telling me the truth at this point, and she knew it.
Brady? He was one of our roadies we looked out for. The guy seemed nice enough but tended to be socially awkward. He didn’t get much action from the ladies until touring with us. We tried to explain the girls were around him to get close to the band. I told him to use condoms on numerous occasions, but thinking back, we all kind of let it happen. We all had the roadies looking for women for us, and they were given any leftovers not deemed worthy. How could I be so stupid?
“Brady? What the hell were you thinking? Why the hell would you take advantage of him?”
She spits out her next sentence and I knew I offended her, “Brady is blond and has blue eyes, Brandt. I fucked him after I fucked you to make sure he had the looks of a kid I hoped to get pregnant with.”
It was my fault? Did I do this to Brady? Yes, at least in a roundabout way. I felt bad for him, thinking I got him in this situation.
LuAnn’s eyes turned glassy, and her voice softened, “I took your rubber you know. I wanted it to be yours even though you wouldn’t even look at me. You wouldn’t have even gone to bed with me if I didn’t invite the other woman to be with us. And you sure didn’t call me after.” My stomach sank a little. That boy in her arms really could have been mine.
“Does he know?”
She turned away from me, but I could still hear her answer, “No.”
“Well, when were you planning on telling him? You didn’t think you could pull this off, did you?” She sat down hard on the sofa. I was pissed but needed to understand why she would try to ruin so many lives.
Her voice goes void of all emotion, “Brandt, I am sick.”
“Sick? What the hell are you talking about?”
She looked up, tears falling down her cheeks, “I had testing done right after I became pregnant. I contracted HIV.” I turned white. The testing occurred when she first got pregnant, which meant she had HIV when we fucked. And also with Brady. My mind raced between relief of using a condom that night and then to the tests Ron insisted we took every four months. Those blessed tests I now loved him for. Chelsea and I should be safe, but then I thought about Brady and the kid in her arms.
Looking back over at her, I realized I couldn’t be mad anymore. She may have ruined my life with her confession, but she faced an uphill battle. “LuAnn, I am sorry.” Her head turned down as tears fell from her eyes. “What about your son?”
Tears came harder down her cheeks, and she kissed him softly on the head. She looked back up at me, “They gave me medicine at the clinic to prevent transmission. He is fine. I am sorry to go after you like I did, but I am scared, Brandt. I keep thinking he could grow up without a mother and I need to make sure he is taken care of.” What she did was wrong, but she saw an opportunity to make some quick cash as a way to provide for her son. And it almost worked out too.
“What are you going to do now?”
She shook her head, “Not sure. But I guess I need to tell Brady.”
“Do you want me to take you?” Regardless of how this came about, she was in a bind now. I wanted to go with her to make sure she told Brady and because it was the right thing to do. Chelsea did rub off on me.
LuAnn agreed to let me take her. Brady took the news hard. We discussed getting him tested and worked on what to do with his son. He decided to tell his parents about his son and hoped he would be able to move with the kid and LuAnn back to Oregon where they lived. LuAnn was in no position to argue, but there were too many questions left in the air to decide tonight, so I brought her back home, and she thanked me for going with her. As she walked up the stairs to her apartment, I thought back to how stupid I was. The risks I took and taking my life for granted. Well not anymore.
I returned home and started packing, securing the first flight out to Wisconsin. I was going to beg if I had to, but Chelsea was coming back with me, and this time I was not going to let her forget how much I loved her.