Ami was right. Because of my obscene hangover, I had more of an ’I don’t give a shit’ attitude when dealing with my family. It served its purpose. Glad that Amilyn brought my car back from the Milwaukee airport, I had the transportation needed if the questioning got too serious.
The tournament started at nine in the morning, and should my nephew win, he would play again at six in the evening. Unfortunately, their team lost and was done for the day. My nephew stayed to watch the other games, but I went back to my parent’s home with them. Ami had a guy at the house, and I didn’t want to intrude on them, much less listen to them mess around. I wanted Ami happy, but it hurt to be around even their muted happiness.
I never gave a direct answer when it came to Brandt. Even though I didn’t technically lie, they knew something was up. Each question about Brandt and California brought about short answers and the generic quip, ‘just back here to finish some stuff.’ It quelled the interrogation, at least momentarily.
My father, the only one who wasn’t fooled by my answers, looked at me and stated the obvious, “You look like shit. Are you all right?”
I quickly explained that Ami and I drank the night before, celebrating my return. I almost felt like I threw her under the bus as I knew what came next. “You know that girl is trouble. I thought it from the beginning.”
“Yes Dad.” Arguing with him never helped. The two of them would never agree to a truce. How could I love people who were so opposite?
Sitting on the front porch with my parents, my concentration wandered. I listened vaguely to mom talk about some of my cousins, but which ones escaped me. She restarted the conversation twice when I looked at her lost. I considered leaving, thinking I’d overstayed my welcome and knowing the harder questions were coming when a car drove up the driveway.
The black sedan had tinted windows making identification of the driver impossible. My heart sped up as I realized the car was too expensive for the average passerby in these parts. Before the driver stepped out, I knew it could only be Brandt. He had a white envelope in his hands and looked as though he hadn’t slept in days. His eyes found mine and I could see the shadows under them as well as beard stubble uncommon on his face. My heart raced in my chest in anticipation of an altercation when I heard the grumble coming from my father, “What the hell is he doing here?”
Waiting to take a flight until the next day nearly killed me. I had to get back to her, and I only started to calm as my plane landed in Green Bay. It was going to be an uphill battle. Even though the kid wasn’t mine, my past still proved an obstacle. Chelsea was as innocent as one could get. She would never understand my past sexual indiscretions, not seeing a difference between casual sex and what we shared. I didn’t even notice a difference either until I met her but I now know it to be true.
I slept with those women on purpose. I used every one of them and didn’t care when they professed to love me or the fact they couldn’t live without me, only interested in a quick fuck. Those women wanted a night with the lead singer, not Robert Stennet from New Hampshire. I used my rockstar status to my advantage. I guess I was more of an asshole than I thought.
For most of my life, women were the enemy. They thought they wanted me but what they really wanted was the illusion of me. They wanted the fame and fortune my position provided. If they were only interested in using me, well, I felt I could use them back and eventually believed my best bet was to use them first, that way I would never get hurt.
What LuAnn told me hit me hard. How close was I to giving Chelsea a chronic disease? It bothered me how stupid I had been. Things were going to change. We played up the fact we were young and foolish, and it wouldn’t happen again. Too many people could get hurt by this, and I couldn’t live with myself knowing I gave Chelsea something that might end up killing her.
The black rental sedan coasted to a stop outside Amilyn’s house, the last residence for Chelsea, and I only hoped she would let me in, so I could explain. Chelsea’s car wasn’t in the driveway, but it didn’t deter me. Ami said she would take care of it after getting it back from the Milwaukee airport since Chelsea left it there on a wish and a prayer to follow a guy to a better destiny. And looked what happened. That guy brought her trouble and heartache.
During the whole flight, I worked on speech after speech in my head, but standing here, I went silent. Nothing sounded right anymore. All I knew was that it would start with ‘I’m sorry.’
When no one acknowledged my knock, I pounded on the door with more force as it wasn’t too early to be considered an annoyance. Through the decorative window in the door, I noticed a guy only half-dressed coming to answer and my heart stopped. Notions of doom ran through my head, and I started to hold my breath. Who was this guy? Had she gotten here yesterday and already found my replacement?
The door opened to a disheveled male approximately my height and build. He seemed conformable answering the door and addressed me in a foreign accent. ”Ello.” Indignation clouded my mind at this point, but then I saw Ami come out from around the corner, wrapping a robe around herself and I calmed. He must have been with her. Relief replaced anger and I ignored the befuddled male presence and addressed Ami directly, “Can I speak to Chelsea?”
“Brandt? Chelsea isn’t here. She said something about a baseball game with her family.”
Good. My girlfriend shouldn’t have been there with Romeo running around half-naked. “Is it the diamond in the park down the road?”
“No, it is out somewhere by her parents. One of the nephews has a tournament.”
The idea of going to her parents’ house unnerved me. I didn’t think I would be welcome. “Okay, thanks Ami.”
As I turned to leave, she said, “Wait.” The corners of her red-rimmed lips tipped up in amusement matched only with a twinkle in her glowing green eyes. “Don’t give up. She loves you, she just needs to get it straight in her own head.”
My body softened at her words of encouragement. She knew, and she believed in a relationship between the two of us. “Thanks.” I left, taking comfort in the sentiment.
Renewed by my mission, I drove the long route in silence. Her family was an obstacle but not one hard to hurdle. Family was important to her and I should have guessed she would go to them for solace now. I couldn’t imagine she told her father about our plight given his strict religious views. Whatever truths were uprooted made no difference to me. Right now, I didn’t care what Ed’s opinion of me was. I only cared what Chelsea thought. Please come back to me.
Pulling into the driveway, I came to a stop, staring right at Chelsea and her parents sitting on the front porch of their house. I couldn’t help but envision her face as she left me yesterday. Her look shrouded in pain played over in my mind with the knowledge I caused it. Did I really think I could reverse it? Make up for all the damage? I would never think I was worthy of her but decided to die trying, to be the person she needs me to be. The person I had become when I was with her.
I grabbed the hospital envelope and left the car while realization dawned on her face. The same could be said about her father. His jaw stiffened and his hands tightened on the arms of the outdoor chair. His reaction was not unexpected. I hurt his little girl, and she didn’t deserve it.
Chelsea froze in her seat while I approached. The air around us stirred with anxiety. Before I got too close, Ed rose up and blocked my way. “Sir, I would like to talk to your daughter.”
He didn’t move. “She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
Her look of confusion told me a different story. “I came here to apologize, and I am not leaving until I do.”
Chelsea stood up and put her hand on Ed’s arm, “Dad, let me talk to him. I... want to talk to him.” Her shaky voice sounded unconvincing.
Ed didn’t move, and I wanted to throw him out of the way but tried to wait patiently for my chance alone with Chelsea. He peered at me with disapproval. He wanted me to screw up and I couldn’t. Not now.
This time, he broke the stare and gave his instructions, “Not in the house. You can talk to him out in the open.” He didn’t trust me enough to be alone with her. As long as I had a shot to explain, I didn’t care.
Being ever cognizant of her family, she did as he said and pointed to the apple orchard, “Come with me.” Only when we were under the canopy of the branches did I glance at her father. His look said it all. Mess with my daughter, and I will kill you. His overprotection seemed warranted given our recent issues.
I turned my head to Chelsea. Her reddened eyes crushed me. I did this, and I felt like shit for it. “Chelsea don’t be mad. I had to see you.” I thwarted her plea of space from me, not allowing her more than a day.
“Brandt, I need more time.”
“And I will give it to you, but only after all the facts are out in the open.” Handing her the envelope from the hospital, I explained further, “The kid isn’t mine.”
“How did you find out? I thought the DNA tests were going to take weeks.” She didn’t even look inside the envelope, giving me hope I hadn’t broken all trust with her.
“Ron pulled a few strings and got me the blood work for the kid at the hospital. I talked with LuAnn to confirm it. She confessed and admitted to looking for a payout. She is scared for her son because she is HIV positive.”
Her face fell as deep furrows form along her forehead. “She is sick?”
It hurt to see what I could have done to her. “She was HIV positive when we slept together, but I had tests taken since then. We are okay.”
Dr. Hunt was thorough with her too, and I gave a silent prayer of thanks. “What about her son?”
Of course, she would be concerned for the little boy. “Her son is okay too. She received medical treatment before giving birth that protected him.” She swallowed and lowered her head while taking in the information.
Chelsea gazed over at the house and to her father. He returned to his chair but glared at us, watching her reaction, ready to kick me out should he feel the need. Turning back to look at me she said, “Who is the father? Does she know?”
I needed to confess to her, to come clean. More shitty knowledge of my past that kept coming back to haunt me. I could only throw myself at her mercy.
“His name is Brady. He comes with us on tour as a roadie. She used him because he looks similar to me. I mean the basic hair and eye color but that’s about it. He is socially awkward and the guys, well, we were supposed to look out for him.” No, that was wrong. “I should’ve looked out for him. Watched him better.”
“Brandt, not everyone on tour with you is your responsibility. You couldn’t have known.”
Was she trying to make me feel better? It sounded like her. I shook my head. No Chelsea, I deserve this. I explained further, even knowing the information shown me in a worse light, “The guys and I turned a blind eye thinking nothing would be hurt with him getting some...” She would never take me back now. She still deserved to know though. Her expression turned dismal, knowing what I was alluding to. An expression of shame engulfed her face, and I swallowed hard. If you take me back, I will never put that look on your face again. I couldn’t help but hope.
Embarrassed by my past, I plodded on. I needed it out in the open, even with her father watching ready to dispose of me once given the chance. I was going to throw myself at her feet. Deserving only her condemnation, I pleaded, “Chelsea I have screwed up. What went down with Brady showed me yet again. God, I have been so foolish. I took chances that ended up ruining people’s lives all for my benefit. I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself for this and I shouldn’t ask you to either. I just know from meeting you I have changed. I am not the same person who met you weeks ago, and I don’t ever want to go back to him regardless of what happens next.” It was true. I had changed and finally could look myself in the mirror. Chelsea gave me a sense of self-worth no one else could. Not having her beside me scared me, thinking I could go back to the shallow, selfish man I once was.
Tears were forming in her eyes as she played over our conversation. My palms grew sweaty and itched for her. I wanted to comfort her and hold her, but I kept my distance waiting. Fucking waiting, I hated it. “Brandt, I can’t be what you need. I could never do the stuff... I mean those women...”
My God, she was what I had always wanted but just hadn’t acknowledged it until it hit me where it hurt. My heart broke when she left me. I needed her to understand how important she was to me. “Chelsea, the man I am today isn’t the man I was then. Those women never had my heart. I don’t want that. Not anymore. Instead of a quick fuck with faceless women, I have found something deep and meaningful. I never had it before. I didn’t even know I could feel this way and it is all because of you. Chelsea--”
She didn’t let me finish, “But Brandt I don’t think I can give you more--”
I wouldn’t let her dismiss my declaration so easily. Trying to convince her of my sincerity, I plodded on, “I don’t want that, Chelsea, but I will tell you what I do want. I want more. I want more walks on the beach with you. I want more deep kisses and more holding you while we watch the sunset. I want more making love and not at all what I had before with any woman. I don’t like the person I was before meeting you, and I want more of the person I am trying so hard to become. I want more... with you. Please come back with me. I love you.” Spilling it out for her riddled me with apprehension. I was nothing without her and needed her to take me back.
Tears trickled down her cheeks pulling at my heart and I couldn’t stop thinking of my empty life without her. My own tears stung my eyes as I waited again for her to respond. I would wait until the end of time as long as she took me back. The silence deafening, I tried to wait patiently but patience was never my virtue.
“I trust you.” It sounded blessed in my ear. She said she trusted me. Not that she loved me, but I understood the significance of what she said. Trust with Chelsea was the bigger issue. She trusted what I said but it didn’t answer all my questions.
I let out a breath and asked the one question I needed her to answer, “Does this mean you will come back with me?” You will never regret it. Oh, please say yes.
She started to nod, “Yes, Brandt.”
My stomach lifted as a smile formed on my face. Picking her up, I swung her around as she hugged me tightly. She slid down my chest as I put her back on her feet and as I brought her lips to mine, I drank in her taste. It was heavenly and I choked back my emotions and said yet another prayer of thanks, “Oh, God, thank you.”
She looked up from my face to her dad watching on the porch. I followed her gaze and saw Ed stand up and walk away into the house, and my happiness faltered. I realized what I wrecked for her and I had to make amends. Grabbing her hand, I walked her towards the house.
“How much does your family know?”
“I haven’t told them anything. They might have guessed we were having problems, but I didn’t want to talk yet.” I nodded. It sounded like Chelsea. I hurt her badly, and she still defended me. She amazed me.
Walking into the kitchen, I spotted her father sitting at the table. Her mother leaned into the refrigerator and tried to make light of the situation, “Brandt, I hope you can join us for lunch.” Ed didn’t even acknowledge my standing near him. His jaw remained clenched and his nostrils flared, reminding everyone he was still in control.
“Sir, I am here to bring your daughter back to California with me. I screwed up. A woman came to see me and told me we had a child together. I kept it from Chelsea. She figured it out and left me. I shouldn’t have lied. When I found out the kid wasn’t mine, I had to come back for her. To beg her to return with me. I need her in my life. I don’t deserve her and will not ruin the chance she has given me.” There, it was out in the open. The facts pointed to my guilt, but I learned from this and would stop at nothing to prove my worth to her and her father.
“Damn right you don’t deserve her,” Ed shouted as he stood up.
Barb came to my aid, “Now Ed, take it easy. He is here to apologize. He made a mistake is all.”
“I promised her if she came back with me, I would never make her doubt me again and I extend that promise to you. If you tell her to stay here, I will leave California and move here until you approve of our relationship.” Chelsea’s eyes widened at my admission. This man did not like me and I needed to earn his respect. I hoped he saw how much I loved his daughter and if he told her to stay, well, then, I guessed I’d stay here too until he trusted me.
“No, wait a minute. The choice is mine.” Chelsea fumed beside me as I turned to her. I was just trying to make amends with her father, and now they were both mad at me?
“Brandt, you cannot take the choice away from me, and Dad, I am a grown woman. There was a time I would hide behind you, but then I never learned to stand on my own.” She released my hand, and instantly I missed the connection, but my disbelief shook me. She had actually stood up to her father? I didn’t think she had it in her.
“Dad, I have made mistakes, and Brandt has made mistakes too. We are learning to navigate through life, and it will take time. I want this. I want a life with him. I love him.”
Ed studied her face, obviously disappointed. He didn’t want her to go with me, but he wouldn’t risk her leaving and hating him for it. He loved her and would at least accept our relationship for the time being. She was his little girl, but it didn’t mean he wouldn’t try to make her see his point, “I don’t want you hurt again honey. It was too hard on you the last time. You finally started to get your smile back. The one you had as a kid. The one I loved so much.”
The realization saddened me. She had been hurt before and I had just been adding to her pain lately.
“Daddy, Brandt is the reason for my smile now.”
What she said touched me. She did love me and it would always amaze me. Ed nodded his defeat. Barb watched by my side, touching my arm gently and smiling.
“Sir, I won’t screw up again. I love your daughter.” I couldn’t cause her any more pain.
“I’ll be watching you, young man.” Ed’s sharp eyes focused on me.
Swallowing, I nodded, “I know.”
Her mother cleared her throat and said, “Well, go and get cleaned up for lunch while I put something on the table.” Ed left for the bathroom, avoiding my side of the table. It was hard for him to accept Chelsea’s decision and I prayed I had a chance to change his mind in the coming future.
Chelsea and I returned to the car for a respite from the intense confrontation before lunch. We talked about going back to California. Relieved she was coming with me, we finalized our plans. When she mentioned packing up her belongings at her previous residence, I couldn’t agree with her more. She wouldn’t be returning to Wisconsin. At least to live here. I would stake my life on it.
“Brandt, why did you tell my parents about LuAnn? It didn’t put you in a good position with my dad.”
“I needed to come clean. With you and with everyone. I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life, and if I don’t take ownership, then I am doomed to repeat them.”
She accepted this but her look turned grim, “My dad could have killed you. Maybe not kill you, but body parts could have been removed. I saw him castrate many an animal on the farm.”
I gave her a nervous smile and swallowed down my discomfort. “That didn’t come to mind. I can’t say I didn’t deserve his anger either, but you should never have to cover for my mistakes.”
“He’ll come around. Give him time.”
“I will give him all the time he needs as long as I get to be with you.” I kissed her again, more than comforted while she was in my arms.
Returning to the house left me anxious but Ed appeared to have conceded to our truce. We wanted the same thing. We wanted Chelsea happy. Being with her family made her happy and I realized Ed needed to see us together. Bringing her back to her family with some consistency would give me time with Ed to prove my worth.
The meal went quickly enough, and light small talk came and went, mostly from Chelsea and her mother. When the meal concluded, I stayed to help Barb with the dishes sensing Chelsea wanted to talk with her dad some more. Together, they sat out on the front porch.
The phone rang and Barb went to answer it, leaving me to clean off the table and put the dishes in the sink. The window above the sink overlooked the same porch Chelsea and her father inhabited, and I sheepishly listened to the conversation.
“Daddy, I am going to be okay. Will you?”
“I don’t agree with this. What sort of man brings you across the country without marrying you?”
Marriage? I hadn’t thought about it before. Of course, that was before Chelsea. I wanted to lay claim on her in the worst way... someday but got the feeling she wouldn’t want to right now either. Part of me was glad, and the other part was worried she may never want a commitment with me.
She continued, “Dad. It isn’t about that. Brandt loves me and is committed to me, but marriage is not even on the table right now.”
The quiver in her voice as she continued made me solemn. “Dad, I am broken. I have been broken for the past six years, unable to deal with the pain I went through with Dan. When he left me the way he did, I pushed it deep down inside and only started to heal when Brandt forced me to face it. With Brandt by my side, I feel like I can start to mend. I love him.”
Her intense words pulled at my heart. Chelsea, you are not broken. Bent maybe but no one will ever break you. Stay with me, and I will heal you any way I can.
Brandt left in his car and followed me in mine back to Ami’s house. We spent the rest of the day gathering up my room with the belief that Ami would rent it out after I left. Packing up my belongings had a sense of finality to it. Brandt and I had our separate worlds, but we had a renewed sense of commitment to make it work.
Plans were made with Ami to send the items I wanted to keep. She promised to sell my car and use the money as rent until she found another tenant. It gave me peace, but later that night, as I lay in Brandt’s arms, I grew somber with the thought of leaving my family once again. It was hard two weeks ago, but this time felt different. This time, leaving seemed not as rushed, more... final. I knew what I gave up to be with Brandt, but more importantly, I knew what I was running to. That promise, the promise of a future with the man I loved.
My mind wandered to my conversation with my dad before I left. He didn’t get it. His only thought centered around protecting me but what I told him was true. Brandt helped to heal me. He didn’t see it yet, but he would. I remembered what he said: Sudden trust brings sudden repentance. It was an old German saying my grandfather had passed on to us. I countered with another saying from my memories of grandpa: He who forces love when none is found remains a fool the whole year-round. That comment solidified my commitment to make this work and my father knew it too.
As I left my father, I gave him a hug, and he hugged me back, his embrace strong. I whispered one word in his ear: Vertrauen. The German word for trust. It meant so much. He needed to trust me. And he needed to trust Brandt even though I was still learning it as well.
The next morning, we headed out to the airport with the reservations Ami made for us. First Class the whole way back. The steward gave our parting instructions as my anxiety grew. Brandt wasn’t with me when I flew the last time. He didn’t see the uncertainty of air travel that crowded my brain, given there were little facts to prove flying dangerous. I held my breath and Brandt stared at me. “Does flying scare you that much?” I nodded my head, and he held my hand. Calming my anxiety with his unruffled demeanor, he talked incessantly about nothing until we were at our cruising altitude and I could relax.
When my fear abated, and my death grip on Brandt’s hand lessened, we moved on to a deeper discussion. Brady was only the tip of the iceberg. Brandt told me things would change. He would talk to the rest of the guys about expectations from here out. Bowls of condoms would be supplied at each event and would be made mandatory. Free testing, for not only the band but the crew, would be offered for anyone interested, and roadies were forbidden to make false promises for favors anymore.
Our conversation slowed, and he absently brushed his thumb over the back of my hand calming me further by his touch. He hadn’t stopped touching me since we had been reunited and it comforted me in my decision. He leaned in to caress my cheek and his brows furrowed deep in thought. His lips met mine and although the kiss tender, it filled me with worry. There was a question in that kiss, and I waited, letting him ponder the wording.
“I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve this. Why did you ever take me back?”
The words touched me with their sincerity. Making sure he looked me straight in the eyes, so he knew the seriousness of my answer, I said, “You never lied. You might have kept information from me, but you never lied. Dan lied to me throughout our relationship and it hurt. Even when it wasn’t in your favor, you told me the truth when I asked.” Admitting his past indiscretions proved hard for me to hear, but he seemed to understand the importance of his disclosure.
“I know if I ask you any questions about your past you will tell me the truth, won’t you?” I was unprepared to see the reluctance in his eyes. The appearance of trepidation made me want to delve further into our discussion, but I hesitated. His former conquests seemed to haunt him, and in that instance, I knew he would tell me whatever I asked. But at this point, it wouldn’t change a thing. I also realized telling me wasn’t necessary anymore. The past was the past.
Brandt’s remorseful look stopped any further questions. There was only one more issue I needed to bring up. “There is something I have to know.” He swallowed and nodded even though his reluctance poured out of him. “Do you love me?”
The slow way his lips curled melted my heart yet again. “More than anything in this world.” The relief from my skirting the underlying issue proved priceless, as his face lightened. He leaned in and gave me a deep, penetrating kiss. Smiling, I placed my head on his shoulder as his whole body relaxed. No more focus would be given to his past, focusing only on Brandt and our future. When he told me he wanted to become the man I thought he was, I believed him, but what he failed to realize was he was in there all along.
“There is another positive thing that came out of my trip.” I smiled at him and inquired further. “I have a name for my song at last.”
“Oh? What is it?”
Smirking, he replied, “More.”