Friday night came and the guys from Kapp Stone left early as they were starting to bicker with each other again. They fed off each other but it also worked for them. They wanted me to come out to celebrate finishing the album but the paparazzi were relentless and would be worse if I showed my face with them. The music news scene kept repeating the same story over and over. That I screwed over my bandmate and impregnated Quade’s ex-wife. It had been all over social media for the last couple of days and I thought about calling Quade but I didn’t know what to say. Anything that came out would be shitty. ‘Sorry they found out I fucked your girlfriend and ruined your life,’ just didn’t roll off the tongue. I was just glad he found the estranged woman he told me about. Ryder clued me on the private detective finally locating her, but we haven’t talked much since. I didn’t know the whole story but it wasn’t any of my business, and now with this shit on the news, he probably would never want to talk to me again.
How the fuck did it get out? All I knew was that the paparazzi were thick lately. At least they were not at my home anymore, spending more time staking out my work. I had to park at a neighbors house down the street and leave off all of my lights to trick them into thinking I never came home, but at least I could sleep in my own bed. Fucking bottom feeders. I tried to warn Emory about them. Emory and all of Kapp Stone. Their time was coming.
The guys in Kapp Stone knew about my past. The drinking, the drugs, the women, all of it. They didn’t ask about Quade and my new son, but I saw it in their eyes. They thought I was an asshole too for fucking over a bandmate. I never wanted to be the poster child for fuck ups but I hoped they would take some of my warnings to heart. It was brutal being thrust into the limelight when you came from nothing but it didn’t mean you should burn yourself out and leave chaos in your wake. At least I hoped they would take it easy on their ascent to the top.
By the time I got home, it was not quite after five at night. The mid-March weather turned out to be a little cooler than normal but still felt good with the sun shining on my face. I snuck in and made up an early supper. Taking my baked potato smothered in toppings, I headed outside to eat on the deck. I have become fond of fresh air lately and laughed at my choice of food as well. There was no way I would give up meat entirely but I really didn’t mind eating healthier.
It made me think of her. I still thought about her all the time and I missed her. I couldn’t help it. She even influenced what I ate lately. I couldn’t help thinking she would be proud of me and then my smile faltered. She must have seen the news reports. She would realize I was still the fuck up heroin addict and now the cheater they plastered all over the media. I might not be the same man I was then but I didn’t think it mattered to anyone now.
Being off heroin for over a year, I knew that although I still craved it every fucking day, I could say no a hell of a lot easier as time went on. Everything was better too. My music got better. I had a better relationship with Bonnie and Tabitha and the kids. Shit, even the schmoozing and the way I worked with the investors didn’t bother me as much. Everything was better except for one area: Nina.
She was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought about when I went to sleep at night. I didn’t go to the parking lot outside her work anymore. The last time I almost couldn’t stand it and went up to talk to her. Really, I just wanted to know how she was doing. Did her work get better? Did she get better sleep? And more importantly, did she miss me?
The last question was why I didn’t go and talk to her and would be the reason I had to stop. I had to stop watching the way her hair reflected the light of the fading sun. I had to stop interpreting her body movements, assuming her job was getting better because she seemed to have fewer days when she left with the window open. The most crucial reason to let her go would be to help me accept the fact there couldn’t be more between us.
Settling back in my chair, I was just about to go inside from the chill when my phone rang. Looking down at the screen, Quade’s name popped up and I scrambled to answer on the second ring. Each time he called it gave me hope for doing more damage control between us. “Quade?”
He sounded frantic when I answered, "Sienna is in labor at Ryder’s house in Vegas and can’t go to a hospital. Do you think the doctor you are seeing would help her out?” It took me a while to figure out who Sienna was, only knowing her as Sydney but finding out from Ryder a little of her background. I knew Quade found her and it was evident she was pregnant when they appeared on the news story that constantly streamed the last few days, but I didn’t know why he would need me.
“Why can’t she go to a hospital?”
“JJ, I don’t have time to explain, I am sorry. She just can’t go. Do you think you can help me out?” I remembered telling him about Nina. About how we were taking it slow. Now I wished I had never mentioned her but Quade would only call me to ask a favor of me out of desperation.
“We broke up.” I hated admitting we weren’t seeing each other. Not just for the fact we broke up but also because I couldn’t help Quade when he needed me.
“Fuck!” He didn’t just sound disappointed, but he sounded frenzied. My mind searched for why she wouldn’t be able to go to the hospital and it led me back to the name change. Sydney to Sienna. She could be in trouble, and he was worried about her. Worried because if she were in labor it could mean trouble for both his woman and his child.
That last thought did me in. His first kid had been stripped from him and his second was now in trouble. Shit, I didn’t want to let him down twice. “Don’t worry man. I will get her there.” The relief was evident in his voice and I felt good for helping him but had no clue what this would mean for Nina and myself.
“JJ that is great. Hey, I really appreciate this. Please get there in a hurry. I’m not sure how much time she has before the baby is born.” Without any further talk he hung up and my mind already searched for ways to make this work.
Quickly I looked at the schedule I still kept on my phone. Shit, she was working the day shift now and it was the first of her three shifts for the weekend. That meant she had to work the next two days and if I drove her to Ryder’s house she wouldn’t have any time to sleep tonight before working tomorrow and I started to curse. I was putting her in a bind if she agreed to help, and if she didn’t agree, well, Quade was in a bind.
Knowing she didn’t look at her phone until her shift finished, I texted her before seven when she ended and asked her to come to her car trying to explain the urgency. I didn’t know how else to explain how badly I needed to talk to her.
Outside in the parking lot, I parked as close to the door of the employee entrance as I could. Waiting with my hands in my pockets, I wished I would have had the forethought to bring a flower but that might be sending the wrong message. Christ, was I nervous. The last time I saw her I ran like a coward from her bedroom. For all I knew, she had Charlie move in, and I was just an itch to scratch. She probably had a night planned for just the two of them, and I was cock blocking Charlie the dickless bitch.
Nina never texted me back. She probably deleted my information and didn’t know the number, thinking only of erasing the rude scamming call. Maybe she knew who it was and chose to ignore me. Or worse yet, maybe she now sent the cops to pick me up for stalking. Shit, I hated this.
She appeared before the crowd of people escape through their concrete work prison like an angry mob and hurried over to my car. Dressed in burgundy slacks and a black blouse, she had her hair pulled back as she always kept it while she worked only letting it down after. She must have hurried out and forgotten today. Was that a good sign? A sign that she still cared about me or was she coming out to give me a piece of her mind?
Concern guarded the look on her face and my mouth went dry when she came near. “JJ what is it? Did something happen?” The care in her voice elated me and I knew I would always cherish the sentiment.
“Quade called me earlier. He needs me to go to Vegas. Well, not really me. He needs you to go to Vegas.”
Confusion surfaced before she asked, “What are you talking about? What is going on?” I didn’t know what to say as I didn’t receive many answers myself.
“Ah, Quade’s girlfriend is in Vegas, and she needs a doctor.”
Nina hiked up her eyebrows, “Then she should go to a doctor in Las Vegas.”
Shaking my head, I added, “I don’t think she can. I don’t know the whole story but I know she is in trouble. Actually, I think they both are.”
Her eyes widened as her eyebrows met in the middle of her forehead. A scowl presented on her face, as she said, “JJ what the hell are you talking about? I can’t go to Vegas tonight. I have to work tomorrow. You can’t seriously expect me to help.”
Pleading at her I knew it was a long shot to get her to go with me and I really didn’t think she would, but I couldn’t give up. “Nina, it is Quade.” I didn’t say more not knowing how to convince her. I bent my head in defeat. Every possibility crossed my mind. Could I find someone else to help? I was stupid in thinking I could get Nina to come with me.
She calmed down after seeing my internal struggle. Not wanting to look up at her I kept my head down until I heard her, “Okay. I will go.” Looking up in her eyes, I noticed they held an uncertainty, but so did mine. I shuddered as relief hit me and I asked her to get in my car knowing I could explain the rest on the three-hour trip to Vegas.
“Maybe you should try to get some sleep first. I could wake you when we get closer.” I already felt shitty for making her lose any of her sleep time.
“JJ, I can’t sleep in a moving car. I need to know what I am getting into though. What is going on with Quade and his girlfriend?”
Snaking in and out of traffic I tried to answer, “Quade isn’t there but his girlfriend is in labor.”
I started talking fast but realized I couldn’t answer a lot of her questions with the little information he gave me. “She is in Las Vegas at Ryder’s house but Quade sounded as if he couldn’t get there. All he told me was she started labor sometime today and couldn’t go to the hospital. That was almost two hours ago now.”
“Two hours ago? She is in labor? She needs a hospital! I can’t see her. I am not an obstetrician.”
“I don’t know why, but she can’t go to the hospital. I, fuck... I am sorry.” Her irritation seemed appropriate but I hated being on the receiving end. She studied medicine but even I realized emergency medicine was different from delivering babies for a living.
“JJ this is unacceptable. I am crossing state lines to work outside of my expertise on not one, but two patients.”
She nodded, “I would be responsible for the life of a woman and her child. If something were to go wrong, I could lose my license to practice medicine.” My heart sank not understanding the ramifications I caused in asking her to help me. Shit, I never thought about what this would cost Nina. She took on a lot of risk coming with me and I couldn’t ask her to stick her neck out anymore.
“Nina, I am sorry. I only hoped to help Quade and wasn’t thinking of what it meant for you. I’ll turn around. I can’t ask you to do this.” I slowed down the car, but she placed her hand on mine on the stick shift. The touch sent electricity through the back of my hand and I forgot how good it could feel. Warm and tender.
“No.” I sped up not knowing what to do. “I will talk to her. If she doesn’t think she can go to the hospital, maybe I can convince her.”
“But Nina, I don’t want to put you in a position that would ever compromise you.”
She nodded, “I won’t let myself be put in that type of situation. If she is still in labor when we get there, I will call an ambulance and have her taken to the nearest hospital.” She looked out her window, “Don’t worry. We will get her the care she needs. I have a way of convincing people.” She watched the way I was driving, “Just don’t kill us on the way there.” I eased up a little on the gas but felt too anxious to drive any slower.
The tension settled between us but still lingered in the background. Miles passed before I heard her again, “I saw the press release on Jaeger.” She kept her voice soft and a tenderness shown in it. She knew what a sore spot it was and tried to be supportive.
“Yeah, well I didn’t expect it. It probably hurt worse for Jaeger and Quade.”
She squeezed her hand still on mine and then dropped it to her lap, “I am not so sure about that.”
Swallowing, I concentrated on the road unsure of what to say. I hated how the information got out but a small part of me also felt relief. I was an asshole for thinking it as I would never be accepted by Jaeger as anything but a fuck up and hated myself for hoping for anything more.
She opened her phone stating she needed to review information and prepare for what she would find. I kept quiet and steadied the ride as she took the time to look up all the latest medical information. I wanted to talk but I didn’t have a clue what to say.
About an hour to go to Vegas she put down the phone and rested her eyes. I almost thought she was sleeping when I heard her say, “You still owe me that guitar solo.”
My chest tightened at the thought she would want to do anything with me anymore. “Well, I guess I could give it to you any time now since I am playing again.”
She looked over at me with surprise and a gleam of excitement. “You are? Since when?”
I sheepishly shrugged, “Since, ah, that night.” She didn’t ask which night but looked away and out her window. The awkwardness returned, and we both sat for a while in silence.
Thinking she wouldn’t want to talk anymore after my shithead statement, I was surprised when she added, “I am glad you are playing again. Is it still so bittersweet?”
Before answering, I took the time to search my own feelings. When I answered it was truthful. “It was hard at first. Getting back to it after so long, I was almost afraid I wouldn’t be good at it anymore. That the drugs gave me my creativity but when the guitar was placed in my hands, it felt like an old friend. The music flowed out of me, and I am growing to enjoy it as I had once again.”
Nina nodded but kept looking out of the window. A melancholy descended on the car, and we rode along in more silence. I wanted to ask a million questions but in the end, I chickened out. I didn’t think she deserved to answer my prodding questions when I was taking her to a place that could potentially put her whole career in jeopardy. A career she loved more than anything.
Pulling up to the house a little over three hours later, we made our way up the long driveway. A limo parked in front and as soon as we pulled up a large black man dressed in expensive clothing stood by the front door keeping his hand tucked into his jacket. He didn’t advertise his power, but he also didn’t need to. I had no doubt he was there as some sort of bodyguard and I took caution leaving my car to talk with him. Nina got out of the car and I tried to tell her to wait, but she didn’t seem to understand the brevity of the situation like I did.
The bodyguard dressed in leisure pants and a coat that appeared out of place in the desert heat, even at this time of night, but I knew why. He hid a gun under it and would use it as necessary. It made me worry about what I was leading Nina into.
“JJ.” He nodded to me as I approached and I realized we met each other a couple of times before. He worked for a bodyguard service our band used in the past. Someone Brandt knew.
I nodded back and peered at Nina. “You must be the doctor that Quade sent.”
She went up to him and his eyes never left the two of us. “I am Dr. Rhodes. Where is the person I am to see?” He looked us both over, looking for guns or any sign of a threat and it put my hackles up. He knew we were sent here by Quade, but he was still apprehensive. What kind of shit was Quade into?
Glancing around one more time at the surrounding area, he opened the door and took us into the house. I had never seen the inside of Ryder’s Vegas home and I would have been more impressed with its size if it weren’t for the screaming I heard coming from down the hall. The bodyguard kept his face impassive as he led us to the sound, and when he poked his head in I heard Chelsea talking to someone. Relief consumed me knowing she would be here to help.
“Ah Chelsea, there are some people here. They said they were sent by Quade.” He opened the door to let us in.
I walked through first, “JJ?” Chelsea encased a look of worry and fatigue but not as bad as the person lying on the bed. She had multicolored hair, red on the tips and black on the roots, and it stuck to her head forming a sweat-soaked cap. Her red face dripped with sweat as she breathed heavily holding the sheets to her body. She had brilliant blue eyes that conveyed her wonderment of who I was and what I would be doing here. Nina came through the door next and the bodyguard left just as fast closing the door behind him. I had the urge to follow, not cut out for this birthing shit. This woman looked rough and I never had the craving to deal with hormonal pregnant women.
We made our way over to the end of the bed and I tried not to look at the woman in it. Sienna was her name but I just wanted to drop Nina off and make my way out. Nina moved slowly to get a better look at Sienna and seemed to be studying her. Facing back to talk to Chelsea I heard her cry out. Holy shit, was a full-grown person coming out of her? That scream made me cringe and I talked faster, “Ah, this is Nina. She’s a doctor who works in the emergency department at St. Flanagans. I brought her as soon as she was done with her shift”
Chelsea could see just how uncomfortable I became when I walked in. She also noticed Nina examining Sienna and decided to pull me from the room. Nina looked back at me and saw my face nodding her agreement at Chelsea.
Once out in the hall, I could breathe easier but my hands were still cool and clammy. “JJ, are you all right?”
I nodded numbly but Chelsea only took me by the arm and brought me into the kitchen at the back of the house. She got me a glass of ice water and soon after letting me drink some of it asked questions of me. “Who is she?” I tried to stay focused on the question. This wasn’t a hospital but just the idea of what was going on behind that door, what Nina had to deal with all the time at work, started to get me anxious.
“Her name is Nina. We were... we were dating for a while.” She looked up at me and took the empty glass from my hand. To my surprise, she had a small smirk on her face.
“You dated a woman more than once?” She sounded incredulous and I laughed a little.
“Yeah, can you imagine that?”
She placed her hand over mine and smiled, “Yeah, I can imagine it. But you aren’t dating anymore?”
I shook my head, “Long story.” She could tell my dismay and was kind enough to leave it alone.
“So, what is going on here?”
Chelsea looked distraught. “Sienna is married to some guy from out east. He...” I could tell she didn’t want to tell me or at least felt it wasn’t her place to tell me, but considering the position we were all in, I knew she would let me in on it knowing this was more serious than even she thought. “He beat her throughout their whole marriage, and she faked her death to get away from him.”
My eyes lit up remembering where I last saw her, “But she was just on the news?”
Chelsea’s eyes dipped down in worry, knowing exactly what the press had said about us recently. “Yeah, and I think Quade did it on purpose. Not only that, but he and Ryder and Brandt are at the house he had in North Carolina. I think Quade did it to provoke her husband. He is planning something and I am worried.” Tears formed in her eyes and I went over to console her. I was never the coddling type when it came to women. When they would get clingy or cry I would turn off unable to handle it, not really wanting to handle it. But this was different. Chelsea had been through the battlefield with me and I went over and brought her into a hug.
Hugging was still foreign to me. I didn’t grow up in a family of huggers. Even my mother stopped hugging me when I reached my pre-teen years as dad always told me I had to be the man of the house. To show affection was to be weak but I realized my lack of showing affection caused more issues to surface in my life. I wanted to be there for Chelsea and since I didn’t have an answer to what the hell was going on, I could at least show her I cared.
She sniffled but didn’t cry, and she felt good in my arms. Just the fact I could bring her even a little comfort after all she did for me made me feel like a fucking human being for once. After gaining her composure, she pulled away from me and smiled. “Thanks, JJ.” She squeezed my arm, “I should go back in the room. See if I can help at all.” She smiled and left me to wonder what Quade got himself into. And now the guys were there with him too.
Quade and the guys were in trouble, I could feel it. He antagonized this husband and pushed his limits. Quade wasn’t stupid, but he also didn’t think at all like a thug. He hadn’t dealt with the people I had with my drug use, and I was afraid of his innocence in the matter. At least Brandt and Ryder were there to help him. They were a little more street smart. It didn’t make it any less nerve-racking though.
Making my way out the door to the back of the house and to the landscaping of the back patio, I nodded at the bodyguard as he walked around to the other side of the yard. I needed some air. Just like Nina after a hard day, I found it grounded me. The bodyguard continued to survey the surroundings and left me in peace. His presence and the brevity of the situation brought it all home to me. And now I included Nina in all of this. There was some shit going down for sure, and she could lose a lot if things turned out shitty. Nina could lose her doctor’s license and Quade, his life. Then where would his girlfriend be? His girlfriend and his soon to be kid not to mention...
Jaeger. I looked up noticing him staring at me from the doorway. The light in the kitchen behind him cast a shadow on him making it impossible to see much except for his eyes. They were staring at me and it seemed a little eerie to look at him and see me staring at myself at his age. He was still only fourteen years old but looked older. His hair had my same color and his eyes held the same blue-green I saw in the mirror every morning.
He had to have seen all the media attention lately indicating me as his father. Unless he lived under a rock, it wouldn’t have been hard to figure out. I didn’t even think to ask Chelsea if he was here but it was probably safer to keep the kids all together with them.
We both stared at each other as if neither of us knew what to say or wanted to say it first. He broke the silence when my eyes shifted. “Why are you here?” Direct and to the point. So maybe he did get more of my genes than just the looks.
“I brought a doctor.” He nodded his head and to my surprise walked closer. This kid had guts. More than I did at his age.
My mind went to the conversation the night Quade came to my house and told me he informed Jaeger I was his father. He told me I should meet with him but there was no effort on either of our parts. Quade talked him up saying he was intelligent and mentioned I shouldn’t bullshit him. He understood far more than what he led on and to talk straight with him. Except, I didn’t know what to say.
“Will Sienna be all right?” He cared about her. They probably didn’t know each other very long but it was evident he cared for her. I didn’t want to tell the truth. That I had no clue. I wanted to soften the blow a little but I knew Quade was right and Jaeger had been smarter than most. He would see right through it if I bullshitted him.
I sighed, “I don’t know. But I do know that Nina is an emergency room doctor and a very good one. The best even, and she will do all she can with Sienna.” He nodded his head and lowered his eyes. He wanted me to tell him it was going to be okay but was also grateful for the candid talk.
When he got closer, I tucked my hands back into my pockets. Noticeable tension surrounded us but I could feel a curiosity as well coming from him. “Why did you come? I mean, why did you help her?”
He seemed trepidatious asking the question. I didn’t know exactly what Quade told him about me but I could imagine he had his own reasons to not like me very much. I fucked his mother on a tour bus while on tour with his father. Oh, and also, I was a drug addict. Yeah, not really thinking I deserved much of a break from him.
“Quade asked me to.” I kept my answers short. He looked down seeming to ponder what I said.
“He told me he still talks to you.” I didn’t know how to answer, so I kept silent. Behind him, in the light of the kitchen, I saw Chelsea walk in and out searching for things. I tried to keep my eyes on her as it was easier, but I kept going back to Jaeger.
“You never came around much when I was growing up.” He was right. I tended to avoid Mac knowing what we went through. After everyone found out about the pregnancy, she ceased being my supplier. Luckily I could find another dealer easily enough and by then as I needed the drugs as much as I needed water, and I was grateful I didn’t need to talk to her much anymore by that point.
Jaeger looked at me like he wanted an answer and I guess I shouldn’t sugar coat it, “I didn’t want to see your mother.”
“You didn’t want to see my mother or you didn’t want to see me?” His frankness startled me. Quade was right, he was too smart for his own good.
“I didn’t want to see your mother. You could say we didn’t always get along. I didn’t know you weren’t Quade’s kid until after your accident.”
His eyes grew wide and accusation filled his voice, “You knew already back then?”
I guess he didn’t know the whole story, “Yeah. Brandt and Ryder told me.”
Obviously upset, he asked, “And you didn’t care to see me? What, too busy getting high?” I couldn’t really blame him for being mad at me. He found out the dad he had was not his and that his real old man was a loser.
“I couldn’t come to see you.”
“Why?” The anger in his voice seemed out of place on such a young man. His hands were clenched as well as his jaw, the same one I saw on my face.
“I had started detox.” He shifted a little and I saw some of the anger leave.
“It was the only thing I could do.” He didn’t understand and I didn’t know how to tell him.
“What do you mean?”
“Quade is your father. I could never take his place. You have a life with him, and he is a good guy. Fuck! He is the best guy for you. My life was never about being a father. I had no business budding in.”
He still seemed defensive although his armor was bending, “So why detox at all then?”
I sighed, “I was told you might need a kidney and I had the possibility of being a perfect match.” He looked straight into my eyes and I gave him the same back. I could tell the war going on in his mind but didn’t know how to deal with it. I wanted to help but seriously, I was the problem.
Jaeger’s gaze shifted first. He stuck his hands in his pockets and for a while stood looking at the ground, and if it wasn’t so tense, I would have laughed at the way we both were standing in similar stances. I wanted to smooth things over. Not for myself. I was the asshole, I got it, but I didn’t know what would happen to him should his father be biting off more than he could chew in North Carolina or wherever the hell he currently traveled to.
“I didn’t mean to do that to your dad. You are his life. I wanted him to keep it secret, and I am sorry you found out that I am your father.” That I was a fuck up too but I chickened out to say the rest.
He looked back up at me, “Dad doesn’t like lying to me.”
I nodded. “I couldn’t have told you the truth as he did. He is a better man than me. And now with you having to deal with what is in the media, well... I am sorry.” There was something in his face that made me wonder.
“I am the one that told the press.” I looked at him with shock.
“Why would you have done that?” Why would he throw away a life with Quade and admit to the world he had me for a father?
“Because dad needed a story on the news to draw attention to him. One that would keep it as a top story. I think it has something to do with Sienna. I am not sure but I know it is to help her. To protect her somehow.” He lowered his head, “He loves her you know. She really is a neat person. He deserves to be happy.” The last sentence was a little more than a whisper.
“You deserve to be happy too.” It came out before I knew it, but it felt right. “Quade loves you more than anything and you make him happy as well. Don’t ever forget that.”
Chelsea came out the door noticing the two of us together. She looked a little frantic and motioned me inside, “Nina needs you.” I looked back at Jaeger and saw the nervous expression on his face as well. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I knew this baby needed to come out okay, and Sienna being all right might mean more than saving a license for Nina. Jaeger was invested in this family too and I felt more nervous about my involvement. I was a fuck up. What use could I be?