Chapter 28: Until We Get There - Lucius
Three days after returning home from Listonenia, I was the proud owner of a driver’s license. Fueled by excitement, I ran every errand I could for Audrey and Everett. I kept in touch with my friends, particularly my boyfriend. I loved seeing and hearing that he was doing well. At the same time, it was hard for me so close, but so far away. Our relationship didn’t rely heavily on sexual contact. We did it, but that wasn’t the bulk of what we were. I missed being able to nudge his arm with mine when he joked with me. Whenever my hair fell in my face, I instinctively braced myself for his fingers to trail across my skin as he tucked it behind my ear. There were so many little touches and habits I didn’t account for until we were on opposite sides of the world again.
But the time we spent apart was very important. He needed to settle into his new life post his parents’ very public divorce. I was able to regroup and refresh as I made my final peace with my situation. Sophia was living with our father again. Our grandmother moved in and was her primary caretaker, allowing B to retire. He wanted a change of pace, but he remained a close family friend. Soph was happy. I knew because I visited her often. My father was out of the house whenever I was there. It was best that way. He blamed me for all that had happened -- his show’s reformation and divorce. I did not regret my actions. I stood up for myself and I was pleased to know what I did also made a difference in my little sister’s life. Momentarily losing her and actually losing me made him realize he could not just treat us any which way; we were people, ones that could leave him if he did not treat us with the care we deserved.
Last year, my sister mailed most of my necessities to boarding school. I showed up days later with the luggage of new clothes Audrey bought for me while we were in California. When school let out, Bosworth came up with the bright idea of storing my bedding, trunk of winter clothes, lamps, and other hard-to-travel-with items in a storage unit a few miles from SMA’s campus. My mother arranged to fly to Massachusetts with me and help me move in. I was all for the plan. We were both very excited about the prospect of her caring for me in a traditional motherly manner. I would not have to look around with a twinge of envy as my friends’ took care of them. I was still hoping most people didn’t know I was related to Audrey and Everett. The closer it got to move-in day, the more preposterous that mental plea seemed.
I walked downstairs the morning of after showering and getting dressed. Everett was feeding Emmy lunch.
“Good Morning.” I opened the panty to retrieve my box of sugar-packed cereal.
“It is my morning. We have been over this. Where’s my sister?” I went to the fridge for milk after fetching a bowl from the overhead cabinet.
“That’s what I said. She argued that I will be working tonight at the awards show. I dropped the argument when she explained how little work she was able to get done when Em started teething and kept us up all night.”
“Shouldn’t you be prepping for your performance?”
“The key to a good show is relaxing beforehand. I am doing just that.” He spooned mushed peas into his daughter’s mouth. He demonstrated the way to eat it with his own mouth, desperate to keep her from allowing it to dribble out of her mouth. “I have a favor to ask. Several, actually.”
“Oh?” I sat down at the table with my cereal and orange juice.
“The first one is easy. Will you be in our upcoming music video for Innocence Lost? We need a ballet dancer to play a music box that has come to life and transforms throughout the song. It is a cool concept. I figured I would ask because you are very talented and served as my inspiration.”
I was worried when I initially heard the title months ago. I feared it was an ode to lost virginity, but it was about the transformation that happens when you grow up. You begin to realize the world is not as blissful as it once seemed; at times, it feels like giving up is the only option. But you keep going, even when you realize you’ll never be able to forget the things that took away your sense of wonder because all lost things are eventually found. It was a particularly dark song – a jump from their usual work. I was twisted enough to enjoy it more.
“Will it just be me?”
“There will be a chorus, but you will be the main attraction– or the ballerina will be, whomever she may be.”
“When will it start filming?”
“While you are home for winter vacation. I asked them to work around your schedule. If all goes well, they will have it edited and released by spring.”
“And the choreography?”
“They will teach you a foundation, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to create a custom variation. It is your song – your voice.”
“I love it. I’m in. Do you think people will recognize me from Audrey?”
“Perhaps, but it follows the same sort of message. It could even be viewed as a follow up.”
“Sweet. What made you write a song about me?”
“You were the most predominate concern in my life last year, besides Emilia, and our audience would not enjoy a song about my baby. Not to mention, the guys would refuse to let me record such a thing.”
“What about Violet Smiles? That’s about your little lady.” I grinned at her with ample enthusiasm and waved when I caught her looking at me.
She gave me a gummy grin in response. I was able to see the little tooth that was still sprouting from her lower jaw.
“I sneaked that one in. They think it as about unconditional love.” He held his finger to his lips.
I giggled. “How are you going to keep them from catching on, especially if you do a music video?”
“I’ve thought of that. Romantic relationship – one of the participants has a heart condition, making the purple lips literal.”
“That is diabolical. Your fans will eat that up.”
“Yes, they will and Emilia’s yet to be created sibling will be able to go to college too.”
“So you are definitely having more kids?”
“Yes, Mommy and I have discussed it thoroughly. You know your sister. I get to choose the baby’s name the second time around. Their name will be Harrison.”
“What if it is a girl?”
“Harrison. It won’t be hard to get Mommy on board.”
“Not so sure about that, but we will see.” I returned to my breakfast.
“Kids somewhat pertain to the next thing I wanted to talk about.”
“Should I brace myself?”
“No need, I will be far from graphic, especially with Em present.” He spooned more green mush into her mouth.
“I am all ears.”
“Will you watch Emilia at your mother’s house tonight?”
“I need my wife. We have not been together since before Emilia was born. She was ashamed of her body initially. I was eventually able to convince her that I still think she is beautiful. Now, it feels like Em decides to start crying every time we try. Even if you are the keeper of the baby monitor, Aud’s mommy senses will start tingling and the moment will be lost. Please. I’m dying.”
“I guess I can save you. Am I going to my mom’s because you want me out of the house too or because you don’t trust her alone with her?”
“A bit of both, mostly the first one. Leslie can handle Emmy for a few hours. She has done it several times over the past couple of months, but a lot can change overnight.”
“You let her watch her?” I smiled, knowing that meant the world to her.
“Yes, I see now that she truly is trying to rebuild her life. We have actually had meaningful conversations in recent months. I even refer to her as my mother-in-law now.”
“She really needs this. You have no idea.”
“I know she loves all of you. I can accept her attempt to make amends and be close to you now that she has started taking proper care of herself.”
Em put her tongue between her lips and blew bubbles.
“Let’s not do that. Aunt Izzie doesn’t want your food. It smells disgusting.” He lifted her bib and wiped the baby mush she was sputtering from her face.
“Dude, you can’t say stuff like that to her. She needs to want to eat it.”
“She will eat anything you put in front of her. We are in the allergy testing stage, so all new foods must be introduced slowly. What she can eat is pretty limited right now. This is a mixture of pears and peas – two green-lit foods. She loves this slop.” He pointed to the baby-sized ceramic bowl with a rubberized spoon.
She opened her mouth, ready to eat more.
“How as Aud when she left?” I spooned cereal into my mouth.
“She was in a rush. She is back to working at the extreme pace she was before we knew about Em. I woke up on a lab report this morning and got in trouble for wrinkling it.”
“Are you fighting a lot?”
“ A lot is a strong term. More than usual is more accurate. She is stressed out and our most effective method of relieving it is not on the table.”
“Then make good use of tonight. Her being a ball of anxious energy is not good for anyone. Oh, and try to refrain from getting her pregnant again if you don’t want even slimmer chances getting laid.”
“Another thing we have discussed because Mommy is the ultimate planner. Harrison will not be making their world debut until Emmy is potty trained.”
“Accidents happen. Em is an example of that.”
“Not this time. We were careless then. This time around, Mommy has sought industrial-strength pharmaceutical help. We’re good for three years.”
“I will never get used to you and Aud referring to each other as Mommy and Daddy.”
“It’s best that you just move past it. We will keep it up until she says one of our names. And it’s going to be Da-da. Isn’t it, Pumpkin?” He kissed her forehead.
She squealed and slammed her little hands on the tray of her highchair.
“Da-da.” He tried again.
She smiled silently.
“Da-da, Em, Da-da.”
She reached for his face. He moved in close and allowed her to touch him.
“At least you know who I am. I haven’t shaved in a few days. I know it doesn’t feel as nice as it usually does.”
“Letting yourself go?” I teased.
“Opposite. I have discovered I get more positive reviews regarding my appearance when I have the five o’clock shadow thing going on and Mommy is really into it.”
“It’s very manly.” I used the gruffest voice I could manage.
“I am plenty masculine without it.”
“You have such a boyish personality that it is easy to forget you’re almost thirty.”
“We’re forever young, Freckles.”
I picked up one of my cereal flakes and flicked it at him.
“And to think I was going to tell you a package with your name on it arrived in the mail today.”
“A package?” I launched from my seat.
“It’s in the foyer, on the bench. –”
I was already on my way there.
“You better clean up your lunch mess!”
I spotted the large brown box. “It’s breakfast!”
I lifted Ev’s car keys from the decorative bowl they were kept in and crouched down in front of my box. The return address was Elle’s and I grew all the more excited. I used the keys to break the tape seal. On the top of the packing paper was a sticky note with the words: “Call Me!!!” I did so promptly.
“Happy anniversary, Babydoll.”
“You remembered?” I struggled not to cry.
“One year ago today, you completed your final full day in rehab. You have yet to relapse and I couldn’t be more proud of you. Did you really think I wasn’t going to celebrate with you?”
“I don’t know. You didn’t know me back then.” I wrapped my free arm around myself.
“You didn’t know me the day I was born, but you still gave me the best birthday present ever. Your logic is flawed, my dear.”
“I guess you’re right, as always.” I smiled.
“Open it!” She cheered.
I giggled. “If you insist.” I sifted through the paper. “More pictures!” I shuffled through the stack of them that were inside of an envelope.
There were pictures of all us during the week we spent in Listonenia for Milo’s birthday. Whenever I saw her with her camera out, I made a point to take a picture with her, so the vast majority were pictures of the two of us. There were shots of other main events too. It was hard to select my favorite until I saw the last one. I remembered when she took it. We were trying to watch a movie, but she insisted on taking a picture first because it was one of the rare times we were all sitting within the camera lens’ width capacity. Instead of cooperating, we sat side by side, making the silliest faces we could, Elle included.
“I never thought I’d look this happy only a year later.” I went back to study the other pictures.
“You are this happy.”
“I am.” I smiled.
“That’s not all, so don’t get bogged down with the pictures.”
“But it’s hard. I love them so much.”
“They are still yours, just look at the other stuff.”
“Stuff?” I put the pictures back in their envelope. I moved to the bottom of the box and found another scrapbook.
“Is this one pre-filled too?” I opened the front cover.
“No, that is your job this time. I even sent you pictures and a scrapbooking kit to get you started. We need to document our senior year very well.”
“This cannot be the beginning of the end. It would break my heart. I love all of you more than words can express.”
“As we love you, Babydoll. We’ll work it out, find a way to stay close.”
“If I ever have kids, I need you to be their fairy godmother. You’d have so much fun shopping for them and teaching them life lessons with PowerPoints.”
“For sure. You’ll take my kids to petting zoos and get more excited about touching the animals than they do. They’ll call you Auntie Iz. The real challenge will be marrying guys that can accept the fact that we’re basically married.”
I giggled. “That will be no easy feat.”
“We’re not settling for subpar. It’s not like we’re demanding heroes.”
“It’s really hard for me to think and talk about this while I still have a Prince Clumsy.”
“Have you guys talked about what you’re doing after graduation?”
“Not really. We tend to put everything off until the last minute. It’s a little frustrating.” I started repacking my box.
“Do you want wild oats time?”
I breathed a laugh. “No, I’ve been alone for the greater part of my life. I have found someone I am both physically attracted to and able to be my weird self around.”
“Plus the sex is really good.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you that.”
“Oh, please. You know you were dying to tell someone he took the time to locate your hot buttons months prior to sealing the deal.”
“You can’t tell a soul. He’d kill me.”
“I would never do that to you, but I doubt he’d get upset. He’d gain major street cred. That’s like a talent, a very beneficial use of memorization. “
“I can imagine the headline now – Crowned Prince Knows How to Please.” I picked up my box and walked upstairs, pinching my phone to my ear with my shoulder.
“Remember the one that accused you of cheating on Milo with me and Morgan? What did they call it again?”
“A lesbian triad. I bought a copy of the magazine that had that article. It is definitely going in my scrapbook.”
“All because you kissed me on the cheek in one of our group selfies.”
“You looked so cute, I couldn’t resist.”
“We all looked good.”
“So, have you finished packing?” I pushed open my bedroom door with my back. I put the box on my floor by the closet.
“Yes, I am so ready to go back to school. I’m pumped that we get to go back early to help with freshman orientation.”
“My mom is helping me move in.”
“How do we feel about this?”
“Excited. I finally have a mom, Elle. I am spending the night at her house tonight. We are babysitting Emmy together.” I jogged down the steps.
“Then I am sharing your excitement. I totally forgot that the Music Pick Awards are tonight. What song is Fleeting Moment performing?”
“I can ask. Hold on –“ I removed my phone from my ear. “EV, WHAT SONG ARE YOU SINGING TONIGHT?!” I yelled, knowing he had migrated to the living room for Emmy’s play time.
“IGNITE THE NIGHT!”
“Ignite the Night.” I relayed to her.
“Love that song – a total rager. It’s in my workout mix. Are you bummed you can’t go the show in person?”
“Nah, not really. I am still taking a break from crowds and cameras.”
“I get it. I am glad you listened and called me as soon as you opened your present. I’ve got to take Jordan to one of his friend’s houses, but I will talk to you later, okay?”
“Definitely. Love you.”
“Love you too. Bye, Babydoll.” She hung up first.
I went into the kitchen and cleaned up my mess before joining Emmy and Everett in the living room. They were seated on one of her blankets, playing with her toys. He kept doing things to make her smile and laugh.
“Have you found out if she is allergic to peanuts yet?” I broke apart one of the cookies I picked up before leaving the kitchen.
“No, we cannot keep peanut butter in the house because of me. Blending it into something we already know she can eat is the way to introduce it. We’re nervous. My allergy puts her at high risk for having one. I can’t see her go through anaphylactic shock.”
“I’ve always wondered – what happens to you when you come in contact with it?”
“My throat swells and it is very difficult for me to breathe. I can’t bring myself to risk it while she is too young to verbalize how she feels.” He put the sock she had ripped off back onto her foot.
She just kept gnawing on her gummy ring, uninterested in our conversation. The jingle of alarm deactivation rang through the house. Audrey immerged from the garage. She found us almost immediately.
“Is that mommy’s pumpkin?!” She cried with joy as she crouched down to join her on the blanket. She scooped her up and snuggled her close.
“How was work?”
“Fine. How was Em?” She pecked Ev on the lips.
She didn’t seem into it. It appeared to be more of a force of habit than a true form of affection.
He noticed it too, leaning back on his hands with a peeved expression. “Fine.”
“How are you, Izzie Bee?”
“I’m doing well. Is it cool if we talk, though?”
“Yes, of course.” She smothered Emilia in kisses. “Be good for Daddy.” She placed her back on the ground.
We walked out of the room together. “What’s going on?” She crossed her arms.
“It would best if we had this conversation upstairs.”
I went upstairs to my room. She sat down on the chair in the corner. I occupied my bed, crossing my legs.
“Now, tell me what is going on with you.”
“Nothing. This is about you.”
“Me?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Why were you so cold with him just now?”
“Aud, the word ‘fine’ is almost always used to get someone off of your case. Don’t even get me started on the auto kiss. What is going on?”
“I don’t want to go tonight.” She crossed her legs and looked around my room. “What’s in the box?” She pointed to my present from Elle.
“Stuff. Why don’t you want to go?”
“I’m ashamed.” Her voice was soft, I could barely hear her.
“About what?” I used a gentle tone to match hers.
“My body. His fans write things about me online. Just yesterday I read: ‘if I was with him, I wouldn’t let myself go like that’; ‘her husband is too hot not to keep it tight’; and ‘so, they’re getting divorced now, right?’.” She sniffled and looked down at her lap.
I walked over and kneeled down in front of her. “Honey, you just had a baby.” I rubbed her leg.
“Eight months ago. I’ve been working out during my lunch breaks and watching what I eat, but I’m having trouble getting rid of the remaining belly fat. If I wear something form fitted, I still look a little pregnant.” Her tears splashed the tops of my hands.
I picked up her hands and held them in mine. “Aud, you are so beautiful.”
“Twig models and pop stars keep throwing themselves at him. I can’t keep up. One day, he’s going to realize they are right and leave behind his pudgy childhood sweetheart with a baby on her hip.”
“Forget them, Okay? Ev ’s not going anywhere. He told me about Harrison.”
She snorted because of the congestion in her nose. “It better be a boy. I don’t want to break his heart by saying no.”
“He’s not thinking about those girls. He’s with the woman he loves. He asked me to babysit at mom’s house tonight because he wants some much needed alone time with you.”
“Did he watch his language around Emilia?”
“Yes. Stay focused here. You’re the only one he wants to get with.”
She dried her eyes and tucked her hair behind her ear. She still hadn’t looked me in the eye the entire time we had been talking. “I was never uncomfortable with my body before I started walking the red carpet.”
“Are you doing okay with your weight and everything?” Her eyes finally met mine.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I promise. It’s been one year and I’m still going strong.” I smiled softly.
“Good.” She kissed my forehead. “I need to shower and start getting ready. It takes me a while.”
“Did I make you feel any better?”
“A little. Legitimate confidence takes time. I appreciate you trying to help.” She rose to her feet.
I gave her a hug. “You’re still my hero.”
“And you’re mine.” She rubbed my back. She pulled back and put her hands on either side of my face. “Thank you for fighting to stay here with me.”
“Aw shucks, you’re gunna make me cry.”
“You’re silly.” She kissed the top of my head and moved along.
I followed her into her bedroom and plopped down on her bed. I texted Everett about what was wrong with her and told him to come upstairs.
She stripped out of her shirt and jeans in preparation for her shower, remaining in her bra and underwear.
“What’s your dress look like?”
“I have two options. I am having trouble deciding, actually.” She disappeared in her walk in closet.
She came out of the closet with a hanger in each hand. “Lace or light pink?”
The black lace one was form fitted and delicately patterned. The below the knee length allowed it to be both sexy and classy. The pink one, on the other hand, did absolutely nothing for her. The color was drab and it was shaped like a sheet singed in with a sash.
“Are you sure? The pink one will help me cover my tummy. I’m a mommy now. I don’t want to be too risqué.” She tossed the pink one on the bed. She went to the mirror and held the black dress in front of her.
Ev walked in silently with Emmy situated on his hip. He offered me to her. I brought her to my lap.
“It’s not. You’ll be a knockout. Please wear the black one.” I wrapped my arms around Em, holding her from behind as she sat in the nest my crossed legs created.
“I agree with her whole-heartedly.” Ev made his presence known.
Aud twirled around clumsily, almost knocking over the mirror, using her dress to shield her body. “What are you doing in here?”
“Audrena Vera Zapata-Woods, do you sincerely believe there is something wrong with your body?”
She looked away. “They keep saying you should –“
“I will never listen to anyone other than myself when it comes to you. I know for a fact that my wife is incredibly sexy.” He put his hand on her waist and guided her face to his with the other one.
“Watch your mouth.” She scolded, fighting off a smile.
“You have sacrificed and endured so much because of what I do. Instead of punishing me, you gave me a happy and healthy daughter. Your body is fantastic and I am appreciative of everything you’ve done with it.”
“I only feel like the mother of your child, like you’re putting up with my stretch marks and everything else because you love her.” She nodded in our direction.
“You’re wrong. I am genuinely attracted to you. Let me seduce you with my facial hair. I’ll prove it.” He leaned down to her level.
She accepted his offer by opening her mouth and putting her hand on the side of his face.
“Annnnd it’s time to go.” I picked up Em. We were out of the door in seconds. I audibly shut the door to let them know that we were gone.
“Mommy and daddy are making up, Pumpkin. Isn’t that great?” I took her to her room to play.
She gravitated towards her farm play set. Each time she pushed on of the animals, it emitted its proper sound. She’d giggle and proceed to press on another one. I watched her with a smile, occasionally smoothing down her hair when I couldn’t resist the urge.
Eventually, a loud thud came from the wall. When it became repetitive, I sorted out its source – I stifled laughter. Em started whimpering, not liking the volume. I picked her and her farm toy up and we went to my bedroom. She played on my bed while I packed for our sleepover.
“Hello?” I answered my phone when it started ringing.
“Hi, Sweetheart. I will be over in about an hour. Will you and Emilia be ready to leave by then?” My mom was cheerful.
“Yes, we’ll be good to go.”
“Make sure her body wash and shampoo are packed. We’re going to give her a bath to make sure she sleeps well in a new environment.”
“Where is she going to sleep?”
“I bought a portable crib; it also doubles as a playpen. She has clothes, toys, and diapers here too. I just need food, milk, and her bath supplies.”
“And what about me?”
“Your old room has been cleared out. The same has been done to Audrey’s. Emilia will be sleeping in my room. You can join us or sleep on the couch in the living room.”
“I’ll stay with you. It’s going to be a girls’ night. Will we be baking?” I sat down on the bed beside Em.
“Yes, it is about time I teach you how to make milhoja. “
“A thousand leaves?”
“Yes, that’s what it means literally, but it also a Colombian dessert. It looks like a layer cake, but it is actually stacked layers of puff pastry and between the layers is a mixture consisting of condensed mile, sugar, vanilla, and I like to add a little white chocolate. I have a bit of a sweet tooth.”
“And you gave it to me. That sounds so good. I can’t wait.”
“I bought the supplies after Everett called me this morning. Is your sister busy getting ready?”
“Yeah, she has a lot she needs to do. I might be the one packing Emmy up. Both her and Ev have their hands full.”
“I will see you soon, Mija.”
“Bye, Mamá.” My phone was returned to my pocket.
Em started crawling on me, bored with her toy. “You have no idea what you’re doing, babe, but you’re having fun doing it. I respect that.” I caught her before she fell off the bed.
We went back to her bedroom, I was hopeful that Aud and Ev had concluded their reunion by then. Emilia crawled around as I packed her bag. I was feeding Em her evening bottle when Aud walked into the kitchen. She looked absolutely gorgeous in the dress we settled on. With her hair and makeup done to match, her haters would be left speechless. Her wedding ring in its proper place was the cherry on top.
She opened the refrigerator. “It is ongoing, but he made some very persuasive arguments.”
“It sounded like he won.”
“Sounded?” She turned her head in my direction.
“You share a wall with Em. She might be interrupting you each time you start something because she hears your headboard and gets scared.” I tipped the bottle upward. Em placed her miniature hands on it to keep it in place.
“Is that all you heard?”
“Yes. I swear.”
“Good. We’re definitely moving our bed.” She made herself a turkey sandwich on the kitchen counter.
Everett walked into the kitchen minutes later. He looked very handsome in his v-neck and blazer combo. He eyes locked on Aud as soon as he saw her. She was unaware of his presence. He silently slid his arms around her waist.
“You look so beautiful.” He rested his chin on her shoulder.
“I am already sharing my sandwich with you. No need to be extra nice.” She tore off a piece of sliced turkey and fed it to him.
“That’s not why I’m doing it. I need to stay on your good side. I’m nowhere near done with you.” I heard the smile in his voice.
“Everett!” She cried incredulously, nodding in my direction.
“Don’t censor on my account. Let’s not pretend I’m not already in the loop.” I replied, adjusting Emilia in my arms.
The doorbell rang.
“That must be Leslie. I need to put Emmy’s car seat in her car.” Ev left to answer the door.
I vaguely heard her voice as she greeted him. She walked into the kitchen afterward.
“Audrey, you are a vision.” She hugged her.
“Thank you, , Mamá. I was a bit apprehensive about wearing this.”
“Nuh uh, you look muy muy caliente.” She held her hands.
Em pushed the nipple of the bottle out of her mouth with her tongue. I took it away from her and placed it on the table. I lifted her to a seated position. I situated her burp cloth on my shoulder. I lifted her. Her head was on my shoulder, one of my hands were firmly placed on her bottom, and I used the other to pat her back to allow her to burp. When she spit up, I cleaned off her mouth. Her big hazel eyes met my brown ones. I smiled and placed a kiss on her chubby cheek. I placed the cloth on the table.
“Are you ready to leave, Baby?” She kissed the top of my head.
“Yes, our bags are by the door.”
“Now, let me get a good look at the pretty lady you have in your arms. Come to abuelita, querido.” She held out her arms. Emmy reached for her. She pulled her on her hip and played with her.
“Her car seat is set up. I also put the girls’ bags in the car.” Ev joined us.
“Thank you, Sweetheart. I promise to take good care of her tonight.”
“I love you, Pumpkin. Be good for Aunt Iz and Grandma. I’ll read you two bedtime stories tomorrow to make up for skipping tonight.” He told her with a bright smile. She rested her head on her shoulder, getting sleepy.
He placed a kiss on the top of her head. Aud placed her hand on Emmy’s head and smoothed down the wisps in the back that were sticking straight up.
“Your hair is always all over the place, just like Daddy’s—“She smiled. Emmy looked over at her.
“I miss you already. I love you. We’ll see you tomorrow.” She placed a kiss on the side of Em’s face.
“How’d you not get lipstick on her?” Everett asked when she pulled away.
“Should’ve told me earlier.–“He moved in close and pecked her on the lips.
“We will leave you to finish getting ready.” My mom turned to the door.
“We’ll have our phones on vibrate. If you have any problems with her, don’t hesitate to call.”
“We’ll manage. She has never been trouble. Bye, we’ll see you on TV.”
“See you later.” I waved.
Our car ride passed quickly. Emmy had dinner an hour later. We gathered the supplies and gave her a bath in the kitchen sink. With the assistance of a warm bottle, she was asleep in twenty minutes. She was laid in the crib in my mother’s bed room. The baby monitor was switched on and we returned to the kitchen. She started making the two of us dinner.
“What are you making?”
“Will you tell me what you’re doing? I’m a terrible cook.” I leaned on the kitchen island, seated in my barstool.
“Audrey or Bosworth never taught you?”
“All of my meals were made for me. I didn’t really eat them. I took at cooking class at school, but I kept burning everything. My group only trusted me with preheating the oven after a while.”
“Then get over here. This is what mothers are for. Yaya taught me.”
I went to the side she was on, pushing up the sleeves of my sweatshirt.
“Wash your hands.” She instructed, chopping leaves on a wooden cutting board.
I did as told.
“Do you know how to chop?”
“Watch me. “ She pinched the leaves and used the blade of the knife to slice it. “You try.” She moved the cutting board in my direction.
I cut slowly, glancing at her periodically to make sure I was doing it right.
“You are doing well. Keep going.” She fetched another cutting board and started cutting peeled potatoes.
“What am I cutting?”
“Parsley. Do you like spicy food?”
“Can’t get enough of it. My boyfriend’s afraid to share food with me. “
“Is he still treating you well?”
“Yes, I can give you an example. He tried to make me breakfast in bed once while I was in Listonenia. He tripped and ended up spilling juice all over my French toast. It was cute.“ I cheesed at the memory, still cutting.
“Would you tell me if he wasn’t?” She kept her head down, looking at me with her peripheral vision.
“Yeah, it would be easier than talking to Aud. She flips between judging me and shielding my eyes. You just listen.”
“It is all I am entitled to do at this point. I’ve done it all and more.”
We completed dinner, laughing and chatting through out. She made it extra spicy just for me. It tasted even better because I helped contribute. We started baking the moment we were done cleaning up our dinner.
“Are you still moving to Florida to be closer to Yaya and Papi?”
“Yes, in October. I’ve found the cutest condo. Three bedrooms, two baths. You and Audrey will have your own bedrooms when you visit me. What color would you like me to paint yours?”
“Yellow. It’s my favorite color.” I was elated about the idea.
“I can do that. Getting my home together will give me plenty to do. I can’t wait.”
“Once you’re done, you should think about opening your own bakery. Your desserts are amazing.”
“You really think I could do it?” She looked over at me.
I nodded. “I know you can. You are doing so well.”
“So are you.” She gave me a sneak attack kiss on my cheek. I giggled.
We went to the living room with our dessert and tea to watch the award show. Celebrities walked the red carpet and television personalities asked questions at designated stops. She turned up the volume when Audrey and Everett arrived. They held hands as they walked along the trail.
“They really are a beautiful couple.”
“There’s so much love there. She was crying today because Ev’s fans were attacking her body online. He was very sweet to her in response.” I shoveled more pastry into my mouth.
In front of the logo stamped white wall, they posed in front of the camera. He couldn’t keep his hands off of her to the point of refusing to part for a solo photo. He pulled her in for a kiss, catching her off guard. She giggled during. They moved forward to the interview portion.
“Everett, I see you’ve brought your muse.” An overly cheerful female television personality angled a microphone towards him.
“I would not be where I am today without the support of my beautiful wife.”
“Always such the charmer. We are dying to know, what is baby Woods’ name? There has been plenty of speculation.”
“I have heard. Green, Mossy, and Twilight are my favorites. I really wish we would have thought of them.” He looked to Aud.
“Better yet, we should have gone with Hundred Acre.” She smiled at him.
“Ah, yes, she loves Winnie the Pooh. She will resent us later for naming her Emilia.”
“What a beautiful name.” The reported pulled them out of their moment.
“All jokes aside, we’re family people. We wanted to honor her great-grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s” Ev explained.
“That is precious. Hopefully you haven’t endured too many late nights, you are scheduled to perform tonight.”
“I think I keep her up more than the other way around. She has a love/hate relationship with my piano.”
“As do I.” Aud added, smiling up at him.
“My girls are outnumbering me. I call the guys over all the time for backup.”
“I’m sure she has ball with them as well. Enjoy the show. We look forward to hearing from you later.”
He waved and the two of them made their way to the entrance.
“Are you a fan of Em’s name?”
“The biggest. Papi has always meant a lot to Audrena. He would be so proud of the woman she has become.”
“Most definitely. I am proud of both of you. You’ve turned out so well in spite of all that I’ve put you through.”
“I know you –Ah!” I jumped when a gray cat started nuzzling my leg. “Who is that?”
“Shadow. He is much shier than Luna, but it looks like he has taken a liking to you.” She leaned down to pick him up.
“Mamà, are you collecting cats?”
“Not collecting, adopting. They needed homes. I am stopping at two.” She stroked his fur as he laid down in her lap.
My phone vibrated, signaling that I had received a text message. I removed it from the pocket of my cardigan.
‘Milo: can you video chat? I need to see you.’
’I am at my mom’s house. Can I call you instead? ’ I sent back immediately.
‘Milo: That works.’
“I need to call my boyfriend. I’ll be back soon.” I stood up.
“Should I come get you if you are not back before the band plays?”
“Yep.” I jogged into the bathroom and shut the door for privacy.
I sat down on the toilet seat cover after dialing his number.
“What happened?” I asked as soon as he answered.
“I’m leaving for America tonight. They told me this morning that I have a roommate. –“ He started venting in frustration.
“Sweetheart, you have three. You signed up to live with them.” I reasoned gently with a smile.
“That’s not – I will be sharing a bedroom with an undercover near guard all year long.”
“That means we can’t – what?! Who?” I cried in outrage.
“Adam Lofaro. He’s 19 years old and just graduated from the naval academy at the top of his class. Instead of sending him to the service, they’ve assigned him to be my babysitter. The reasons being he’s military trained like all the guards, he’s young enough to pass as a student, he’s smart enough to breeze through the work without effort, and his technical drawing skills got him into the art department. They’ve been working on this all summer.”
“What about dance class and Camp Artsy?”
“They have that worked out too. For his senior project, they are having him do dancer movement drawings. He’ll be sitting in on each of our dance classes to ‘work’ on it. They’re having him claim he has severe asthma, making him unable to participate. I’m telling you, they’ve thought of everything.”
“Not quite. Friends, dating, and privacy. Will he be following you into every room?”
“We’re supposed to welcome him into our group. We’re pretty close knit, so there’s no major risk of people finding out. He knows to back off when we need alone time. He’s there to keep bad things from happening to me, not prevent me from getting into trouble.”
“I’m sorta uncomfortable now. I don’t want to get walked in on while we’re – you know; and I don’t want to lock him out of his room.”
“We make love at your place more than mine. We can do it exclusively there, if you want. What we do isn’t going to change.” He vowed with sincerity.
I looked down at myself for a moment. “Then why are you upset?”
“The secrecy and suddenness. They could’ve been prepping me for this for weeks. We all could’ve met him while you were here for my birthday. They chose to drop the bomb this morning instead. I’m sick of it.” He snapped.
“I understand. Bright side, we’ll be together in less than two days.”
“We have plans. I’d like to celebrate one year of knowing you.”
“Fine, but no buying me anything until our relationship anniversary, which is March 23rd. We’re going by first date, not trial run.” I instructed.
“Not even on Valentine’s Day?”
“I’ll be spending it with Elle, Morgan, and Sami. We call it Galentine’s Day. It’s a day of female friendship.”
“I can’t tell if that’s an Elle idea or a Sami one.” He chuckled lightly.
“Rare tag team, actually. Sami concept; Elle execution. We spent the night rotating through things each of us liked. We played video games for Sami, watched Everett’s concert DVD for Elle, played a board game for Morgan, and had a girl power anthem dance and sing-along for me. Lots of Spice Girls. We had such a blast, boys will never be allowed.”
“Are you sure that will be the case this year? Half of you have boyfriends.”
“You’ve obviously never listened to Wannabe by The Spice Girls. Friends come first. Sorry.” I shrugged.
“I can’t say I’ve listened to any of their songs.”
“Liar.” I firmly retorted.
“I didn’t say I haven’t watched all of their music videos.”
“Pervert!” I joked.
“You requested honesty.” He chuckled.
“Who’s your favorite?”
“All five. Lots to look at.”
I laughed. “My heart’s with Mel C, Sporty Spice. Growing up, she said she wanted to be a prima ballerina, gymnast, or pop star.”
“In rehab, we had one group therapy session where we talked about well-known people that went through the things we were going through. I learned that she had an eating disorder when they were in their prime. She overcame it. She’s doing great now.”
“As are you.” He reminded me lightly.
“I’ve made it a whole year. “ I tucked my hair behind my ear.
“I’m so proud of you.”
“Other than the guard thing, how are things with your parents?”
“With each other or me?”
Knowing his body movements well enough, I knew he was rubbing the back of his neck. It was what he always did when he struggled to find the right words. “It’s complicated. It always is with them. They are finally acting like my parents, but they keep slipping into their old habit of acting first and cluing me in later. I basically had to pry the information that my father was with Jacqueline from him.”
“Maybe they’re trying to keep your pain to a minimum.”
“It hurts to be excluded, regardless of intention.”
“I’ll keep keeping you in the loop, Princey, I promise.”
“Like the ‘we beat teen pregnancy’ texts you send me?”
“I no longer have an eating disorder, but my visitor still doesn’t make a monthly appearance. It’s a painful relief when it happens; I know I’m not going to be a mom. I thought you’d want to take part in the celebration.”
“I can’t even think about that happening right now.” He thought aloud. “I want to spoon with you so badly.”
“I love putting my arms around you. It’s relaxing. And you always wiggle your bottom when you’re trying to get comfortable. It’s enough for me to let you put your cold toes on me.” He teased lightly.
I smiled uncontrollably. “Babe, your fidelity is showing.”
“It shouldn’t be. I had a thirty-some last night.” He retorted playfully.
I giggled. “How would that even work?”
“I don’t even know. It got so out of control that it was like it never happened. I think I raised my children count to 70.” He played along.
“You were at 15 kids earlier this summer. Even if you got all of the girls pregnant last night, you’d only be at 45.”
“Twins across the board.”
I laughed. “Then you’ve got mutant swimmers and need to stay far away from me.”
“Think of our prostitute and drug lord dreams.”
My laughter was contagious and he soon joined me. “I miss being around you.”
“I’m on my way, Beautiful. I actually need to finish getting ready for my flight.”
“Text me beforehand and after you land?”
“You know I will.”
“Be safe. I love you.”
“I love you too. Good night.”
I returned to the living room. Both Luna and Shadow were near my mom. Luna on the back of the couch, Shadow still on her lap.
“Now this is a party.” I sat down beside them.
“Fleeting Moment won an award.”
I settled in. “For what?” I started drinking my tea.
“Summer Anthem for Ignite the Night.”
“Quick thanking of the fans. Short and sweet, nothing significant.”
The band performed, fantastic as always. We finished up the show and headed to bed after my mom turned on the dishwasher. I took a quick shower as she changed Em’s diaper and put her back to sleep.
We both lied on the bed on our sides, looking at each other. “I’m sorry if I am babying you. I never had you as a little girl.”
“It’s okay. I’ve always wanted this with you. I know we have to make up for lost time.” I kept my voice down.
“You should hate me. Why were you so quick to forgive?”
“You tried to come see me while I was in the hospital. You finally want me. I can’t bring myself to push you away.”
She placed her hand on mine. “You truly are a special girl, Izzie. I am happy I am getting to know you.”
“I’m getting older, but I still need you.”
“And I’m here now.” She leaned over and kissed the top of my head.
We both fell asleep. I was happier than I could have ever imagined myself to be.