Red Bell Pepper
Both the word and the amount of conviction and fire with which Jaxon directed it at Amy piqued my interest. Shifting slightly where I was sitting on the floor of the dressing room, helping Finn and Audra build structures out of Legos, I turned my head so that I could listen in more closely to the conversation being had a few feet to my right.
I knew it wasn’t really any of my business, but to be honest, now that Jaxon and I were back to having a fully functional employer/employee relationship, I was craving some drama in my life.
“At least think about it,” Amy urged.
I glanced briefly up and to the right to see Jaxon cross his arms over his chest defiantly and shake his head, keeping his gaze direct and cold. “No.”
“Come on, Jaxon,” Amy let out an exasperated sigh, “Be mature about this.”
He rolled his eyes, uncrossing his arms to tug his fingers through his hair, his tone changing from stony anger to pleading. “Aimes, I told you, I don’t wanna talk about this anymore.”
It was none of my business. But that didn’t stop me from getting involved.
“Everything alright?” I asked, smiling sweetly up at the pair before I could rationalize all of the reasons why I really should just keep my mouth zipped.
“Yep,” Jaxon replied immediately, only glancing at me momentarily before returning his gaze to Amy, his eyes begging her not to counter his response.
But apparently Amy wasn’t in the mood for being sympathetic, so she directed her next question at me. “Do you know who Natalia Borgens is?”
“Natalia Borgens?” I blinked, standing and brushing off my jeans as I envisioned the gorgeous redhead who had been on the posters in the windows of Victoria’s Secret the last time I had dared to enter. “The supermodel?”
Grinning triumphantly, Amy nodded. “Exactly.”
I had no idea why me knowing about the existence of a supermodel made Amy happy, but Jaxon got the memo, because he increased the fire in his glare towards his assistant. “I said no.”
Amy saved me the trouble of having to ask what the hell was going on. “Natalia’s people got in contact with me this morning and she wants to be set up on a date with Jaxon.”
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Jaxon was an eligible bachelor and if I was famous, I’d want to be set up with him too. And apparently this kind of thing happened all the time. Amy was constantly informing the boys that there were all these up and coming young ladies who thought they were attractive and asking whether they’d be cool with going on a publicity date.
Generally speaking, the band was too busy to say yes, and Amy respected that, but I understood why she was more insistent this time. Natalia Borgens was ultra-famous. To the point where dating Jaxon wouldn’t even be beneficial to her because she was already more popular than him. Which meant that her sole purpose in reaching out to him would be because she genuinely wanted to get to know him better.
“I know, right?” Amy said, breaking me from my epiphany that I wasn’t the only person in the world who would be down with dating Jaxon, “Why the hell would a supermodel be interested in him?”
“Thanks, Amy,” Jaxon groaned. “Why is this so important to you anyway?”
“It’s extra publicity, which can’t hurt, especially during the tour,” I wasn’t sure that was true, seeing as the tour was sold out, but I supposed having Jaxon’s name in the tabloids piqued interest, which could boost album sales. Amy shrugged, speaking softly in hopes that a change of tone might change his mind. “I’m not asking you to marry her. It’s just one date.”
“Yeah, well I’m not interested in being set up on dates,” he replied stubbornly.
“Why not?” Amy sighed in frustration, “She’s a supermodel, for fuck’s sake.”
Jaxon shrugged, apparently not feeling the need to elaborate. “Just drop it, Amy. Please.”
“Fine.” Amy replied after a moment of consideration. Jaxon nodded his thanks and turned his attention to his kids, stepping around me to plop down on the floor in the midst of their construction zone. Once he safely occupied, Amy pulled me to the side and lowered the volume of her voice, speaking to me as though she were revealing trade secrets. “Hey, maybe you can change his mind.”
What a ridiculous suggestion. Surely there were about ten thousand better people for that job. “Why me?”
“He trusts you,” she said simply.
“If that’s the qualification you’re looking for, why don’t you ask one of the guys to do it?” I countered. They were Jaxon’s best friends, after all. He’d more likely listen to them than to me, especially when it came to his personal life. That topic was a bit of a minefield, and seeing as I’d only recently safely navigated myself out of a sticky situation, I wasn’t exactly eager to head back in.
Amy scrunched up her nose in annoyance. “Because their tactic is gonna be to say he should go for it because she’s super-hot.”
“Isn’t that what you just did, though?” My gaze narrowed suspiciously, wondering what she thought I would bring to the conversation that Jaxon’s best friends in the entire world couldn’t.
“And look how well that turned out,” she replied pointedly, releasing the tension in her shoulders and speaking softly, “Look, if I could, I’d set her up with one of the other guys, but she specifically asked for Jaxon, which means she’s probably gonna back out if I try to switch musicians on her. And this is a really good opportunity to get the band’s name out there more so than it already is. With all the rumors that they’re on the verge of a breakup, we need all the positive publicity we can get.”
That made much more sense. The whole ‘it’ll help the tour’ angle seemed a little weak, but the public thinking that the band was about to split was definitely a crisis. But there was still something I didn’t understand. “And how does Jaxon dating a supermodel prove that the band is staying together?”
“It shows that he’s happy,” she explained. “All the rumors are saying that Jaxon wants to leave and live a normal life, and if he’s dating a supermodel, that’s kind of exactly the opposite, isn’t it.”
“Gotcha,” I nodded, figuring that much was true. I mean, dating a supermodel was like, every twenty-something year old’s dream, right? “Are the rumors true?” I asked before I could stop myself and was given a swift response of a stern glare and absolutely no vocalization, much like the first time I’d asked Amy to divulge information on Jaxon’s personal life. “Right, that’s none of my business.”
“Will you help?” she asked hopefully.
“What’s in it for me?” I countered, though to be fair, keeping the band’s public image positive did benefit me in the sense that good publicity meant they were more likely to stay together and I wasn’t going to lose my job anytime soon.
“You get to show Jaxon that you’re way over that almost kiss thing,” she offered.
“Right.” Encouraging Jaxon to date would give the impression that I was totally cool with the fact that our relationship had gone back to being strictly professional after the almost kiss debacle two weeks ago. Which I was. Completely. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
I turned to where Jaxon had been sitting just moments ago, determined to get this over with as soon as possible, because the longer I had to think about it, the more likely I’d be able to talk myself out of it, only to find that he had vanished and his spot in the middle of the twins’ Lego city was filled by Peter.
After conducting an intensive interrogation of the other people in the room, which consisted of simply asking if they knew where Jaxon went, I made sure the twins were occupied and stepped into the hallway, turning to make my way towards catering. It was in the line for the build your own fajitas that I found Jaxon, his lips pursed in concentration as he loaded his tortilla with chicken strips and grilled vegetables.
He noticed me coming, not even bothering with a greeting when I came to a stop beside him in line. “Did Amy send you in here to convince me to date Natalia?”
“Yep.” I nodded, figuring there was no point in bullshitting.
He shrugged and turned his attention back to the buffet line. “I’m not gonna do it.”
“You said that,” I replied slowly, trying to decide the best way to get him to let down his walls a little. “You didn’t tell her why, though.”
“Do I need a reason besides just not wanting to?” He didn’t look at me, shaking a generous dollop of sour cream onto his creation and complementing it with a helping of guacamole the same size.
“No. But that’s not the reason.” I said that with a lot more conviction than I felt, because honestly, not wanting to seemed like a good enough reason to me, but the fact that he was avoiding making eye contact with me suggested that he had something to hide.
He glanced towards me for a full nano second. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re scared,” I shot back, hoping that analysis sounded as insightful as I needed it to sound.
Apparently it worked its magic, because he shifted uncomfortably and furrowed his brow as he grabbed plastic utensils from the end of the buffet line and turned towards the seating area to find an open table. “No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are,” I grinned, relieved to no longer be grasping at straws, “You’re terrified to go out with her because you’re afraid that you might actually like her, which means you’ll be forced from the life of solitude you seemed to be determined to live.”
Rather than retreat further into denial, he fixed me with a glare as he settled himself into a plastic chair. “My life of solitude keeps me and my kids safe.”
“Maybe,” I shrugged, sliding into the chair across from him and watching as he folded the tortilla over the contents within and lifted it to his mouth. “But does it keep you happy?”
“I don’t think that really matters.”
Despite the fact that he spoke through a mouthful of food, there was a hint of sadness in his tone and I did my best not sound as though I pitied him when I responded. The last thing he probably wanted was for anyone to feel bad for him. “It should.”
He paused in the midst of taking another bite of his fajita. “Divya…”
“Look, just hear me out, okay?” I continued, not wanting to lose momentum now that I had figured out what was actually bothering him. “Cause I get it. Lauren broke your heart, so the idea of opening it to someone again is scary as shit. But you can’t be alone the rest of your life just because you’re too afraid to try.”
Contemplating my wisdom for a moment, he sighed and set down his mid afternoon snack, brushing his hands off against his denim covered thighs. “It’s not just about me. I’m protecting my kids as well.”
“What do you mean?” I cocked my head to the side, genuinely curious, because I hadn’t really taken the twins into account.
“You know,” he began, pausing for a few seconds to collect his thoughts before he continued. “I think that in way, they were lucky that they were so young when Lauren left, because it means they don’t remember the fact that they formed any sort of attachment to her. And I don’t want to risk bringing someone else into their lives that they’re going to fall in love with only to have that person leave as well.”
“You’re letting them get attached to me.” I honestly hadn’t meant to bring myself into the equation. After all, this entire conversation was supposed to be about Jaxon, and getting him to live his life to the fullest, but the words slipped out before I could stop them and I couldn’t help but wonder why I would be the exception to that rule.
“Yeah, but that’s….,” he gaped at me, blinking rapidly a few times before coming up with, “different.”
“How so?” I prodded. “I mean, you know I’m not gonna be around forever.”
I didn’t intend for that to sound harsh, but it was the truth. I hadn’t become a nanny because it was my lifelong dream; this job was just supposed to tide me over until I figured out what the fuck it actually was that I wanted from my life. Which meant that there would come a time when I would have to say goodbye.
Still, my inevitable departure wasn’t something I liked to dwell on. I’d grown to love Finn and Audra as well and when I eventually did have to move on, it would be heartbreaking to do so.
Jaxon’s expression softened, his words coming out barely above a whisper. “I guess you’re not.”
Knowing that letting the tension between us simmer wouldn’t benefit either of us at the moment, I continued. “All I’m saying is that you can’t control how other people act. But keeping yourself and your kids isolated from anyone who could possibly care about all of you is no way to live. As a great man once said, ‘don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game’.”
He snorted and the electricity in the air disappeared instantly. “Are you really quoting A Cinderella Story at me?”
“You know what movie that’s from?” I smiled back, glad that we’d returned to banter because our conversation had been veering into dangerously emotional territory.
“Yeah, because I was alive in the 2000s,” he shot back. He kept his smile wide and crinkly and beautiful for exactly seven more heartbeats before leaning forward and gazing at me seriously. “Look, I get where you’re coming from, but I just don’t think that Natalia and I have anything in common.”
So he was nervous. That was understandable. And there was a huge, selfish, part of me that wanted to leave it at that because I knew how watching him date someone would make me feel, but this wasn’t about me. This was about Jaxon. And maybe going on a date with a supermodel was exactly what he needed. “How could you possibly know that until you go out with her?”
He parted his lips to respond and then shut them again when he realized he didn’t actually have a quick retort, sighing and shaking his head. “Why are you so supportive of this?”
I could have bullshitted my answer and told him that I was just doing Amy a favor, but I decided that I didn’t like the thought of lying to Jaxon, so I told him the absolute truth. “I just want you to be happy.”
His response was to stare at me for a good thirty seconds, his face completely expressionless as he tried to gauge my level sincerity before he cleared his throat and nodded. “Okay, I’ll think about it.”
That was probably as good as I was gonna get for the time being, so I grinned and let out a soft laugh. “Good.”
With one more nod, I pushed myself out of the chair and turned to head back to the dressing room because I’d been slacking on my nanny duties for the past half hour, only to pause when Jaxon called out for me before I could leave. “Hey, DG?”
I didn’t reply verbally, turning my head and lifting my chin slightly to indicate he should continue. He inhaled deeply and kept his gaze direct to emphasize the conviction in his statement. “For the record, I am happy.”
“I’m glad,” I whispered, lifting the corners of my lips into a small smile before I exited catering and made my way back down the hallway, hoping that I was the reason for at least a little bit of that happiness.