White Picket Fence
I’d been ready for at least an hour when Jaxon knocked on my door. His hair was still damp from his shower and his skin glowing against the pale green cotton of his t-shirt and I wondered if my heart would ever stop skipping a beat when our eyes met.
“Good morning,” he smiled softly, rocking forward in his dark brown combat boots. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, catching my breath as I tightened my grip around the strap of my purse and stepped into the hallway, pulling the hotel room door shut behind me. We walked in silence to the elevators and stayed silent until we reached the lobby. I spoke again once we were safely ensconced in the back of one of the large black SUVs that seemed to drive the band everywhere. “Thanks again for doing this.”
We were going to see my dad. Or, I was going to see my dad and Jaxon was tagging along to ensure I got there and back in one piece. And I was beyond grateful. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the situation yet. Perhaps it just hadn’t hit me that I’d be in the same room as my father for the first time in years. Or perhaps I was terrified because I had no idea what I was going to say to him when that moment finally arrived.
“Of course,” Jaxon replied with a shrug. “Sometimes, when you know you’re gonna have an emotional day, it’s good to have moral support.”
It was a sweet sentiment, but there was something about the way his eyes darkened that led me to believe there was more to the story. I wanted to know his story, even the dark parts. If anything real was ever going to happen between us, then I couldn’t run away from the parts of his life that scared me. “Speaking from experience?”
It took him a moment to respond, as though he wasn’t sure he should say anything at all. “Let’s just say that I was kind of a mess when Lauren left.”
Of course it was about Lauren. Any time there was a cloud over him, it seemed to have something to do with her and I was at a loss for how to help. Because it wasn’t though he could just completely forget about her. She was the mother of his children. She would always be a part of his life, even when she wasn’t actually there.
“But you had the guys,” I prompted, knowing that he was never truly alone.
“Yeah, they were great,” he nodded, the cloud slowly lifting and his smile growing. “And my parents.”
It was the first time he’d ever talked about his parents, but I knew that wasn’t because the relationship was strained. He spoke to his mother nearly every day to update her on how the twins were doing and ask for the kind of advice only a mother could provide. He missed his parents immensely, I could tell. “Do you see your parents often?”
“Not as often as I’d like,” he admitted. “We don’t spend all that much time in Australia, and they both work, so it’s not like they can just come visit whenever they like. I think my mum’s counting the days until I settle down.”
The entire concept of settling down was terrifying to me, but he said those words as though it was going to happen some time in the near future. And maybe for him it would; because despite being younger than me, Jaxon already had his entire life figured out. He had a career, that while not necessarily stable, had already provided him with enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life. He was surrounded by friends he considered family and he had two wonderful children. His life was perfect, so of course finding somewhere to make that perfection permanent was in the cards.
“Would you settle down in Australia?” I asked, uncertain I wanted him to confirm the answer. It made sense, though. He was Australian, after all; why wouldn’t he return home when he was ready to move on from the rock star lifestyle.
He seemed to sense that his response would make me uneasy, because he shifted in his seat, twisting his torso to face me, his eyes narrowing in concern. “In Sydney, yeah, that was the plan.”
“I didn’t realize you had those kinds of plans,” I whispered, feeling my heart pounding in my chest. It was one thing to want to date him, but it was entirely another to entertain the idea of uprooting my entire life to be with him.
“It’s not set in stone or anything,” he assured me, “I just…. Taking the twins on the road with me is fine for now, because they’re still young and they’re not in school. But I do want them to have a somewhat normal childhood. I don’t want them constantly moving around when they start school. I want them to be able to have friends that they’ll be able to stay friends with. I don’t want them to miss out on anything because of me.”
I smiled softly. “That makes sense.”
He reached over to grab my hand. “You seem concerned.”
“I’m not,” I shook my head. This wasn’t the time to have this conversation. We hadn’t defined anything about our relationship besides openly admitting our feelings. We hadn’t even kissed. Which meant that turning back was always an option. Either he could decide that planning a future with me wasn’t worth it or I could give in to my fears and decide that thinking about moving my life for him was far too overwhelming, but either way, it seemed we were doomed.
“Divya,” he spoke softly, not believing my assurance that everything was alright, “if something’s bothering you, you can tell me.”
“I’m fine,” I insisted, changing the subject to something that was actually true. “I’m just nervous about seeing my dad.”
I could tell that he wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t push the issue, instead glancing out the window at the suburban neighborhood we were currently traveling through. “Are we almost there?”
“Yep,” I nodded, recognizing the ceramic geese in a neighbor’s front yard. “Just around the corner.”
The car came to a stop less than a minute later in front of a red brick house and Jaxon and I exited the vehicle silently. It was he who broke the silence once we were walking towards the front door. “So this is where you grew up? I love it.”
“I did too,” I replied quietly. This was the house I was brought home to after I was born. I’d spent eighteen years living here and it broke my heart the day I decided I wasn’t going to come back. It was strange to be here now, standing at the front door as though I was returning home from the bus stop.
“Your dad is gonna be home in the middle of the day?” Jaxon asked.
I nodded. “He’s retired.”
“What did he used to do?”
“He made furniture.” He was amazing at one time. I remember sitting in his workshop as a child and watching in fascination as he turned hunks of wood into the beautiful pieces of art I’d ever seen.
Jaxon smiled softly. “Is that where you get your artistic eye?”
“Maybe.” Probably. I just didn’t want to admit it. Inhaling deeply, I lifted a fist to knock on the door. It swung open after about a minute to reveal my father on the other side, looking much older than I remembered him. “Hi, Dad.”
“Divya,” his eyes widened in surprise as he spoke my name, but he stepped aside and gestured for us to enter. “Come in, come in.”
“Dad, this is my friend Jaxon,” I said before the situation could be made awkward by my dad asking why I’d brought along a random guy.
“It’s nice to meet you, sir,” Jaxon smiled warmly, shaking my father’s hand.
My dad returned his smile. “Call me Peter, please,” he insisted, gesturing for us to make ourselves comfortable in the living room. Once Jaxon and I were seated uncomfortably next to each other on the couch like two teenagers being interrogated before going on their first date, my dad spoke again. “So…um, what have you been up to?”
“You mean for the past few years?” I spat out, instantly regretting the bitterness in my tone. Trust me not to be able to wait a full ten minutes before expressing my anger.
To his credit, guilt did flood my dad’s expression. “Yeah.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you,” I said softly, trying to reign in my emotions. I didn’t want to hash out all of my family drama in front of Jaxon. The purpose of this visit was to get reacquainted with my father and the first step was to give him the recap of everything I had been through recently. I went for the super concise version. “I finished grad school. And now I’m working. For Jaxon, actually.”
“Oh?” my dad lifted his eyebrows, intrigued as he glanced at Jaxon, who was sitting up ridiculously straight, before turning his attention back to me. “What do you do?”
“I look after his kids.”
Jaxon relaxed a bit beside me, lifting one side of his mouth into a small smile. “She keeps me sane.”
“And what do you do, Jaxon?” my father asked, genuinely interested. I held back a smile. It didn’t surprise me at all that he didn’t recognize Jaxon. Even while I was growing up, my father never had much knowledge of popular culture.
“I’m a musician,” Jaxon explained, remaining vague and humble. “I play the bass in a band and we’re doing a tour right now, so Divya has been a huge help with my kids.”
My dad lifted his eyebrows even further upward. “You seem young to have multiple children.”
“Dad!” I scolded, appalled at his lack of manners. It was none of his business if Jaxon had one child or one hundred children. He was in no position to be judging anyone.
“It’s okay,” Jaxon reassured me, reaching out to grab my hand to thank me for the support, “They’re twins. Three years old. We had them young and not exactly on purpose.”
My dad smiled widely, all judgement diminishing from his expression. “Well, I’m sure you and your wife have adjusted well to parenthood.”
“I’m not married, sir.” Jaxon’s grip on my hand tightened. “Their mother isn’t involved.”
“Raising two kids on your own is tough,” my dad nodded sympathetically.
He said those words with a hint of pain in his voice and I could feel the anger bubbling in the pit of my stomach again. This time I couldn’t hold it in and I didn’t want to either. “How would you know?”
“DG…” Jaxon said calmly, trying to keep me steady.
“No,” I shook my head, pulling my hand from his and directing my ire at my father. I’d spent too long bottling it all up and pretending that I was fine and I just couldn’t anymore. Not when he was sitting right in front of me. I wasn’t sure I’d get the chance to say all of this to him again, so I might as well make the most of the time I did have. “I can’t just sit here and pretend like everything’s okay, like we’re this normal family that talks every day and knows everything about each other’s lives. I mean, we haven’t spoken in years. You didn’t come to either of my graduations. Sometimes I feel like I lost both my parents the day that mom died.”
There was pin drop silence in the room when I finished my rant. My father stared at me, wide eyed and frozen, and Jaxon looked decidedly more uncomfortable than he had been ten minutes ago. Shifting on the couch, he shot me a warning look and cleared his throat before speaking softly. “I’m gonna give you two a minute.”
“You don’t have to…” I protested, though I understood why he wanted to leave the room. I wanted to leave the room and I was the reason we were in this situation in the first place.
“It’s okay,” he said, pushing himself to his feet and stepping towards the door. “I should check on the kids anyway. I’m just gonna go outside and make a few calls and walk around this beautiful neighborhood a bit. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
We didn’t speak for what felt like hours after Jaxon left the room. I stared at the hardwood floor and wondered how it was possible that I could feel like a stranger in a house I’d lived in for most of my life. My dad stared at me, probably trying to assess the best way to my emotional outburst and what he came up with left me utterly surprised.
“You know, I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday.”
My eyebrows lifted along with my gaze and I couldn’t get my voice to go above a whisper. “Really?”
“Yeah,” a small smile kinked his lips. “There was this huge thunderstorm that day and the roads were flooding, so we had to call the police to get your mom to the hospital in time. I remember her saying that you were going to be one hell of a kid, because only something truly miraculous could come out at the end of a storm that terrifying. And she was right.”
That was the first time he’d even mentioned my mother in years and the mere idea of her made my walls slowly but surely begin to crumble. “You’ve never told me that before.”
“I was so scared when you were born,” he admitted, keeping his gaze direct and his voice soft. “I know you were the second child, and I should’ve gotten a handle on parenting by then, but I don’t think I did. Your mother was a natural, though. Right away, she knew exactly what to say and do.”
That I knew. I could never figure out how, in every situation, she somehow knew exactly the right words to make me feel better. I’d hoped that if I ever had kids of my own, it would come that naturally to me as well.
Simply hearing about my mother made me smile, despite the tension between my father and I. Speaking about her was still painful for him; I could tell by the amount of sadness in his eyes. Leaning forward, I twisted one of my bracelets around my wrist. “I do have good memories of you, Dad.”
He had been amazing in my formative years. He’d taught me how to carve and whittle wood and how to paint with an artist’s touch and it was always his embrace that I needed to soothe me back to sleep after a nightmare.
“I know,” he said. “I got the hang of it eventually, but then your mom died and it was like everything I knew about being a father just disappeared.”
Maybe that’s what happened when you loved someone so completely: the loss of them made you forget everything else. Still, that knowledge didn’t make his absence as a father hurt any less. “We needed you. More than ever.”
“I know that, too,” he sighed. “I was grieving and I guess I forgot that the two of you were as well. By the time I figured that out, you were both grown up and out of the house and I didn’t know how to be a part of your lives anymore.”
“It’s never too late.”
Those words came out of their own volition and he was just as surprised by them as me. “It isn’t?”
It took me a moment to realize that I truly meant them. I didn’t want my relationship with my father to be forever strained. I hated constantly feeling as though a small piece of my heart was missing. So I smiled as wide as I could and spoke with as much conviction as I could muster. “Nope. I mean, I don’t think everything’s going to magically be better, but we can try.”
“I’d like that,” he matched my grin. “Is it possible, though? It seems this world tour is going to keep you busy.”
That was true, and I wasn’t sure when or if I’d have time to come back and visit in the near future, but there were other ways for us to reconnect. “Well, that’s what phones are for.”
Now that we’d agreed to at least try to strengthen our relationship, it was like the tension just instantly dissipated and I felt my entire body relax. But it lasted all of one minute, because my father said, “So how long have you and Jaxon been together?” and I immediately tensed again.
“Me and Jaxon? We’re not a couple,” I replied out of habit. “I work for him.”
I guess technically that wasn’t true anymore. Or was it? Because we hadn’t gone on a date or agreed to officially be in a relationship. All we’d done was voice our feelings and I wasn’t sure that was enough for us to actually be a couple.
“Right,” my father nodded, “but the way you look at each other, I just assumed…”
“Oh,” I blinked. I supposed there was no point in blatantly denying it, but considering I had no idea what we were, I couldn’t really confirm as much to my father. So I replied as vaguely as possible. “We’re figuring it out, I guess.”
He didn’t question me further, instead saying, “I hope he makes you happy. You deserve to be happy.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I smiled gratefully, parting my lips to confirm that Jaxon did, in fact, make me happy, but was interrupted by the reentrance of the bassist in question.
“Hey!” Jaxon said, a little breathless as he stepped into the room. “Sorry if I’m interrupting, but we should probably get going. I just found out they moved up the time of our soundcheck.” He held out his hand towards my dad. “It was so nice to meet you, sir.”
“Likewise,” my dad nodded, standing up to shake Jaxon’s hand. “Good luck with everything.”
With one last smile, Jaxon disappeared again, leaving me alone to say my goodbyes. Pushing myself to my feet, I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around my father’s shoulders, pulling him in to a tight hug. “Good to see you, Dad. I’ll talk to you soon.”
He tightened his arms around me as well, making me feel safe and happy and at home as he whispered into my hair. “Looking forward to it.”
“So, did it go how you thought it would?” Jaxon asked once we were at the venue, walking through the twisting back hallways towards the dressing room.
“Yeah, about,” I admitted. The yelling probably wasn’t necessary, but that didn’t mean it was unsurprising. “I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. I think we’re taking a step in the right direction, though.”
I knew it would take some time, maybe months, or even years, but my father and I were on the road to recovery and I felt a certain lightness around my heart at the thought.
“Good,” Jaxon nodded, smiling softly. “I’m glad.”
He did seem genuinely happy for me, but something was on his mind. We hadn’t spoken a word the entire car ride here. Maybe my sudden outburst of rage at the house had scared him off.
“Are you okay?” I asked, not entirely sure I actually wanted to know the answer. “You’ve been kinda quiet.”
He stopped walking and stared at me as he responded, his gaze direct and intense. “Just thinking.”
“About what?” My heart rate spiked in the seconds of silence that followed and I was surprised I was able to speak at all. Because the way he was looking at me was dangerous. It was the kind of looked that sparked epic love affairs and wars, that started wild fires and calmed thunderous storms. The kind of look that had the ability to shatter me into a million pieces.
“About how badly I want to kiss you.” His lips held the smallest smile as he spoke and I wondered how he could possibly say that so casually when I was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. I stopped breathing as he took a step towards me, his gaze momentarily dropping to my lips. “If you’ll let me, I’d like to it now. You know, before we get back in front of my friends and they completely ruin the moment.”
I gaped at him for a solid minute before I was miraculously able to get out a single word. “Ok.”
“Ok,” his smile widened and he took another step towards me, stopping when our toes were touching.
It was like he was moving in slow motion. His hands lifted to gingerly cup my jaw and he leaned towards me, his eyelids fluttering closed, and I held my breath as I closed my eyes and waited for his lips to meet mine. When they finally did, it was more magnificent than I’d imagined. The kiss was soft and sweet, yet deep and sensual. I felt as though I was floating through time and space, swimming among the stars and galaxies, and then it was over, and he was pulling away, leaving me desperately aching for more.
“That was nice.” I breathed out, immediately regretting my word choice. There were about ten thousand adjectives I could have used to describe the sensation of kissing him and ‘nice’ was pretty low on that list.
Still, he seemed unoffended by my vague assessment of his kissing skills and laughed quietly. “Agreed. I should go get ready for soundcheck. I’ll kiss you again later.”
His hands dropped from my face as he took a step backwards and I felt inexplicably cold at the loss of contact.
“Can’t wait,” I whispered, knowing that I’d be counting every heartbeat until our lips met again.
His smile widened and he winked as he turned to jog towards the dressing room, calling out over his shoulder, “Me neither.”
I stared at after him, feeling both terrified and strangely exhilarated at the knowledge that I had officially taken the plunge.