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Black Laundry Pile

I was busy wading through a pile of shirts on the floor, so I barely heard Amy’s question. “Divya, can I talk to you for a second?”

“Now’s not really a good time, Aimes,” I called out, not bothering to look up from my quest for one specific article of black clothing among my pile of black clothing. “I’ve made zero progress in the packing department.”

We were supposed to be hitting the road in a couple hours, heading to the next stop on the band’s tour. Usually, I was completely ready to go by this point in the day, but Finn hadn’t been feeling too well last night, so Jaxon and I had stayed up practically the entire night trying to soothe him to sleep. He’d finally shut his eyes at around three in the morning, at which point I was so exhausted, I decided to forgo packing until the next morning. A decision which was turning out to be a huge mistake on my part, because I couldn’t seem to find anything I actually wanted to wear.

“That wasn’t so much a request as a strong suggestion that we have a conversation.”

My eyebrows lifted in surprise at the sharpness of her tone and I turned to face her, crossing my arms over my chest and preparing to listen. Amy was always blunt, but there was an urgency in her voice I’d never heard before, indicating something was severely distressing her. The fact that she looked as though she hadn’t slept at all only served to support my assessment. “What’s up?”

Her lips parted, and for a moment it was as though she couldn’t speak, but then she inhaled deeply and spit it out. “I don’t really know any way to soften this, so I guess I’ll just say it: Lauren’s here.”

“Who’s…,” My initial response was to automatically assume I would have no idea who she was talking about, but as soon as the question began to form on my lips, I realized I actually did recognize the name. “Oh, Lauren. As in the twin’s mother?”

It struck me that any time Lauren had ever been mentioned to me, it was done so casually, as though I already knew her. Of course, I was given a very brief history of her relationship with Jaxon, but that didn’t mean I really knew anything about her. Despite the fact that Jaxon and I were much closer now, I’d never really gotten up the nerve to ask him about her and I was genuinely curious as to what type of woman captured Jaxon’s heart and then broke it almost irreversibly.

“I mean, I’d use the term ‘mother’ loosely, but yes,” Amy said tersely. “She is the one who gave birth to them.”

I rolled my eyes, knowing she was intentionally missing the point of my question. “Thanks for the vocab lesson, Amy. What do you mean she’s here? As in, she’s in this hotel? Right now?”

All of the color drained from Amy’s cheeks and her voice came out barely above a whisper when she responded. “She’s waiting in the lobby.”

“Why?” I gulped, feeling my heart rate spike and my throat go dry. As much as I was curious about Lauren, I always assumed that we’d never actually cross paths, so the fact that she was just a few floors below me was a little intimidating.

“Because she was really fucking persistent,” Amy sighed in frustration. “Trust me, I said no so many times.”

I blinked as I processed that information, realizing the implication. “So you’ve been in contact with her for a while?”

“A couple months, I guess?”

My eyes widened in horror. “Amy!”

“I know, I know,” she averted her gaze sheepishly, “It’s not like I initiated it. She and Jaxon haven’t spoken in over a year, but I guess she’s wanted to reach out, but she thought he might not pick up if she called, so she asked me to sort of bridge the gap. I said no at first, of course, but she just wouldn’t stop calling, so I gave in and told her I’d arrange a face to face meeting.”

“Okay…,” I nodded slowly. “So Jaxon knows?”

I knew her response before she even spoke just by the slight grimace in her expression. “Not exactly, which is where you come in.”

“You want me to soften him up,” I sighed quietly. I was so conflicted. Because on one hand, I truly wanted to help Amy out of this bind, and considering Jaxon and I were dating, it stood to reason that he would be less likely to be upset if I was the one to give him the news. But on the other hand, I wasn’t sure Lauren should be brought back into Jaxon’s life.

There, of course, was a part of me that felt that way for completely selfish reasons. Jaxon had loved Lauren so much that he thought they would spend the rest of their lives together and seeing her again might stir up some old feelings. But there was also the part of me that cared about Jaxon immensely and didn’t want to see him get hurt. There was a part of his heart that was still reeling from Lauren leaving in the first place and I was afraid of what just being in the same room as her again might do to him.

“Yeah, you know, just put him in a good mood so he won’t be as pissed when I tell him,” Amy pleaded.

I relaxed slightly when I realized she didn’t expect me to be the one who broke the news. Still, the entire situation made me antsy. “I really don’t want to be in the middle of this.”

“You kind of already are…,” she pointed out. “I mean, you are Jaxon’s girlfriend.”

“But Lauren doesn’t know that,” I shot back. “It’s not public knowledge.”

No one knew, besides Amy and the band and the twins. And I liked it that way, because I wasn’t so sure I could handle being in the spotlight.

“Yeah, but he’s not going to hide it from her,” she said. “She’ll find out eventually.”

That was probably true. Just because we weren’t going out of our way to announce the fact that we were a couple didn’t mean that no one would ever put the pieces together. It was probably a matter of time. I was just hoping it happened later rather than sooner.

“I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” I shrugged.

“Fine.” She finally conceded, reaching up to pat her hair anxiously. “Shit, now I gotta figure out how to break the news to Jaxon.”

I wondered if I should feel bad for her in the slightest before deciding that I wasn’t the one who made this mess. I began to shrug and parted my lips to tell her that I really needed to finish packing, but stopped short when, through my still open room door, I noticed a familiar woman stepping off the elevator.

It took me a moment to place her, because I was pretty sure I’d never met her before, but as soon as she turned towards my door, it hit me. Because I’d seen those eyes and nose before. In fact, I’d seen them every day for the past six months.

“I’d figure it out quick,” I breathed out, finding it miraculous that I could even speak. “Isn’t that Lauren?”

Amy spun towards the doorway and muttered under her breath, “I told her to wait downstairs,” before snapping at the woman walking towards us. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m sorry, Amy,” Lauren replied, her voice sweet and soft and melodic, looking very apologetic, to her credit. “I was getting antsy.”

“I haven’t told him you’re here yet; I’m still trying to figure out what to say,” Amy said, the amount of tension in her voice increasing with each word. She nodded in my direction. “This is Divya. Jaxon’s girlfriend.”

If possible, my heart rate spiked again and I could practically feel my blood pressure rising. I was sure that Amy’s intention in announcing my relationship with Jaxon was because she was trying to prove to Lauren that he had moved on, but I wasn’t sure that dragging me into it was entirely necessary.

“Oh,” Lauren looked a bit taken a back as she lifted a hand to wave at me. “I didn’t know he was dating anyone.”

“It’s pretty new,” I admitted, thinking I’d never felt more uncomfortable in my entire life.

She seemed to share my sentiment, quickly averting her gaze and clearing her throat. “I see.”

It seemed like the universe had it out for me, because just when I thought the situation could get more awkward, the door of the suite down the hall opened and Jaxon exited the room, quickly making his way towards me, not yet not taking in the fact that I’m not alone. “Hey, DG, have you seen my…,” he stopped mid-sentence when his gaze landed on the one woman he never thought he’d see again, his eyes widening and the color draining from his cheeks as he said her name in a whisper, as though he was afraid saying it any louder might shatter the illusion. I wondered if he’d ever dreamed of this moment; hoping and wishing that one day she’d come back. And I wondered if this moment was everything he imagined it would be. “Lauren.”

“Hi, Jaxon,” she said quietly, lifting the corners of her lips into a small smile.

It took him a moment to respond, as though he’d forgotten how to speak. “What are you doing here?”

“You look fantastic,” she replied.

He didn’t even acknowledge the compliment, his expression hardening with each passing second. “You haven’t answered my question.”

“I wanted to see you,” she explained. “I wanted to see our kids.”

“They’re not your kids anymore,” he replied immediately. “You gave up the right to call them that when you walked away.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. “Okay.”

Lauren’s brow furrowed in confusion. “You don’t forgive me?”

“We’re way past the point of forgiveness, Lauren,” Jaxon said, crossing his arms over his chest. “What do you want?”

As far as I could tell, the hope and pleading in her eyes was completely genuine. “I just want to see them, Jaxon. Please.”

He glanced towards me, as though asking for my permission, but I knew it wasn’t my place to say anything, so I didn’t respond. This had to be a decision he made on his own.

There was silence for what felt like a decade and I could tell Amy was mentally preparing for the interrogation of how all of this had come to be later. Jaxon let out a heavy sigh and tilted his head towards the door, “Come on.”

“Thank you,” Lauren smiled up at him gratefully, keeping close as they turned to walk down the hallway.

My first instinct was to stay frozen where I was, but a gentle nudge from Amy sent me tiptoeing after them and I arrived in the open doorway just in time to see Benji getting whipped cream smudged across his face by Audra.

“Yo, Jax, I could use some backup,” he called out when he heard us enter the room, not bothering to actually look up. “Your kids are getting a little wild.” When Jaxon didn’t respond right away, he finally glanced up and spotted Lauren and immediately said, “Holy fucking shit.”

“Benji!” Jaxon scolded.

“Sorry, um,” Benji replied, obviously unsure what to do next. “I was just caught off guard.”

Lauren stepped forward, stretching her lips into her most winning smile. “It’s nice to see you, Benji.”

“Wish I could say the same,” he said without missing a beat. I pressed my lips together to hold in a laugh, lifting my chin when he addressed me. “Divs, do you wanna take over here? I should go finish packing.”

“For sure,” I nodded, reaching out to take Audra into my arms, glad I hadn’t showered yet, since I would inevitably be covered in whipped cream by the time I left the room.

Benji nodded a goodbye to his band mate before leaving without further acknowledging Lauren’s presence.

“He still hates me, huh?” she asked quietly, looking less hurt by the thought and more sympathetic to why he would feel that way.

Jaxon shrugged. “He’s just being a good friend.”

Her gaze lingered on Audra for a moment before shifting to Finn, who was seated at the kitchen table, happily eating his pancakes with his fingers. She kept her gaze, sad and longing, focused on the boy, but still spoke to Jaxon. “Do you still hate me, too?”

“What do you expect me to say?” Jaxon spat out in frustration, taking a deep breath before continuing to reign himself in and not cause a scene in front of his children. “That I’m somehow magically okay with you one day waking up and deciding that we weren’t good enough for you?”

Her gaze snapped away from Finn and she turned her entire body to face Jaxon. “That’s not what happened.”

“Then what happened, Lauren?” Jaxon asked. “I think you owe me that much.”

“I know,” she sighed and glanced towards me. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”

I wasn’t at all offended by her wanting to relocate the conversation, because I honestly wanted to be about a million other places.

“I can’t do this right now,” Jaxon shook his head. “We have to leave for the airport soon and there’s still so much to do.”

“I can take care of it.”

Those words left my mouth before I even realized I was speaking them and I wondered if I spoke them as a reflex to reduce the tension in the room. The farther away I was from the two of them, the less I would feel like a third wheel. Besides, as much as the part of me that was half in love with Jaxon didn’t want him to be alone with his ex-girlfriend, I knew that they were going to have to have this conversation eventually. If Jaxon and I were ever going to have a shot in hell of having a stable relationship, he needed closure, and maybe hearing her side of the story would help him get it.

“What?” He lifted his eyebrows in surprise, clearly not expecting me to be so alright with this situation.

“Go,” I assured him, nodding towards the door. “We still have a couple hours before we leave and Amy and I can finish packing all the twins’ stuff. You should go.”

He walked towards me slowly, his brow now pulling into a deep furrow. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I said again, the tone of my voice conveying more confidence than I felt. “Go.”

With one small nod, he cupped my chin in one hand and placed a soft kiss on my lips. “You’re amazing. I’ll be back soon.”

I held Audra close as I watched him and Lauren step into the hallway and shut the door behind them, wondering if I just made a giant mistake.

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