Damon Young stared out the window of the bus as it cruised down Sunset Boulevard. He had never been to Las Vegas before, and he wished he wasn’t here now. At least, not for the reason he had come. Emily was pregnant. How could he have let that happen? And even worse, how could the thought of it make him so queasy?
He and Emily were in love, weren’t they? They could be happy, finally have their “happily ever after” as Emily herself had put it. They would have a family, Emily and the baby could tour with him, they could finally have everything they wanted without her passion for gymnastics getting in the way. So why was he dreading the sight of her face?
The bus came to a halt and Damon grabbed his knapsack off the floor where it had been sitting for most of the twelve hour ride. Grabbing his guitar and filing off with the rest of the passengers he slowly did his ritual counting, one… two… three… four… He kept counting until he was off the bus. Twenty-seven seconds. He looked around the bus station, but Emily was nowhere in his sight. He pulled his phone out and checked the text message he had gotten from her godmother. She was supposed to be meeting him here. He looked around again.
“Damon!” he heard someone yell his name. Turning he saw her. Emily Kmetko, his girlfriend of two years, a passionate ex-gymnast and the soon to be mother of his child. Damon looked at her stomach. It had taken him a month to get all his affairs settled in Boulder and her stomach had grown. It was really happening. Her body was changing. There was no going back now. The realization hit him like a high-speed train; I’m going to be a father.
“Hi,” she said looking at him hesitantly.
“Hi. How have you been?” he said not looking her straight in the eye.
“Good,” she replied, “Melissa has been taking really good care of me.”
“Good,” he said.
Silence ensued and he was immediately reminded of the awkward way things had been left in Boulder. Emily had left town without even telling him, figuring he had moved on. When Damon had found out Emily was pregnant they had been broken up. She had left him behind to follow her dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast. But, buckling under pressure she had given all that up for this baby, for their family. They had never really talked about it. Emily had barged into his apartment spouting happy daydreams about a life that they could finally achieve because of this baby. To Damon it didn’t seem like an escape, it seemed like a trap.
Of course he couldn’t blame Emily for what had happened. He had been equally as naïve in not using protection. He kicked himself for that one every day. He looked at her face, mousy, but beautiful, framed by brown hair that had grown considerably since they had met. It was now past her shoulders, stick straight. She was wearing black leggings, and a Def Leppard t-shirt that was too big and hung off the shoulder. Damon couldn’t help but be transported back in time.
The first time he had met Emily had been at a gig with his old band. She had hated him, and he had hated her too. She had hated him because he had acted like a complete douchebag. He had hated her because she had made him feel something, and at that time in his life it was his chief goal to stay numb. Emily hadn’t even come to that show to see him. She had gone for Razor, the lead singer of his group. They had been together at the time, and Damon had lost Razor’s friendship for the chance to be with Emily. How different would his life have been if he had just left her alone?
But, he could never forget the way she looked at him that night. How she looked right past all the bullshit, and straight into his heart. All her little gymnast friends had all gotten drunk off of two beers that night, and he had fallen hard for the twiggy brunette who had stayed completely sober.
“So, how was your trip? Damon?”
“What? Oh, it was okay. Pretty long, I’m pretty tired.”
“I’m sure. Come on, we’ll get you back to Melissa’s. I’m sure she’ll dote on you, try to feed you enough food for six truckers, and personally tuck you into bed, but she means well.”
Damon snickered, “Sounds like it.”
Emily smiled at him, and he smiled back, grabbing her hand.
Maybe this could work, he thought, maybe, just maybe, they really could be happy together.
It was weird seeing Damon here. And weirder yet seeing him sleep. He wasn’t lying when he said he was tired. About five minutes after they had walked into her Aunt Melissa’s house he had found his way into her bed and fallen sound asleep. The strange part of watching Damon sleep was seeing him so totally at peace. He was really beautiful when he wasn’t angry or worried, which, when he was conscious, pretty much summed up his only moods.
She looked down at her stomach, touched it with both hands and marveled again at the miracle she and Damon had created. Emily knew that she had made the right decision in keeping the baby. She loved it too much to hate it now, and what was she really losing? Her face on a cereal box, a gold medal that would just get dusty on a shelf somewhere, and friends that were essentially competitors, none of it seemed important anymore. There was this little person inside of her now, growing stronger every day, and a man lying next to her that had given their life together a second chance. What more could she ask for?
Emily brushed a piece of dark brown hair out of Damon’s face, his hair had grown considerably since the last time she had seen him. He looked even more like the punk rocker he tried so hard to be. God, he is beautiful.
Emily got up slowly from the bed and walked out into the living room where her godmother ‘Aunt Melissa’ was sitting on the couch knitting and watching Days of Our Lives. Friday was her day off from the diner that she worked at on Sunset Boulevard, where she was a waitress. She only worked there out of love for her regular customers. Melissa had been married to a rather wealthy man who had neglected to sign a prenuptial agreement before they had gotten married. When they finally got divorced after six, long, unhappy years of marriage Melissa had gotten half of everything he owned. She was a millionaire and by investing her money wisely, had stayed one for quite some time. Melissa had grown up in Las Vegas and had a showgirl past. When she got divorced she had moved back to her hometown and bought a ranch style house on the outskirts of the city. There was plenty of room for Emily, Damon and the new baby, or at least that’s what Melissa had said when Emily had asked.
“How is Damon settling in honey?” Melissa asked as Emily came into the room.
“Fine, he’s asleep,” Emily replied.
“Is everything okay between you two? I could kind of sense some tension in the air when he got here.”
Emily thought for a moment, “I’m not really sure. I suppose there’s a lot we haven’t talked about.”
“Well, maybe you should think about ironing that out, all that stress can’t be good for little Freddie.”
Emily smiled at the name her aunt had given her stomach, “Yeah alright,” she said sitting down to watch Beaux and Hope break up and make up yet again, feeling more at ease than she had in quite some time. But still, what her aunt had just said echoed in her mind. She and Damon still had a lot of things to discuss. Why they had broken up for instance, and what about the fling Damon had had with Kaylie Cruz, another gymnast on Emily’s team during that time? What kind of feelings does he still have for her? On top of that Emily knew Damon was going to have to go to Los Angeles soon to begin recording his new album. Would he let her go with him, or was she destined to be the rock star’s wife that always waited by the phone to hear the latest news? There were so many things in their relationship that were unresolved. Emily needed to be sure that Damon was one hundred percent committed to her and their child, or Emily wasn’t sure if she really could handle being with him.
“What do you want for dinner?” Melissa asks, pulling Emily out of her thoughts.
“Well, this baby wants pumpkin pie, that much I can tell you.”
“You’re craving pumpkin pie?” Melissa asks.
“Yes, ma’am,” Emily says waltzing into the kitchen, “And green olives,” she adds, pulling a jar out of the refrigerator.
“Ha. When I was pregnant with Junior,” Melissa laughs, “I think I ate like 12 pounds of chocolate chips. And not the sweet ones either. I ate the bitter ones that you use for baking. Oh my god, I can’t even look at a chocolate chip cookie now without wanting to puke.”
Emily laughed at her aunt’s disgust, thinking of how much Junior still loved chocolate chip cookies. Junior, Melissa’s son, was a few years older than Emily. They had grown up together in Fresno where Emily had lived most of her life, and where Junior still resided with his father and brother, Max. As far as Emily knew Melissa hadn’t seen either of her sons since the divorce was finalized. They had taken their father’s side in the matter and it had torn Melissa to pieces. Maybe that was part of the reason Melissa was so eager to help Emily’s cause. Emily had always been like a daughter to her and with her own kids not speaking to her, doting on someone else’s child would be a welcome distraction.
“I suppose I could run out to the market and get some pie for you and little Freddie. In fact I have a few things to get for the party next week anyway. What does Damon like? I’ll get him some snacks or something.”
“He practically lives on Red Bull and potato chips,” Emily replies.
“Sounds like a teenage boy,” Melissa says nodding, her curly, brown bob bouncing. “I’ll be back in an hour or so. Sit down with your olives and rest a little okay, Em?”
“Okay,” she says, grateful someone cared about her well being.
Melissa walked out the door and her car left the driveway. Emily sat down changing the channel to an old rerun of Charmed, one of her favorite shows from when she was younger. Halfway through the second episode Emily started to wonder where Melissa had gotten to. It had been much more than an hour since she left. The thought didn’t stick around because Emily suddenly realized she was not the only one in the living room.
“Hey, how’d you sleep?” she asks him.
“Really well,” Damon replied. “That ride was not kind to me.”
“I’m sorry. Are you hungry? Melissa went to the grocery store a while ago, she should be home soon.”
“Sounds good, but I could really use a Red Bull right now,” he says rubbing his eyes.
Emily smiles slightly, “I told her to get you some.”
“You know me so well,” he smiles and sits down next to her. “How’s… the baby?” he hesitates, pointing to her stomach that was protruding more than it should have been at four months along.
“Good! He’s a big kid, but he’s strong too. You can touch me you know.”
Damon suddenly realized his hand was floating in midair indecisively. Immediately he dropped it into his lap, and looked up at the television.
“Charmed, huh? It’s your favorite.”
“Yeah, it is. When I was little I used to pretend I was Piper. She was always the best Halliwell sister; she always had a good head on her shoulders.”
“I always had the hots for Phoebe.”
Emily laughed, but in reality Damon’s confession worried her. Is that the kind of girl Damon wants? A Phoebe Halliwell: flighty, energetic, and a bit of a ditz.
Someone like Kaylie, Emily thought, and then immediately regretted thinking it. Damon was here with her, why couldn’t she just accept that and move on?
“Damon,” Emily began, but was cut off by the sound of the front door opening.
Melissa walked through the door carrying three bags of groceries, which Damon got up quickly to help her with.
“Thank you dear,” Melissa said as he took the bags from her. “Your Red Bull is in that one.”
A smile crept across Emily’s face as she watched Damon open a can of Red Bull and down it like it contained his life force. Some things never change.
“Sweetheart, here’s your pie,” Melissa said walking into the room. Damon snorts as she hands Emily the entire pie and a fork. But Emily could care less as she dives right into the creamy pie filling that reminds her of Thanksgivings past.
“So if you’re Piper,” Damon said, sitting back down, “Who are the others?”
“Well, Payson is definitely Prue. She’s controlling, driven, and definitely older sibling material. Then there’s Lauren, she’s sassy enough to be Paige.”
“And Phoebe?” he asks.
“Well, you have the hots for her, so I’d prefer not to turn her into a real live person. I don’t need any competition,” Emily said lightheartedly, but inside it was taking everything she had not to lose it then and there.
As if he was reading her thoughts Damon lowers his voice and says very assuredly, “You don’t have any competition, Em, I promise.” Then he does something that takes Emily’s breath away: he placed his hand on her stomach.
Flushed, Emily reached up and placed her hand on the side of Damon’s face.
“Thank you,” she said, and he nodded in response.
“So,” Melissa said walking back in from the kitchen, “What do you two crazy kids want for dinner?”
“Whatever you want is great Aunt Melissa,” Emily said, in the first truly chipper mood since she had arrived in Las Vegas.
“Spaghetti and meatballs it is then!” she said, and scurried back into the kitchen.
“She’s great,” Damon said. “I can see why you decided to come here.”
“Yeah, she’s always been a good mother. I thought I had better learn from the best.”
“Have you talked to your mom since you have been here?”
“Have you talked to anyone back in Boulder since you left?”
“Sasha called once. He tried to convince me to come back and train, that I was throwing away all my hard work and my dreams.”
“I suppose I am,” Emily said shifting her attention back to the TV in the hopes that Damon will let the subject go. But, then she decides she would rather not let it go, “And you know what, I’m relieved. There are two lives that I’ve been trying to live for so long, and now I don’t have to choose between them anymore. I have this perfect little thing growing inside of me and I have you by my side. I’m actually a little thankful.”
“So you don’t regret anything?”
“No, I don’t. I can’t.”
Sitting in the recording studio Kaylie can’t help but feel despondent. Being in this room wasn’t the same without his brooding, oddly optimistic form bent over the soundboard, or scribbling furiously in a notebook. She kept turning to the door at the slightest noise, thinking it might be him walking in with the spark of a new idea in his eyes. Damon. Kaylie sighed. She had let him go, had apologized to Emily, told them both that they should be together, so why couldn’t she get him out of her head?
Damon had done so much for her since Maeve’s death. He had gotten her back on track since coming out of rehab, helped her learn to share her feelings through music and writing, and kept her anorexia under control by simply being there for her. Now that he had gone to Las Vegas to be with Emily, Kaylie couldn’t help but wonder if telling Damon to go had been detrimental to her own health. Damon had resisted at first, not wanting to leave the partnership the two of them had built together. Damon and Kaylie had recorded a song together, and his record company decided that they didn’t want Damon’s voice on an album if they couldn’t have Kaylie’s on it too.
The two of them had had a good thing going, but Damon gave it up to be with Emily, and Kaylie knew she should be happy for them. But, here she sits in her mother’s recording studio, a notebook in her lap, the pages all blank, and writer’s block consuming her every attempt at putting something down on the page. What was wrong with her? Does her writing talent only exist with Damon around to coach it? No. She wouldn’t let that be true. She was talented on her own. She could do this.
Just as she is getting ready to really dig deep there is a knock at the door. Kaylie silently chides herself as relief floods through her.
The door opens to reveal the smiling face of Payson Keeler holding a saran-wrapped basket of what looked like protein bars and energy drinks.
“Hey!” she says, chipper as ever. “My mom packed this basket up for you as kind of a welcome back to The Rock.”
Kaylie accepts the basket with a smile, “Thanks Pay, and tell your Mom thanks too.”
“So what’s new with you?”
“Not much. Gymnastics, physical therapy, sleep, repeat. You know me.”
“How’s the gym been without Emily?”
“It’s been an adjustment. I’m so used to seeing her every day, chalking her hands or on the floor. It’s like a piece of my life has gone missing.”
“I bet Lauren is glad to finally see her gone.”
“Kaylie, you know Lauren thought of Emily as a part of our family too, even if they had their differences. So when are you coming back? Do you know absolutely for sure?”
“Three days and I’m back on the uneven bars!” Kaylie says, and then is overwhelmed by the feeling of dread that washes over her. Three days and then she’s back to a regimen of back flips and shin splints. In all honesty, did she even want to go back to the life she had before? It was full of pressure, competition, and pain that Kaylie didn’t really think she could handle again, not after everything she’d already been through. Silently she wishes Damon was here so she could ask him his opinion.
“That’s great, Kaylie! I can’t wait to see you back out there. You are going to be fantastic, I just know it.”
“Thanks Pay. I really hope so. In the mean time, catch me up on the latest Rock gossip so I’m prepared when I get there.”
“Did you know that Summer left Lauren’s dad again?”
“No! When did that happen?”
few weeks ago I guess. She and Sasha
“What?! How very un-Summer of her!”
“I know. I think everyone was really surprised, especially Lauren, but Summer is really happy, so I think that’s helping her get through it.”
“I’m so happy for them. They seem to really love each other.”
“I think so. Other than that, there isn’t much to say. Olympic trials are coming up so everyone has been pretty into their work. Speaking of work, I’m going to have to get going pretty quick, so many double Arabians to land, so little time.”
“Get out of here then,” Kaylie waves her friend out. “Thanks again to Momma Keeler!”
“See you soon Kaylie!”
The minute the door closes behind Payson, Kaylie breathes a sigh of relief. For some reason talking to Payson or Lauren just wasn’t the same anymore, not after everything she had done. Even though they had both been extremely supportive, gymnastics had made her feel so much hurt and she didn’t know if she could stand that feeling again.
Kaylie pulls her phone out of the waistband of her yoga pants and scrolls through her contacts. There he is: DAMON YOUNG. Her finger hesitates over the phone number, but she pushes it, hoping she isn’t making a huge mistake.
The phone rings a few times and then to her surprise Damon picks up.
“Kaylie?” he says, his voice sounding groggy.
“Hi there, were you asleep?”
“Uh, yeah, I had a long ride over. What’s up?”
Considering she hadn’t spoken to Damon in at least three weeks she wasn’t sure where to start, “I have writer’s block.”
“Seriously? Is life not eventful enough for you back in Boulder?”
She smiles, “No that’s not it. I just feel so disconnected from myself. I was hoping you could shed some light on the subject.”
“Would this have anything to do with the headlines I read online today? You know, ‘National Champ Kaylie Cruz Returning to Gymnastics Just in Time for London’.”
She pauses, not sure if she should tell him everything. Damon was not her psychiatrist, and he wasn’t her boyfriend either, so should she really be burdening him with this?
Kaylie sighs, “Damon, I’m scared. I don’t know if I can do it again, or even if I want to. I just can’t picture myself back in my old life after everything that has happened. The time I spent at the Rock seems like such… a distant memory.”
Damon doesn’t speak right away but then says, “Kaylie, you are one of the most resilient people I know. You and Emily have that in common. Something knocks you down, and you just get right back up and run with whatever is being thrown at you. If you don’t want to do gymnastics anymore, then don’t. You have other talents, and you can do anything you set your mind to. But, if the only reason you aren’t going back to the Rock is because you’re afraid, then screw that. Screw fear. You are stronger than that. As for the writer’s block, you just described the premise for a pretty good song earlier. Just write your feelings down. It will come together from there.”
As Damon spoke Kaylie could feel herself relaxing. It’s like he had some calming effect on her, like he knew exactly what to say to keep her moving and motivated.
“Thank you Damon.”
“For saying all those amazing things, I needed that.”
“Anytime Cruz, you know that.”
“So, how are things there? How is Emily?”
“Uh, things are good, Emily is good. Her belly is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. It grew in the last month considerably, but she seems to be doing extremely well.”
“She doesn’t regret leaving?”
“Not that I can tell. She seems pretty happy.”
Kaylie wasn’t sure what was going through Damon’s mind at that point in time, but his tone was not the happy tone of a soon to be father. He sounded tired, like the weight of two worlds rested on his shoulders and he needed to decide which world deserved to carry on, and which he would drop into oblivion.
“Are you happy, Damon?”
He pauses, “I’m getting there.”
An awkward silence ensues.
She loves the way he says her name.
“Don’t stop writing okay? You’re good at it. It’s good for you.”
“Let’s make an album together someday.”
“Okay, let me know when, I’ll be there.”
She knew that would be the last she heard from him for a long time. He was trying to make things with Emily work. He loved her, and she was taking priority in his life now. Kaylie tried very hard to be okay with it in that moment, but she couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. She couldn’t stop the loneliness from welling up inside.