Walking into the Rocky Mountain Training Center was surreal. Besides a few new names hanging on the walls, the place hadn’t changed. All the apparatuses were in the same place, the waiting room was still full of gym parents watching their little ones do their first cartwheel or round off, and there was a gaggle of teenage gymnasts talking while they chalked their hands, as she once had with Lauren and Payson.
Damon thought this was going to be good for her, that maybe in coming back to the Rock she would regain some of the confidence that she had originally honed here. Kaylie wasn’t sure she agreed with him. Right now, being back in this place was only wearing on her nerves. She knew that she was about to come face to face with a lot of people she had hurt or disappointed over the years. Was she really ready to hear what they had to say about her?
“Girls, this is a gym, not a high school bathroom! Less gossip, more practice, please!” a thin, brunette woman yelled across the gym to the group of girls, who quickly chalked their hands and scampered to their respective apparatuses. Kaylie recognized Lauren’s daughter Chantal as one of them. The rest were strangers to her.
New meat, she couldn’t help thinking. More girls ready to work toward their two minutes in the spotlight, all for a dusty metal that will forever sit on a dusty shelf.
The brunette woman walked over to the vault to watch one of the girls practice. The girl, tan with dark red hair, ran toward the apparatus full force, every muscle in her body working as hard as it possibly could. But, instead of landing on her feet after her one and a half twist, she lands on her butt, under rotated. She needed to tuck her head in. The fix was easy.
“Chelsea, that was good. Don’t sweat it. All you need is to tuck your head in, and you’ll land it, no problem.”
The girl nodded, breathing heavily.
“Get some water, and then try it again.”
Kaylie turned to Damon, who was saying something to Razor. Kaylie noticed Razor’s hand in Kyle’s and couldn’t help but smile. Kyle had been there for her in her darkest hours, and Razor had done the same for Damon. To see them together, and seemingly happy, made Kaylie’s heart soar. They had been almost inseparable since the four of them had left England, and she couldn’t be happier.
“Damon, who is that woman?” she asked him.
“That is the new head coach,” he replied, acting like that was the whole answer, even though Kaylie was sure there was more to it.
“So, where is Sasha?”
“Uh, you’ll have to ask her.”
Kaylie turned back to see that the brunette had noticed them and was now walking toward them. As she got closer, Kaylie noticed something very familiar about her: the slight upturn at the end of her nose, the way her hair fell out of her messy bun and laid stick straight in her face, her lanky build, and her dimpled smile. Kaylie knew exactly who she was looking at. How was this possible?
“Hey, there,” Emily said, unsmiling, when she finally reached them.
“Wait, Emily?” Razor said. “Is that you?”
“Oh my goodness!” he exclaimed, picking Emily up and spinning her around. “It’s so good to see you!”
When she was firmly planted on the ground once more, and had composed herself she said, “I would say it’s good to see you too, but I don’t know who you are.”
“Seriously, it’s Razor Smet. You don’t recognize me?”
“Oh, wow, hi Razor. No, it’s been a long time, but it’s good to see you,” she said, flashing the first smile Kaylie had seen on her face since she had arrived. It was effervescent. Kaylie hated her for it.
“This is my boyfriend, Kyle. Kyle, this is Emily Kmetko. We dated like eons ago.”
“Nice to meet you, Kyle,” she said. If she was surprised that Razor was dating a guy, she didn’t let on.
Then she turned to Kaylie, her smile disappearing. “Kaylie, welcome back to the Rock.”
“Thanks,” Kaylie said with uncertainty.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Emily yelled to her gymnasts. “Gather around please!”
Each of the gymnasts dismounted from their apparatuses, and walked over to their coach, making a semi-circle around her.
“Alright, you all know that your assistant coaches Keeler and Tucker are gold medal winners, but this woman standing beside me is the person you all should strive to be like. Kaylie Cruz is a former National Champion, World Champion and a two-time Olympic medalist. She has overcome countless things in her life that would make your problems look like a cake-walk. Regardless of the hard times she went through, she still persevered and she achieved her goals. The point of this little speech I’m making is to let you all know that everyone falters, everyone falls on hard times, but if you buckle down and focus on what is truly important to you, you can accomplish anything. Never lose sight of that.
“Practice is over for today. Enjoy your afternoon, and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. Everyone is dismissed.”
As the gymnasts begin to leave, Kaylie is stunned into silence by what Emily had just said. She wasn’t even half as amazing Emily described, and the fact that Emily was the one saying all these things was even stranger. She didn’t get a chance to thank her, because at that moment one of the young gymnasts walked past her.
Kaylie did a double take. If Payson Keeler had been a tan, brunette, she would have looked exactly like this girl approaching Kaylie now. A wave of emotion washed over her as she made eye contact with the girl that could only be Payson’s daughter. It was like standing in the Rock again, ready for practice, Payson coming over to get the rest of them—Emily included—ready to hype them all up, her duty as team captain.
The girl entered the locker room, and Kaylie stared after her, temporarily dazed by what had just occurred. She had been so sure that the hallucinations were gone. Would she ever be able to tell the difference between a simple daydream and complete deliria? She turned back to Damon and the others, who were standing off to the side making awkward small talk. Someone else had joined them as well, his arm around Emily’s shoulders. Kaylie’s heart lurched. Austin.
The first thing that came to Kaylie’s mind while looking at her former boyfriend was that he looked older. They were all in their early thirties now, but in Austin’s face she truly saw how time had changed him. One thing Kaylie had always loved about Austin was his openness, his will and drive. There was a hardness to him now, like a part of him was closed off. Closed off to everyone but Emily, that is. She could see they were together, simply by the way Austin looked at her, like she was the only one in the whole gym that really mattered.
Kaylie hadn’t seen this coming. Most of all, she had not expected to feel jealous. Not jealous of the fact that they were together, but of how happy they seemed. If they could get it right, why the hell couldn’t she?
“They’ve been together ever since Sasha recruited Emily.”
Kaylie turned around to meet the faces of Lauren Tanner and Payson Keeler, their eyes also trained on the group of awkward acquaintances.
“How long ago was that?”
“About four years ago. He sent me and Austin to get her,” Payson replied. “She wouldn’t even talk to me, but Austin, he got through to her. He’s probably the only reason she’s even here.”
Kaylie takes in the sight of her former teammates. Lauren with her swollen stomach, yoga pants and clean, white tennis shoes, looked like the epitome of gym moms. And then Payson, blonde, lean and gorgeous, was everything Kaylie imagined she would be when they got older. She almost thought it was another hallucination.
“Is she any good, Emily I mean?” Kaylie asks.
“Yeah, she is,” Payson says. “I was skeptical at first. She abolished the no dating rule, said that restricting them from having relationships would just make them want to do it more.”
“She knows, better than anyone,” Lauren replies snidely.
“But,” Payson continues, in her typical, humorless fashion, “The gymnasts trust her, and she trusts them. She really knows how to get on their level, get inside their heads to the root of their issue or problem, whether it’s personal or technical. Sasha knew what he was doing when he picked her.”
“Where is Sasha?” Kaylie asked her old friends, but was met with only silence.
After a long pause Lauren says, “Emily didn’t tell you?”
“Emily hasn’t really said much to me since I got here, besides hello.”
“Well, she gave you a gleaming endorsement a minute ago.”
“I know. I was… shocked by that, to say the least.”
“She really isn’t all bad,” Payson says. “It just takes a while for her to warm up to people, which after everything she has been through, well, you can’t really blame her.”
“What do you mean?” Kaylie asks.
“That’s not really our place to say, but you should definitely ask her about it,” Payson tells her.
“So, where is Sasha?” Kaylie asks again.
Lauren and Payson both look uncomfortable, but it’s Payson who answers once again, “I think that’s another thing you should ask Emily about. Sasha really trusted her with everything before he…left. No one else had his confidence quite like she did. I don’t know if he felt like he failed her, and giving her this position was his way of making up for it, or if he always just saw something in her he could depend on. Either way, I think it’s Emily’s job to tell you exactly what happened.”
Kaylie nods, “Are they happy, Emily and Austin?”
“In their own way I think they are incredibly happy,” Lauren says. “They love and trust each other, and they raised two amazing kids together—“
“They have kids?” Kaylie asks, whirling around to face her old friend.
“Oh, uh, yeah, sort of… They aren’t Austin’s biological kids, but...” Lauren trails off, and Kaylie immediately understands. They aren’t Austin’s, they’re Damon’s. Wait, there are two of them?
“They’re good for each other,” Payson adds. “They always were, even when we were younger. They were great friends that each brought out the other’s best qualities. They got it right. They’ve both been through a lot, and they deserve each other, you know?”
“What about you Pay? I heard you married Nicky Russo,” Kaylie asks with a smile. “I can’t believe that actually happened! And, I saw your daughter; she’s the spitting image of you.”
“Nicky and I, it was a little bit of a surprise, but we’re happy. He’s out in Denver, coaching there. He comes home on the weekends and we’ve been making it work. As for Ayla, she’s my pride and joy, and hopefully the next U.S. National Champ.”
Kaylie could hear the pure delight in Payson’s voice, but in spite of that there was also a little too much excitement, as though Payson was living her daughter’s life, not just proud of her child’s accomplishments. Payson never got to be a National Champion, and certainly never had a picture perfect run as a gymnast. To make up for that she was living the life she could have had through her daughter.
Kaylie shook her head, it wasn’t her business, and she was going to stay out of it. She turned to Lauren, “How awkward do you think it would be if I just walked up to them and started talking?”
“Oh, Kaylie, what has happened to you?” Lauren replies. “Go talk to them, they don’t bite. The four of you, Damon definitely included have a lot to talk about, and I mean a lot.”
Kaylie nods, hoping her nerves will stay strong. Ever since her mother’s funeral, she had been feeling better each day. She wasn’t having as many hallucinations, her appetite had started coming back, and even more importantly, she was beginning to truly feel emotion again, instead of fighting it, or pushing it back down inside herself. Even though she was much further gone this time than the first time she gave in to her disease, Kaylie took all the same steps and felt herself healing once again. She wrote in the notebook Damon had given her multiple times a day. She had made peace with her father and the memory of her mother, and even Damon. It had been so long, she had almost forgotten what it felt like to feel halfway decent, physically or emotionally. Reconciliation with Emily was next, and hopefully with Sasha too. She had never contacted him after quitting gymnastics, never told him why she needed to move on. He had called and e-mailed, but Kaylie had been too afraid of what he would say to her. Not explaining herself to him had been one of the bigger regrets of Kaylie’s life.
Taking a deep breath Kaylie turned away from Lauren and Payson, and walked up beside Damon, not saying anything. All eyes turned to her as she approached, and even though she was more nervous than she had ever been, she decided it was probably best if she said something.
“Emily, thank you so much for those kind words. I almost didn’t believe you were saying them, it meant a lot to me.”
“Well, it isn’t anything that isn’t true.”
Emily nodded in response.
“Hi Austin,” Kaylie says weakly.
“Do you mind if we go into the office and talk? I don’t want to bring any more attention to myself than I have to,” Kaylie says finally.
Emily replies, “Well, actually Austin and I were talking last night, and we thought it might be good for you and for the Rock if you were a guest coach for the week. I really meant what I said a few minutes ago, and I think the gymnasts, especially the elite girls, could really get inspired by you.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Damon interjects. “You’ve been through a lot Kaylie.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she protests. “Don’t you think working with some younger gymnasts will help remind me why this was all worth doing in the first place? I mean I lost my mind, Damon, twice, and for what? Maybe this is Emily giving me the chance to answer that question.”
Damon eyes Emily warily. Kaylie quickly realizes that there is no semblance of trust between them anymore, and whatever love had existed for the two of them, had dissipated years ago into nothing but hollow resentment. She looks at Austin. There was no resentment between the two of them, as far as she knew. Their break up had been congenial, and a completely mutual decision. However, Kaylie noticed that he wasn’t making much eye contact with her, instead keeping his eyes trained on the floor whenever they weren’t on Emily.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. That’s all I’m going to say about it,” Damon says gruffly before stalking off to join Razor and Kyle, who were watching a male gymnast doing a pommel horse routine.
Kaylie watches him go, and then turns to Emily, “He’s just… protective. I’m really interested in the opportunity Emily, thank you for offering. Honestly I’m not quite sure what has gotten into him. All he’s been talking about since we got here is facing my demons and coming to terms with my past, and now he’s just… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she replies. “He wants you to face your demons, sure, but I don’t think he’s really ready to face his own. I would say give him time, but I don’t know him anymore, and I’m not even sure that would help.”
“Wait, what do you mean by his own demons?” she asks immediately. What did Emily know that she didn’t?
Emily looks uncomfortable for a minute, “Look he came here yesterday to ask if it was alright for you to come and visit. I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t expecting me to be here. He saw someone else as well that he didn’t anticipate to see, and it brought some things he had buried back to the surface.”
“Emily, just spit it out, please,” Kaylie implores, irritated now. The fact that even though she hadn’t spoken to him in over fifteen years, Emily still managed to know things about Damon that Kaylie didn’t, was infuriating. Who was this girl, and how did she continually keep this hold over the love of Kaylie’s life? It wasn’t fair!
“He saw his son.”
There was a pause, Kaylie wasn’t sure she had heard correctly, “His son?”
“Yes, as in the son he abandoned seventeen years ago, almost to the date, actually.”
“What are you talking about? Damon didn’t abandon anyone! You left him.”
“Uh, ladies,” Austin interrupts, “Maybe we should take this into the office. You’re not exactly the quietest people I know, and everyone is starting to stare.”
“Oh really,” Emily says, ignoring
Austin completely and instead taking a threatening step toward Kaylie. “Is that
what he’s telling himself so he can sleep at night?”
“You are way out of line, Emily!” Kaylie yells.
“Ask him, and after that maybe you’ll realize that the person you’ve been in love with for half of your life is actually just a scumbag that can’t commit. I realized it the day that he left me nine months pregnant in Las Vegas.
“I went into labor that day you know,” Emily says to someone behind Kaylie. She turns, Damon. “I went into labor that day with no one there to help me. And even worse, when I got there and I delivered Tyler the contractions started up again and I had a second, unexpected child.”
Damon takes a few steps forward, “What are you talking about?”
“I had twins, one of them hid behind the other for the entire pregnancy. The ultrasound never once picked up his heartbeat. So there I was in a hospital bed with two, fatherless, twin boys, my boys, and you left us there because you, and I quote ‘felt trapped’ and ‘needed time’.”
Emily’s voice broke, she had tears streaming down her face now, but she was nothing if not defiant in the face of the man that had broken her heart so many years ago. Kaylie admired her strength more than anything. It took a lot of willpower to look someone in the face after they had done so many horrible things to you.
“Is this true?” Kaylie demands, “Did you leave her?”
Damon looks at his feet.
“I distinctly remember you telling me the day we reunited that she had left you, and refused to let you see your child, or children. I guess I don’t need an answer considering didn’t even know that there are two of them out there.”
“Kaylie just let me explain something to you—“
“Damon, I think you should go,” Kaylie says, her voice low.
Damon looked completely defeated, and Kaylie couldn’t help but feel, just in that moment, a little awful. Maybe there was a side of the story that she should hear besides Emily’s. But, the pounding of her heart and the ringing in her ears became too much. She turned away from Damon, unable to face the lies and deceit that she saw in him. There was so much to be said, even though she couldn’t think of a single word to say.
Kaylie could feel Emily’s eyes on her. Damn her. Damn her for ruining everything Kaylie was working toward with everything she had in her. Damn her for bearing Damon’s children. Damn her for having everything Kaylie had ever truly wanted. Damn, damn, damn. Kaylie wanted to scream, cry, lay in bed and never move. She heard Damon’s footsteps walk away, and in that moment she had never felt more alone.
“I guess I’ll take that position, Emily. That is, I’ll take it if you think you can stand looking at me every day for the next week.”
Emily softens, “Welcome back to the Rock, Kaylie.”
There was really no way to describe the emotions Damon felt as he left the Rocky Mountain Training Center. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were many words to describe his emotions, it was just that there were so many of them, Damon didn’t even know how to begin sorting them out. For starters, there was so much anger pent up inside of him. He couldn’t believe that Emily had told Kaylie all that she had. Even worse, she hadn’t sat her down and told her calmly, she had sprung it on her, completely out of the blue.
Damon knew all too well why Emily had felt the need to tell Kaylie in that way. He had done a horrible thing to her, leaving the way he did. She had every right to take out her anger on him. Which led to the guilt. The guilt he felt for abandoning Emily, his sons, the guilt he felt for lying to Kaylie for all those years. And twins, Damon could hardly keep it together when he came face to face with only one of them, whom he had thought at the time was the only one in existence. The fact that there were two of them running around was almost too much.
Then there was the wondering, the “what ifs”. What if Damon had stayed that day, instead of leaving? What if he had held Emily’s hand as she gave birth to his sons? What if he had seen them with his own two eyes, or fed them their first bottles? Would he still have run off to pursue music? Would he have found Kaylie, and real love again? Maybe instead he and Emily would have gotten back on track. Maybe he would have gotten a real job, a suit and tie, and helped support his family.
Damon shook his head. There was no use dwelling on “what ifs”. He had chosen his path long ago, and unfortunately that was something he was going to have to live with. He found himself walking down a hill and into a park. There was play equipment swarming with small children to his right, and to his left was a clearing surrounded by trees. There were a few teenagers tossing a Frisbee around, and a boy was sitting against a tree strumming a guitar. Longing for his own instrument flooded Damon’s insides. This was one of those moments where a guitar would simply make everything better.
Damon made his way past the Frisbee throwers and sat down, his back up against a tree. He pulled his beanie down over his eyes for a minute, attempting to drown out the world. All of a sudden he heard a tune, probably coming from the boy with the guitar, the song was oddly familiar to him. That’s my song, he realized, pulling his hat back from his eyes. Who in the hell knows one of my songs in the United States, much less Boulder, Colorado?
Damon turns toward the kid playing the chords, “Hey, great song.”
“You know it?” comes a surprised reply.
Damon laughs, “I wrote it.”
The teenager stands up and walk over to Damon, “No way, you are not Damon Young.”
“I’m afraid that identity does indeed belong to me,” he says, looking the kid directly in the face for the first time, astonished by what he sees. It’s the same boy from yesterday. There isn’t a single blemish or pore that’s different. Every strand of dark brown hair falls in the same place, and he even has the same excited facial expression. But, it isn’t the same boy, this one doesn’t recognize Damon, he has longer, shaggy hair, and on top of that he’s lankier than the kid Damon came face to face with previously. He can only assume that’s because this boy isn’t a gymnast.
“Dude, I cannot even believe this! You’re a genius man. I have all of your stuff.”
“No, I’m completely serious. Your solo stuff, before ‘BBB’, that is some of the greatest rock and roll this century has ever heard, and I’m not exaggerating.”
“And your parents, your mother, she’s okay with you listening to my stuff?”
The boy snorts, “My mom supports my own musical genius, but her knowledge of music is slim. Her idea of a good tune is whatever they’re playing on the radio, or whatever has a good drive for her workouts. Besides that she’s never been too interested.”
“I see. So you play?”
“Oh, yeah, guitar, keys, drums, sometimes a little bass if I’m feeling ambitious. I play the trumpet in my school’s marching band too, but don’t spread that around, it’ll ruin my street cred.”
“Wow, that’s pretty fantastic, my man. How old are you, anyway?”
“Almost seventeen, my birthday is in a couple weeks.”
“That’s a pretty impressive record for such a young kid.”
“I kind of took to it at an early age. I had my first acoustic guitar at age five. I begged my mom for it, and she was not on board, but eventually she caved.”
“She wasn’t supportive, huh?”
“Well, my brother, he’s exactly like her: athletic, driven in a way that I’m not, and outgoing. I was the kid who didn’t talk until age four. I’m lanky and I like to veg out in front of the TV once in a while. I think I might take more after my biological father. See my brother and I never really knew him, but I can understand my mom not wanting to be reminded of him every time she looks at me. Don’t get me wrong she’s my biggest supporter now, but it was hard to convince her that music was the only thing for me, you know?”
Damon did know. He knew a lot more than he was letting on, and he didn’t know how long he could keep this up.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Liam, Liam Kmetko,” the boy answers.
Liam, Damon thought. So the one from yesterday must have been Tyler.
“It’s nice to meet a fan, Liam. It doesn’t happen very often, especially not here.”
“I can’t even believe I’m actually standing here talking to you right now. You’re kind of my hero. This is a bit surreal.”
“I’m no hero, kid. Just a guy with a guitar.”
Liam looks at him intensely, as if he’s looking for the meaning of Damon’s words. Just then a girl calls out from across the park.
“Oh, hey, my girlfriend is here. She loves your stuff too.”
Liam waves the girl over. She’s pretty, with long dark hair, and a wide smile that was all too familiar to Damon.
“Ayla Russo,” Liam says as she reaches the two of them, “I’d like you to meet the one and only Damon Young.”
The girl’s eyes widen, “You’re Damon Young?”
“In the flesh,” he says, not quite used to getting so much attention. It had been a very long time since fame was real for him, and he had never gotten much attention in the English language to begin with.
“Wow, it’s a pleasure. Didn’t I just see you in the Rock with Kaylie Cruz? She’s here to be a guest coach right?”
“Uh, yeah I was in there a minute ago. Then I came down here and heard your boy playing. He’s got some chops.”
“You think I have chops, you should hear this girl sing,” Liam says.
“Really?” Damon asks. “I’d love to. Do you guys play gigs?”
“Once in a while,” Ayla replies. “My mom isn’t that crazy about me staying out late, so it gets hard to find gigs that we’re both able to play.”
“But we have one at the Pizza Shack tomorrow night. It’s not that far from here,” Liam adds.
“Yeah, I know where it is. I used to work there when I was a kid, not much older than you two actually.”
“No way, my mom did too. Maybe you know her, Emily Kmetko?”
Here was the moment of truth. Damon could spill everything now, but how? Is it as simple as: Hey, guess what? I’m your Dad. He didn’t even know where to begin.
“I knew her,” he begins, knowing that it would be a bad idea to lie about that much. “We worked together for a while. She was a gymnast, on the same team as my girlfriend, Kaylie, who you mentioned previously, Ayla.”
“She’s the head coach at the Rock now,” Liam says proudly.
“Yeah, I spoke with her briefly while I was inside. She seems like a great coach.”
“It’s definitely what she was meant to do. She used to be a performer for Cirque Du Soleil when we lived in Las Vegas, but I think she likes being back here more than she liked it there.”
“I’m sure she enjoys being close to her family,” Damon replies, remembering Chloe Kmetko, a sweet woman, and Brian, Emily’s brother, who spent nights playing X-Box with Damon when he and Emily were still together.
“We don’t see them much, but I think she likes the work she’s doing. And, the city here is much quieter than Vegas.”
Damon feels sick to his stomach. Here is this kid raving about the mother that Damon abandoned, and telling him how much he thinks he’s like his biological father. And he truly is, considering the fact that the two of them have never met. Liam reminded Damon so much of himself. What that must have been like for Emily to work through is unfathomable. If Damon had a constant reminder of Emily in his face every day, he probably would have lost it a long time ago.
“Hey, listen,” Damon says, cutting Liam short, “It was really great meeting you both. Maybe I’ll swing by tomorrow and listen to your set. I, uh, I’m late for a meeting that I completely forgot about.”
“No worries, dude. It was an honor to meet you, and I hope to see you again soon.”
Both of the teenagers turn and walk back to the tree Liam had been sitting under a moment ago. As Damon walks away he hears them begin to harmonize, and the sound is unbelievable. It takes everything in him to continue walking, and not stop to listen. He wasn’t sure where to go from here. Kaylie didn’t want to see him, Emily certainly didn’t want to be anywhere near him, and he wasn’t even sure where Razor or Kyle were.
Damon walked back the way he came, up the hill to the parking lot in front of The Rock. The old, beat up truck Damon had rented once they had gotten to town sat there, begging to be started up, begging to provide escape. What else could he do? No one here wanted him around anymore. He had lied to, cheated on, and left behind everything and everyone that might have made him happy in life. Honestly he deserved to be alone.
“Hey!” Damon heard a familiar voice call from behind him. Turning he expected to see Liam jogging towards him, maybe to ask him for an autograph. But, the person he sees when he turns, though he looks identical, is not Liam.
Tyler, the gymnast, Damon observes, as the older of his two sons walks up to him. He is wearing windbreaker pants and a ratty sweatshirt, his Nike’s squeak as he walks. There are remnants of chalk on his calloused hands, and sweat beads on his forehead, leftover from the workout he had undoubtedly just finished.
“Can I help you?” Damon asked him, hoping he didn’t remember their awkward encounter from the previous night.
There was no arguing, Tyler was the stronger, more confident twin. He strode up to Damon and looked him straight in the eyes before saying, “Why are you here?”
“I know who you are,” he says, matter-of-factly, “And I want to know what your motives are for being back in Boulder.”
Damon’s stomach dropped, “What do
you mean you know who I am?”
“I know your name is Damon Young, and I know that you are my biological father. I know you did a number on my mom when I was born, and I know that after a lifetime of strength and capability my mom saw you once and went to pieces. Seeing you last night broke her, and I didn’t think anything could do that. So what are you doing here Damon? Why the hell did you decide to come back and stir all this shit up?”
Damon was taken aback. Not necessarily to hear that Emily was so affected by their meeting earlier, Damon had been equally as torn up. What startled Damon was the fact that Tyler was giving him a chance to explain himself. If the roles were reversed Damon would have punched first and asked questions later.
“Uh, believe me,” Damon begins, “I didn’t know your mother would even be here. I came for a friend, uh, Kaylie Cruz. She’s got some things to take care of in town.”
Tyler takes a step back, and Damon can see him processing the information he’s just been given.
“You swear you didn’t mean to come and hurt her. You aren’t trying to dredge up all these old feelings?”
“Believe me, I have hurt Emily enough. I would never purposely do it again. You know, I did love her once. You and your brother are kind of living proof of that.”
Tyler nods tentatively, “I have a hard time trusting anything that comes out of your mouth.”
Damon laughs, “I don’t blame you. Sometimes I have a hard time with that too.”
“I just—we have a dad you know. Austin is our dad.”
“I know that, and please trust me when I say that I have no intention of getting in the way of your relationship with him. If you want to see me, great, but I don’t want to push myself on you, your brother, or your parents.”
“Liam doesn’t know anything about this…” Tyler says, more to himself than to Damon. “Oh, I’m Tyler by the way, I know the twin thing can be a little confusing at first.”
“I know who you are Tyler. I may have just met your brother in the park. Turns out he’s a fan of my music, one of the only ones in this country actually.”
Tyler’s eyes light up, “Damon Young, I knew that name was familiar. But wait, you met my brother?”
“You two are very different.”
“It’s a common misconception that twins are similar in every which way. I mean we both love ramen noodles and Freddie Mercury, but there’s much more that we disagree on. You didn’t tell him who you were—I mean you didn’t tell him—“
“That I am your father, no I didn’t tell him that. I wasn’t sure how to go about that, honestly.”
Tyler nods, “I’m not sure how he would take it. He’s a lot more emotional than I am, and obviously has way more in common with you than I do. It might wreck him, or it might be the greatest thing anyone’s ever told him, it could go either way.”
“I told him I’d check out his gig tomorrow.”
“I suppose I’ll have to tell him then. He does deserve to know.”
Damon looks at Tyler, really looks at him, and realizes that Tyler is wrong. The two of them are alike. Maybe not on the surface, but underneath Tyler is just as loyal and conflicted about his brother as Damon had always been about Emily and then about Kaylie.
“Honesty is the best policy, in my experience. I can’t even tell you how many times lying to others, and especially lying to myself has gotten me into trouble. Just tell him what I told you today. I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. I want as much to do with you two as you want to do with me. The power is ultimately in your hands, and the hands of your parents of course.”
Tyler hesitates, “I don’t think I want to go my whole life without knowing you all, but let me talk it over with Liam.”
Damon nods, “I do want to hear him play, so if you have come to some kind of a decision, let me know tomorrow night.”
Tyler agrees, and then a blonde girl calls to him from across the parking lot, “Hey Ty, are you taking me out, or what?”
“Lauren Tanner’s daughter,” Damon observes. “Good luck, kid.”
Tyler cracks a smile, the first one Damon has ever seen from him, “Yeah, thanks.”
Quickly he turns and jogs over to a blue SUV. Damon watches as the girl plants a kiss squarely on his lips, and hops into the car. Tyler stands dazed for a moment and then looks back at Damon, grinning. He gives a small wave before getting in the car himself, and driving away.
What a couple of kids, Damon thought. One of them was a better musician than Damon himself, and the other was kind, tolerant, and a killer athlete. Damon had expected to feel a lot of things about his long lost child, or as he had come to find out, children. One thing he had not expected, was how immediately devoted he would become to them. He already found himself longing to teach Liam everything he knew about music, and to teach Tyler everything he had learned about honesty and integrity, and how important they are to any career, and any human life. He felt this need to somehow make a mark in their lives, to be there for them and guide them. But, he had lost that right long ago. Now he could only stand by and give them exactly what they wanted from him, which could end up being absolutely nothing.
Damon sat in his truck, contemplating all of this, when the passenger door flew open. Standing there was a very angry, very tired looking, brunette. She scowled as she sat down next to him, making it perfectly clear she did not want to be there.
“Kaylie—“ he tried to explain.
“Just don’t,” she cut him off. “I can’t hear it right now, Damon. Nothing you say will make this situation seem any better. I would like you to take me to my father’s house please.”
Damon looked at her, pleading.
“Damon, just take me. We can talk about it tomorrow.”
“Where are Razor and Kyle?”
“They’re going to spend some time with Lauren. While she is an extremely frustrating person, she’s a gay man’s favorite kind of woman.”
Sighing, Damon turned on the car and drove, quite reluctantly, to the Cruz’s house. Neither of them saying a word for the entire ride.
As Kaylie got out of the truck Damon tried one last time, “I loved her Kaylie, I just loved you more. I’m sorry.”
Kaylie looks at him sadly, “I know you are Damon.”
She shut the door to the truck, and walked into her house, not looking back once. Little did she know, with every step she was taking more and more of Damon Young’s heart with her, until she shut the door, and he had nothing left.
“Good morning, beautiful,” Austin says, wrapping his arms around Emily’s waist and pecking her on the cheek.
“Is it?” she asks, turning away from the dishes she had been washing in the kitchen sink, and toward her husband. She places her hands on his chest. She felt completely drained of emotion, but as Austin leaned in and kissed her, she was reminded how much good there was in her life.
“What would I do without you?” she asked as he pulled away.
He smiled, “Luckily, we never have to find out.”
“I love you.”
“And I you, Emily Kmetko.”
“Emily, have you seen my pink leo?” a voice calls from upstairs. “I swore I saw it in Amber’s room, but she claims she doesn’t have it.”
“I told you, I borrowed that one from Ayla, it isn’t your damn leo!” a second, less shrill, female voice chides.
“And so it begins,” Austin says warily.
“Am I crazy to want another one?” she asks him.
“If I could have ten more with you, I would.”
Emily laughs, “Let’s just stick to trying for one right now, shall we?”
Austin nods, “So you have that whole situation upstairs handled, right?”
She sighs dramatically, “April, did you check the hamper downstairs? You leave things laying around this house, and sometimes I get tired of looking at them. Amber don’t curse at your sister.”
In a matter of minutes Emily’s house sprang to life around her. Liam and Tyler bounded down the stairs first, arguing over the effectiveness of Adam Lambert fronting Queen. They both go immediately for the fridge, and before Emily can say “good morning” there are toaster waffles, pop-tarts, orange juice, and cereal sprawled across the table.
Soon after the twins, comes Markus Beloff, the only one of the kids in the house who remained mostly silent in the morning. Regardless of the fact that he was an elite gymnast, Mark had never found the ability to be a morning person.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Emily says, patting his back.
“Morning,” Mark mumbles in return, shoveling a spoonful of Froot Loops into his mouth.
Finally, the Beloff girls decide to show their faces.
“Good morning April, Amber,” Emily says to them. “Have we resolved the argument from earlier?”
“Yes,” Amber remarks, “April found her leotard, and guess where it wasn’t?”
“Like I wouldn’t expect you to take my stuff. You’ve been doing it your whole life.”
“Are you kidding me? Mark, you remember that time Amber stole my Malibu Barbie because mine had the purple swimsuit, and she just couldn’t live with red one?”
Mark shrugs, “I don’t keep track of your crap. I was probably in the corner with my Mighty Morphing Power Rangers completely ignoring the two of you.”
April rolls her eyes, “Well it happened. I remember because then Mom bleached your doll’s clothes so they were pink instead of red.”
Amber lights up, “That’s right, and she forgot to wear gloves and bleached her own hands! She had to wear mittens for weeks to touch anything!”
Both of the girls giggle, and then their smiles falter.
All off a sudden the energy that had been flowing through the room came to an abrupt halt. Amber grabbed April’s hand, squeezing tightly, and Mark got up from the table claiming he forgot something upstairs. Liam and Tyler looked after him, Tyler rose and followed his teammate out of the room.
Liam got up from the table, interrupting the silence, “I’m going to be late for school. Mother, father, ladies, I’ll catch you later. Stay gorgeous, all of you.”
Emily rolled her eyes at her son’s obvious attempt at avoiding the situation. The triplets had gotten a terrible lot in life recently, and Emily felt awful about it on a daily basis. She did her best to give the three of them a stable home life, and a rigorous work out at the gym. Nothing was more important than helping them achieve some kind of normalcy in their lives. But, she had to remind herself often, that she is not their mother. She was awarded temporary guardianship per Sasha and Summer’s request, and the triplets had made Emily and Austin’s home a much more lively place ever since. Emily knew, given the chance, that she would adopt them all in a second. But, she also knew that wasn’t what the triplets wanted. So, until that time came, she would try her hardest just to make life a little easier for them.
“Come on girls, or we’ll be late too. Kaylie Cruz is starting today as a guest coach. Get excited!”
Both of the girls perk up.
“Will she be able to do anything?” April asks. “I mean she looks like a round-off might snap her in two.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure. We haven’t seen each other in a long while. But, she’ll have a lot of other insight, regardless.”
“Is it true you and Kaylie used to date, Austin?” Amber asks.
Austin nods, “A very long, long time ago.”
“Awkward…” April trills.
“Not at all. It was an amicable break up, and besides, have you seen my wife? How could I ever see past this hotness?” he says, smacking Emily on the backside.
Emily burst into giggles.
“Ew,” Amber says, getting up from the table and heading upstairs, quickly followed by her sister.
“Hey, out the door in ten!” Emily shouts after them.
“Are you going to be okay with this?” Austin asks.
“I’m going to try to be. I mean, it isn’t like she knew that Damon left me. He lied to her. For all she knew, I was the one who didn’t want Damon around.”
“I guess so. Speaking of Damon, what have you told the boys about him?”
“Well, Tyler knows, Liam is still in the dark about pretty much all of it.
“You can’t expect Ty to keep that a secret. He and Liam might be incredibly different, but they tell each other everything. I remember when they used to share a room in Vegas, I would walk by the room at night and hear them whispering. God, they grew up so fast,” Austin says, his voice wistful.
“I know,” Emily replies, a weak smile spreading across her face. “And, honestly I don’t expect Tyler to keep this from his brother. I think it actually might be easier on Liam if it comes from him.”
“You might be right about that.”
Emily finishes washing the dishes just as the twins, Amber and April clamor back down the stairs, ready to leave.
“Where’s Mark?” Austin asks.
“Tyler would you go up and get him please?”
“Sure,” Tyler says, climbing back up the stairs. Not thirty seconds later he comes back down, claiming that Mark is not up there.
“What do you mean?” Emily asks. “Where is he then?”
“The window in our room was wide open. I think he snuck out.”
“Why in the hell would he do that?” Austin yells, obviously concerned.
“It’s my fault,” April says quietly, “I brought up our Mom. I forget sometimes how much harder it’s been for him…”
“April, don’t blame yourself. It’s good for you to talk about her, okay, it’s therapeutic,” Emily says, trying to contain her panic. Mark had always been the loner in pretty much everything, at the gym, at home, and even between his siblings. Amber and April were very close to one another, Mark was the odd one out.
Emily turned to Austin, doing her best not to panic, “What should we do?”
Austin sighs, “Honestly, babe, I think we should just let him go.”
“He’s almost eighteen, and he’s going through some stuff right now. Maybe we should just give him some space.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” April chimes in. “Mark isn’t someone you should leave alone with his emotions for very long. He’ll do something drastic.”
Amber nods, “It’s true. I think I know where he might have gone. Could April and I go find him?”
Emily contemplates, and then switches into coach mode, “You’re all going in for an extra work out on Saturday. Take the SUV.”
“You guys are all still coming to my show tonight, right? The Pizza Shack, 7:30.” Liam asks on his way out the door.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” April says, winking at Liam.
“Call me when you find him please,” Emily says, handing Amber the keys, and then watching girls walk out of the house, still in their windbreaker pants and leotards, gym bags slung over their respective shoulders, blonde ponytails bouncing.
“Well, I suppose we should get to the gym,” Emily says, and the three of them, Emily, Tyler, and Austin, headed out the door.
Arriving at the Rock that morning was different for Emily. Seeing Kaylie in the place that she had made her home again for the last few years, was threatening. It sent her back to a time when she didn’t feel very strong or confident in anything she did. Emily found herself second guessing her own decisions all morning, doing her best to push through the uncertainty and the confused looks Kaylie kept shooting her.
“Alright everyone, break time, thirty minutes and then back to work!” Emily shouted about halfway through the work out. Attempting to clear her head, and get ahold of herself, Emily retired to her office.
But, before she could calm down too much, Kaylie knocked on the door.
“Emily, do you have a second?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Am I… distracting you today?”
“I just don’t want to be a nuisance. If you can’t coach with me around, the girls aren’t going to get better.”
“It’s not you Kaylie. It’s me over-thinking things, like usual. Don’t worry about it. Just give me a little time. I’ll get used to you being around.”
Kaylie nods and turns to leave, but then stops and turns back to Emily, a strange look on her face.
“Can I ask you something?”
Emily sighs, sure she knows what Kaylie will say next, “Of course. Sit down.”
Kaylie sits down tentatively in the chair facing Emily’s.
She hesitates before saying, “I’ve asked a lot of people about this, and they all say the same thing when I ask: ‘You should ask Emily’. So I’m asking, and I really hope you’ll answer me, because I have some things to atone for. Where is Sasha?”
Emily takes a deep breath. She had told this story so many times, she had been hoping never to have to recite it again. But, Emily also knew that Kaylie deserved an honest answer.
“This isn’t going to be easy to hear Kaylie, so brace yourself, okay?”
“About two years ago Sasha surprised Summer with a road trip to visit her family in Vermont. A cross-country trip, they were going to stop along the way, see the sights, but they got about ten miles outside of Boulder and something went wrong with their car. They swerved out of their lane, and collided head on with a semi.”
Emily paused to let Kaylie process the information she had just been given. She knew how much of a shock this would be, how unstable Kaylie was and she didn’t want to continue until she was sure Kaylie was ready.
“Okay…” she says quietly, waiting for Emily to continue.
Emily sighed, attempting to keep the next part as brief as she could, “It was a really terrible accident. They heli-carried both of them to Boulder Memorial Hospital. Summer was in critical care for a few days, but she had lost so much blood, and she had withstood so much internal damage there was just nothing the doctors could do after a while. She passed away in the middle of the night. Lauren and I were there for her when she went. She was conscious for a bit, and got to say her goodbyes.”
“Sasha was a little luckier, though not much. Summer’s side of the car got more of the truck’s impact than his, and they were able to control the bleeding and stabilize his heart rate, but he sustained major head trauma during the crash and as a result… never regained consciousness.”
Kaylie’s eyes began to flit back and forth at a speed Emily was sure was not normal, “So he’s in a coma?”
“Is there a chance he’ll wake up?” she asks, sounding desperate.
“Kaylie are you okay?”
“Will he wake up?”
Emily calmed herself, doing everything she could to soften the blow she was about to deliver.
“It’s been two years… He’s technically brain dead, Kaylie. There’s really nothing keeping him alive except the ventilator he’s hooked up to, but I promised his kids I wouldn’t take him off the ventilator until they were ready for that.”
“Wait, Summer and Sasha had kids?” Kaylie asked, a glimmer of hope returning to her voice, though there were tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Uh, triplets actually. Amber, Markus, and April. They live with Austin and I, they have since the accident.”
Kaylie nods, clearly trying to comprehend all the information her brain had just been given. Emily knew it was a lot, but she did deserve to know. Sasha had been incredibly important to all of them, and Kaylie was just now learning something that Emily had had a few years to come to terms with.
“Can I see him? At the hospital, do they allow him visitors?”
“Of course, if you think you can handle it.”
“You’ll come with me right?”
“Sure Kaylie, but do you want me to call someone? Damon, or that Kyle guy, maybe?”
“No,” she shakes her head vigorously. “I need to start being able to do some things for myself if I’m ever going to have a real life outside of a mental institution.”
“I admire that,” Emily says, scrutinizing her former friend. “You know you are a lot tougher than I think anyone gives you credit for. You’re definitely stronger than you think you are.”
Kaylie looked startled at her kind words, “Thanks.”
“I’ll tell Austin and Payson to take over for the rest of practice. Visiting hours are pretty strict at the hospital.”
Kaylie nods, and Emily gets up to tell Austin what to cover for the rest of the day.
“Yeah,” she replies, sticking her head back through the office doorway.
“Thank you for telling me, and believing in me. You really have no cause to build me up, or trust me to be stable, but you do anyway. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an honest person in my life who doesn’t baby me. I appreciate it.”
Emily hadn’t been consciously building up Kaylie’s confidence, in fact she had just been trying to keep her calm, and keep herself from the hatred she so desperately wanted to unload on her.
“Kaylie, don’t get me wrong,” she says, walking back into the office, “We were friends once, and teammates, and I respect and honor those memories. But, those days are long gone, and I’m trying very hard right now to keep it together for my husband and my children and my gymnasts. I do not want to be your friend again anytime soon, but I can appreciate that you have unfinished business here in Boulder and I’d like to help you through that. Maybe then you and Damon will leave, and I can have some semblance of my life back, okay?”
Kaylie purses her lips, “That honesty… I asked for it, didn’t I?”
“Pretty much,” Emily replied, and both girls headed out of the gym, just as they had almost twenty years ago: side by side.