Kaylie wasn’t sure her heart had ever pounded faster than it was now, as she and Emily approached Sasha’s hospital room. She hated hospitals. They reminded her that she should probably be in one, though she could feel a part of herself return to her slowly each day.
Emily had been so fair to her since her return to Boulder, and it was good to feel some kind of support without the pity that usually came with it. Kaylie scrutinized her former teammate for a moment, all five feet and seven inches of her long, lean body. Emily was a natural leader, though Kaylie wasn’t sure she was aware of it. She was beautiful, strong, and protective of her children, all the things Kaylie had wanted to be at one point in her life, though Kaylie wasn’t jealous. Looking at Emily and all the ways she had overcome adversity just motivated Kaylie to do better in her own life. This realization took Kaylie a moment to process and before she knew it they had entered Sasha’s room.
It was small, Sasha’s bed the only one in the room. The walls were some kind of mustard yellow brick, very seventies. There was a purple couch opposite the hospital bed, and on it sat three tall, blonde teenagers, one boy, two girls. Emily seemed to recognize them immediately.
“Mark!” she exclaimed, walking over to hug the boy. “I was worried sick about you all morning! Girls, you were supposed to call me when you found him! I’d better tell Austin you’re all okay,” she pulls out her phone to send a text.
“Oh yeah,” one of the girls said, “Our bad. But, he’s fine. We knew he would come here.”
“Yeah,” the other girl agrees, eyeing up Kaylie, “But, why are you here?”
“Oh, guys you remember Kaylie Cruz? She’s our guest coach at the Rock, and your father used to be her coach too. She wanted to come by and see him, pay her respects.”
They all nodded.
“Kaylie, this is April, Mark, and Amber, Sasha and Summer’s kids.”
Kaylie was momentarily overwhelmed by the sight of them, all such perfect likenesses of their parents. In Mark, she saw Sasha’s strong jaw, and compact, but muscular build. In April and Amber, Kaylie saw Summer’s dimples and high cheekbones. But most striking were their eyes, all green, like their father’s.
“I wouldn’t have guessed they were anyone else,” she said finally, voice shaky. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you.”
“You too,” April replied for all of them.
Emily turned to her, “Are you ready?”
Kaylie took a deep breath, doing her best to calm her nerves. She wasn’t sure what to expect when she turned around, but she knew she had to see Sasha, tell him she was sorry, even if he couldn’t hear her anymore.
Turning to face the hospital bed, Kaylie felt Emily place a hand on her shoulder in comfort, another thing she didn’t have to do but did anyway. Kaylie wasn’t sure what the appropriate reaction was to seeing a man that she had respected and admired her whole life, a man who had always been so strong, who could command a room with one look or shake of his head, reduced to nothing more than a body in a bed, not even able to breathe for himself. She supposed that she should have been sad, devastated, or something along those lines. She felt her hands begin to shake, but not so much in sorrow, as in anger.
“Kaylie?” Emily questioned.
“How could this happen?” she said between gritted teeth.
“Accidents happen,” Amber says sadly from behind them. “It was just one, big, life-altering accident.”
Kaylie nodded her head, trying to wrap her mind around how an accident could cause so much turmoil. She looked at Sasha, relatively unchanged by time, and tried to calm herself.
“Can I talk to him?”
“He can’t hear you,” April replies bluntly.
Emily scolds her.
“No,” Kaylie stops her, “It’s okay. I need to hear it. But, I’d like to talk to him anyway, if that’s okay with all of you. Hopefully, some part of him out there somewhere will hear me.”
The triplets all nodded.
“Do you want to be alone?” Emily asked.
“No. I need them to hear this too,” Kaylie said, referring to Amber, Mark, and April. “If they are all that’s truly left of their parents, my amends are as much for them as anyone else.
Kaylie hobbled over to Sasha’s bed, weak-kneed, and Emily brought a chair over for her to sit in before joining the triplets on the couch. Kaylie wasn’t sure what she was going to say as she sat and took a few deep breaths.
“I suppose I should begin by saying that these are not the circumstances I imagined apologizing to you under,” she laughed dryly. “We’ve gone through this once before… But it’s worse this time, I’m worse this time. The things I have to make up for are… well, let’s just say I haven’t been my best person for a while now. I let my disease take control of my entire life. I’ve been thinking a lot about it all lately, and I’m pretty sure it all might have started back when I left Boulder. My whole support system was here. You, and my parents, and all of my friends”—Kaylie glanced back at Emily—“I left that behind, and I can see now that by doing that I was only enabling my disease.
“I’m not even sure why I left anymore. For love I suppose, a change of scenery and a new dream. It was great for a while, but I had all this guilt over leaving behind my family, my calling as a gymnast, and never explaining myself to anyone, and that hurt me in the end. I’m not telling you all of this just because it’s a part of my twelve step program”—she grabs his hand—“I’m saying this because you deserve an apology, you deserve so much more than I gave you…”
Kaylie could feel herself beginning to break down, but she continued, “I was horrible to you. You tried to reach out to me so many times, but every time I just pushed my guilt down a little further and ignored you. And, now you’re gone, and I can’t stand thinking that your last memories of me are so… God I’m selfish”—tears began streaming down her face, and her body shook uncontrollably—“You gave me so much love, and I gave you nothing in return, and I am so, so sorry. I’m just so sorry, so sorry” she repeated the words over and over, willing him to hear them, wherever he was.
Kaylie felt someone touch her shoulder. She turned around to face one of the triplets, April, the snippy one, so outspoken, and like her mother in every way. But, those eyes of hers, so sad now, were like a window to Sasha’s soul.
“He would forgive you, you know,” she says softly, those eyes barely meeting Kaylie’s.
“He talked about you sometimes,” Mark added, “Mom worried about you, hoped you were okay. Dad just hoped you were happy.”
Amber spoke up then, “They didn’t think poorly of you. I think they loved you very much.”
“We all do, Kaylie,” Emily said quietly, Kaylie wasn’t sure she’d heard her correctly.
“Please, don’t beat yourself up,” April finished, “They wouldn’t have wanted that. They would want us all to go on and… be happy.”
“It’s hard,” Kaylie said, wiping tears out from underneath her eyes, happy that she hadn’t worn any make up, not that she had any real cause to these days.
April nodded, “I know, trust me. If it makes you feel any better, I forgive you, even though it really had nothing to do with me.”
“Us too,” Amber agreed, referring to her brother and herself.
Kaylie felt an invisible weight lift from her shoulders, “Thank you.”
The triplets nodded in response.
Kaylie turned to Emily, “Ems, thank you again. I know you don’t want to hear it, but I am really grateful to you for all of this. It’s been a very… healing process. Honestly though, I have been meaning to do one last thing.”
“I need to apologize to you.”
“You really don’t need to do that.”
“But I do. Regardless of what Damon may have lied about, I am still partially responsible for messing up your life. You need to know how ashamed I am—“
“No, really it’s okay. It’s true that you come with more drama than I need in a year, and things have gotten so screwed up since you got here, but please, don’t think you have ruined my life by taking Damon from me.”
“What do you mean?” Kaylie asked, one hundred percent confused.
“Damon and I loved each other once, but I know now that he and I were never meant to be. If we had been, he wouldn’t have left me in the first place. I have an amazing life. A husband who loves me, a dream job, I’ve raised five amazing kids. Not to mention—“Emily smiled shyly—“There may or may not be another one on the way.”
The triplets all squealed in delight at Emily’s announcement.
“I haven’t had a chance to tell Austin yet, I just took the test back at the Rock so don’t say anything to him, but in roughly seven months there will be an addition to our household!”
“Ems, that’s amazing!” Kaylie told her.
“Thanks, I’m pretty excited. That’s why I’m telling you that it’s okay. You don’t need to apologize for loving someone. I’m not sorry I loved Damon once so you shouldn’t be either. If you can fix things with him, you should.”
Kaylie shook her head, “I actually decided yesterday that I should probably check myself into the hospital to avoid another relapse. My dad thought it was a good idea, and as long as I’m here… I think I’ll stay. I need to take some responsibility for the way being sick has affected so many other people in my life, and I need to start by getting myself well enough to handle a real life again.”
“My Dad would be proud of you,” Mark said.
“Thank you. That means more than you know.”
“Do you want me to come with you and check you in?” Emily asked.
“No. Honestly I think that is a step I need to prove that I can take myself as well. But, please come and visit me and tell me all about your beautiful kids and your pregnancy and your gymnasts. I’ll be living vicariously through my visitors until I can get healthy.”
“Good luck Kaylie,” Amber said.
“Thanks. I expect visits from you three too. I think we have a lot to learn about each other.”
As Kaylie hobbled out of the room, her knees were still weak, but her mind and soul were invigorated. She had felt this way before, in rehab during her first battle with the monster called anorexia. It was possible now for her to really improve, really get better, and hopefully never get to the place she had been ever again.
“Can I help you?” asked the blonde nurse sitting front and center at the nurse’s station.
“Um, yes. I’d like to check myself in please?”
“Is there something wrong ma’am?”
“Yes, but hopefully by coming here it can be alright again. I can be alright again.”
Damon entered the Pizza Shack and was momentarily taken aback by how big the place had gotten. So far all of the places he’d visited in Boulder, Kaylie’s house where he had been crashing, The Rock, the park, had all been relatively unchanged. However, the Pizza Shack, once a tiny, mom and pop style pizza shop, had been expanded upon. There had been an addition added on to it, and an actual stage had been installed there. When Damon had performed there as a teen it had been on a wobbly, moveable stage that he had to tear down after every show. The stage there now had lights, sound equipment, the whole nine yards. On top of all that, the place had gotten a major shove into the 21st century. The floor had actual tiling, the tables were covered in crisp black table cloths instead of the red and white checkered ones from Damon’s time there, and most surprising was that the order window was no longer there. Instead the place had become sit down only, meaning no more take out.
Damon wasn’t sure what he thought of it all. He had spent so many hours here, and so much had happened during those hours, that it almost made him sad to see it so different. He had fallen in love for the first time here, prepared a candle-light dinner for Emily on the roof of the place, watched her do ridiculous gym stunts on the old carpeted floor, and even betrayed a friend to win her heart. It had been the place he had performed his first gig in the States, and his first gig with Kaylie. As weird as it was, The Pizza Shack meant something to him. But, at least it had survived over the years, Damon told himself. Clearly, business had been going well, which was ten times better than coming to Boulder and finding it closed, even if the only thing that hinted at it being the same place it had once been, was the restaurant’s name.
He searched the room for some familiar faces, hoping that Kaylie had come here with Emily. Austin was standing near the front of the stage with Lauren Tanner and Emily’s brother Brian. Tyler was with them, his arm slung over the shoulders of Lauren’s daughter, the blonde who didn’t know how to smile. Damon and Lauren had never seen eye to eye, in fact it was safe to say that back in the day they completely hated each other, so the fact that his son was dating her teenaged clone was a true testament to the fact that he had been raised by his mother. Somehow Emily had always been able to see the good in Lauren, even when she did things that were completely abhorrent, but she was that way with everyone, always forgiving.
Damon felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around.
“Emily, hey,” he said, taking in the sight of her, dressed in dark jeans, Chuck Taylor’s and a ratty AC/DC t-shirt that was cut to make it hang off of one of her shoulders. Some things never changed, though her brown hair was out of the bun it usually was kept in, and instead spilled over her shoulders. Three of the young gymnasts Damon had seen at the Rock the day before, scampered away from her side, and headed toward the stage.
“Hi Damon. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Uh…” Damon wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to let her know who had invited him, but he told her anyway, hoping it wouldn’t upset.
“Liam invited you?” she asked. “When?”
“Yesterday, I heard him playing one of my songs in the park, we got to talking.”
“Mhm, and did you think to bring up, during your discussion, that you are his long lost father?”
Damon shook his head, “I wasn’t quite sure how to bring that up. I didn’t know if that’s what you wanted.”
Emily sighed, “Unfortunately that’s really not up to me. You are his biological father, and Liam was missing that male presence in his life for quite some time. I know he’s always wondered about you, even after Austin came into our lives. He wants to know where his music comes from, and up until now I have refused to tell him. Do you know why?”
Damon shook his head.
“Because he already idolizes you, Damon. He found one of your old mixes in some boxes when we moved here from Las Vegas and he felt an immediate connection to you. I wasn’t about to tarnish that view of his hero by telling him what you did to us. But, honestly he deserves to know if you want to tell him.”
“He’s a good kid.”
“He’s the best,” Emily agreed, a smile breaking out onto her face. “He was my quiet little angel as a boy, and sneaky, the way he hid behind his brother for the entire pregnancy. After they were born Tyler was always loud, outgoing, energetic, and Liam was contemplative, always thinking hard about something and sitting still. He didn’t actually talk until he was three years old, not really because he couldn’t, just because he didn’t want to. I could never have a favorite, but there were times when I was very grateful that he was born the way he was, especially when his brother would get out of hand.”
“You’ve done a great job with them Ems.”
“Thank you, and I hope you let them know you. After all these years I think I can forgive what you did, especially for the sake of my children.”
And there it was, the forgiveness Damon knew would come, and knew he didn’t deserve. He couldn’t hold it against her, it was in her nature to forgive. He only hoped he could live up to her expectation and really get to know his sons.
“I appreciate that Emily, I want you to know that I was very young and very stupid back then, and you never did anything wrong.
She laughed, “Yeah, well I probably could have avoided the whole pregnancy thing, but what fun would that have been?”
Damon nodded, trying to keep from laughing himself, “It all happens for a reason I think. By the way, Austin is up by the stage with Tyler, and Lauren’s family if you were wondering where they all were. I don’t want to keep you.”
“There was actually a reason I came over here to talk to you,” Emily said, her voice becoming abruptly serious. “I just came from the hospital with Sasha’s kids. We were visiting him.”
“Is he okay?”
“No, he got in a bad accident a few years back… He’s been brain dead for quite some time.”
“Oh my god.”
“Yeah, it’s been rough, but I wanted to tell you that Kaylie came with us to see him today.”
“She did what?”
“I took her with me.”
“Emily, why would you do that? She’s not stable right now!”
“She needed closure, Damon. She felt like she let him down, and wanted to apologize, make amends.”
Damon stayed silent then.
“It was actually really beautiful, and I think it helped her a lot.”
“Where is she now?”
“She… checked herself into the hospital.”
“What?” Damon yelled.
“It was her choice. She’s trying to get better, for you, for her Dad, but most importantly she is finally trying to get better for herself. You know that this is a huge deal for her.”
“I need to talk to her.”
Emily put out her arm so he couldn’t get past her, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“What would you know about it?” he snapped, and immediately regretted speaking so harshly.
“I just think that you two need to take some time to actually be apart.”
“We were apart for years, Em. I need to see her.”
“Damon, she’s good. I promise. But, she needs time to figure out what her life is going to be like from here on out, to figure out what kind of a life she wants for herself, and so do you. A few years spent ignoring each other, or missing each other is not therapeutic, it’s the opposite.”
“Why do you always have to be so right?”
“It’s a gift.”
“Do you want to come and stand with us? I’m sure Liam would appreciate that.”
The two of them walked over to the front of the stage, and Emily kissed Austin hello. It took Damon a little off guard, seeing them together, but he was still very happy for them. He was happy that Emily had found someone to take care of her, and of his kids. Austin Tucker was a better man than he was, that much he could admit.
Tyler looked over and they locked eyes. Damon nodded hello to him, and in that moment it was as if he could see a switch being flipped in his son’s head.
“Hey guys!” Tyler yelled and their party fell quiet. “Now I know all of you know Damon Young, whether it’s through his music, or knowing him when you were younger, and I’m sure you all know what I am about to tell you, but I want to say it anyway, because maybe somehow that will make it feel more… I don’t know… real.”
Damon held his breath, unsure of what Tyler would say next.
“Damon Young, among other things, is my father, well, my biological father,” he said, shooting a glance at Austin, who gave him an encouraging nod. “He’s made some mistakes in the past, but I’m willing to forgive them, because I want to know him. I want him in my life, and since pretty much everyone I care about is standing right here, I just thought I should tell you all.”
Once Tyler’s speech had ended there was clapping, and Tyler walked over to hug Damon. Truthfully, Damon had never been happier in his life than in that moment. It felt good to know that he was going to get a second chance, a chance to be a better person. He looked over to Emily, hoping she was as happy as he was, but instead there was a look of intense sadness on her face. She was looking past Damon and when he turned to see exactly what she was looking at, his stomach dropped.
“Liam,” Emily and Tyler said at the exact same time.
“Um, I just came to thank you all for coming,” her youngest son replied, looking at the ground instead of looking any of them in the face. He turned to go, and Tyler grabbed his arm.
“Did you hear everything I said?” he asked him quietly.
Tyler hung his head, “I’m sorry you had to find out like that, but why don’t you at least say something to the guy.”
Liam turned around and locked eyes with Damon, “What is there to say?”
“Liam, if I could just—“
“I really don’t want to hear it, whatever it is. I, uh, I feel really dumb right now actually. I had an entire conversation with my father yesterday and spouted all this crap about how I loved his music, and about how I looked up to him and he didn’t even bother to tell me that we were related, or that he was the asshole who left my mother before I was even born.”
“Liam, it was so long ago—,” Emily began.
“And that excuses what he did?”
“No, but there comes a time when you have to forgive.”
“Did you all know already? Tyler obviously did, but Dad?” Liam asked Austin.
“It wasn’t my place to say anything.”
“Maybe so, but it was yours,” Liam said to Emily, “And it was definitely yours,” he said to Damon. “I cannot believe you all knew. I mean, I know I’m the baby, and you’re all protective or whatever, but I deserved to know.”
“You did,” Damon told him. “And I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything yesterday. You have to know that I will always regret that, but I’m here now, and I’m telling you that I am your birth father Liam, and I want to know you. But, I have done some shitty things in my life, to you, to your mother, to a lot of the people I claimed to love, and should have done better by. So I’ll tell you the same thing I told Tyler, it’s up to you how much you want to see of me. And you can take all the time you want to decide—“
Damon was interrupted by the impact of Liam’s fist hitting his chin. The force of the punch knocked Damon to the side, and a dull pain began to spread through the entire left side of his face.
“Liam!” Emily screamed, and the room got very quiet for a few moments before people started going back to what they were doing.
Damon looked up at his son, the quiet one who couldn’t hurt a fly, and knew that this revelation had changed him. There was a fire in his eyes now, still quiet, but there, and Damon would forever blame himself for creating it.
“I want absolutely nothing to do with you, and honestly, I think you should go,” Liam hissed.
Damon, still holding his jaw, nodded and stood up straight.
“Emily, Tyler, everyone, I think I’m going to get out of here,” he said, and turned back to Liam, “I’m sorry I couldn’t stay and hear you play, but let me give you some quick advice. Keep playing, keep doing it for as long as you love it, but the minute it gets in the way of you being a good person, or being faithful to the people around you, quit. Being on the road and playing every night is great, making money while making music can make you feel like you have it all worked out. But it’s not worth anything if you don’t have people to share it with. That’s the one thing I’ve learned from living the life I’ve lived, and if I didn’t I tell you that now, I know I’d regret it.”
Liam stared at him blankly, and Damon took his leave. As he was about to walk out the door and into the balmy summer night, he heard someone call his name. He turned around and to his surprise Lauren was walking toward him, well, waddling toward him, her oversize belly making it difficult to go very fast.
“Damon, hey, sorry it’s getting a little hard to move with this thing here,” she laughed. “I just wanted to say that I thought what you said to Liam was really great, and honestly, knowing that kid I think he’ll come around. You just need to give him time to process what’s happening.”
“Yeah, tell that to my jaw,” Damon replied.
“Oh, man up. You’ll be okay. What I wanted to tell you is I know you’re staying at Kaylie’s right now, and she called me earlier from the hospital and asked me to bring her a few things, so I know she’s not staying there anymore. If you would rather, Brian and I have a couple open guest rooms, and I’m not sure how long you’re planning to stay in Boulder, but you’re welcome to stay with us for as long as you like.”
“Uh, wow Lauren, it’s really nice of you guys to offer. There’s two other guys staying at Kaylie’s with me, and I’m not sure what they’re plan is, but I’ll let you know when I find out.”
“Okay. Tyler is at our house a lot too, so it might also give you an opportunity to see him as well.”
“I’m not sure Tyler wants anything to do with me anymore, but again, thank you for the offer. I’ll think about it.”
Lauren walked away, and Damon left the building. He pulled out his cell phone, hoping Razor wouldn’t be too wrapped up in spending time with Kyle to answer the phone.
“Hey man, what’s up?” Razor said.
“Do you and Kyle want to go get wasted or something?” Damon asked.
“What’s going on?”
“Long story, pick me up at the Pizza Shack and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Yeah, okay man, we’re on our way.”
Damon hung up the phone, thankful that Razor had come to Boulder with him. He needed someone to shoot the breeze with, to just be himself around and feel like he wasn’t being judged for it. Especially since he couldn’t get Liam’s face out of his head. The way he had looked at Damon, not just in anger, but in disappointment, and with such hurt in his eyes, was enough to make Damon want to crawl out of his own skin.
Razor pulled up in his shiny rental pick-up, and to Damon’s surprise the passenger seat was empty.
“Where’s Kyle?” Damon asked as he climbed into the truck.
“At the hospital, visiting Kaylie.”
“He’s just… saying goodbye.”
“Where is he going?”
“We’re both going back to Nashville tomorrow, man. I was actually hoping you would come home with us.”
Damon wasn’t sure what to say. He knew that his sons didn’t want him here, and Emily would probably breathe a sigh of relief if he left, but there was a part of him that didn’t want to run for once in his life.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen Ray. I have unfinished business here, and honestly I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else I’ve ever been.”
“So what about us, the duo?”
Damon shrugged, “It kind of seems like I’m holding you back anyway, doesn’t it?”
“No, for real Razor, before this you were begging me to do that spot in Rolling Stone, and I wasn’t having it.”
“Because of Kaylie.”
“That’s what I thought back then, but honestly it’s been me this whole time. I don’t want it anymore Ray, the fame, the notoriety… I love playing music, but the career hasn’t exactly been good to me. It drove Emily and I apart, prevented me from knowing my children, alienated Kaylie and made her sick again, and has basically had me running from anything that might be good for me.”
“So what are you going to do instead?”
“I don’t know. Music is really the only thing I’m good at… But, I have time to figure that out. There’s quite a bit of profit from the Brainwashed by Boulder years still left over. I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, so maybe I’ll use it to jumpstart my new career, once I figure out exactly what that career is.”
“So this is it then?” Razor asked, a twinge of sadness in his voice.
“Ah, we had a good run, don’t get like that.”
“I’m just going to miss you being around, not even for the music part, though that’s going to be hard to get past too. We’ve been through a lot, getting you back out there playing again after Kaylie, the whole monstrosity that was my relationship with Johnny, and without you I never would have met Kyle… We make quite a team.”
“We always have, since the days of the Shelter Pups. But, I’m not dying. I’ll only be a phone call away, dude. And I better get an invite to whatever fah-bulous wedding Kyle is going to throw for the two of you.”
“Whoa, lets’ not get ahead of ourselves here.”
“Oh please. I know you Razor, you’re head over heels for the kid, and I’m happy for you.”
“You’re going to find that too,
Damon, with Kaylie or someone else.”
“Yeah okay, but I think I need to focus on me for a while, just like she is. We’ve both become this kind of tortured, tangled mess with one another. It might be healthy to take some conscious time apart,” Damon said thinking of what Emily had told him earlier.
“So, do you still want to go out, take one last howl at the moon together for a while?” Razor asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah, sure. But could you take me to Kaylie’s first? I want to get my stuff out of the house before you guys leave tomorrow.”
“Yeah sure,” Razor replied putting his truck into gear, “But, where’re you going to stay?”
“You’ll never believe me if I tell you.”
Emily turned over in bed so she could see Austin. To her surprise he was still asleep. Usually he was awake long before her, but stayed in bed so the movement of him getting up wouldn’t wake her. Gymnasts were used to rising early every day, and the weekend was no exception. Their biological clock simply wouldn’t allow them to sleep in, especially after years of early work outs. But, Emily and Austin had had a very long week.
Liam had been giving both of them the cold shoulder every day since he had found out about Damon. Emily had tried everything she could think of to get Liam to talk to them. She had given him space, screamed at him, cried, apologized profusely, and even offered to buy him a guitar he had been eyeing up if he would just sit down and talk to her for five minutes. Nothing had worked. Thankfully Damon had been smart and stayed away, though that might be the next step in getting Liam to be semi-responsive. Emily would take him yelling at her over this unending silence any day.
The only person Liam had been speaking to since the incident at his show last week was his girlfriend, Ayla Russo. When Emily had asked her what was going through Liam’s head, Ayla had seemed uncomfortable answering, and instead told Emily that she should just give him some space. But, it was hard to give someone space when you loved them so much.
“Hey,” Austin mumbled, waking and meeting her eyes. “Were you watching me sleep?”
“Just marveling at the fact that you aren’t awake yet.”
“That kid is wearing me out, Ems.”
“Maybe trying for another one isn’t such a good idea, at least not right now. This much stress isn’t really a good environment to go through a pregnancy in.”
Emily’s stomach dropped. She still hadn’t told Austin about the pregnancy, even though she was far enough along that there was no longer a high risk of losing the baby. She wasn’t sure why she had kept it to herself for so long. Maybe she was afraid of abandonment, of what happened the last time she had told someone she was pregnant. But now that Austin was having second thoughts, she couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“What?” Austin asked.
“It’s kind of too late to stop trying.”
“Because I’m pregnant already.”
Austin sat silent for a moment, looking stunned, like he wasn’t sure he had heard her correctly. Then without hesitation he took Emily’s face in his hands and pulled her into him, kissing her with more passion than he had ever exhibited before.
He broke the kiss abruptly, grinning from ear to ear, “How far along are you? How long have you known?”
“I’ve known for about a week,” Emily confessed. “And I’m about three months along. I’ve never had very normal periods, so when I missed one or two I didn’t notice, but then the puking started, so I took a test and it came back positive.”
“You’ve been puking?”
“Very secretively. It’s been rough for everyone since Damon came back and I didn’t want to rain my happiness down when Liam has been going through such a hard time.”
“Does anyone else know?”
She nodded, “I told the triplets, and Kaylie.”
“I was just trying to prove to her that she didn’t ruin my life. I still have plenty to be thankful for, and I wanted her to make sure she understood that.”
A smile spread across Austin’s face, “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
He kissed her again, more gently this time.
He looked at her for a few seconds after pulling away, then he asked, “So when are we due?”
“January 14th, according to the doctor.”
“God, that’s so soon.”
“When can we find out the gender?”
“Usually around sixteen weeks, but I don’t think I want to.”
Austin sighed, “Fine, she’ll be a surprise then.”
“You think it’s going to be a girl?”
“Well you’ve already had two boys, I think it’s about time you had a little girl, don’t you?”
“You can’t use probability to determine the gender of a baby. It doesn’t work that way.”
Emily laughed, and then realized that was the first time in a while that she had been truly happy.
“Austin, we have to do something about Liam. Keeping all these emotions pent up… He isn’t writing music, and I don’t think he’s actually talking to Ayla about Damon, she’s just the only one he can bear to see because he knows that she’s the only one who didn’t know anything about his parentage before he did. He’s going to implode if he doesn’t talk to someone.”
“Do you think we should call Damon?”
“I think it’s the only thing we haven’t tried. I know Ty has seen him over at Lauren’s a few times, and he thinks they need to talk as well. I’m just… I’m at my wits end, and I can’t lose him to this, Austin.”
“I know. Give Damon a call.”
Emily called Damon later that morning and invited him over for dinner. It would just be Liam, Tyler, and Emily eating at home. Austin offered to take the triplets out for dinner and a movie so that Liam wouldn’t feel too overwhelmed by everyone in the room and get scared off. Emily felt like most of what had happened was her and Damon’s fault in the first place, and she wanted to take responsibility for that. She only hoped that Liam would actually listen to them.
“Do you really think this is what he needs, Ems? Don’t you think he’s overwhelmed enough already?” Damon asked when Emily told him the plan.
“He won’t listen to any of us, Damon, not even Tyler, and Ty can always get through to him. Honestly, I think this is a wound that can only be healed by the two of us, together.”
Damon was silent for a moment, “Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll be there at six.”
The rest of Emily’s Saturday was filled with nervousness, over-planning, and some not-so-discreet morning sickness. At one point she was sitting on the couch chewing her nails to bits, and Tyler came over and sat next to her. He didn’t say anything, just put a comforting arm around her, letting her know that he was there for her.
When six o’clock finally rolled around and Damon knocked on the door, Emily had worked herself into such a frenzy, she couldn’t wait for this dinner to just be over. She opened the door to see an equally as nervous Damon standing there. Emily studied him for moment. His short brown hair was hidden in a maroon beanie, and he was wearing a beat up leather jacket over a black V-neck and dark wash jeans, with a pair of motorcycle boots peeking out from under them. He had grown up, developed a sense of style that ranged beyond t-shirts and pooka-shell necklaces. Emily could remember him as that wannabe rocker. That memory reminded her so much of Liam it almost made her sick again, this time from nervousness.
“Hey, come in. Liam and Ty are upstairs, they’ll be down in a minute.”
“Okay, cool. Do you uh… Have some kind of game plan for how this is going to go down?”
“I was hoping you would. I’ve been agonizing over it all day.”
“I guess the best thing to do would be to tell him about why I left initially. I think he mostly feels betrayed, by you for not telling him about me, but by me for not even bothering to know him for the first seventeen years of his life.”
Emily nodded, starting to relax. She was glad Damon was taking this as seriously as she was. He had obviously given their situation a lot of thought.
“I think that’s as good of a place to start as any.”
She heard the footfalls of Tyler and Liam before Damon did. He looked completely taken aback by the sight of the twins when they entered the room, but he covered it up quickly.
“Hey Mom, Damon,” Tyler said in greeting.
“Hey man,” Damon replied.
“What’s going on?” Liam asked quietly, not making eye contact with anyone in the room. “What is he doing here?”
“I invited him,” Emily replied. “You kind of left me no choice.”
Liam shook his head and grabbed his guitar from next to the couch, “I’m leaving.”
Emily shot Damon a look that said, talk to him!
“Liam,” Damon said, taking a step toward his son, “Please wait. I would really appreciate a chance to explain myself, not only for my actions the other day, but for my actions on the day you were born. You deserve answers, and your mother deserves a little peace of mind.”
“Stop pretending like you care about her, or any of us.”
“But I do, Liam. That’s what I need to explain to you. The day I left your mother I wasn’t in a good place, we weren’t in a good place. Am I right Ems?”
Emily nodded, “Will you two sit down, please?”
Tyler and Liam sat down on the couch, and Emily pulled her knees into her chest as she sat down next to them. Damon took a seat in a nearby arm chair and tried to make himself comfortable, though the situation wouldn’t really let him.
“Do you want me to start?” Emily asked Damon.
“I will,” he replied. “Guys when I first met your mother neither of us were really available. She was dating my best friend, and training for the Olympics. I was emotionally numb and nowhere near ready for a relationship, but I fell for her anyway. The time we were together was great, and I loved her very much, part of me always will, but there were so many obstacles in our way.”
“At that time there was a no dating rule at the Rock, for starters,” Emily continued, “And you also weren’t allowed to have a job. I broke both of those rules, and when it was found out that I was working at the Pizza Shack, I was almost kicked out of gymnastics. When I found out I was pregnant, Damon and I weren’t even together, and even more than that, he had fallen in love with someone else. I pressured him into coming with me to Las Vegas, I don’t think he ever wanted to—“
“Well, that isn’t entirely true,” Damon interrupted. “I wanted to be there for you, and for our kid. I loved you. But I was naïve in thinking that having a baby could fix us, and I think you were too. When I realized that a child wasn’t going to get us back to where we started, or make our relationship any easier, I got scared and I bolted. I didn’t go looking for Kaylie afterward, in reality it had nothing to do with her, and more to do with me just being too young, too wild, and too stupid.”
Emily nodded, understanding where he was coming from, “We were becoming different people, that didn’t fit together anymore. Honestly if he had stayed I don’t think your lives would have turned out half as good as they have. The two of us together… at the time it was a toxic combination. Neither of us were out in the world fulfilling our dreams, and I think there was also a lot of blame there. We were young, we had just had our entire lives completely changed in a flash, and there was a lot of animosity between us for that.”
“So what you’re saying,” Tyler asked, “Is that you, Damon, don’t regret leaving, and you, Mom, aren’t mad at him for it?”
“I regret cutting myself off from you boys every day, but do I regret separating from your mother? No, I don’t. We have both found better, healthier relationships, well, she has anyway. I am apparently very attracted to complicated women.”
“Join the club,” Tyler mumbled.
Emily snorted and then proceeded to answer Tyler’s question, “And no, I’m not mad at him anymore. It isn’t like I’ve had a very bad life so far. Sure, it was hard starting out, but once I found a job that I loved, I got us on our feet, re-met and married the love of my life, got to redeem myself here in Boulder, and on top of all that… I’m having another baby.”
“What?” Liam asked, half smiling.
“Congratulations Mom,” Tyler said, giving her a hug.
“Congrats Ems,” Damon said, and she could tell he was genuinely happy for her.
“My life, our life is not so bad,” she said, grabbing Liam’s hand. “In fact it’s pretty damn great. You’re an amazing talent, your brother is Olympic bound, we have a roof over our head, and food in the oven. Damon leaving us did not render us helpless, and him coming back to Boulder will not do that either.”
Liam was quiet for a minute, “You said that you regret leaving us, me and Ty?”
“I absolutely do. I’ve thought about you a lot, well, the idea of you anyway. When I found out there was two of you, two children that I just up and left behind, I felt even worse about it. I want to know you guys more than I’ve wanted anything in a long time, and I’ve wanted some things pretty badly in my life.”
“Do you trust him?” Liam asked Tyler.
“I don’t know… I mean I’ve only known him for a little while, but he’s cool. He actually reminds me a lot of you sometimes, the way he talks about his career, the music. I trust that he’s being honest right now, that he wants to know us.”
“And you think I should give him a chance?”
“Yeah, I do.”
Liam nodded, and he didn’t say anything for a while. He put his head in his hands like he was thinking very hard about what to do next, but then Emily realized he wasn’t thinking he was crying.
“Oh honey,” she said, getting up from the couch and kneeling down in front of him.
“Why didn’t you tell me the other day, then?” Liam blubbered, addressing Damon. “When we were talking in the park you had every opportunity. If you want to know me so bad, why didn’t you say something? I even talked to you about Mom, about Ty, about how I thought my mom compared me to my father. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Damon seemed lost for words in that moment.
“I think,” Emily attempted to answer, “He was worried about what I wanted. He wasn’t sure if I wanted him in your lives. That night you found out, was the first night I told him that that choice wasn’t really up to me.”
“But Ty knew.”
“Which is also my fault. I got emotional when I first found out Damon was back in Boulder, and I told your brother. Damon didn’t even know about it.”
Liam wiped his nose on the sleeve of his flannel shirt, and Emily had half a mind to scold him for it, but she held back.
“I just hate being the last one to know. It makes me feel like it wasn’t important to tell me or something. Like everyone else is older or wiser or better than me. You guys are always treating me like the little one, and it gets annoying after a while.”
“I’m sorry if I made you feel that way,” Damon replied. “I’m really happy that you know. There is a lot of things I want to talk to you about. Honestly when we met in the park, I heard you and Ayla playing, and I wanted to turn around and tell you then and there. You are so talented, and your voices sounded so great together it got me excited about music again, excited to share it with you, but like Emily said, I wasn’t sure that was my place.”
Liam nodded, “But you wanted to tell me?”
“Definitely,” Damon replied.
After a long sigh Liam finally looked his biological father in the eye, “Just tell me you love me, and I think I can figure out how to make this work.”
Damon looked taken aback. Emily knew he had never been big on “I love yous”, but he did his best in that moment to appease his son, and to start building a real relationship with him.
“Of course I love you Liam,” he said. “I love you and your brother very much.”
“Okay then, I only have one more question.”
“What is it?” Damon asked, obviously made nervous by the serious tone of Liam’s voice.
Liam cracked a grin, “What do you think of the Foo Fighters?”
Damon laughed, “They’re legendary man. Dave Grohl is like, one of my ultimate heroes, and I’m not even a drummer.”
“I don’t think you need to be a drummer to appreciate his genius though—“
Emily tuned them out and went to the kitchen to take dinner out of the oven. Tyler followed her.
“Why don’t you go in and talk with them?” she asked him.
“Do you think I could get a word in edgewise?”
Emily laughed, “Probably not.”
“So you’re really having another baby?”
“I really am.”
“I can’t believe it. We’re going to be so much older than it is.”
“That just means you can help me more, when you aren’t practicing to be ‘King of the Rings’ or whatever it is they’re calling you these days.”
“That’s me, the King of the Rings and my girl Chantal is the Queen of the Beam, she can’t get enough of it. I actually think it’s one of the main reasons she’s dating me,” Tyler joked.
“It could’ve been like this,” Emily thought out loud. “The four of us all together.”
“No it couldn’t have. You just got done telling us it couldn’t have, so don’t do that to yourself.”
“You’re right. I know you are, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.”
“Well stop anyway. Like you said, some not so great things happened when he left, but a lot of great ones did too. Just leave it at that.”
“You’re so smart,” Emily teased. “Who taught you to be so smart?”
“Hmmmm,” Tyler mused, pulling his mother in for a hug, “I think it was my Mom.”
“Okay, what do you want?” Emily asked, accepting his embrace.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I think we’re all good now, right where we are.”
Emily nodded into Tyler’s chest, “Or at least we’re getting there.”