The woman on the home improvement show I was watching looked as much of a carpenter as I looked a brain surgeon. She had bleach blonde hair and manicured nails in bright red as well as three-hundred-dollar high heel shoes she used to grout tile in. Seriously? Who would believe she did anything but look pretty and boss around the guys doing her bidding?
The house she worked on started out a dump but looked like a mansion after she gutted it and transformed it into a multimillion-dollar home. I saw this same episode this morning, and even though I knew the outcome, I was too lazy to change the channel. The shows all blended together anyway. The outcomes were the same as everything went from dirty and dingy to magnificent, all in a period of thirty minutes. A couple of commercials and some staging and it looked shiny and spectacular once again.
I would change the channel, but I didn’t want to watch anything else. The other channels consisted of tear-jerking love stories or immature comedies that glorified the obscene. Neither one appealed to me in my current state.
Okay, so I knew I was depressed. Who wouldn’t know it? The sun didn’t look as bright. Sounds were duller. Food had lost its taste, and my mind didn’t have to think as I wasted my days on boring home improvement shows.
I became indifferent to it. Comparing it to the physical pain of my hip and ribs, I would rather hurt. At least the pain alerted me to the fact I was alive. It made me feel something. I missed it, really. Now that the pain left, a numbness had taken over. Not too many people would understand how I didn’t want to change, comfortable in my loneliness. I welcomed the numbness now as it accompanied me like an old friend. That was the difference between me and the clinically depressed. I knew I was depressed, and I was all right with it. And I didn’t want to do anything about it. I wanted to wallow in self-pity and fade into the background. I was okay with it. Really, I was.
I couldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours at a time and gave up trying to remember the time of day. What did it matter? Day or night, time passed the same way.
My family called. They call all the flipping time. I hated it when they did. You could hear the concern in their voices even from miles away. I hated to have them worry, so I lied to them, even going as far as not to answer the phone giving them the impression I had kept busy with better things to do.
When home, Brandt would hand the phone to me, and then I had to lie. I told them I was doing better, using phrases as ‘getting by’ and ‘things were looking up.’ I told them whatever it took to let them sleep better at night, making them believe I wouldn’t become a basket case. Brandt even started lying as well.
The pain I put Brandt through weighed on my subconscious. He knew exactly what I had done. He heard it during the police statement I gave, and now he had a hard time looking at me. I should have left and moved back to Wisconsin when my parents suggested it after the funeral weeks ago, but something told me to stay. Something that wanted things to work out, but I thought we had both given up.
He didn’t look at me much anymore and as painful as it was, it was also a relief. He used to talk to me and caress my hair. With every touch, it felt like fire on my skin. I hurt him so badly that when he treated me with so much tenderness, I couldn’t stand it. Why didn’t he yell at me and tell me to leave? Kick me out and make me feel like shit? Lord knew I deserved it. What I didn’t deserve was his forgiveness, although I craved it. How could he forgive me when I couldn’t forgive myself?
That night still haunted my dreams. If I could, I would do it all over again. I wouldn’t get into Dan’s jeep. I would fight him here, and if I couldn’t win, then I would have just let him have his way with me. It was just sex. I could numb my way through it. I was so selfish before, not focusing on the bigger picture. Him fucking me would have saved my child.
It was just sex.
Brandt taught me about true love and the physical aspects of it. He made me feel like the only woman in the world. When he was laying with me in bed he showed me tenderness and pleasure beyond anything Dan was capable of. No matter what we were doing, ‘play,’ ‘punish,’ sex, the love we had shone through. No longer did I think of myself as frigid, and I knew I could have done what I needed to save my child, Brandt’s child.
We didn’t sleep together anymore. In the physical or literal sense. I didn’t trust myself. I almost killed him the first night back together, and now I had been too scared to close my eyes around him, thinking I would wake up in some possessed state out of my mind and a danger to him. Even knowing that it was the medication did not make it any better. What a great girlfriend I turned out to be. Killed his child and almost killed him all in one week’s time.
His career took a hit all because of me too. Exactly what I said I would never do. The tour ended abruptly. The guys must have been mad at me. This summer’s tour was important to them developing their following, and I got in the way. I wished I could tell him to get back out on the road but in a way, it scared me. All alone in Brandt’s house. I couldn’t let him know that. He had too much to bear right now, just having me here.
The security system he installed weeks ago gave me some peace of mind at least. When he left, he always made sure to activate it and showed me how it worked. Not like I would be turning it off, but I needed to know what to do if it alarmed. The code he used was the day we met over one year ago: 0604. If the security firm should call after the alarm sounded, then I would tell them another number, and they would send someone to the house. It helped me feel safe now that he had started work on the new album and his days were spent in the studio.
We hardly saw each other anymore. Since the tour was cut short because of me, they started work on the new album. He went in early in the morning and stayed to work late almost every evening. Even when he did come home, he hid away in his home studio or exercised until he passed out, exhausted.
He worried about me constantly, making sure I ate or drank much like my mom did after the funeral. It got to the point I had to fake it. Just like my mom, he didn’t understand my loss of appetite and I didn’t want him to worry about me anymore.
The doorbell rang and pulled me out of my thoughts. Brandt being upstairs, I didn’t think he could hear the bell. The studio was soundproofed as was the equally soundproofed workout room. He must have been in neither as he heard the door and made his way to the front stairs. Normally I couldn’t care less who came to the house, but curiosity got the better of me today, and I went into the hall to see who dared to interrupt my silence.
An older guy talked to Brandt from just outside the doorway. He had dark hair, but the temples were peppered with gray. He looked distinguished in his expensive suit and tie, standing just under Brandt’s height, and he gave off an air of arrogance. His suit was dark and in the retreating California sun, it should have been stifling, but he acted as though it didn’t affect him. The face was someone familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Shaking Brandt’s hand, I watched him from the shadows of the hall, trying to remember where I knew him from.
“Brandt, how are the vocal cords?” He said it tight-lipped, not really believing it himself.
“Ahh, Mr. Wolfe. Come in. My vocal cords? They are fine.” Wolfe? He was the PR guy that had contracted with Brandt to keep him in the limelight as well as me in the background. At least that was the plan before all of this happened.
“Wrong answer. Remember your vocal cords are bad. Rough. Dangerous to you even with the polyps the doctors found on them. At least that is the rumor we planted. I need you to start to discuss this with the people you meet.”
He frowned at Brandt before going on, “And don’t forget about Ryder. His arm is still healing from the fall he took running through the mountains.”
That was his ruse? The reason the tour ended as it did? At least what they were letting the media know. Brandt understood his meaning, “Ryder has never run more than twenty feet in his life. Shouldn’t you make the lie at least a little more believable?”
“What should I say? He fractured it while visiting the local brothel for Christ’s sake. It is more believable than most of the shit you guys pull. It lends to the belief that the rest of the tour is cursed and that you all decided to work on the new album instead.”
Brandt shook his head, and I felt bad lurking in the background listening. “What do the guys think of that?” Mr. Wolfe rocked on his feet with his hands in his pocket. He looked as though he even enjoyed his own tales.
“JJ will deal with it, and it is easier for Quade to agree with it instead of having pictures of his wife and son in the media.” I gasped, alerting them to my hiding spot.
Brandt and Mr. Wolfe both turned to see me in the hallway but I couldn’t get over the fact Quade and Mackenzie had a son and Brandt never told me. With me losing my child, I bet he thought it would crush me. Well, it did hurt at least a little. Even Brandt saw me as some fragile fruitcake, unable to handle life. Did he think it would send me over the edge?
Brandt had a look of concern on his face, but Mr. Wolfe glanced at me with keen interest. “Chelsea Moltke, I presume?” Keeping quiet, I studied his face. He had steady eyes and a fake smile on his face from years of reading people. With him being touted as the best in the business, I knew it was this perception that made him a desired commodity. He didn’t really see me though. I was not a person to him but a conundrum he needed to figure out, cash in on, earn his keep, and promote his status as the best in public relations.
“Chelsea, are you okay?” I turned to Brandt and nodded. Swallowing the dry air of disappointment, I fought back the tears, thinking only of saving face.
“The... there is a gift for Quade and Mac in the closet. You should take it to them.” I bought the gift months ago. Some clothes for the baby were small and would quickly be outgrown if he didn’t get it to them soon. I wouldn’t be going knowing Brandt was right. I was too unstable and only hoped Quade understood.
“Uh, okay. I will bring it to him at the studio tomorrow.” We exchanged a look of pain before he turned back to Mr. Wolfe.
Mr. Wolfe saw it but acted indifferently. “Ms. Moltke, I wanted to talk with you. You see, there is more we need to discuss regarding the recent incident.”
Brandt swung his head around, circling on him, defensive. “What is it? You should have discussed it with me first.” Afraid of the tone of his voice, I went and stood by Brandt putting my hand on his arm. It had been the first time I had touched him willingly in a month, and even after all this, it still calmed him.
“We still need to discuss the issue with Congressman Winters.” Dan’s father was a congressman back in Wisconsin and just the name brought a feeling of nausea and anxiety.
Mr. Wolfe continued his rocking back and forth. A look of determination crossed over his exuberant face as he fumbled with an unknown object in his pocket. “You see, he received a citation after the night of...” His voice trailed off, not so much uncomfortable talking about our tragedy, but more about weighing his words carefully to manipulate our decision. Brandt and I never discussed what happened. It was an anchor, choking us with agony every time it was thrown in our face and the ever perceptive Mr. Wolfe caught on fast.
“The issue with his son. He lied and said that he didn’t know his whereabouts although he had been in recent contact with him and knew of his return to states. That makes him an accessory of sorts.” He was charged with lying? He tried to cover up for his son? It wasn’t a surprise. He had been defending Dan ever since high school.
“So. What does that have to do with us?” Brandt sounded cautious.
Mr. Wolfe stopped rocking and turned his attention to Brandt. “Well, if you push the issue, it could end up looking bad for him. That would very well affect his next election with the voters back in his home state.”
Brandt’s face turned red with anger. “So what. He lied. It cost us time, and he deserves worse than losing his voters.” Brandt’s face shown with hate and vengeance that was difficult to contain but I feared he had missed the bigger picture. The idea that Mr. Wolfe was trying to convey.
“Brandt, if he is charged with this he will need to go to court.” It didn’t sink in for Brandt, but it did for me. Mr. Wolfe was in charge of keeping bad PR for Brandt out of the media. If Congressman Winters went to court, Brandt and I would need to go to testify. It might have a negative effect on the band.
Addressing Mr. Wolfe, I blurted out, “I won’t press charges.”
Brandt’s stunned eyes searched my face, almost thinking I’d made a joke. “The fuck we are not. We are going to see him get what he deserves. He should be in prison or at the very least, lose his precious seat in Congress.”
I shook my head as Mr. Wolfe chimed in. “I think it would be wise of you not to press charges.”
“Are you listening to me? I will not let him get away with his shit. I’ll press charges then. Bring him to civil court. Make sure everyone knows of the hell he put us through. I don’t care what negative publicity this causes. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this!” Mr. Wolfe had ignored him entirely, now concentrating on me for my answer. Brandt could feel the hold he had on me and didn’t like it.
“Chelsea, listen, I don’t care what type of publicity we get. This needs to be done. He deserves what he gets. You can’t shield us from this.” He thought I was doing this for him but in all reality, it would benefit both of us. I didn’t want his career to suffer any more than it had, but he didn’t seem to understand how this would hurt me either.
Thinking of the torment we went through at the police precinct, I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice, “I can’t go to court.” The hitch in my voice caused the anger to drain from Brandt when he heard it. “If I pressed charges, I would need to go to court, right?”
Mr. Wolfe nodded his agreement and Brandt finally understood my hesitation. “There is no way to predict whether you would need to testify but your dirty laundry would be out for public scrutiny.”
Brandt took a step back as if he were punched in the chest. “But he shouldn’t be getting away with this. He shouldn’t.”
Lowering my head, I said quietly, “He isn’t.”
The intense look Brandt threw my way burrowed into me as I tried to explain. “He lost his son too. He has to deal with that.”
Brandt sucked in a breath, astonished by my statement. I was a little shocked too, but no matter what I thought of Congressman Winters, in the end, he was just a father trying to do the best for his son. A son that ended up to be a disappointment, but a son nevertheless. Would I have done the same if I were in his shoes? He tried to help him but ended up making a big mistake and the deed was done.
“No matter what happens, his son is dead, and he has to live with it.” Brandt saw my surrender as sympathy, but it wasn’t. We weren’t so different, me and Mr. Winters. We both lost a child. To punish a parent for a child’s death would be hypocritical of me. Besides, it wouldn’t bring back my Holly.
Mr. Wolfe nodded his agreement. “Good. I am glad we have it settled. It will be easier for everyone in the long run.”
Brandt shook his head and threw his arms up in defeat not happy with my decision, but I knew he wouldn’t go against it. Mr. Wolfe must have known this about him too as he turned to show himself out.
“Brandt, let me know if anything else comes up.” He opened the door, and an officer stood outside about to knock. Surprised, I looked again as Tony’s large frame flanked the doorway. In that instance, I could see him again. Dan lying on top of me with only half a head, blood seeping into the ground around me, and I started to shiver.
“Excuse me, officer.” Mr. Wolfe sidestepped him, not at all interested in small talk now that the matter he needed addressing was over. Tony had a look of intrigue on his face, but at the moment, I couldn’t stomach any more excitement for the day. My quota was met for the week almost, and I needed to go lie down.
Turning away, I headed for the family room and the comfort of my couch. The blanket that came over me was a shroud, shielding me from the ugliness of the world. My home improvement shows were my way of making the once ugly and neglected environment a better place, if only for a half-hour at a time.
Once securely under my blanket on the couch, I let my thoughts drift to Quade and Mac. They had a newborn now, a little boy, and I wanted to be happy for them. I didn’t want to be jealous of their happiness, hating that I was. They had what I wanted since I was a little girl. I hated it even more that Brandt decided not to tell me too, thinking poor little Chelsea couldn’t handle the news.
Was I too vulnerable? Was I going to break when they told me? Probably. I laid down on the couch and waited for yet another straw. The one that would break the camel’s back, push me past my limit, and send me into a hole too deep to crawl out of.
Tony stood by the door staring at me, but my mind went back to the look on Chelsea’s face when she learned about the birth of Quade’s son almost a week ago now. I should have told her sooner. Jaeger Robert Sandusky came into the world past his due date. I went to see them in the hospital, but I hadn’t gotten around to telling Chelsea for fear of hurting her even more. It wasn’t right to have her find out about it from Gus but I just didn’t know how to tell her.
I didn’t even want to go, but I did it for Quade. He came to the funeral, and I wanted to congratulate him, and when they offered for me to hold their son, I declined, and they didn’t push it. What I saw of him made me think he was such a tiny baby but according to Quade, he was average size. I didn’t see much of Quade in him, but in all honesty, I didn’t see Mac in him either. He looked like a baby. It made me wonder what Holly would have looked like.
Avoiding telling Chelsea for this long made things worse. Things between us were already estranged. Time healed, except in our circumstances, time seemed to be slowly killing us.
Chelsea didn’t sleep with me anymore. She barely looked at me, instead preferring to watch those stupid home improvement shows. She didn’t even clean anymore, not that I was expecting her to, but it was one of her quirks. Her energy for anything besides the television; reading a book, walking on the beach, hell, even eating for Christ’s sake, had been depleted. All I could hope for was the occasional shower.
Chelsea always seemed to fall asleep on the couch or did she do it on purpose? She hadn’t joined me in bed since the night of the storm. Our lack of communication and intimacy upset me. She threw out her pain medication, and I guessed it was for the better. The pills caused her to lose touch with reality and made her look so scared and frightened that night, hovering in the corner, shaking and out of it.
She didn’t sleep well, but then again, neither did I. I kept having the same dream. The situation changed but they always ended the same way. Dan was there asking me if I liked to hit Chelsea. I had that dream at least once a week, and if my dreams haunted me while I slept, I could just imagine what Chelsea was going through.
I should have taken her to the psychiatrist that Dr. Hunt recommended but I had been too proud. What good would it do us to keep bringing up the kidnapping? I wanted to forget about it. Forget it ever happened. Move on with our lives except things weren’t moving. It stayed painfully still, causing a deeper spiral out of control. One that I had come to accept, but was there still time to do something about it?
We relived the same mundane day over and over. I left for the studio, concentrating all my efforts on the new album while she watched TV from the couch. Our band had only a handful of songs written, so we started with them and although JJ added some songs, we still needed brainstorming sessions to round out the album. It felt like we were forcing it. With Quade being a new father and Ryder working on the opening of his new nightclub, we were having a hard time concentrating on our views for this album. What we had together so far, albeit dark, would work well in today’s market.
The only thing that made the album suffer lately was me. My somber mood brought the feel of the album down. My mind craved the diversion and I dove into this album headfirst and devoted all my time to it. Really, it used it as my escape, but it consumed me. It helped me to ignore my home life, and while it accomplished that, I found myself not dealing with my demons, which were eating me up inside.
I felt powerless. Chelsea didn’t want me. She didn’t talk to me. We did nothing together as a couple. She didn’t want to leave the house, even going so far as to avoid stepping on our deck to watch the ocean tide roll in like we used to. No matter what, I wouldn’t push her. I would never push her again. I wanted to be there for her, but I just didn’t know how.
The calls were not as constant anymore. For a while, it appeared every family member called her every night. If she would even pick up the phone, there would be one-word answers until the end, when she lied and said she was doing better. They didn’t believe her and would end up calling me. Everyone except Ed. He didn’t call me. He was probably still in Wisconsin, waiting for her to leave me and come back home.
I kept my words brief to the rest of the family not wanting them to know the extent of the suffering we were going through. I didn’t want Ed to be right and take her away from me. Not that my ego would be crushed but her leaving would break my heart.
I missed her. Missed talking to her. I missed her smile and her fragrance. Holding her in my arms, and I even missed all her quirks. There was so much pain knowing that I caused her suffering. She had been so full of life and energy, and now she was tired all the time.
Chelsea saw it as well. She wouldn’t come out and say it, but with her not speaking to me, she must have known I caused her to be kidnapped and our child’s life to end. She heard Dan tell her straight out he found her because of me. Because I was stupid enough to throw her into the spotlight. I led him right to her, and he didn’t even need a trail of breadcrumbs.
Why didn’t I insist she go on tour with me? I could have made her. At least when we found out about the pregnancy. I could have kept her safe with me, but the real point to all of this was the fact I wasn’t good for her.
She placed Holly’s urn on the fireplace mantle straight in front of her in the family room. She stared at it all the time, thinking about her loss. Her dream of becoming a mother was shattered by me. What could possibly be keeping her here?
Even in the middle of summer, in heat drenched California with the air conditioner on low, she stayed curled up under a blanket on the couch. She wore the same sweats over and over, barely getting up to take the occasional shower, and she used to be such a clean freak. It worried me that I might never get her back.
I tried to comfort her after her family finally returned to Wisconsin. Each time I went to touch her, she flinched, stiffened right up, and it hurt to see her do it. She didn’t want me to touch her, and I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, so I gave up. If we ever got back to what we had before, I knew I would never let her go. I wanted to beg her to give me another chance, but really, I didn’t deserve it. How many chances could she give me? Each time she heard the same promises, and each time I disappointed.
So instead of doing something, I did nothing. Hiding away in my studio at home or working out to relieve the tension. I pushed myself in the gym as a form of punishment. Physically draining myself, I thought it might help me sleep, but it didn’t. Not really, not since the bed seemed so lonely.
Did she not feel safe anymore? I got the best alarm system I could, hoping that even without me here, she would never go one minute without feeling secure. Maybe she felt safer without me here? Somewhere away from her, where I couldn’t hurt her.
Tony stared at me while I gathered my thoughts. Shaking my head, I stepped back and invited him in, barely able to give a smile. “Tony, come in.”
Chelsea left to go back to her position on the couch when she saw Tony in the doorway. She remembered him, but it must’ve brought back hard memories. When she turned and walked away, I let her. Stuck between wanting to comfort her and wanting to talk to Tony, I figured she wouldn’t let me comfort her anyway.
I gave him a halfhearted smile, glad to see him regardless of my plight. “Is this a bad time?”
“No, please come in.”
“I was on my way in to work my shift tonight, and I wanted to stop in and see how things were going.” His thoughtfulness moved me. So moved, in fact, I didn’t feel like lying to him.
“It is hard, you know. I thought once this was behind us we could move on. It’s not as easy as I thought.” He looked down the hall to where Chelsea fled.
“Does it have something to do with that guy that just left?” He noticed the tension with Gus leaving.
“That was Augustus Wolfe, the PR guy I pay to handle the band image and to keep information out of the press.”
“He must be doing his job. I only heard about your drummer breaking his arm and something about the tour being cursed.” I nodded, still deep in thought. He had a point. The tour was cursed as far as I was concerned, and I guessed it worked out better to keep those lies. Wolfe’s team kept Chelsea’s kidnapping out of the media. With her stage name being Elsie House, and the only name associated with me at this point, we used her real name of Chelsea Moltke, and since she wasn’t famous, she also wasn’t a high priority in the news. Her story thankfully became buried in the other news of the day.
“He talked Chelsea into dropping the charges against Dan’s big shot dad. He thinks it will be bad publicity for the band. Congressman Winter lied about his son. He made it harder for us to find Chelsea and it could have ended worse than it did. Now he is going to get away with it without so much as a slap on the wrist.” He could hear the distaste in my voice.
“What does Chelsea think about that?”
“Chelsea doesn’t want it to go to court. I am not sure if it is to stop any bad publicity for the band or the fact she would have to testify and relive all the shit she went through.” Sighing, I realized she was right. I couldn’t have her go through the pain of telling the story again. “He deserves worse, but Chelsea feels the Congressman suffered enough since he lost a child. Well, I lost a lot more. I lost a daughter and am losing my best friend at the moment. I don’t feel one iota of guilt. Let him rot in hell.”
Chelsea always looked out for my career, but she couldn’t possibly think I would choose the band over her. Either way, it felt as though we were giving up. Although I didn’t agree with her, I couldn’t insist we go after him without her consent.
“She shouldn’t be brought into this right now. Not with the shape she is in. We haven’t even talked about that night, and I don’t bring it up.” I slumped down in the chair next to the door, and he put a hand on my shoulder.
“Have you thought about talking to someone? A professional?” Again with the shrink? Did it bother me because I didn’t want someone poking around in our lives or was it the fact I wanted us to find our way back to each other by ourselves? That if we could do this together, it would prove that we belonged to one another. Or maybe I was just being a pompous ass.
“Yeah, her doctor gave us a name of someone to see, I just haven’t made the call.” He saw my hesitation.
“Listen man, I have seen a lot of shit. Yours was bad. Professionals can help.” He probably had seen a lot of shit. I guessed everyone just assumed that it was their job.
“Did you end up seeing someone?”
He looked at me trying to gauge my reaction. When he saw no judgment coming from me, he answered, “Department policy. You get paid leave and mandatory counseling. It helps.”
He explained how getting it off your chest had a way of helping people past it. And right now, it sounded beautiful.
“Look, I need to get going. I want to come back and see how you guys are doing.” Tony was a friend. I knew Chelsea would be impressed if she could pull herself off the couch and see the support she had in the people around her if she would just look.
“Yeah, thanks. I would like that.” We shook hands, and he left. As I closed the door, I thought at this time it couldn’t hurt to talk to someone. Hopefully, it wasn’t too late.