Driving for the past two hours, I kept the radio on in the background quietly so she could do even more research about the company before her interview this afternoon. I was proud of the way Rea put all her effort into educating herself about their products, both old and new. Keeping current with prototypes in production and even learning about the innovations that didn’t work and were shelved, at least what the public knew about. She looked at the social aspects of the company, their business model, and thought of some creative ideas of where the company was lacking and how she could fill the void. It was amazing to see what she was capable of when she went after something she wanted.
Picking her up at the hotel in Green Bay at eight in the morning afforded her a good night’s sleep away from cranky toddlers and an overbearing brother. Brandt and Chelsea were being looked after by the Moltke family. All five thousand of them. Chelsea had a large family and as the youngest of the siblings, had so much going on this past week I figured she wouldn’t even realize we were gone.
Driving the quickest route to Iowa City, my plan was to get her to the hotel by one in the afternoon, stopping only for a quick lunch. There she could get ready for the interview and I could still help to drive her to Sundown and make sure she got back to the hotel afterward. Brandt wanted me to get her acclimated to the surrounding area and look at possible apartments to rent in neighborhoods he researched ahead of time to find out the crime rate. The hotel was in a rich part of the city, but Brandt still wanted her protected. It afforded me time with my parents, a distance of only an hour away, while I returned the next day to look for housing and show her the sights. We were expected back in a couple of days’ time giving me plenty of much-needed family bonding with my mom and pops. Talking to them about my anticipated military career made me want to visit with them as much as possible before I was whisked away to basic training.
Rea looked up from her phone, rubbing the back of her neck, “Ugh, If I do any more research my eyes will cross.”
I laughed, “Would make you look a little funny.” It still wouldn’t affect her beauty though.
We grew quiet and I wanted to fill the void. “Do you think your brother is having a good time?”
My question gave her the most sweet-sounding laugh, “Actually, I think my brother is having a wonderful time. He complains about Chelsea’s family, but I know he secretly loves it there and in a couple of days, they have another doctor’s appointment now that she is past the first trimester. Brandt is making the doctor check three times at least to make sure there is only one kid in there this pregnancy.”
Unexpectedly I laughed and nodded, “Yeah after finding out the last time that they were having twins I can see why Brandt is so worried. I think he was even more protective of her when he found out.”
“Brandt is overprotective of her. Always has been.” She sighed wistfully, “He loves her so much, but it is strange seeing him as a father. I mean, he is a great dad, but I didn’t really think he even wanted children. None of us really talked about it much.”
“At least Chelsea is looking better.” Her color was back making her have that pregnancy glow I heard Brandt talking about with Rea.
“Oh yeah. She has her energy back. She is constantly cleaning the RV and it makes me feel like I am a slob.”
“The cleaning helps her to figure things out in her mind. At least it was what she told me when she cleaned the tour bus for the band years ago.”
“Well, she must have a lot to figure out because she is driving me nuts. It is better than her looking so sick and frail all the time though. And her appetite is back too. She is starting to eat everything in sight too. If she doesn’t slow down, she will more than gain all the weight she lost already in a short period of time.” And then she frowned, “Maybe there is more than one kid in her?”
“Bite your tongue. You know if another kid pops out, they will never let you go. You will be invaluable to them. Well... more than you already are.”
She smiled and her whole face lit up. “You really think so?”
“Yeah, you really have been a great help to them. Chelsea told Brandt straight out she could never have done it without you and will miss you when you leave. Added to that is the fact she would never even think of hiring a nanny, so you better run when you can as soon as the tour is over.”
She sighed, “Well if I get this job, I at least will have a sense of direction.”
I wanted to utter words of encouragement, but I knew she already had this job. What should I say to her? Break a leg? Knock them dead? It sounded so fake since she didn’t even need to try. Plus, I didn’t want to lie to her. Maybe the company wouldn’t tell her and be amazed by what she eventually brought to the table regardless of how she got the job. Uncomfortable, I changed the subject so she didn’t notice my unease.
“You know I was with Chelsea when her water broke.”
Wide eyes greeted me with a doubting grin, “Really? Brandt didn’t tell me that.”
“Yeah well, he was on stage and it was nearing the end of the set when I found her doubled over with one hand on her back and the other clutching her stomach trying to flag him down. She wasn’t supposed to be up walking around being she was on bed rest. The twins were giving her high blood pressure and as soon as the show was over they were going back home. Anyway, I see her over by the side, and she was trying to get his attention, but he was on a high from the fans. You know the one, where he seems to forget where he is.”
She acknowledged my take on his stage stupor. So engulfed in performing, he became a whole different person. You could tell he was a perfectionist and it just lent to how much he loved Chelsea if he was putting the band on hiatus for the next year. “She couldn’t get his attention, so I was about to call over our intercom system when she gripped my arms tightly and screamed in my ear when her water broke all over my new tennis shoes.”
"Eww. That is gross.” She was laughing, delighting me again with the angelic sound.
“Ah, it didn’t matter. At least the twins were born healthy. Chelsea was so embarrassed she made Brandt buy me five pairs of shoes, but it could happen to anybody.” Turning and looking at her with the sunlight streaming in the window it made her jet black hair shine a tint of blue again that I found fascinating. “Don’t you want kids? I mean, someday?”
Her fading smile made me wonder what I said to take it off her face. “No. Actually, kids scare me.”
“You could have fooled me. You do great with the twins.”
“Well yes because they aren’t mine. I love them to pieces but it is a lot of responsibility and I am not ready to be responsible for something that profound. I don’t know if I will ever be.”
Turning in her seat, she asked, “Do you want kids?”
“Hell yeah, I want kids. I want a whole household. Kids are a lot of work but so worth it.”
“It doesn’t worry you to take on all that responsibility? I mean, you might make the wrong decision and screw up the kid’s life.”
I shook my head and answered, “Having a kid when you don’t want one or can’t take care of one, those are the people likely to screw up their kid’s lives. Otherwise, if you truly want to have one you’ll make it work.” A small wistful smile played upon her lips as she turned back to look out the window.
The car quieted again before she asked for a bathroom stop. Back on the road, the car ride was a mixture of reminiscing about our childhoods, eventually talking about her college life versus my time on the road with rock stars. Of course, I kept it more of a PG version knowing some of those tails involved her brother. The whole trip went faster than anticipated but surprisingly it was nice to talk to her. I shouldn’t have been so shocked. We enjoyed each other a lot looking after the twins and talking over the past several weeks.
When we reached the hotel, they adhered to their policy of not being allowed to check in until three in the afternoon making me explain exactly who she was related to. I could tell she didn’t like it, but it did get her upgraded to a really nice suite and in early enough to get ready for her interview.
Driving her to the interview, I kept stealing glances at her so different from the casual look she wore around the tour bus. Normally her hair was swept up in a constant ponytail but now was down and left to flow over her shoulders and upper back, the ends with a slight curl to it. The little makeup on her face made her large brown eyes look even bigger and amazing. She wore a professional-looking skirt and blouse but conveyed a confidence albeit in a business sultry type of way without even trying.
As we pull up to the building she jumped out of her skin with nervousness, rubbing her forehead and wringing her hands making me feel anxious for her. “Rea you are going to do great.”
Doubt flashed in her eyes, “Really?”
I nodded, “Yeah. You did your research, you have an angle that will only enhance the company, hell you even know the current stock on them. You earned this.” My wording was a slip up she didn’t seem to notice.
Her smile broadened as she opened the door and stepped out. “Thanks Logan.” Before heading into the building amid people scurrying back and forth, she turned at the door and smiled at me and my stomach dropped. Somehow, I felt like a big ass.
After the interview, Rea texted me to pick her up giving me no indication of how it went even though I asked. As soon as she dropped into the seat next to mine, she huffed making me aware she found out Brandt’s strategy to get her the job of her dreams. Quiet and withdrawn, she ignored my attempts at conversation while I drove her back to the hotel. When her phone rang, Brandt’s name appeared on the display, but she let it go to voice mail convincing me of my earlier speculation.
“What is wrong?”
“Something must be wrong if you don’t want to talk to Brandt. You know he is just going to call back, and when you don’t answer he will just call me.” Whether it was to gloat or hear her jubilant chatter over getting the position she wanted, I didn’t know.
She lowered her head and sighed calculating the likelihood of his veracity when he called back moments later. This time she answered, “Yeah Brandt. It was great but...” Her voice was devoid of its earlier enthusiasm, hiding her disappointment on how things went, and my heart went out to her. “... but I don’t think the job is for me.”
The voice on the other end is muffled even though I strained to overhear what he was saying. “No, I thought I wanted to work there but I... I am just getting the wrong vibes.” Another quieting remark from Brandt and she responded, “Yes, I know. I will keep looking. There is always Boeing.” And then she hung up stuffing her phone back into her purse.
What could I say? Already knowing what happened, playing dumb would be the easiest route. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She snapped at me, “No.” One-word answers from a woman was never a good thing.
I tried again, “It might help to talk about it.”
“Just leave me alone.”
Although she wanted her solitude, her snub on my tactics had me on the defensive, “Look, I am just saying that if you want to talk about it, I would listen.” Silence. The only action on her part was physically moving closer to the passenger door as if an inch more of space between us would make a difference. Maybe a little time to cool off wouldn’t be a bad idea.
When we got to the hotel, I gave it one last try, “I could come in and...”
“What? Make sure I don’t break a nail on the way to my room? Why does it matter to you anyway? You are free of your duties. I can find my own way back to Green Bay. Don’t worry, I will make sure you get paid in full.”
The finality in her voice shocked me, “But Brandt--”
“Brandt doesn’t think I can handle anything on my own. He treats me like a child, and I am sick of it. Do you know what he did at Sundown?” Looking me straight in the eyes, made me nervous to the point I turned away in a sorry attempt to hide my guilt.
“You knew! You knew and you let me go in there thinking I had to sell myself. Thinking I was doing this all on my own just to make a fool out of myself.” Throwing open the door to the vehicle, I tried to grab her before she left only to have my hand slide out of her reach.
“Don’t worry the princess has been brought safely to the castle and is abstaining you from your duty.” I look at her shocked. She must have heard the nickname the roadies gave her, not to mention what I had been guilty of calling her on more than one occasion. “Goodbye Logan.” The slamming of the door swirled her peach soap smell causing it to drift around me like my own personal scent of shame. Shit, Brandt’s meddling turned out to bite me in the ass in the worst way possible. If I didn’t bring her back with me in the next couple of days I will be the one in trouble. I told Brandt not to interfere, but he did anyway in an attempt to take care of his women. I shouldn’t feel guilty but I did, my guilt coming from the fact I didn’t warn her.
Unable to think of a solution I drove off back on the highway. Maybe if she had time to cool down she would realize what a mistake it would be finding her own transportation back. She had to understand Brandt would be protective of her. She even mentioned it earlier.
Coming to no greater conclusions I left the city to make it home before nightfall and at least enjoy one of my mother’s home-cooked meals. My plan was never to babysit her but then I felt guilty about accepting money to drive her around and deliver her back to Green Bay. Sounded like babysitting to me.
My thoughts became jumbled in my mind, restlessly going around and around until I couldn’t remember what I was being paid for. It never felt like babysitting anyway. We had fun driving down, although if I were truly her friend, I would have mentioned Brandt’s plan earlier. She was just so excited about the possibility but it felt more like an excuse for my asshole behavior.
Rea probably hated me right now although I deserved it. A million reasons ran through my head on why I should stay away from her but in the end, when I pulled down the last street to get to my parent’s house, I ended up turning back around. Quickly I called them explaining that something came up and I promised to see them later. When they asked why my plans had changed all I could tell them is I needed to cheer up a friend.
It took another hour to drive back to Iowa City, but it felt like the right thing to do. I hoped she wasn’t sulking all alone in her room thinking of evil ways to make her brother pay, or worse yet me. It would be hard enough to get her to trust me again. When I made my way over to the elevator at her hotel, I let my eyes drift to the onsite lounge only to see her sitting by the bar. And somebody was with her.
Shit. Now, what do I do? Instead of throwing pins in an imaginary voodoo doll, she was drowning her sorrows with alcohol. It wasn’t safe. She was in a strange town all by herself. I needed to make sure she was okay. At the very least I could let her yell at me some more, maybe it would make her feel better, but by the time I got closer, I could hear her slur her words.
“You know I really...realllly wanted this job. I worked hard at it... I. Well, I thought I had an honest ch... chance.” The guy in the business suit next to her was nodding while looking down her shirt. The leer on his face made my muscles tighten. She had her blouse untucked on one side and the top button came undone giving him ample sightlines to her cleavage.
“You know we could discuss this more in my hotel room.” Flags arose in my head and I wondered just what right I had to break this up. She was drunk, and he damn sure knew it, but I really do not have any claim on her. She already felt inadequate in running her life and me stepping in would prove she couldn’t handle herself. If I jumped in would I just get yelled at more?
“Fat chance of that buddy. You should have at least took off your wedding ring before hitting on me.” His face turned red when she laughed at him.
“You didn’t seem to mind when I was buying you all of these drinks. You are nothing but a dick tease.”
Nope, don’t care what she thought anymore. This dickwad was going to learn some manners in dealing with the opposite sex. Coming up behind him I engulfed him with my size. Rea noticed me first taking a little longer than necessary to make her eyes focus.
“Apologize to the lady.” My voice was low and my anger palpable.
Instead of looking at me, he waved his hand in my direction, ”Fuck off buddy. This is between me and the bitch--”
I didn’t let him finish, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck as the bartender looked up from the back of the bar where he had been serving other patrons. “I said to apologize to the lady for being a cheating bastard. Do this peacefully and I will not make you call your wife and tell her the same.”
Finally, he took the time to glance my way. Vying his options, he calculated that I was twice his size in the muscle department and chose wisely. “I... I apologize.”
Rea’s eyes have come into focus with a look of astonishment on her face. Others in the bar were now taking notice of the scuffle while Rea grabbed onto my arm currently attached to the guy’s neck. Shaking her head, she seemed concerned for his airway. “We all make mistakes now don’t we Logan.”
As the bartender made his way down to my side of the bar, I saw the scowl on his face. Letting go of the guy’s neck, he sulked away in a huff rubbing his chest as he wheezed in a breath. Rea stepped in between us. “We are fine. We are fine. Just charge it to the room please.” She grabbed my hand leading me out area and to the elevators. My adrenaline still going haywire in my veins, I almost wished he would have fought me.
Hitting the button to the elevator, she turned on me, “What the hell was that Logan! You can’t just go around acting all tough and sh... shit.” She went to punch my arm, missing by a landslide and falling to the side.
I reached out easily and straightened her. “Me? What are you thinking letting some guy buy you drinks in a hotel bar in a town you aren’t familiar with?”
Pushing her hands off me she almost fell the other way but ended up straightening herself without my help. “I was doing what anyone else would do. I was trying to drown my sorrows.” Tears stung her eyes causing her beautiful brown iris’ to be surrounded by more of a red color. Once the doors parted, we got on the elevator and shifted away from each other both feeling ashamed but for different reasons.
The elevator door opened to her floor as we stepped out. She removed the key from her purse and tried not to stumble too bad to the door. I could barely hear her say, “Why not. No one trusts me to think I know what I am doing anyway.” It made me feel bad. Brandt wanted to help her get the job of her dreams but it came across as not believing she could do it on her own.
“Brandt just wanted to help.” She opened the door after the third attempt. Although it was killing me not to help her, I let her do it on her own knowing it was important I didn’t interfere. After she stumbled in, I went after to make sure she was okay.
“Well, he didn’t help. He did it for me.” She turned on me again and the rage was back, “No one thinks I can do anything on my own. That I am a... a... Princess! Well, it is because they made me that way. I am so much of a fucking princess, even I don’t know what I want in life. I have always done what was expected of me. Going to business school because it was what my parents wanted. Even going to the college they told me to go to. Hell, I will even probably take over the family company because it is expected of me. I have been doing what everyone else wants for so long I can’t even figure out what I want.”
Her voice quivered by the end of her rant and I sighed and closed the door not wanting her dirty laundry aired in the hallway of the hotel. “Why do you always do what they want then?”
Fury left her looking haggard and tired as she answered, “It is just easier. I am afraid of making the wrong decision anyway and hurting the people I love. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed in me.” Her face went down studying the floor when her hand crept up to wipe away a tear.
Taking her chin, I moved it so she was looking at me. She seemed so dejected it pulled at my heart. With a forlorn voice, she said, “It is better not to want anything?”
“Then what do you want?” We stood staring at each other in silence when she rose on her tiptoes and kissed me.
The moment her lips touched mine I knew it was a mistake. She tasted like cheap booze and leaned into me for support, evidently not in her right mind. Of course it was a mistake. But whose? Her mistake for being drunk because there was no denying I wanted her. Just not like this.
Pushing her away was the hardest thing to do. Mainly because I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and deepen the kiss to feel her gorgeous body next to mine, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror the next day.
Smiling a sad smile, she backed up on her own, “See, I can’t get anything right.” Swerving out of the way, she stumbled off to the bathroom as I mulled over anything to make this right between us. Before I had a chance to give some pitiful excuse, I heard her throwing up in the toilet. The sound of her retching made my own stomach roll. Guilt washed over me as I made my way into the bathroom to hold up her hair.
When she started to cry, I felt even worse. “C’mon. Let me get you to bed.” Helping her up she clung to me as she continued to cry, and I hated how my body reacted to hers pressed against me. By the time I laid her down on the bed she was doing that little hiccup thing and a new fear crossed my mind. What if she is not done vomiting?
Looking over at the chair by the desk I went and sat down to figure out what I should do. Her hiccups soon ended, and I realized she was asleep. Taking the blanket from the foot of the bed, I covered her up. She looked so worn out it squeezed my heart in my chest. She wasn’t a princess. Not really. She might have grown up with more money and privilege than the rest of us, but she had her own dragons to slay so I shouldn’t judge.
Back at the chair by the desk, I sat down contemplating my next move as my head drifted into a restless slumber.