Integral Instruments - With prelude to Justified Voices (Book 7)

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Liv had given me a copy of Arlee’s statement to the judge and I bawled as I read all 7 pages of it in the car on the way home.

I had tried to shield her, to protect her from Thomas’s mood swings and hatred of life. I had tried to support all of my children with everything I had in me, but she had seen it far more differently than I had ever thought.

Her account stated that she had seen me struggle in a toxic relationship, she had watched me overcome and grow stronger for them. She said that I took every situation with an indescribable force. She had seen the exhaustion behind the smiles and sarcasm and she knew that I had done everything I could for them.

Then there were her accounts of Ryan, where she put in that Ryan had been in our lives for a year now and in that one year he had won over all of our hearts. That he had jumped head first into our family and understood each of our differences a quirks.

That he would dance with Elle’s dramatic temperament and he would soothe Piper’s anxiety, but most of all, he would cheer her on and that he, like her mother, would encourage her goals, as asinine as they sounded.

Arlee truly looked at him as more of father in one year than she had her own father, in all the time she’d known him.

She had taken time to write a 7 page statement about Ryan, me and OUR family. She truly, truly loved him as a father.

“I’m going to meet the girls and their security before they leave the school.” Ryan told me with a grin as he pulled into the driveway.

It was something I would normally do, pick the girls up from school, but Ryan had insisted that security take them to and from school until the adoption was over.

I wanted to give him this time and this moment with my littlest daughters, while I had a moment with my beautiful oldest.

“Okay.” I smiled at him with no complaints, “I’m going to talk to Arlee.” I held up the essay that was her statement, “You can talk to her later.”

“I don’t want to read it.” He smiled, shaking his head, “It would be too many expectations to live up to.”

I laughed, “Apparently your already living up to them. I love you, Ryan.”

“I love you too, Meg.”

I gave him a kiss and sent him on his way. Then climbed the stairs to Arlee’s room.

When I entered, she was seated at her desk talking to someone on the phone, as she worked away.

“No, I just think we should add that one bridge and lengthen it.” she watched me as I sprawled out on her bed.

“Junie-B, I gotta go.” She gave me a scrutinized grin, “My mom is acting weird again.”

“I’m about to find out.” She told her friend, “Gotta go! Okay, later!”

“How did court go?” She put her phone down and smiled nervously.

I held up the essay over my head and began to read my favorite part, “Our family is far from conventional. All of us are artistically mindset, which means that we don’t live life in such finalities as numbers and years. We live life day by day and cherish what we have been given in that day. We don’t even think of the menial things, like how long something or someone has been a part of our lives. We cherish each day for what it has given us. Whether that be joy, friendship or laughter. Like anyone, we have a deep appreciation for the sun that shines upon us or the breeze that brings the fresh air and the new day, but one constant we have, no matter the weather, are those who truly love us. Those who can ride with us through the storms and will still be there when the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing. That is my mother and that is Ryan. Ryan has seen our darkest days and moments, but he has helped us fight through and overcome. No, he isn’t perfect, but what father is? Ryan is there for each and every one of us. He is supportive and uplifting. Isn’t that what a father is supposed to be?” I let out a sob and she came to lay in the bed, curling into me.

“Liv gave you the paper.” She sadly sighed.

I grabbed her chin and pulled her head up so she could look at me, “You, my baby amaze me more than anything in this world.” I kissed her forehead, “You are an artist and you will do great things.”

“You still didn’t tell me how it went.”

“Oh, your father will tell you.” I smiled brightly, “He’s already called every single person in his phone.”

“So, it went through?” She began to cry, “He’s our dad?”

“Yes, baby.” I cried with her, “Ryan is your father now and always. Legally and in every purpose, you and your sisters are now Fords. You should have heard him. When the judge asked him to describe you girls, the compassion alone made me cry and what he said was truly amazing.”

“Did the judge count my testimony?” She asked, “I was told that sometimes they don’t, if you're a minor.”

I shook my head, “I think your statement won the case, my baby.”

My phone rang and I laughed when I looked at the screen.

“It’s Bree.” I told Arlee, “If I don’t pick up she’ll have a coronary.”

“Go ahead.” Arlee told me and rolled over onto her back.

I answered, “Yes?”

She squealed, “Okay, the gang is all on our way over. Ash is bringing 3 bottles of whisky, who knows what the other guys are bringing, but I know you aren’t a huge fan, do you want rum? Do you need something stronger?”

“We have stuff here, Bree.” I laughed.

“No. Our treat. We aren’t drinking your booze. We need to celebrate and start planning your wedding.”

“I vote for Cabos!” Declan shouted in the background.

“You are pregnant, we can’t take you to Cabos.” Bree laughed at her daughter.

“We don’t need to go anywhere to get married.” I sighed, “And how can I plan a wedding when I’m already on this adoption high?”

“Easily, we’ll get stoned, bring you down and plan it all, then we’ll have fun with it.” Bree laughed, “It’ll be fun. Be there in 20.”

And the phone went dead.

“That woman is so little that you think she’s cute, but she’s pretty fierce.”

“They’re on their way?” Arlee’s eyes went wide.

“Yeah.” I sighed, “The whole bunch I guess. I have to say, after it being us 4 for so long, it's nice to be a part of something bigger and actually fit in.”

"All of them?” Arlee asked dryly.

“I assume so.” I shrugged, “You know when they get together they all get together. Why?”

“Noah and I don’t get along.” She rolled her eyes.

“Why not? You guys were so close a few months ago.” I leaned up on my elbow to face her.

“It’s complicated.” She sighed and I didn’t like the sound of it.

“Arlee, did he try to pressure you to do something?” I eyed her nervously. I liked Bree, but if her son was trying to coerce Arlee there may be an issue.

“No! God no! I just-” She gaped at me, “Things just changed between us when I started school with him.”

“Is he different around the other kids?”

“You could say that.” She grimaced, “I still like Gina, Ian and Chloe, but Noah and I just- I can’t...”

“Honey, what happened? You and him were so close that Bree started planning your wedding.” I laughed at my own joke and her face twisted.

“Okay, you don’t want to tell me.” I shrugged, “I’m the mom, I get it. So just hang out with the people you do like and ignore the ones you don’t.”

“It’s not easy. He was back in school today and tried to talk to me all day. I don’t want anything to do with him. He even gave me a stupid nickname and by the end of the day, everyone began calling me that.”

“A nickname?” I tilted my head in thought, “How do you shorten Arlee? It better not be Arl, because that sounds like a guy with beer belly.”

“Ew, Mom. Thanks for the image.” She cringed, “Noah called me Ace. Apparently because I ace everything.”

I started laughing. I had to agree that was a cute one.

“It’s not funny, Mom!” She hissed at me and I still couldn’t stop my laughter.

“I’m sorry, baby, but it is fitting.” I continued to laugh, “You always do everything so easily, do you even need to study?”

“I study! And it’s not fitting. Not the way Noah says it,” She sneered, “He came up behind me in the hallway and whispered it as he passed. Then, he shouted it when I was studying in the library. It’s like he wanted to bring it to everyone’s attention. It’s so obnoxious.”

“Sounds to me like he likes you. Is that the problem?”

“I think there are a lot of problems. The number one problem being Noah McGhee.” She sighed.

“I think whatever he did, you may like him too.” I examined my daughter, something was up.

“I did like him, but now I don’t. I have goals anyway. I can’t let a boy get in my way. Especially that boy.”

“Arlee, can I tell you something? Something I have never told anyone?”

“Yeah.” She shrugged.

“When I was young, I had big plans too,” I smiled at her, “I was going to travel the world and sell my paintings of all of the places I had traveled, but I didn’t.”

“Because you had me.” She scoffed.

“No,” I shook my head as I smoothed the hair from her beautiful face, “Because I changed my plans. I followed my heart and I have never regretted that for one moment. Not for one. Single. Moment and when I look at you or your sisters I still feel like it was the right decision.”

When she didn’t respond, I clarified, “If Julliard is what’s in your heart, go to Julliard, but don’t let it interfere with your personal life. Don’t let your possible future dictate your present, because the future is always subject to change. You can’t push people aside, using your end goal as a deterrent, because goals can change whether by you or fate.”

“But if I don’t go to Julliard-”

“You will, but if you didn’t you will still do amazing things, Arlee. Plans change and you don’t always have to stick with script you originally wrote.”

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