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

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7

Ryan

We walked for another half mile. I had to admit that it was fun watching the oldest and youngest snicker while the middle one walked right in front of Megan and me.

Megan looked good in her tight little tank and jean shorts. She had a lot of ink, but it was mostly floral patterns and the monarch butterfly on her shoulder was amazingly done, surrounded by some abstract circles.

Megan and Arlee held their hands out. Elle, the littlest grabbed her big sister’s hand and smiled up at her, but Piper turned to me.The girls in the lead suddenly paused at a very narrow fork and Megan called out, “Grown up partners, my little ladies.”

“Is it okay if I hold your hand, Mr. Ryan?” She asked, looking up at me with adorable blue eyes.

“Uhm,” I knelt down to her level, I knew from my brother that it was the right thing to do, “I do t mind, if it’s okay with your mom, but please don't call me Mr. Ryan. Just Ryan is fine.”

We both looked to Megan, who was gaping down at us.

“Uhm... Sure.” She swallowed hard before beginning to descend down the rocky path.

Within 10 minutes we were at a beautifully secluded beach, with large rocks jutting out of the rough, rocky Maine sand.

The rocks were larger than Megan and the girls combined, but the sand still seemed to be more open and spacious in it’s emptiness.

“Wow.” I gaped.

It was amazing.

“Welcome to our hideaway.” Megan smiled, watching Elle and Alree run toward the beach as they kicked their shoes off.

“I’m speechless. It’s even better than the pictures on your blog.” The sounds of the waves crashing into the large rocks and the kids laughing and running along the water’s edge made my smile stick.

“It’s our favorite place.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, “The water is too cold to swim, but the girls like to wade and Elle finds a way to get all wet anyway.”

“I have to set up the blanket and some towels. She began to walk toward the center of the clear beach and I followed, Piper still holding onto my hand in a death grip.

“We’ll be here most of the day,” Megan pulled out a very large, thin blanket and fanned it. I helped her pull it flat and she smiled. “You don’t have to stick around if you don’t want to.”

“Will you stay for a little and play with us, Ryan?" Piper asked, "We build sand castles and see what we can find for sea monsters.”

“Well, you know what? I think that finding sea monsters was on my agenda today anyway.” I shrugged.

“Piper, baby. Take your shoes off and go and play with your sisters. We’re safe here. I will watch your backpack.”

“Okay, Mommy.” She smiled at her mother and reluctantly released me, doing as told.

Once she made her way to the water’s fringe she froze and began to flap her hands excitedly before putting them into the water. I could see now, how special she was, and she was so sweet. It made want to wrap her in my arms myself, and protect her from the world that scared her.

Megan turned to me, “You really don’t have to stay.”

“I honestly want to.” I shrugged, "I have nothing better to do today, and your kids seem pretty cool."

“They just haven't gotten into an argument yet.” She giggled and it sounded so sweet.

“You know, there’s something about you...” I examined her, “You really seem to care about your kids and they seem to love you, that speaks volumes.”

"What do you know about kids, Ryan?" She asked.

“Not much, to be honest," I chuckled, "I have a lot of nephews and nieces though.” I shook my head, “I even have a great nephew and another great on the way.”

"How is that?" Her little brows for.ed a solid line.

“My niece is in her twenties. Her mom had her at 17. She’s amazingly talented and her 10 month old is awesome. They aren’t blood, but they’re family we look out for eachother.”

I rubbed the back of my neck, a little embarrassed. She obviously had no idea who I was or that I was talking about Bree.

“I get it, sometimes people who arent blood can still feel like family.” She smiled sadly, “I had this boss... He helped me through some stuff and he’s still like a big brother to me. We spend holidays together, he comes and hangs out sometimes and I couldn't picture where I'd be if it wasn't for him.”

Davis... She meant Davis. Bree had asked him about it and she said that he told her that they were close.

He'd given her a job cleaning the bar during the day, when she was nineteen and her husband left the first time.

“We’re all in these bands, but we’ve become a big family before anything else. We’ve got eachother’s backs.”

“You're in a band?” She laughed, “So that was the whole music inquisition.”

“I’m the keys. Although I play an axe on stage most of the time.” I moved my fingers, as though I was playing one of our tracks.

“Well, I guess that explains the sports car and the tatts...” She shrugged and turned back to watch her daughters on the beach.

"Are you going to ask me what the name of the band is?" My brow furrowed in question.

"Do I need to know? Is there some pop quiz coming up that I need to study for?"

"No." I snorted.

“I used to play a little piano.” She smiled softly looking at her girls, “Still do sometimes, when I’m really down or need that connection with my old self.”

“Are you any good?” I asked curiously.

“My dad played for an orchestra house.” She gave me a sideways grin, “I’m decent. Arlee plays beautifully and she loves string instruments. Her violin is the best I’ve ever heard. She got his gift, not me.”

Something told me that she was playing it down. Big time. “Your dad wasn’t upset that you didn’t follow in his footsteps and play professionally?”

“I’m not that good.” She shook her head, “Besides, he and my mother died in a car accident when I was 17.”

“Shit.” I said under my breath, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s okay, Ryan.” She smiled sadly, “It’s been a long time. I’m a big girl now. They left me the house and a hefty nest egg that I havent even needed to touch. It’s not a ton of money, but I put it into bank accounts for my girls. When they turn 18, they’ll have access to it and can use it as they want.”

“But what about you? Don’t you need the money?”

“I work.” She laughed again, “I’m not going to live off my parents’ money. I may not play piano for a living, but I do make ends meet. My kids are not starving, they are clothed, my house is warm and we are happy. Money can’t buy happiness.”

I looked at the blanket between my feet, “You have a point there.”

She definitely had a point. How would I tell her who I was? Did I just come out with it or ease into it?

When I turned back to her she was just watching her kids run around, but the look on her face was strained.

“What are you thinking?”

“Honestly?” She swallowed hard, “I’m still wondering what you want from me... I have kids, I only know music by what I can download on Amazon and I have baggage as far as the eye can see.”

“I just want to get to know you.” I smiled at her, “You seem like a cool chick, with your shit together and, honestly? You're a breath of fresh air from the chicks I normally meet. Our lead singer has this mentality that’s worn off on me. She says, "Things happen for a reason and we need to embrace them in order to develope." We don’t have to date here, if you don’t want to, but I at least want to be friends.”

“You want to be friends? With me?” She scoffed, pointing to herself, “A mother of three? I’m actually VERY boring. What would your friends or your brother think of you hanging out with me?”

“My brother’s name is Greg. He’s awesome. He’d adore you, so would my parents, since you think I just drive a fancy sports car and don’t even know what kind it is. As for my friends, I don’t think they’d really care either way.” I shrugged. “They’re all outcasts that came together. We even have a few guys that still play video games. Chicks too. They’re accepting of everyone. They aren’t upper class snobs. They’re just the same as you. They have kids and families and are happy in their every day lives with barbeques, yoga and hanging with their kids.”

She was about to say something when Elle came over to the blanket and flopped down on the blanket.

“Mom! I’m starving!” I was realizing that she had a way of over-exaggerating things and it made me laugh. So, much that it got a dirty look from Meg at first.

“It is not funny.” Megan tried to hide her laugh then looked at her daughter somewhat firmly, “How do you ask?”

“Mom, can I please have lunch? I’m starving!” She asked with same intensity.

“Fine, see if your sisters are ready to eat.” She sighed and reached for her bag with the food.

“Piper! Arlee! We’re ready to eat!” She screeched and Megan cringed mid reach for her bag. That was when I couldn't even try to hold it back anymore.

I fell back on my elbows laughing so hard at this kid, and Megan's reaction.

“Sorry. She does that.” I could hear the laughter in her voice.

“It’s cool," I tried to pull myself together, "I’ve been on stage with someone howling for weeks straight, her little voice is nothing, trust me.”

“Ryan, I have an extra sandwhich if you want one.” Piper told me as she came over and sat on the blanket.

Megan handed her a baggie with her name on it, but froze and gaped at her daughter.

Arlee’s jaws dropped, but she pulled it together enough to ask her mom, "Did she just-?"

"Shtt!" Megan whispered with a small smile forming on her face.

I examined the sandwich Piper was pulling out. It did look good. “Oh, I couldn’t. It does look good though.”

“Are you sure? It’s super good. It’s tomato, swiss cheese and ranch. It’s gluten free. I’m allergic to normal bread, but it still tastes really good.”

“I won’t lie, it sounds good, but you may want the other one later.”

“No. She makes Mom pack 2 incase she drops one on the ground.” Elle spoke as though it was nothing, penut butter caked on her cheeks.

“You know, she’s right.” Megan smiled diviously and handed over the sandwich. The look on her face said she was up to something. “It normally goes to waste anyway.”

“It's gluten free bread. Don't fall for it.” Arlee spoke under her breath, "Not to mention the combination."

I smiled as I pulled it out of the plastic baggy. Thinking back to when I was a kid and my mom used to do this for me when I'd go fishing, which was really just sitting creek side, smoking a bowl and getting the munchies. She knew why I never caught anything.

I grinned between the two and took a big bite as the the two looked at me in disgust and Piper beamed with excitement.

“Do you like it?” She asked.

I nodded and took another large bite. It actually didn’t taste bad. The tomato was super fresh and crispy, while the other ingredients complimented it’s flavor. I smiled at the two who were watching me in shock.

“You know, I am from California. I’m used to some pretty wierd veagan and gluten free shi- uh, stuff," I caught myself before swearing and turned to Piper, "Bread’s a little dry, but not bad at all. Right kid?”

Piper beamed at me and I melted. She was such a pretty kid and I could honestly see what her mom had meant, by wanting to take her anxieties and other issues away.

I had been chatting with Meg all week, she was awesome and funny and her kids seemed pretty cool too.

I smiled at them all as they watched me devour the sandwich.

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