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

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8

Ryan

It was close to 5, when they were packing into her car. The girls were exhausted from running around in the sand and exploring, but we had fun and even got into a water fight, that may or may not have been started by Arlee kicking water at me.

I felt so comfortable with them that I even offered to carry Elle the last quarter of a mile, which Megan had protested, but I refused to listen.

“What are you up to tomorrow?” I asked as we watched her girls get situated in their booster seats.

“House cleaning and laundry. Normal, boring mom stuff.” She smiled with a shrug.

“Let me know if you want someone to hang with you.” I shoved my hands into my pockets and rocked back on my heels. Hell if I knew what to do... I wanted to at least hug her, but I wasn’t hugging my other chick friends every time I left them. He'll, if I tried to hug Regan, she'd probably body slam me into the wall.

She gave a nod and turned toward the car to climb in, while I made my way to my car, rubbing my neck at my stupidity. I had walked out on chicks after a hook up and I never felt this awkward.

“Hey, Ryan?” She called after me and I turned to see her beautiful, exhausted smile, “Thank you. We had a lot of fun today.”

“I had fun too.” I returned it, wanting so badly to kiss her, “See you around?”

“Maybe we should try that... Dinner thing, sometime?” She asked shyly and the blush that creeped up her face made me want to kiss her.

I smiled widely, “Cool, then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” She asked in confusion.

I shrugged and turned again, walking to my car as she shook her head and climbed in with her girls.

As soon as I was in my car, I checked my phone. It was all the normal, random texts. One from Lou, talking about a track we were about to start working on, one group message involving our agent and one from my mom.

Nothing special. I dialed the only one of the guys I could think of, who would understand.

“What’s up, Ry?” Mike answered on the third ring.

“Man, you are never gonna believe this! I just spent the day with her and her kids.” I gawfawed, run ung my hand through my hair.

“You what?!” He laughed in shock, “How’d that happen?”

“I went to check out this hiking spot she mentioned in her blog and she was there, with her kids.”

“No shit!” He sounded surprised, “So, how’d it go?”

“It was fun.” I smiled, “She’s cool and chill and the girls are something else.”

“What’d you do with them all day?”

“We talked, played in the sand and messed around on the beach. Things I haven't enjoyed in years, man." I sighed. God, I sounded like and idiot.

“You played in the sand?” He laughed hysterically, “Now, that I have to see to believe.”

“Man, this chick is awesome and her kids are cool. We were talking about music at one point and the 7 year old brought up some of our classics from our way back years. She said she liked us because we had girls in the band and girls rock better than boys.”

“No, shit?!" He snorted, "Cool kid.”

“You know, I was talking about how I was used to kids and I mentioned that I was in a band..."

“How’d she take that?”

“I didn’t tell her which band and she didn’t ask. It was a little weird, but she didn't care."

Mike gave a low whistle, “You gotta tell her. If you like this chick, she's gonna notice the cameras and she's got kids, man. She may not want that shit out there.”

“I’m afraid she’ll use it as an excuse not to hang.”

“No shit? You don't say?” His voice went dry, "Maybe cause she doesn't want her shit public."

“I will, just not yet. I can’t scare her off. I like her.”

“But if you don’t tell her and the razzi gets to her first...”

“Dammit.” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. “I know, but I like this chick and her kids are cool.”

“Man, you ain’t seen the stress of kids, you went on one hike. There’s a difference between the stressful days and the chill ones.”

“I know... I just want to spend more time with her and get to know her.”

“So do it, but until you tell her, you gotta keep it low and away from the press. If she don't want her kids out there, you're gonna have one scorned woman who's a mean mama on your ass.”

***

After I called Greg and talked about his games and music classes, I scoped out her address, which wasn't far from my own place out here. It was only a twenty minute drive. How could she have been so close to me and I'd never even ventured this way?

I guess it was because, in a way, I'd given up normalcy for the band, and this was normal.

She lived in a middle class neighborhood, in a multileveled blue house, with white shutters. It had a garage, although her car wasn’t parked in it, and I pulled my car in behind it.

"Here goes nothing..." I sighed and climbed out of my car, grabbing the bakery boxes and coffee cups then made my way to the front door and rang the bell.

There was a bunch of clatter inside and Elle screeched, “Mom, Ryan’s here!”

Then I heard Megan’s voice as she made her way to the door, “Why are you always so loud?”

When the door swung open I couldn’t help but smile.

She was a wreck. Her hair was a mess, her clothes were ruffled and she looked exhausted, but beautiful.

“I brought donuts.” I held up the boxes.

“How did you know where I lived?” She asked sleepily.

“Insurance company.” I shrugged. It was just a little white lie.

She looked at the boxes, then the coffee in my other hand and pointed, “Are one of those for me?”

“Yes.” I gave a nod and she stood aside to let me in.

“It’s nice of you to bring donuts, but Piper can’t eat them.” When I walked through the door the first thing I saw was a miniature white coat stand to the left, with little rain boots and sneakers lined up under it. In front of me was their dining table, where Elle was coloring and beyond that was a good sized open kitchen with an island.

The entire house appeared to be painted in light blue with accents of white and deep red. It screamed country living, but beach style. It was beautifully done, but definitely not something I would picture for Megan.

I walked to the kitchen island and placed the boxes down as I explained, “She can. They’re all gluten free.”

“Where did you find gluten free donuts?” She stared at the boxes, "From a bakery?"

“It’s a specialty bakery.” I shrugged like it was nothing, but it was actually a special ORDER at the specialty bakery, but when I left a 100% tip, they were more than happy to rush my order.

“Seriously?” She looked up at me in shock, “It must have costed you a fortune!”

I just shrugged again and leaned against the counter, handing her one of the coffees I bought, “Don’t worry about it. I figured you could use the energy too.”

“Thanks, but we won’t eat them.” She shook her head in disgust.

“Try them.” I grinned, “I’m serious. They taste like regular donuts, just gluten free.”

She huffed and pulled out one of the blueberry ones. She likes blueberry, I’ll have to remember that... When she took a bite, her face twisted in thought.

Then, as soon as the flavor hit her, her head jerked to face me and her eyes were wide, “These are amazing!”

“Gluten free can be just as good as the regular, you just have to find places with the right ingredients. I checked reviews and cross referenced and this was the number one bakery listed.”

“Kind of like stalking a person?” She cocked a brow at me and I leaned against her island and laughed as she joined in.

“I’m not a stalker, I swear. I figured if we tried this dating thing I had to do it on your terms and I know your kids come first.” I laid it out there and she nodded in thought.

“Ryan! You came to our house!” Piper came into the kitchen with a huge smile on her face, then she saw the boxes and moved to peek in.

“I did,” I smiled at her bedhead and sleepy gaze, “And I brought breakfast.”

“What’s in there?”

“It’s donuts, baby.” Meg smiled gleefully, tilting the box to show Piper.

“Oh,” Her face saddened as she turned away, “Thank you, Ryan, but I can’t have donuts.”

“Baby they’re-” Meg began but I cut her off, getting to Piper before she could walk away.

I crouched down to her level and talked to her one on one, in whispers, “Hey, do you think I’d do that to you? Not a chance. I went to the best bakery I could find that made special, gluten free donuts. I had to drive for 30 minutes to get these bad boys, just for you.”

Her face lit up, “Really?!”

“Sure as... I mean... Yeah.” Meg snorted at my near slip up and I couldn’t help but wink at her. The blush that crept up her cheeks riled me. I’d do anything to see that blush all day.

Piper’s face fell into thought, just like her mother’s, “But what about everyone else?”

“I think, if we keep it between ourselves, no one will know the difference.” I told her.

“Are you sure?” She asked skeptically.

“Try it out on your sister.” I gave her a wink as her face lit up again.

“Mom, can I have a plate for Elle please?” She asked Meg excitedly.

“Sure, ask Elle what kind she wants, but don’t tell her our secret.” Meg winked at her.

She did, then we picked out the flavor Elle wanted and she brought it in, with her own plate. Megan followed with two glasses of milk.

Meg’s eyes misted over as we watched them both devour their overly surgared breakfasts with smiles on their faces.

“I can’t remember the last time she had a donut that wasn’t homemade.” Meg smiled up at me all doe eyed, “Thank you, so much for this. You really didn’t have to.”

“It’s really no big deal.” I’d do it every day if I got to see her smile, “I thought you guys deserved a treat and seeing her face light up made it totally worth it.”

We stood in her kitchen staring at each other, until I saw a shadow behind the front door from the corner of my eye, before it swung open revealing Arlee and her violin case. As she stood there and stared at me in amusement.

“Hey, Arlee!” Piper licked her lips, having finished her donut. “You want a donut? Ryan brought us donuts.”

Piper fidgeted with her fingers excitedly and put a finger to lips. Arlee didn’t miss it and gave her a curious look. I could tell that the girl couldn’t keep secrets, but it was adorable watching her try.

Elle oblivious to her sister shouted, “They’re fantastic!”

“Suuure.” She glanced around the kitchen and dining room, between all of us.

“Ryan got them for us.” Meg smiled mischeviously and turned the boxes around for her to take her pick.

“They’re gluten free aren’t they?” She whispered as she grabbed a blueberry one as well.

Meg nodded excitedly and whispered, “Don’t tell her you know.”

Arlee took a bite, as she looked between the two of us, then once she was finished chewing her eyes widened, “These are awesome.”

“They are super good!” Piper beamed.

“They really are.” Arlee spoke to her excited sister.

“Mom, can I have another?” Piper asked and as Meg was busy with her Arlee ate her donut and stared at me in thought.

“Am I the only one that finds it wierd that he knows where we live too?” Her eyes never left mine.

“I got the address through the insurance claim.” I told her as she squinted at me in disbelief.

“Sure. I’m just saying, Dateline had a thing about stalkers.” She shrugged.

"Did you make it in time, Baby?" Meg asked.

"Yes, but my car overheated on the highway and I had to take the back way." The teen sighed, "I only made it two exits."

"Do you want to advance the cash?" Meg whispered.

"No," Arlee looked at her like she was crazy. "The money is for Julliard. I have some in the bank, I'll figure it out."

"I can call a mechanic." Megan called after her as she clomped up the stairs, donut in her mouth, "But that car is so old, baby."

"It's a classic!" She called back.

"That car is a death trap." Meg told me, "She has more than enough money to get a new one, she just doesn't want to use it."

"She's going to Julliard?" I gaped at her.

"That's the plan." Megan sighed, "I told you, that violin is her life."

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