Dear J, after the wonderful time I had (at my sister’s urging, I might add), the last thing I expected when Cricket and I got back from our first night out was Rachel standing there, her face red and eyes glaring.
Cricket thanked me again for “the lovely time,” then went straight inside, avoiding Rachel’s gaze. With that kind of open scrutiny, I couldn’t say I blamed her.
As soon as Cricket was inside, Rachel hissed, “Leo, how could you?”
I was incredulous, standing there with my mouth gaping. “How could I what?”
She threw her hands in the air and for a minute, I thought she was going to scream from frustration at seeing my bewildered expression. Instead, she took a deep breath and said, “What on earth would possess you to take Cricket out?”
“Rachel, I’m too tired for games. First you tell me to ask her out, then you get mad when I do.”
A storm of fury clouded her blue eyes but, thankfully, she didn’t yell at me again. “Honestly, you can be so obtuse. What is wrong with your brain?”
I rubbed my tired eyes and grimaced at her choice of words. “Now you’re just being insulting. What exactly have I done wrong?”
“I really can’t believe you’re asking me that. I didn’t say anything at all about Cricket. I was talking about Bexley.”
My jaw dropped again and I squinted at her. “Bexley?”
“Don’t look at me like that. Yes, Bexley! She is crazy about you. And she’s a lot nicer than Cricket. Didn’t you see the way mom reacted to her? Why would you ever go after a girl like that?”
“A girl like what?” I asked, unable to keep the anger from my voice.
She thought for a moment and I couldn’t tell if she was trying to decide what to say or if she was trying to decide how to say it. “A girl that is so obviously after something from you. Would she be pursuing you so desperately if your career wasn’t taking off? If you were working a regular, boring job instead of skyrocketing to the top of the music charts and on magazine covers, do you think she’d even look at you twice?”
“Gee, thanks. Thanks for that. Way to hold back on the insults.”
“My point is that no, she wouldn’t be trying to get your attention. Instead, she’d be after a different rising star. You can’t just go around trusting everyone you see because they’re a part of your entourage. She’s on your payroll, for goodness’ sake.”
“So is Bexley,” I pointed out, spitting the words at her. I didn’t understand Rachel’s venom toward Cricket at all. It wasn’t as if she was an ax murderer or something.
“Well, Bexley doesn’t act all shady. Think about it.”
Exhaustion was wearing me down but I didn’t want my sister to be upset or nag at me anymore about this either. So I said, “Cricket is really nice and I wish you’d get to know her better.”
“Well, I can see you’re just going to do whatever you want. Tell me though… how close are you two?”
“Yes, I am and, you know what? I’m just getting to know her. It was one date, sheesh, Rach. Besides, this isn’t really any of your business.”
“Maybe not, but I just want to say one more thing.” There didn’t seem to be any point in responding. She was obviously not going to let this go until she had this off her chest. “I want you to consider Blue. She looks to you for everything and it won’t be fair if you traipse a bunch of women around all the time. You owe it to her to take your relationships slowly. If she gets attached to someone you’re dating and then it doesn’t work out, she’ll feel the loss, too.”
This was outrageous! When had Rachel turned into Mom? It wasn’t that I thought she was so wrong that got on my last nerve. It was the fact she felt she had to say it to me at all that was offensive. I wanted to yell back at her that she was being vindictive and hurtful against someone she didn’t even know… but then visions of my daughter’s large, imploring eyes filled my mind. All she wanted in life was a responsible, loving parent.
But I thought I was being a responsible and loving parent. I hadn’t done anything wrong and this third degree from my kid sister was ridiculous! Who was she to tell me what to do? If I hadn’t been approached this way, maybe I could have focused on Rachel’s concern for Blue instead of feeling outraged. But at the time, all I wanted to do was push her nose out of my business.
With fire in my eyes, I said, “I get what you’re saying and I want you to know how glad I am that you’re in Blue’s life. We’re both really lucky to have you. But that’s where this stops. Just because you’re my sister and you’re taking care of my daughter, it doesn’t automatically give you permission to give me relationship advice.”
I could immediately tell this ruffled her but good. “You don’t have the best track record, Leo.”
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’m doing everything I can to make things right. You need to back off.”
She raised her chin defiantly, but didn’t challenge me further. Instead she said, “I care about what happens to you and Blue.”
This softened my bad temper pretty fast. “I care about you, too. You’re really smart, Rach.”
“That’s good on account of you being so stupid!” she quipped.
And so, Rachel gradually cooled off about my having asked the “wrong” girl out. She was still aloof toward Cricket, but I decided that it wasn’t my job to make people like each other. I had more than enough on my plate without all that, too. My hope was that one day, Rachel would see what I saw when I looked at Cricket.
I wouldn’t say we were officially dating. Things were just too hectic over the next few weeks to put any effort into a real relationship. Most of my time was spent writing lyrics and practicing with the band to get some songs down. As with our first album, it was a tedious process that lasted for hours on end at a time.
On our last day of recording, I decided to spend the morning hours with Blue. Her birthday was tomorrow and I wanted to cherish this time with her as best I could before everything changed again.
We tried going for a walk, but she had no interest in riding in the stroller. Instead, she kept trying to climb out and I was afraid she would fall on her head. Plus, we’d barely gotten down the road when the paparazzi spotted us. I didn’t really want them snapping pictures of Blue, so I decided we should stick close to home.
For a while, we played in the yard and she was so cute, toddling around. At one point, she fell on her bum with a thud. Over time, I’d learned that if I didn’t show a lot of reaction during these moments, she would simply continue playing. It was only when I made a big deal about it that she stopped to cry.
Today, though, my heart just really couldn’t cope with her falling down. So, I knelt down in front of her, helping her up, my hand on her shoulder. Telling her how much I loved and adored her, I kissed her forehead and told her how sorry I was that she’d fallen.
Lightly, she patted me on the arm as if she was trying to comfort me and said, “It okay, Daddy.”
This, of course, made me melt and love her even more. I was proud of the bond we were able to forge. It grew and strengthened every day.
Happily, we spent the rest of the morning exploring the trees, smelling flowers and watching an army of ants climbing on their hill. Blue was really interested in nature and everything around her. I was sure this was a day I’d never forget.
That afternoon, we began laying down the last track for the album we’d been so diligently working on. We hadn’t meant to leave this song for last, it was just that we’d had so much trouble with it. At several points along the way, we’d almost scrapped it altogether.
But Cranky Sy insisted we work it out. He said this song, which I’d titled, “He Heard She’s Bad,” was going to be a hit. He insisted this was the one that would get us to the number one spot on the charts if we could just hammer out these rough spots.
After rearranging lyrics, changing tempos and the key twice, it seemed like we were finally pulling it together.
“That’s good,” Cranky Sy encouraged through the mic. “Pick it up again at measure twelve. Josh missed the chord change.”
While I counted the band in, I became distracted by Cricket and Bexley. They were standing behind Cranky Sy, talking. I couldn’t hear them because of the soundproofing in the studio but I could tell there was something definitely going on.
“Concentrate, Leo!” Cranky Sy barked. “C’mon, guys, you’re almost there!”
As I counted us in again, I tried harder not to screw everyone up. Still, I couldn’t help but notice that Cricket was openly glaring at Bexley.
Curiously, Bexley was staring straight ahead, her face one of complete contentment.
My interest was piqued as Bexley watched us…. and Cricket continued to watch her.
It wasn’t until we’d finally finished the song and everyone was pleased with the results, that I realized Cricket was not around.
Searching everywhere, I finally found her outside, heading for the front gate.
“Cricket, wait up! Where are you going?”
The sun had just started to rise, emphasizing that beautiful golden yellow in her hair that I was so fond of. I smiled at her but her eyes looked so sad.
“I’m quitting, Leo. I can’t take it anymore. I’ll come back to get my things after you’ve all gone on tour and the house is empty.”
“Wait! Can’t take what?”
“Everyone hates me. They don’t want me here. I’m just…. I’m tired of it.”
“C’mon, Cricket, I know my sister hasn’t been the friendliest but she just feels protective of Blue.”
She shook her head and crossed her arms. “I’m not just talking about Rachel. You never see the things Bexley does to me. You never hear the things she says to me.”
This gave me pause. She was right, I hadn’t ever seen Bex do anything out of the way to anyone so it was hard to believe she would. Still, I didn’t want Cricket to go. “Please, don’t go.”
I tried to pull her into an embrace, but she put her hands up like stop signs against my chest. “I can’t do this!”
Helplessly, I stared at her. Granted, we hadn’t had the time to go out again, but I was under the impression she wanted some kind of relationship with me. Why would she just want to leave like this?
“Please,” I stupidly stumbled. “I really don’t want you to go.”
“Then why don’t you ever stick up for me?”
“I’m at a complete loss. I haven’t seen anything to stick up for you about.” Was I just blind? Was I as obtuse as Rachel claimed?
“Then you’re part of the problem because you don’t believe me!”
She sighed loudly, turning on her heel to walk through the front gate and out of my life. Suddenly, I realized that I couldn’t let that happen. I didn’t care what anyone thought. It didn’t matter in that moment that I was supposed to be careful and take things slowly. I did not want her to leave.
I put my arm around her waist, my other hand grasping hers. She felt delicate and vulnerable in my arms. I wanted to protect her. I kissed her shoulder as I whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry. We can work this out. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Isn’t it enough that I want you here?”
With baited breath, I waited for her answer.
Slowly, her body relaxed and she turned to face me. I encircled her in my arms and leaned in, my lips just hovering in front of hers. I longed for her to kiss me… to reassure me that my efforts weren’t in vain… that she would stay. Gradually, she leaned into me as well and our lips melted together.
As the sun continued to rise above the hills beyond the house, relief flooded me. I pulled her closer and could feel her hand touching me tenderly at the nape of my neck.
It no longer mattered to me what anyone thought or said. And I couldn’t explain it. All I knew was that this felt right.
The guys and I spent the rest of the day assembling a swing set and other playground equipment for Blue’s birthday present. Rachel and Bexley decorated the front patio with balloons and set up a buffet table.
Seeing all the food the catering company put out made me really miss my mom’s cooking and all the fun she always had fixing our favorite meals for our birthdays.
Cricket was the last to join us as we all gathered around Blue to celebrate her special day. I noticed she wasn’t really standing with the group, so I winked at her, hoping that would encourage her to not feel so left out.
“Blue, smile!” I enthused as I snapped picture after picture of her.
It broke my heart to think of her growing up but another part of me was so excited to see what she would do with her future, that I couldn’t help but grin at her like a fool.
She waved at me as though she was wise beyond her years and had the forethought to say goodbye to her toddler years.
My breath caught in my throat…
… and before me stood the most beautiful little girl I’d ever laid eyes upon.
Addendum… 2:00 a.m.:
J… Jillybean, I can’t sleep. I believe you were here on this important day and that you saw your little niece. She reminds me so much of you with her dark hair and fair skin. She’s really smart like you and cares about people. I can picture you telling me now to always remember that she is her own person and not to pressure her into being a copy of you. Don’t worry, Sis, my little Blue is going to do great things with her life!