Chapter 2.3: Dear J, Growing Up is Hard

Chapter 2.3: Dear J, Growing Up is Hard

I was a goner, completely undone by the kiss. Had I known it would overpower me so completely, I never would have been careless enough to engage her in that way. What had inspired me to lean in and touch my lips to hers? Was it the delicate curve of her neck? The way she gazed at me through thick lashes or the way the rising sun lit up her hair with a soft glow?

Even now as I write to you, J, I don’t know what possessed me or where this action will lead. I only know how it began…

Since Blue’s arrival, I’d been sure to make her the priority in my life. Much to my manager Reggie’s annoyance, that is. The band didn’t seem too bothered by my long walks and trips to the park with my girl. Or perhaps they kept their feelings to themselves because they knew I was on the edge of losing my cool with Reggie.
Regardless of anyone’s opinion, Blue and I did so much together. In fact, I was beginning to accumulate quite a collection of photos of our adventures.

Of course, she wasn’t a plaything. There was a lot to figure out about being a dad and taking care of a toddler. While most of the time, she was pretty easy to deal with, she didn’t always cooperate.
I couldn’t tell you how many stories before bed we read every night. Rachel had suggested she put Blue to bed and I just know she thinks I’m totally incompetent, but I wanted to be the last person Blue saw at night.
Just as I wanted to be the first person she saw in the morning. After all, it wouldn’t be long before another album was in the works and we’d have to hit the road again. These times were precious to me.
And they were also messy. I don’t know how she kept growing when she mostly just threw her food on the floor.
Somehow, though, she found ways to bewitch me so that I couldn’t get angry with her.
On top of it all, while I knew she was supposed to take naps and stuff, if she cried, I didn’t have the heart to leave her alone in her room. So, we would crash on the couch together. Since I wasn’t sleeping all that well at night, I figured these catnaps were okay.
And that’s how things were rolling along until the morning I overslept from exhaustion and found that she wasn’t there when I scrambled to her room to get her. Everyone in the house was already up and going about what they usually do.
“Ah, nice of you to join us,” Bexley grinned as I stepped off the elevator into the living room.
I walked toward her, smiling at Blue, who was resting comfortably in her arms, and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear my alarm. Where’s Rachel?”
“Don’t go blaming her. I told her I could visit with Blue while she took a shower.” Blue giggled while Bexley lightly tickled her and said, “Didn’t I tell her that, little Bluebell?”
“I’m really sorry, Bex.” Grinning, I played with Blue’s pigtail. To my delight, she giggled for me, too.
“No worries,” Bexley said. “She’s a doll, but I have to run.”
As I was reaching for my daughter, Bexley turned and pushed Blue into Cricket’s arms.
“Go eat breakfast!” Bexley called over her shoulder.
For a moment, I thought Cricket had a look of disgust on her face, but as I turned toward her, all I saw now was a look of angelic perfection. I must have been mistaken.
“Good morning, Leo,” she said. “While I’d love to hang around, I have a few things I need to do, too.”
“I was going to take her anyway.”
She smiled as I took Blue from her, carrying her upstairs to get her dressed. I was supposed to be writing songs but I’d been kind of lax in working on anything since Blue arrived.

After Blue had been bathed, dressed and fed (she only threw part of her food on the floor this morning), I came to the living room a second time. Everyone was there…. Cranky Sy was making drinks already, Carl was questioning Curtis’ choice of television show again, and Bex was back. She and Cricket were in what looked like an unpleasant conversation but their voices were low and I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Oh and Josh was playing a computer game.
Rachel walked up just as Reggie stopped me.
“We need to talk,” Reggie said, his voice unusually abrupt.
“Okay,” I said. I already knew he was going to get on me about the songs, I didn’t need a crystal ball to tell me that.
“I’m not trying to be pushy, Leo, but you haven’t shown the band any songs and we have to get moving on this immediately!” Then he went into the speech he’s been saying since our first album was being made, “You know, a rock band only has a short window of time for making money before the public loses interest and you’re yesterday’s news. The clock is ticking! You have to make the money while you can!”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry. I’m working on it.” I’d tried countless times to explain to him how this was more to me than making money. I’d attempted to make him understand that putting more pressure on me was not going to make me perform any better. It was like talking to a rock.
“Working on it?” he said, his voice going up an octave. “You need to grow up and focus on what’s important! All I’ve seen you doing lately is carting that kid around. You have a nanny for her, you know!”
I could feel my face turning red, my blood beginning to boil as I glared at him.
“I’ll take Blue now,” Rachel said anxiously. But I ignored her for the moment.
“What did you say?” I asked. It was an obvious dare for him to say it again.
He stepped back, swallowing hard, then smiled bashfully, his demeanor changing. “Geez, you know, these deadlines are just really closing in. I didn’t mean to get up in your face about it, man. Relax.”
What a schmoozer. I’m not always the best at reading people, I can admit it. I want to believe that people aren’t nasty just to be nasty and that there’s good in everyone.
Even though he had offered a sort of apology, I could see plainly in his cool eyes that he was just trying to avoid a confrontation with me. I was his product and he didn’t want to push me too far over the edge.
“I’ll take Blue,” Rachel said feebly, nudging my arm lightly.
Looking down, I put a hand over my face to try to focus and ignore the way my mouth had gone dry and my heart rate was steadily increasing. It wasn’t easy.
Pushing violent thoughts away of smashing Reggie’s perfectly chiseled nose, I smiled reassuringly at Rachel, giving Blue to her.
Waiting until they left the room, I unleashed a part of myself I wish didn’t exist. “Listen, you ferret faced asshat, you don’t have me fooled with your fake smile. You complain about or call my daughter ‘that kid’ one more time — you even look at her funny, and you’ll be spitting out your teeth and eating baby food for the rest of your life!”
He gulped then shrugged. “Musicians,” he muttered as he turned his back on me and pulled out his phone to make a call.
And with all that, the day had officially gone south. It was painfully obvious, even to me, that I needed to cool off. Sometimes, there were moments when I was doing something mindless and a good idea for a song would pop into my head. That’s why I went downstairs to the pool. I stood in my favorite spot, gazing at the city and letting my mind wander when I sensed someone had come in.
“Hey,” Cricket said. “Mind if I join you?”
I shrugged. “It’s a free world.” Truth is, even though she was just trying to be nice, I found myself a little annoyed that no matter where I went, I couldn’t have even a little time to myself. How could I write like this?
“Do you like my new suit?” she asked. “I got it during the tour when we were in Sunlit Tides.”
“Uh, yeah, it’s really nice.” And the truth was, it was better than nice. “Look, I don’t know how much company I’ll really be right now.”
She smiled despite the fact I had just dismissed her. “I heard all about the argument you had with Reggie. Cranky Sy said you should drink more and chill.”
“Yeah, because he’s so chill.” I smiled back at her when she laughed.
“I like it when you loosen up. You’re always so serious.”
As I remembered the weight I carried, I looked down at my feet. “Well, I have a lot of responsibilities.”
“I know,” she said. “You have your daughter, of course, but you also have all of our careers riding on your shoulders… Without you, we’re all out jobs. Even your sister’s employment now depends on you.”
“Wait — am I supposed to be paying her?” I joked.
Cricket laughed then said, “I just wanted you to know that I understand.”
It was nice having someone to talk to. I hadn’t sought her company out, but she really seemed to comprehend the magnitude of my feelings.
“How long have you been styling celebrities?”
Her eyes lit up. “To be honest, I’m fresh out of University. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Much like yourself.”
I nodded, considering this.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I was visiting a friend who works at Sound Pollution Records and I overheard them playing your demo. I asked who you were and that’s when I knew I wanted to be hired on. I wanted to be your stylist.”
“How could you have known from that?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just did.”
Life has a funny way of throwing people together, doesn’t it, J?
Later, all I could think about was slipping into my warm, comfortable bed. I’d finally gotten Blue off to sleep, taken a shower and put some sweats on. But when I stepped out of my bathroom, Rachel had other ideas. My sister had the energy of a lightning bolt. She was obsessed with working out and was always on the go.
“Rach, I want to go to bed. C’mon, I’m sapped.”
“Lighten up,” she said through heavy breaths, not slowing down at all. “I know you’re tired, but I think you need to go out and have some fun for once.”
“Go out?” How could I do that? I needed to get some sleep and shut myself away for a few days while I wrote. Having a night out was the last thing on my mind.
“Yes, out,” she panted. “When’s the last time you just had fun?”
Rubbing my chin, I thought about her question.
When I didn’t answer, she said, “Exactly. You’ll feel better. I mean, don’t do anything stupid, just go to a club or something. You could use the distraction.”
“I don’t know. I mean, this isn’t a good time.”
She stopped running, flipping the treadmill off and wiping her face on a towel. “Leo, you’re going. Whatever excuse you’re concocting, I have ten reasons why you should still go enjoy yourself for once.”
Stubbornly, I dug my heels in. “No, I can’t. You don’t know what it’s like, everyone needs something and they look to me for it. I’m being pushed at on all sides.”
“I know and I heard about how you were pushing back today with Reggie. I didn’t like it.”
“Whoever filled you in probably exaggerated.”
She sighed and put the towel around her neck. “Your temper is borderline scary lately so I think you need a break.”
Borderline scary? Maybe she was right. “I’ll see if the guys want to go.”
She shook her head. “No. Not the guys. Go on a date.”
“A date? With who?” And as if my mom was standing there correcting my grammar, I quickly said, “With whom?”
“Haven’t you noticed anyone trying to get your attention?” she grinned.
My face turned red. “Well.. yeah. I didn’t think you liked her, though.”
Laughing, she said, “I love her and so does Blue! She’s perfect for you! Now, ask her out before you lose the opportunity!”
And that’s how I happened to ask Cricket out. It was already after eleven by the time we got to the club, but we made the most of it.
I’d been nervous about going to a club without Bexley arranging everything and showing me around like a prized animal in a zoo. There was no need for concern, however. Almost as soon as we got there, we were ushered into the VIP section where the paparazzi couldn’t bother us.
After a long night of dancing and drinks, I took Cricket to a local all night diner for breakfast. There weren’t any other customers yet, so we were able to eat without being bothered. It had been such a long time since I’d been out without an entourage that it felt almost unnatural to be doing something so normal. Yet there I was, sitting in a red vinyl booth eating scrambled eggs and toast. I kept stealing glances at Cricket as she sipped her coffee which, I noted, she drank black. If she noticed me admiring her, she didn’t show it.
After we left the diner, we walked for a little bit along the sidewalk toward the water. The fountains in the park had been turned on and I jokingly took her arm, pretending that I was going to throw her in. I laughed as she squealed and playfully slapped my shoulder. We were so close to the fountains that the fine mist they produced dampened our clothing and hair. As I reached out to touch a small droplet of water on her cheek, she pulled me into an embrace.
Her body was warm against the chill as she tenderly ran her fingers through the hair at the back of my neck. Ignoring all the misgivings I’d had about Cricket previously, I encircled her in my arms and breathed in the faint scent of her perfume. It felt so good to be close to her.
My arms ached from the emptiness as she pulled away and I wanted nothing more in that moment than to nuzzle up against her again. Instead, I stood there marveling at the way the rising sun made her blond hair glow like gold.
“You’re really beautiful,” I said, barely above a whisper.
And that was the moment when I felt compelled to lean forward and touch her lips with mine.

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