Little girls like pink, right? This was one of several questions I had for Bexley in preparation for Blue’s arrival. After answering a half dozen or so inquiries, she finally offered to help me. It’s a good thing she did because apparently, I had it all wrong.
Almost immediately, Bex nixed the crib idea and selected a little white toddler bed instead. She chose a striped wallpaper, a castle shaped bookcase, several children’s books to go in it, stuffed toys and a dollhouse. You’re probably wondering if I contributed anything, aren’t you, J?
The answer to that is, yes. The zebra rocking horse is something I added. If you’ve noticed my piano, you’ve recognized my fondness for zebra stripes.
Bexley and I stood back and admired our handy work with great satisfaction. True, I didn’t know much about little girls but I had a feeling we had pulled together an awesome bedroom.
“The windows still bug me.”
“Relax, Leo, they use special glass for windows on upper levels of buildings. Plus, they don’t even open.”
Even so, I pushed against a few of them with my full body weight while Bex stood watching, her arms crossed in front of her with a knowing expression on her face.
“Satisfied?” she laughed when I turned back toward her.
“I guess so,” I conceded. “I really want to thank you for everything you’ve done. I think you’ll really like Blue.”
“I like you, Leo, so I know I’ll like Blue, too,” she said, pulling me into a sudden hug.
I didn’t know exactly how to respond so I hugged her back.
“All right, I have tons to do. Reggie wants you guys to appear on the Late Show with Carroll Carey.”
I was only half listening, though, because all I could think about was Blue’s arrival tomorrow. Pushing thoughts of interviews aside, I took one more look at the bright pink room.
As if sensing my anticipation and anxiety, Bexley patted my arm lightly. “I’m going to stay in the city while your family is here so you can visit with them. I need to work the details out for the interview, anyway. I’ll see you in a couple days, okay?”
“Okay,” I said with a small smile. Everyone had decided to take off, actually, because we’d been given a few days off since coming back from our tour.
Late that night, I found I wasn’t feeling tired at all. Usually around this time, I was basking in the adoration of thousands of people and closing a show. Life had changed so drastically that I was no longer accustomed to being alone. I was always surrounded by crowds of people. Even here at home.
Tonight, there was only me and a house that was strangely quiet.
Sitting on the floor, I strummed a few chords on my guitar before settling on a familiar, sweet tune that I imagined singing to Blue again very soon. She loved this song mostly, I think, because it had her name in it, which I always emphasized when I sang it..
“Great grandfather met great-grandmother
When she was a shy young miss
And great grandfather won great-grandmother
With words, more less, like this…
Lavender BLUE, dilly, dilly
If I were king, dilly, dilly
I’d need a queen…”
From the corner of my eye, I noticed a shadow looming over me. Startled, I looked up to see Cricket standing there with a soft smile on her angelic face.
“My mother used to sing that song to me when I was a kid,” she mused. “Please… don’t stop.”
But the spell was broken. Quickly, I put the guitar down and stood up, facing her. “Oh yeah… I was brushing up on it because it’s Blue’s favorite.”
“I told you not to stop,” she said. “I was enjoying it.”
“I, uh, didn’t know anyone was here,” I stammered, feeling my face turning red.
“Relax,” she said easily. “I’m just trying to get to know you better.”
The redness in my face grew hotter. “Well, you’re the one who dresses me so I’d say you know me pretty well.” Man, that sounded stupid.
She laughed, her blue eyes sparkling. “It’s not easy being a stylist for celebrities, I’ll admit. Picking out what you wear is not the same as really knowing you.”
I looked down at my feet, unable to maintain her inquisitive gaze. “Well, uh, there’s not much to know. I’m an open book.”
“You’re really not, though,” she challenged. “Why didn’t you respond when I was flirting with you in the hot tub?”
I found her direct manner unnerving. “Oh… were you flirting?”
“You know I was. I’ve been trying to get your attention for a long time.”
My mind scrambled and a hot, uncomfortable feeling washed over me. “Look, I think you’re really nice, Cricket, I just — there’s too much on my plate right now.”
I sat down, trying to look as cool and collected as possible, not sure if I was pulling it off. I spent all my time acting in a play of sorts to keep up my persona, but this time, it just seemed too hard. She made me feel off balance, as if I was on the edge of a cliff with unsure footing.
She sat down near me. “So I would just be some kind of complication? What is it with you?”
Swallowing hard, I said, “I’m just not ready for anything right now. It doesn’t have anything to do with you at all.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly and I could tell she didn’t believe me. But, almost as quickly, her expression changed, making me wonder if I’d seen her disbelief at all. “Well, I’d like to be good friends at least. Tell me about Blue.”
So I did. I talked about Blue until Cricket’s eyes glazed over. But she never asked me to stop. She never changed the subject or questioned me about Blue’s mother. It was kind of nice to unload for a change. It made me feel real, not like putting on a show or keeping up an image. Maybe we could be good friends after all. I could even imagine there might be more someday. At this point, I wasn’t sure what the future held, I just knew that Blue had to come first.
Finally, the big day arrived. But my family didn’t pull in until late that evening. All day, I was beside myself with anticipation and I wondered if this resembled at all what my parents felt when I finally came home from Aunt Keniesha’s.
As soon as they arrived, I buzzed them in. I was delighted that my sisters had joined the party. They were young adults now and more beautiful than I remembered.
When they were finally standing before me in the foyer, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my little girl Blue. I know all parents think their children are tops and they also think that everyone else agrees, too, but this child was different. She was the most charming, delicate, adorable toddler ever!
But first things first. I greeted and hugged each of my sisters, complimenting them and congratulating them on their high school graduation. I asked each one what plans they had. Daylynn was going to University right away to study business. Rachel mumbled something about physical education.
I then embraced my parents, expressing my gratitude for traveling to Bridgeport and bringing Blue.
Finally, the moment was here. My heart bursting with love and pride, I took my baby in my arms, holding her tightly to me at first. I inhaled the scent of her baby shampoo and reveled in feeling her heart beating against me.
“You’re home now, Little Girl Blue,” I whispered to her. “We’ll be together from now on.”
As the family settled into their rooms, I took my girl upstairs and sat with her on one of the couches.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” I told her. Never had I ever imagined feeling this strongly about anyone or anything. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for her.
She began to wriggle a bit, so I softly hummed, then sang Lavender Blue to her.
“…And great grandfather won great grandmother
with words, more less, like this… Lavender BLUE -“
“- Boooo!” she shouted when I sang “blue.”
My eyes widened and my heart quickened. It was the first time I’d ever heard her talk. With tears of happiness in my eyes, I pulled her to me again, overwhelmed with joy.
“You said your name! Say it again for daddy.”
She giggled then said, “Boo.”
Over and over again, I had her say it, not believing my ears.
It was getting late. After she ate, I reluctantly took her to her new, pink room. Her green eyes widened and took in everything around her as I told her that these things belonged to her and that she’d be near me and safe here.
Carefully, I put her to bed and made sure the baby monitor was on. I’d already tested it about a million times in the past couple days, but better safe than sorry. To my surprise, she settled down right away and fell asleep. Poor kid must have been completely worn out to not have fussed at all.
I stayed in the room for several minutes to make sure she was all right, then I joined my parents in the living room.
“Is she sleeping?” Mom asked.
I nodded. “She drifted right off.”
“That’s good,” Dad said.
“Is your room okay? Where are the girls?”
“They’re watching TV and, yes, our room is very nice. Who does it belong to?” my mother asked.
“I gave you Bexley’s room. She’s my handler.”
Mom raised an eyebrow. I could tell right away she didn’t like how that sounded.
“Uh, my personal assistant,” I explained further.
Mom seemed to accept this. I saw her glance at Dad before she spoke again. “Leo, we’re very proud of you – ”
” – but…” I said. There was always a “but” in there somewhere.
She lowered her eyes and folded her hands in her lap. It was obvious she was holding something back.
“What is it?”
Suddenly, she was full of life, her hands in the air, her arms waving about dramatically. “I can’t imagine Blue here!”
“Why not?” I asked, trying to remain calm.
She glanced at Dad before speaking. “It just doesn’t seem like a very nurturing or calm environment.”
“You’ve been here for an hour,” I said, my temper flaring.
“You still haven’t explained who will be taking care of her.”
“I’ll be taking care of her.”
“I don’t think you even remotely know what you’re getting into,” Mom said. “You’re not being realistic at all.”
As I was opening my mouth to refute what she was saying, my dad finally spoke up, his voice that calm in the storm that I always remembered.
“We’re not questioning your ability, kid,” he said. “You’ve really done a lot of great things already in your life. This has more to do with every day life. You need a nanny or something.”
“Or, we could leave her here for a visit and then come and get her next week when your break is over,” Mom suggested.
So there it was. She didn’t want to let go of Blue.
“Blue is my daughter and she belongs with me. I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation with you!”
“We only want what’s best for the both of you, Leo,” Mom said. “Being a father is more than just having her with you. Her needs have to come before your own. Is this really what’s best for her?”
The room felt like it was closing in. I clutched my chest because it suddenly ached with the thought of sending Blue away. Hadn’t I just gotten done telling her that she was home for good and that we’d be together always?
But what if Mom was right? What if I was only thinking about myself? I did want Blue to have everything possible. Without her, I’d had this empty place in my heart that seemed filled as soon as I’d laid eyes upon her this evening. I didn’t just want her to be here, I needed her in my life. Even with a great family and a soaring career in the field I’d always dreamed of, sometimes I felt like Blue was all I had.
My mother must have seen my fallen expression because with a soothing voice, she said, “I’m sorry. I know you love her and only want what’s best. I’m just tired after the long trip here.”
I saw them glance up and realized someone had come into the room.
As we all stood up to allow Cricket to join us, I was a little disappointed that the conversation was over. I wanted to continue talking this out. I wanted resolution.
“Cricket, these are my parents Liev and Memphis Capra. Mom, Dad, this is Cricket Blackwood. She’s the band’s stylist.”
As if things hadn’t already gone south with the previous conversation, my mother jerked her hand back as if burned when shaking hands with Cricket.
Even in the worst circumstances, my mother was polite as could be, always having the best manners. I didn’t buy that she was already upset because of our conversation about Blue. It was’t an emotional reaction she’d had to my stylist. She had physically recoiled, the color draining from her face.
And how could I explain Cricket’s reaction to this? She didn’t seem upset although she had to have noticed. She regarded Mom for a moment, then lowered her long, thick lashes, blinking them prettily. As I looked at her closer, I didn’t see what I expected. There was no shock, no indication that she was wondering why my mom had acted that way. No, her eyes held amusement.
My father quickly jumped in to action, diverting my attention. He shook Cricket’s hand, pumping her arm wildly out of embarrassment, and saying how glad he was to meet her.
I was left there, my head spinning, as suddenly, everyone excused themselves to go to bed. What the hell had just happened?
I tossed and turned all night, checking on Blue frequently. She slept so heavily, I kept thinking the baby monitor was broken. Each time I looked in on her, she was conked out, a peaceful expression on her face.
When she was ready to get up, I bathed her, dressed her and gave her a piggy back ride downstairs where the smell of Mom’s french toast was wafting out of the kitchen.
As soon as I put Blue down in the dining room, she climbed up onto a chair, balancing precariously. I was just grabbing for her when Daylynn came in, yawning.
“Way to go, Leo! She’s only been here one night and she’s going to crack her head open. Ever hear of a highchair?”
Ignoring my sister’s snarkiness, I threw Blue into the air, flipping her upside down.
“I forgot what a climber you are!”
Full of giggles, she yelled, “Boo!”
“The highchair’s in the kitchen, smartass,” I told my little sister.
She sighed loudly and went to the kitchen to fetch it.
As if the smell of french toast had beckoned them, the family came in one by one, gathering at the table to decide who should sit where. The room was full of chattering, teasing and laughter. The Capras were together again for a meal.
As Mom brought the food in, my thoughts were filled with nothing but her awesome cooking hitting my palate again. Without warning, though, she stopped cold in her tracks, the french toast nearly sliding off the plate and onto the floor. Luckily, she caught it in time and we all followed her gaze to see what had affected her this way. It only took me a moment to realize the problem was Cricket, who had joined us at the table.
Quickly recovering, Mom put the plate of french toast on the table and said quite pleasantly, “Hello, Cricket. I’m so glad you’ve joined us.”
Forever the well-mannered woman, she even served Cricket the first plate of food. Whatever the issue had been, Mom showed no further signs of it. When my plate was passed down to me, I ate so fast it gave me a stomach ache. It was just so good to have something that tasted familiar. Mom had a very satisfied smile on her face as she watched me eat.
Cricket only took a few bites, moving the rest about on her plate with a fork. She seemed so uncomfortable right now that I began to wonder if I’d really seen that look of amusement in her eyes last night. Maybe I’d mixed it up. Perhaps I’d read her wrong or I’d been mistaken and not seen that in her eyes at all as I had thought.
After breakfast, Cricket excused herself, saying she had work to do. Rachel and I took Blue upstairs to the living room and played with her. This little girl was walking like nobody’s business!
“Leo, I need to talk to you.”
I gave Blue a stuffed toy to play with and straightened up so Rachel and I were eye to eye. “Sure, Sis.”
But then she didn’t say anything.
After several minutes, I said, “I know we haven’t been especially close in the past, but I’m hoping we can change that. I’m your big brother. You can tell me anything.”
This seemed to convince her. “I don’t want to study physical education.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “That doesn’t seem like such a big deal. What do you want to major in?”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. I don’t want to go to university at all.”
Now I knew why she wanted to talk to me. Our parents would not be keen on her not going to school.
“What do you want to do then?”
Bashfully, she smiled, her face flushing much like mine does. “I want to take care of children.”
“You want to be a teacher? Work in daycare?”
My heart stopped as panic filled my mind. “Are you trying to tell me something? OMG, are you…?”
Her eyes widened and her mouth formed a pretty “oh.” “No, gross, Leo! I’m not having a baby!”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Good. That’s good.”
“I want to take care of Blue.”
Now my eyes widened. “What? No, you have to think about your own future.”
“Leo, you need me. I’m not asking to freeload but I’m not being a nanny for free either. You’re going to pay me. We kind of need each other.”
I turned this idea around in my head over and over again. This could solve a lot of problems. I wouldn’t have to hire a nanny, which I knew would probably be a tedious process, and Blue would have another family member in her life; someone she already knew.
“Please, Leo. I really, really want to do this. I love Blue so much. I love you, too.”
It was funny in a way. I couldn’t remember ever spending any special time with Rachel. Sure, we did things as kids, but I’d always considered her too young to spend any real time with. Besides, she had Daylynn and I had Jillybean.
“You really think this is what you want?”
“Yes, Leo. I want to do this. Not forever, of course, but there’s nothing I want more right now.”
Never had I imagined this as a solution to my problems. Yet, there it was, plain as day.
“You’ve got the job!” I announced as she threw her arms around my neck and squealed.
“Okay, now you have to tell Mom and Dad!”
Not long before the family had to leave for home, Mom, Blue and I went outdoors alone. There were a few things I wanted to talk to her about, so when she asked me if I wanted to walk around the yard so Blue could get some fresh air, the answer was an obvious yes.
Summer had given way to Autumn and we were bundled in our coats against the crisp air. Gold, red and brown leaves swirled lazily in the light breeze, floating their way to the grass which was still a deep green.
“Mom, there’s something you should know and I’m hoping you take it all right,” I started.
Her expression was pensive, but she listened quietly while I explained my conversation with Rachel and the plan we had formulated.
Surprisingly, she didn’t seem to take the news badly at all. She smiled slightly and said, “I actually think that’s a good idea. It eases my mind to know that Blue will have another familiar face.”
I let out my breath slowly and nodded. It was a relief that she was accepting this. The last thing I wanted was for either of us to have negative feelings about this visit.
“I want to tell you something,” she said with a soft voice. “I want to apologize to you. I know I came on very strongly about not leaving Blue here and it was uncalled for. In just a short time, you’ve done very well for yourself and I know that you’ll also do well with Blue. I think I wanted to keep her so badly because I know what it feels like to be left with another family. I just didn’t want Blue to think I’d given her away like I had been. She will start wondering about her mother when she’s older, but I won’t have her wondering about her father, too. This is the only place she should be, with you.”
Any hard feelings I had about the night before dissolved in an instant. J, I can’t tell you how much I love Mama. “I know this is hard on you. I’ve made some terrible mistakes and I’m trying to do the right thing.”
“We all make mistakes, Leonardo. I’m very proud of how you’ve stepped up and taken responsibility. This is no light matter. Children can be very demanding of our time and emotions. I do feel much better that Rachel will be here. There’s just one thing, though.”
“What is that?”
“I need you to be aware of your sister’s needs. There will come a time, I don’t know when or how soon, when she will want to break free. Perhaps she’ll want to go to school after all or maybe she’ll want to get married and start a family of her own. You have to recognize when this happens and let her go. Don’t depend on her so much that she feels she can’t ever leave you to do what she wants to do.”
“I understand.” There was a pause in the conversation, so I ventured to ask, “Can I ask you about Cricket? It’s like you have some kind of aversion toward her.”
She looked down with what I suspect was embarrassment. “That,” she sighed. “I don’t know. I’m so sorry about how I reacted to her. It’s just that she seems…. so familiar. In a bad way. As if I have met her before.”
I thought for a long while on this. I couldn’t imagine where or how they would have met before. “So you think you know her?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m certain now that I have never seen her before last night. I don’t know what the matter is with me.” Then she smiled again. “What I do know, though, is that I will miss you, Rachel and Blue terribly! You may have to put up with a few more visits from us!”
I laughed. “I don’t know if I can stand it!”
She laughed now, too. “I love you, Leo.”
“And I love you.”
The car had arrived. Dad, Daylynn and Rachel sauntered outside. Mom picked up Blue and hugged her one last time.
“You be good for your daddy,” she said as she kissed the top of the toddler’s head.
“She will be,” I mumbled. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my sisters hug each other and say goodbye.
I’m a terrible person, J. The pang of jealousy I felt was so intense, it was difficult to control. The more I tried to push it down, the more explosive it felt.
It didn’t really help when, before getting into the waiting vehicle, Daylynn said, “I thought you were famous! You couldn’t even get us a limo?”
And so the visit ended just as it had begun. Despite Daylynn’s attitude, I managed to hug her and wish her well with her pursuits in school. Then I told my father goodbye. He praised me again and told me to call if I needed anything.
Embracing my mother, I told her again that I loved her. I could hear the smile in her voice as she said, “I’m just a phone call away.”
Rachel and I stood side by side as the vehicle pulled out of the driveway and down the road. Part of me felt homesick enough to want to run behind the car, yelling that they’d forgotten me. But looking down at my daughter’s sweet face, I was reminded that home was right here. And it was good.
Author’s Note: The song Lavender Blue (or Lavender’s Blue) originated in the late 1700s. It was brought back to popularity when it was performed by Burl Ives in 1948. This is the 1948 Disney version with music and lyrics by Larry Morey and Eliot Daniel.