Dear J, as you can imagine, it’s been really hard to cope with the fact that people are keeping secrets from me. It’s not that I feel I should know absolutely everything about everyone, it’s just that these are people who are supposed to be in my innermost circle.
Knowing there are secrets gives me the impression that I’m an outsider looking in. It’s agonizing in a way, wanting to be close to the people I hold in the highest esteem yet feeling that I’m being held at a distance. Have I ever given anyone a reason not to trust me? Do they think I don’t care deeply enough to keep their confidence? Am I just plain unworthy of knowing? These questions, as unwelcome as they are, swim around my head in unforgiving loops, driving me insane.
In the end, I can excuse my sister for keeping her new boyfriend’s identity on the down low. I suppose she has that right. Bexley, on the other hand, is someone I consider a good friend. Yet there is something about her recent behavior that doesn’t sit quite right with me.
And if I’m discussing with you things that don’t seem right, let’s turn our attention to the biggest offender. Yeah, you guessed it. I’m talking about Cricket. Just today, things really blew up with her.
For a few days, she continued to avoid me. It wasn’t until the day of our photo shoot for the next album that she was forced to deal with me. It was up to her to style the band, after all.
“Leo,” she said after following me outside during a break, “I want to apologize.”
I’m afraid I wasn’t very good about covering up the way I felt. So, it was with some irritation that I said, “Yeah? For what?”
With a pained expression, she said, “I know I’ve been rather difficult and that you can’t understand at all where I’m coming from. I was hoping I could apologize and we could be friendly again.”
“That’s really great!” I growled.
“You don’t have to be so sarcastic. My apology is sincere. I shouldn’t have treated you that way the other day.”
“I really liked you!” I hated how vulnerable this made me sound. It sure didn’t seem very rock and roll to come off so desperate. “I wanted to get to know you better and have a relationship.”
“We still can,” she said quietly.
Seriously? “How can we get to know each other better and have any type of a connection if you persist on keeping things from me?”
“Have you been talking to Bexley?” she asked accusingly, her eyes clouded with anger.
“Here we go, back to Bexley. When I asked you to tell me what the problem between the two of you was, you refused. Then you got so defensive about some stupid contacts and threw me out of your room.”
She squared her shoulders and raised her chin defiantly. “A lot of this does go back to Bexley whether you like it or not.”
“Well, I don’t like it!” I snapped. “None of this makes any sense to me. If you and Bex are having a problem, so much so that you wanted to leave, why can’t you just tell me what the problem is?”
Clenching her fists at her sides, she said, “What did she say to you about me?”
Why was I the one being questioned? Hadn’t Cricket approached me today? I was really beginning to feel like she was purposely trying to make this worse than it already was.
“What did she say about me?” Cricket demanded.
“She said that you are not at all what you seem to be,” I answered steadily, my eyes never leaving hers.
There was a flicker of what I perceived as guilt in her eyes, then in a flash, it was gone and replaced with indignity. This time I didn’t miss it. I know I didn’t make it up in my own mind so I could easily excuse it later.
“That horrible beast ought to keep her big mouth shut.”
Suddenly, I was ashamed that I had ever liked her at all. “And that’s about the ugliest thing I’ve ever heard you say,” I said slowly. “So is there some truth to what Bex told me then?”
Cricket bit her quivering lip and looked away from me.
As the mystery deepened, I glared at her until she couldn’t avoid my stare. “Who. Are. You?”
“I’m no one,” she snarled.
“Is that answer supposed to mean something to me?”
“I don’t suppose so, but I thought I was supposed to mean something to you.”
I took a deep breath before I went through with what had to be said. “Well, you don’t. You did once, but not anymore. This cloak and dagger stuff is stupid and I’m done.”
Before I had a chance to duck, she slapped me hard across the face…
… and then she stomped off.
My face burned where she struck me and I could feel the redness across my cheekbone. But I didn’t run after her. I was done pursuing this madness.
“Wow, Daddy,” came Blue’s voice. Much to my embarrassment, she must have seen everything from her swing set.
“Yeah…. um…. we were just goofing around.” Then I noticed she had a little smile on her face. “Are you smiling?”
She looked up at me, putting a hand over her mouth as if that would conceal the tiny giggle that erupted from her.
This made me smile a little, too. “You like to see your old man smacked around, huh?”
Immediately, she became more sober. “Oh no, Daddy, I didn’t think that was funny. Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “So what made you smile then?”
Just then, she leaned in and with a conspiratorial tone said, “We don’t need her, Daddy.”
She had that right.
After talking to Blue, she ran off to eat her lunch and I went back to the photo shoot. Thankfully, Cricket wasn’t there. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was finally packing her bags to leave for real this time. Our manager Reggie was also missing in action.
Carl, Curtis, Josh and I posed this way and that for the longest time. I really didn’t have patience with this sort of thing. It seemed so tedious to me. My opinion was that we shouldn’t be on the cover of this album anyway, but I was told we needed updated photos regardless.
“So, you and Cricket broke up,” Josh said when we were finished with the shoot.
“Word sure gets around,”I answered, trying to hide the disappointment I felt that I’d ever liked her in the first place. “But it’s okay. We weren’t really an item.”
“Actually, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
For a moment, I stared at him blankly because I couldn’t imagine what could be on his mind. As he glanced sheepishly at his feet, though, it dawned on me what he was about to admit to and I didn’t think I liked it at all.
“You’re seeing Rachel,” I flatly guessed.
Color flooded his face as he nodded. “I really like her, Leo. We have so much in common. She didn’t want you to know yet, but I didn’t think it was right to keep it from you since we’re friends.”
With the mood I was in, I could imagine myself giving him a black eye or a swollen lip. But at the same time, I knew it was probably Rachel’s idea to keep this a secret and she’d never forgive me if I hurt the guy she liked. But I wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily either.
“I won’t try to stop you from seeing my sister,” I said, “but you’ll answer to me if you hurt her.”
“I knew you’d say that. I just wanted you to know that I really respect our friendship and I respect her, too. She means the world to me.”
I took that opportunity to inch closer to him because I knew it would make him somewhat uncomfortable. Standing nose to nose with him, I nodded and said, “You just keep respecting her and we won’t have a problem.”
He fervently promised me up one side and down that other that he would do just that. I swear, the things big brothers do for little sisters.
As evening broke across the Bridgeport skyline, coloring the horizon in shades of pink and purple, we all gathered in the living room to greet a new visitor from Sound Pollution Records. His name was Owen Price and he did not have good news.
“I have a lot to go over,” he said. “And I’m afraid there’s some bad news.”
Just then, my phone rang. As I excused myself to answer it, the guys offered him a place to sit on the couches.
“It’s Mom, Leo.”
“Hey, um, I’m glad you called but I’m in a meeting.”
“This is important. I got a phone call from Blue.”
This didn’t strike me as unusual since my mom and Blue spoke on the phone almost every day. “And?”
“And she told me some things she’s overheard. She also told me about your encounter this morning with Cricket.”
“Leo, this is important,” Curtis urged from the sitting area.
“Don’t worry about any of that,” I hurriedly told my mom. “Everything’s fine.”
“No, it really isn’t. I can tell you can’t talk right now, but please… this is something we must discuss as soon as possible.”
I assured her I would get back with her as soon as I could and turned my attention toward our guest.
“I apologize for the interruption,” I murmured as I took my seat.
“Never mind that,” Curtis said with a scowl on his face. “You won’t believe what Mr. Price just told us!”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Reggie’s run off with our money!” Curtis exclaimed, his voice rising hysterically.
“What? How can this be?”
Owen, who was a lot calmer than any of us, said, “We think he was working a scheme out with your money manager but we don’t have all the details yet. Both Reggie and your money manager are gone, though. The authorities are searching for them as we speak but they could be anywhere.”
“They’re probably on a beach somewhere drinking margaritas,” Carl said glumly.
“This is outrageous!” I yelled. We’d had our differences, but I couldn’t imagine Reggie doing such a thing. Despite some of my personal encounters with him, I was certain he’d liked working with the band and in the music industry.
“I agree with you,” Owen said.
“I’ll make sure your accountant meets with you to discuss the financial situation, of course. We’re expecting high sales from this next album which, of course, will boost ticket sales when you tour. If you’re as big a hit as Sound Pollution Records thinks you will be, you’ll make the money back and then some.” He paused to let this sink in before saying, “I do have some news that might make the pain of what I just told you sting a little less.”
“What could possibly do that?” Josh asked.
“Accidental Therapy has been nominated for some Grammy Awards.”
My jaw dropped as this began to sink in. We had only released one album and had only done one tour. This was amazing!
Rachel smiled at the news as she stood behind Josh. Josh, seeming to sense her behind him, leaned back slightly and I saw her lightly brush one of her fingers across his back. Watching them now, I could clearly see the subtle signs that they were dating. Signs I’d been oblivious to before.
“What are the nominations?” Curtis asked. I could tell by his expression, he was still thinking about Reggie and the missing money.
Owen smiled as he read aloud from a note he’d made for himself, “Best New Artist and Album of the Year. Congratulations, guys, you deserve it.”
We all looked at each other in astonishment, unable to articulate how this made us feel. Even if we didn’t win a Grammy, just being nominated was enough to make us proud.
It was Blue who spoke first, “What’s a Grammy?”
“She didn’t just say that!” Carl laughed.
Rachel turned to Blue, ushering her upstairs to bed while we continued to discuss what we’d learned this evening. Even with tonight’s disappointment and then the excitement, I couldn’t help but let my eyes wander to Cricket. She was acting as if I didn’t exist. But so what? Why did that bother me?
Isn’t that what I’d wanted?
Standing up, I went downstairs and leaned against the wall, hoping to put Cricket out of my mind once and for all. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
The doorbell rang…
…and in stepped my mom and Aunt Keniesha with business on their minds.