Dear J, it was almost 4:30 in the morning and the dark sky was still sprinkled with stars. They glimmered, draped in cirrus clouds, reminding me of childhood dreams of space travel.
Sleep seemed to be a long ago memory these days, so watching the city sometimes helped me think of new lyrics.
From behind me, I heard booted footsteps and realized Rachel had joined me in my favorite spot. I suppose she knew by now that if she couldn’t find me, this is where I most likely was. Or maybe she came here, too.
From this vantage point, the entire city was visible, including the bridge that connected the hills where I lived to Bridgeport.
We stood in silence for a few moments, each of us lost in our own thoughts. My mind was heavy with thoughts of Cricket and Bexley. I was still completely perplexed by recent events. Mom and Aunt Keniesha hadn’t really had a chance to explain what their urgent arrival was all about, only that my dad would soon follow. They seemed concerned, and I knew if they came all the way to Bridgeport so unexpectedly, there was something unusual brewing. I could sense it in the atmosphere and this feeling seemed to be infecting everything I tried to do.
As for Rachel, I didn’t know what was on her mind. We’d already briefly discussed Mom and Aunt Keniesha’s arrival. Our speculations had all come up empty. We’d also talked about the fact she was dating Josh. She wasn’t happy that he’d told me, but she said she understood that he felt he should since he and I were friends.
“Leo, I have big news,” she said tentatively, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
Tearing my eyes from the stars, I turned to face her.
“Josh asked me to marry him and I told him I would.”
My sister would never be accused of beating around the bush.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything?”
And, really, what could I say? I pulled her into my arms, hoping to smooth out her jitters.
“Are you sure this is the right thing to do?”
She let out her breath and I could feel her nodding. “Yes, I really love him and I think we can make a good life together.”
I kissed her cheek and said, “I’m really happy for you.” What else could I say?
“Please don’t tell Mom yet. I want to wait until Dad is here so I can tell them together.”
“Okay,” I answered, which brought me back around full circle, wondering why my dad had stayed behind.
I tried to push the weight of secrets off of me. The sun would be up soon and with it, Blue.
And as usual, Blue was up early. After breakfast, we ventured outside to play catch.
“Your aim is so good!” I enthused as she threw the ball to me.
Whenever I spent time with my girl, my spirits were lifted. It was only during these times that all my problems seemed miles away. The trick, I’d learned, was to let go and enjoy the moments I had with her. If I could do that, I was free… even if just for a little while.
We played until lunch and as she walked away to find Rachel, I was already longing for the next moment I could spend time with her.
If only I’d been able to stay in my fun little world with Blue. Instead, when I came upstairs, I was treated to an argument between Bex and Cricket.
“How could you do this to me? How?” Cricket wailed, throwing her hands in the air, dangerously close to Bexley’s face.
Bexley held her hands in front of her like stop signs. “Oh please, you’ve been playing a dangerous game and it’s about time you were exposed!”
“What the – ” I heard Aunt Keniesha’s voice next to me and tore my eyes away long enough to see my mom was with her.
“I haven’t done anything wrong! You’ve been out to sabotage me all along! Admit it!”
Bexley’s laugh was ugly, her face contorted with anger. “You sabotage yourself every time you turn around!”
I’d had enough. “What’s this about?” I demanded as I joined them.
Both of them closed their lips tight, continuing to glare at one another.
“Tell me what’s going on!” I yelled.
Instead of answering, they stared at one another defiantly.
“This is no way for grown women to act,” Mom said to them. “Really, this is ridiculous. Either tell us what’s going on or stop it now. There is no way my granddaughter should be exposed to your immature behavior.”
“Listen, lady, I don’t think it’s any of your business -” Cricket began.
“-it most certainly is!” Bexley interrupted.
I stepped in again, anger flashing through me like a bolt of lightning. “Both of you knock it off! Is this how professionals act?” Glaring at Cricket I added, “It’s one thing to not get along with me. But don’t you dare disrespect my mother.”
Cricket bit her lower lip and I think I actually saw regret in her eyes while Bexley’s mouth had twisted into an unmistakable smirk.
“I’ve had enough!” I announced with more exasperation than I think I’ve ever felt. “I don’t know what’s going on with you two, and as this behavior continues, I am caring less and less. I want you both gone. You’re both fired.”
Bexley’s back stiffened. “My employment isn’t just up to you. This is a band decision.”
“I’m making an executive decision. If they don’t agree, they can bite me,” I growled.
Cricket ran from the room crying. Much to my astonishment, Bexley looked me in the eye and, in a low voice, said, “This isn’t over.”
I was feeling pretty glum as Mom started making her famous spaghetti sauce. Honestly, I didn’t know of anything better than her spaghetti. In this situation, though, I didn’t see how even her cooking would help.
Aunt Keniesha sat next to me at the breakfast bar and started right in.
“You did the only thing you could do,” she reasoned. “There is no excuse for that kind of conduct. Those women are not professional at all. I don’t know how you and your band can concentrate on music with those two carrying on like that.”
I listened quietly as she went on. All I could hope was that the band would back me up on this. The bravado of my “they can bite me” if they don’t like it statement had completely worn off and I knew this could mean trouble for us as a band if they resented me taking action in this way.
“Don’t worry so much about your decision,” Aunt Keniesha continued. “You can’t work under those conditions and I’m sure the guys will agree with you. They might even be relieved!”
As Aunt Keniesha spoke, I watched Mom stir her sauce at the stove.
“I know you’re trying to make me feel better,” I finally said. “But it wasn’t up to me to decide alone. Everything you say is probably right, but this is not just some simple decision I made. I don’t want my own band to turn against me because they assume I’m full of myself or something.”
“Oh, believe me, if you ever get a big head, I’ll be first one in line to tell you all about it.” And didn’t I know it! “This isn’t a case of you just randomly throwing your weight around. Those women needed to go!”
Staring into space, I considered this. I knew I hadn’t fired Bex and Cricket because I was on a power trip. It would be up to me to make sure Carl, Curtis, Josh and Cranky Sy knew that, too. We’d had so much trouble lately with our manager running off with our cash on top of all of this.
“Listen to Keniesha,” Mom said between little tastes of her sauce.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. Grabbing some plates, I began to set the table…
It was so good to have Mom’s spaghetti and to actually be sitting at a table with my family. These were little things that I’d taken for granted growing up but that I cherished now.
“I’m going to learn how to cook just like you, Grandma,” Blue declared.
“I’ll teach you,” Mom said with about the biggest grin on her face I’ve ever seen.
Now that the cat was out of the bag about Rachel dating Josh, he joined us for dinner. I wondered how Mom and Dad would react when they found out Rachel was getting married. Then I realized they would probably be overjoyed that she’d been smarter than I had about this sort of thing.
After dinner, I took my aunt and mother upstairs with the intention of playing a new song for them. But we never got to that because they had a lot more on their minds.
“What’s happening with Blue when you tour?” Aunt Keniesha asked.
I raised an eyebrow. What had brought this on? “I have time to think about that. The album hasn’t been released yet and the tour isn’t even scheduled.”
“Yes, but once the album is released, you’ll be in a whirlwind of planning. That’s how your tour went last time, anyway. You need to start thinking about how this will affect your daughter.”
Good grief. Why was everyone always in my business? As it was, my life was under pretty strict scrutiny. I didn’t like to complain because I knew to do so would sound ungrateful and absurd. Not many people had the opportunities I did and many would have given their right arm just to be where I was. So the last thing I ever wanted to do was to sound petty or unappreciative. Still, it was sometimes hard to deal with always being told what I could say in public, what to wear, where to go, and the hours were weird and long… The paparazzi were bothersome and complete strangers often felt like they were entitled to stalk me in public or scream from my front gate.
Regardless, the blessings had outweighed the negatives in my mind. After all, I made a good living, I was able to have my daughter with me and I could create my music.
But what would happen to Blue during this tour?
“She has a nanny. They can come with me,” I said with some uncertainty.
“What about school?” Mom said.
“I can’t send her away,” I reasoned.
“Leo,” Aunt Keniesha said, “has Blue ever said anything to you about being lonely?”
I was aghast. “How could she be lonely? She has me and Rachel and anything she could ever want.”
“Except friends her own age,” Mom said.
She had a point. “So, she’s told you she’s lonely?”
“No, not exactly. But I can sense that she is. Keniesha thought so, too. And this last phone call from her really bothered me. She’s worried about this situation with Cricket and Bexley.”
Blue noisily came bounding up the stairs from the kitchen.
Almost immediately, her green eyes lit up and she ran toward the other staircase, yelling, “Grandpa!”
“Hey there, Curly-fry!” he playfully shouted, scooping the child up into his arms.
“Liev,” Mom breathed, relief softening her expression. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“What did you find out?” Aunt Keniesha asked.
Dad hesitated and for the first time, he just looked really tired and worn. “I hate to have to tell you this…”
As his voice trailed off, my stomach began to turn. Whatever this was about, I could tell it was something he was afraid would upset Mom.
“What is this about?” I asked, not sure if I really wanted to know.
Dad and Mom exchanged an anxious glance. “We’ve been concerned since we were here last. We didn’t want to say anything because we couldn’t put a finger on what was so disturbing.”
“Disturbing?” I asked. “Has something happened?”
“Not yet. I hope I’m here before anything could happen,” Dad said.
What in the world could this be about? Part of me was bursting with curiosity while the other part of me was nearly sick with dread. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans.
Dad turned to Mom and took both her hands in his. Whatever he had to say would obviously have the biggest effect on her.
“Honey,” he said in his tender voice, “remember your reaction when you met Cricket?”
She nodded slowly, her eyes full of anxiety. “Yes, I don’t know why, but I felt it from my head to my toes. It was a sort of revulsion.”
Aunt Keniesha and I leaned in with baited breath while Dad spoke.
“I want you to look at some pictures.”
Dad put three square pictures on the coffee table and held Mom’s hand as she looked at them.
Almost immediately, she gasped. “Oh, Liev! They look so much alike!”
Aunt Keniesha and I peered over their shoulders to get a look. The first picture was of a handsome young guy… the third picture was of Cricket. The picture in the middle had the two faces, one lying on top of the other, blended together.
That’s when I heard Aunt Keniesha swear under her breath.
“Cricket is Garret Covington’s daughter,” Liev said softly.
Mom’s chest heaved uncontrollably as Dad pulled her into his arms.
I’d read about Garret Covington in Mom’s diary but the full meaning of this news hadn’t really sunk in yet. I ran what I knew through my mind. Garret was a suitor of Mom’s back in the day but he was no good. His family had been colliding with our family since before my mom was born.
Realization suddenly hit me full force, making my throat close and my eyes sting. I could feel my blood pressure rising and my heart thumping faster against my chest as I now remembered that the Covington family were directly responsible for killing Mom’s biological parents as well as her adoptive parents…. Aunt Keniesha’s parents.
All reason left me then. I’m not sure what I was thinking other than the fact that Cricket owed me an explanation! Hopefully, she wasn’t gone yet. I left to confront her.