It feels good being back in my studio. Since returning, I’ve been writing like crazy. I think at this point I have enough for a new album. Today, my bassist, Jimmy, and drummer, Harrison, are coming in to lay down some melodies.
I should be happy, but I’m not. This is why I left my life behind. I’m antsy as fuck and want to get back to Beaumont. The first few days back were questionable. I tried to call Noah a couple of times but couldn’t bring myself to do it. What if he didn’t want to talk to me now that I was gone?
The moment I saw his face light up my screen, I knew that wasn’t the case. When I answered he seemed happy, excited, asking a lot of questions about L.A. and the studio. He asked me to send him pictures of the cat and I did.
Now I can’t talk to him enough. The hours that he's at school and the time difference make me anxious. Weekends are now my friend.
And I hate Mondays, effectively killing my high from spending hours chatting with my son. I haven’t told the band yet, but I will. I just want to keep Noah to myself for a bit. Harrison is the only other parent around; he has a seven-year old boy. Quinn is a product of a one-night stand that turned into the baby mama dropping her blue bundle of joy on Harrison’s door step. Instant daddy.
When I see Josie’s face on my caller ID, panic ensues. Something must be wrong with Noah otherwise she wouldn’t be calling. We haven’t spoken since I left. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I don’t want to screw shit up for her and Nick.
“Hi.” She's breathless. I close my eyes and count to ten. She can’t talk to me like this. It kills me that she’s not mine.
“Wha…” My voice catches in my throat from the way she said hi. I need to get a grip here. It was just a common two-letter word. It doesn’t mean anything. “What’s up?”
“Today is Monday.” She says this like it’s supposed to mean something to me. I rack my brain, wondering if Noah had mentioned something particular about this Monday.
“It usually follows Sunday,” I say, hoping to lighten her mood.
“Mason sends Katelyn a dozen roses every Monday and today will be the first day that she won't get flowers since…” If I didn’t know better I’d say she’s crying.
“Well, we can’t have Katelyn missing her flower delivery, now can we?” I pull up the internet and type in the address for the global florists. I choose a bouquet of lilies over the roses and request they be delivered via Josie’s shop. “All set.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I ordered her flowers. She’ll get a delivery every Monday for a year.”
“Liam…” her voice breaks and now I know she’s trying to control her emotions. These past weeks have been hard on her. The Josie I knew was always strong and confident then she lost Mason and I returned, creating havoc. We stay on the phone for a few more minutes before she has to go and fill my order. Hanging up with her is the last thing I want to do, but work calls for both of us.
When the guys come in, they seem happy. This mini-vacation must’ve done them good. We sit down and I show them the songs I’ve been working on. Harrison starts laughing at a few of them, earning a punch from Jimmy. I sit stoically, waiting for them to say something.
“Did you fall in love while you were away?” Harrison asks. Yes, but I never really fell out of love. She just showed me what I’ve been missing all these years.
“No, saw a lot of old friends. My buddy died and left behind a wife and two kids. Sort of hits home, I guess.”
“Well, I like them,” Jimmy says. “Putting music down for these won’t take us much time at all. I already have a few ideas.”
We take to the studio and start brainstorming with different sounds. Most of the songs could end up being ballads, but we want to stay away from that. We need to add a rock vibe to keep our fans interested. If I put out an album full of love songs people will think I’ve gone soft.
“Painkillers has to be a slow song,” I say when Jimmy starts singing it.
“Why? We could blow this one up.”
I shake my head. “I want that one slow. I want people to feel the words and what they mean. I don’t want them lost in the loud vibrations.”
Painkillers is the first track we work on. It only takes a few tries before I’m happy with the melody. I’m going to have to push Sam to make this our first single. I want to release it as soon as possible.
After the guys leave for the night I work on mixing. Playing Painkillers, over and over, until I’m happy. I decide we're going to give it another shot tomorrow before we record the final.
Papers land on my mixing board. I turn down the track and leave my head phones on. I want to hear myself sing to Josie. This song has to be perfect. Sam is leaning against the board, pissing me off because she knows not to touch my shit. “What’s this?”
“What do you want?”
“Were you going to tell me you’re back in town?”
I turn away from her and move the papers she threw. “You’re my manager, not my mother. You handle my affairs, not my personal life, Sam.”
“Well, this is my job.” She picks up the stacks of papers and starts flipping through them. “Let’s see… 'Liam Page playing at Ralph’s no cover.’ ‘OMG Liam Page is so hot he’s at Ralph’s free show.’ Oh, and my personal favorite… ‘Liam Page Debuts New Song at local pub.’”
“Get to the point. I’m busy.”
“This!” She shakes the papers in my face. “Is my point! You were off doing god knows what with god knows who and decided to have a free show without even consulting me. Jesus, Liam! Do you know how much of a PR nightmare this is?”
I refuse to answer her because she’d never understand why I did the show in the first place. She doesn’t do nice for any of her friends. It’s all about what-can-you-do-for-me with her and that’s not who I want to be. The show was a success and Ralph did a hell of a lot of business that night. I have no regrets.
“Are you listening to me?”
“Not really. I’m trying to work.”
“I knew you heading back to that po-dunk town was a mistake. Maybe I should go check out Beaumont and see what all the excitement is about.”
I pull off my head phones and stand-up to face her. “What’s your problem?”
“You, Liam. I’m sick of this cat-and-mouse game we play. It’s time to make a decision.”
I start to laugh, anger building. “You're the one playing games. I’m not into you. What we did was a mistake, Sam, a very weak moment on my part because you were available and willing to give me what I wanted.”
“You don’t mean that,” she whines. I stuff my hands into my pocket, feeling for my phone. It’s time for me to call Noah. I walk away from her, until she grabs my arm. “Liam, what we had was special.”
“What we had was sex, nothing more.”
I leave her standing in the studio. I need to rein her in before she gets out of hand. Lately she’s been more possessive and it’s starting to scare me. I should’ve never mixed business with pleasure and she’s strictly business.
I walk down the hall until I’m far enough away from the studio. Crouching down, I pull out my phone and call Noah.
“Hey dad,” he answers before the first ring has completed. The sound of his voice sends warmth through my body. I want to record his voice so I can play it all the time.
“What’s up, buddy? How was school?”
“It’s okay. I have to do a history report, but mom said she’d help me.”
“That’s good. You know I’d help if I was there, right?”
“Yeah, I know.” When he speaks, I know he means it. I can’t detect any remorse in his voice at all. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course.” My knees start to cramp so I stand, leaning against the wall that holds my gold records.
“Do your mom and dad want to be my grandparents?”
I stiffen at the mention of my parents. I haven’t spoken to them since the night I left. My dad told me I was a disgrace and stupid for giving up football to pursue music. Said I’d never make it. My mom just stood there, a tumbler of vodka in her hand.
“What are you doing home?”
You always know you’re welcome in your home when you’re greeted like that. Sterling folds and sets his newspaper down, pulling off his glasses. Bianca stands in the foyer, her vodka glass permanently stained with her scarlet red lipstick.
“I need to talk to you.”
“What did you do, Liam? Are you in some type of trouble?”
“No, Sir. I…” I can’t look at him. He’s always looked down on me, making me feel two feet tall. “I left school.”
“Obviously, you can return in the morning.”
I shake my head. “I can’t go back. I quit.”
“What do you mean you quit?” he bellows causing my mom to jump, the ice rattling around in her glass.
“I thought it would be different and it’s not and I’ve been talking to Grandma Betty—”
“YOU WHAT? Do you think I’ve raised you to be a Westbury so you can associate with trash like that?”
“Trash? She’s your wife’s mother,” I point to mom who has no expression on her face. “My god, what is your problem? She’s family. I know what you did. What you both did. Mom, you gave up your dreams to marry him.” I point at my dad. “And you made her. Why? Why weren’t her dreams as important as yours? Look at her! She’s a damn robot.”
“Betty is clearly poison if that is what she told you. So tell me smart ass, what are your plans?”
“I’m going to go to Los Angeles for a bit to try my hand at music.”
Sterling starts laughing. A maniacal laugh. Bianca walks into the room and fills her tumbler. She must coat her liver with medicine in order to function. Typical.
“If you do not return to school immediately, don’t come back here.”
“You’re kicking me out for following a dream?”
Sterling picks up his paper and pops it open, crossing his leg. “No, Liam, I am simply instructing you of your options. You have two: you can go back to school, speak with your coach and secure your spot on the team, or you can walk out that door, lose your trust fund and forget that you’re a Westbury.”
“I don’t know, buddy. Let’s talk about it when I come back okay. My parents… they're difficult sometimes and we don’t always get along.”
“Okay. What are we doing to do when you get here?”
“Well, I thought we could look for a house. I don’t want to stay in a hotel when I’m there and I was thinking that maybe your mom will let you stay with me for the time I’m there, but I’ll have to talk to her about it, okay? You don’t need to bring it up. I’ll take care of everything. I gotta go though so I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Night, I love you dad.”
“I love you too.”
I slide down the wall after Noah hangs up. I knew my parents were going to come up sooner or later, I was just hoping for much, much later.
My hand runs through my hair. I think I’ll grow it out to the way Josie liked it, maybe then she’ll look at me with different eyes. I’m not going to lie, I want my girl back.
“Did you knock someone up?”
I turn to see Sam standing in the hall, hands on her hips. She’s pissed.
With Halloween out of the way and the countdown to Liam’s return looming, Nick is on edge. He hasn't changed much since Liam left last time and it’s not like I haven’t tried. He’s uptight and stressed. He says its work, but I know it’s me. It’s my actions and disrespect for his feelings. I’ve put unnecessary strain on our relationship and haven’t been fair to him.
I’ve thrown myself into work, as much as I can anyway. I’ve decided to expand and have rented out the adjacent building for more window frontage. I plan to add a coffee shop and bring in live music. When I showed Nick my business plan, I thought he’d be happy. I was wrong. He accused me of providing Liam a place to play whenever he wanted. When I kindly reminded him that Liam Page does not need me for anything, he scoffed and left the table.
We were partners until I screwed it all up. Now I need to fix it and don’t know how. Everyone says you hit a rough patch in life, but this is more like road rash that won’t go away and I need it to because I miss Nick and I hate that he’s hurting because of me.
When Jenna arrives, the contractor is following behind her, staring at her ass. Some men are so crass. She comes behind the counter and drops her purse in the cabinet before turning her attention on him. She thinks he’s a customer and he just might be after today. Maybe I can bribe her into dating him while construction is going on so I can get a good deal.
I’ve just turned into not only a shitty fiancée but an equally bad friend. I need help.
“Hi, Harry,” I say over Jenna.
“Hey, Josie,” he replies while looking at Jenna. I snap my fingers to get his attention. It takes forever for his eyes to finally meet mine. Great, now he’ll be distracted by Jenna the whole time he’s here.
“Let’s discuss my plans next door,” I say grabbing the keys and walking around the counter. I pull the sleeve of his shirt to follow me and don’t let go until we are safely outside. I whack him in the arm. “What the hell, Harry?”
“Yeah, well she’s off limits. You’re here to work and she doesn’t date so don’t get any ideas.” I open the door to the adjacent building. Harry follows me in. I like his work. He renovated the flower shop for me. I know I can trust him.
“I was thinking of opening the wall here,” I point to the adjoining wall. “And making the back wall either coolers or put a larger walk-in right over in that corner. This side of the room,” I say walking to the other side, “has backyard access so I’d like to be able to have a greenhouse. And in the corner by the second window I’d like to put a stage for performing. The counter will go right there.” I point the opposite wall.
Harry starts making notes and begins measuring the walls. He knocks on the walls and writes notes where he was knocking. “I can start tomorrow if you’re ready?”
“I’m ready,” I reply quickly. I’m eager to start and bring a new aspect to my business.
“Will you want a new sign for out front?”
I nod. “Yeah, I think so. I’ll order all the equipment and you can take care of the rest?”
“Uh huh,” he says while writing on his notepad. “I’m going to have to hire someone for a sound system.”
“That’s fine, Harry. I trust you.” I leave Harry to finish his assessment and head back to the shop. It will be nice once the wall comes down. I know my idea is grand, but I have a vision and I plan to make sure it succeeds.
“Who was that?’ Jenna asks as soon as I walk in the door. I can’t tell by her expression if she was happy to be gawked at or disgusted.
“That was Harry. He’s the contractor working on the expansion. I told him you were off limits.”
“Good, thanks. I mean I know I’ve been here for three years, but I’m just not ready.” She bundles the bouquet she's working on and wraps it in purple and gold paper. I love that we allow the customers the option of different colored paper. Most florists only offer green or newsprint. I like to add character to my flowers.
“I brought you something that came in my email this morning,” Jenna says motioning to the counter. I pick up the piece of paper, reading the headline and looking at her.
“When I started here I signed up for these mailing lists about being a florist. I didn’t want you to think you could never take a day off, so I needed to learn. Anyway, it came today and I thought it might interest you.”
Learning over the counter I read about the convention. The opportunity to take classes, workshops and attend a trade show all in one convenient location it says. I’ve never attended one before, but with the expansion maybe it’s time I start expanding my knowledge base.
“I should do this.”
“Yes you should,” she replies. When I look at her, she’s grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s in Los Angeles and its next week.”
I look back at the paper, sure enough, it is. My heart pounds just a bit faster at the thought of seeing Liam. What if I saw him walking down the street? Would he hug me if he saw me or ignore me? I’m being silly. It’s a huge place. I’ll never run into him.
“You should go,” she says putting her hand on my arm. “You and Nick need a break. Maybe a few days apart will do you some good.”
She puts her hand up, stopping me. Her head shakes slightly. “Don’t, Josie. I’m not saying go there and cheat on Nick. I’m saying, go and work and if you meet the father of your son for dinner or coffee to discuss the upcoming holidays, then so be it. Just don’t deny yourself this opportunity.”
Jenna turns her back and finishes up her orders. I stand, my hip against the counter, reading the blurred words over and over again. All I can think about is seeing Liam, but I know that doing so would hurt Nick and I refuse to hurt him anymore than I already have.
I sit in the dark, still clutching the flyer. Jenna has long left, the shit-eating grin still plastered on her face when she shut and locked the door behind her. I wanted to ask her why she would give this to me, but could never get the words out.
My thumb hovers over Liam’s name. I’m not sure if I should call him. What if he says it’s not a good idea or tells me to come but he’s busy? Can I take the rejection?
I jump when a horn blares. My thumb inadvertently hits the call button, his and Noah’s faces light up my screen. It’s a picture I took when neither of them knew I was in the room. My hand shakes as I bring my phone to my ear. I listen through the rings and hope he doesn’t answer.
“Hello.” He doesn’t sound out of breath or rushed when he answers, just calm and very Liam.
“I didn’t mean to call,” I say barely audible.
“I’m happy you did. I like hearing your voice.”
“You shouldn’t say things like that to me.”
He laughs. “Well, if you expect me to lie or keep my emotions in check, it’s not going to happen. So what do I owe the pleasure of your call? I’m very happy to hear your voice.”
“God, are you this smooth with all your women?”
“There are no women, Josie. I promise you. So what’s up?”
“I’m thinking of coming to L.A. for a trade show and wanted to know if you wanted to get coffee?”
Liam is silent for a moment. I can hear him breathing so I know he didn’t hang up on me. “Are you bringing Noah?”
“No, this is next week and he has a Boy Scout camping trip. It would just be me. I mean if you’re busy and don’t have time, I understand. I know this is short notice and you probably have a bunch of parties and whatever to—”
“Shut up for a minute, geez. I want to see you, Jojo. I’ll make the time. Where will you be staying?”
I unfold the flyer and look. I tell him where and he starts to laugh. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, it’s just that I live on the top floor.”
I’m going to be spending the weekend in Liam’s hotel. I think I’m in trouble.
Josie is in L.A. today. In fact, she’s downstairs in the convention center. I know this shouldn’t be the only thing on my mind, but it is. I snagged one of the agendas for the trade show she’s attending so I could keep my schedule clear. I've canceled two interviews – which did not go over well with Sam. She demanded, in a very high pitched screech, that I was to tell her who I knocked up while I was gone so she could do damage control. I’ve told her repeatedly that no one is pregnant, but she’s not buying it. Her obsession with pregnancy is starting to scare me.
I wanted to meet Josie at the airport, but didn’t dare ask her when her flight was arriving. I need to try and keep my cool even though I’m tempted to visit that side of the hotel and see if I can find her. We're having dinner tonight in my penthouse. I’m not taking her out of this hotel if I can manage it. I don’t want her face splattered all over the gossip columns and rag TV shows. I don’t even want the press to know her name. They’ll start digging and that will put Noah in harm’s way.
I shouldn’t bring her to my room though. I know it’s a mistake, but since I kissed her the night we told Noah about me being his father, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. I know she’s off limits. I know she’s marrying another man, but I’m a glutton for punishment because having her in my space is enough for me, even if I can’t touch her like I want to.
I look at the nameless cat sitting on the window sill and have to laugh. Noah can’t wait to meet him. I’ve started looking for houses in Beaumont, something for me and Noah. Most of the houses there are good size, but I want a nice big yard and something with a basement that I can soundproof and turn into a studio. As much as I’d love to take a week off a month, deadlines are looming and this new album is coming together rather quickly. That means Sam will schedule another tour and put us back out on the road and farther away from Noah. I should’ve stalled on these songs.
A knock and announcement of room service puts a smile on my face. The front desk knows to give Josie an access card to my floor when she presents herself there in a few minutes. My nerves are on edge.
Opening the door, it’s one of my regular delivery guys. This is good and bad. Good because I know him. Bad because he knows I eat alone and I’m definitely not eating alone tonight.
“Having company tonight Mr. Page?” he asks as he pushes the service cart into my room.
“No, Michael, just a meeting.”
“This is some fancy and romantic dinner for a meeting.”
“She’s writing a book. I need to make sure she gets everything right. I don’t want to be misquoted,” I lie through my teeth.
“I hear that Mr. Page. Where do you want it?”
I want it in my bedroom, but that’s just not an option. Over by the balcony is where we are going to eat, but I don’t want room service to know that. I have no doubt Michael is going to gossip when he gets back down downstairs.
“We’ll eat at the table,” I say. He nods and pushes the cart over there, unloading and setting the table. I look at my watch, counting the seconds as they go by. He seems to be moving extremely slow. She’s going to show up any moment.
“I put the extra bottle of champagne in your refrigerator, sir.”
“Thank you, Michael.” I hand him his tip and he’s out the door. I breathe a sigh of relief. Now I just need Josie.
A soft knock sends me running to the door. I look down at what I’m wearing and bang my head against my fist. I should’ve changed. We're having a nice dinner and I’m showing up in jeans and a t-shirt. I open the door, my breathing stops. Standing before me is my girl. Her hair is up in a bun, a few strands hanging down all around her head. She’s wearing a red v-neck dress that is showing me every curve that I remember and some new ones that I think I need to learn. Her dress stops at her knees and is quickly met by black knee-high boots. An image of me on my knees with the zipper in my mouth flashes before my eyes. Definitely something I want to try… with her… someday.
“God, Jojo. You’re beautiful.”
She blushes and runs her hands down the front of her dress. Moving aside to let her in, I inhale deeply when she passes so I can take in her scent. Pure flowers, very Josie. When she walks by my eyes feast on her backside, I swallow hard.
I slam the door causing her to jump. When she turns her blush hasn’t subsided and I hope it’s because I do that to her and not because she’s having second thoughts about being up in my room.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s fine. I’m just a little jumpy today.”
I understand the nerves. I’ve had them all day. I guide her into the living room area. Her eyes go wide when she sees the view from the glass wall.
“Wow, Liam this is…” she steps over to the wall, leaving me standing here and giving me the opportunity to watch her take in the bright lights of Los Angeles. She shakes her head, her hand covers her mouth.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, keeping my distance.
“I can see why you left me. It’s beautiful.”
“It’s pretty spectacular at night when it’s like this, during the day, not so much.” I come up behind her and place my hand gently on her hip. “Look over there.” I point to where the spotlights are lighting up the sky. “That’s a movie premiere. There are probably a couple thousand screaming fans down there right now.”
“Have you ever been?” she asks. She closes her eyes and leans her head my shoulder. I have to remind myself to be a good boy.
“I have. It’s an experience.” I hold her like this for a moment, wishing it could be all night. “Josie, what you said, about me, leaving you for this. It’s not like that. I wanted you with me every minute of every day, but I didn’t think you’d come.”
She doesn’t reply and does the unthinkable and turns away from me to look around the room. She touches my Grammys, my gold records and the album covers I have on the wall.
“You’ve done really well for yourself.”
“I was determined. I had a lot to prove.”
“Me, mostly.” I bring her toward the table, pulling a chair out for her. She sits and I push it in slightly. She pulls her napkin to her lap while I pour glasses of champagne. “Sorry I didn’t dress up. This is my usual attire until I’m at one of those events.” I motion to the window.
“Do you go often?”
I pull the covers off our food and sit down. “It depends on what I have going on. If I have a new album coming out, yes I go. It’s free publicity and I’ll be able to push the release date or talk about the single playing on the radio. I’ve had to go a few times because I, well actually my band, have contributed to a soundtrack.”
Josie is quiet for a few minutes. She focuses on her food and I wonder if I said something wrong. I hope that I didn’t, but she has to see how different my life is here over what we would’ve had in Beaumont.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” she says before taking a sip of her champagne.
“Would you have liked all of this? The lights, noise, the traveling and long hours. Not being able to live a peaceful life. There would be no walking down the street without someone taking your picture. You’d worry about what or who you were wearing to a premiere and people would be your friends because of who you are or married too. Is this something you could see for yourself?”
Josie puts down her fork, bringing her napkin to her lips. When she pulls it away, she smiles at me. “If you're asking me today if I could live like this, the answer is no. I’ve lived such a quiet life for the last ten years I wouldn’t know what to do with all of this if I had to do it now. But had you said you were giving me an option of never seeing you again or moving here so you could try your hand at music, I would’ve gone with you. I would’ve left that night because you were my life, Liam.”
“I didn’t think you would and I didn’t want to hear you tell me no or belittle me for wanting something different. I needed to try this.”
“And now that you have?”
I shake my head. There is no right answer for this one. It won’t matter what I say because I’ve lost ten years with her and our son. “I love my life, Jojo, and I hate it all in one. I love what I do – making music and entertaining people. I wrote a whole album that you and Noah inspired in two weeks. That feeling alone is indescribable for me.” I lean forward and pull her hand into mine. “But not having you in my life has been tough. I miss everything about you and I wake up in the morning and think ‘what the fuck did I do’ because I had the most beautiful girl on my arm and gave her up for what… this?” I spread my arm out. “I live in a hotel because it’s convenient. They do my cooking, cleaning and laundry if I want them to. I have someone who dictates what interviews I can give and whose designer clothes I’m going to wear. I’m her fucking puppet because I pay her to do this job and I think about giving it up, but then I remember why I do it and can’t.”
“You’re really good at what you do.”
“Thank you,” I say bringing her hand to my lips. I place small kisses along her knuckles. I reluctantly let her hand go and pour us some more champagne.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?”
I give her my patented look. Her mouth drops open, her eyes glaze over. Josie has just met Liam Page.
I’ve been able to avoid most of Liam’s looks until this one. I know my mouth is hanging open like a fish, my tongue dry. I cross my legs to ward off the throbbing between my thighs. I sit back and he smiles, shaking his head. He gets up, stopping behind me.
“What’s wrong, Jojo?” he whispers seductively, his nose skimming behind my ear making my breathing labored and unsteady. When he bites my ear, I squirm in my seat. I have to move away from him before I do something I regret.
He starts laughing and plants a kiss on my cheek. When he returns from the kitchen he has another bottle of champagne, and now I’m in trouble.
“That wasn’t nice,” I say, trying to be stern.
“You know, if you’re having a bit of an issue, I could help you.” His eyes are devious as he stares at me. He swallows and I watch his adams apple move, remembering the countless kisses I’ve placed there.
“I’ve heard about this look that you give women.”
“I didn’t peg you for one who bought those trashy magazines.”
“Jenna does and she told me. She wants to go to one of your concerts, she didn’t know who you were until you came to town. I mean she knew, just not the connection.
“Remind me to send her tickets and a backstage pass.”
“I don’t think so,” I reply. I don’t think I want any woman to ever experience that look from Liam again.
“Josephine Preston, are you jealous?”
I pick up my glass and down some liquid courage. “She thinks you’re hot. I know she’s my friend, but I also know she hasn’t dated in three years and if you did that she’d turn to a pile of goo and fall down at your feet. I’d hate to think…”
“I only have eyes for one woman, period.” Liam sets down his knife and fork, resting his elbows on the table and folding his hands together. “When I saw you, I knew I had made a mistake. I should have never left or at least come back for you. My life is better with you in it, Josie. I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize that.”
“I’m getting married,” I choke out. Nick and I talked about setting a date when I get back and I’ve already let Liam touch me and kiss me. My god, what does that make me?
“Where’s your ring?”
I look down at my bare left finger. Of all the times Nick has asked, he’s never shown me a ring. Maybe he thinks I don’t want one, although I’m not sure where he’d get that idea from because I do want one. I want to wear what he’s picked out to symbolize his love for me.
“He’s an idiot.” Liam throws his napkin down on the table. “If you were mine, that finger would not be bare, especially if you were visiting your ex-boyfriend.”
“He doesn’t know I’m here. I mean he knows I’m in Los Angeles, but he doesn’t know I’m here with you.”
Liam pushes his chair out and stands. He picks up a remote and music starts. He walks the three steps to me and holds out his hand. “Dance with me.”
“I shouldn’t,” I whisper, unable to look at him.
His fingers trail my jaw. He gently raises my face; my eyes find his. “You want to, Jojo, don’t deny it. I won't tell.”
I push my chair back and stand, taking his offered hand. He walks us to the middle of the living room, hitting a switch on the wall to dim the lights. We stand in the glow from the city lights.
His hands press gently on my waist, his fingers spread out to feel more of me. I keep my hands on his shoulders, a safe distance from his hair, while our bodies sway to the soulful melody coming from his stereo. He pulls me closer, his hands moving up my back. One hand comes forward, moving strands of hair away from my face.
Every inch of my body is on fire. The look in his eyes tells me he wants me, I just have to make the first move. His hand roams down my back, cupping my ass, pushing me closer into him. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be with him; I don’t think I ever will. We taught each other everything. We explored each other’s bodies, learning as we became lovers. I knew how to satisfy him, knew every secret spot to make him shiver and squirm.
His other hand trails up my arm, picking up my hand and placing it on the nape of his neck. My fingers push into his hair and he groans. His eyes fluttering closed. He’s grown it out since I first saw him in Beaumont. I like it this way best.
His hand grips my hip, pulling me even closer, grinding into me. I bite my lip to keep my mouth from falling open. Anticipation builds. The desire is there and he knows it. He’s studying me, marking me as his prey. His eyes are hooded, smoky. He licks his lips, watching me for some hint that he can take the next step.
I can’t give it to him.
“Who are we listening to?” I ask hoping to break up the tension in the air. The singer's voice is hoarse and sexy. I could listen to it for hours. Liam bends me back a bit, the swell of my chest even with his mouth. He kisses each breast before kissing the valley of my cleavage.
“Me,” he says against my skin.
“Who are you singing about?”
He carefully pulls me forward. My hands instantly weave back into his hair. He looks at my mouth then my eyes.
“Only you, Jojo.” He says as his lips meet mine. He has one hand in my hair, the other splayed on my back. He is soft, ever so lightly pulling my bottom lip between his teeth. When he releases, he’s back on my mouth, tracing my lower lip with his tongue. I should push him away, but I can’t.
I want this.
I want to feel him.
I meet his tongue with mine. He moans, setting a slow and steady pace. Our bodies work themselves into a heated frenzy. His mouth leaves mine, trailing kisses down my jaw to my ear and to my neck. He holds me securely in his hands as he sings to me with words and kisses.
My hand slides under his shirt, the sensation of his skin under my fingertips is intoxicating.
I need to stop this. I have Nick to think about, but this is Liam and I…
He left me.
My hands find his shoulders and push. His arms go lax as he looks at me. He shakes his head and steps away from me. His hands tug at his hair.
“You don’t need to apologize. I shouldn’t have done that,” I say. My hands feel empty without him. I want to reach for him, hold his hand, but that would send the wrong message. It’s bad enough we’ve gone this far. I’m engaged and this is cheating. “I should go.”
He doesn’t say anything, just nods. He’s staring out into the city lights probably remembering why he left me. I look back at him one last time before opening the door.
“Josie, wait.” I pause and turn around, closing the door behind me. He’s there, by my side, before I can catch my breath. “I’m sorry. I should have never put you in that position. I was being selfish and only thinking about myself and how much I miss you. You were here, in my home, and I couldn’t resist. You’re a temptation for me and right now I just want to pick you up and carry you to my bed and not let you leave.”
“I can’t. I’m—”
Liam puts his finger to my lips. “I’m just telling you what I want so my signals aren’t mixed. I want you to know exactly how I feel because the last time I kept secrets, I ruined us.”
“We can’t do this, Liam. I’m getting married.”
“Then I’ll wait. Forever, if I have to.” He places a lingering kiss on my cheek, holding me to him. “I want to see you tomorrow.”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll be a perfect gentleman. I promise you.”
I nod as he opens the door for me. With one last look I walk out of his place. I look back as I wait for the elevator and he’s standing against the door, hands in his pockets, watching me. The ding from the arriving car breaks my heart.
For the first time in years I’ll be sitting down for a Thanksgiving dinner. When Katelyn called and extended the invitation I immediately took her up on it. I knew that spending the holiday with Josie and Noah was completely out of the question. After she was here for her trade show, things between us became strained and that, once again, was my fault.
I know I screwed things up with her and probably for her.
Arriving in Beaumont is better this time. I’m staying at Katelyn’s house instead of a hotel and for that I’m thankful. I’ll be able to spend quality time with Noah in the comfort of a home. He and I will spend Saturday looking for houses because on Friday I promised to watch the twins so Katelyn could go shopping.
I drive through town hoping to catch a glimpse of Josie at her shop. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m desperate. I'm in love with a girl that can’t love me back. I gotta take what I can get. I drive by twice, both to no avail.
Pulling into the driveway, at Katelyn’s house, Peyton stands and waves from the back of the pick-up truck. When I step out of my rental, she’s jumping up and down yelling my name.
“Hey, Miss Peyton.” I open the trunk and pull out my luggage. I packed extra clothes this time just in case I decide to stay past a week. Last time I was here for almost two weeks and ended up buying more clothes. I also pick up the Apple bag containing the laptop I purchased for the girls. I want to be able to video call Peyton and watch football with her so she’s not alone on Sundays.
“What’s in the bag, Uncle Liam?” I stop in my tracks when she calls me uncle. This was something Mason and I joked about many times when we would talk about our lives and the direction we were heading.
“Oh, nothing important just presents for you, Elle and your mom.” The excitement on her face is worth bringing gifts. I’m not sure how Katelyn is going to react to them or if she’ll even accept them.
Peyton guides me into the house. The smell of pumpkin pie makes my stomach growl. Katelyn's in the kitchen with an apron tied around her waist, as is Elle. Katelyn comes over to meet me. I kiss her on the cheek as she hugs me.
“Thanks for inviting me.”
“Well, Peyton needed someone to watch football with tomorrow.” I look at Peyton who shrugs. She’s holding her sisters hand eagerly waiting for the presents I’ve brought. “Peyton will show you to your room.”
I follow Peyton downstairs. “Remember the TV?”
“Of course,” I reply. We turn the corner into Mason’s room and I see why she brought it up. There's a gaping hole in the middle of it. “What happened?”
“Elle got mad and threw daddy’s football into it.”
I don’t know what to say so I just shut my mouth. I’ve only been a parent little over a month so I’m not qualified to handle these types of things. Peyton opens a door and walks inside.
“This is the doghouse.”
I can’t help but laugh because not only is this where Mason likely spent a lot of time, but it’s decorated as such. I need to thank Katelyn for bringing humor into my life. Peyton leaves me to get settled. I text Noah to let him know that I’m in town and at Katelyn’s, and that we’ll see each other on Friday. I wanted to see him tonight or tomorrow, but Josie was adamant that he spend the holidays with her, Nick and their families. I couldn’t really argue with her, so I accepted what she said and left it alone.
I bring my bag of goodies with me when I come upstairs. Katelyn is sitting at the table, her fingers rubbing her temple. I see an open checkbook and a pile of bills. I pull out the chair and sit down across from her and tap her lightly. She tries to smile, but she’s been crying.
“Where are the girls?”
She picks up her papers and pushes them aside. “They’re watching a movie in their room.”
“Do you want to talk about those?” I point to the pile of bills. She shakes her head, wiping the tears away from her face.
“I can’t make it. I have to sell the house.”
I know I’m over-stepping my boundaries, but I can’t help it. I grab her checkbook and look. There isn’t enough to buy a gallon of milk in there. I reach for the pile of bills, but her hand comes down on mine.
“Let me help, Katelyn. I know you don’t want handouts, but please listen. I have the means to take care of this. For Mason.”
“I can’t, Liam.”
“You can’t sell your house either. This is the home your girls shared with their dad, it has memories.” I reach across and pull her hand into mine. “I want to do this for the girls. Please let me fix all of this.”
She pulls her hand away to cover her face as she sobs. She nods, giving me her consent to take care of her bills. I plan to do a lot more.
I try to convince Katelyn that she needs a night out, but she refuses and pushes me out the door. I want her to come with me to Ralph’s. I told Ralph that I’d do some gigs for him if he charged a cover. I want him to make some profit off me. It’s the least I could do.
I get there early, the door propped open by a cinder block. I walk in to see him setting up the stage and go over to give him a hand.
“Hey, you’re early.”
“Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something before I went on tonight.” I tape down the electrical plugs for the amp and mic, making sure they'll be out of my way.
“I’d like to do a benefit show for Katelyn Powell and the girls. I’ll bring my band in and have my manager set it up. We’ll play for free, but all the door fees need to go to Katelyn.”
Ralph rubs his chin, his fingers going back and forth. “Absolutely!” he says with much enthusiasm. “Hell, tonight all the door charges will go to them. I’ll have the missus make up some signs.”
“Thanks, Ralph.” I pat him on the back before he leaves the stage. I head back out to my car and get my keyboard and guitar. I told Ralph we’d really do the show up tonight. As soon as my gear is set up I run through a quick sound check. I won’t be worrying about mic quality, but I do want to hear how the acoustics are in this place with an amp.
Women mill around the stage, some dressed in the shortest of skirts. Before returning to Beaumont for Mason, I would’ve taken one of them into the back for a quick fuck, but not now. Not a single one of them appeals to me. In fact, the way they are dressed just shows how easy they are.
As soon as the lights dim, I start my set. I’m doing twelve songs tonight, maybe an encore. I haven’t decided yet. I start with Unforgettable. This will be our second single. Sam will kill me if she finds out I played it, but I don’t really care.
In between songs I take a few requests from the fans up front. They request some of my earlier hits, but most of the songs I’m playing tonight are off our recent album.
“Okay, I have time for one more request,” I say to the crowd.
“I have a request,” a male voice yells from the front of the bar. I look for the person to come forward, but no one is moving.
“I have a request, I said!”
“Okay, let’s hear it,” I reply, still waiting for the man to show himself.
“My first request is that you leave my fucking fiancée alone. My second request is that you leave Beaumont and never come back. And my third request of the night is that you tell your son how much of a fucking loser you are so that when you leave, he won’t fucking hate me for driving you out of town.”
Drunk people suck.
Nick is finally in view, he’s swaying from side to side. He has a friend on each side trying to get him to sit down. Everyone in the bar is quiet, half looking at me, the other half at him.
I strum my guitar to get the crowd’s attention.
“Can’t you answer me, Westbury?”
“No, Ashford. This isn’t the time or place.”
“Let’s go outside then hot shot.”
I shake my head and remove my guitar. “Sorry guys, show’s over. But don’t forget about the benefit concert we’ll be doing.”
I pack up my guitar and keyboard as Ralph apologizes in my ear about Nick. I tell him not to worry about Nick, that he’s drunk. I look around the bar for him, but he’s gone so I decide to call it a night.
When I step outside he’s leaning against a truck. I’m in no mood to talk to him if he’s like this. I set my gear in the backseat and turn to face him. He’s sauntering over to me, unable to walk a straight line.
“Where are your buddies?”
“I don’t need them to kick your ass, Westbury.”
“I’m not fighting you,” I say as I move away from my car.
“Well, I want to fight you. I need to fight for my family. Ever since you showed up here, it’s all Liam this and Liam that. My dad this, my dad that. I’m his fucking dad, not you. I raised him. I cleaned up the skinned knees and taught him how to play football all while you were off screwing half the female population.
“And my soon to be wife… god what a bitch she’s been all because of you—”
“Don’t call her a bitch, Nick. You’re drunk and you’re going to regret it.” I pull out my phone and text Josie telling her that she needs to come get him before something bad happens.
“You left her. I picked up the pieces. I waited patiently for her to look in my direction and when she finally did, I was so happy. But no, you had to come back and screw shit up for us. She loves me, not you so why don’t you pack your shit and leave. Do us all a favor and get out of here. I want my family back and you’re in the way.”
“He’s my son, Nick. I didn’t abandon him. He deserves to know me.”
Nick shakes his head and leans against my car, his head hanging. If I didn’t know better I’d think he’s crying. I get where he’s coming from, but there’s no way I’ll give up Noah. Josie – yeah I’ll wait for her, but Noah’s mine and I intend to stay for him.
Josie pulls up, the bright lights from the car shining against Nick. He looks up and shields his eyes. I stand, in the same spot I was in when he started in on me, waiting for her to get out of the car.
“Hey baby,” he says when he sees Josie. She offers me a small smile before pulling Nick into her arms. “I love you, Josephine. Tell me you love me. Tell Westbury that you choose me over him.”
“Come on, Nick, let’s go home.”
“Tell him, Josie. Tell him so he’ll go away and leave us alone. I want my fiancée back.”
“He can hear you. I don’t need to repeat what you’re saying.”
“Did you sleep with him in L.A.?”
“No, Nick. Now come on. You’re drunk and I want to go home.” Josie pulls Nick to her car, helping him inside. She doesn’t look at me before she gets in the driver’s seat or when she pulls out.
I get in my car and slam the door.
A perfect night ruined.
I spent another night on the couch, but this time I didn’t sleep. I stared at the floor, my hands, the picture window that Nick installed for me a few years ago – anything to keep my mind off the utter mess my life has become and the passed out man upstairs in my bedroom sleeping off his drunken ass.
When Liam texted me last night, I wanted to cry. Not just for me, but for Nick too. Through everything that has happened, everything that I’ve done wrong, no one stopped to consider his feelings. I should’ve put him first. He’s the one who has been there from day one, even before we were dating. He was there for Noah.
And now he’s suffering because of my inability to see past Liam. I never thought Liam would come back.
But he’s here and he makes me feel things I haven’t felt since I stopped thinking about him. Maybe I never truly stopped. Maybe I just masked my feelings. I love Nick, but not the same way I love Liam. Liam was my first everything, but that’s not enough to give up Nick.
When the coffee is done brewing, I pour Nick a cup and place it on a tray with some dry toast and bacon. He’s rarely like this, so I don’t know how he’ll handle a hangover, especially when we sit down to dinner with his parents in a few hours.
Climbing the stairs carefully, I push our bedroom door open with my toe. He’s lying on his back, arms spread out. Had I been in bed, he would’ve knocked me in the face. Standing there, I study him, his blonde hair in disarray. The comforter is on the floor at the foot of the bed, a sheet is covering him from the waist down. I watch as his defined chest moves up and down with his breath. I’m just happy he didn’t throw-up in the middle of the night.
I set the tray down on the nightstand, walk over to the window and open it for some fresh air. I crawl onto the bed next to him and can’t help but reach out and touch him. I run my fingers down his chest, tracing his muscles. He flinches a bit and bats my hand away. I try to stifle a laugh, but I know he can hear me.
Suddenly, his arm wraps around my waist and pulls me across his chest, his other arm resting on my back. He’s awake. He holds me as I snuggle in closer.
“How do you feel?”
“Like death.” His reply is hoarse. He has to cough a few times to clear out his throat.
“You had a pretty rough night.”
He doesn’t say anything. He rolls us over so that we’re face to face. He bunches up the hem of my shirt like he’s going to get lost if he’s not holding onto me. “I drank too much and have a feeling I did something stupid.”
I nod, not wanting to embarrass him. He’s done enough of that himself. I move his hair away from his face, a face that I fell in love with years ago.
“I made you some breakfast.”
“Are you going to tell me what I did?”
I shrug. “I don’t know it all, just the bit when I got there. I guess you and Liam exchanged some words because he texted me that you were drunk so I came and got you.”
Nick closes his eyes and buries his head into my chest. He pulls me closer, needing the same reassurance I do that everything will be okay.
“I’m trying, Josie. I really am. I don’t know what happened last night. I walked into Ralph’s and everyone was going crazy for him and all I could think about it is how I’m losing everything to this guy who doesn’t deserve it. I started drinking and I know I said something to him, but I can’t remember.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Nick.”
After breakfast, Nick showered while Noah and I waited for him to come downstairs. I’m certain Liam won’t say anything about their fight, especially in front of Noah, so I told Nick we don’t need to talk about it anymore.
He’s dressed in dark gray trousers and a white button down, his tie hanging open and loose when he comes down the stairs. I meet him at the bottom step and tie it for him. He pulls me into a deep embrace until Noah starts heckling us.
“You just wait until you get a girlfriend,” Nick says as he helps me into my coat.
“No way! Girls have cooties and don’t understand football.” Nick holds his hand up for a high-five that Noah hits dead on. I roll my eyes. My boys are incorrigible.
Thanksgiving dinner at Nick’s parents’ house is always interesting. My parents join us and it’s a huge feast. Christmas is a much smaller event. As we all gather around the table, holding hands for prayer, I’m thankful that my family is whole – at least for today.
After dinner the guys have cleaning duties while the women pour over the Black Friday ads for tomorrow’s shopping excursion. I haven’t a clue as what to get Noah and Nick for Christmas and I’m hoping that I’ll see something that will spark my interest.
Nick and I are able to dodge marriage talk, even though we’ve talked about setting a date after the holidays. We want to get through Christmas without the pressure of people asking where we're getting married.
Noah, Nick, and the other men head outside to play some football. The weather's changing and I know it will snow soon. Noah has one more game before his season is done and Liam has promised to be there.
Liam. I don’t know what to do about him. Sometimes I wish he hadn’t come back or seen Noah that day. I think things would be so much easier, but then Noah wouldn’t know his dad. Then I think that every kid should know both their parents given the chance. Elle and Peyton will barely have any memories of Mason when they’re older. I don’t want that for Noah.
The guys come back in, rosy-cheeked and dirty. Nick pulls me into a kiss, slipping his freezing hands underneath my sweater. I push him away, but he holds me tight. “I love you,” he says against my lips.
“I love you, too.”
He pushes my hair behind my ear. “I want to head over to Katelyn’s.”
“Why?” I ask. Liam's there and I don’t want them fighting, especially in front of Noah.
“I need to apologize to Liam. I don’t want last night hanging over our heads and I think Noah would like to see him. Maybe we can stop at home and he can pack a bag and stay with Liam tonight. Give us some alone time.”
“I’d like that,” I say before placing my lips to his.
Noah is more than excited to be staying with Liam tonight. When we pull into Katelyn’s driveway, Noah is out of the car before Nick has it in park. Nick and I walk hand in hand into Katelyn’s house. Noah is already sitting with Liam, trying to push Peyton out of the way. Katelyn is in the chair with Elle. For a brief moment I look at Liam, so comfortable in Katelyn’s house and wonder if there could be something between them.
She’s been the one to make him feel welcomed, opening her house to him, inviting him to Thanksgiving and now he’s lying on the floor, Peyton resting on his stomach, like he owns the place.
He sits up when he sees me staring at him, Nick behind me. I know I’m imagining things, but can’t help it. My mind is going crazy here with images of them together. Katelyn closes her book and moves a sleeping Elle so she can sit up and greet us.
“What’s going on?” she says, yawning.
“We thought Liam would like to see Noah,” I say, eyeing Liam. “But if you guys are busy...”
“I don’t think watching TV constitutes being busy, Josie. I’m glad Noah’s here,” Liam says to me. The way he looks at me tells me he knows what I’m thinking. We’ve been down the jealousy road before and it’s just reared it’s very ugly head with me again.
“Make yourselves at home. I’ll put on a pot of coffee.” Liam gets up and helps Katelyn with Elle. My eyes follow him down the hall as he takes her to her bed. Apparently he puts the girls to bed now too.
“Westbury,” Nick says when Liam walks back into the room. “Let’s go outside and talk.” Liam doesn’t say anything he just nods and walks out the side door leading to the driveway. Nick kisses me on the cheek and promises to be good.
“I know you want to listen,” Katelyn says when she hands me a cup of coffee. She motions for me to follow her into the kitchen.
“Where are they going?” Noah asks before I leave the room.
“Just to talk.” I turn back to Katelyn.
“What’s going on with you?” she asks sipping on her cup.
“Nothing, just taken aback by how natural everything looked when I walked in, that’s all. I guess I didn’t expect you to move on so quickly.”
Katelyn sprays hot coffee out of her mouth, ruining her white shirt. “Are you kidding me here, Josie? You think Liam and I are… oh god I can’t even. I just buried my husband. I have no intention of pursuing anything with anyone. Liam is here because I didn’t want him to be alone and I didn’t want to be alone on Thanksgiving and Peyton wanted someone to watch football with.”
“I just thought—”
“You thought wrong. He only agreed because it gave Noah a place to come and stay until he can buy a house.” Katelyn moves to the sink to clean herself up. “In case you didn’t know, that man is still head over heels for you.”
“I know he is,” I mumble. I’m so stupid to think Katelyn would start something with him.
Katelyn wipes her hands on the towel and leans against the counter. “What the hell are you doing, Josie?”
I stare at Katelyn and back at the door before looking at her again. Tears pool in my eyes. I hide my face and fall into her arms.