Band Practice (in NYC, after Claire leaves to study)
I shake my head and turn to Chris, the only sensible person in the band. “Please get them out of here before I commit murder.” Shaun hears me and snaps, “What, just ’cause your girlfriend leaves, they have to?” I take a deep breath to regain my control. I knew this was going to happen. “No, they have to leave because they’re little bitches who chased Claire out of here.” “You’re just jealous,” he seethes. I gently put my guitar down. I’m now itching for a fight. Fuck deep breathes. If this fucker wants to start something, I’ll finish that shit. I step up to him so that we are basically nose to nose. I feel Chris come up to my back as I see Trey run from behind the drums to get behind Shaun. “What, I ask, am I jealous of?” My hands are balled into fists, wanting, waiting to connect with his ugly mug. “That you tied yourself down to some little girl. That you can’t go around and fuck everything like you used to. Well, you could, but then you would be going behind your girl’s back. And I can’t see you doing that because you’re fucking pussy whipped now.” He takes a step back and raises his arms like come on before dropping them. “I mean, come on, man. You’re our front. We depended on you to bring the pussy in. We’re going to lose our female fan base the minute they figure out you’re taken.” I raise my eyebrow at him. “You really think that?” “Why wouldn’t I? You’re more serious than you have ever been before. You don’t even do your flirting, I’m-too-sexy-for-you shit with the crowd anymore. You’re like a robot: get up on stage, don’t make eye contact, play your shit, and leave. You don’t interact and egg the crowd on like before. And it’s all because of Claire. You’re afraid to hurt her feelings or some shit. I don’t know. But I do know I’m sick of that shit.” He has a point there, but I’m not going to disrespect Claire for attention. “Look, I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I know a lot of that has to do with Claire, but she’s my life now. You want me to walk, fine. Claire always comes first with me. That’s nonnegotiable. You want me to stay and us get serious about the band, the girls have to go.” He’s about to cut me off, but I talk over him. “This is practice; this isn’t your time to impress women. They are a distraction. We’ve been here over an hour already and have completed two songs. Why? Because most of the time you’re making out with one of them.” I point toward the girls and see they are watching us with rapt attention. “If the girls go, that has to include Claire, too,” Trey chimes in. I shrug. “Fine.” It’s not fine, though. Now our time together just got cut shorter and I’m already feeling a disconnection between us, have since we got to Metropolis. Shaun nods his head toward the girls. “They get to stay today. We have a date afterward.” I want to scream in frustration. We have a pretty big gig tomorrow and still haven’t gotten down the new song. Shaun’s bass has been a beat behind the last two times we played the fucking song! Argh! I want to pound his face in. I drop my shoulders in defeat when an idea pops in my head and I automatically stand up straighter, a mischievous grin in place as I look into Shaun’s eyes. “How long have you known them?” “Hey, the blonde is mine,” Trey folds his arms over his chest. I roll my eyes at him. “I met Darcy at the gig last Thursday. We’ve been talking on the phone,” Shaun answers. “Serious?” I ask them both. “God no,” Trey responds while Shaun say, “We’re talking marriage.” Oh, God. Shaun is always saying his new love interests are the ones he’s going to marry. “Okay, Shaun. Let’s see how committed she is. If she is, she stays.” “That’s sound enough for me,” Chris says. “I want to fucking finish this shit so we can get the fuck out of here. Me and Noah have been in this garage all fucking day and I want a shower.” He’s not lying about that. I’m still dressed in the coveralls with Chris’s family’s logo on the front, my hands are stained with grease from working under cars all day, and I have a headache from smelling petrol all damn day. I just want to grab a bite to eat, shower, and lose myself in Claire before falling asleep. Shaun’s jaw is giving itself a workout. He knows what’s up and he knows he’s going to lose. “Fine. Whatever. At least I’ll know straight up if she’s serious. Don’t like wasting my time on bullshit.” I walk up to…Darcy, I think her name is. She’s already got that bewildered, I-want-to-fuck-you look on her face. I have to stop myself from shaking my head. Too easy. I lean down and whisper in her ear, “You see that door over there?” She nods. “There’s a bedroom in there. I want to see you in there, on the bed, legs spread. Will you do that for me?” Robotically, she gets up on unsteady legs and starts to walk across the room to the door in question. When she gets to it and opens it up, she looks confused. She turns back around and stares at me with questions on her face. My expression has turned from seductive to downright loathing. “Get the fuck out of here,” Chris barks at the two bitches.
Recording Studio (Noah in LA)
“Noah, hey. I brought some guys here I think you would like to meet.” I look up from the sounding board next to Joe, the sound guy, to Dennis, the representative who found me. “Hey. Who is what?” I wasn’t paying attention to him when he came in. With a pleased grin, he steps to the side and there stands my favorite rock band, the ones who were Claire’s first concert. I think I’m a little star-struck. I know I forget to breath because I have to tell myself to do it. With a deep breath and a small pep talk not to look like an idiot and play it cool, I get up and introduce myself, shaking each of their hands. I am honored to meet them, but I don’t get why they are here. They write their own stuff. So, I ask them. “We are contracted to commit a song to a soundtrack. A couple weeks ago, the execs sent out some demos to several artists and, as we were recording our song, I couldn’t get one yours out of my head,” the lead singer answers. “So now we have a mesh going on. We came up with our own words to your beat, but I can’t buy half the song, so I want to collaborate and find a beat to your words. Otherwise, I can’t perform without your words sinking into the song. Get it?”
Scratched last chapter
“So, how are things working out with lover boy?” Dare asks as we take a seat at the café we meet at during her break. I did put in a good word for her, and the team hired her on. I roll my eyes at her reference to “lover boy,” and simply tell her, “Great.” We have been more than great, actually. Top of the world, delirious with happiness, bursting with joy seem to be more appropriate terms. I thought Noah was open to me before, but it’s been nothing like now. Maybe it’s more that he knows himself better, as do I. Whatever it is, we are closer than we were before, and much happier. Not to say that we don’t argue sometimes, like when Noah again and again gets that look on his face. It’s the sorry, regretful look he gets sometimes when he stares at me or watches Nico. I want to vanquish the look from ever appearing on his face. Instead, I always tell him, “Don’t,” and he always says, “I can’t help it.” Then he goes into this whole monologue of self-abasement and remorse. It kills me. I wonder if he will ever get past it. I wonder if I will ever get past it. I don’t say anything to him. It’s not going to change anything, so why bother? I would rather look at the happier memories. And the times Noah wasn’t there? Well, I have the image of him watching those videos I sent him; his face showing emotions I don’t even have names for as he watches our son grow. That’s a good memory I will always hold on to. It’s also a pastime Noah has taken on—recording all our special moments so he can watch them when the moment strikes. “Are you done moving in yet?” That’s one of the biggest changes between Noah and I in just the past month. He asked me a month ago by saying, “I want your curtains hanging in our windows.” I couldn’t resist that, surprised that he remembered such a little thing, so Nico and I moved into his much bigger home. I love it. We even made a trip back home to go through my mother’s things, finding furniture to add to our place. The condo is nowhere near finished, but we have the essential there. All Nico and my stuff is out of my condo, and the place is up on the market. Nico’s room is completely done, most of the master bedroom, and the kitchen and living room. The two extra rooms are trashed, boxes and extra furniture everywhere. We have been taking our time setting everything up. The curtains were the first things Noah hung up, and then we had to buy more because he has a lot more windows than I was prepared for. “Almost,” I answer, picking up my cup and taking a sip. “What’s the news on you and Neil?” Dare shrugs, looking despondent, and I want to groan. She has a habit of looking at the bad all the time. She finds a flaw in someone and holds on tight. I always have to talk her out of disbanding a good relationship, and her relationship with Neil is good, the best, actually. The guy dotes on her like she hung the moon and stars. “Don’t start this, Dare,” I warn. “Do I need to remind you of the vacation he has planned for you two in July? The Caribbean, beach, sand, romantic dancing—” “Amazing sex all night,” she cuts in then sighs. “I know, I know. And I do love him, and he obviously loves me, but…” “Uh-uh. No, no, no. no buts. That’s end of. You both love each other. You’re both in a good place. Hold on to that and don’t let go, Dare.” She’s silently after I say that, and then she concedes, “God, I hate it when you’re right.” I giggle, and then she rushes to say, “But he’s talking about marriage and kids, and … That’s scary as shit, Claire!” “And look at Cyn. She wanted the same thing, but does she look happy?” Poor Cyn. She had her baby girl back in September, which she is ecstatic about, but every time I talk to her … She’s just not doing well. “Wait—I want the opposite from her.” Dare looks at me like I have lost my mind. I lean over the table and put my serious face on. “Do you want to put Neil through what Max put Cyn through?” Dare’s face registers her realization. “No,” she whispers. “I’m not saying you should give in to him. Just … think of the possibilities. Start a five-year plan or something. Just don’t give up on him because you’re getting scared.” Dare nods while I talk, staring off into the distance. “Yeah …” I take out my phone and look at the time. I need to leave soon to pick Nico up from Giuliana and Kyle’s before heading to the airport. Noah’s flight arrives in an hour, and I promised Nico we would pick him up this time. It’s a surprise to Noah. He’s only been gone for five days, but it’s felt like so much longer. I’m a little suspicious of what has him going to California so much. He says recording and business meetings. I understand business meetings, but he has a recording studio here. Nico went with him for a few trips, saying they stayed at a hotel, and he got to meet some nice men. Noah also took him to Disneyland once, and to the beach back when it was still warm. He asked if I wanted to go to, but I haven’t had the time off to do so. Now that the season is ending I should be able to go. I tell Dare that I have to head out, and we leave. She heads back to practice, and I make my way to the parking garage where Noah’s Land Rover is parked. We hardly ever use the car, but since the airport is such a journey away, I decided today would be a good day to use it. Noah bought himself another bike a while back and uses that whenever he is flying solo, which is basically to work and back. If he has Nico or I am coming to, we usually just hire a cab. No car is safe in the city. * Security is now surrounding us, finally figuring out who is the cause of the mayhem. Outside their bubble of protection, pictures are being snapped and questions are being thrown at us: What is our son’s name? How old is he? Am I really his father? How long have Claire and I been together? How long have I been putting the band together? Am I going to stop songwriting for other artists? On and on the questions continue, even going to such extremes as asking Claire what does Jesse Page think of our relationship, and if she is going to continue to work with him. I can’t even pay attention to all the chaos, more concerned on getting my family safely away from prying eyes. We continue to be herded toward our car, the security in front of us asking if we drove or need a cab. Claire tells him we drove with a discontented look on her face, probably wishing we could simply hail a cab out of here. It would have been faster. Who would have known the paparazzi would be waiting on me? Someone back in L.A. must have leaked that I was coming back. We finally make it to my car, and I exchange Nico for the keys and my bag from Claire. Throwing my bag in the back as she secures Nico in his seat, security surrounds our car. They clear enough space for us to leave, and then we finally have a chance to catch our breaths as the swarm disappears from the rearview mirror. “That was intense,” Claire gives the understatement of the year. “Yeah,” I sigh out, maneuvering the car through traffic. My heart is finally starting to settle from the chaos. Then it picks up again when Claire speaks. “Do you want to tell me why you couldn’t give me a heads up?” By her tone, I would say she’s pissed, but when I glance over at her, she can’t hide the smirk on her face, or the happiness in her eyes. I think for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts into a reasonable explanation. Nothing comes to mind, so I go with, “Surprise?” Claire scoffs, chuckling softly. “I’ll say. I heard you singing on the radio and had to immediately pull over. By the way, Kyle and the rest of the family know by now. My phone has been ringing off the hook. I’m sure you have plenty of messages, too.” “Daddy’s famous!” Nico squeals from the back seat, earning an amused grin from me. I meet his eyes in the rearview mirror, seeing him beaming at me. “Daddy’s been famous,” Claire tells him. “Just now everyone can put a face to the name. We should go out tonight and celebrate,” she directs to me. I immediately shake my head. “No. This week has been insane already.” Press releases, interviews, photo ops—things I wasn’t prepared for at all. “I just want a quiet night in with you and Nico.” I look over to see Claire pout prettily at me, and I already know I am going to lose this battle. I lost the ability to say no to her a long time ago. “Everyone is going to want to see you, ask a lot of questions, Mr. Secret Keeper.” She frowns at that. “No more secrets or surprises. That was the best one possible, but we promised to talk things out. That should include major career moves.” She shakes her head and looks forward. “Anyway, it would be nice to go out tonight so you can let everyone get their fill. Your parents especially. We can go to Neil’s. It’s quiet enough, and your parents like that place.” When she mentioned going out, I expected something bigger. Neil’s restaurant is low-key, mostly blue collar workers having a drink and bite to eat after work. Thinking that sounds hell of a lot better, I shrug. “I can do that.” I glance at her again to see a smirk. * Neil’s restaurant is dark with walls paneled in dark wood, and high booths that seclude diners to their own party. There is a bar on the front wall with low lighting displaying beverages and pendant lighting running down the bar top. The food is American cuisine: burgers, steaks, hot sandwiches, and they have the best fries I have ever had. I think I like the place because it reminds me of Jeremy’s. It just doesn’t have live entertainment. Neil gets us a booth in the back. The tables are circular, allowing up to ten people to sit comfortably. Nico is nestled between Claire and I while Kyle, Giuliana, and Dare sit next to her and my parents are next to me. Neil joins us for a while before getting taken away by work issues. My parents bombard me with questions, my mom shooting Claire a nervous look whenever the topic of keeping this to myself comes up. It’s apparent she is nervous how this affects Claire and my relationship. Honestly, I am utterly shocked by her reaction. I went from sweating bullets, sick to my stomach that she would be pissed off that I kept something so important to her. I still fear that, thinking it hasn’t hit her yet, and she is still living off her pride in me. Once it hits her, I am afraid of where we are going to go from there. I need to act fast, keep the happiness up, but first, we need alone time to talk. When everyone is done eating, my mom offers to take Nico for the night after Kyle suggests continuing the party. I really don’t want to. I need to talk to Claire. I haven’t had any alone time with her yet. As soon as we got home, we were barraged with phone calls and her planning tonight’s dinner and then getting ready. However, Kyle wins me over when he talks about how this is the first time he has had two days off in a row, and how we haven’t been out in over a month. His genuine excitement for me has me giving in. We all head out our separate ways after saying good-bye to Nico and my parents. Claire and I take our own cab, while Kyle and Giuliana wait with Dare for Neil to hand over the reins to someone else for the rest of the night.
Original Ending This was a hard part to write. I was in a funk, thinking I knew how the story ended. In the end, I had already put Claire through too much and couldn't do that to her, despite me wanting to hurt Noah more for what he did.
“If you had just read the damn letters.” “How does everyone know about these fucking letters! What’s so fucking important about them!” “They’re your only link to Claire now! There’s a start, you fucking brat!” I’m confused. What is he talking about? Why do I get the feeling he’s referring to something dire. Meanwhile, he’s mumbling about how he’s always known I was a useless little shit and no good, and that I’ll be a beat neck dad to Nico. Nico? What the hell is he talking about? “What are you talking about?” I ask. “I still don’t get why you’re fucking here.” He crashes onto my couch like the world was on his shoulders and now he can’t hold it up any longer. I wait, still standing across from him, as he lets go of the briefcase at his side and uses two hands to rub up and down his face. His balding head is bowed. He looks lost and sad and completely at a loss for words. I have no idea what is going on, but that feeling in my chest is clenching, my heart beating wildly in my chest at the same time that it feels like it’s stopped, no air reaching my lungs. I walk around my couch and slump inward, worried, so fucking worried. What the fuck is going on? Why is he here? What the hell does this have to do with Claire? And who is this fucking Nico? “Please, what’s going on? You … I just need you to spill it out for me?” Mr. Couer finally looks up from his now clasped hands, tears in his eyes. Oh, no… “Claire’s dead, Noah. She’s gone. And now Jonathan is, too. Heart attack upon hearing the news of Claire—” Tears poor down his eyes. I can’t even hold back my suction of air, choking on the oxygen as my heart literally stops in my fucking chest. No. No, no, no … Not my Claire. Not my angel. I was going to make everything right with her. I was going to win her back. I was going to grovel, jump through flames, rip my own heart out and serve it to her if that’s what it took. NO! Oh, God, not my Claire. The news is earth shattering. My brain cannot even comprehend past “she’s gone.” Dead. No longer an angel walking amongst mortals. No longer gracing us with her beauty, that voice of hers, her heart, her views. No more Claire. How is the world even still rotating? How am I sitting here, still alive? How is my heart still beating while hers is silent? How? How is this possible? I can’t even … think. I choke back a sob, needing to get away from this lying asshole, except I know he isn’t lying. He can’t. He’s not enjoying this one bit. I stumble up from the couch, crashing into everything, hunched over. The emotions are choking me too much, my throat tight, stomach clenched in dry heaves, my chest feeling like it’s soaring out of my body. This is worse than when I thought I saw Claire kissing another man. So much worse. I want to die. I want to curl up against my Claire and just die. I want to surround her in my arms, tucking her head under my chin like we used to lay, feel her arms wrap around me, comforting me, and just die, right there. There is no other options for me. I just cannot live in a world she doesn’t exist in. I can’t…I can’t… Claire, Claire, Claire. No, Claire. I love you. I love you, angel. I love you so fucking much. You can’t be gone. You can’t leave me. You can’t leave me, Claire. This has to be a lie. Please be a lie. I break down sobbing in the hallway. I can’t take this reality. I can’t live in a world where there is no Claire. No Claire to spy on from afar. No Claire smile to see. No Claire eyes to try to catch a glimpse of. No Claire voice to hear. No. Claire. The sobs rack my whole body as I slump down the wall, no longer able to hold myself up. I just crumble to my knees, my head tucked down, hands grabbing handfuls of hair and just squeezing. My whole body shudders with my sobs. “Claire … dammit!” I gasp out before a whole other slew of sobs rack my body and I burrow deeper into myself, gasping for air before my body once again succumbs to the body racking sobs. I feel Mr. Couer touch my shoulder as I continue to sob, totally forgetting he was even here. I jump at the touch, snapping, “Back off!” I’m ready to swing at him, something to work out and numb the feeling of complete torment in my chest. “Noah, there’s more. I have to tell you about Nico before—” “Who the fuck is this Nico! God, I hear about him everywhere. Why the hell do I need to know about him?” I cry out, despair quickly turning to anger. Who the fuck is Nico to have a claim over my angel? “Noah, Nico is your son.” “What?” I don’t understand. I don’t know what to think about this. Son? “That’s why everyone kept telling you to read those fucking letters!” He starts rambling about how Troy told him the day she found she was pregnant was the day I left. But no one thought I could have known, so they all speculated why I would leave. Troy thinks it was as simple as him being there. I would really like to know how he knows all this shit, but the most important thing is that I have a son. Claire had my son all by herself. Nico is a fucking kid. My fucking kid. How did I not piece this together? Those letters… I push past Mr. Couer, working my way to my bedroom where the box of letters sit below my bed, out of sight.