Authors: Andrea Randall
My Happily Ever After in the beautiful chaos that is our lives.
“You really are a stupid ass, you know that?” Georgia rolled her fire-brimmed eyes, shoving a seagull-embroidered pillow into CJ’s chest.
“Nice to see you to, G,” CJ shot back with his annoyingly juvenile grin. The one
the girls fell over themselves to be on the receiving end of.
“Regan? Any comments for your trash heap of a cousin?” my blushing bride gestured to CJ, speaking in a perfectly normal tone, as if discussing the weather. She continued throwing things—blankets on the couch, fresh towels too. Her face grew redder by the second.
I shrugged. “I … I just don’t … know,” I admitted with a humored sigh. “Anyone want a beer?” My hand was already on the fridge, because I sure as hell needed one.
Georgia ignored my attempt at passivity, continuing her assault on CJ. Her Eastern Massachusetts accent was always particularly thick and rough when reading someone the riot act. She dropped R’s left and right. “She’s a good girl, you piece of shit. I thought you guys
Georgia said of CJ’s girlfriend—ex-girlfriend—Frankie.
CJ tossed his backpack on the floor by the door, offering little more than a shrug against the onslaught of my wife’s words. He stood at least a solid eight inches, at least, over Georgia, but that didn’t stop her and, frankly, he’s always seemed a bit intimidated by her. I like that in both of them.
“We did have something,” he started, annoyed like maybe he and Georgia had had this conversation before. They probably had. “I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not—you know that. This is just a break,” he said rather unconvincingly, which surprised me given he’s usually such a smooth talker.
“It’s not just a break if she has half a brain in her head,” Georgia mumbled under her breath before grabbing her keys. “I’m heading down to the shop to bake. Stop down when you guys are headed to the studio?’
I nodded. “Yep.”
“Do something with him,” she said with disgust, gesturing to CJ like he was week-old garbage.
I laughed. “He’s
best friend, love.”
She shot me a death stare. “He’s
cousin, and was long before I came around.”
There was never any good thing to say to her when she was in this mood, so I just shrugged, shaking my head.
Georgia stopped at the behemoth in the doorway long enough to assess him with a scrutinizing gaze. “What happened, CJ? I mean, honestly? Why are you throwing everything away?”
He didn’t answer. For the first time in all the years I’d seen those two interact, CJ had no comeback to dish out to Georgia. She shook her head, and she was gone in a hurricane, leaving CJ and I in relative silence. He stared at me, pulling an amused grin.
All I could do was grin back, gesturing with an amber bottle. “Beer?”
“Please.” He took the drink from me and walked to the huge window-wall on the far side of the apartment Georgia and I had lived in for years; even back when it was two apartments and we were just neighbors, before we fell in love and knocked down all kinds of walls.
CJ took a long swig. “What’s up her ass?”
“You,” I snorted.
He sighed, heavy and loud. “It’s complicated.”
“Clearly,” I offered, toeing the line between wanting him to talk and not wanting to push him away.
He took another long sip. “Maybe I’ll turn out to be like him after all.”
“Dude.” I put my hand on his shoulder briefly, shocked at his honesty, “No. It’s not possible. You’re a good guy.”
“With a track record to the contrary.” He looked out into the water, the weight of whatever he was holding in shone across his intense eyes.
“You and Frankie had a great record, right? Only, what? One major fight-break thing in the last three years?” I’d never seen CJ so happy, in fact, than when he was in that relationship.
He bit his bottom lip, shaking his head and letting out a small growl. Suddenly, like the previous few minutes hadn’t even happened, his old frat-boy face was lit up and ready for action. “Welp, less baggage for the tour, I guess, huh?”
“You know, I’m thrilled we get to tour together, but you didn’t have to break up with Frankie on my account.”
CJ shot me a sideways glance, reaching for my face. “And you didn’t have to grow a beard on mine, you scruffy bastard. What do the kids call that nowadays? A lumbersexual? You’ve got the man bun and everything, though you’d have to put on a little muscle to achieve full lumberjack status.”
Without looking at him, I reached out and punched his side. “I was wearing this
before anyone gave it a name.”
“Yeah,” he replied, “whatever. You look like a girl with a beard.”
I laughed, causing a few bubbles of carbonated hops to infiltrate my nose. “You’re a class act, CJ Kane, you know that?”
We stared for a while in silence out at the calm Pacific Ocean beneath us. I never asked CJ many questions when he showed up on my doorstep, and this time was no different. It was the first time he’d mentioned his father in
s, though. Even if it was just by pronoun. I was unprepared for the conversational atom-bomb, and half-hoped he’d bring it up again before another few years had passed. It was such a mess, though, I wouldn’t blame him if he buried it down deep for another decade, or so.
CJ’s trip to California was planned, but his showing up solo wasn’t, which prompted Georgia’s outburst. Frankie had seemed, by all accounts, to ground CJ’s wandering ways for at least a little bit. And, I’ll be damned, despite his stereotypical drummer, rocker-boy wa
ys, CJ really seemed to settle a little with Frankie.
The summer they met he shared more about himself with her than he did with almost anyone else in his life. This I heard mostly second-hand from Georgia, who dissects relationships on a level of expert I could never reach. Also, she talks to CJ more about things that guys just don’t with each other, and became friends with Frankie. Frankie assumed from the beginning that she couldn’t change CJ’s bad-boy lifestyle, and their relationship started out as fun. But CJ was the first one to want more, which shocked the hell out of G and I. Also, he opened up to Frankie about his extreme success and wealth in the computer industry, an area in which he’s notoriously silent. His success with social media and various apps he’d sold off and basically rolled in the money from. Not only did he not normally talk with anyone about it, he
talked about it with the women he entertained. Georgia and I took all of that as excellent signs pointing in the right direction for a guy who used to go through women like beer.
Yet here he was, alone in my living room drinking said beer like none of it happened.
“All right you punk, ready to head over to GSE?” I took the empty bottle from his hand and tossed it into our overflowing recycling bin.
He stretched his arms overhead and walked to the door, rummaging through his bag for a minute before producing two beat-up drumsticks. “Yeah buddy!” he said with the enthusiasm of a toddler on Christmas morning.
Because CJ essentially
a toddler on Christmas morning, all the time.
Grounded Sound Entertainment, GSE, is the studio I’d been contracted under for the last several years. I met the manager, Yardley Honeywell, through two of my best friends who have been artists with them for just a hair longer than I, though they live and work primarily on the East Coast. I’d played with Bo and Ember off and on in Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a while before they came out here to play, secured a sick record deal, and I was granted one with a new group—Celtic Summer—to boot.
Celtic Summer included myself, a violinist, Shaughn—another violinist—and Chris, a drummer. We achieved formidable market success for a unique band such as ours, and were taking a year off to rest after what was basically a three-year, non-stop tour, and to pursue our individual interests. For me, my only interest ever was playing. I didn’t care if I was by myself or with a professional orchestra, I just had to keep playing. My love was always with the violin.
CJ had slowly tired of the Cape Cod summer pub circuit he’d played for over a decade, and talked for a while about coming out here to find a new band to play with. It was hard to do what he wanted—to walk into an established group as a drummer, which is the position most relied upon by any group. But, he was determined.
I had a quick conversation a few months ago with Yardley about the possibility of setting up some tour dates with other bands signed under GSE, which would allow CJ and I to stand as our own act without having to carry a whole show—a tough act to sell with just one drummer and one violinist, but wicked when it worked.
Yardley, seemingly always eager to consider my input, complied. Georgia was certain Yardley had a thing for me, but I always liked to think she had a thing for my talent, and was willing to keep me loyal to the GSE label.
So, at the start of this summer, CJ and I were headed over to GSE to record a few numbers that the marketing department could use in promo materials as they put together a lineup that would take us across the country and back, over the course of the next six months. We would head east as summer heated up, and back west as it turned to fall and winter.
While I’d spent most of the last few years on the road, I was looking forward to this particular summer, as I was sure it would be my last set of long touring for a while, since Georgia and I had begun thinking about starting a family. She insisted nothing would have to change about our current lifestyle, but that was her way of being her borderline-martyr self. It was no use telling her my traveling days would be numbered once that pregnancy test was positive.
“That hottie manager of yours going to be here?” CJ asked as we pulled up to the sizable brick building that housed GSE.
I sighed, turning off the car and leaning my head back against the headrest. “Listen,” I started, but CJ cut me off.
“I know, I know,” he said, grumpily. “No screwing the staff.”
“It’s not just the staff, Casanova, she’s my
boss for the next six months. You’re going to have a contract and all kinds of big-boy, grownup stuff.”
He flipped me the bird and exited the car.
“I’m serious,” I said, falling into step with him across the parking lot.
“Me too, asshat. You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a kid.”
I took a deep breath. “Then, just for this afternoon, don’t act like one, okay?”
I loved CJ like a brother, and that meant we fought like brothers sometimes. He’s only a few years younger than I am, but maturity wise … Let’s just say that even though we went to different high schools, I ended up nursing the broken hearts of one too many of his conquests to count. I was not signing up for that this summer, and I needed to make that clear.
I never took my talent as a means to an end with girls. My talent was the means and the end. With CJ, though? His motives had always been as cloudy as his morals, before he met Frankie, anyway, and I had no desire to clean up one single mess of his anymore.
He said nothing else as we walked into the studio and headed for the main recording room in the back, where we were to meet with Yardley and some members of the GSE staff who hadn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting my 6-foot-one-million-inch cousin, whose shoulders are as wide as they were tall, despite his middle school maturity level. We are the same height, though CJ takes up nearly triple the space I do. He could have been one hell of a football player in high school if he’d bothered to keep his grades up and his dick in his pants as far as the coach’s daughter was concerned.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
CJ and Yardley had met before. Years before, when I signed my first major recording contract. I was praying to God Yardley didn’t remember any interaction she’d had with him then, because I couldn’t remember, and honestly CJ could be one giant, walking liability.
“CJ,” Yardley greeted as we entered. “It’s good to see you again.” Her genuine pleasure in his presence gave my anxiety a rest for the time being.
“You, too,” CJ answered with mild provocation as he took her hand in his and kissed the top of her knuckles as if he was the Duke of anything except sleazy bars. Old CJ seemed to be back in full force, and I wasn’t sure I liked it even a little bit.