Authors: Andrea Randall
“Jesus,” I mumbled. “So she, like, plays for
He scrunched his face. “Not like that, pervert. We’ve practiced and I’ve coached her on some things in a few numbers. That’s it. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I think it might be like
,” I mumbled.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
I looked away, squaring my shoulders to the bar and staring straight ahead. “I think you’re treading dangerous ground, is what I think.”
Regan was silent for a few seconds. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I shot him a sideways glance, sighing. “Look, I just think …”
“What?” he cut in, a sort of angry anxiety in his voice. “What do you think?”
Facing him, I shrugged. “Just be careful. I know how these things start.”
“If you’d let me talk …”
Regan folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head to the side slightly. “Be my guest.”
I rolled my eyes, not particularly in the mood for his smug attitude. “Nessa’s a nice girl. Hot, too. Beyond all that she’s a hell of a violin player. She’s a road and festival musician, like you are, she’s a little weird, like you are—a bit of a loner.”
Regan’s neck turned red. “Your point.”
I held up my hands. “Look, I’m a believer that guys and girls can be friends. You and I have enough girl
to prove that theory. But I think as far as Nessa’s concerned … the deck is kind of stacked against friendship here and more toward … affair territory.”
His eyes bugged out.
“Chill out,” I responded, trying to keep my cool while I really wanted to punch some sense into him. “I’m not saying I think you’re sleeping with her—or would—”
“Damn straight I wouldn’t. I’m—”
“Committed to Georgia,” I cut back in. “I know. I just think you need to be on your guard emotionally. Emotional affairs are a thing, Regan.”
He snorted. “Yeah, guess you’d be the one to know all about emotional affairs.”
It stung, but wasn’t out of the ordinary for zinger comments. Typically Regan isn’t so quick-tongued but, unfortunately, he was right. While I spent a lot of time untethered to any particular woman, I’d been party to many emotional affairs women entered into behind the backs of their boyfriends or, once in a while, husbands. It’s real easy for women to get lost in the fantasy of a young, horny musician. They were always way more invested than I was, but I saw how quickly it happened. They’d come to one or two shows the first month, graduating to full groupie status within weeks, not missing a show all summer. Living a different life from Friday night to Sunday morning.
“Look, dude, I was just trying to offer some help. I know Georgia was freaked out when Nessa came to your room—”
“She told you about that? Figures.” Regan pressed his tongue against his cheek, shaking his head.
Now I was getting angry. “I’m her friend, you fool. Of course she told me. She was worried
reaction was going to put you over the edge with her. She said things have been tense for a while.”
Regan pushed back his stool and slid to his feet, grabbing his beer from the bar. “You know what, CJ? I’m not even going to have this conversation with you. You haven’t a clue what it’s like to be in a marriage, let alone a long-term committed relationship, save for Frankie. And we see how that turned out. You have
idea what tension is. It’s not worrying that a boyfriend or husband will come home before you’ve left his side of the bed. It’s about supporting someone for years, talking about starting a family, and wondering where the
that leaves your relationship, never mind your career.”
His jaw was tense, and I just begged my temper to stay back long enough for him to get this off his chest.
He stepped closer. “So,” he said quietly. “Before you run around and point out your observations about everyone else’s relationships and
, why don’t you try getting your fucking act together for once.”
We stared at each other for a long few seconds. It was like he was almost daring me to do something. Say something, maybe. I wasn’t about to. Regan might joke around with me about my former lifestyle, or snap at me in a constructive way when he genuinely wanted to change, but he had never once in our lives dumped that kind of shit on me.
He huffed through his nose, a pretentious chuckle. “Whatever,” was all he said before walking away.
And to the end of the bar, where Nessa still stood.
Even if I was unsure about what was going on with Regan before our conversation, I wasn’t anymore. His defensiveness was hiding something. I didn’t believe he’d fool around on Georgia, he wasn’t that kind of guy. At least he didn’t used to be. But the way he relaxed around Nessa—standing next to her as he leaned his elbows on the bar and laughed as if he hadn’t just been a dick was enough to raise my suspicions.
Sure, he was my cousin and Georgia was my best friend, which made things almost impossibly complicated. But, if the roles were reversed and she was behaving like a brainless bag of hormones, I’d try to set her straight before going to Regan.
In this case, it sure seemed like Regan wasn’t interested in being set straight. And I couldn’t sit by and do nothing.
I stood to leave, tossing money on the bar and making my way for the exit, when an unexpected phone call vibrated my cell.
I pushed my way outside while the phone buzzed, wanting to be able to give her my full attention, without the music or Regan’s attitude in the background.
“Hello?” I tried not to sound too hopeful, or anxious.
“CJ?” she asked as if she hadn’t dialed my phone number.
God, what if she meant to call someone else? Stupid touch-screen phones.
“Yeah,” I answered, slow. She was quiet. “Frankie?”
“I’m here.” She sounded nervous. “Look … um …”
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. “Frankie, are you okay? What’s going on?”
She cleared her throat. “Oh, no. I’m fine. Someone … um … someone just came over looking for you.”
Guy or girl
would have been my response if this conversation happened three years ago, but we were far from there. At least I was, despite my behavior sometimes to the contrary. Still, it was strange for someone random to look for me there, since I never officially
“Who was it?”
“They didn’t tell me their name.” She was nervous. Her voice was shaky, but not angry.
“Look, Frankie, I never gave out your address, so I don’t know how—”
“He said he was your dad.”
I nearly blacked out for a second. My vision definitely clouded at the mention of his title. I steadied myself on the side of the building.
“What?” I growled.
“Yeah … I don’t … um I don’t know how …”
Maybe it was someone fucking with me, and her.
“What’d he look like?”
I didn’t know anyone who would play a fucked up prank like that, but it was worth a shot.
Frankie cleared her throat, but when she spoke, her voice was heavy like she was trying not to cry. “Exactly like you, but older and in a suit.”’
It was him. That fucking bastard.
,” I growled. “What’d he say to you?”
“Nothing,” she answered quickly. “He asked if you were here, and he asked if I knew where I could find you when I told him you didn’t live here.”
“What’d you tell him?”
“I told him that I wasn’t in the habit of handing out personal addresses to strangers, and you were on tour anyway.”
I sighed. Relieved and angry at the same time as I ran my hand over my face. Forming a fist, I pressed my knuckles into the wall next to me, but decided not to ruin my hands on his account. “Then what’d he do?”
“He smiled, all charm and charisma, and told me to tell you his dad stopped by and he’d try to see you soon.”
The fuck did that mean?
“When’s the last time you saw him, CJ?” Frankie continued. “I thought—”
,” I reiterated the truth I’d told her at the beginning of our relationship. “I mean, more than just years now, I guess. Ten? He claimed he was at my high school graduation, but I never saw him …” I paced down a seedy looking alley, needing a way to work out the adrenaline and rage surging through me that didn’t involve potential jail time for vandalism or assault. “He smiled at you?”
“Mhmm,” she answered. “It didn’t seem creepy, or anything.”
“Nah don’t worry about … that. He’s not like, dangerous, or anything.”
“Except to you,” Frankie said, her voice full of the girl I dated, made love to. Before everything fell apart. “Like
,” she reiterated in the way she used to when we sat on her couch and she’d press her index finger into my chest over my heart.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, then cleared my throat. “I have no fucking idea how he even knew about you, let alone where to find you. I’m sorry, Frankie.”
“Hey,” she responded gently. “It’s okay. I know it’s not your fault.”
I cleared my throat, trying to hold back uncomfortable tears. I wanted to be with Frankie right now. In her living room or even in my hotel room. I just wanted to talk to her. To see her face and have her remind me in a way that no one else could that I wasn’t like that. Like him. But, wasn’t I? To her anyway.
Despite his dick behavior earlier, Regan
manage to serve me a dose of reality about my dad back a few weeks ago.
Cut the shit about your dad.
So, what was I supposed to do when
dropped in unexpectedly and sliced right in the middle of a life that wasn’t even mine anymore by showing up at my ex-girlfriend’s house?
“Frankie I’m sorry,” I blurted out in something that sounded like a sob, but there were no tears. It was all in my chest, tearing me apart. I sat on the dingy sidewalk at the end of the alley, next to a Starbucks and a pizza joint, and rested my forehead in my hand.
“For what?” she sounded alarmed, her voice high and anxious.
“Everything. You’re right, you deserved better. But not better than
,” I took a risk. “Better than what I gave you. I can do better, I promise. I am better.”
She sighed. “Oh, CJ … Look, I know this is heavy, but I don’t think—”
“It’s Callum!” I shouted into the phone, startling a fat pigeon and a young couple walking by.
For three years I’d managed to avoid this talk with her. Now, it was happening with more than a thousand miles between us.
Frankie gasped. “What did you just say?”
“My name is Callum.” I was almost out of breath. “Callum James. No one’s called me that since I was five because Callum is
name. And when he took off no one wanted to be reminded of it, anyway. They all just kept calling me CJ, even when I got in trouble it was
no first and middle name like everyone else got. I changed it when I was eighteen. That’s why everything says CJ, except my birth certificate …” My eyes finally watered, but the pain stayed anchored in my chest.
“I didn’t know,” she said, sounding like she was crying. “I suspected something like that, but you never gave me much to go by”
“And I pushed you far away from that part of my life,” I admitted. “You deserved all of me, and I wouldn’t let you in. He left when I was little. Had a private bank account he threw money in for a few years before he had enough to pay off the house my mom and I lived in and buy one for him and his side chick in Long Island. I saw him a couple times when I was young, but after he married her and they had kids … I just … phased out, I guess.” I’d only told Frankie pieces of that story. She knew my dad left in a flash, and had a whole new family now, but that’s as much as I’d allowed her to see.
Frankie took a deep breath, followed by a long exhale. “You didn’t tell me all that stuff,” she reiterated my thoughts.
“Yeah,” I huffed, “there you have it.”
“Why?” she questioned. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I didn’t want you to know that I was just like him, because I was hoping I wasn’t.”
She made a small clicking noise with her mouth. “Like him how, CJ?”
“A flight risk,” I answered flatly. “It’s just so complicated, Frankie. He and my mom … they were high school sweethearts. They had the romance everyone wanted, but it was all a fucking lie.”
“Oh,” she said like she had a hundred lightbulbs going off over her head.
“But that doesn’t excuse my behavior,” I cut in quickly. “You deserved someone who would love you just like that, and have it be real. Genuine. That’s how I loved you, you know. Well, love you. It scares me.” I stood, needing to move again, uncomfortable stewing in these emotions.
I hadn’t meant to tell her any of this, as she’d made it quite clear she wasn’t interested in me any longer. But just the thought of my dad showing up, standing in front of the person I love most in my life … it cracked something inside me. I wanted to protect her, and from things beyond me.
“You still love me,” she said as a half-question, half-statement.
“I do,” I admitted before I could chicken out. “And I could never tell you enough times how sorry I am for acting like … like … myself. My old self. Being with you made me better. I wanted to be better, for both of us.”
“Wow,” she said inside a breath.
I wanted her to tell me she loved me, too, but I knew better than to ask. I’d done plenty of damage to our relationship before Clara ever came into the picture.
“Say something,” I said after a few seconds of silence.
“We have to stop having these heavy conversations over the phone.” She chuckled and sniffed—laughing through tears. There might be hope yet, I thought.
“I’m sorry I was so weird about my name, Frankie. I just … it was this
. And, it’s not anymore.” I had no idea why, but it truly wasn’t.
“Look,” she said, sounding like she’d regained some composure, “I want to talk about this. And, I know that you’re on the road forever right now, but I do want to talk about this.”