Sing to Me

They want me to pull the plug on her. I won’t. Not now, not ever.

Word is she could go any day now. I refuse to believe that as I sit with her, holding my new bride’s fragile hand, my fingers entwined with hers.  I have hope.  I won’t let them take that hope from me.

Prayer can work miracles. So can love. Love is so dynamic and all-encompassing. It can heal anything, even a brain-dead girl hit by a semi.

The gentle rasp of her breathing machine and the monotonous beep of her heart monitor offer no comfort.

I kiss Emma on the hand and whisper, “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll protect you.”     

My mother steps inside the room. She knows I don’t want to talk anymore. We’ve been over this, and I’m not budging.

“Cody, there’s something else,” she says, her expression troubled.

“What is it?” I ask her, trying to control my growing exasperation. I’m so mentally exhausted and worn down physically. They say I have bags under my eyes, and I can’t remember the last time I combed my hair.  The past few months have been a living hell. How ironic that my love can’t wake, and I barely sleep.

“Emma’s grandmother is trying to get a court order to force them to pull the plug,” my mother says cautiously, gauging my reaction.

“What?” My heart stops in its tracks. I rasp disbelievingly. “I’m her husband.”

“They’re going to fight this, son, and they could win. One way or another, you’re going to have to say goodbye.”

“Over my dead body,” I grit out between clenched teeth. She knows better than to push the issue and judging by the way her shoulders hunch and her head is bowed; I’ve hurt her feelings. It’s not her fault, and I whisper, “I’m sorry.”

I place an extra knitted blanket on top of Emma to keep her warm.  It feels like an icebox in here, and it’s the least I can do to keep my baby comfortable.

Twenty-years-old and all I can think is “what a waste of her life.”  

I love her.  Love doesn’t even come close to how I feel about my Emma.

How can I say, love, when she’s become the air that I breathe and my reason for living?

I know this accident that happened is all my fault, and it sickens me to think about it. I clench my teeth and take a deep calming breath. My anger won’t help her come back from the brink of death.

We had so many plans and so many dreams. I should never have let her go. I know that now more than ever.

~~~

The first time Emma walked into my life, there was an eruption inside me I hadn’t experienced before. Not since the horrible break up with my ex two years ago had I thought of girls as anything but conquests.

The day my life changed forever, I was supposed to be with my best friend, Aaron. He wanted to meet at the apartment we shared to practice a new song for our band that he was raving about starting up.

I loved the band but being cooped up with them 24/7 took its toll sometimes. So, instead, I was alone tuning my guitar in the makeshift garage we’d rented back in Beaverton, Oregon.

The place should have been remodeled—no, torn down decades ago. Scattered in the crowded unit, our equipment looked like a tribute to The Rolling Stones.  Lined with concrete and rusted metal, it reeked like a cheese factory.

Emma sauntered in the open door as if she’d walked onto a million dollar yacht. Strawberry blonde hair rested on her shoulders, her flawless skin marred only by a smattering of light freckles and her eyes the color of the ocean—the type I could stare into for hours.

She wiped the dust from the doorframe as she entered, her face contorted in disgust. “This place is a fire hazard.”

I plucked the strings of my bass guitar and said, “Excuse me?”

“You deaf?”  She folded her arms and leaned against the door. “And ever heard of a mop or air freshener?”

I shook my long hair out of my face. “You sure you got the right place, lady?”

“I read online you’re giving music lessons, right?”  She strolled to the keyboard and ran her fingers over the keys.

“Don’t touch that, and no, not anymore.”

She poked at the keys again, as if daring me to do something. “Why not?”

“Changed my mind,” I said and stood, joining her at the keyboard.

A semblance of a mischievous smile curved her lips as her eyes searched for something else to touch. “So you said you’d do it in the ad, but now you won’t?”

“Too much hassle and too many broke assholes,” I said as my eyes followed her wondering what she was going to touch next. “Do you always walk around other people’s places touching their stuff and snooping around? Wanna take a seat or something?”

She placed her hands on her hips and looked around the room. “Take a seat where? On the dirty floor or the filthy futon?

“What?” I asked with indignation as I raised a brow. Did this girl really come here to insult me? We didn’t have much at that point, but we were serious about our music and determined to make it.  Having a band may have started out as a way to get laid, but now it was more than that.

“So … which am I? A hassle, an asshole, or broke?”  She tilted her head, widening her eyes.

Two could play that game. “My guess is all of the above.”

“You’re a real charmer,” she mumbled with sarcasm. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned around to sashay past me. Her heels clicking and clacking, echoing against the concrete floor as I watched her tight, sexy body walk away.  Every curve was exactly where it should be, and my imagination was going places it shouldn’t. My mother always believed in love at first sight, and I’d always laughed at her. I had a feeling my mother would be getting the last laugh this time.

Emma screamed class. She was a lady and a lady like that deserved to be treated with respect. Something I haven’t done in quite some time. I was going to have to play this cool and be a good boy which wasn’t an easy feat for a guy like me.

“Yeah? Not too bad yourself. Hey, stop touching things. Cool it, will you?” I growled, growing irritated.

“Did you just tell me to ‘cool it’?”  she asked, gasping in mockery and then looking at me with false irritation. Damn, she’s so pretty I can’t stay annoyed at her.

“Now, who’s deaf?” I smirked.

A mischievous grin formed on her face again, as if she enjoyed the challenge and a man who would stand up to her.

“That your bike parked out front?” She sat at the keyboard and crossed her legs, but not before she wiped the seat.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Hmm.” There was a glint in her eye.

“Hmm, good? Or Hmm, bad?”

“What do you want it to be, good or bad?” she teased.

My imagination stirred, but I had to be a gentleman.

“Triumph Tiger?”

“Yep,” I said, surprised a woman like her would notice.

“1200 Explorer, right? 950 Watt alternator?” she said, brushing her nails.

“Yeah, you know bikes?” Fancy girl who liked bikes, hot. Maybe it was that or those eyes of hers, or maybe those legs that made we wonder where they led to.

“I hope so. My dad owned a chain of motorcycle shops,” she said. “I like your tattoos.”

My muscles flexed as I set my guitar down, my arms wrapped in designs on my biceps and triceps.  I worked out a lot, and it was moments with a girl like this, which made me glad I did.

“You like tattoos?” I asked her.

“Yep,” she said, blushing a little.

“Got any?” I asked her, eyeing her up and down.

“Not that you can see,” she teased.

“When can I see them?” I asked in a low sultry voice.

“So … lessons?” she asked, changing the subject and giving me, “come get me” eyes.

I liked this girl, strong sassy, wild, spoke her mind, held her own. I wanted to tame her, and I would, or at least have fun trying. Never imagined I’d ever entertain the thought since my ex-girlfriend.

“Piano or guitar?”

“Piano, of course.” She flipped the keyboard on.

“It’s fifty dollars a lesson,” I offered, blocking her view from the keyboard. God, she smelled good; expensive too, way out of my league, but I was intrigued.

“Are you insane? I’ll pay you twenty,” she bartered, standing up to challenge me head-on.

Man, she looks good.

“Forty and I’ll take you to dinner.” My grin spread across my face. I may have to open up those lessons again, just for her.

“Fifteen and I don’t do dinner on the first date.” She wetted her lips with the tip of her tongue.

“No?” I whispered, my voice husky as I stepped over the line into her personal space.  My eyes fought from looking at every inch of her curvaceous body.

“No. I don’t want to get stuck with you longer than necessary.”

“Longer than necessary for what?” My eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“To know …” she said, letting the word hang in the air.

“To know what?”

She looked at me as if wanting me to fill in the blanks.

“Do we get to ride on your bike?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Does that mean you’ll go out on a date with me?” I asked hopefully, but not trying to sound too excited.

She pondered my question for a beat, and then answered, “Fine, only because I want a ride on your bike. Don’t get any other ideas.”

I grasped her hips and pulled her to me, wearing a sly grin. “And what kind of ideas would those be?”

She placed her hands on my chest and nudged me back a step. “I know of a nice little kosher restaurant a few miles away.”

“Your wish is my desire.”

“We’ll see about that.” She smiled.

 

~~~

 

I looked at this girl sitting across from me at some kosher dive place I’d never stepped foot in before. I wondered how I got such a hot, classy chick sitting across from me.  I’d prefer to take her to a better place for dinner. But she insisted we go to Arnold’s Deli, one of Beaverton, Oregon’s finest establishments—not quite.

She was a walking irony. Classy, but didn’t mind dumps like this.  Sassy, but I sensed there was a softer side she liked to hide. It was just the perfect amount of contradiction to keep a guy interested.

Having a rock band in such a small town, I had my set of female groupies, and though they had their benefits, they were clingy.  This girl was anything but. Confident, didn’t miss a beat, called me on my crap. I’d never met anyone quite like her.  Despite the bad breakup I’d been through not too long ago that had kept me on guard, somehow she was able to dissolve my reservations at every turn.

“You didn’t even introduce yourself, you know?” she scolded playfully, interrupting my thoughts.  She broke apart a piece of bread, and then popped it into her mouth.

“Neither did you.” I scooted the stool closer to her, smelling that minty scent.  I had to get closer to her.

“Not my job to introduce myself,” she said.

“And why not?”  I had to hear this one.

“‘Cause I’m the lady, silly.”  She grinned, throwing a piece of the straw wrapper at my forehead.

“And?” I chuckled, throwing a piece back at her.

“And ladies don’t have to do that sort of thing, it’s the man’s job.”

“Go gender equality,” I mumbled, rolling my eyes and toying with my salad, which tasted like rabbit food.

“Are you always this loveable?” Her eyes flicked over the tattoos on my arms.

“Are you always this beautiful?” I winked, leaning forward and gazing into her ocean blue eyes.

She bit her bottom lip, and I could tell my proximity was affecting her. “You shouldn’t pick at your food; it’s rude.” She was playing with me by changing the subject.  She placed her soft hand on mine. It was the first time we touched, and I’ll never forget the electrical connection that passed between us. I know she felt it too, because her breathing pattern had changed, and she couldn’t let go of me.

Her touch gave me peace as if I was coming home after a treacherous journey of broken hearts.

“Anything else, madam?” I replied, smiling.

“Mademoiselle. I’m only nineteen.”

“You know French?” Surprise lifted my brow.

“I hope so, I studied it for four years. Half my professors at the fashion university are French.”

“I hope there are no French guys sniffing around you,” I told her,  trying to get a feel if she had a boyfriend.

“Maybe, maybe not,” she teased. “One thing about the French, they know how to treat a lady.”

“And I don’t?”

“That’s yet to be seen.”

“Oh, and how’s that?” I asked, grinning. This girl didn’t have any problem expressing herself, and I loved it.

“You didn’t open the door for me when we came in here. You didn’t pull out my chair, and you didn’t let me order first,” she admonished, counting each accusation with her fingers.

“Here’s the thing, ma chérie. This is me, sweetheart. You don’t like it, then one of us has a problem and it ain’t me.”

She arched an eyebrow as if she’d been challenged to a duel. “Oh?”

“And,” I went on to say, “If I’m so awful why are you still here?”

“Cause I’m hungry, and you’re paying,” she declared, crumbling a napkin and tossing it at my head.

“Oh, I’m paying for this date alright,” I teased her.

“Date? Who says this is a date?” The way she tried to hide her smile by dipping her head made my heart skip a beat.

“Beautiful girl like you, in a fine establishment like this, I’d call it a date,” I said. “Makes me wonder, why hasn’t someone snapped you up yet?”

She flashed me a frown, before trying to cover it back up, and I had to wonder if she were thinking about a painful past relationship. A moment of vulnerability she tried not to show as she said, “Well, maybe not everyone is as kind, charming and funny as you.”

I took her hand in mine and kissed the back of it, never removing my eyes from hers. “Maybe not everyone sees how amazing you are.”

A shade of pink flushes her cheeks, and I smile, I actually made her blush.  She was going to be much more than a conquest to me; she was special. She was smart and witty.  How she’d dealt with the waiter earlier told me she cared about people.  The dude had fumbled our order and she’d given him the sweetest smile while she corrected him.

But there was a pain in her eyes that made me want to protect her, show her not every guy was going to hurt her. I couldn’t help it. My best friend Aaron said I had a bleeding heart which is what had gotten me in trouble in the past.  I couldn’t help but put my heart on the line for this one.

“Why don’t you have anyone?” she asked.

“Did but … when you don’t make a million bucks a year like the guys she was seeing behind my back …”

“That sucks. Sorry. What was her name?”

I didn’t even want to say it. Every time I did all the feelings of the past rushed forth. I sighed. “Marie.”

“Marie. Even sounds like a snob.”

I laughed.

She tilted her head to the side, studying me for a while. “You know, I can tell things about you.”

“Oh? Things?” I arched my eyebrow. I had to hear this one. “What kind of things?”

“Like give you a bath and a haircut and you’re cute enough that you might make a half-decent boyfriend.”

“Put you in anything and you’re gorgeous and smart enough, you might make an amazing girlfriend.”

“Who says I’m interested?”

“Who says you’re not?” I had to hand it to her, she didn’t hold back. “Cody White.”

“Cody … interesting. Is that your real name or your stage name?”

“Real,” I told her, extending my hand.

“Fine, I’m Emma Lohan.” She slid her hand into mine and I felt an instant jolt of pleasure.

“What’s your middle name?” I asked.

“Kara.”

“Nice.” I smiled.

“Yep, Emma Kara Vizcarra-Lohan.”

“Beautiful. Sounds exotic.”

“If you call being half Irish, half Mexican and Puerto Rican exotic. What’s yours?”

“Oscar.”

“Cody Oscar White. C.O.W. Moo…!” She laughed at her own joke. I had to laugh too.  Sure, I’d heard this a million times before, since I was in preschool but from her, it was endearing.

I glanced down at my watch and was surprised to see two hours had passed since we had arrived. We’d talked, laughed, and joked about everything and nothing under the sun. I wasn’t ready to let her go.

I leaned closer, my eyes flicked to her lips as I rasped, “Well, ma chérie. I wonder if a fancy girl such as yourself is too fancy for me to invite to my gig tonight.”

I watched her swallow hard, the reality of my lifestyle coming back to the forefront. “So I can be around all your groupies?” There was a slight edge to her voice.

“I’ll give you first dibs,” I joked, cracking a smile.

“No thanks, I don’t share.”

I paused a beat, letting her response soak in. There was no doubt at that point she had been done wrong. I needed to make sure to erase any doubt she might have of me. I tilted her chin up with my fingertips, forcing her gaze to mine, needing her to understand how serious I was. “Neither do I,” I told her in a steely tone. “So are you coming or not?”

“Do I get backstage passes?” She lifted her chin, not missing a beat.

“It’s at a bar, and the only backstage pass is the broom closet, sweetheart.”

She held her gaze on me for a second and then replied, “I’ll take it.”

 

CHAPTER 2

Screams reverberated in the fog-filled wannabe trendy bar. Packed with gorgeous women like always, Sashes tried to be House of Blues, but it never would be.   Older than dirt, it reeked of whiskey and belch but it was the town’s staple, and we’ve performed here for years.

For one night, this night, I wished we had a better venue.

I couldn’t tell if the sound of the crowd deafened me because of the small venue or because the women were crazier than normal. Our usual groupies, teenie boppers to cougars, crammed up front all with their boobs hanging out. Not that I minded.  On top of the crappy stage, it made a for great view, but my thoughts were elsewhere.

“You alright?” my best friend Aaron asked as he adjusted his fedora. Full stage makeup, silk vest, and leather jacket — dressed like the superstar he thought he already was.

“Alright? Yeah? Why?” I asked him, tuning my bass guitar.

“That her?” he asked, nodding in the direction of Emma, who had her arms crossed and was looking very out of place.

“Yep.”  I couldn’t help but smile looking at her. She looked hot, model material kind of hot if you asked me. I was amazed how we connected from the second she walked into my garage. The fact that she let me exchange phone numbers with her at dinner only confirmed what I was feeling was real. I liked our playful banter earlier. I needed a strong woman in my life, someone who wouldn’t back down and would put me in my place.

“How’d you manage that?” he asked with a grin.

“The same way you managed that blow job with the dude in the broom closet earlier,” I joked with him, elbowing him in the stomach. We were always busting each other’s balls.

“Shut up,” he laughed, catching his breath. “Let’s start this.”

We ran out on stage and Aaron wailed a high-pitched welcome to the crowd.  It was his trademark. I glanced at Emma who didn’t seem impressed. The stage lights were blinding, but I could spot that girl anywhere. She didn’t need to display everything she had to show off her body.  She was classier than that.

The girls screaming in front didn’t seem to mind Aaron’s wail. I don’t think they listened to us anyway; they just liked the idea of hanging on the arm of a local celebrity. Celebrity, meaning we had more than a hundred online hard rock fans that had followed the four of us since we were teens.

The first song was a hit, and Aaron went on to smooth talk the women like he always did as our drummer tapped the cymbals, keeping a tempo.

“We’ve got some lovely ladies tonight,” his voice echoed over the cheap microphone, and he blew the fans a kiss; such a ladies man.

“I love you Aaron!” a particularly boisterous blonde called out, slurring her words, obviously a little drunk.

“Thank you, baby.” He shot her a wink.

“Cody, come home with me tonight!” another yelled, edging the first  lady out of the way. Lord, let this not turn into another cat fight.

I blew kisses back at them although I knew my best friend would give me grief. Any attention diverted away from him was not welcomed to say the least. He’d have to get over it. I laughed as more and more women were calling out to me instead of him. I was flattered, but they weren’t my type. I’d found what I was looking for in Emma.  I loved how she seemed to like me for me, not just cause I was on stage like all the other women.

But that’s when I noticed my date was leaving the bar.  I whispered in Aaron’s ear, “Be back.”

He narrowed his eyes at me, and shook his head as if he didn’t approve, but I didn’t care.  I wasn’t needed during the next song anyway. Our guitarist could take over bass for one song, so I backed off the stage and went after Emma.

I rushed out the door, bursting into the heat of the night, scorching and thick with the type of humidity only Oregon could conjure up.  Emma was nowhere to be seen.

Where did this girl go? It was as if she completely disappeared.

I wanted to call out for her but didn’t want to cause a scene or seem desperate.  Finally, I noticed her leaning against the side of the building as if she hadn’t done anything wrong. Man, she looked sexy. If she didn’t look so good, I would have given her a piece of my mind. I rolled up my sleeves to reveal my muscular forearms. I knew she liked my body. I’d caught her looking many times, and I wanted her to find me irresistible.

I was partially irritated that she left the gig, but it was quickly replaced by worry, because she looked so solemn standing there in the dark all alone. “You alright?” I asked.

“Didn’t want to interrupt you from all your groupies,” she hissed. I was immediately taken aback by her sharpness, and then it  dawned on me, she had apparent feelings for me.

“Don’t tell me you’re the jealous type.”  I stepped closer with a grin.

“No, I’m not worried about those skanks. I’m worried about my so-called date who was blowing kisses at them.” Her hand looked small on my chest as she placed a barrier between us.

“It’s just an act. I just want ….”

“…Want me to keep watching you get ogled by your adoring fans?” she accused, tilting her head slightly.

“That’s ridiculous.” I squared my shoulders.  I didn’t like accusations, reminded me too much of my ex.

“Or perhaps you want me to lose my hearing with that God-awful lead singer.” She poked at me further as if testing my limits.

“Hey now, that’s our music,” I growled.  We may not have had the best equipment but one thing for certain, we had potential.

“Music? That’s not music.” She shook her head. “And you’re better than that.”

“How do you know what I am and what I’m not?” I narrowed my eyes at her, not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult.

“I told you, I can tell things about you.”  She stopped mid-sentence. “Sorry,” she said, “I’m just …”

The way her eyes avoided mine, there was something she wanted to tell me something but couldn’t.

“Hey, you alright?”

She frowned, and then looked down at her feet, apologizing. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I guess I am a little jealous of those groupies.”

I lifted her chin, and tilted my head to the side, speaking in a soft reassuring voice, “I can promise that you have nothing to worry about. You’re it for me, you’re all I see.”

She looked so vulnerable under the light of the moon, and the way her eyes avoided mine as if there was something she wanted to say but couldn’t. I stroked my thumb over her cheek. “What’s going through that pretty little head of yours, sweetheart?”

Her lips and chin quivered, and her eyes began to water.  Clearly, this wasn’t about my band at all. Something else was bothering her.

“Hey babe,” I said, putting my hands on her shoulders and pulling her closer. “What’s wrong?”

She looked at me. “I didn’t mean to say things like that it’s just … it’s been a long time since I’ve liked someone and … whatever you do,  be honest and don’t … hurt me.”

My finger wiped the lone tear streaming from her eye. I was right, someone had hurt her. I knew what that was like and looking at her, I could see whoever he was, he’d done a real number on her.

“No baby, I’ll never try to hurt you.  You’re an angel to me. I’m just dumb. It’s been awhile since I dated just one girl before, but you’re special. I’m going to make stupid mistakes. I just need you to be patient with me, okay?”

She looked at me and nodded. God, why’d she have to look so innocent and gorgeous all at the same time?   I lifted the hem of my t-shirt, exposing abs as I dried the tears from her cheeks.

“Thanks.” She smiled.

“Listen, no strings attached. You ever need someone to talk to about … what happened to you, you let me know. Okay?”

“Sure,” she sniffed.

“Let’s just say, I can relate.” I went on, not wanting to go into it. The memories of what I’d been through with my ex were still fresh to me.

“Is that true?” she asked.

“Yep.” Then I changed the subject. “You know what you need?”

“What? Tell me?”

That’s when I kissed her for the first time. I couldn’t help myself. She tasted like raspberries and her lips were softer than I expected and only made me want to try it again.

She ran her hand down my abs, making me glad I worked out every day, then nipped me on the lip as she pulled away, the sting sharp and fresh.

“Ow. What was that for?” I rubbed my fingers over my lips trying to soothe the sting.

“Trying to make a memory.” Emma’s lips twisted into a naughty smirk.

“A what?” I slid my hand behind the small of her back. “I can think of a few ways to make a memory.”

She stepped away with a flirtatious smile and giggled, “I said, a memory, not that. You’ve probably kissed a million girls before, and I want you to remember this moment.”

“How could I forget?” I quipped. “And if I have my way about it, you’ll be the last girl I kiss.”

“Well, next time you should ask a lady before you do something like that.” She pouted.

“I think I like the repercussions better.” I gave her a devious smirk and she swatted at my chest playfully. I grabbed her wrist, and pulled her into me.

“You’re so bad.”

“I never said I played fair.”

She smiled and shook her head at me, then changed the subject back to my band.

“I do think you have great talent, Cody. I know those guys are your friends, but seriously, I can see you have the potential of being so much more if you wanted it.”

Her compliment caught me off guard. “Well, thank you, I think.”

She smiled and gave me a quick peck on my cheek and slipped out of my arms to saunter away down the alley without looking back, not even once.

“Hey, let me drop you off,” I called after her.

“I just live down the street,” she told me.

“I’ll walk you,” I insisted, even though I knew I couldn’t. If I disappeared in the middle of a performance, my bandmates would pummel me into the ground.

“I’m a big girl.  Good night, cutie.”

My life had been forever altered, there was no doubt in my mind that she was the one, she just didn’t know it yet.

~~~

“What the hell, dude? Why did you come back so late?” Aaron huffed, as we packed up the instruments for the night. I knew I’d taken a long time with Emma and afterward, I’d followed her some distance behind, without her knowing, to make sure she got home safe. I was right, she was rich. I knew for a fact, a few celebrities lived in the building she did. I, on the other hand, could barely afford to mail a letter to that neighborhood.

“Sorry man.” I lugged the guitar case next to the rest of the equipment. Almost empty, the bar’s groupies were forced onto the street after the show because they were getting out of hand. “Emma,  she’s just-“

“Rude?” he offered, tightening his lip. “Walking out in the middle of a set?”

“Hey man, be cool. Respect.” I could still taste her on my lips and I couldn’t wait to see her again.

“Oh, dude,” Aaron groaned, shaking his head.

“What?” I snapped out of my mini-fantasy.

“I know that look,” he sighed, motioning for Federico and Ollie to help him with the mike wires.

“What look?” But I knew what he was talking about.

“You like this one,” he snorted, letting out a long sigh as we walked out the back to where his van was parked.

“What makes you say that?” I could feel my face burning. Damn, I couldn’t lie worth a shit.

“Dude, I’ve known you since you used to wet the bed.” I helped him load the drum set into the back of the van. “After Marie—”

“Hey, don’t say that name. Okay?” He knew better than that. He knew I hated talking about my ex when I didn’t have to. “This one’s different.”

It was hard to believe. He was right. Girls went in and out of my life but never had I felt like this before.

“Dude — whatever, just don’t let it interfere with the band,” he caught his breath and sat on the edge of the van, wiping his brow.

“Why would it do that?” I sat next to him.

“And promise me, the moment it does, you’ll dump the chick.” He looked me square in the face as he spoke.

“She’s not just a chick. I told you, respect. This one is going to be around for a while,” I told him, resenting him treating this jewel of a girl like some groupie. He didn’t see what I saw and I was lucky. I didn’t want anyone else to have her.

Aaron shook his head. “Don’t forget tomorrow night at Nipples. 7:45pm. Don’t be late, there’s a scout there  every Wednesday night.”

“A scout?” I leaned forward with interest. One thing about Aaron, he had the gift for gab. He could charm anyone out of anything and he could walk up and talk to anyone, no matter how important they thought they were.

“That’s what they say, from an indie label.” He tried to hide how enthused he really was by dropping his gaze to the guitar cases.

“Dude, that’s incredible.” I was about ready to leap up and hug him.

Aaron tried to hide his smile, but I knew he was excited. It’d been our dream since we started the band to be discovered and things were finally looking up.

“Just don’t be late,” Aaron warned.

“No. You don’t be late,” I fired back.

~~~

Way past midnight, my mind buzzed not only about the possibility of being discovered at tomorrow’s gig, but about Emma.

Make a memory, my ass.

I was worried about her, that’s what it was. I hated the thought that anyone had hurt her and I wondered if she was alright. I never called girls right away, wasn’t my style, but she was different.

I sighed. Aaron and I were roommates, crammed into a one-bedroom junior apartment above his father’s mechanic shop. The rooftop where we hung out sometimes was so rotted, I feared it would come caving in. I slept in the living room, which doubled as a bedroom that we shared with the roaches, ants and even occasional rats.  I looked around the water-stained ceiling and brown peeled wallpaper which someone evidently thought was beautiful at one time.

We tried to cover it up with all our Rolling Stone posters and paraphernalia but it didn’t do much good.

I wondered what a woman like Emma would think if she knew I lived here. I tossed and turned after flipping the channels on our ancient chipped TV set that even Goodwill wouldn’t accept.

Forget the dating rules, she was hurting before and I had to know if she was okay. I rubbed my hand over my face and reached for my cell phone, scrolling through the contacts until I found her number.

“Don’t you know you should never call a girl past midnight?” she teased, her raspy voice honey to my ears.

“Who says?” I challenged, re-adjusting the paper-thin pillow under my head as I imagined what she must look like on the other side of the line.

“I said, and I’m a girl.”

“Well, you’re not just a girl to me.” I licked my lips. Why was I getting excited thinking about her? The way she tasted tonight, the scent of her hair.

“Oh? Not just a girl?” she encouraged as if wanting to know more.

“No, you’re the girl I’m going out with.” I smiled. “And the one I’m going to marry one day.”

The silence on the phone was so long I thought we’d disconnected. My heart beated like a drum solo, waiting for an answer. Did she not feel the same way and didn’t want to confront me about it? I’d put my heart on the line, something I didn’t do often. Was she gonna say something, or leave me twisting in the wind?

“Hello?” I drummed my fingers on the side of the couch. “You still there?”

“Sorry, I was painting my toenails.”

“Did you hear what I said?” I asked her, sitting up in my hide-a-bed. It creaked and protested from my weight.

“About what?”

“’About what’? Forget it,” I snorted. This girl was something else. I knew she was joking, at least I hoped but it still bruised my ego a little.

“Oh, the marrying thing?” she said. “Uh, that’s a little fast, don’t you think?

“Yeah, ‘the marrying thing’,” I groaned, shaking my head. “And what’s so fast  about it?”

Yeah, maybe I was a little forward. Maybe I should have held back. But I’d never felt that way about anyone before and I’d been biting my tongue from saying it since I laid eyes on her.

“You say what’s on your mind — Interesting.”

“I am who I am.”

“Interesting …”

“Yeah? So, listen, I called to see if you were alright. If you were feeling any better.”

“You did? I’ve never … No one’s ever checked on me before. You’re a lot more sensitive than you look Cody White.”

“Just being me.”

“It’s refreshing but no. I can’t even think about marrying you one day, let alone going out on a second date.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I haven’t even house-trained you yet,” she replied.

“House-trained me?” I rubbed my thigh as I placed my feet on our sticky tile floor then quickly pulled them up as God knows what crawled over them.

“Yeah, you think you can call me at any time of the day like you’re marking your territory. I won’t be owned,” she insisted.

“Who says I want to?” I teased.

“Oh, you want to,” she flirted back.

“How do you know?” I smiled.

“I told you, I can tell things about you.”

CHAPTER 3

This was an opportunity of a lifetime. We weren’t sure exactly who the scout was but the manager at Nipples assured us he was there.  This venue was so much bigger than the other bar: plush seats, neon lights and lasers that made the room glow and even a mini-balcony.

I tried to tell myself to play like I did any other night, but there was no doubt the nerves were getting to me. Everything started out great; the sound was perfect, our bandmates Federico and Ollie were playing like pros.  Federico was rocking the drums like Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones and Ollie was a regular Keith Richards. The crowd was bobbing their heads bouncing around the auditorium like we were already rock stars.

But then, I messed up a couple of the chords and while most of the audience probably had no clue I knew Aaron noticed from the glare he gave me between sets.

I gave him the ‘what?’ look right back. Everyone messes up.

The rest of the guys in the band were laid back and stoned half the time. None of them had changed since we were kids, except Aaron. The more years that passed the more desperate he seemed to get to be famous and for us to make it big. I knew why, working at his dad’s mechanic shop with him wasn’t fun, and was the last place we wanted to be, especially the way his dad treated us. But I knew things had to break, they had to.

We were on our last song of the night, one of our crowd’s favorites and the one I knew could make or break us. It was also one of the hardest songs to play on bass but I bucked up and pushed forward anyway.

It started out great, but then I got distracted. Maybe it was all the cigarette smoke that was making my asthma kick into high gear, maybe it was the nerves about not knowing if the scout was liking what was going on, or maybe it was Emma; someone who I couldn’t get out of my mind no matter what.

Whatever it was, I messed up again and as the song ended, I knew I was going to hear an earful.  Aaron stormed past me.  I stretched my neck as I watched him arguing with the manager. It seemed pretty heated.  I walked up to Aaron as the manager walked away.

“What happened?” I asked.

He glared at me. “You happened.”

“Dude, my fingers-”

“Your fingers, your asthma, this crap, that crap. You messed up,” he said. He knew I didn’t let people talk to me like that so I switched topics before I lost my temper.

“Hey watch it.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  What’d the scout say?”

“He left early.”

“What?”

“The manager said he didn’t want to see amateur hour, he was looking to sign a real band.” Aaron took his fedora off and ran his fingers through his dark curly hair.

Those words hurt. I was a tough guy, I’d taken a lot of licks in my time but that was a hard pill to swallow. I worked hard and I rehearsed until my fingers bled. I sacrificed a lot so that I could keep going. I pretended I wasn’t sensitive when people would knock our band, but honestly it crushed me every time. Why didn’t they see what we saw, what we could be?

“Sorry man.” That was all I could think of to say, not easy words for a guy like me to convey.

“You know, you always do this,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Jacking things up for us.”

“What?”

“Yeah, remember the time we were supposed to play opening act for the Turtles & Tortoises,” he reminded me.

“Dude, I was sick.” I locked my eyes on him, daring him to keep going.

“Right. And what about the time when we had a shot at getting that dude to direct our video?” he said, pacing back and forth.

“I didn’t have the cash,” I said, shrugging.

“See, it’s always something. You know what they call that? Self-sabotage. If you’re gonna ruin things for yourself, that’s one thing but don’t ruin it for the rest of us,” he said, pointing his finger in my face.

“Point that finger in my face again and I’ll break it.”

He shook his head and pushed past me.  As usual, the guys followed him, giving me sympathetic looks in the process. They knew better than to not side with Aaron or they’d experience his wrath.  Can’t say I didn’t feel betrayed, though. They were my friends too and had been for almost as long.  I was a real stickler for loyalty. I gave it to others and expected it in return. I didn’t expect them to choose one person over another. But we were adults here, weren’t we? Why didn’t they tell Aaron he was flat out wrong sometimes, like I did?

~~~

I knew where to find Aaron that night: on top of the roof of our nasty apartment. It was above his father’s mechanic shop. With the air conditioning busted, it was the only place we could get some fresh air.

I didn’t like to leave things tense, we had our ups and downs but were like brothers. Maybe we were getting on each other’s nerves.  We lived together as roommates, worked together, played together and had for years. He was the only family I really had.

The roof top that night was particularly windy but from there we could see the entire city, the rundown part where we lived, where the smog loomed and the night lights on the other side of the tracks, where all the rich folks lived. A dream of ours.

He stood there alone smoking weed staring out across the night sky.

“You’re right,” I told him as smoke trailed out of his nostrils.

“About what?”

“I did jack things up, I was … distracted.”

“Dude, you can’t keep doing that. Don’t tell me it’s that girl,” he said, his eyes narrowing in on mine.

“Just a lot on my mind.” I lied.

He handed me a roach and I took it in my lips, inhaling its goodness. I needed something to take the edge off.

He took a deep breath of the musty air, and kicked the imaginary dirt. “Remember when we used to come up here, when we were little?”

“Yep, every night. Only place I could get some peace.” Those days were still painful to me and I didn’t like conjuring them up.

“Well, the bastard’s dead so …” He squeezed my shoulder.

“Yeah, not up here,” I said, pointing to my head. “Still hear good old dad’s  voice.”

“The only reason I’m tough on you is because I know what we can be. We deserve better than this,” he said, and I knew that was as close as I’d ever get to an apology from him.

“I like where we play. It’s got character,” I joked. It was better than nothing and not so intimidating.

“Have you heard what’s on the radio? Have you seen those YouTube videos, the ones getting all the hits? We’re ten times better than them. We should be on TV, we should be playing to sold-out stadiums.” There was an edge to his voice.

“I know,” I breathed. It was frustrating. I knew we had talent, we weren’t perfect but we were way better than most.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to end up like my mom: broke, middle aged, filled with broken dreams and empty promises,” he said, his voice cracking a little. I knew this was hard for him. So many ups and downs, so many close calls.  We kept hoping every break would be the one and then it never panned out.

“Sometimes I miss those days, just coming up here listening to the Rolling Stones, fantasizing about playing with them one day.”

“Those were the days,” Aaron smiled.

“It’ll happen for us. We just have to stay focused.” I put my arm around his neck and pulled him closer.

“And not with our minds on women,” he said, giving me a warning look.

“Truth,” I nodded, cracking a smile. But Emma wasn’t just any woman.

“I mean, there are other women out there besides that one. Women come and go. You’re a good looking guy, you know that. Shit, I’d do you if I were them, too-” He smirked.

I busted out laughing, “Whatever, man.”

“Bros before hos,” he said, nudging me on my shoulder.

I paused, thinking about Emma.

“Hey.” He nudged me again.

“Amen brother,” I said, taking another hit. But he didn’t know this girl and what she was doing to me.

~~~

“So what?” Emma sipped her ice tea. I stared across the table at her. Arnold’s again. I guess, it had become our place. I couldn’t look away from  her gorgeous ocean colored eyes.

“What do you mean ‘so what’?” I slurped on my coke.

“He’s just jealous. You call him your best friend, but based on what you’ve told me, he doesn’t always sound like any best friend I know.”

“You have to know him. He had it tough.”

“So did everyone else. He’s just jealous of you anyway.”

“Jealous?” I was surprised by her comment.

“You have so much more going for you — he sees it and he wishes he could have it,” she said, nodding.

“Like what?”

“Fishing for a compliment? I thought that was my job.” She smiled.

I chuckled, shaking my head.

“It was just a bad night. Everybody has them,” she told me. I knew it was true but it felt good hearing it from her. She had a way of knowing the right thing to say at the right time.

“That’s easy for you to say.” I scratched my fingers into the diner’s old table.

“Why’s that?”

“You got everything going for you.”

“Says who?”

“You’re a knock-out. You’re obviously college-educated. You’re rich.” She had to know how great she had it.

“Who says?” she laughed.

“Come on now, you don’t get digs like that from the Thrift Store.”

“And what about my eyes?” she asked.

“What about them?” I grinned.

“Well, while we’re handing out compliments, what about my eyes? And you didn’t even notice I got my nails painted for you,” she said, holding them out.

“You’re out of your mind.” I laughed.

“Is that you’re way of complimenting me?” she asked.

“Sweetheart, I think you’re going to drive me to the insane asylum.”

“Well, while we’re on the way, can you remember to pick me up some flowers next time?”

“Flowers?”

“It’s our second date and you didn’t even get me flowers —.”

“Red roses, I bet?”

“Yellow lilies, preferably. I share them with the old lady that lives across the hall from me. Poor thing, lost her husband,” she said.

“Is that all?” I teased.

“And candies —”

“Godiva’s, right?” I shook my head playfully.

“I’m not materialistic, Hershey’s kisses are fine,” she said, adding more to her order.  “Poor little Mrs. Alston never has anyone to bring her Hershey’s Kisses anymore.”

It was sweet of her to think about some little old lady. But that was Emma for you, she’d walk up to perfect strangers and stay with them for hours listening to their problems.  I’d seen it on our way here. As we walked down the street, hand in hand on the way to this restaurant, she’d stopped and talked to some homeless lady she didn’t even know cause she was crying. She may have been wearing designer clothes, but Emma had given the woman her designer jacket away.

I kind of felt bad sitting across from her at the restaurant and not having brought her something, I should have thought of that. I wasn’t used to going out on a second or third date.

“You said, ‘kisses’? Kisses that I can handle.” I leaned in, puckering my lips over the table until she held up her hand.

“Did you learn nothing yesterday?” she teased.

“Can I?” I nodded at her as if I were a prince.

“’May you’ and no, you may not.”

“Why not?” I protested.

“Cause your breath smells like ham sandwiches.”

“So does yours,” I shot back.

“Well then …” She smiled.

I returned her smile, looking into those deep gorgeous eyes.  I never thought I could get over my messy breakup with Marie, but Emma made the impossible possible. “Emma Kara Lohan, I could fall in love with you right now, you know.”

“Well, it took you long enough,” she answered, kissing me back.  She did taste like sandwiches but I didn’t care.

CHAPTER 4

“That chick of yours is standing outside,” Aaron yelled over all the drilling as he wiped the grease from his hands.  We were working overtime at his dad’s mechanic shop and the scorching heat felt like a sauna behind the closed doors.

“What chick?” I rolled out from under the Buick I was fixing.

“Kandy, Emmy or whatever her name is.”

“Emma?” My eyes lit up.

“Is she stalking you now?” he asked, irritated and shaking his head.

I tried to hide my excitement as I looked out the garage window. She paced back and forth while on her cell phone. We’d gone out a few more times over the last few weeks and every time just got better and better.

“Be back,” I told him, washing my hands then air drying them before I headed toward the door.

“Hurry up, I’m not getting backed up ‘cause of you,” he warned.

“Chill.” I took a deep breath and strolled outside, pretending I didn’t have a care in the world. Her telephone conversation seemed pretty heated.

“Really? How big was he? Aren’t you the lucky girl? Gotta go.” She ended the call.

“Did I walk in on the middle of something?” I asked, taken aback by her anger.

“Got a cigarette?”

“You smoke?”

“No, but today’s as good as any to start.”

She looked great, more casual than before in shorts, a preppy-looking tank top, and her hair pulled back, outlining her long neck. She wore just enough jewelry to know she’d come from money, but not so much that it was flashy.

“Cigarettes? Ran out.” I patted my pockets. She knew I didn’t smoke either.

“You can buy me a gallon of ice cream instead,” she said.

I looked up and down the barren street made up of abandoned mom and pop shops. I knew Aaron was going to kill me for taking so long, but his dad had been working me without a break for weeks so I figured I owed it to myself. Besides, the way she looked in those shorts and with that alluring smile of hers, how could I say, no.

I smiled, jogging up to her. I reached for her hand. “May I?”

“Did you wash your hands?”

“Just give me your hand,” I demanded. My fingers slipped through hers.  She tried to hide her smile.  Her small fingers felt so natural between mine. “So, who was that?”

“Who?” she asked.

“The one you were talking to on the phone.” I looked both ways before we crossed the cracked asphalt.

“Oh, just my grandma.”

I laughed. “You talk about that kind of stuff with your grandmother?”

“You don’t know my grandmother. She’s my dad’s mom and they were exactly alike. Tell you what, I’ll tell you about my grandmother if you tell me where you got that scar you keep trying to hide under your shirt,” she said.

I was surprised she even noticed it. It was small now, but still visible if you really looked and not something I wanted to bring up. “Uh … some other time. ‘Kay?”

She looked at me as if questioning whether not to push the issue and then said, “So where are we getting ice cream?”

I was grateful for that. Emma was like that, considerate, sensitive about the way people thought. The way the sun was setting on her eyes made them glow like jewels.

“Cold Stone’s Ice Cream is a couple blocks away. We can hop on my bike, if you want,” I said, lost in her eyes.

“I’d prefer to walk, thank you very much. You ride like a crazy man and I’m too young to die.”

“I’ve been riding since I was ten. So, what’s up? You came all the way over here for ice cream?”

“No, I … have to break up with you.”

“What?” My hands squeezed hers afraid to let go. “What’d I do?”

“Nothing. You’re rather amazing, actually,” she said with a smirk.

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“Well, things are going great. I don’t want to ruin it so I figure if we break it off now, then we can always have good memories of what could have been.” She batted her eyes at me as if it made perfect sense.

“That’s not a reason.”

“Well, that’s life.” She shrugged.

“Not acceptable.” I lowered my tone.  It broke my heart that she’d even consider something like this but I wasn’t letting her go, not now, not ever. I knew from the first moment, a girl like this didn’t come along every day.

“Not acceptable? And when do you get to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable in my life?”

“Since I became your boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend? I didn’t give you permission-”

“Shut up for a second, will you? You run your mouth like a locomotive.”

“I beg your pardon.” She gasped.

“Look, I ain’t too good with words.”

“Ain’t is not a word. I think you meant to say-”

“Quiet,” I interrupted. “I do love you and we’re not breaking it off. We’re going to see it run its course. You want memories, let’s make memories.”

I grabbed her hands and raised them to my lips. “And I ain’t gonna ask for permission to kiss your hand. I don’t know much, but I know when things feel different and things feel different with you; every bit of you.  My dad’s dead, my mom’s a drunk. I don’t got much to offer you, but I got me. I got my heart and that’s just gonna have to be good enough for you. I love you already, Emma. You hear me?”

She stared at me and didn’t say a word.

“What?” I asked her, but she still didn’t say a thing. “Well…?”

“Oh, am I supposed to say something?” She shook her head as if waking from a daze.

“Yes, dammit.” I smiled.

“What am I supposed to say?”

“How about ‘nice speech’? How about ‘I love you, too’? How about ‘you’re right’?”

“Not going to happen,” she said, walking forward.

“And why not?”

“I never admit anyone else is right. Besides, I was too busy looking at those side burns of yours,” she said. “When are you going to get a haircut?”

“Never.”

“Then, can we get ice cream?”

“A whole gallon?”

“Not all for me, silly.  I figure, poor Mrs. Alston never has anyone to visit her and she loves Rocky Road and she’s got all those cats.”

I raised her hand to my lips. That was Emma for you, always thinking about some poor soul that needed to be saved, when in reality it was her heart that was crushed and needed saving and I was more than happy to do it.

CHAPTER 5

I’m sleeping next to my baby tonight, hidden in the corner in her hospital room when they wake me.  I wipe the drool from my mouth and my immediate thought is Emma.

“Is she alright?” I ask the nurse who’s nudged me.

“She’s fine,” she assures me. “You know you’re not supposed to be here past eight.”

“Just a few more minutes, will you?” I ask.

She gives me a wink, “Just don’t let anyone else catch you. Your mom’s here to see you.”

“Oh, where?” I ask her, rising. My hand glides across Emma’s legs on the way out. “Be back, honey,” I tell her. I know she can’t hear me, but it feels good just the same.

My mom’s waiting outside in the lobby and we embrace. Now, my mom’s a big lady, but since the last few weeks at the hospital she’s gotten even bigger.

“How is she?” she asks.

I sigh. “She’ll pull through.”

I can tell by the way she’s not looking at me that there’s something she wants to say but doesn’t know how to say it.

“What?”

“Son,” she sighs.

“No,” I tell her, “We’re not having this conversation.”

“You have to be realistic.  I just want you to talk to the funeral director.”

“No, she’s not going to die.”

“He says they have monthly payment plans.”

“No.”

“Son, you can’t keep living in a fantasy land. She’s gone. The Emma you know is gone.”

“No,” I say firmly, my eyes locking with hers.  There’s silence between us, only the hushed late night sounds of the hospital staff walking by.  “She’s going to live. She’s going to wake up here and mark my words, we’re both going to get up and walk out of here together.”

She sighs. She knows there’s no point in talking to me.

“I’ll call you tomorrow.” I peck her on the cheek.

I rush back in to see my Emma before I have to hear another word. I close the door and walk up to the bed.

I push those thoughts out of my mind.

“Don’t worry, baby,” I tell her, “I’m going to figure out a way.”

I hate seeing her like this, so pale, so lifeless, a shell of who she once was.

I’m praying for a miracle. They may say I’m living in a fantasy, but I know what true love can do. Emma taught me that.  I knew there was a God, cause he’d brought me Emma when I needed her most. She told me that I saved her, but the truth was, she saved me. And miracles could happen no matter who doubted, no matter what obstacles were thrown in our way. Miracles happened because true love existed.

I brush the back of my hand against her cold cheek.  There was a time when we’d make love until the break of dawn, when we could spend hours looking into each other’s eyes, holding each other and not saying a word, knowing there was no other place we’d rather be.

Now, I look at her and I don’t know if she’s suffering inside, if she’ll remember me, or if somehow our love will fade away.  I’m riddled with guilt. The only thing that gives me comfort, as I raise her hand to my lips are the memories of our life together.

CHAPTER 6

It’s not like I didn’t want to do anything with her.  Every time I was around her I had to readjust my pants to keep the chicken in the coop, if you know what I mean. I was afraid doing something would ruin what we had.

Don’t want to brag, but I could’ve gotten any girl any time I wanted.  I had a cell phone full of groupies I normally called for a late night rendezvous, but since I’d been with her, their random phone calls had gone unanswered and I was deleting them one by one.  Emma was that special to me.

Aaron was surprised too, the whole band was. That’s when they knew I was serious. You see, Emma wasn’t just some girl to me, from the beginning I felt like I was flying whenever she was near. I could live the rest of my life with her and in fact, I wondered how I’d survived without her so long.

I didn’t want to have some quick affair, I wanted to explore every facet. I wanted to know her inside and out, see what made her gasp with delight, what brought her joy, what made her feel a glimpse of what I felt every time she was near.

We were two messed up kids in a tornado of painful memories trying to grasp hold of something long enough to get through the day.  Maybe we were the blind leading the blind, maybe we were two drowning victims trying to save each other. But if she was going down, I was going down with her. Do or die. But she did this to me, she kept me stable.

She gave me a reason to care about someone else other than myself. I wanted to show her how much I loved her, how grateful I was to her in a way that only a man who truly loved her could show her. To please her, to touch her, to hold her and make love to her, to heal her from the pain of any man who’d ever hurt her.

It was strange too. She liked me but she didn’t seem all that interested. Any move I made toward her, like putting my arm around her, she’d only move away. The furthest I’d gone with her was kissing and man was it great, but I was ready for more.

It’d been a good three weeks since we’d been dating and she hadn’t even invited me to her place yet. I wondered, what she was hiding. Did she have some boyfriend that she was sneaking around with or worse yet, was I the other guy?

It was stupid, I know, but those thoughts were running through my head constantly. Until that night. We were spending another night watching movies which we both loved to do. In fact, whenever she wasn’t working at that fashion boutique shop or I wasn’t with the band or at work, we’d watch something on TV.

Her in my arms, leaning against my chest, snuggled on the couch in the darkened room, it was heaven. Me and Emma, giving her baby kisses on the side of her head, nibbling on her ear. She’d smack me and tell me it tickled but I couldn’t help myself, every part of her was munchable to me.

We were watching Almost Famous, you know – the one with Kate Hudson, and eating a Hawaiian pizza with thin crust and she announced in the middle of the rock scene, “See? That should be you.”

“You’ve never even heard me sing before.”

“I heard you doing background with your band.”

“That was nothing,” I said.

“I told you, I can tell things about people. You should be on stage with bazillions of fans.”

I wasn’t used to all this praise and I quickly changed the subject to the film.

“Did you know this film is based on Cameron Crowe’s years hanging with Led Zeppelin?” I asked her, trailing my finger down the side of her arm.

“Did you know that Britney Spears is my favorite singer?” she asked, looking at me.

“Singer? That’s a stretch.”  I snorted, pecking her on the cheek.

“Oh, and Elvis Presley, I’m in love with him.”

“Yeah? Me too. What’s your favorite song?”

Love Me Tender. You know it?”

“Of course I know it.”

“Sing it to me.”

I blushed, there was no way. I could sing behind instruments in the background but one-on-one? I just couldn’t.

“Did you know Britney Spears was supposed to play Daisy Duke in Dukes of Hazzard?” I asked changing the subject.

She sighed. “Fine. Did you know Dukes of Hazzard was my favorite TV show?”

“Did you know my favorite TV show is watching you sleep?” I squeezed her tighter.

“Like Hannibal Lecter? Did you know you have parsley in your teeth?”

“Did you know that I don’t care and that The Rolling Stones are my favorite band?”

“Duh, your place only looks like a Rolling Stone museum. Did you know your breath smells like pizza?” She broke loose and backed against the other side of the couch.

I crawled over to her, my eyes locked on hers. She bit her lip as I asked her, “Did you know pizza wasn’t originated in Italy? It came from—”

“New York,” we both said at the same time, inches apart. I closed my eyes ready to taste those sweet lips again, when she held her finger against my puckered lips and said, “Did you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?”

I busted out laughing. “Jerry McGuire? Real original.”

“So, Cody,” she said, folding her arms.

“What’s up, babe?” I asked, I shouldn’t have had that much pizza.

“Do you have some disease?” she asked, flat-out.

“What?” I laughed, thinking it was a joke at first.

“Yeah, some highly contagious disease? Or are you asexual like Michael Jackson was?” She gave me a serious look.

“I don’t think Michael Jackson was asexual, but what are you talking about?” I stuffed my face with another slice of pizza.

“Well, it’s been almost a month-”

“23 days, 14 hours, 27 minutes,” I said, winking at her.

“Same thing and you haven’t even fucked me,” she pouted.

I almost choked on my pizza. “What?”

“What? Am I not allowed to say that word?”

“No, it’s fine. It’s just … I’ve never …” I babbled, still in shock.

“What? A lady can’t be sexually dominant?”

“No, dominant is cool, real cool,” I told her with a smirk on my face, getting turned on thinking about it.

“Good, I hope you’re not a 1-minute man cause I’ve really been looking forward to this.” She got up and sashayed toward the kitchen.

Laughing, I followed her there. “Most of the time, they can’t get enough …”

“They? Well, that really puts me in the mood. Never mind.” She groaned throwing up her hands. “Clueless.”

“I was just talking about the past,” I explained. Seemed like I never could say the right thing sometimes.

“Don’t ever bring ‘they’ up again. I told you, I don’t share.” She poked my chest.

“And I told you, I don’t share either,” I said to her backing her against the wall, with one thing on my mind.

A smile cuved on her face. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“You be the judge,” I rumbled, kissing her on her neck.

“And you better …Oh, that’s nice …” she moaned.

“Go on… What were you saying?” I teased as I ran my hand down her shoulder and back.

“I don’t want you to … Oh … I guess you do know what you’re doing.” she purred.

I could smell her sweet minty scent in the air. Her eyes were seductive, daring me for another kiss, which I was eager to do.

I took her face in my palms, my lips massaging into hers. She kissed me back as if hungering for them, our lips in perfect rhythm. I could have done it for hours, flowing, rolling on top in between those soft lips of hers.

“You know, Emma, I’ve been dying to make love to you since the moment I saw you.”

“Mmm,” she responded.

My knees parted her legs, as I rubbed my five o’clock shadow against her long neck, rumbling in her ear as I tasted it.  She moaned, her lips opening as she gasped for breath. Had I known it was one of her spots, I would have done it a long time ago. But this was what I enjoyed, exploring every part of her.

The best kind of love was when you did what pleased your partner the most, what lit them on fire, what took them to another realm and pleased them until they couldn’t take anymore, and then you did it again.

She tossed her head back, arching as I reached behind her, my hand sliding up her shirt.  The touch of her soft skin did things to me and I could feel her starting to sweat. I loved the scent of her, a feast for my senses.

My hand glided from her knee up the hem of her skirt. I couldn’t wait to feel why she was so hot and moist down there but I wanted to earn that privilege.

There was so much more I wanted to feel, so much more I wanted her to experience.

My kisses lead down from her neck to her shoulders as she told me breathlessly, “Oh, Cody yes …” She lifted my chin, my eyes met hers, and she smiled at me, that sexy smile of hers that drove me wild.

She caught her breath and kissed me back and my hands lifted her rear up until her legs wrapped around my waist. I breathed into her while her hands draped over my shoulders to my neck.  Her fingers combed through the back of my hair.

“God you’re gorgeous,” I told her with a twinkle in my eye.

I lifted her on top of the kitchen counter and smelled her minty lotion scent from her calf to her waist. How I wanted to taste her goodness to see if her skin was as sweet as I imagined.

The prickles of my beard drove her wild and she moaned. “Goodness,” she panted. “It’s so soft.”

I moved closer to her, rubbing my face against her mound, I could feel her getting excited. Her staggered breath told me she was enjoying this as much as I was.

Massaging and circling her until she was breathing so hard, I thought she might pass out. She screamed with delight, gripping the back of my hair firmly in her palms.

I wanted to do that to her, to get her excited, to get her overjoyed, to let her experience a taste of what our life could be together,  endless nights of making love, of kissing, of  loving her the way she deserved.

Eyes closed, her legs spread as I slid her panties down with my teeth.  Beads of sweat trickled from the nape of her neck.

“Oh, Cody …” she purred.

I wanted to suck her dainty toes, I wanted to kiss her from her feet to her neck, licking her until my mouth ran dry, kissing her until my lips were sore.

I did that and so much more.

Each moan of hers, each pant encouraging me to give her more of what we’d both been longing for.

It was a blessing and a curse, my girth. Most women said they wanted someone that had what they needed to fulfill them but in reality, most couldn’t last long enough with me for me to be truly satisfied. And I lasted a long time, a very long time.  Emma however, tight slick and warm as she was, couldn’t get enough.

There was nothing I enjoyed more than sliding inside her the first time, our bodies moving in perfect harmony. She was so warm, it was difficult to contain myself but I didn’t want to miss a minute inside her.  Not a second, she’d given me the privilege of her entree and now I was savoring the main course.

As I thrust inside her in every position she enjoyed, rolling my hips, bucking from side to side, slow at first then building up until she was bouncing off of me, squeezing me, gripping me, she tossed her head back, begging and pleading for more, like she couldn’t get enough. Neither could I.

For hours we made love. The living room, the washing machine, the kitchen floor, the couch and back again.  I lost track of time. By the time she gripped the sides of the cabinet for balance, and said, “Cody, I’m going to … I’m going to … Ooooh,” the early birds were chirping.

She moaned, and I could feel her satisfaction all over my body, hot, moist, and sweet. Release ran through me like electricity and I groaned, “Jesus!”

We both collapsed on top of the dining table, gasping for air.

“You’re sweaty. I wanted to make you sweat.”

“Women don’t sweat, we perspire,” she said, cracking a smile, her hair drenched.

“No? Then, I haven’t done my job yet.”

My hands traced over her breasts, I could tell by their perkiness and the way she gasped for breath as I did it that it was pleasing her.

“You’re perfect,” I told her and I meant it. It was as if God made her body perfectly to fit mine.

“I’m fat and my boobs are small,” she said, blushing into a smile.

“I want to live inside you,” I murmured, “I love every inch of you. I wouldn’t want you any other way.”

“I love you, Cody,” she told me, for the first time that night.

“Baby, I’ve been in love with you since the first second I saw you.  I want to love you ‘til the moon’s no more. You complete me.”

“Cody?”

“What baby?”

“Isn’t that from Jerry McGuire?”

“Yep.”

“Real original,” she joked.

“Hey what can I say? I know when I see something good.”

“Am I good?” she teased.

“Baby, you’re more than good. You’re perfect.”

She traced her fingers along my chest and trailed them up my tattoo until she reached my scar.

“Does it hurt?” she asked me.

“Still?” I forced a smile then sighed. I knew she wasn’t going to let it go until I told her.  “Only in my head.”

“Who did it to you?”

“Let’s just say my dad wasn’t always the nicest guy.”

“I’m sorry… You ever see him?”

“Only when I want to piss on his grave.”

“How old were you?”

“I don’t even remember. Three, maybe four. He wasn’t around much only when he wasn’t working and ran out of booze.” The nightmares of hearing his rumbling truck come up to the trailer still made me jittery.

“You ever tell anyone?”

“My mom did the best she could but … Aaron used to hide me in his dad’s shop. That’s how we became best friends really. He was the only friend I really had.”

She hesitated before she spoke her next words, “Lucky you, I was two hundred pounds when I was twelve.”

“You?”

“Yep, I didn’t have any friends. Not a one.”

“I would have been your friend,” I told her.

“You are my friend, my best friend.”

I kissed her deeply, looking into those gorgeous eyes.

She laid her head on my chest, resting on top of me. “No one should ever hurt a child. No one should ever hurt anyone.”

I kissed her on the head. Whenever she was compassionate like that, it got me so excited.

“Well, someone’s up.” She smiled.

“Why do you do this to me?” I smiled back. “I’m so happy to have you.”

“And I’m happy to have you too,” she said, mounting me again.

I didn’t even want to call what happened between us that night sex, not even making love, it was so much more than that.

Most of the time with women, I was aggressive, dominant, and made them scream, and then I couldn’t wait to get out of there. But with her, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to take my time, devour every inch of her, her pleasure was my pleasure.

Her moan was my moan. Her body was like an eight course meal and I wanted to savor every bite, every morsel.

I tried things with her that I’d never tried with anyone, and it wasn’t only positions. I looked her in the eyes as I was on top of her or she was mounted on top of me. It was a spiritual experience that I’d never had before. Her breathless kisses drove me to the edge.

There was no front, no pretending, I wanted to make her feel safe, to feel loved, to feel protected, I wanted her to feel fulfilled and then, only then could I be satisfied and in that moment, I knew we’d be together forever.

CHAPTER 7

“What are you trying to say?” Aaron asked me a few weeks later as he stopped pacing back and forth in the kitchen, to look me straight in the face.

“We’ve known each other our whole lives. Maybe it’s a good time to … get some space,” I tried to explain, squeezing my hand back and forth, it was one of the hardest conversations I ever had to have.

“I hardly see you any more as it is.” Aaron frowned. “You’re always hanging out with that Kandy girl.”

“Emma. And that’s not why,” I told him, though that wasn’t exactly true. I was irritated. He knew exactly what her name was and was only trying to push my buttons.

“I told you she was bad news,” he warned me, scratching the side of his face. He leaned against the kitchen counter and I couldn’t help but think that was the very spot where she called my name for the first time as we made love.

“Hello?”

I shook my head as if bringing myself back to reality. “I heard you and ‘bad news’? Why? Cause I want to spend time with my lady?”

“Dude, you only met her a couple of months ago and now …” he said, his jaw clenching.

“It’s not like we’re not going to be best friends any more. It’s just that…” I put my hand on his shoulder until he shook it off.

“Just that what?” he demanded.

“I’m moving out.”

There was a silence between us as if it took a moment for those words to register.

“You’re what?” He gaped.

“It was bound to happen and I’m sure you’d like to eventually get a girl to-”

“How am I going to pay the bills?” he said, his nostrils flaring.

“I got some money saved up and I can help you pay for the first three months.”

“And then what?” He folded his arms.

“I’ll help you put an ad on Craigslist.”

“I’m telling you that girl is going to be the end of this band,” he said, pacing the floor again.

I followed him out of the kitchen and down the hall. “Dude, what does me moving in with my girlfriend have to do with the band? I haven’t missed a gig, not a single rehearsal.”

“For now.  I bet she’s told you that you should do some other type of music, some other band.”

I swallowed hard, “I make my own decisions.”

“So, she has? Forget her. Are you really going to choose this floozy over what we’ve had-”

“Hey,” I cut him off. “Watch your mouth.”

He knew I was serious.

“Just … go … Take your stuff and go. I don’t care.”

His words hurt. They were as painful for him to say as they were for me to take.  And yet, as happy as I was to be moving in with Emma, I couldn’t help but feel I deserved them.

~~~

“And this was his painting of her,” she told me as we stood in front of the oil painting at the museum. “He said that if he couldn’t have her at least he’d have her in his memories. In the end, he didn’t want to share her with anybody but he knew by keeping her caged up, neither one of them would really be free.”

I really didn’t care about some dude named Jean Claude whatever his name was but Emma did, so I listened. I loved the sound of her voice as it echoed in the grand hall.

The Portland Art Museum was a piece of art itself. Long, grandiose halls, each exhibit selected more prestigious and elegant than the next. But nowhere near as elegant as Emma was to me.

She stared at the painting as if there were deeper meaning in it, studying every stroke, but I wasn’t paying attention to it, I was paying attention to her. The way the light lit her lips, every curve of her face, how I was looking at the woman who would one day bear my children.

I’d never given any thought to having a family. Most of my days before I’d met Emma were spent trying to make it through the day. But when I was with her, I didn’t want those days to end, I wanted them to go on forever, for our lives to become even more intertwined.

I wanted nothing more than to spread our love for generations to see it through the eyes of our children. I wondered as I watched her leaning forward and look at the artist’s signature, if our kids would look more like her or me.

“This is a copy. The real one is in Paris, at the Louvre.”  She sighed. “One day… I’ve always wanted to go my whole life, just like the movies.”

Then, she elbowed me in the gut.

“Ow.” I grimaced.

“Quit looking at my boobs.” She glared playfully.

“I’m not.” My grin curved.

“You’re not?” she asked, her left eyebrow arching in doubt.

“No, I was looking at your ass,” I said, licking my lips.

“Men, you’re all the same,” she groaned, her hands behind her back covering her butt as she pressed forward.

“…And your lips and your arms and your peach fuzz,” I went on to say.

“Peach fuzz? Are you saying I’m hairy?” She hit me playfully on the arm.

“I love it, though,” I teased her, giving her a peck on the lips.

“You really know how to warm a girl’s heart.”

“I love every part of you,” I told her. God, she was gorgeous in that light, the way it filtered through the arch of the museum. I could look at her for hours.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she said.

“Like what?”

“Like you want to make love to me right now.”

“But I do,” I chuckled.

“Well, keep it inside.”

“For how long?”

“At least until we get to the men’s bathroom,” she joked.

“Kinky.”

“Well, I got to get as much of it as I can before you become some big rock star one day, touring the world and you leave me,” she said.

“Leave you?” I caressed her cheek with the back of my hand. “I will never leave you.”  Her eyes danced as a glint of a smile formed in them.

I had to ask her, even if it hurt a little. “Baby, what did he do to you?”

“Who?” she asked.

I didn’t even answer that question, she knew exactly what I was talking about. “Babe.”

“5 minutes,” she said.

“What?”

“That’s all he gave me. 5 minutes to move out.  I was living with him, I’d moved out of my grandmother’s and everything to be with him and, I ignored her warnings. She said I was moving too fast and … and anyway after six months of living together … I thought he was happy. I’d done everything to make him happy and I guess he saw me as the trophy girl he could take to cocktail parties. I should have known he had a few others on the side.”

“Wow,” I said in disbelief. “Why would anyone trade you for someone else?”

“I know. Right?” she joked. “Anyway, he came home and he was stressed out and I thought it was from work and I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make you something to eat. I’ll make you feel better.’ He like, has his head down and when he looks back up, he says he’s not ready to commit. That he wants us just to be friends.”

“Friends?” I repeated. “After 6 months?”

“And he wants me to go.  Cody, he gave me five minutes to grab my stuff, all of it. He didn’t even have the courtesy to call a taxi for me.”

She went on talking about the horrible things he had done and I listened. That’s what she needed. Not my advice, not my instructions on what she should do but for me to listen and I did. I loved being there for her, healing her in any way.

I didn’t interrupt. Only when I was sure she’d told me everything she needed, did I tell her what I thought.

“He was a jackass. I’m so sorry you went through that babe,” I said, embracing her and kissing her on top of the head.

She sighed as if all her stress and weight was lifted. “He said, I was too fat, that I’d never be good enough for him. That he wanted someone else. Someone who had accomplished something, someone in shape. I was too ashamed to go back to my grandmother and live, so I left going as far as I could think of. If I was going to be somebody, The Portland Academy of Fashion is one of the best in the country so that led me here.”

“No one should have treated you like that. No one.” Anger rumbled through me that someone had hurt my baby. “I love the way you are. You’re perfect. I’m sorry you went through that but I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you picked me.”

She smiled, her eyes watering.  “What if I never become successful like you’re going to be?”

“Baby, you’ll be more successful than me. You want to be a fashion designer, you’ll be bigger than JLo. Doesn’t she have her shit in KMart? You’ll have it in flippin’ Neiman Marcus.”

“JLo? Really?” she said, arching an eyebrow.

“Well, Chanez then.”

“Chanel,” she corrected.

“Same thing.”

“And what if I just want to stay home and be a mother and get fat and eat bon bons?”

I laughed hard.  “More of you to love. And I’ll buy you a Hershey’s shop. Can I just say one thing about him?”

“Yeah.”

“I ever see him and I’ll beat the crap out of him until he’s unrecognizable,” I told her and I meant every word.

She smiled, taking my arm and leaning against me. “You’re funny… Well, it’s settled then.”

“What’s settled?”

“I’m your woman and you can’t get rid of me.”

“Can’t get rid of you like a bad itch,” I joked.

“Something like that, yes.”

“Emma Lohan, sometimes you make me wanna ….”

“Wanna what?” She glared at me though she couldn’t hide that grin of hers anymore.

“Marry you.  Emma Kara Lohan, will you marry me?” I wanted to solidify what I’d felt all along. She was damaged and so was I but together, I thought somehow we could make it through.

“Are you serious?”

She started to walk away but I pulled her back. “I’m dead serious. What do I need to do to make you say yes?”

“Sing to me.”

“What? Sing to me?” I blushed. “Right here?”

“I’m out of here,” she said, turning until I belted out a song.

“Love me tender …” I began singing Elvis’ classic from my heart and soul, each of the words meant only for her. Every single one of them.  Her eyes filled with tears as I finished the song.

“What? Didn’t like it? Would you prefer Hit Me Baby One More Time.”

She laughed. “Shut up, that was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard in my life …”

“Really?” It was something I’d never done for anyone before.

She nodded with absolute sincerity, “Thank you … but, where’s the ring?” She stamped her feet.

“I’ll get you one.” I laughed.

“Why aren’t you on one knee?” she demanded.

I did exactly that. I knelt and looked up at my queen, the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. My hands covered her petite ones, my eyes looked into her deep blues. She was all I ever wanted in the world and I would have done anything for her to accept my proposal.

“Get me a ring and we’ll talk,” she snatched her hand back playfully and pranced off, “Make sure it’s Tiffany’s or Cartier, I don’t do cheap…”

“Woman, if that’s what it takes to make me the happiest man alive, I’ll do it.”

She stopped, looked longingly in my eyes and said, “I’d marry you with a dried toilet paper ring around my finger.”

CHAPTER 8

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing special,” I said as we rode my motorcycle through the back roads, snaking through the evergreen trees.

“I think you’ve said that about a hundred times already.” She gripped my waist as I turned the corner. Her voice was muffled by the helmet that I’d lent her. Her strawberry blonde hair tangled in the wind.

“I just don’t want you to think that —” I started to say, as I turned my head to talk to her.

“Will you pay attention to the road please? And look, if she birthed you then she’s got that going for her,” she yelled over the roar of the engine.

I leaned to the right curving around the road. “You haven’t met my mother …” I quipped. “And Aaron’s gonna be there too.”

“What?” She did not sound pleased and she hit me on the shoulder.

“I told him, he just needed to get to know you and he’d like you.”

“He’s such an asshole.”

“Yeah, well … he’s as much family as anyone and it’s really important to me,” I told her and it was true. Other than my mom, he was the closest person to me since I’d met Emma. We slowed down as the familiar grounds came into view.

“I have a three strikes you’re out rule,” she told me, her voice hoarse from yelling over the engine for so long.

“It’ll be fine.” Though I wasn’t so sure it would be.

“You owe me one,” she said.

“I got one for you right here.” I grabbed myself.

“You’re so disgusting … and I like it…” she joked.

We pulled through the Ryan Howard Trailer Park and the memories of growing up here rushed through me. I was ashamed. I’ll be the first to admit that this was not where I wanted to take her. I wish I’d grown up in some nice place like Emma probably did but I was where I was.  The trailer park could have doubled for a junk yard. Broken bikes, empty cardboard boxes, bags of plaster, and pee-stained mattresses. A joy for the eye to behold.

If she was going to marry me, I wanted her to see where I came from – all of it.

We twisted through the junky rusted trailers until we pulled up to my mom’s. It was like a hoarder’s paradise. My mom still had the same junk she’d kept since I was a kid, only now it was seeping out onto the front of the bald and weeded yard.

“Here she is,” I groaned, shutting off the engine and helping her off.

“It’s … nice …” she said, looking around and taking off the helmet. “Quaint.”

“It’s crap on wheels.” She didn’t have to be polite. It was trash. Emma didn’t get to respond before Aaron came busting out of the trailer with a big smile on his face. He was dressed like the trendy guy he was, with his famous fedora and a scarf around his neck, though it was much too hot to wear one.

“What’s up my, brutha!” he said, hugging me like he hadn’t seen me yesterday.

“Hey, man.” I was kind of surprised by his enthusiasm.

“Hey Aaron,” Emma said, working up a smile and sounding sweet as pie. She fixed her helmet hair and waited for his response.

“So, how was traffic Cody?” he asked me, totally ignoring her as he put his arms around me. I could smell the beer on his breath. I gave Emma a reassuring look to match her glare.

She was irritated that Aaron ignored her and she mouthed the words, “Strike one …”

“Hey dude, she said hi to you.”

“Oh, hi Marie,” he said not looking back. That jackass. The look on Emma’s face told me I’d better get us inside and soon.

My mother’s attempts to cook reeked from inside.  Burnt spaghetti and garlic bread, which couldn’t be any worse than the lingering cigarette smell that had clung to the fake wood paneling walls. We walked through the green shag carpet that had never been cleaned, only vacuumed when my mother had company, which was never. Emma looked around at all the photos of me and Aaron as kids that my mom displayed on the wall like it was the Smithsonian.

She waddled out, all three hundred pounds of her with her big toothless smile and pink curlers. I loved my mom, but she’d always been heavyweight, a walking heart-attack-waiting-to-happen.

“Cody-y!” she said, hugging me as I melted into her bosom. I could smell the alcohol on her breath too. Between her and Aaron, this was going to be fun. “Is this her?” She looked in Emma’s direction.

“Hi, Ms. White.” Emma smiled.

My mother gasped, “You didn’t tell me you were dating a model.”

“Oh, stop, Ms. White.” Emma blushed. “Model, no. Supermodel, maybe …”

“I told you love at first sight existed, didn’t I?” she told me.

My mother laughed her head off followed by her raspy mucus-filled cough. She’d been smoking, probably threw the pack out before we arrived, though she’d promised to quit.

“How are those nicotine patches I bought you working out?” I asked her with an arched eyebrow.

“Don’t start your lectures. I’m the mother, you’re the son. Sit down you two, take a load off.  Cody’s never brought a girl over for me to meet before.”

“Oh, no?” Emma said, sounding impressed as we took a seat on the small coffee-stained couch which used to be white 5000 Marlboro packs ago.

“Nah, but he’s banged them in the back bedroom when she was away though,” Aaron added, as he sat down on the armchair of the love seat across from us.

“That was a long time ago.” I said, avoiding Emma’s face, sure she was pissed.

“Not that long ago,” Aaron said, chuckling.

“Watch your language,” my mother shouted, throwing a couch pillow at him. “There’s a lady here.”

“Something tells me she’s heard worse, been around the block a few times.” Aaron’s cunning smile made me cringe.

Emma raised two fingers in my direction and mouthed, “Strike two.”

I grabbed her hand and pulled it down, kissing her on the neck. “I love you…”

“Are you hungry?” my mom asked as I tried not to wrinkle my nose at the burnt smell.

“I’m good,” I said, being polite.

“What about you, darling?” my mom asked Emma, as she coughed again.

“Doesn’t look like she’s missed any meals,” Aaron chuckled and my hand intuitively blocked Emma from standing up.

“Be cool, Aaron,” I warned him trying hard not to make a scene.

“Two and a half,” she whispered in my ear. “Only for you.”

“Actually Mom, there’s something I wanted to tell you, we both wanted to tell you actually.”

“What is it?” she asked, looking nervous.

I looked at Emma with a smile, squeezing her hand, “I’m … we’re getting married.”

My mom gasped so loud, I thought she was going to inhale the entire trailer. “My baby’s gettin married?!  My baby’s gettin married?!” She leapt up, her heavy weight practically toppling over the structure as she came over to us and smothered us in her bosom.

“Welcome to the family. I knew I liked this girl. I knew it from the second I saw you,” she announced.  I laughed, not that I doubted my mom would like her. Who couldn’t? Except maybe …

I looked at Aaron for his reaction but he was gone, long gone, the trailer door smacking shut on his exit.  I kissed Emma on the side of the head and told her, “Be back.”

~~~

I should have known Aaron would take it badly, I hoped that he’d get over himself for one day and be happy for me. I had made sure to grab a couple of beers before I stepped outside and offered him one.

He sat on the back steps staring at the rusted swing set he and I used to play on when we were little.  Nothing much had changed since I moved out of there, swearing never to return.  The rusted trailer park sign was still there.  The nosey two-faced manager of the park, Catherine, still lived nearby. She peaked out the window at us, adjusting her red wig.  I blew her a kiss and she closed her drapes.

“Thirsty?” I popped open a can and handed it to him.

He snatched it and guzzled it down. “Pretty messed up, you know?” he finally said.

“What?” I said, bracing myself for impact.

“That you didn’t tell me first,” he said turning toward me. He actually looked hurt, which was unusual for a guy who normally masked his sadness with anger.

“I told you now.” I took another sip.

“I’m supposed to be your best friend,” he said. The froth of the beer spilled out on his hand as he emphasized the point.

“You are my best friend,” I told him.

“It’s just messed up, that’s all I’m saying,” he said, shaking his head and looking out into the distance.

“Is that your way of saying congratulations?” I joked, trying to lighten up the mood.

“You’re making a big mistake,” he told me, squinting.

“What?”

“I don’t like her.”

“You don’t even know her.”

“Just saying.”

“Why can’t you be happy for me? I finally met somebody. I’m not whoring around anymore. I’m growing up. You always said I needed to.” I stood up. I’d had about enough of this.

“Yeah, but now?  Right when our careers are really taking off? Couldn’t you wait?” he demanded, standing up too.

“Till when, dude? I’m not putting my happiness on hold, just for a pipe dream.”

There was silence for a moment, and I wished I hadn’t said what I did.

“Pipe dream? Is that what this band is to you?” he sighed.

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Next thing I know, you’ll be living in some condo, working at some cubicle, clocking in and out for the rest of your life.”

“So, now you’re going to tell me my future?” I said, tossing my beer can in the empty paint pail.

“I knew things would change if you kept going out with that bitch,” he muttered under his breath.

My blood was boiling. He knew how to push my buttons. He was doing this on purpose. “Dude, I warned you before, watch it.”

“You know she’s a bitch – just look at her. That bitch couldn’t even-” he started to say but I couldn’t hold it anymore. I saw red. When I came to, he was on the ground clutching his bloody nose.

“What the-” He clamored up and wiped his nose. His eyes narrowed at me and I knew it wasn’t over. “You’re really going to choose that slut over me?”

“I told you, don’t … disrespect … my … lady,”  I said, punching him at every syllable.  But Aaron was no wallflower, he could take his licks and give them back. He reached down, grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in my face.

It stung, but he didn’t care giving me a couple jabs with his left and kneeing me in the stomach.

“You mother —” I wiped the dirt from my eyes and charged at him. I pinned him down, slamming my fist in his jaw again and again. “Watch your mouth, man. You jealous cause you can’t get any puss?”

He kicked me away before I could finish and it was his turn to pin me on the ground. A hard right hook slammed in my cheek, cutting it with his ring.

“You said ‘bros before hoes’, man. I can see you’ve made your choice,” he hissed.

“What do you care? You want to suck me off or something?” I elbowed him in the throat, then got up to kick him square in the chest.  We circled each other ready for another round when my mother and Emma came screaming out of the house.

“Stop it right now,”  my mom insisted, “You want that manager to call the cops on you?”

I spat out the blood from my mouth, glaring at Aaron who spat back.

“You okay?” Emma asked me, coming to my side.

“I’m perfect,” I told her.

“Should have let me at him,”  she joked but I wasn’t in the mood.

CHAPTER 9

“When do you think he’s going to come out of the closet?” Emma asked, as we zipped through the downtown streets on my bike.

“Wait. What?” I tried to avoid hitting a red light.

“Aaron, when’s he-?” she continued, yelling through the helmet.

“I heard what you said but that’s pretty messed up. He’s not gay.” We slowed down, turning a corner.

“What’s wrong with being gay?”

“Nothing. I just… he’s my … he was my best friend. I think I’d know if he was gay.”

“You’re telling me you can’t tell that he’s had a crush on you his whole life? I guess I’m going to have to do the thinking for the two of us in this relationship,” she sighed, shaking her head.

“He’s with girls all the time,” I said.  It’s not that it bothered me if he was gay. Okay, it bothered me, only because I would be hurt that he didn’t trust me enough to tell me.

“Have you actually seen him with a girl?” she asked. I could tell from her tone as we trailed through the neighborhood that she wasn’t trying to be sarcastic or spiteful, she was serious about this.

“Well, no but-?”

“When it quacks like a duck …” she chuckled.

“That’s enough,” I told her.

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

“I said that’s enough,” I told her. I’d never gotten that upset at her before. We rode through the streets completely silent.

“You can drop me off here, you know?” she said, at a stop light.

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Did I stutter? If you’re not going to talk to me, what’s the point? I can get a taxi.” She actually started to get off my bike.

“Emma, I swear to God. If you get off this bike…” I placed my hand on her thigh.

“Then, what?” she challenged me.

“Then, I’ll make you wish you hadn’t.”

“How do you expect to do that?”

“I’ll pin you down in bed and keep you held up in the house until you apologize,” I grumbled.

“Kinky,” she teased.

“Did we just have our first fight?” I couldn’t stay angry at her for long. How could I with such a gorgeous face and beautiful heart? “What am I going to do with you?”

“Listen to me.” Her voice was so sexy and soothing.

“What?”

“…Cause I’m only going to say this once and you’re not likely to hear it again.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“What was that?” I cupped my ears.

“Don’t push it, Mister,” she joked.

I cracked a smile. I couldn’t stay mad at her long even if I wanted to.  The light was taking forever to change but I didn’t care, it made it easier to talk to her.

“But thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“For defending me. I’ve … never had anyone do that for me before. It was kind of sexy. Actually it was very sexy.”

“Yeah?” I said, raising my eyebrows.

“But here’s the thing, I don’t ever want to come between you and your band or you and your best friend,” she said quietly.

“You’re not.”

“Talk to him, when we get home. Patch things up. I told you that you were too good for the band before so just blame it on me.”

“I’d never do that. I’m not that kind of man.”

“I can take a pounding,” she teased.

“I know that well.” I chuckled.

“But seriously, it’s not worth losing your friendship over a stupid argument. He’s an asshole, but he’s your asshole,” she said.

She was right, Aaron and I had been friends too long for something like this to end it.

~~

Only he wouldn’t return my phone calls all night. I hated when he got like that, so childish, but that was Aaron for you.  I’d see him for rehearsal the next day as it was Saturday and he’d have to face up to me.

I walked in the garage storage unit where rehearsal had begun.  The guys were trying out a new song and jamming as I came in. They looked at me, slowing for a second.  Aaron completely turned the other way, ignoring me at first. But then I nodded at the other guys indicating they should step out so he and I could be alone. They didn’t even put up a fight, only placed their instruments down and shuffled out. And there we were, the two of us, Aaron and me.

“We still performing tomorrow night?” I asked, breaking the ice.

“Oh, so you want to be part of the band now?” He sighed as he wrapped the mike cable around in a circle.

“Come on, don’t be that way. I lost my temper,” I said, stuffing my hands in my pockets.

“You hit me in my nose. You’re lucky you didn’t break it, I’d never be able to perform again.” He was right, his nose was still a little red and puffy but he was a big boy. I’d seen him in fights before and he was tougher than he looked.

“Don’t be dramatic,” I teased, cracking a smile.

“That’s easy for you to say, you got some rich chick to support you if you fall on your ass-”

“It’s not that way,” I said, cutting him off.

“I only got me, man — especially now that … you’re gone.” His voice cracked a little.  It wasn’t easy for a guy like him to open up like that and express himself.

I sighed. There was silence between us again, except for the gentle buzzing sound of the crappy speaker we used. “I said ‘I’m sorry’ and you know I mean it, can we just let it go? I’ll make it up to you.”

“You want to make it up to me?” He looked directly at me.

“Yeah, anything.” I meant it.  If I could repair the relationship, I’d do it.  He was like the twin brother I never had and I hated the thought of losing him.

“Ditch her.”

“What?” I exploded.

“I’m not joking, Cody. A lot of people would love to be with you… Why her?” he said.

“Dude, she’s my girl.”

“It’s us or her. Which are you going to choose?” His nostrils flared as he waited for an answer.

“You can’t seriously expect me to …” But by the look on his face, he meant what he said.

“It’s not going to last, you know,” he warned, walking closer.

“How the hell do you know?” I stepped back.

“A girl like that, with someone like you…?” He shrugged, shaking his head.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, completely offended.

“Come on man, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon. You and me are cut from the same cloth. We’re best friends through and through. She’s never had to struggle, she’s had a silver spoon in her mouth her whole life.  What’s she going to do when your lights turn off or you can’t pay rent one month? Stick with you? I don’t think so. She’ll hitch a ride with the first Ivy-leaguer preppy boy that offers her a one-way ticket back to the life she’s used to.”

His words hit me hard. Aaron knew me well enough to push the buttons that would make an impact.  I’d had problems with women before hooking up with a wealthier guy. Without the education, or pedigree that other guys had, I only had my talent, looks, and charm to get me through. But how long would that last?

“You don’t know her,” I said, walking away before I lost my temper again.

“You know what I’m saying is true. Deep inside, you’ve always known,” he called after me.

“You know what she told me? My fiancé told me to make it up to you.”

“And?”

“She cares about me enough not to let our relationship get in the way of our friendship. You know what she also said?  That, that you have a thing for me—”

I swallowed the rest of my words, I was angry but not angry enough to hurt him.

I cringed, wanting to take everything back. But at the same time, I studied my best friend’s face for signs of the truth. It was blank as he stuttered for words then he turned red, kicking the mike stand down.

“Get out of here and don’t come back here again. Ever!” he yelled.

“I wouldn’t care if you were, you know? Wouldn’t bother me. We can still be friends, I just don’t swing that way,” I tried to tell him.

“And don’t bother coming to my dad’s shop either. Consider yourself fired!”

CHAPTER 10

I was broke. And as much as I tried to tell myself the money I’d saved would last us until I got another job, I was scared. Worst yet, Aaron’s voice kept echoing in my head. What if I couldn’t pay my share of the bills, would she truly stick by me? Or would she find some rich guy who could really give her the things she deserved. Her place was so much better than my old place, from the dining table and designer furniture to the brass plated dinnerware.  It was like we were living in Barney’s or something. I was still getting used to the luxurious living and though she made me feel at home, somehow I didn’t belong.

I tried to keep my financial concerns and the fact I’d been fired a secret for as long as I could, putting on a smiley face when she was around, being happy-go-lucky but she could see right through it. As she said, she could tell things about me.

“Did you feed Sasha?” she asked.

“Nope. I can’t believe you named your plant.”

“She’s not just a plant. She’s a fern. Quiet, you’ll hurt her feelings.”

“But why did you name her Sasha?”

“Why not? Mrs. Alston gave her to me and that’s what she called her so — When’d you get fired?” she asked me one evening and I almost choked on my dinner.

“What?”

She spent her days working at a high-end retail shop so I tried to make sure I left the house at the same time, only to return later but I guess it hadn’t worked.  I’d been spending my time pounding the pavement, answering want ads, working every angle I could to get work but no dice.

“If we’re going to get married, we should start by being honest with each other.”

“The other day,” I confessed, dropping my fork and leaning back.

“When were you going to tell me?” She frowned at me.

“I didn’t want you to worry.” I said, picking up the fork and scraping the plate.

“Didn’t I teach you not to play with your food?”  She knelt next to me, looking up. “What else are you hiding from me?”

“Nothing. And I wasn’t hiding it.” I pushed to my feet. I didn’t like be questioned or cornered.

“Then what would you call it?” She put her hands on her hips.

“Protecting you,” I said, turning away. It was true, I didn’t want her to worry I wouldn’t be able to pay my part of the bills. Sure, we were fine for a while but what if I couldn’t find another job?

“I’m a big girl and I’m not the fragile little petunia you think I am. I can hold my own,” she told me, approaching me with caution.

“I know baby, it’s just … I was raised a certain way.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked me.

“A guy’s supposed to provide for his wife and for his family and if she wants to work, cool but it’s his responsibility.” That’s what my father used to tell me. Hard ass as he was, abusive as he was to me and my mother, he worked hard.

“Well, I was raised a certain way, too. If you have a good man, who treats you right, who’s faithful to you, you stick by your man no matter what, period,” she said, grabbing me by the hand.

“I love you but

“There is no ‘but’ in ‘I love you.’” she said. “Now, I’ve got a little saved up, too. It won’t last forever but we’ll use what we can until we get on our feet. You know what I think?”

“What?” I asked, not liking the sound of it. I wasn’t used to eating humble pie. A woman’s got to let a man be a man, no matter how much they think they’re helping. But then, Emma thought of us as partners, like I did.  Real partners through thick and thin. She’d never give up on us so easily.

“You know what I think, Cody? This is a sign. You’re way more talented than Aaron, you’re way more charismatic, and I’ve heard you sing in the shower, your voice is like an angel’s.”

I blushed, no one had ever told me that. True, I sang loud and clear in the shower ‘cause I was alone in there. No judgmental eyes glaring back at me, no snickers, no voice from my father telling me I was worthless. I looked at her, so feisty and strong, it was turning me on.

“You could be as big as The Rolling Stones. I know it. And I’m never wrong about this. You’ve got music. You’re a star, Cody.  And music is your gift, you can change the world with it. I can feel it. You know what I want you to do tonight?” she asked.

“What babe?” I moved closer hoping she had the same thing in mind that I did.

“Go down to Nipples and get that manager to book you as a solo artist.” She barked orders like she was my manager or something.

“Just me and my bass? I don’t think so.” I shook my head, but I liked her enthusiasm.

“I’ll play piano,” she said firmly.

“Darling, you’ve only been playing for a few months. You only know what I’ve taught you and that’s not much.”

“Bull.” She stamped her feet.

“What?” I chuckled, not taking her seriously.

“Bull. I’ve been playing piano since I was four,” she confessed, blushing.

“What?”

“I only asked you for lessons back then ‘cause I thought you were cute and I figured that was the only way you’d spend time with me.”

“Jeeze,” I laughed. “You serious?”

“Grandma’s the interim director of Connecticut Harmonic Orchestra.  That’s why I always yell at her, ‘cause she thinks I’m wasting my talents in Portland or as she likes to call it, the middle of nowhere.”

“Now who’s hiding things?” I teased, pulling her closer and kissing her on the forehead. Who knew my baby had so much talent?

“Do this for me, do this for you, do this for us,” she told me, “Go there. Sing for that manager, he’ll see your talent. I know he will.”

Having someone believe in me and mean it was exactly what I needed, but still I wasn’t so sure. “Let me think about it.”

“Think about this, my grandma is flying in town tomorrow and she wants to meet you,” she said leaning against my chest casually as if she were discussing fabric softener.

“Wait, what?” I lifted her chin to look at her, my eyes widening.

“You better wear a suit. Like me, she can tell things about people.” She patted my chest and walked away.

~~~

“You nervous?” she asked as we rode up the penthouse suite’s private elevator.

“No,” I said, clearing my throat and looking at the cherry wood paneling. The elevator was lined with gold. I wondered what type of movie stars rode in it too.

“Me too.” She straightened my blue tie. I hated wearing ties, but she promised it’d only be for one evening. She’d help me dress, even stitching together some of my old outfits to make it look perfect. I was quite impressed. She could sew well from all the equipment she had in the house but that was unbelievable.

The doors opened onto the marble lobby and there was a butler on the floor of all things, a butler. Crisp black suit, cufflinks, and everything. It was like we were on MTV’s Cribs or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

“Mr. White, Ms. Lohan, I presume? Right this way.” He led us to the grand doorway, his white gloves pressing the doorbell.

“Man,” I mumbled under my breath.

A young maid opened the door, which lead to the biggest hotel suite I’d ever seen in my life. Not that I’d ever really seen one, only in the movies but this, this was something. Fit for a superstar, definitely where I fantasized about us staying one day when I made it big. Wrap around floor to ceiling windows, a view of Portland, and it smelled like roses.

I could see the older lady’s frame as she stood with her back to us. She was wearing a business suit, like Armani or Chanel or something, I’m not too good at fashion but it was more than I could afford to give to Emma.  Her jewelry was even fancier that the type that Emma wore.

“Take a seat, please,” she barked, her husky voice echoing in the hall as her back was still turned to us.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said as respectfully as I could. Emma charged ahead, shoes and all.

“Hey witch,” she announced loud and clear as she approached her.

“Why do you put me through so much? Can’t you see I’m an old woman?” the lady said, turning around. She could have been a senator or First lady, her makeup was sparse but styled to perfection. She looked much younger than the 70 years Emma told me she was. She had silver hair because she was much too dignified to color it but looked as if she’d walked out of a beauty salon.

“Through so much terror? I do it for the same reason you try to control my life and make it a living hell,” Emma answered back, crossing her arms.

“Tramp,” her grandma said, curtly. Those words surprised me coming out of the mouth of such an elegant lady.

“Hag,” Emma answered back, putting her hands on her hips.

“Waste of space on God’s green earth,” she said, matching her hands on her hips too

 “The devil’s own personal servant,” Emma said, stepping forward.

“I ought to—”

“You ought to what? Gum me to death?”

“I hate you,” her grandma said with a smirk on her face.

“I hate you, too,” Emma responded kissing her.

“I see you haven’t been starving yourself,” her grandmother said, looking her up and down.

“This is my fiancé,” Emma responded, changing the subject.

I should have known they were joking, though it shocked me. It was like a glimpse into what Emma would be like 40 years from now.

“So, you’re the one that’s going to take my granddaughter away from me,” the lady said, moving toward me and narrowing her eyes. “My only reason for living, beam of my existence, my seed and reason for my early death.”

I smiled.  She was still intimidating but I could see beneath it was a woman who truly loved her granddaughter.

“A pleasure, Ms. Lohan, I’m Cody White.” I took her well-manicured hand and shook softly, only to be matched by a strong hand shake, stronger than I was expecting.

“I know who you are darling. Social security number 582-55-5555, born on September 5th 1983 to Nona and David White.  High school dropout, end of the road job from which you just got fired. I know it all,” she said, not missing a beat.

“Grandmother, must you?” Emma protested.

“At least he’s cute, much better than that last fiancé you brought to me,” she told Emma, not even looking back.

“Last fiancé?” My eyebrows bunched up.

“She didn’t tell you?” the older woman said, stirring the pot. “Interesting.”

“Grandma, please,” Emma protested even as she avoided my gaze as I gave her the “we-need-to-talk” expression.

“That’s why she moved to this Godforsaken city, besides an attempt to give me a heart attack. She was running away from Herbert Merryweather Chambers IV or the VI or whatever it was. He was rich and powerful, came from old money but the ugliest man I’d seen in my life.”

“Grandmother!” Emma protested.

“Well, he was. You know it, I know it, the world knows it. I just feel sorry that he has to wake up every morning and look at that mug in the mirror. Now, let me get a good look at you, Cody White.  Yep, he comes from good stock. German, I’m guessing, with a little bit of Czech and a dash of Irish. It’ll have to do.”

“How did you know?” I didn’t know much about my parent’s background but she was right on the money.

“A little hobby of mine.” She poured herself a beverage.  “Drink?”

“No, ma’am.” I needed to stay sober for this.

“Hobby of yours? That and investigating people’s deepest darkest secrets without their permission,” Emma added.

“Well, you have to know who you’re dealing with. Now, dear Cody. Let’s discuss what you came here for, my blessing right?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, staring at the ground for a second.

“Stand up straight, young man. Don’t slouch.”

I did what I was told. She looked me up and down as if she were deciding on whether or not to purchase a luxury vehicle.

“It’s simple really,” she went on. “You don’t have any money. You don’t come from wealth. You just lost your job. You really have nothing to offer her but a roll in the hay; but the question is despite all that, do you have talent? Do you have a future that can support my granddaughter?  That’s what I’m here to find out.”

She walked over to the living room and grabbed a Class A guitar and handed it to me.

“Play something and sing. Sing for your life, sing to win my blessing, or she’s not marrying you. I’ll forbid it. And you’d better be good.”

I took it nervously, swallowing hard.

“By all means, take your time,” her grandmother said. “Let me die of old age before you begin.”

There was only one choice.

CHAPTER 11

It could have been worse, much worse, I thought as I stepped through the doors, at the hole in the wall bar, Nipples.  My heart raced as I looked in the direction of the manager. It was the middle of the day, but he was usually buzzing around getting things set up and screaming at the staff. It wouldn’t take long to find him.

I thought back to the other day when Emma’s grandmother gave me that stone cold expression as I finished singing my song. She actually got up and left right in the middle of it, only to return and say, “Well, you’re no Art Garfunkel.”

Which I didn’t know exactly how to take since I didn’t even know who that was.

“But your voice is pretty. Needs training, needs breath support, but it’ll do,” she said, as a grin spread across her face.  

A weight lifted off my shoulders. “So…” not sure what to say next.

“You can marry my granddaughter,” she said nonchalantly, sipping on her cocktail.

Emma leapt into my arms and smiled. “I told you he sang well.”

“He’s adequate. He’s got potential,” she grumbled, placing her cocktail down.

“He’s more than adequate, he sings like an angel,” Emma defended as she kissed me.  Her eyes danced as they met mine and although I wanted to be respectful to her grandmother, I couldn’t help but kiss those soft lips back.

“I’ll admit, you have a gift.” Her grandmother cleared her throat interrupting our romantic moment. “Treasure it, nurture it, my boy and don’t stop ‘til you get to the top.”

“Thank you Ms. Lohan.” My smile spread from ear to ear.

“And most importantly, Cody.” Her eyes narrowed on mine.

“Yes, ma’am?” I swallowed.

“Don’t hurt my granddaughter — I know people,” she told me in all seriousness, her voice lowered.

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said and I meant it. I’d never hurt the woman I loved, not intentionally, anyway and I couldn’t blame her for being protective.

I couldn’t get over the fact that I’d done it without self-sabotaging. I knew Aaron had been right when he told me that before. I always found some way to mess things up, but this, getting her grandmother’s blessing was important to her, so it was important to me too.  Emma had whispered in my ear, just before I sang, “Sing from the heart.” And that was enough to get me through that hurdle.

I figured if I could get through that, talking to the manager at Nipples would be nothing. But I was wrong, dead wrong.

The balding prick looked at me as I asked if I could play and said, “What about Aaron?”

“What about him?” I set my guitar case down.

“Does he know about this?” he asked, chomping on his cigar. There was no smoking allowed there but he didn’t care.

“Well, no but -” I started to explain.

“Then, no-can-do,” he said, walking past me.

“What do you mean? You book acts all the time. Won’t you at least hear me sing? I saw your booking calendar and you have every Thursday night open,” I said, following him.

“Not anymore,” he said, not even turning around.

“Who do you have booked then?”

“None of your business.”

“Look, sir. I’m kind of in a situation. I’m getting married and—”

“I heard.”

“You heard? Who told you?” I wanted to know. I hadn’t told anybody.

He struggled with the words as he stepped behind the bar.  “Small town.”

“Well, you know then that I could use a little hand up. I’ll work free, just for tips on your worst night at 3 A.M. If you need somebody. Just kind of need a break.” I was determined. This was mine and the love of my life’s livelihood we were talking about here.

“Aaron and I have been…friends for a long time. You should think about what you’re doing. Word of betrayal spreads fast in this town,” he warned, as he wiped down the bar counter.

I was floored. That bastard Aaron thought he controlled me. He must have told the manager that I might think about stopping by. Who knows who else he might have called?

“Give you a word of advice. Want it?” He ground his cigar into an ashtray.

“Not really,” I told him, ready to walk out.

“Patch things up with Aaron. You guys are good together. You’ve got talent, I’ve heard you doing backgrounds, but you’re no lead singer,” he said, smoke trailing out of his nose.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I charged for the door.

CHAPTER 12

I have to say with all honesty, if it hadn’t been for Emma’s support, I would have given up on my dream of being a singer right then and there. I wanted to burn the whole club down.  I wanted to burn the entire town down but as I stepped out into the gust of lukewarm air, I hopped on my bike and she hopped on the back.  I was steaming so bad, she knew not to ask me what happened.  So mad in fact, I didn’t realize until later that I’d left my guitar case inside the bar and would have to return for it later.

“We’ll get through this,” she told me, rubbing my shoulders.

“Easy for you to say. You don’t have to be with me.  You could always move back to the lap of luxury with your grandmother.” My jaw clenched. I started up the engine.

“It’s not like that,” she told me.

“No? Do you have to count the loose change in your couch and have to decide between gas for your bike or another pack of Ramen noodles?”

“No, but-”

“Do you have to give up your dream ‘cause your so-called best friend black-balled you in town?”

“No, but-”

“Do you wake up in a cold sweat every night worried the love of your life is going to leave you cause you can’t even afford to support her the way she deserves?” My voice broke. I could feel the stinging in my nose but I wouldn’t let myself cry, not in front of my lady. I had to be strong; I was the man, I couldn’t let her see me weak like this.

I shut off the engine. I wasn’t in the right head space to drive, and I wasn’t about to put Emma’s life at risk. I sighed. There was nothing but the sound of the occasional car that drove by.

“Are you done yet?” she asked.

“What?”

“Are you done with the dramatics? Are you done feeling sorry for yourself?”

I turned around and looked straight at her. “No, not quite.”

“You think I had it easy that I can just go back to the lap of luxury. Well, let me tell you something, all those gold and jewels you think we own, they’re all fake.”

“What?”

“My grandma’s necklace? Costume jewelry.  That penthouse is only ‘cause she went to high school with the hotel owner.  That high paying job? They laid her off decades ago so now she just volunteers. She lives on social security. These clothes? I made them all. My grandmother taught me how to sew because she said I didn’t have the fingers for piano. She taught me to sew, so that I could scratch out rent every month. My dad’s chain of motorcycle shopswe had to sell them all when he died just to make ends meet and it’s still not enough. My family name is all I have. We’re in more debt than you could ever imagine.”

I was floored. “I didn’t know.”

“So, don’t make assumptions. You want to feel sorry for yourself, go ahead. Do it on your own time,” she said climbing off the bike, “but when I said yes to your marriage proposal, I was saying yes to the man I knew was inside, the man I wish, for Pete’s sake, you would see. You’re a lot more powerful than you know, Cody and if you’d just get out of your own way, you could take your place in the circle of life.”

She had the right to be angry. She powered down the sidewalk. Even though I would have loved to watch her behind swish back and forth a little longer, I called out, “Emma. Emma!” cupping my hands around my mouth.

“What?” She turned around, her hair dancing in the wind. She looked so hot when she got angry.

“Circle of life? Isn’t that from The Lion King?” I cracked a smile.

She smiled back. “Yep.”

“Real original,” I added.  I didn’t want to make my baby mad. She deserved better than that. She was right. I walked over to her as she waited for me and I told her, “Come here. What would I do without you? What did I do to deserve you?”

She kissed me and said, “I don’t know. Just lucky I guess.”

~~~

We were married on a Tuesday at the Courthouse on Main Street, partly because if we did it at a church, we couldn’t afford it and partly because we wanted something intimate.

There was no way her grandmother could fly back out. Her airline buddy passes she’d finagled out of somebody, were all used up but Emma said she loved it. Just her and me. Simple, intimate, loving – like us.

I won’t lie, there was a part of me that wanted a big wedding, wanted the world to know, but I promised myself in a year, when things were much better, we’d have a big ass wedding anniversary, something that would make all the papers.  

She said she didn’t care, that it was perfect. Emma was like that, always spoke from her heart, knew what to say, how to say it. She was my dream come true. I’d loved before, that was true but I’d never been in love, Emma taught me that. She was my first love, my first true love and that was something no one could ever take from us.

It was only a matter of time before Aaron found out. Part of me was glad he’d missed it, but part of me wished he’d been there, too. We shared a lot of history together.  He and I always talked about being each other’s best men when we did get married. I told myself it was for the best though. Best to leave the past behind and go forward.  Little did I know how difficult it would be.

CHAPTER 13

Anyone who tells you marriage is all doves and roses is blowing smoke up your wazoo. Marriage is hard, it’s work. It’s years of trying to get two people to get on the same page, a constant battle, a fight to see who’s in control, who’s on top.  Then, throw in complications like finances and career and family and you have a recipe for disaster.

They say half of marriages end in divorce. I wonder sometimes why that number isn’t higher. And yet, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.

The truth is, looking back, it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, our broke years were some of my happiest times. There’s something about struggling together, scraping and saving for a common cause that bonds people and cements a relationship deeper than you can ever imagine. When I think about Emma, not a moment goes by that I don’t wish I could have made her happier. Yet, not for a second would I trade all our fights and arguments, fake as they were, for all the money in the world because that’s how we worked things out. They say there’s a thin line behind love and hate and yet I say, the real line is between giving up on a relationship and giving your all.

Emma was my everything, my life, my breath, and my reason for living.

I remembered as we walked to the apartment after the courthouse wedding, she refused to step inside.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well…?” she said, looking at me blankly.

“Well what?”

“Have I taught you nothing?  Don’t tell me the romance ends now…”

I cracked a smile, sweeping her into my arms as I carried her in. “Never.”

“Are you going to take my virginity away?”  She batted her eyelashes at me.

“Again?” I asked and she smacked me playfully on my arm.

“I hate you.”

“Hate you, too. But I want to hate you for the rest of our life together.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Won’t be easy.”

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Cause it’s much too easy to love you instead.” I lay Emma on the bed and hovered over her.  She was so beautiful, so sweet.  I brushed my fingers through her hair and kissed her deeply, passionately, the way a woman you love should be kissed.

That said, we were broke. Worse than broke. If it weren’t for the money we’d both put aside and how good Emma was at managing it, we’d been on the street after the first few months. She became an expert at clipping coupons.

We opted for a staycation for our honeymoon.  When most people say staycation they mean getting some local hotel, we couldn’t even do that. If we were going to take a few days off and stay home then I’d make it the best honeymoon she ever imagined.

As she entered, I blindfolded her with my hands and when I released them, she gasped, her eyes watering.

She said, she’d always wanted to go to Paris, like the movies, so I brought Paris to her.  When she was away, I brought in a bunch of stuff I’d bought that had a Parisian theme. Hot French bread, crepes, red French wine, I even found pictures of the Eiffel Tower.  I did some Photoshop work on some photos I’d taken of her with my phone and put them behind famous French landmarks wrapped in a photo album. I even found that painting she’d showed me at the Portland Art Museum and framed it for her.

Hot bubble baths, candles, a dinner I cooked, soft music. I didn’t allow her to lift a finger and we made love, I swear to God, all day and all night.

She was my Emma and I didn’t want it any other way.  The honeymoon phase I can say never really ended with us, we didn’t last long enough for it to.

Sure we had our little nit-picking things, like I hated when she put her stockings on the shower rod to dry.  And she complained how she almost broke her neck every time I put my shoes in the middle of the living room and how I’d stick the take out containers in the sink instead of the trash but that was small stuff.

The truth was, I liked picking up after her and she liked complaining about me. It’s what made us, us.

“Maybe you should beat me up?”

“What? No,” I said.

“Why not?” she teased.

“I could never hurt you. Why would you say such a thing?” I tapped her dainty nose with my finger.

“Cause then instead of getting evicted, I could stay in a battered woman’s shelter and sneak you in at night.  Great government cheese, too.”

“That’s not even funny,” I said sitting up and crossing my arms. When a man is struggling to take care of the woman he loves, she should never tease him about that.

“Oh, live a little. So sensitive. Or better yet, maybe I should beat you up,” she said hugging me.

“You want me to beat you up?” I joked tickling her.

“No, stop,” she laughed.

“Cause I can beat you up real good,” I told her, getting excited as I wrestled her to the bed.

“I bet I can take you.” She wrapped her legs around my waist.

“Mmm…Why do you try to push my buttons?” I asked her, rumbling in her ear.

“Cause you like your buttons pushed.”

“Who says?” I kissed her.

“I say.”

“And who are you?” I questioned her with a wink.

“Your wife, that’s who.  So, I make the rules.”

“Oh, do you?”

“Yeah, I wear the pants in the family.”

“Not for long,” I told her wrestling her pants off.  And then we made love again until she came out on top.

I guess we made love a lot more than most couples, partly because I couldn’t keep my hands off of her and partly because having sex didn’t cost a penny. It was either that or our movie nights in our apartment together. The museum was free on Wednesdays so there was that, but some of my favorite times were lying in the bathtub together taking a bubble bath while she painted her nails and complained about the roaches crawling on the wall and how the air conditioning and heater still weren’t working or when we’d take a bike ride through the city at night, when no one was around, just she and I.  

I’ll tell you we became connoisseurs of Ramen noodles during that time. Emma could do some wonders with chicken Ramen noodles. And when she would mix it with the Thai sauce? Forget about it.  She said, the secret is, you crack an egg into it while it’s still boiling. Even better if you have some peas to throw in.

There were times when we were down to our last pack of Ramen noodles and I’d tell her I wasn’t hungry that I’d had a stomach virus.

“You’ve had that stomach virus for six days now.” She’d glare at me. “There’s plenty for both of us. Besides, I can always go to the grocery store and have their samples. I flirt with the baker there so I get whatever I want.”

“I hope you don’t flirt too hard,” I told her.

“She’s a lesbian so … I’ve always thought about experimenting.”

I laughed and she joked about how broke we were a lot, we both did, but honestly it tore my heart out. She deserved so much more. I worked a few janitor jobs during the night and knocked on doors during the day trying to get singing and bass playing gigs but Aaron had messed up things for me. The only thing I could get were birthday parties and bat mitzvahs.

Emma made money tailoring clothes for people and was quite good at it, good enough to pay for all the utilities and most of the bills. But for a dude, it was humiliating.  I looked at my girl, so exhausted sometimes she’d fall asleep right in the middle of our conversations and I’d put a blanket over her, kiss her on her forehead and watch her sleep. She was my princess, my queen and she deserved so much better.

What did I do to deserve such an amazing woman who stuck with me and believed in me no matter what? One that encouraged me and didn’t give up on me.

I’d never met anyone like her before and today, to this date, never have.  She was one in a million, one in a billion, more like. They say you’re lucky if you fall in love once in a lifetime. I say, if you’re lucky enough to find her, hold on to her, never let her go and fight to keep her once you have her, never take her for granted, never stop to be grateful for the little things because once she’s gone … she’s gone.

I didn’t know that then, of course, I was young and stupid. I didn’t have much back then, but I did know when I had something good.

“Promise me, no matter what, you’ll never stop singing. You’ll never stop your dream,” she said one night in all seriousness as we laid in bed together, holding each other.

“Alright.”

“Promise,” she demanded.

“I promise.”

“And a promise is a promise. Pinky swear.”

I smiled, looping my pinky around hers. I thought nothing of it at the time though I wish I had paid more attention.  Things had started to get a little better, we were seeing a little more food in the house and the lights would only stay off for a few days instead of a few weeks. I was happy her business was starting to kick in, until I noticed a lot of her equipment was missing.

“What happened to that other sewing machine you had?” I asked her one day.

She wouldn’t even look at me. “Got rid of it. It was broken.”

It was practically brand new. When I found the pawn shop receipt the next day, I didn’t say a thing, but when I found out that she stopped going to fashion school because she couldn’t afford it anymore, there was no doubt I had to do something and drastic.

CHAPTER 14

“I think you’re just being stupid, arrogant and hard headed,” she told me as she covered up the phone.

“Tell me how you really feel,” I answered back irritated, flipping through the classified ads and leaning back on the couch.

“He wants to talk to you. Let him,” she whispered through gritted teeth as she paced back and forth.

“He’s dead to me.”

She sighed and put on a smile. “I’m sorry Aaron but he must have slipped out the door before I — Sure, I’ll tell him.  Tonight? One second… Cody, he knows you’re here and he says tonight at the club there’s gonna be a big record executive.”

I sighed, was it a ploy to get me on the phone? Then again, when it came to his career, Aaron didn’t make jokes. I got up and stomped toward her.

She smiled and told me, “I knew you’d come around.”

But that smile dropped when I hung up the phone. “Told you I’m not going to talk to him.”

“I can’t believe you!” she yelled.

“Believe it. We don’t need him.”

“I’ve got a stack of bills that says otherwise.”

“We’ll figure it out. Besides, he’s just trying to loop me back in his life so that he can have control over me—”

“Or … maybe he just misses your friendship.”

“If what he did was friendship, I want no part of it.” I didn’t want to hear it and I didn’t need more pressure right then.  We’d gotten a final eviction notice and the manager wasn’t playing.

“Everybody messes up, Cody. Everybody,” she said, coming behind me and wrapping her arms around me.

“I know that. Don’t you think I know that? It probably wasn’t even his idea, either.  Probably it was the manager who said they were missing a bass player. Maybe their new one got the jitters and canceled.”

“No, it wasn’t him. It was me,” she said pulling away.

“What?” I looked back at her sharply.

“I called him. I told him that you wanted to let bygones be bygones and that you were ready to apologize-” she explained.

“Apologize! Are you out of your mind for what?”

“And start fresh,” she continued as if I hadn’t said anything.

“Stay out of my life.”

“What?”

“You heard me. What happened between him and me is between him and me.” And I wasn’t joking either.

She came right over to me and slapped me across the face. “Don’t ever tell me that again.”

“Why not?” I rubbed my sore cheek.

“Because you are my life,” she told me softly. Neither of us spoke and the buzzing from the non-working heating unit wasn’t making me any calmer.

“Well maybe I shouldn’t be,” I told her. “Look at our life, look how messed up it is. Look where we’re going, nowhere. I never should have married you. I should have just let you go on living your life.”

“Cody, you don’t mean that,” she said, looking hurt. Her eyes were watering but I couldn’t let that get to me. It was selfish, but at the time I could think of nothing but getting out of there.

“Oh, but I do.”

I slammed the door as I left. The windows vibrated behind me.

I was so steaming mad, I almost tripped down the stairs, zipping up my jacket from the cold as I left. Autumn, my ass. Seemed like Mother Nature completely skipped that season to irritate me.

Emma had no right to interfere with my business, as far as I was concerned, and the fact that she took it upon herself to get involved with what happened between Aaron and me irritated me to no end. She didn’t even respect me. I was fine with her having a mind of her own, she was a strong woman and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I wouldn’t tolerate her bulldozing all over me. A man is a man and once you take that from him, he’s got nothing left.

I went to the nearest bar I could find. I only had a few bucks left in my pocket but I didn’t care. Couldn’t pay any bills with it anyway, so I drank it all away. First, a few shots of whisky, then vodka, then beer and whatever else the bartender would give me.

I ignored the constant phone calls from her and let them go to voicemail. It was mean, it was cruel, the cruelest thing I’d ever done to her, but I guess I hated myself so much and I wanted her to have so much more. I think I was hell bent on messing things up with her so she’d leave. Like Aaron told me, self-sabotage. The worst was yet to come though.

There was this girl there.

The sad thing is, I don’t even remember her name, barely remember her face. But she was pretty, at least as pretty as that much alcohol and dim lighting can make a chick.

And I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember her kissing me in the parking lot, I remember her tasting like an ashtray, and worse yet, I remember being too drunk to tell her no.

It was only when I turned to see the look on Emma’s face as she stood fifty feet away from me, holding the phone that I sobered up enough to know what must have happened.

Emma must have used GPS to find me. Maybe it was the fact she said she could tell things about me, or maybe dumb bad luck. Whatever it was, I didn’t see her again. Not until weeks later.

CHAPTER 15

I’d broken our vows as far as I was concerned. I never went any further than a kiss with that girl but at that point, it didn’t matter. The hardest part was coming back to an empty apartment. Everything was gone. The only thing she’d left me was that plant Sasha and a pair of stockings hanging from the shower.

I’m not ashamed to admit, I kept those stockings, cried into those stockings, took them with me everywhere. I wanted a piece of her.

I sat down at the kitchen table she begged me to fix and that’s when I noticed her wedding ring. Right in the center of the table.

That’s what crushed me most and yet, it was my fault. The macho part of me, wanted to say forget her. If she didn’t want to hear me out and let me explain, what good was she? Stupid, I know, but you have to understand, that’s how men can be. We’re dumb, our ego gets in the way, but we’re more sensitive than women know.

All of that was only macho crap, because what I wanted more than anything  was to have her back in my arms to comfort her broken heart and to assure her I’d never hurt her again. I was willing to earn her trust again, one day at a time, one minute at a time until I’d healed her.

I wore that wedding ring around my neck every day for good luck and a hope that when I found her, she’d let me put it back on.

I picked up the phone, swallowing my pride. Each punch of the keypad was harder than the next.  The phone rang and of course, as expected, it went directly to voicemail, “Babe, it’s me … I … I need to talk to you. I have no excuse for what I did, none at all. I don’t blame you for hating me but we can talk about this.”

I was still in my macho mode then, not ready to beg or plead. I still had my pride.

But by the 20th call, sometime after 2 A.M., my mask was fading.

“Yo, baby.  It’s okay if you want to tell me to shove off that’s cool but can you just at least answer the phone so I know you’re alright. I’m worried about you. I can’t sleep and I … I need to hear your voice. You’re all I got.”

I didn’t want to sound desperate or broken, but I kept imagining her wandering the streets at night alone, someone taking advantage of her.  That was enough for me to grab my jacket and walk up and down the street, then hop on my bike and ride through the city. I didn’t know where I was going or where I’d been, but if anything ever happened to her, I’d kill myself.

I told myself I’d park for a few minutes so I could take a quick nap then wake up. But when I finally did, my bike was long gone. I kept hoping that maybe it’d been towed away or … but that was crap. I’d been jacked. I don’t think I even had enough in my pocket for bus fare, but rather than trying to make my way home, I kept walking, searching for her, calling.

I tried her job, but they said that she’d called in. I even tried her grandma but she didn’t answer.

I had to find her. I felt like going to the police station and file a missing person’s report. I was desperate to.

Emma, where are you?

~~~

I don’t know what led me to the garage that next day.

Maybe I was desperate, and needed someone to talk to, maybe it was my way of doing what my wife told me to do in hopes that it would lead to getting her back. Whatever it was, Aaron welcomed me back with open arms.

“I knew you’d come back,” he told me with a smug smile on his face. Then he took a long look at me. “What’s wrong?”

I guess he could tell from the way I was staring at the floor, or how puffy and red my eyes were. You have to understand, for Aaron to ask about anyone else other than himself, self-absorbed as he was, I had to be pretty bad off.

“You haven’t heard from Emma, have you?” I grumbled, shuffling in and taking a seat at the keyboard, the same keyboard Emma had sat at when I first met her.

“What? No, why?” He turned off some of the equipment.

“Man,” I breathed.

“What happened?” he asked, finally walking over to me.

“I messed up, man … with her. Emma’s gone.” I shook my head in disbelief.

I’m sure he was hiding his smile, happy at the news, as he said, “I’m sorry man.” But deep down inside, I wondered if Aaron enjoyed my suffering.  He went on to say, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out man.  But you’ll get someone else.”

“I don’t want nobody else, Aaron, I want her.” My voice cracked.

Aaron had never seen me like that before. I was always the tough one, the one who told everyone else to buck up, to not be whipped by their women, but then again, I’d never been in love before.

He put his arms around me and said, “Want back in the band?”

~~~

Three weeks of searching for Emma and I was going out of my mind worried if she was okay. I’d made as many rehearsals as I could, trying to show Aaron how serious I was about the band, but he was getting increasingly irritated at my tardiness.

I couldn’t sleep, working non stop, not only at my janitor’s job but back at Aaron’s dad’s mechanic shop, but my body wouldn’t let me sleep.

There was only one choice.  I had to call Emma’s grandma. If anyone, she’d be the one who would know something. My cell phone was out of power so I had to use a pay phone to call her. There I was, drenched in the rain with a mitt full of coins. It was as if even God was punishing me.

I’d tried to call her many times before, but the calls went directly to her answering machine. Finally, I’d gotten through.

“I have no idea,” her grandmother said, curt and swift when I asked her if she knew where Emma was.

“Come on, she must have called you.” I couldn’t keep the whine from my voice. “Can you at least pass along a message?”

“Do you think I’m a secretary?”

“No, ma’am but this is real important.”

“You should have thought about that before you hurt my granddaughter.”

“So you have heard from her?”

“Of course I’ve heard from her and I warned you — I know people.”

“Can you just do this?  Next time you talk to her, tell her that I’m sorry, that I’ll never hurt her again, that every time I breathe it hurts ‘cause she’s my air, that my heart is empty cause she’s the one that made it beat, that I want to be happy and I should be but I can’t cause she’s not in my arms.”

There was a pause long enough to make me wonder if she was still there.

“Hello?”

“So, I got that you’re going on tour…” her grandmother said.

“Never mind. Just tell her I love her.” I was about to hang up. She was no use.

“Wait, Cody.”

“Yeah?”

“She’s going to kill me for this. You gotta pen? Write this address down and I’m only going to say it once.”

“Yes, one second-”

“I’m getting older by the second here.”

“Ms. Lohan, have I told you how much I love you?”

“Yeah, yeah, save it for her, lover boy.”

CHAPTER 16

I walked all the way home, a good ten miles away.  I was exhausted and soaked to say the least but it was all worth it. I looked up at the address and shook my head with a smile. There were no signs but her grandmother had said that it was Strother Home for Battered Women & Children.

It was an old Victorian House, cozy, and yet I couldn’t help but think with the walls that surrounded it, it was the prison that was keeping my baby from me.  I should have known she’d go to a place like that, as an extra slap in the face to me. With my soaked lilies in hand, her favorite flowers, I’d used my last dime to buy. This place brought back a lot of memories of the type of place my mother and I had to stay in at times when my father would be beat on us.  I knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect.

A butch looking woman answered the door. Stocky and almost as tall as me she had a frown on her face as she put her hands on her hips and barked, “What?”

“Uh, yeah, is Emma here?” I asked, taking a step forward.

“This is trespassing. Get off our property,” she said, her eyes squaring at mine.

“What? Can you just tell her that her husband is here?” I’d walked a long way and I wasn’t about to have yet another obstacle in my path from bringing my lady home where she belonged with me.

The woman came out of the home. “I said this is trespassing.”

Now, I’m a big guy – got my dad’s German side of the family in my veins, but this woman was pretty scary.

“Cody?” a voice said, coming up from behind her, it was Emma. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”

She looked happy to see me, but still hurt. God, she was a sight for sore eyes. Wearing jeans and a simple t-shirt – my t-shirt, actually that gave me hope there still might be a chance.

“Want me to beat him up?” the woman asked, spitting on the side.

“No, Barb, I’m fine.” The woman reluctantly stepped back inside. “Who told you I was here?”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” I told her, brushing some of the water off the lilies.

“I’m going to kill her,” Emma said, shaking her head.

“Got these for you.” I handed the flowers to her.

“They still have the tag on them,” she said, sighing playfully.

“Oh, sorry.” I blushed. I should have remembered, typical dumb guy thing to do.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she told me, her eyes looking up from the flowers to my face.

“I can’t stand it anymore, baby. I need you. Please, come home.” I lifted her chin with my finger. But she stepped away.

“It’s over,” she said, “The sooner we both accept it-”

“No. True love never ends, not when it’s real. Not when it’s like what we have.”

“Cody-”

“Answer me this, do you still love me?”

“Cody.”

“Please, just tell me ‘cause if you don’t, I’ll leave you alone right now, right here, and I won’t ever bother you again.”

“Cody-”

“Emma, please, ‘cause it’s like my heart doesn’t even beat anymore without you. I don’t know what to do. I can’t even breathe without you. You’re all I got.”

“You got your music, you’ve got your groupies, you’ve got your-”

“But I don’t got you,” I said, letting the words sit with her for a while. I put my hands on either side of her arms. “There are no groupies, no other women, no band. I know I’m no billionaire and to be honest, I’m surprised you even gave a guy like me a shot. But here’s the thing, I’m just a boy asking a girl to love him.”

Notting Hill, really?” She cracked a smile. I chuckled.

“I was drunk. I let her kiss me. It didn’t go any further than that. You know I would never do that to you.”

She crossed her arms, avoiding eye contact.

“Please, come home,” I told her. “You can make me pay for the rest of my life for what I did if you want, I deserve it, but I can’t live without you.”

She didn’t answer me, only turned back to say, “Go home, Cody. Go home.”

It tore my heart out as the door slammed, the big woman glaring at me as she did so. The echo of the slamming door and the keys jangling stayed in my head all the long walk home.

~~~

It was the most painful walk I’d ever done. I almost got hit by cars a few times, not looking where I was going. If I’d gotten hit, I’d deserve it. I didn’t deserve to live after the heart break I put my baby through.

The only reason why I hadn’t thrown myself over the Willamette River Bridge was because I thought of what that’d do to her. How she’d blame herself for my death and in the end no matter how much my heart was torn apart, no matter how bad it was knowing I’d never hold her in my arms again, it was all about her.

At least she was safe. I’d work hard, get money to her, whatever she needed, even if she never saw my face again, even if she never accepted the money, at least then I’d know she’d be okay. I have to admit that I prayed that day. I prayed God would keep her safe. And though I hated the idea of her being with someone else, if she did, I prayed she’d find someone that would love her and take care of her and treat her like she deserved.

I was soaked to the bone and the rain hadn’t let up. I slipped the key in the lock, sighing as I stepped in. I had to accept that this would be my new life now.

My jaw dropped. Emma was sitting in the living room watching TV.

“Hello?”  I said, “What are you—?”

“Well, it took you long enough.”

“How did you?  Why are you here?”

“And there’s nothing on TV but porno. 400 channels and nothing on, big screen TV and nothing. I see you’ve almost killed my plants. You do know they need water, right?”

“Emma, what are you doing here?”

“Well, if you want me to go,” she said, starting to walk past me until I stopped her.

“No, I don’t want you to go ever. Never again.  But I don’t play games. I may be a tough guy, but my heart is fragile when it comes to you.”

“You’re completely helpless without me. You looked like a fish out of water gasping for breath last time I saw you I couldn’t stand it anymore. You suffered enough.”

“More than you know.” The thunder rumbled and the rain beat on the roof as if it was cheering us on.

“So here’s what we’ll do. You want me. Fine, but you’re going to have to earn me and not just with flowers and candy. I don’t want diamonds, you know that’s not my thing. I want you to court me, just like you did before we got married and I want you to—”

“Anything, whatever it takes.”

“Good.”

“No more groupies, no drugs, no alcohol, and by God if I see your shoes in the middle of the floor again.”

“No more shoes in the middle of the floor, promise.”

“Good.”

“I have a condition too.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That you never stop loving me.”

“Darling, I never stopped loving you. Not for a second.”

“How did you get in there anyway? Told them what a horrible husband I was?”

“No, actually I flirted.”

“Flirted?”

“Yeah, Barb’s a lesbian too.”

“I know I’m not too good with words so I’m just going to say this. Don’t leave me again. I deserved it, I know, but I don’t know how to live without you. You say I have God given talent, that I’m a star. But the truth is, God gave me wings, but Emma, you taught me to fly. You believed in me when there was nothing to believe in. You pushed me when I was stubborn as a horse, you loved me when I was unlovable.”

“Ox.”

“What?”

“You said horse when it should be stubborn as an ox.”

“Just shut up and kiss me.”

And we did – like I’d never kissed her before. Deeper than I’d ever gone, holding her by the back of the head as my lips showed her what she’d been missing. I broke away to look into her eyes and tell her, “Emma, I want to have a family with you.”

“A family? We barely have enough-”

“Not now, but soon, very soon. I don’t care if I have to work night and day, there’s nothing I’d want more than to have little you’s running around.”

“Me? Stretch marks? Fatter than a cow? Nipples lactating?”

“I’d love to see your nipples lactating.”

“You’re disgusting … and I love it.”

“I’m serious, Emma, let’s have babies. Lots and lots of babies.”

“Babies with me?”

“There’s nothing I’d want more in the world.”

CHAPTER 17

I’m in the hospital now, beside Emma. It’s three a.m. I’m not allowed to be here, but I’ve made friends with the nurses and security guards and they know I don’t get off work until late. I watch over my Emma like a bodyguard. They could take her any day now, pull the plug. But I won’t let it happen.

I think about all we’ve been through up until this point and I know she’d want me to move on with my life, to maybe give up. But that’s not my style. I’ll never give up on her, I’ll never give up on us.

I’ve brought her lilies, like she loves, and some of her favorite things, including that painting I had framed and the Paris photo album. I wish I could do so much more for her. But I know she never was a materialistic person and that what she wanted more than anything, was to have me by her side and quite frankly, there’s no place I’d rather be.

“Don’t worry, Emma. I’ll protect you. They’re not going to take you. Not now, not ever,” I tell her, kissing her on the hand and I mean it.

CHAPTER 18

I couldn’t stop thinking about that night after we made up.  It was my dream come true in my arms once again where she belonged. I remembered that we made love that night, like a reunion of the souls. My body had missed hers and I wanted her to never forget who she belonged to. I wanted to own her, to possess her, to make her feel like she was deserved, loved, cherished, wanted, adored. I gave her everything she wanted that evening, all the kisses in all the right places. Touching her, caressing her, making her mine.

We were dripping in sweat, or perspiration, like Emma liked to say.  That night, our sheets were soaked with our love. We slept heavy, we slept exhausted, but we slept together, the way it was supposed to be.

~~~

I woke up early enough to make her breakfast that morning, but when I reached out to her side of the bed, she was gone.  I panicked, my heart flip-flopping. Had she changed her mind?

“Emma?!” I called for her.

I found her in the bathroom, her tone hushed as she spoke on the phone.  I tapped on the door and stuck my head in as she hung up.

“You alright?” I cracked a smile. “Heartburn, acid indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea — Pepto Bismol anyone?”

“I can’t stay here,”  she said and my smile faded.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, I … it’s my grandma.”

“What about her?”

“I’ve got to go.”

“What happened?” I asked, kneeling down by her.

She turned to me, her lips quivering, her eyes watering and hugged me tight. I pulled her into my embrace.

“Baby, what happened?”

She pulled away only long enough to answer me, “She’s in the hospital. She … had an accident at home. Broke her leg.”

“This — you’re not joking, right?”

“I wish. I’m the only one who can take care of her. I have to leave tonight. I’ve got some money in savings I can-”

“I’ll pay for it.”

“You don’t have…”

“Don’t worry, I said, I’ll pay for it. We’ll get you on a plane right away and I’ll send you more money as soon as I get it, don’t worry.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“I got you, babe.”

~~~

Putting her on the plane was the hardest thing I ever did, not knowing if she was coming back ever, letting her go once again. She promised me she’d return, that this was only a temporary setback, but there was an aching feeling inside me that this may be the last time I’d see her.

The last thing she said to me was, “Promise me you won’t give up your music, no matter what.”

“Okay.”

“You have to say it.”

“I promise.”

“And a promise—” she started to say.

“— Is a promise,” I finished her sentence.

I could tell she was fighting the tears, as was I but one of us had to remain strong for the other. “Focus on your dream, no matter what. Okay? I’m coming back to you and we’re going to live on more than just Ramen noodles.”

“Okay, baby.” I raised her hand to my lips. She needed my support right then, and if that meant a temporary setback, I’d do it.

“I don’t know when I’m coming back, but I will.”

“What if you fall out of love with me? What if it takes too long?”  I couldn’t help the words tumbling out of my mouth.

“You said it yourself, true love never ends.”

I nodded, kissing her one last time before I let her go, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time.

“Cody?”

“Yeah, babe.”

“Can I have my wedding ring back?”

“I thought you’d never ask.” I took the ring that dangled from around my neck and got down on one knee.  “Emma Kara Lohan-”

“Yes darling. A thousand times, yes.”

I slipped the ring on her finger and we kissed one last time.

“Remember your promise and when you sing, sing to me,” she called back before stepping away, before stepping out of my life and into the unknown. “Remember to feed Sasha!”

CHAPTER 19

“Sing to me.” Those words stayed with me, and meant more to me than she’d ever know. I found myself with a new sense of passion and purpose, as I didn’t miss a single rehearsal.

Aaron was certainly happy and I’m sure he thought it was all because Emma was gone and out of the way, but the truth was, Emma gave me purpose, she gave me a will and reason to sing. When I sang background, I sang to her. I’d close my eyes and I’d see her in front of me, I’d imagine my voice had to reach her wherever she was no matter how far and somehow she could hear me. I sang from my heart, I sang from my soul, I sang to my Emma like I’d never sang before.

I remember belting out a particularly high note during rehearsal at Nipples and when I opened my eyes everyone was staring at me, the manager, the band, Aaron, even the cocktail waitresses. I don’t think Aaron was particularly happy about the attention I was getting, but I didn’t care, whatever it took to make the music sound good, whatever it took to keep my promise.

Every night, I’d call Emma to check on her to see how her grandma was doing but mostly to see how Emma was.

“She’s recovering, slowly but surely. I don’t know how she made it through, but she did.”  I could hear the sounds of the hospital in the background.

“She’s strong like you. You got her genes,” I encouraged. God, I missed that voice of hers.

“Well, you’ve got to be strong when you put up with the things I put up with.”

I laughed and said, “And you — how’s your heart?”

She paused and gasped, “No one’s ever asked me that before.”

I didn’t say a word, I only listened. Listened to her breathing, listened to the way she swallowed, and waited for the words to come.

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it,” she said. “I’m here all alone and none of the family. It’s just me and her.”

“I can drop everything right now and come-” I told her. I didn’t like my baby sounding overwhelmed.

“No. Don’t. I need you to succeed. I need you to reach your dream for you, for me, for us. Remember your promise.”

“I remember.”

“Just keep singing for me, okay? You have no idea what it does for me to know you’re not giving up. We’ll be together sooner than you know.”

~~~

I wished her words were true. But weeks turned into two months.  Her grandma made it out of the hospital and I’d get weekly reports on how she was doing. It was great hearing her voice, but nothing like seeing my baby, nothing like touching her, smelling her, falling asleep with her in my arms. She’d been sick a lot lately, but told me not to worry, that it was probably the New England weather that was doing it to her. It’s hard not to worry when you love someone so much.

I remember that night well, I was staring up at the ceiling, actually not thinking about anything in particular when Aaron knocked on my door. He never came over so it was sort of a surprise. He brought beers, another surprise because Aaron never brought anything over.

“What is it?” I opened the door half-asleep.

“We’re celebrating,” he said with a big smile.

“Celebrating what? Another night slaving away for tips at Nipples?”

“Ever hear of a band called The Rolling Stones?” he teased.

“Dude, really?” How could he even ask that? It was our favorite band since we were kids. What was he up to?

A smile spread across Aaron’s face. “You know how I’ve been emailing people like crazy, working my contacts for months, for years?”

“Yeah? Yeah?” I asked anxiously.

“You know how we’ve been getting butt loads of YouTube and Facebook views?”

“Yeah, tell me just tell me,” I said, I wished he’d come out with it.

“Sit down.”

I sat down like a puppy.

“Their manager saw us on YouTube, and I guess one of our groupies have been pestering him every day to take a look and Cody, he called and they want us to be one of their opening acts.”

Chills went up and down my spine. “Wait … what? You’re busting my balls, right?”

“Dude, would I joke about this? They’re doing this whole thing where they help unsigned, undiscovered bands. I guess some giving back thing and I don’t know how — I guess some of those prayers of yours have been working but -”

“Dude!” I huged him tight.

“Hey, careful with the hair,” he said with a smile.

“Hold that thought, I need to call Emma.” I told him, my first thought being her. I couldn’t wait to tell her.

“But-”

“Just hold that thought.” I started dialing. I couldn’t wait for her to answer.  He sighed, he never was the patient sort and I slipped into the hall plugging one ear.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Babe,” I said anxiously, as I leaned against the wall, my heart pounding like a gerbil’s.

“Who’s this?”

“Your other husband.” I groaned.

“Which one?”

“The one that loves you the most.” I chuckled.

“Oh, you,” she teased me.

“You’re a trip. I have something to tell you.”

“Actually, I was just about to call you.”

“You go first,” I told her.

“No, you.  Mine can wait.”

“Guess which husband of yours is going to be the opening act for the Rolling Stones?”

“Oh, my God — Bob?” she responded.

“Bob?” What the hell was she talking about?

“Oh, so it’s not my husband Bob?”

“You’re such a witch.” I laughed.

She laughed with me. “Baby, I couldn’t be happier. Does this mean you’re going to be traveling all over the world?”

“It means, we’ll be making a bigger paycheck and we can start saving for a house, that’s what it means. Now, tell me, what did you have to say?”

“Oh, I… may or may not have just blown gas,” she said, in all seriousness.

“What? You farted? Then, light a candle. Jeeze,” I groaned, shaking my head.

“I had a craving for a milkshake. I told you, dairy gives me problems. And women don’t fart. We blow gas.”

“Is that what you had to tell me?”

“Oh, and I’m pregnant. I don’t have a candle but I do have Lysol. You think that’ll work?”

“Wait, what?” My heart stopped. Had I misheard her?

“I said I’m pregnant. Forget blowing gas. You were right, that was a fart.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Baby, did you just say you’re pregnant? Did you just say—?”

“Yep.”

“Why did you wait so long to tell me?”

“I wanted to be sure.”

“I understand, but … Honey?”

“What?”

“Do you know who the father is?”

“I’m hanging up.”

“Wait, wait, I’m just joking.”

“You better be.  At least I think you’re the father…”

I laughed.  I don’t think I’d ever been more excited in my life. The fact that we had our child growing inside of her, the fact that we’d have someone as a testament of our love for the whole world to view made my heart radiate.

“Baby?” she said sweetly.

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

“Sweetheart, I love you, too.”

“Baby, will you sing to me, please?” she said sounding softer than normal.

“I’d be honored.”  And then I began to sing to her Elvis Presley’s version of Love Me Tender hoping that she and the baby growing inside her, could somehow hear it.

“Ow! I think he liked it,” she told me, “Wait, I’m going to put the phone on my belly. Say hello to your son, darling.”

“Hey son or daughter, daddy loves you and we’re all going to be together soon. I promise.” My eyes were watering.

CHAPTER 20

To say there was a new kick in my step was an understatement. When we played at night, I played and sang to my baby – to my new son or daughter.  We were a good week away from leaving for the rehearsal for the Rolling Stones tour. We’d be spending about two months rehearsing with the Stones’ stage manager and team before we actually toured and I couldn’t wait. It was the happiest days of my life, the only thing that was missing was my baby.

I hadn’t talked to Emma the last twenty-four hours but she said not to worry that she had to take care of some things.  I knew that the Connecticut Harmonic Orchestra had gotten her grandma a full-time live-in nurse and she was doing a lot better, so Emma wasn’t needed all the time. We’d even talked about her moving back but so far nothing.

It was our first wedding anniversary night and I was kind of bummed I hadn’t spoken to her yet but I hoped I could talk to her soon. I told her I wanted to fly out to see her but she said we needed to save the money for our house. I groaned, but one thing I’d learned is you better listen to your woman.

Even though it was our anniversary, I had to say I was pleasantly surprised when she called again that night.

“What took you so long?” she teased, sounding like she was in a wind tunnel. “Making out with one of those groupies again?”

“Never baby, I’m all yours,” I told her, walking away from the band for a second so I could hear her. “Where are you in the middle of a hurricane?”

“Practically, I’m at the airport.”

“The airport? Where are you going?” I thought we were going to save money and I wondered if there was some emergency trip, besides what about the baby.

“Nowhere, I’m here,” she said, I could hear the smile in her voice.

“Here?”

“Yeah, Portland.”

“Wait, What? What about the baby?” I didn’t know whether to be excited or nervous as I paced back and forth.

“He’s fine. Though I don’t think he likes traveling, he’s been kicking up a storm.”

“Babe, I’m on my way.” I was ready to drop everything, rehearsal or not.

“Don’t be silly, I’ll be there in 45 minutes depending on traffic. You didn’t think I was going to miss our first wedding anniversary. Did you?”

“Baby, I love you.”’

“Just relax. I’m renting a car so I don’t have to ride on that bike of yours.”

“I thought you liked my bike,” I joked.

“I love it, but not when I look like I’ve swallowed a basketball.”

I laughed. “I can’t wait to see you. Wait until I tell the guys.”

“Be there in a few,” she said. “Smooches.”

We rehearsed like crazy that night, Aaron pushed us all hard, harder than normal. He was freaking out, understandably, because of the tour and he wanted everything to be perfect. He demanded that we not take any breaks, absolutely no cell phones and that we keep rehearsing until he was satisfied.

“Chill man, we sound good, real good,” I told him as we finished another set. “Anybody know what time it is?”

Aaron sighed. “A quarter past ten.”

“Man.” It’d been a good two and a half hours since I’d last talked to Emma and I wondered if she was stuck in traffic or something. “Be back.”

“Where are you going? I told you no breaks,” he demanded.

“Chill,” I told him reaching for my phone, I had about ten missed calls on it from some number I didn’t recognize and only one from Emma. I plugged my ear, the phone reception was spotty in this area, and all I could make out was, “Good Samaritan Hospital … accident … Emma.”

I dropped the phone.

I didn’t even tell him where I was going, I just left.

CHAPTER 21

I rushed to the nurse’s station a babbling idiot.

“Just slow down,” the cheery nurse said, as she leaned forward.

“Emma, Emma Kara Lohan-White,” I said to her, “My wife, did she have the baby already? Is he a premie?”

The nurse typed her name in the computer and then her face changed. “No, darling. Emma is … she had an accident.”

“What?” If I thought my heart stopped before. It was like all the blood from my face, completely drained.

“A car accident. No one told you?” she asked, shaking her head in disbelief.

“No, no one told me. Where is she?”

“Critical Care room 437. But you can’t—” she barely got the words out before I was racing down the hall.

My mind was going a million miles a second. My world was spinning. I tried to rush into the critical care unit but a security guard stopped me.

“I gotta go in there.”

“Just calm down, sir.”

Another security guard joined him, it took a good three of them to calm me down and pin me to the ground before I could be contained.

“Emma!!!” I screamed.

I was lucky they didn’t kick me out of the hospital. I stared at the ugly rug, drinking some hot tea while I waited in the lobby. I wanted to believe the whole thing was some horrible nightmare. I’d been able to get a little bit out of them. It was a head on collision, with a semi. Some careless drunk driver had swerved in her direction and in order to avoid traffic, she swerved the other way, that’s when she was hit.

I kept thinking about her, about our baby, about what I’d do without her. She had to live. She had to.

It was a good three days before Emma stabilized enough to let me see her. And one look at her and it was obvious she wasn’t ever going to be the same Emma I knew and loved. Wires coming in and out of her body, hooked up to every possible machine. There was a tube running from her nose to her stomach. She looked like a fallen angel that had crashed from the heavens.

“Can I … Can she understand me?”  I asked the nurse in the room as she led me inside.

“She’s brain dead, baby …”

I didn’t heed the nurse’s words.  In my mind, she could feel me, she could understand every word I said.

“I’ll leave you alone,” she told me as she stepped out.

I traced my finger along the cold bed frame and gripped Emma’s hand which was almost as cold. Listening to the rasping sound of her breathing tube, the monotonous beep of her heart monitor, I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. I didn’t know how to talk to this being that was in front of me, I only knew how to speak to my wife, the woman I loved.

“I guess this means you won’t be joining me for dinner tonight,” I told her cracking a smile. “Oh, and you left your stockings on the shower again. I haven’t taken them off there in months since you left.”

I breathed out my frustration, “What did you do to yourself, baby? Why didn’t you just stay home? I could have flown to you. I could have been there with you in Connecticut. We could have been having lobster and clam sauce. We could have been —” I stopped myself, being angry at her wasn’t going to help things.

“Aaron says they’re almost ready for the tour but … I’m almost inclined to tell them to just go on without me. I know you wouldn’t want that but … the truth is, I don’t want to leave your side.  They say all hospital guests have to leave by 8 every day but I talked to the nurse, flirted with her…”

I chuckled to myself, imagining her elbowing me in the stomach. “They say the baby … They say the babies, there’s two, that they’re both still alive.  You stay strong and you wake up Emma, soon. We’ve got a family to start. You hear me?”

I stepped away, needing a breath of fresh air before I dived in for another session below the depths of sadness I’d never experienced before.

~~~

I might as well have paid rent for how much I stayed at the hospital. The only reason I went home was to water the plants because if Emma woke up, strike that, when she woke up, I convinced myself, she’d kill me if they were dead.  Telling my mother and her grandma what had happened was one of the hardest things I did in my life. I didn’t want to tell her grandmother, especially, but there was no other way around it. She told me she had faith that somehow she’d wake up and things would go back to normal. I told her I did, too but in reality, nothing would be the same.

“Any news?” Aaron asked, clutching a bouquet of flowers as he approached me in the hospital lobby one day.

“Oh, no… thanks for coming. Take a seat in my office,” I joked sitting back down on the chairs.

“How you holding up?”

“You know, I love eating hospital food, haven’t showered in days.”

“I can tell,” he said, cracking a smile. “Hey so … I don’t mean to bring this up now but…”

“What is it?”

“It’s the Rolling Stones man. They know what happened but, they say if we don’t leave this weekend, they’re going to have to pick someone else.”

“Then, you should go without me.”

“Wait, what?” He blinked incredulously at me.

“You don’t think I’m going to leave her do you?” I couldn’t believe he’d even ask me something like that.

“Dude, this is your career, our careers you’re talking about.” He leaned forward, being more serious than I’d ever seen him before.

“Believe it or not, there are things more important than a career, Aaron.”

“Cody, listen to me. Listen to yourself. We’ve been waiting for this since we were five years old.”

“No, I’m not going. You don’t know what it’s like to be in love. You don’t know what it’s like to-”

“I don’t know what it’s like?” He rose from his chair.

“What are you saying?”

“Emma was right,” he sighed, looking away from me for a moment?

“What?”

“You told me last year, when we had our falling out that Emma said I was in love with you and truth is, I am. I’ve been since we were little, it’s just I was too scared to tell you.”

He was shaking now, and I’d never seen him that nervous. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say when your best friend in the world tells you he’s in love with you?

“Aaron-”

“No, hear me out. You left me when you left our band and ever since you met that — that girl it’s like you were missing. The Cody I know, the one I grew up with, he’s gone and it tears me up every time knowing that he may never return. You’re happy, you say you are with her, but I’m dying inside.”

“Aaron, I love you, I do. But —” I tried to explain.

“But not like that, I know.  I’ve always known but it doesn’t have to be that way. She’s gone now, you can love me, too, like you love her. We could be happy together. And I know there won’t be sex and that’s okay, I just don’t want to live without you.”

“Aaron — I — if things were different, if I were …” But he wasn’t hearing me.

“If you were gay?” he said finishing my sentence.

“Yeah, you’ll find someone, you will, I promise.”

“I don’t want someone, Cody. All I’ve ever wanted was you.”

His eyes were watering and he grabbed me by my wrist.

I pulled away. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He was a good-looking guy, which was why so many women liked him and, I guess, dudes, but I didn’t swing that way. Besides, I had room in my heart only for one person, my Emma. “I’m sorry, man. I can’t give you what you’re looking for.”

He walked right up to me and spoke through gritted teeth so that only I could hear, “I killed your fucking drunk bastard dad.”

“I know that, man.”

“It was me that protected you. It was me that made it look like it was an accident. I took the risk. I could have gone to juvey. They could have tried me as an adult if I’d gotten caught.”

“Don’t you think I know that? And I’ll be forever grateful to you for that.”

“You owe me,” he said, his eyes tortured, his voice in pain.

“Not forever. Not for all eternity. I won’t let you hold that over me for the rest of my life. You’re my best friend but

“But you won’t love me?” His lips quivered, and tears welled in his eyes.

“Not like you want me to.”

“She’s not going to wake up, man! Why don’t you see that? She’s going to die in here and you’re going to be left alone with nothing and no one.”

The words hurt. They struck me hard, but I didn’t let them knock me down.

“It’s worth the risk.” I told him, looking him straight in the eye.

His lips quivered. “You don’t want me, that’s cool but in exactly thirty seconds I’m walking out that door and if I walk out that door you’re out of the band forever and so is this opportunity. Think about it.”

“Aaron, there’s nothing to think about. Nothing’s more important to me than Emma.”

It was awful seeing him walk away but in a way, it was a relief. We’d never really discussed what happened when we were kids or how Aaron had kept my dad from beating us again. It’d been on my shoulders forever and now, in some small way it was lifted. But hearing my best friend was truly in love with me, like Emma had said, was confusing to say the least.  Remorse was an understatement, I wish I could have made him feel better but in the end, I had to do what was best for me, and for Emma.

CHAPTER 22

Months passed and Christmas approached. I won’t lie, almost as hard as it was seeing her not making any progress day after day was watching the news coverage of Aaron and the band with the Rolling Stones and having the media call them the next big sensation. My dream was slipping through my fingers both my career and the love of my life.  It was everything that I’d worked for and dreamed of my entire life. I’d lost sleep thinking about touring with The Rolling Stones. It was the one thing that kept me alive and from killing myself when my dad would beat me up as a kid.  And now, it felt close enough to touch but so far away from my grasp.

It’d become Emma’s dream for me too, something she was rooting for. It symbolized our future and now I was about to lose both.

The babies were doing all right, they assured me of that, they also said that they were trying to keep her from going into labor or it could be life threatening to her and the twins.

They kept pushing me to pull the plug, they said there was no hope and I had to take on another job to pay for the medical bills. I didn’t care if I had to work night and day, whatever it took to keep her alive. I’d fought tooth and nail to keep her grandmother’s legal teams from pulling the plug and I would have fought to the death, but there came a point, when I was going to have to say my goodbyes, stubborn as I was, hard as it was, it was only fair to her to let her go.

I walked into that room, shuffling in looking at her alive for the last time.  I kissed her the clammy skin on her forehead.

“Hey babe, how’s it going? Flirted with any lesbians lately?  Well, they say this is it, that … it’s not going to get any better than this. I’m confused because I don’t want to let you go but I don’t want to see you suffer either. You must be dead, because I don’t know how to feel. I can’t feel anything anymore.  E.T., remember? Anyway, I know what he meant when he said that ‘cause that’s how I feel.  You promised me you’d never leave me again and I know if you could help it, you never would. I love you and I want you to know that.  I’m going to take real good care of the babies. I don’t know the first thing about being a dad. And I know they’re going to need their mom but I’m … gonna do the best thing I can for them.  You hear?  I love you baby, more than you can know.  Save a place in heaven for me, will you?”

I’d brought my guitar and sang to her, like she’d asked me to, plucking the strings on my guitar, singing to her for the last time. I didn’t want the song to end, but like most good things, it had to.

“Love me tender …” I sang and kissed her on the lips, the tears streaming from my face.  “Goodnight, my love.”

Leaving that room was the hardest thing I ever did.  The doctor’s waited outside for me, my mother did too, as did her grandmother.  We hugged each other.

“Be strong,” her grandmother told me. But how could I be strong without my baby?

They were going to need to perform the C-Section soon if they were going to save the twins and as I waited in the lobby, I only prayed that if there was a God, he’d let her go without any pain. I prayed all night and even as I nodded off in the hospital lobby, I prayed for my baby, prayed for the love of my life that his angels would watch over her.

Hours later, the nurse stepped out into the lobby and I could see her long shadow cast across the floor.

“Mr. White?”

“Yeah.” I couldn’t make out her face, was it delight, was it confusion, was it sorrow?

She kneeled down next to me. “Do you have a priest?”

The lump in my throat was like swallowing a boulder.

“No, I — Did she go peacefully?”

A smile spread across her face. “I ask because …. You must have an angel on your side because, Cody, Emma just woke up.”

Chills ran up and down my spine.  I tried to stand up but my legs were wobbly. “What? Where? How?”

“She’s in critical care, but she’s asking for you.”

CHAPTER 23

I couldn’t get there fast enough as I burst into the room. She was sitting up, weak looking but looking straight at me.

“Well, it ….t-t-t-took you ….long …. enough,” her scratchy voice said. She was having problems speaking.

I couldn’t help myself as I kissed her up and all around her face. I didn’t want to hurt her fragile body. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to do. It was like a dream, a wonderful inspiring lovely dream. I wanted to hold her, to love her, to tell her everything that happened while she was asleep.

“Well, aren’t … you going … to say … something?”

“Baby, I love you. I thought — I thought you were gone,” I said to her, my eyes red and puffy from my tears.

“Why? Did … you marry … someone else … already?”

“No, never, ever ever. I could never love anybody else.” I laughed, taking her face in my palms, kissing her again.

“Your … breath … smells….” She told me. I laughed. She hadn’t lost her personality.

“Cody, Emma,” her grandmother said, stepping inside, with the babies. I took the babies from her, holding them for the first time.

My eyes filled with tears. I thought there was no greater love than being with Emma, but these perfect angels were going to give her a run for her money. I let them play with my finger, kissing them tenderly.

Perfect, just like my Emma. As I put both babies in her arms, I looked at Emma, happier than I’d ever seen her, glowing. She made the perfect mother. I should have known. She had more love in her than anyone I’d ever met.

“Thanks … witch,” Emma joked with her grandmother.

“Well, let’s just hope they don’t have your mouth,” her grandmother joked back. “What are you going to name them?”

“Emma and Cody, Jr.”

“You just … had to name … them after …  yourself, didn’t you? … Vain.”

“I love you, baby.”

“And I … love … you,” she said, looking at me, straight into the heart of me. “Can you take them?”

I did, she was looking pale. “Baby, are you alright?”

That’s when she flat lined.

CHAPTER 24

She died on a Thursday and I can’t say it didn’t hit me hard, strong as I was.  We gave it all we could and we lost.

“I’m so sorry, Emma,” I say, breathing in my failure as I sit down at our kitchen table. Maybe if I’d paid more attention, maybe if I’d been better. “Please, forgive me.”

“Apology accepted,” Emma says approaching me from behind, still struggling with speech. “But I told you to water my plants. Why’d you have to kill her? Why’d you have to kill my Sasha?”

I kissed her, deeply. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world to me, even now. She’s got nine lives. Surviving the head-on collision and flat lining, I guess love is powerful enough to make miracles.

Our own little miracles are asleep now.  We’ve been up all night taking care of the twins. I never knew being a father would bring me such joy, especially since they’re like little pieces of my beautiful wife.

Every day she is getting a bit stronger and even though I know it will be a day to day excursion with her in my arms, I know anything is possible.

“I love you, baby.”

“I love you, too.”

I’m glad things are better for us now financially.  We won a huge settlement from the semi that hit Emma. Turned out he was drunk too.  And I guess Aaron felt bad about moving on with the band because since the album came out, I still get huge royalty checks from the songs. He’s doing better now, too. He says he’s met someone on the tour and he’s very much in love. I’m happy for him. I know what that feels like. Nothing is better in the world.

I think about my life from time to time, my career. I still play, working on a solo album now, writing songs for it. I’m calling the album Emma. I did it for the music, not for the fame. I did it for us and I never felt more empowered.  I could have joined the band again, Aaron extended that olive branch to me. But the truth is, there was no place I’d rather be.

Some people say that I missed out in life, that I could have been somebody.  Maybe, maybe not, but I don’t regret a day that I’ve spent by my Emma’s side, taking care of her, bathing her, reading to her.

Emma is back in fashion school too. Some reporter heard about our story and before long it became the talk of the town, and then the country.  The school, I guess wants to capitalize on the publicity and gave her a full scholarship. Whatever, as long as my baby’s dream is coming true. Donations are pouring in too, enough to help her begin her first line. She calls it True Love.

As for me, I may not be famous, I may not ever see my name in lights, but I’ll have a glow in my heart that lasts forever and I have something more important than anything in the world, my baby. And that’s more than enough for me.

“Darling,” my Emma says to me as she brings me into the nursery room and hands me my guitar.

“Sing to me, sing to us.”

 

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE THE FULL-LENGTH NOVEL VERSION OF THIS STORY