Paper Dreams

do it for lex

The giggles spilled from her lips. Everywhere was her playground. It was the benefit to being three; entertainment was everywhere and existed within anything. She didn't need the bags of toys and coloring books that Sara always insisted he pack for her, she could turn her surroundings into something better. Her imagination was advancing. She could make up stories about things, describe them as if they were real. Today, the tuxedo shop where they were waiting for Kennedy was a castle, and each clothing rack stood as a room within it. The changing room where Kennedy was she labeled the dungeon. John loved watching her do this too, not caring about the glares he received from the store clerks or front desk assistants. Even if she ran around, her voice too loud for the space, he didn't stop her. It was Sara's job to worry about that, so John took it as his duty to Ruby to ignore others and encourage all creative development.

They'd been in the tux shop for almost an hour, and he wasn't even sure how he got involved with the the outing. His day was planned already: a day at home, with Ruby. She could follow the structured schedule that Sara had put in place and he could recover from the hangover he'd been suffering from all morning. It would be quiet and simple, just the way he liked it. However, Kennedy roped him into coming along, to "get Ruby out of the house" as he phrased it. John never agreed to it, just as he rarely ever did. But Kennedy was already buckling Ruby into her car seat before he could decline the offer. That was how most weekends went with Ruby. His friends and roommates cherished her company just as much as he did.

Ruby was crouched between two racks of coats, and all John could see of her was her two short legs from below. "Daddy, you be the dragon, okay?" She giggled again, "I'm the princess, okay? You have to catch me."

John smirked, standing up from the bench he was sitting at to watch her. He loved this game, and how it was always changing but never different. Every time it was different characters; she'd be the cat and he was the dog, or she was the superhero and he was some villain. It was the same game though, he was always supposed to chase after her for a moment, and then catch her, throwing her over his shoulder while she laughed.  "Alright, Ruby." He mumbled, taking a step forward so he could see her from behind the clothing rack. 

"No!" She squealed out, her laughter bubbling over in anticipation. "You have to count, Daddy!"

He took a step backwards, knowing she loved the head-start. "Three--" He said, watching her legs from under the rack of clothes as she moved forward a few steps, his own grin growing. "Two--" She took another step, "One!"

It took him only ten seconds to catch her, mostly because his legs were three times the length of her so for every single step, she was taking three. Mostly though, to her, the fun part of the game wasn't running away from it; it was when he picked her up and tossed her back so that she half-dangled over his shoulder. Her giggles filled the quiet store, overpowering the quiet background music and the mumbling of the other customers. One of the salesmen sent John a hard glare, as if what they were doing was some crime. She hadn't knocked anything over or caused any distress to the other people in the store; there were more smiles in her direction than anything else. She was a breathe of young life in the boring store.

As he repositioned Ruby in his arms, he finally heard his name from the back from Kennedy. John hoped it was almost time to leave so they could go back home. He was pushing aside the exhaustion that was tugging at his limbs and limiting his mental function for this outing, and it was only tiring him more now. His hangover was gone now, but the tiredness that followed hadn't. John wanted to be on the couch by now, resting while Ruby watched Sesame Street.

He made his way to the back of the shop, picking up Ruby's sweater from the bench he was sitting on, and then stepping into the back, changing room, where Kennedy was. Ruby wrapped her arm around John's neck, holding herself close to him as he pushed open the door. She immediately giggled, looking at Kennedy in his tuxedo.

"What do ya think?" He asked, the tailor still rolling up the pants to the right length.

Ruby snickered at him, "You look like a penguin."

Kennedy turned around as the tailor stepped back, sticking his tongue out at Ruby, then looking at John for approval. The tie still wasn't tied and the top button was opened, but it was a nicer then the two he tried on earlier. John could see the concern in Ken's eyes over it, as if a bad tux meant a bad marriage. They both knew better than to think that.

"S'nice." John reassured. "Looks good."

"You think she'll like it?"

Nodding, he moved further into the small room, seating down on the small stool in the corner. "It's not like if you pick a bad suit, she's gonna change her mind, Ken."

"I know," He sighed, running his fingers through his hair, "It's her only wedding though, hopefully."

He re-situated Ruby now so she was sitting on his lap, her head resting against his shoulder as she emitted a small yawn. "Just don't forget to show up then and she'll be happy."

Kennedy rolled his eyes at John, turning around to face the mirrors again. He smoothed out the front of the shirt, his fingers twisting the top button closed. John and Ruby watched silently as he looped the tie together in a knot, tightening it to his neck. John knew she'd love it. It was a gray suit, the jacket just a shade darker than the rest. The tie he picked was a light yellow to match the flowers they picked for her boutique and the table decorations. After all the wedding pictures he’d sen and all the plans he’d overheard, John knew it was what she wanted. He grew up with the girl, he knew what she liked by now. It was why Kennedy even bothered asked him.

Their wedding was less than two weeks away now, and John could feel the anxiety over the event dripping from both of them. It was all done mostly; Alexis was always the type to have stuff figured out and planned long before the actual event took place. John had heard enough chatter from his mom about it, since she helped Alexis with most of it. Being his only real task in planning the wedding, Kennedy was supposed to have the tuxedo figured out months ago. Of course, just like typical Ken though, he put it off until the last minute.

"Could you like, I don't know, take a picture and send it to her? Make sure this is what she likes too?" He mumbled again, turning back around.

John glanced down at his daughter, gesturing for Kennedy to see. She was asleep, her arm draped around his neck and head resting against his chest. "You really want me to wake her up so you can tell your girlfriend that you finally picked a tux?"

Kennedy watched her for a moment, as if John might have tricked him by telling her to play along. She didn’t stir, and Kennedy sighed, slipping his pointer finger up as he stepped back into the curtained dressing room. A moment later, Kennedy reappeared from the small room. This time he had his own phone in his hand, his pointer and thumb extending it out for John to take. He took it, flicking the small lock icon and tapping the screen for the camera application. He took the picture before Kennedy was ready, not bothering to ensure it was properly aimed or focused. Before Kennedy could even inquire, John sent it in a message to Alexis.

“There,” He mumbled, setting the phone on the bench behind him. “Now would you change? I’d like to get her home now.”

It was always the way to get them to leave. Ruby’s comfort and happiness was more important than anything else. Kennedy was annoyed at the request, but went to change instead of arguing. Neither spoked as Kennedy changed behind the curtained changing room and John was okay with the silence. It helped him to relax. He curled his arms tighter around Ruby’s back, hugging her closer and inhaling her scent, enjoying the moment.

The phone chimed beside him, and he didn’t even bother to look down. Instead, he closed his eyes, leaning back to rest his head against the wall. He was jealous that Ruby got to be sleep right now and he couldn’t be.

“What’d she say?” Kennedy spoke over the fabric curtain.

John shrugged subconsciously, keeping his eyes shut. “Dunno.”


Letting out a frustrated groan, he pushed himself up from his slouched position carefully to not wake up Ruby. Her name was still written across the screen. There was a sense of relief that flooded over him at reading it. They would be done now that she approved of it, meaning they could leave. “She said ’stud’.” It chimed again before he could set it down, and he went ahead and read that one too. The question she asked immediately made him curious, and he placed the phone beside him. “Have you asked me what?”

“What?” Kennedy’s voice reached out, and a second later, he pushed the curtain open, handing the suit to the tailor.

The text message was still open beside John, and he picked the phone up again, jutting it our for Kennedy to take. “She said, ‘have you asked John yet?’.”

Kennedy disappeared into the dressing room again, coming back out a moment later with his shoes dangling from his fingers and his sweatshirt hanging over his arm. He seemed to be ignoring the question as he sat down on the stool beside John, pulling his shoes onto his feet. He only pulled his attention away for a moment to answer another text from her, smiling as the light reflected against his face.

“Ken.” John interrupted, “What are you supposed to ask me?”

He stood up, pulling the sweatshirt over his head. “It’s nothing. C’mon.”

Pushing himself up, he curled Ruby to him, allowing her to sleep in his arms. His friend grabbed her sweater from the bench and they made their way to the front of the store, waving to the cashier. The door chimed as they pushed through it and Kennedy walked ahead of John, opening the car door for him. John ducked down to put his sleeping daughter into her car seat, smiling as she mumbled in the same way he did when away disturbed their sleep. He hushed her gently, pulling her arms through the straps, locking her into the seat. She grumbled again when he kissed her on the forehead, then she fell back asleep when he closed the door. John ducked into his own seat as Kennedy started the car.

“We need you to be in the wedding.” He sighed out, glancing at John once before he turned around to drive the car from the parking spot.

There was a pause, a heavy silence that dwelled between them for a moment. “That’s not nothing.” John spoke as he pulled the seatbelt cross his chest, relaxing into the seat. “That’s something you really shouldn’t spring on someone.”

“My brother can’t make it,” Kennedy shrugged, stopping at the exit of the parking lot, waiting for a break in traffic to pull out. “So you gotta fill the spot.”

“I think the bigger problem here is that your own brother can’t make it to his little brother’s wedding.” John tried, redirecting the conversation.

Kennedy sighed, “We knew it could happen”—He paused for a moment, leaning forward to see better—“he’s still in Antarctica collecting ice samples for his dissertation.”

John knew the Brock family pretty well now, through both Kennedy and Alexis. They were all successful and smart. Before joining the band, Kennedy had given up a substantial scholarship to play music with the band. His older brother, Hudson was working on his doctorate in geology and his older sister taught economics at some private college in California. They never valued family the way Alexis and John did. Alexis explained it all to his a few years ago. None of them even worked very hard to keep in touch with the others. Kennedy missed his sister’s wedding a few years ago to go overseas with the band. He got no grief about it from any of his siblings or his parents. Lexie never understood how they worked.

“He’s your brother, Ken and this is your only wedding.”

“Thanks for the reminder, John.” He snapped, glaring at him the moment after he slipped the car onto the highway. Kennedy ran his fingers through his hair once, sighing. “Look, he can’t leave, okay? He tried. They can fly him here but he won’t be able to go back for months. He’ll just have to start over.”

There was a hint of frustration in his voice, and John knew it was more directed at Hudson than him. His brother’s absence was obviously bothering him more than he was leading on. His friend kept his attention on the road, but his jaw stayed tight.

“Obviously, the best solution is to postpone the wedding.” John suggested, half-kidding and half-serious.

His jaw tightened more as he sent John a glare. “Just be in the damn wedding, John.”

“Or you could ask one of your other friends.”

Kennedy’s frustration wasn’t waning, and the heavy traffic wasn’t helping the situation. “Lex wants it to be you.”

John snapped his fingers suddenly, ignoring Kennedy’s comment. “Just ask one of the girls to not be in it. Simple solution.”

“Just agree.” His tone was sharped, and Kennedy finally looked over at him as the car came to stop in front of the next red light.


“Do it for Lex,” He said, “After all she’s done for you, for her—“ He paused for a moment to jut his thumb over his shoulder, and John looked at his daughter asleep in the backseat. “She’s never asked you for anything in return, John. You owe her this much.”

He hated how valid Kennedy’s argument was. Without Lex, John would have lost custody for Ruby a long time ago. She was only born a few months before John had signed a record label with the band, and he was touring nine months out of every year since then. There was no way he was able to pick Ruby up every weekend for the custody arrangement. So Lex stepped in for him and his dad talked the courts into allowing her to take John’s place in when he was on the road. Sara couldn’t take his child from him and he could still pursue his dream. Lex cared for Ruby as if she were hers and never asked for anything in return.

Kennedy was right and John knew it. There was a victorious smile spreading across Kennedy’s lips and John only grimaced, sinking into his seat. He was going to be in their wedding and he couldn’t object. Neither spoke after that, Kennedy preoccupied on navigating through the traffic and John avoiding any acknowledgment of the conversation’s outcome.

At the next light, Kennedy’s phone rang and he scrambled to get it from his back pocket as the light changed from red to green. John watched as his friend glanced down at the phone for a moment, a smile appearing suddenly as he put the phone to his ear. “Hey, sweetie.”

John rolled his eyes at the stupid pet names the two always exchanged. They were always so disgustingly cute and John, being their roommate, was subjected to the bulk of it. Kennedy talked to her through the phone, more cheerfully now then he had previously in their day. “Yeah, he agreed, baby. Isn’t that great?” He sent a look at John, and he knew they were talking about him and his new involvement with the wedding. A moment later, Kennedy flicked the blinker on, and turned off the highway. “Yeah, we’re gonna stop at the store right now.”

They pulled into the parking lot and John groaned already. He’d been witness to this enough over the past three years. She obviously needed something to cook some extravagant dessert she was experimenting with. Alexis was a baker, and she worked along side John’s mom. “You wanna talk to John?”

He shook his head violently, trying to signal to Kennedy that he didn’t want to speak to her. Alexis had just gotten off work, he assumed, and she was always particularly chatty, the caffeine from all her cups of coffee catching up with her. He tried to avoid her then, as she would talk his ear off before he could even inhale.

Kennedy smiled, pushing the phone towards him, covering the mouth piece at the bottom with his other hand. “”I’m gonna run in. She wants to talk to you.”

Glaring, he took the phone from Kennedy, covering the mouth piece in a similar manner. “If you wouldn’t have suggested it then she wouldn’t even know it was an option.”

Pulling at the door knob, Kennedy only shrugged, as John brought the phone to his ear. “Hey Lexie.”

“Thank you so much, John,” She replied immediately. He could hear the last cup of coffee she had in her voice. “And the good news is that you don’t have to buy a new suit. I checked in your closet. You’ve got a black suit already, your mom said it’s from your aunt’s funeral last year; apparently she insisted you buy it? I dunno. We just have to order a few of those ties Kenny picked out, then you’ll be set.”

“That’s great.” He sighed, already overwhelmed by her. “Thanks for checking.”

“I also changed your sheets and cleaned up you room too, for Ruby.” He immediately blushed. “Y’know, after last night—“

“Yes, Lex. I was there. Thank you.” He mumbled over his words. “And thank you for driving her home.”

Lex sighed, one of those heavily judgmental breaths he’d grown too accustomed to. He was embarrassed that everyone saw what happened this morning. Usually he tried to keep his affairs private, even to Kennedy and Lex, and this was the first time everyone found out.

“It wasn’t a problem, John.” She said softly.

In another moment she had hung up, apologizing that she had to deal with dinner, as if John would be upset that she wasn’t talking to him. Maybe it would have bothered him before, when they were still young and he was her best friend, but now, he spent all of his time being exhausted from life and disgusted by Alexis and Kennedy together.

Kennedy was back in the car after twenty minutes and he put the two bags in the backseat beside Ruby. She was asleep still, a surprise to both John and Kennedy. As he started the car, Kennedy looked back at her through the rearview mirror one more time.

“So how was she?” He asked John.

He gave Kennedy a confused glance. “Lex? Not much different than when you talked to her twenty minutes ago.”

“The girl from last night…”

A shade of pink curled around John’s neck, and a uncontrollable groan left his lips at the choice of the conversation. “I do not feel comfortable having this discussion with my three year old in the back seat.”

Kennedy shrugged. “She’s asleep.”

“She could wake up.” John tried.

“Speaking of,” Ken grinned at him, ignoring his concern. “Yknow, you woke Lexie up last night.”

John’s hands immediately covered his face, hiding his shame. “God, please stop.” He spoke from behind his hands, wishing that jumping from the car was a plausible escape route to avoid this conversation.

He only smirked, continuing. “She was pretty mad this morning, calling you ‘irresponsible’ and all that shit…”

“My child is five feet away from us.” John reminded, giving Kennedy a hard glare. “These types of things can scar children.”

“So can meeting your daddy’s one night stands but you didn’t take that into account this morning.”

John was silent then, even more embarrassed now. The worst part was how the feeling of her was still linger against his fingers and skin. Her memory wasn’t what was making him blush, and he could only smile at it still. It was an unexplainable feeling, to not be embarrassed about her but only about being caught.

“It’s okay,” Kennedy clapped his shoulder then, “She’s still asleep.”

He still didn’t have anything to say on the subject that he felt important enough to tell Kennedy. Just the fact she stayed this morning was enough of an issue. Then there was the fact that he was still thinking about the event that bothered him that much more. Kennedy would tell him what he thought on the matter, and that would have fucked the whole thing up that much more. John was ready for this to be done and the memory gone. He wanted this back to normal and telling Kennedy about it wouldn’t help with that.

“She must have been pretty good,” Kennedy teased, turning onto their street, “You’ve never woken Lex the narcoleptic up.”

The conversation was over then. John wanted nothing to do with it. He felt worse after Kennedy told him that. Everyone knew about his night now. It was pointless to even try to defend his actions. To everyone else, all they could see was that he forgot Ruby was coming over or that he slept with a girl he just met. To him, he needed the release from the perpetual stress he lived under with his ex and family. It was a poor choice, but he’d done far worse. Those nights were important to him, he needed them to stay sane.

When they pulled into the parking spot in front of their apartment, John jumped from the car. He gestured to Kennedy to get Ruby; he needed some air and some silence to deal with his frustration and stress. There was too much of both at the moment and he needed to get away from it. He knew he wasn’t the best dad in the world, but he was trying. His band was all but broken up at this point because he needed to be a better father. He was there more for her then his father had been when he was growing up and he decided early on that he would never put her through the same messes of divorcing parents, breaking up with Sara earlier in the young girl’s life. She was loved and cared for. He never missed paying child support or missed seeing her when she was home. Yet, a single night one night stand gone wrong managed to make everyone think he was the worst dad ever.

John walked around his block twice, ignoring his neighbors’ barking dogs and the constant sound of cars whizzing by. He enjoyed where they lived . There was enough excitement for him; they weren’t far from his favorite bar and his friend’s houses. It was always quiet enough to relax him. No one worried about Ruby’s safety or the noise at night. The streets were quiet by sundown and the crime rate was low. When he and Kennedy found it, they both loved it. John could raise his daughter still, but they could maintain a social life at the same time.

His apartment smelled of seafood when he stepped inside. He could hear Ruby’s chatter from the other room already, as he was certain that she was already helping Alexis with dinner. Her music was playing softly too, creating to the chaotic noise happening in the kitchen. Lex didn’t really have a wide music taste like he prided himself on, she still listened to same dozen albums from college and didn’t bother with keeping up with much else. John wished he could slip away to his room to take a nap or get a few moments to relax before dealing with Ruby’s resurgence of energy after her nap. Deciding against it, he pushed himself through the kitchen threshold, watching his daughter, standing on the step stool beside Alexis, watching her as his friend continued with whatever she cooked.

Avoiding interrupting them, John reached towards the fridge, pulling out one of the bottles of beer he and Kennedy stockpiled on the bottom shelf. Twisting the top off, he took a sip, enjoying the way the liquid slipped down his throat. He leaned against the counter, watching as Lex talked to Ruby about what they were making.

“I wanna help,” Ruby declared again, trying to take the fork from Lex’s hand as she flipped a piece of shrimp over.

Lex didn’t let her her, holding the fork tighter as she continued down the row, moving each piece to prevent them from burning. His daughter’s little hand moved to grab the utensil again, and Lex lifted it away. “Ruby, this could burn you.”

“No,” She stomped a foot against the stool, and Alexis gave her a pointed look. “I wanna help.”

John took another sip, swallowing it quicker this time. “Ruby.” He said sternly, scolding her once. The little girl turned around then, pouting at John. “Lex said no.”

The whine left her throat as she stepped down off, walking towards him. “But I wanna help.”

“Well, Alexis said no,” He mumbled, taking another drink of his beer before he put it on the counter so he could lean over and pick his child up. She was still pouting at him, but she didn’t challenge him again, hugging her face to his shoulder, defeated and embarrassed.

He watched Lexie sigh, turning away from the stove top to see them now. She pushed a smile onto her lips at the sight of them as John hugged Ruby to his chest. John understood the look as it happened frequently with a three year old. She wanted to help but she wasn’t able to yet, her reflexes still not quick enough to move from the hissing meat. Alexis had been with her since she was born, but she still hated being the one who had to scold her and disappoint her so John usually handled it for her.

“Hi John,” She reached her her glass of water beside her, taking a sip, “How are you?”

“Tired,” Alexis sent him a smirk and he blushed. “How are you?”

She repeated the same word back and John didn’t want to ask why, avoiding last night’s actions at all costs. He didn’t need another moment like he’d had in the car ride and especially not with Alexis. Although she’d found him in plenty of compromising positions before, this was worst than that. There was guilt in this action that related to Ruby.

“Thank you again for being in the wedding again, John.” She leaned down, pulling another pot out from one of the cabinets. “It really means a lot.”

“S’not like your fiancé left me much of a choice,” He spoke over his daughter’s hair. She was still tucked into his shoulder, seeking whatever amount of comfort she needed for the time being.

There was a shift in her movements suddenly as she stepped across the room to the pantry, “What do ya mean?” Alexis asked from behind the door. She steped back out a moment later, the familiar blue box in her hands. He jostled the girl in his arms now, mumbled her name over into her ear.

“Look at what Lexie’s making.” He spoke. John waited as she shifted in his arms reluctantly lifting her head from where it rested in the crook of his neck. She twisted around with a smile, knowing the sound of the shaking noodles within the cardboard.

Alexis shook it again. “You can help me after I cook the noodles, okay?”

Ruby nodded, pushing at John’s shoulders to let her down. “Can I watch?”

The girl moved across the kitchen, climbing back up on the step stool. Alexis pushed the stool over a bit, putting space between his daughter and the stove, and Ruby giggled, leaning against the countertop as Alexis put the pot of water on the stove. John reached around, grabbing his forgotten beer. Lex was explaining to the girl what she was doing, how she was waiting for the water to boil before she could pour the noodles in. Ruby watched the water from where she stood and Alexis twisted back to face him, still waiting for his answer.

“Guilted me into it,” He simply shrugged, watching as Kennedy crossed the room, following the same path he took the the fridge. “Isn’t that right, Ken?”

His friend mumbled from behind the door, emerging with the same beer John grabbed and twisting it open. “What?”

“You guilted me into being in the wedding.”

Kennedy nodded, moving to the side of the room Alexis was on, giving her a quick peck on the lips. “I just told him he owed it to you, after all you’ve done.”

Her jaw dropped and she swatted at his chest. “You did not use that card.”

“He’s always using that card,” John interrupted, and Kennedy turned around to send him a glare.

“Well, you don’t owe me anything, John.”

Relief flooded over him. “So I don’t have to be in the wedding?” He was almost smiling, waiting for the answer.

Alexis turned around again as Ruby tugged at her sleeve. “Not yet,” She smiled at the girl. When she turned back to see John, she shook her head at him. “Too late. I already ordered the ties.”

Both of them smirked at him, ignoring the groan that left John’s lips.
♠ ♠ ♠
Sorry about the wait. I just finished up the first draft of my senior thesis this morning, so it's been a crazy two weeks! End of the semester's always so crazy!
John's just a heap of problems, huh? And Lex and Kennedy are my favorites!
What do you guys think? I'd love to hear your opinions so far.
The next chapter's almost done so yay!! Once I'm done with school, I hope I'll be able to update more frequently.