‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

thirty-six

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Jamie’s sigh crackles down the line, and I roll my eyes as my manager tries to figure out her thoughts. “Erin. You realise you’ve pissed off one of the top-ranked journalists for Alternative Press, right?”

“You realise I don’t give a shit, right?” Blowing out a breath, I tuck my phone between my ear and shoulder before I scoop Declan up into my arms. His squalling quiets immediately, replaced with happy gurgles. “Look, I meant what I tweeted. It was a horrible interview, and I refuse to feel bad about the potential backlash.”

“What did Jasper even ask that pissed you off so much?”

“He kept asking about my being a mother, implying my marriage was in danger because of the covers I chose to do, if I feel like my fans deserve better than what I gave them. He even flat-out asked if Niall ‘helps’ with the baby, as if I shouldn’t dare ask my husband to care for the baby he fathered. Oh, and how I juggle being a mom and a musician. He was a pretentious dick, looking at me and Amber all high and mighty just because I didn’t bother going to the interview all glam.”

“Erin...”

I sigh, rocking Declan side to side, and stare out the window. “Seriously, Jamie, I went in the best comfortable clothes I could find. It isn’t my fault my son has puked up on nearly everything I own except my lingerie.”

“Okay. I’ll sort this out, smooth the ruffled feathers. No more tweeting, alright?”

I cross my eyes and kiss Declan’s nose just to hear his giggles. His fingers grasp at my bottom lip, so when I acknowledge Jamie’s order, my words come out more like “Aw-why, Ay-ee.”

She hangs up first, and I let my phone tumble free. It hits the floor with a soft thump. Blowing out my breath, I stare at my child. My body slumps at the sight of his beautiful face. Any frustration I’ve felt since waking up to Jamie’s call disappears when I look into Declan’s eyes. Darker blue than his father’s, but still so comforting.

The fears from only two months ago crowd into the back of my mind, but they’re drowned out by the fact it has been nearly four months with this child and I haven’t damaged him. He’s thriving, healthy, and happy. Even if he does manage to steal my bed every night.

He nuzzles into my chest as I head downstairs to prepare a bottle for him. I don’t even feel guilty anymore that I couldn’t breastfeed him from the beginning. Dr Kimball, the wife, had assured me she hadn’t been able to do it with their daughter, either. And she’s now twenty-five and going for her Master’s in palaeontology.

“Yo, sexy mama, where are you?”

“Kitchen, now stop yelling.”

Amber comes to a stop in the doorway. I can only raise a brow at her outfit: dark slacks, a black blazer over a blouse that is somehow more yellow than the sun, and stilettos. “Any coffee in this bitch?”

“Sorry. Been busy this morning.”

“Already? It’s only half-seven.”

“Someone showed Jamie my tweets. Jamie rang me first thing this morning to chew me out. Dec woke up and decided he was hungry.” I shrug and lean against the counter, cradling my son to my chest as he drinks his bottle. “So here I am, severely not-caffeinated enough and already annoyed I got yelled at.”

“Jamie didn’t yell.”

“Well, no, but I could hear the motherly disapproval in her voice.”

Amber snorts, shoving the basket back into the machine. Silence floats through the room, blankets us in peace; it isn’t often we get these quiet moments together anymore. Ever since she agreed to be my personal assistant, everything has fallen to her shoulders. Now our time has been filled with schedules and appointments and meetings.

No more lazy hours on the beach or the hammock in my childhood backyard. No more gossiping as we painted each other’s nails. No more holding each other through heartbreak or horror films.

“Do you regret it?” I ask, and her head snaps up. Amber sets the phone on the tabletop, frowning. “Being my PA, I mean.”

“Definitely not. I mean, I kinda miss coming over just to steal that handsome man, but I get to hang out with you way more than I did before. It’s a nice trade-off, I think.”

“I just... I feel bad.”

“I don’t.” Amber sighs and reaches for Declan. I don’t hesitate to pass him over then head off to make a cup of coffee. “Speaking of calls from Jamie. Lesly and I talked this on my way over this morning. Jamie was supposed to talk to you about this, but evidently, she got sidetracked by her inability to ignore your tweets.”

“What’s up?”

“They want to consider touring soon. Like, within the next couple of months. They wanna make sure enthusiasm for your album stays high.”

“So I should decide whether I can leave my family for months or give up any chance of having this album not be a total flop.”

Amber blows out a breath and nods. She knows as well as I do that this is an impossible choice. My husband and son for my career? How could anyone make that decision?

“What should I tell them?”

“Tell them…” I finish off my coffee and set the mug in the sink. “Tell them I’ll do it.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Everyone’s been incredibly supportive and patient while I took my leave, so why not.”

And so I go on tour two months later. Unfortunately, this means communication with Niall is via text and video calls. I can only see my son in photos. I miss Declan’s first Halloween. We hadn’t had anything planned for it - he’s too little for trick-or-treating - but I’d still wanted to dress him in a little costume and have our friends over to have a relaxing evening together. Of course, it isn’t possible now.

I even miss Niall’s performance of one of his songs on the Late Late Show. I knew I couldn’t be with him before it even happened, but I certainly expected to watch the show the night his episode aired.

The only upside to touring is being able to be back in my element. Even during the worst of my anxiety, playing the music I created has always been a steadying comfort. A saving grace.

It’s a surprise, really, when Pete calls me a month into the tour. He is never the one doing the communicating - it’s always Jamie or Lesly. He’s too much of a pushover, but the women don’t let me get away with anything. The management company prefers he stick to ‘behind the scenes’ for that reason.

“You better have a damn good reason for interrupting my sleep,” I grumble even as I sit up. It’s barely half-three in the morning, and I’d only gotten to bed two hours ago.

“Hey, sorry. I keep forgetting time zones are a thing. I wouldn’t even call you right now, but this is urgent.”

“So spit it out, Pete Bo-Beet.”

He groans, muttering, “Why do I even bother representing you?” He continues at a normal volume: “As you know, we had to request permission from Patty Smyth and Don Henley for you to put the cover of their song on your album.”

“I know. I’m the one who had to beg like a dog for her manager to let me speak directly to her.”

“Can I finish?” At my huff, Pete tells me to shut up, but I can hear the smile in his voice. “Well, Don heard your cover.”

“And?” I ask after a long moment of silence.

“He wants to perform it with you. Live, onstage, in real life.”

“You’re fucking with me.” All exhaustion flees from my mind, and I bite back a squeal. “Pete, I swear to every god and goddess ever, if you’re lying to me, I will go to prison for your murder.”

“Not lying. He said he’ll be in Columbus when you get there, just gotta give him the green light.”

“Dude, the light is so green, it might as well be an enormous, shiny emerald.”

“Okay. I’ll let him know.”

“On one condition. We don’t tell Niall. I wanna be mean to him.”

Pete laughs and agrees, and I end the call. Covering my face with my hands, I can’t stop my laughter. Giddy, ridiculous. Ecstatic. Don Henley wants to perform with my band. Me. Me, of all people. I know I should tell the others. Owen alone will lose his mind when I do. But this is something I want to cherish for myself. Just for a little while.

Unfortunately, it is really difficult to hide a massive thing like this. Zach does a double-take as he steps off the bus two days later and stumbles to a stop. His abrupt halt sends the rest of us tripping over each other. He looks back at Owen, demands our drummer confirm what Zach thinks he’s seeing.

“Oh, yeah, Don’s gonna play with us tonight,” I announce as if I’m not blowing their minds.

Owen almost cracks my ribs with how tightly he hugs me.