Chapter 6.11

Liam

The Murdicks showing up was like someone popping a balloon. Everyone got uncomfortable, made excuses, and vanished.

That left me staring at my ex. I was so angry, I couldn’t say anything to her. What the fuck? Why was Mala here, ruining my party? It was a cool thing for Mom to do for me and I was having a blast. I wanted to scream for her to get out of my life for good but nothing came out.

So, she broke the silence. “I-I’m…um…sorry, Lee Lee. For everything.” Were there actual tears in her eyes? And what did that mean? Did she want us to go back being friends?

“Yeah, okay, you’re sorry.” That sounded dickish, but hell, I wasn’t in the forgiving mood. Especially since she ran off Ginny and the others.

“I mean it,” she continued, “I shouldn’t have gotten so mad at you. I know you have to help your mom out and I was being selfish. I truly am sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me?”

She rested her hand on my arm and I flinched. “So I’m just supposed to forgive you like you weren’t fucking inhaling Oliver Treadstone’s face yesterday?”

Her eyes shut. “I was just so mad. I went to the beach with some of my friends and a little part of me wanted to get back at you. I just…I don’t know…”

I was like a box of gunpowder thrown into a fire. I exploded. “So whenever you’re mad at me you’re just going to go fuck someone? That’s not how it works, Mala. Not ever!”

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she drew back. “No…I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? How do you think that made me feel, Mala? Because you were in your bedroom with him and who knows what you were going to do? I just…” God, I had to get control of myself.

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t sleep with him, Liam. Honest. I wasn’t even planning on it. I knew once I kissed him it was wrong and I was going to stop, but you…”

I drew away, looking at her hands. Those were my girl’s hands that loved to stroke my hair, my face, hold my hands at the movies….but…

How could I ever trust her again?

Slowly shaking my head, I said, “I can’t deal with this shit. It’s over. I can’t just worry that if we get into a fight you’re going to cheat on me. It’s not going to happen again because I won’t let it. I’m done.”

At that, she whimpered, putting her hands to her face. Watching her cry crushed me, but my mind willed me to be strong.

Turning away, I told my legs to keep going. Walk to your room, Liam, and never look back. She wasn’t worth it. She’d cheat again.

But her sobs pierced me. I knew I couldn’t leave her like that.

Did I really want to chuck everything away because she made one mistake? Wouldn’t I want her to give me another chance if it happened in reverse?

We’d made so many plans together. I wanted to marry her. Spend the rest of my life with her. My parents said I was too young to think like that but sometimes you know when a person is right for you. I didn’t want to be with anyone else.

So, I turned back, wrapped my arms around her and whispered, “Shh…it’s okay, baby. Don’t cry. I forgive you.”

She bawled even harder, shaking in my arms. “You do, Lee Lee? Oh, God, I’m so happy.”

I spent the next fifteen minutes calming her down and wiping her tears.

******

James

After a delayed flight and a messed up uber call, I finally made it to Brindleton Bay.

Home.

There was nothing better. I’d missed my family so much. I hated being away from them.

Immediately, I was greeted by my sweet baby daughter and my son, Zack.

“Daddy?” Brandy looked up at me with those big green eyes. Got me right in the heart.

“Yes, baby girl. I’m home!”

She charged at me making me feel one hundred stories tall.

I whisked her up and kissed her cheek. “Have you been a good girl for Mommy?”

She nodded like her head was going to pop off. Then she said in her cute voice, “I missed you!”

“Aw…I missed you, too!”

Zack hopped over to me and said, “I thought you weren’t coming home for a week. Glad you’re here though.”

He jumped into my arms and squeezed.

I answered, “I wanted to come home a little early as a surprise.”

Next, my stomach gave a little jolt. Liam’s face accused me of doing something wrong. I knew I’d been away a little longer this time because of the movie offer and there was some negotiations going on with my agent. I couldn’t give them a definite yes until I talked it over with Lex. But deep down in my gut, I knew her answer, although I thought she’d love it since I’d be playing her very favorite Vindicator character, Robotron. According to Liam, I’d messed up. Badly.

I gave a slight smile. “Hey, son. How are you? Got a hug for your old man?”

He grabbed me and patted my back. He was such a good kid. I couldn’t be prouder of him. “Thanks for taking care of your mom while I was away.”

He said, “Yeah, sure. Anytime.”

When I caught Lexie’s eyes, she looked down. She was upset with me. I knew it. But I didn’t know how to fix it. It seemed as if we were two ships driving hard but toward two totally different shorelines. It’d been that way for a very long time. I always swept it under the rug, not wanting to deal with our issues, and she did the same thing, but it looked as if we couldn’t do that anymore.

Liam’s face fell. “I-I’ll…uh…get Brandy to bed. Okay?”

He snapped at Zack to follow him. Zack whined until he looked at both of us then he raced up ahead of Liam. I waited until the kids were safely upstairs. I didn’t want them to hear us fighting.

Locking my eyes onto hers, I said, “Hello, babydoll.”

I braced myself for what she was going to say.

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Chapter 6.10

Liam

I was miserable. It was like someone kept punching me in the gut and there wasn’t any way to stop them. I kept seeing Mala kissing that asshole over and over in my mind and then my eyes would water and…shit. I couldn’t take this. I needed to get some time to myself. Usually on Sundays, I’d spend it with my siblings, playing with them, watching a movie or going to the dog park with our little puppy, Dolly. But I didn’t feel like doing anything. So I slept in until noon, ate a little, played on my keyboard and now, I got on my trunks, wanting to lounge at our pool in the backyard. By myself.

“Hello, stranger,” Mom said, noticing I’d been hiding out in my room all day.

My siblings were playing quietly, but I got a pang like I should be helping. Dad still wasn’t home. Next flight, my ass.

“Going swimming?” she said in a weird, perky way. Mom sometimes over did things to compensate for what was going on wrong around her. If she felt like crap, she’d throw on an over the top, happy smile which did the opposite in making anyone feel better because we knew it was an act.

“I was thinking about hanging out back but if you need help, I can stick around. Does Brandy want to eat? I’ll whip something up for supper.” Mom hated to cook. Even mac and cheese.

She threw me a plastic, Barbie smile. “No, bud, I got this. I’m the mom. Remember? You go have fun. Stop worrying about me.”

But catching a few rays didn’t help the awful, heavy feeling in my chest. I tried to distract myself on simstagram, but then I scrolled to Mala’s to check up on her.

She didn’t post anything since I stood her up yesterday. That was something. And she didn’t wipe me from her pictures. I whipped through the whole two years of who we were as a couple. My eyes blurred. What the hell? Did she not see how perfect we were together? I’d do anything for her. Did anything for her. Would that douchebag, Oliver, run back to school to get the books she’d forgotten to bring home? No way. But I did. So many times, I was picking up the purses she’d left or her cell phone she’d abandoned on counters at a store, a restaurant, the mall. I’d make sure she got to her piano practice on time–even if we were hot and heavy in her room. I did it all. Just for her. And she didn’t care.

She hated my guts.

And now, she was probably at the lake with that sorry piece of shit…God! Why did I care so much?

I hated myself for not ditching my mom and taking Mala to the beach like I’d promised. If I had, everything would be normal. She’d probably be here right now nuzzling my neck while I held her smooth, awesome body in this pool.

God, I’m such a jerk.

“Aww…looky at our mascot,” I heard one of my friends, Drew Hoff, say above me. “So serious. This is not allowed. Not on a gorgeous clear day.”

I squinted and saw him, Kaden Vargas, and Kai Kaluah, looking at me. And they were dressed in their swim suits. How’d they get the message I was brooding in my backyard?

“You know, your face will stay that way if you’re not careful,” Kaden said, his sunglasses glinting at me.

“I think he needs a dip in the pool,” Kai challenged. “That float is mine.”

This perked me up. Nothing like my best friends to clear my head. “Come on, dude. What are you waiting for? I bet your ass is in the water before mine.”

“Seriously?” Kai laughed. “You’re on shaky ground, my friend.”

He kicked my float, shoving me backwards. “Oh noooo!” I yelled.

I splashed into the water. My friends jumped in with me.

“Take that, losers!” I hollered, splashing them as hard as I could. Drew got the brunt of my onslaught.

“Dude! Chill! I’m not the one who launched your ass in the water.” Drew held up his hand, but I kept pummeling him with sheets of water.

“Boys. They’re sooooo predictable,” a girl’s voice rang out above me.

I stopped splashing immediately and looked up to see six gorgeous girls all dressed in slinky swim suits. Had I died and gone to heaven?

Three of them were my friends’ girlfriends–the ones standing. Carlee Langosta was Kaden’s. Justine Hawk was with Drew, and Ally Michaels and Kai had just made it official last week. The other three (who were stooped by the edge of the pool) were their friends: Rosalin Owen, Ginny Malcom, and Destiny Hoff (Drew’s sister).

“Why didn’t my boyfriend tell me he was having fun at a party?” Drew’s girl, Justine complained. “I had to hear it from Ally. Her boyfriend was kind enough for the invite.”

Ally put her hand on her cheek in a coy way. “I’ve got the best one of the bunch, girls. I’m sure you’re sooooo jelly.”

“You’re right, Justine, Drew is an awful boyfriend,” Drew’s sister, Destiny, moaned, making a face. “Why don’t you dump him?”

Ignoring the sibling rivalry comment, I asked, “Party? What’s going on?”

Drew snorted. “Surprise! It was your mom’s idea.”

“Now stop wallowing, Liam, and start having fun. Okay?” Ginny shot me a look. It was like I saw her for the first time. Big blue eyes or were they green? Long, shiny auburn hair. Cute as hell freckles. Rocking body. Had she always been this pretty or had I been in a cave this whole time and didn’t notice?

I arched an eyebrow at her. “Oh…you haven’t seen wallowing yet. I’m the owner of the wootube channel, Heartbroken Anonymous. You should check it out.”

She giggled, showing that trademark gap in her front teeth. I’d seen her smile in math class like a gazillion times, but why did it look so cute right now?

“Listen,” Kai waved his hand up at Drew’s girl, Justine. “I don’t want to be the reason for another break up. Drew was going to tell you.”

“Honest, babe,” Drew said. “Come here and let me make it up to you.”

“There’s only one way you can do that,” Justine said. “Come here and rub my feet.”

“After you play a round of chicken,” Drew countered.

I laughed. They’d been a couple for over a year and it showed. Although Justine liked to think she was in charge, Drew always got his way.

So, I found myself with Ginny Malcom’s legs surrounding me as I flung her at Justine.

“That’s it, Liam!” Kai cheered. “Way to make the most of Ginny’s arms!”

“Time to give up, Hoff. Ginny’s a fighter.” I didn’t know it, but she actually was!

She clasped onto Justine’s hands like a boa constrictor. “Help me out a little here, Liam!”

“On it!” I swatted at Drew’s head as I charged forward.

“Not fair, dude!” Drew yelled, struggling with the weight of Justine on his shoulders. Dude was way stouter than I was but I had a tiger on my team. “Just stay back!”

“Might as well give up, Justine. You’re about to go down!” Ginny pushed Drew’s girl hard.

“Oh my GOOOOD!” Justine howled. I watched gleefully as they plunged backward into the water.

“Way to go partner!” I slapped Ginny’s hand.

“Woop! All right, Team Giam!” Kai hollered.

“Ooooh, sounds like a ship name to me,” Ally cried. “I’ll board.”

My stomach plunged at the thought. I was still smarting from Mala. No way in hell was I going to get into another relationship no matter how hot Ginny was.

Just then I realized Ginny’s arms were wrapped around me. “Good job pushing Justine,” I said as my cheeks burned. “Didn’t know you were such a bruiser. Remind me never to make you mad.”

“You weren’t so bad yourself. Hitting Drew on the head was a stellar move.” Her lips were so close, it made me uncomfortable. I pulled her arm away.

“Hey! What was that for?” she cried, splashing me with water.

“I don’t bite!”

“That’s what happens when you cheat!” Drew called out to us.

“They didn’t cheat, babe. Liam’s just stronger than you.”

She looked up at me with a sexy gaze. Holy shit. What was she doing to me right now? I totally didn’t need to get tangled up with another girl. My heart was already mincemeat. A bleeding, bloody mess.

But damn. I didn’t know if it was the sparkle in her gorgeous green eyes or the pink in her lips but I couldn’t stop looking at her. And there was a moment like the world had stopped and it was just me and Ginny.

Ginny Malcom.

A girl I’d never even glanced at in math. She was always the gangly, studious teacher’s pet I knew growing up. Not this sex goddess making my head feel like it was stuffed with pillows.

And then my world shattered with the voice of an asshole.

“Uh…YO! Liam?”

I turned around to see the Murdick boys staring at me.

Dusty crossed his arms. “The party has just arrived. Where’s the food?”

Shit.

Mala came, too. And she was wearing the bathing suit I’d picked out with her at the mall only two weeks ago.

“Can we talk, Lee Lee?”

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Chapter 6.9

Liam

As soon as we got home, I booked it to Mala’s. Sure she was mad at me but I’d bet all the money I saved for my jeep that she’d cooled down by now.

I scrolled through how I was going to approach her. Wished I’d brought flowers but maybe that was a bit cliche. Begging. Dropping down on my knees. Pleading. Those were the things Mala liked. Yeah. Done that more than once but she was worth it.

I peeked through the door and saw no sign of her. Maybe she was in her bedroom.

Her brother, Uriah, came to the door followed by Dusty. Still hated their guts but they’d been decent to me lately. They left me mostly alone.

Surprise, surprise, Uriah stuck his hand out. “If it’s not the kid of the next Sarvel superstar. Let me shake your hand.”

Was there some snark behind that compliment? Uriah always gave me shit. “Cut the comedy, Uriah. Is Mala home?”

“No, I’m serious, dude. That’s like totally mind blowing your dad got a sweet gig like that.”

“So true,” Dusty said. This was the first time the guy did something other than smirk at me when I came over. “And to think we might become relatives if you and Mala get hitched.”

Hitched? I’d have to crawl out of the doghouse first. “Speaking of Mala, where is she?” I asked.

Uriah shrugged. “Dunno. Guess she’s in her room. Dusty and I just got home from working out. We haven’t seen her. But hey, come over any time, dude. Let’s hang out, okay?”

I did a double take. Uriah Murdick was asking ME, the biggest geeky loser, to hang out? (I think those were the terms he used for me the last time I’d visited.) He must have had a fever. Or caught the Flamer sickness. My Dad’s fame was already getting annoying and he hadn’t even accepted the job yet.

Uriah patted my back then took off for the kitchen. They guy could eat the contents of the whole refrigerator and then complain he was still hungry.

The door was open, so I peered in and…

I was blasted with the scene of my FUCKING girlfriend making out with Oliver Treadstone–a super popular dude from our high school.

“What the FUCKING HELL IS THIS?” I shouted.

They pulled apart like the guilty assholes they were.

“Oh, God, Liam. Why didn’t you knock? You know that’s rude.”

“How could you?” was all that came out of my mouth. My body was literally shaking and I felt like puking.

She looked away. “Y-You…made your choice. So…I’ve made mine.”

“Yeah, so get out of here, loser.”

“You couldn’t wait a few hours so we could talk?” I shook my head. Oliver was right. I was the most worthless loser on the planet. She just treated me like a piece of garbage.

Things didn’t get better when I got home. I wanted to scream, cry, punch things, tear my hair out, but instead, I got another face full of someone cheating. I was so sick of this shit! Didn’t anyone have any integrity anymore? I mean, come on!

Well, maybe cheating was a harsh word for what Mom was doing with Mr. Clavane. They were just talking and watching a movie.

But Mom hadn’t looked this happy in months.

I wanted to kick the guy’s ass right there but it wasn’t my place.

I could read his sneaky, wormy mind though. Since Dad was gone (and HE was in the doghouse like I was with Mala), this idiot thought he could sweep Mom off her feet.

But not on my watch. I had to do something about it. I certainly didn’t want my parents to split. And having Mom cheat? No fucking way.

I got up to my room, trying to figure out what to do. I mean, I didn’t think Mom would cheat but if things kept going like this, who knew what might happen? Mom was lonely and she was so miserable about what Dad was doing maybe half the world wouldn’t blame her.

There was only one thing I could do. Call Dad.

“Hey, Bud! How’s it going? This is a great surprise,” Dad’s cheery voice rang in my ear. “What’s up?”

“Nothing good. Do you know who’s sitting in the living room with Mom, watching a movie?”

“Hmm…her dad made a surprise visit?”

“Does Cory FUCKING Clevane ring a bell to you?”

I didn’t hear anything and then he said, weakly, “Her ex-boyfriend?”

“Yeah, so if you don’t want a trip to divorce court, I expect you to get your ass home. Pronto.”

“I know your mother. She’s just good friends with him. Always has been. You’re worrying over nothing, son.”

“Oh yeah? Want to bet? Because it wasn’t your shoulder she was crying on last night. She’s miserable, Dad. You should have seen her. And if you pulled your head out of your ass now and then and paid attention to your family, you’d know this. So, I’m giving you a warning and if you don’t want to listen then you’re a bigger asshole than the one who’s occupying your space on the couch next to Mom.”

I heard a scratchy sound like a moan. “She’s that upset, huh? No wonder she wouldn’t pick up when I called today.”

“Yeah. She’s hot. Like smoldering mad. I’d wear a teflon suit when you do come home. And a shield might help as well.”

“I hear you loud and clear, son. I’ll catch the next flight out.”

When I got off the phone, my misery overwhelmed me. My girlfriend cheated on me. My mom’s making goo goo eyes at her old high school boyfriend. And I had to threaten my dad to come home or lose his wife.

My life sucked.

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Chapter 6.8

Lexie

I felt like I’d magically teleported back thirty years. I couldn’t believe I was standing next to my high school boyfriend of ages ago.

“Lexie! Wow. What are you doing here?” Cory said. Why did he have those cute freckles still? Didn’t those go away with wrinkles and old age? And why the HELL did he look so damn hot?

But then my mind caught up to me and yelled. Hard. “Lexie,” it said. “You’re MARRIED! And to one of the hunkiest men alive, I might add. Sure, he’s never around anymore but that doesn’t matter. GORL! Wake up!”

Fumbling over my words as my heart beat out of my chest, I said, “J-Just taking the kiddos out for a fun, fantabulous Saturday morning at Freezer Bunny Park. You know what Freezer Bunny says. If you’re not hoppin’, you’re boppin’.” Oh God. I sounded like one of those goofy Simsney cartoon commercials.

“Hey, me, too! I’m here with…”

EEPS! So, Cory had kids? Well, of course. He probably had a whole football stadium full of them. And I bet he was the greatest father in the world, too, and his kids made him trophies that said, “BEST DAD” out of toothpicks or popsicle sticks. I noticed a little girl who was about three that was with him. Super cute. And a teen. I blurted, “You…uh…want to meet mine? They’re right over there. All three of them. I’m kinda proud, if I do say so myself, they’re the best kids on the planet. W-Well, next to yours, of course, since you probably think that anyway.” My mouth was like someone had detached it and it was going a mile a minute on its own.

“Sure. I’d love to meet them.” He was such a sweet person, exactly how I’d remembered. And he was wearing cute “Dad” shorts and a vest. Omg!!! WHY WAS I LOOKING AT HIM LIKE THAT? I had to get myself under control.

“Uncle Cory, who’s that?” A girl came up from behind him.

“Lexie, this is my niece, Aleyna,” Cory said. “Aleyna, this is Lexie Day. We used to go to high school together.”

And…he left out the part where we dated. Nope. We didn’t need to go there. Very smart thing since I’m a happily married woman. Um…well married anyway.

YIPES! Why did he have to have that cute blonde stubble on his cute chin? I so needed some sunglasses that blocked out EVERYTHING. You have a hubby, I chanted. And then a devil on my shoulder whispered, who doesn’t care about you. But I screamed in my head, You have a hubby, damn it!

“Nice to meet you, Aleyna,” I said. And then the devil on my shoulder asked him, “So…this isn’t your kid?”

His niece laughed. “Uncle Cory isn’t married and he doesn’t have children. But he likes to say we’re his kids. Right, Uncle Cory?”

Cory smiled. “That’s right.”

*******

Liam

“Who’s that, Lee Lee?” Brandy pointed at Mom talking to some strange dude.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe he’s the tickle monster.” Then I pressed my fingers into her tummy, making her giggle.

Mom walked up to us with a strange grin on her face. “Kids, I want you to meet someone.” I recognized Aleyna Cummings from school, but the old guy next to her I didn’t know. Maybe he was her father?

I nodded. “Hey, Aleyna. Long time no see…what…it’s been a day?” I had Aleyna in my computer class. I didn’t know her very well since we hung out in different crowds, but we’d been in school together for like forever.

“Hi, Liam. This is my uncle, Cory. Uncle Cory, this is Liam. He…He’s in one of my classes.”

The guy’s face and neck turned red which was weird. “Nice to meet you, Liam. You sure look a lot like your father.”

Ah…must have been a Flamer back in the day.

I did a head bob then said, “Yeah, I get that a lot, especially since Dad now does the acting thing.”

“Oh, Cory,” Mom squealed. “Do you see that bench over there? It looks exactly like one of those skateboards you used to have. Come look!”

Mom practically pounced on the poor guy and rushed him away.

Aleyna shot me a quick smile. “So…your mom and my uncle knew each other in high school it seems.”

“Really? That’s cool.”

And then silence erupted around us. I swallowed awkwardly and said, “SO…um…is that your little sister?”

Lexie

In the next fifteen minutes Cory and I didn’t shut up, filling each other in on the past eighteen years. I told him all about my kids and sidestepped my problems with James.

He actually lived in San Myshuno and was taking a vacation here in Brindleton Bay, staying at his sister’s house for the summer. His band, Surf’s Up, broke apart shortly after they’d made that first tour when The Heartthrobs split. They had a one hit wonder, but pressures of traveling (and their songs not doing that well) forced them to seek other options. He helped produce for a while and now, he just filled in as a background singer and an instrumentalist for many bands the record company he works for produces. He also painted instruments for side money.

“That’s so cool! I never thought you’d be an artist!” I gushed.

“You got me started. Art club?” Our eyes locked for a moment too long which made me a little uncomfortable. So, I started blabbing.

“WELL…remember when we were at the skateboard park and Wyatt Roth used the ground as his own personal kleenex? I thought he’d broken his nose!”

Cory laughed. “Yeah…poor guy. He wasn’t very coordinated.”

Thinking about how big Wyatt’s nose grew made tears come out of my eyes, I was laughing so hard. “Oh, God! And I thought you were going to bite it, too. I got so worried watching you sail over those skate pipes. Geeze.”

He had to wipe his eyes as well. “Yeah, I wasn’t going to tell you I faceplanted a time or two. You would have burned my skateboard.”

“Hee hee! You know it!”

“Those were the days, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said, loving the feeling of laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Hadn’t done that in a while.

After we’d settled down, the breeze picked up, swirling around us. Cory asked, “So, Lex…are you…happy?”

And that one question was like someone hitting me in the face. My eyes watered but not from laughter. I sniffed. “Yeah…sure…um…I’m happy.”

But Cory didn’t believe me. Although all those years had passed, I was still the same person–an incredibly AWFUL liar. He stared at me for a while, probably processing on how he was going to react. I prayed he wouldn’t say anything. Let me go in peace and leave my troubles to myself.

He sighed then dropped his head in his hand. “I have a confession to make. I came to Brindleton Bay on purpose. I was hoping to see you.”

My eyes narrowed. “To see me? Why?”

“I…read a magazine with James on the cover. Someone dropped it off. A coworker of mine. He was making fun of me for dating you back in the day. I got so mad, I hit the guy.” He shook his head. “You know I’m not like that but…anyway. I got fired because he was the producer’s son.”

I covered my mouth. “God, Cory…I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. “I’ll be okay…I actually have another company who’s asking for me to work for them, but I needed some time off. I couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking about you, wondering if you’re okay. According to the magazine, it’d said you and James were having trouble, but you know how those things are. I just had to see for myself. Are you okay? Is James treating you well? I know it’s none of my damn business and if you want to, you can tell me to go to hell but…”

He sighed. “You don’t know how many times I stopped myself from going to your door, though. So, I didn’t. And I wasn’t going to see you. But…well…here we are.”

I wanted to tell him that things were bad, but I couldn’t. I was married. I’d said my vows. Words of love. To one man. To James. And I knew I wasn’t ready to give up on us. But…then something Cory said just registered with me. “What magazine are you talking about?”

“It was in Simstar. You haven’t seen it?”

I noticed a magazine peeking out of the diaper bag he was carrying. I pointed. “Is that it?”

He nodded slowly. Swiping it out of the bag, I seethed.

Unbefreakingbelievable! It was happening all over again. James and me on the covers of magazines. And just like back then, I was the butt of jokes.

“How the hell did they know I wasn’t on board with him being Robotron?” I hissed. “I’d just found out about it last night.” They must have made the whole thing up or James let it out that he thought I wouldn’t like it. Who knew? But the more I’d read, the more it was obvious the paparazzi was here, spying on me. They got shots through my windows. I was going to have to beef up security. And probably was going to have to hire body guards again. What was he thinking with this?

“He’s going to be Robotron over my dead body!” I proclaimed like throwing a gauntlet. Too bad my husband wasn’t here.

But when James did get home, he was going to suffer under the wrath of Lexie.

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Chapter 6.7

Lexie

I felt like the worst mother on the planet. How could I have just left Brandy alone like that last night? But I was in total panic–like my marriage was crumbling right in front of me when James told me his news. I mean, he knew how I felt about his acting career. He fucking KNEW I hated everything celebrity stood for and yet he didn’t care. But I shouldn’t have let him get to me like that enough to ignore my children. Inexcusable. And like holy HELL it wasn’t going to happen again. I’d make sure of it despite what my husband did.

I sat Brandy down by her playhouse and walked over to my sons.

Crap. They were in a fight to the finish, racing cars on some video game. “Hey…Liam? Can I speak with you a sec? It’ll only be a minute.”

“Sure, Mom,” Zack answered instead. “He’s getting his ass kicked.”

“Language, Zack,” I said. Being “the Mom”, I couldn’t let cussing slide, although no one in this house listened, including me. I just hoped Brandy wasn’t going to get voted in her preschool as the one most likely to become a sailor by kindergarten. Talk about embarrassing.

I waited for a few minutes and watched Zack blast Liam’s car with a ton of turtle bombs. “Liam, Zack’s right. You’re getting your ass kicked. Now come on.”

“In a minute, Mom,” Liam said, mashing on the controller. “I’ve got one trick up my sleeve.” He hammered random buttons, and I wondered if he actually knew what he was doing. His younger brother was creaming him at the moment. Liam never was one for video games. That was Zack’s thing. When he was that age, you’d find Liam in a tree reading Henry Puffer for the thousanth time or playing with his wizard set in the backyard.

With a smirk, Zack’s fingers fluidly glided over the controller. “And that’s how it’s done.”

Zack’s car shot out a super blast, making Liam’s go out of control and off the side into an abyss. “SHIT!” Liam moaned.

Zack let out a scary laugh like an evil villain. “Muahahahaaaa!”

Liam

After my ass got wiped up and down the video track, I didn’t have an excuse to side step my mom. Honestly, I knew what she was going to say. And it was going to be awkward af.

She was going to talk about her meltdown last night. Apologize like she’d done in the past. And maybe give me some money. Money was cool. Lame talks were not.

She side-eyed me as I stepped toward her. Geeze. I really hoped she wasn’t going to give me the “divorce speech”. Wasn’t that supposed to be done when Dad was home so both parents could tell you how sorry they were?

I sunk into the cushion next to her, tempted to check my phone so I didn’t have to deal. Distraction was key when trying to avoid what came next in your life.

“So…it’s a nice day, huh, Liam?” Mom started. God. This WAS going to be the divorce speech.

“Okay, Mom, cut the bullshit. I know what you’re going to say. You and Dad are finished and we’re all going to divorce court. You want me to tell the judge what a crappy father he’s been while not mentioning the fact that you sometimes neglect all of us. Is that it?”

She looked at me like I’d just tatooed an alien on my face. “Uh…Liam. Your father and I aren’t getting a divorce. I just wanted to know if you’d like to come with me to Freezer Bunny Park. It just opened last week. You know that’s Brandy’s favorite show and I thought…you’d like to go to?”

“I can’t, Mom. I’m taking Mala to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch then we’re going to hang out with the gang at the beach.”

“Bring her along! I’ll pay for a Freezer Bunny plushie, too. Mala likes those. Right?” Mom had that hopeful look in her eye and with what she’d been through with Dad lately, how could I say no?

Lifting the side of my mouth, I yelled, “Let’s hop on over!” I cleverly quoted the stupid line Freezer Bunny always said in that preschool show. Weird thing. Most teens my age watched it too. I didn’t get it. My IQ dropped by 100 points whenever I saw it.

*****

In my bedroom, I grabbed my phone to call Mala, noticing her Simstagram notification. She tagged me in her latest selfie post: GOING TO THE BEACH WITH MY BAE. AREN’T I LOOKING SUPER CUTE??? #boyfrienddreams #beachboyfriend #arentyoujealous

God. Her heart was set on the beach. And I did promise. But this was for family. Hopefully, she’d understand.

I pressed her number and flicked the phone to my ear, tapping my foot nervously.

“Hey, sweet baby,” Mala cooed on the line, “what time are you picking me up? My butterflies have butterflies. I’m totally going to rock your world today.”

I swallowed. Hearing that was…too much. I wanted to tell my mom no and my girlfriend, hell YEAH! But…responsibilities. Adulting sucked.

“Hey…there’s a change in plans. How would you like to go to the best, newest, most spectacularly awesome park in Brindleton Bay? It’s on anyone who’s anyone’s bucket list. Not gonna lie, this IS your lucky day.”

She almost growled into the phone, “Tell me you’re joking.”

“Listen, my mom’s been having a hard time lately and so…she kind of needs me to be with her. Brandy can be a handful and Zack will be running off playing at the arcade there, so…”

“So, you promised to go with her? Liam August Sanderson-Day, you promised ME first. Or did you forget what you said to me yesterday? Was it all a lie?”

I pulled the phone away from my ear, she was yelling so loudly. “Um…no…? But I just can’t…”

“Yes you CAN, Liam,” she spat. “God! You let your mother manipulate you. When are you going to grow a pair and stand up to her! She’s a grown woman in her forties for God’s sake! She can handle a four year old at a fucking park!”

“I know…but…”

“Okay. Fine.” She cut me off. “You’ve done this to me for the last time, but I’ll let you make your choice. It’s either me or them. Got it, Liam? And if you’re not here by noon, we’re over!”

I winced when the phone went silent. What the hell was I going to do? Mom was in such a state last night, she needed me. And maybe I could talk her though her problems with Dad.

And the more I thought about Mala’s ultimatum, the angrier I got. Who was she to order me around? I mean, yeah, I’d bailed on her more than once lately, but I had good reasons. She was just being stubborn. And that was a weak threat anyway. She wouldn’t really break up with me. Would she?

Lexie

Liam had been quiet ever since he got in the car. He looked like someone had taken his whole collection of Henry Puffer gold edition books. “What’s the matter, bud?” I asked. “Are you okay? You didn’t have a fight with Mala did you? Is that why she couldn’t come with us?”

He looked away and shook his head. “No. We’re good. Don’t worry.”

But I did worry. I worried a lot. He was hiding something from me.

The park was so stinkin’ cute, I couldn’t stand it! And Brandy squealed all the way through it. It was freaking hard for me to keep up with her. I was so glad to have Liam here, although if it’d made trouble with Mala, I would have liked to know. He didn’t have to come. I’d just wanted to be with all my kids. Together.

Mala toddled straight to the make believe simulator. Liam turned on the pirate sim.

“You man the ship, Captain Brandy,” Liam said, in pirate speak, arching an eyebrow. “I’ll defend against ruffians!”

“You couldn’t defend against the pirate’s parrot,” Zack chided. I would have gotten onto him for that, but I loved their brotherly banter–something I never had growing up. My siblings were much too young. I was always the elder sister–almost like a parent.

Ignoring Zack as he walked toward the arcades, Liam laughed maniacally. “Ahoy! I think I sees them landlubbers! Captain Brandy! What should we do?”

“Walk the plank!” she cheered.

Those were the magic words. The sim placed cartoon images on Liam as he pretended to “fight off” landlubbers. So cute. I loved my kids so much. A niggle nagged at me, though, thinking James should be here to complete the scene…but…I wasn’t going to ruin this day with those thoughts.

“Arrrgh!” Liam yelled. “And don’t come back, ye shark bait!”

Brandy squealed and clapped. The sim’s engines whirred and Liam turned it off. “Let’s go slide. Okay, baby girl?”

She nodded and raised her arms to be picked up. God, Liam was so good with her. He was going to make a spectacular dad.

As he helped her climb the ladder, my mind strayed back to my husband. Look at what he was missing. Was his career that important? We had enough money to live on if both of us quit our jobs. I just didn’t understand. And living in Del Sol Valley was definitely not the same. I didn’t want my kids around all those celebrity snobs.

Ugh. My eyes started to tear up again. I felt trapped. Like I couldn’t get out of this hole James had created.

“Mommy! I’m coming!” Brandy broke me out of my thoughts.

“I’ll catch you, baby!” I said.

“Wee!”

“Got you!” I said, looking into her sweet face. If someone could die of cuteness overload, I’d be six feet under by now.

“Hey, Mom,” Liam called. “Let’s go to the other side of the park. I saw some cotton candy.”

“Want some cotton candy?” I asked Brandy.

She nodded and clapped.

On the way, I made them pose for some pics.

I’m sorry, but I had the most beautiful kids. But I guess Moms always think that.

“Mom,” Liam said, nodding. “The cotton candy is over there behind you.”

I turned around, looking for it.

And then my limbs felt like noodles and my mouth turned to cotton.

“Cory?” I whispered.

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Chapter 6.6

I walked in almost an hour late, cringing because I thought Mom would be at the door, fuming. Instead, I found my siblings playing in the middle of the living room. Alone.

What was Mom thinking? Yeah, sure, Zack was almost ten but if Brandy had found a random knife laying around and put it in a light socket, he wouldn’t even look up. The kid was that clueless.

“Hey, Zack. Where’s Mom,” I asked as I walked up to them.

“Upstairs,” he said. Still…he was a great big bro. I knew he’d rather be playing with his Voidcritter station than dolls.

“Up! Up!” Brandy cried, waving her arms.

Her face was so cute, I couldn’t say no to her.

Then she leaped into my arms and squeezed. “I love you, Lee Lee.”

When Mala called me that way back when, it was annoying, but with Brandy, it melted my heart. “I love you, too, baby girl.”

Standing, I couldn’t believe that Mom tried to get out of dealing with my siblings today. She’d never been this bad before. I remembered when I was a kid, she was always there, taking care of everything. But ever since Brandy was born, things had changed. I just didn’t get it. Sure, Brandy was a pain in the ass at times, but she was also adorable. And Zack was really smart. Some of the things that came out of his mouth would sometimes blow me away. I knew I never thought about thermodynamics when I was nine. But his brain was wired for science. Always thinking.

Instead of searching for her (because I knew Mom would be at her computer as always), I decided to start dinner. Grilled cheese again. God, I needed to start following recipes. I was like totally bored with the menu of a toddler.

As I carried Brandy into the kitchen, anger flickered. I was going to have it out with Mom. Someone needed to give her a kick in the ass. If Dad wasn’t here to call her out, I would. She shouldn’t neglect her kids.

I plopped Brandy in her chair and made my way to my own grilled cheese feast.

But then my mind spun. I mean, yeah, Mom chunked my siblings on me during the week, but she did spend time with them on the weekends. And it was unlike her just to ghost on us especially when I’d been late. “Hey, squirt. Did Mom say why she went upstairs?”

He shrugged. “She just got a phone call then ran upstairs. Haven’t seen her since.”

“So…she didn’t ask you to watch Brandy?”

Zack shook his head. “Nope. I saw her run up the stairs and so I figured I’d keep an eye on Brandy. You think something’s wrong?”

“No,” I lied. “I’ll go check on her later. Why don’t you eat that work of art I just made you? It took me tons of time slaving over that hot stove.”

“Yeah right.”

I wanted to bolt around the house to ask Mom what was up but Brandy needed to be put to bed.

I read her some bedtime stories. Her favorite–Simmy Tales. 

Then kissed her goodnight. I hoped she didn’t pull her stall tricks tonight. She usually asked for water fifteen times before she settled down.

But I got lucky and didn’t hear a peep out of her when I shut off the light.

I searched for Mom in her office but she wasn’t there. Then I went to the media room, the garden room, and even her bedroom. Nothing.

She usually never went into the game room anymore. It was kind of Dad’s hideout with his keyboard and his old posters of his Heartthrob days. Whenever we watched movies as a fam, we’d do it in the media room or hang out downstairs.

But I found her there. In the game room.

My heart jolted.

She was crying.

She didn’t notice me. I stood there bewildered, not knowing what to say. Did someone die? Something happen to Dad? What?

“Mom?” I squeaked out. “Are you okay?”

Wiping her tears, she just nodded and said, “Yeah, sure. I’m okay, Liam.”

I crossed my arms. “Did you know you left Brandy all alone? Don’t give me that bullshit, Mom. What happened?”

Tears trickled down her cheek. “Oh God! I’m sorry!” She sniffed, staring down at the floor. “Is she okay?”

“Yes, Mom. Zack watched her, thank God. I’ve fed her and put her to bed.”

“Thank you, Liam. I…um…I’m just…God. I’m the worst.” She wouldn’t look up at me. Just sat there, twiddling her fingers.

After a minute of her doing nothing–not owning up to what was going on, I walked over to the couch and she moved, making room for me. “What the hell, Mom? Tell me what’s the matter.”

And then I heard Dad’s voice. It was coming from the TV. He was nuzzling his costar. It was an old rerun. I had no clue why the hell it was playing. It was some kind of law that Mom never watched his shows. Especially ones where he was making out with the lead.

“Dad called,” she said. “He’s not coming home. Not for a while.”

My throat tightened. “Are you…?” I couldn’t even process it. Yeah, I’d thought they might split about a thousand times in my life, but I never thought they’d actually do it.

When she didn’t say anything, I forced myself to say it. “Mom, please tell me. Are you and Dad getting a divorce?”

Setting her jaw, she said, “He told me he’s trying out for the part of Robotron.”

I blinked. “Robotron? The kick ass robot slash dude from the Vindicators?” My heart sped up. This was a time for celebration if he got that part. Robotron was the coolest of all the Sarvel superheroes. And Mom LOVED that world. “That’s great news! Why are you acting like someone died?”

She shook her head, pulling into herself. “You don’t understand what it means. I’ve been trying my hardest to break out of that prison cell and now he wants to thrust us back into it. NO! I won’t do that again.” Her shoulders shook as she sobbed.

I rubbed her arm, not understanding what she was saying. “What prison?”

“Fame. It’s a prison. I won’t go back, Liam. I won’t.”

I’d heard from them about the glory days of Dad being a Heartthrob and Mom being some Velvet’s Secret super model. And yeah, some people were still fans now–especially for Dad since he had a show on Simflix, but they weren’t super famous. They were back in the day though–they splashed every cover of every magazine. Paparazzi stalked them. Guess it was a nightmare. I’d never experienced that since we lived in the country away from the limelight, and Dad toned down all his stuff. But it was obvious he couldn’t stay away for long.

Holding Mom, I said, “Maybe he won’t get the part.”

“He will,” she breathed into my chest. “He always gets what he wants.”

Holding her, I didn’t have the words to comfort her. I just rocked, wanting to make her feel better even though I couldn’t.

“I just wish…” she said then trickled off.

“You wish what?”

She sniffed then went on, “I just wish he wanted us.”

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