AN: I am so happy Nashville is being renewed for Season 5! I can't wait to see what the new showrunners and writers have in store for us.
I am still working on Long Road to Home, but this story comes first chronologically and I've been working on it for a while. This happens during the week in between episodes 418 and 419 while they are all still touring with Luke. Reviews are cherished!
In her short time back home, Juliette had discovered that when Cadence was tired she would knock out no matter where she was, whether it was the crib or her carrier or sprawled across Emily’s lap while her mother got her hair and makeup done before a set. The second night of the tour, the baby had slept peacefully in the travel crib set up in Juliette’s hotel room, completely unbothered by her mother’s steps as she paced the floor waiting for something that hadn’t happened. Hours later, Juliette finally gave up on Avery and climbed in bed, settling her body on the cool white sheets and blinking away tears as she stared into darkness. Her daughter sighed in her sleep, a teeny breath of air in the silent room.
Maybe he just needed more time, she thought as a tear burned its way down the side of her face. Maybe he just needed more time to think.
She found out soon enough the next morning that Avery hadn’t been doing any thinking. Not about her anyway. Not about anything she’d asked him to consider.
By the time that hellish day ended all she wanted was a hot bath and a dreamless sleep. She went to her dressing room immediately after stepping off stage, exhausted and mind weary with barely enough left in her to pick her dress up off the floor after she let it slide from her hips. She hurriedly changed her clothes and then bent over to grab the dress, the sequins coarse and heavy against her fingers. She threw it over the back of a chair and sat down, letting out a sigh as her eyes blurred with sudden tears. She hated it, but she couldn’t stop herself from crying, from breaking into tears any time she thought of what Avery had done. The way he’d done it. Finding out that he’d gone to Layla’s bed after everything she’d said to him was bad enough, but when she realized that he’d sent Cadence to her room for the night so that he could, when he had been so hesitant to allow her to have their daughter for more than a few hours at a time…she couldn’t reconcile that with the Avery she knew.
Her fingers trembled a little as she brushed the tears from her eyes. She had not expected him to welcome her home with balloons or flowers but she had hoped that they could start being friends again and maybe even work together. Foolish hopes. Avery didn’t want to be around her; didn’t want to talk to her and didn’t want her on the tour, even though it had been her gig to begin with. He could not have made that any plainer. Her husband, now ex-husband, who had loved her more completely than any man ever had, didn’t want her back.
Maybe it’s for the best, she thought. She had been repeating the words to herself for most of the day, anytime she thought of Avery and Layla writing together, singing together on stage and riding in the tour bus with Cadence. She squeezed her eyes closed, thinking that Layla would have more time with her daughter than she would.
She left the chair, walked to the dresser and grabbed a few tissues so she could dab at her eyes. It would do her no good to sit in her dressing room crying over it. Her tears wouldn’t change anything. She’d overheard the conversation between the two of them and though Juliette had at first suspected that Layla was using Avery in some way, she had to acknowledge her sincerity. She wasn’t manipulating him. Avery had chosen her. End of story. Juliette choked back a sob and pulled another tissue from the box.
There was a quick knock on the door and then Glenn stuck his head inside.
“Oh, good. I wanted to catch you before you left and remind you about the radio interview tomorrow in Charlo--” His words broke off as he noticed her wiping her eyes. He came fully into the room and closed the door behind him. He didn’t say a word, just walked over and pulled her into a hug. He’d had the same reaction earlier when she’d told him that he’d been wrong about music being the only thing between Avery and Layla.
“I’m sorry,” he said, patting her back lightly.
Juliette circled her arms around him and cried a little more, broken by the events of the day. Finally, she let out a sigh and stepped away. “I spoke to him earlier and he said he was happy so,” she shrugged. “After everything, he deserves to be happy.”
“But, honey, so do you,” Glenn said, putting his hands on her upper arms. “Look, I’m sorry that it didn’t work out with you and Avery, but you deserve to be happy too, Juliette.” He gave her a tight smile and put his arm over her shoulders, turning her towards the door. “Let me take you back to the hotel so you can get some rest.”
Juliette groaned. “I was so excited about the Oscars and now…”
“Hey,” Glenn stopped and faced her, waiting until she looked up at him before he spoke. “I know it hurts but don’t let this spoil everything else you’ve got going on. You’re back on tour, you’re healthy, and you’ve got Cadence. And me and Emily.” He added the last with a smile. “You’ve worked so hard for this.”
“I know,” she said. She blinked at him through the tears that she couldn’t seem to stop. “Do you think I don’t deserve him?”
Glenn wouldn’t lie to her. He’d told her that in the beginning, when she was just a scraggly, know-nothing kid with a big voice and even bigger dreams. He had promised her then that he would never lie to her. She knew his answer would be the truth even if she didn’t really want to hear it.
“No, I don’t think that, Juliette.” He gave her another small hug. “You’re going to be fine. Okay?”
She nodded and leaned into his shoulder as he escorted her from the room. “Promise?”
“I promise,” he said. “It might take a little while, but trust me on this.”
Glenn waited to open the door to his room until she had used her keycard in hers. She waved a goodnight as she pushed her door fully open and was surprised to find Emily and Cadence on the couch. Emily stood and Cadence struggled against her, wanting to be put on the floor.
“Hey,” Juliette said. “What are y’all doing here? Avery’s letting me have her again tonight?”
Emily shrugged, adjusting Cadence on her hip despite the baby’s wiggling. “I thought he might have said something to you.”
“No,” Juliette said. She took her daughter in her arms and kissed her cheek. “Hi, baby. Why are you awake so late? It’s past your bedtime, little girl.”
“She was asleep until she heard the door. I was just about to put her in the crib.” Emily crossed her arms over her chest. “How was your show?”
Cadence hugged her mother’s neck and laid her head on Juliette’s shoulder. “It was all right, I guess.” She pulled Cadence’s pajama shirt down to cover her back. “Luke sang Boomtown with me. I think it was a good show.” She stepped out of her shoes and kicked them to the side. “I’m just tired.”
“I can take her while you jump in the shower,” Emily offered.
“Nah. Don’t worry about it, Em. Only thing I want now is to go to bed.” She started towards the bedroom but then turned back to her assistant. “I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier.”
“It’s okay. I know you were upset.”
“I was, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.” She turned so the baby was facing Emily. “Say goodnight, Cadence.”
“Goodnight, sweet pea,” Emily said, patting the baby’s hand as she gave a tired wave. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”
“‘Night.” Juliette went into the bedroom as Emily left through the door that adjoined their rooms. She sat on the bed and adjusted the tired baby on her lap. “You want Mama to read to you? Let’s get your book.” Juliette reached over and picked up the copy of Goodnight Moon from the nightstand where she’d left it the night before. “This is Mama’s favorite too. Your grandma used to read this to me sometimes when I was a little girl.” Cadence yawned and Juliette kissed her daughter’s forehead as she opened the book to the first page. It wasn’t long before Cadence’s eyes fluttered closed as she fell back to sleep. Juliette finished reading the book anyway, rocking slightly as she held her baby.
She slid the book back on the nightstand and glanced at the crib in the corner. She knew Avery probably wouldn’t approve, but she decided to let Cadence sleep in her bed. She didn’t want to spend another night alone. Juliette laid Cadence down on the mattress and then pushed most of the pillows onto the floor in case her daughter rolled over. She got in bed and watched as Cadence’s chest rose and fell as she slept. She kissed her baby’s forehead, praying for such peace. She reached her hand out to turn off the light, then curved her body around her daughter’s.
She could feel the beginning of a headache creeping in at the base of her skull and her eyes burned when she closed them. Her day had gone from amazing to terrible in seconds but lying next to Cadence helped tremendously. She inhaled, taking in her daughter’s sweet smell. She appreciated any time she got to spend with her child, but couldn’t help wondering if Avery had only allowed her to have their daughter so he could spend another night with Layla. She wondered if he hated her that much. Or maybe he was just wanted to be with Layla that much. That was more likely, because it wasn’t like Avery to be overtly cruel.
She missed him. And it hurt that Layla had his kindness when he acted as if he could hardly stand to talk to her. Layla had his friendship when he treated her as if she was a nuisance that he had no choice but to deal with.
Her beautiful Avery had been so sweet from the very beginning of their relationship. Gentle and patient but unwilling to take any of her guff. That right there, that he wouldn’t let her run over him, had only made him more attractive to her. He’d looked out for her and she came to seek his advice. He was the first person she wanted to talk to when anything good happened in her life. Their relationship wasn’t like any she’d had before; he was her first real friend. She hadn’t meant to fall for him and when she did it came out of nowhere, bowling her over with the force of a gale. He was dating Scarlett at the time so she tempered those feelings as best she could until she just couldn’t help her heart anymore. And when he fell in love with her she knew it. He showed her in a thousand ways. Even after they were married, he didn’t often say the words straight out like she would, but his actions shouted what she already knew. She felt his love every single day.
He was her rock throughout the end of her pregnancy when she needed him in ways neither one of them anticipated. That horrible week she had insomnia, he stayed up with her every night. He made her warm milk with cinnamon (which had not worked), watched movies with her and read to her until he dozed off with the book in his hand and she didn’t have the heart to nudge him awake. They had walked around the block in the wee hours of the morning, her hand safely enclosed in his. The only way she’d finally been able to fall asleep was lying in his arms, his steady heartbeat thudding behind her.
When she went into labor, she was so thankful to have Rayna there. Would forever be grateful for her reassuring calm in the midst of everything, but it wasn’t Rayna’s hand she’d expected to hold as she gave birth to her daughter. Avery came in at the last, when the pain had left her nauseous and she was convinced that she wouldn’t be able to do it. His presence gave her strength and he had stood by her side, counting while she pushed and holding one leg while Rayna held the other. He kept telling her how good she was doing, how amazing and how strong and how proud he was of her. After hours of pushing, Cadence came in a sudden, slippery rush and a relived Juliette held their squalling daughter while Avery cut the umbilical cord. They both had tears in their eyes as they got their first look at their daughter before she was whisked away to be weighed. Avery took a step towards the baby and then hesitated, torn between going or staying by his wife’s side.
“Go with her, babe,” Juliette said, squeezing his hand. “I’m okay.”
She remembered how he’d beamed when he brought the baby back and handed her over. Rayna had called their daughter a “precious chunk” when she heard the weight and Avery said something about sea salt caramels. They had laughed but all Juliette could do was stare at the baby, at the beautiful new life she and Avery had created.
The next day she could hardly move without grimacing. Her husband was there, helping her out of bed and into the shower. She’d held on his shoulders, unsteady on her feet so soon after giving birth. “Sorry,” she’d apologized as she stood in a stream of warm water. “You’re getting wet.”
“Don’t worry about it, baby. Lean against me. I won’t let you fall.”
He bathed her, almost reverently, gently running a soapy towel over her body. That day, he’d told her he loved her numerous times. Once when he had kneeled down to wash her feet, cradling an ankle in his hand. He moved up her legs, to her thighs and hips. He said it again as he soaped parts of her with his bare hands, his calloused fingers tender as they slid between her breasts and over the skin of her stomach. He washed her shoulders, her arms, her elbows and wrists, her palms and the flesh between her fingers. She turned around and he held her steady with one hand on her hip while he squeezed the towel, letting soap run down her back. He kissed the back of her neck, sending shivers down her spine despite the warmth of the water. He whispered his love in her ear and then washed her hair with the same careful attention he had her body. Afterwards, she faced him and he cupped her face with both hands, tilting her chin until she was looking up at him. “I love you,” he said. His lips were trembling as if he were on the verge of tears.
Juliette forgot for a moment that he was still fully dressed and she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him a bit further into the shower with her. She wanted to tell him how much she adored him, how much he had changed her life for the better and how full of love her heart was for him and their baby, but she found the words wouldn’t come. He’d left her near speechless and it was all she could do to say, “Me too, babe.”
Avery wasn’t there for her to lean on anymore. Because of everything she’d done, he hadn’t been there to stop her from falling. And the person who had stopped her had died doing so. Knowing that she had been the cause of Jeff’s death weighed on Juliette like a heavy stone. The guilt was a constant, immutable thing and she didn’t think she would ever be able to forgive herself. She’d spent a lot of time wondering why Jeff had saved her and why she was alive and he wasn’t, when it wasn’t supposed to be that way. She was grateful for her life and for the second chances she’d gotten with Emily and Glenn. Avery was gone, but he had allowed her to see Cadence and to have another shot at motherhood. He certainly hadn’t had to, not since she’d signed away all legal rights to their daughter.
Juliette would never forget the day she’d signed the divorce papers agreeing to everything Avery had demanded. She could hardly hold the pen steady and had been crying so hard the words blurred on the page. She could vividly recall when the messenger came and how her hand hung in the air after the girl had taken the envelope from her. She’d signed away her family, the only thing she’d ever wanted. She was alone. Truly alone. And she knew right then that that would never change no matter how many people were around her or how big a crowd she played for. She didn’t want to live like that.
Juliette covered her face with one hand, trying to hold back her tears. She didn’t want to think of all that while lying next to Cadence. Her daughter deserved two happy parents. If moving on made Avery happy, Juliette reckoned she’d have to learn to live with that no matter how much it hurt. And for Cadence’s sake - for her own sake, she had to pull it together.
“We’ll be all right.” She smoothed her hand over her daughter’s stomach. “Mama promises. We’re gonna be all right, baby girl.”
Cadence woke up ridiculously early but in a playful mood. They lay in bed for over an hour as Juliette entertained her. She tickled her daughter’s feet as they played this little piggy and then itsy-bitsy spider; she wiggled her fingers over Cadence’s face as the rain came down. She started a game of peek-a-boo, pulling the blanket over their heads and then snatching it away. Her daughter’s giggles made her laugh and she wished she could just stay in and play with Cadence for the entire day. When it was just the two of them everything else seemed to melt away and she felt more herself than she had since she’d been home. Juliette pulled the covers away again and Cadence broke into a fresh set of giggles.
Emily knocked on the bedroom door before opening it. “Good Morning, ladies,” she said. “I ordered breakfast. We have to get a move on. The buses are leaving soon.” At the sound of her voice, Cadence rolled onto her stomach and crawled over her mother’s legs towards the edge of the bed. “Morning, sweetheart,” Emily said. She picked the baby up and sat her on her hip.
“Morning.” Juliette sat up and swung her feet to the floor. “Can you watch her while I get in the shower?”
“Thanks. I’ll be out in a minute,” Juliette started towards the bathroom. “And find her socks, please,” she called over her shoulder.
“J,” Emily said and Juliette turned around in the doorway. “When we get to Charlotte, I was wondering if you might want to go to the spa after your radio interview? Have a girls’ day?”
Juliette paused, only because she noted the concern on Emily’s face. “I don’t think so, Em.”
“You have to take care of yourself. That’s what Dr. Kitley said.”
“I know.” She had called her therapist on Emily’s insistence and the doctor had stressed self-care. She knew it was important, but didn’t feel like an afternoon at the spa would help her feel any better. If she had it her way, she’d get to Charlotte, do the radio interview and then end her day with a tub of ice cream and the biggest spoon she could find. “I’m not really in the mood for a spa day,” she said. “But thanks.”
They ate breakfast on the couch. Cadence had started out sitting between her mother and Emily, but had wiggled her way to the floor to play with her toys while Juliette and Emily leaned over to feed her spoonfuls of oatmeal and fruit. She pulled up on Emily’s leg and reached for her hand, babbling as she waited for her next bite of food.
Juliette broke off a quarter of a banana in her hand and offered it to her daughter. “Come here, baby girl. Walk for Mama.”
Cadence smiled and let go of Emily’s knee, rocking slightly as she found her balance. She reached for the banana and stumbled, toppling backwards on her bottom.
“So close,” Juliette picked her up and kissed her cheek. “So close, my little monkey.” She sat Cadence in her lap and handed her the banana.
“Won’t be long,” Emily said.
“I know. I wonder if I’ll even get to see her take her first steps.” She made sure the socks were snug on the baby’s feet. “I know it’s my fault, but I’ve already missed out on so much with her. I don’t really want Avery to miss it either but what are the chances of us being in the same place when she starts walking? He doesn’t even want me on this tour.”
Emily slid her empty bowl on the coffee table. “I think Avery’s trying to--”
“You know what,” Juliette interrupted. “I don’t even want to talk about him. It’s only going to make me upset.” She took a bite from the rest of the banana in her hand. “What’s my itinerary today?”
Emily sighed, probably at the sudden change of subject but she withheld comment. “Not much. Flying out to Charlotte at 10. Radio interview in the afternoon and then you’re done. Show’s tomorrow.”
“How long is the drive from here?”
“Three or four hours, I’m guessing. As a matter of fact,” Emily glanced at her watch, “I should probably get her to Avery soon.”
Juliette swallowed and sighed, looking down as her daughter ate the last of the banana. “I wish you could come with me,” she said, kissing the top of Cadence’s head. The baby picked up her mother’s phone from the couch and turned it over in her hands.
“Since you do have the night off,” Emily said slowly. “I know you don’t want to go to the spa, but we could still do something when we get settled in the hotel.”
“I’m not going to let you mope in your room and gorge yourself on a quart of rocky road ice cream.”
“I wouldn’t have eaten the entire thing,” Juliette said in a weak defense. Emily tilted her head to the side and looked at her. Juliette shrugged. “I wouldn’t have.”
“No moping. No ice cream,” Emily said. Juliette raised one eyebrow at her assistant but Emily ignored her. “We could go work out.”
“Work out?” Juliette considered. She hadn’t been in a gym in weeks but maybe that kick of adrenaline she got from an intense workout would jar her out of the funk she was in, at least temporarily. “You’re gonna have to keep up. I’m not going to slow down for you.” She warned.
“You won’t have to,” Emily said.
“Fine. Then I guess we’ll have a girls’ day after all.”
Cadence suddenly flung her arms open, throwing the phone in a wide arc. It crashed against the coffee table and then the floor. Juliette leaned forward to pick it up, groaning when she saw that the screen had cracked.
“I just got that replaced,” Emily said, holding out her hand for the phone. “If there was ever any doubt that she’s yours,” she quipped. “I think that proves it.”
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
When her jet landed, Juliette could see it was a rainy, miserable day in Charlotte. She stepped in a puddle on her way across the tarmac, splashing water all over her favorite pair of Louboutin boots which did nothing to help her mood.
Once they were checked into the hotel, Juliette tried to cancel on Emily, but her assistant wouldn’t hear of it.
“Nope. We had a deal. We’re going,” Emily said. “Be ready in 20 minutes.”
Juliette rolled her eyes, but dutifully changed out of her wet clothes and into a t-shirt and spandex capris. She knew Emily only wanted to cheer her up and because Juliette appreciated her assistant’s steadfast friendship, she forced all thoughts of Avery to the back of her mind, determined to enjoy her workout.
Juliette was used to exercising by herself. She liked it that way; the quiet helped her focus and she could lose herself in the movements of her body. But Emily started talking no sooner than they got to the gym and kept a steady stream of chatter going through stretches and sit-ups and crunches. Juliette was amazed, quite frankly, at how Emily could continue to talk without getting winded when she was breathing as if she were practicing Lamaze. It wasn’t like Emily to be so chatty and she assumed her friend was trying to distract her. That thought was the only thing that stopped her from telling Emily to knock it off. But the more her assistant kept talking, the more Juliette found herself actively listening.
They each got on an exercise bike and Emily told her about Gunnar’s bungled attempts to flirt when she would go over to babysit Cadence. She talked about her older brother who was in the Army and how much she worried about him. Juliette learned about Emily’s beloved aunt in Kansas who had practically raised her.
Juliette stopped pedaling and rested her feet on the floor. “I didn’t know you grew up without your mama.” She grabbed her water bottle and unscrewed the cap. “You never told me that.”
Emily shook her head as she stood from the bike. “Not without her. My mother is a flight attendant so her schedule is unpredictable. She did miss out on a lot but thankfully, my brother and I had Aunt Clara.” She motioned her head towards the treadmills. “You want to run for a little bit? It’s almost time for you to get ready for your interview.”
Juliette groaned. “Gimme a minute. My legs are a little wobbly.”
“We could do the kettle bells instead.”
“Hell no,” Juliette said. “You already almost killed me with that medicine ball thing.” She took a swig of water as they walked towards the machines. “I should just hire you as my trainer.”
“How many jobs would that be? Personal assistant, nanny, trainer…” Emily counted on her fingers as she spoke.
“Perpetual optimist,” Juliette said, dropping her bottle of water into the cup holder on the treadmill. “I should probably give you a raise, huh?” She started walking, then moved into a jog. “You are kicking my butt today though. I was teasing you earlier but I am seriously struggling to keep up with you.”
Emily smiled at her, her ponytail bobbing as she ran. “Probably all the skating.”
“What’d you just say?” Juliette used her towel to blot sweat from her forehead. “Did you just say something about skating?”
Emily nodded. “I said probably all the skating. You know I skate. I tried out for the Nashville Rollergirls before I interviewed with you, remember?”
Juliette jumped and straddled the treadmill, landing so her feet were on either side of the moving belt. “Are you serious?” She gulped air, waiting for Emily to admit that she’d been joking.
“Yes, I’m serious.” Emily stabbed at her machine repeatedly, slowing it down. “I broke my wrist in try-outs and didn’t make it. You don’t remember me telling you?”
“No, I don’t.” Juliette stared, completely slackjawed until Emily glanced back at her. “Were you any good?”
“I was.” Emily pushed the button on her machine, speeding up her steps as the treadmill started moving again.
“So if you hadn’t broken your wrist you might be playing for the Nashville Rollergirls right now?”
She watched as Emily shrugged, jogging now. “And you still play?”
“I had to stop when you were touring a lot, but I play every once in a while. I still enjoy it even if it’s just a pick-up game. I still skate as much as I can.”
“Well, all of this is starting to make sense,” Juliette muttered. She braced her hands on the machine so she could jump back on the treadmill. But she found herself giving Emily one more long look. Emily had worked for her for years; how could she not have known that her assistant was some sort of wiry roller derby goddess? What’s next? Was Bo going to reveal that he’d tried out for Nashville Ballet? Juliette burst into laughter then, thinking of her bodyguard pirouetting across a stage.
“What?” Emily asked, glancing over.
“Nothing,” Juliette shook her head. “I’m just - wonders never cease.”
Radio interviews had never been Juliette’s favorites. She hated the schmoozing and flirting and sometimes more that up-and-coming artists had to do to get airtime. She was a much bigger name than she had been the first time she’d encountered Bobby Delmont and she would never again be desperate enough to trade sexual favors for airtime but the game was the same. Radio personalities had other ways of getting what they wanted. In this case, a longer interview than she wanted to give.
Glenn had specified no questions about her love life, but of course the deejay slipped a few in anyway right near the end of the interview when she was relaxed and laughing and completely caught off-guard. Juliette clenched her fists under the table and pulled one of the tricks she’d learned from Rayna, who could have taught a masterclass in redirecting a conversation. She talked more about the tour and how excited she was about her Oscar nomination. She put on her best press smile and forced excitement into her voice but she was fuming inside.
Glenn held the door as she walked out of the station, already apologizing for the question the deejay had asked.
“Is that how this is going to be?” She asked as she marched towards the car. “Every single interview, questions about who I’m dating? Or who my ex is dating?”
“Sweetie.” Glenn put a hand on her arm. “Calm down.”
Juliette stopped short, her anger dissolving at his endearment. She felt tears forming in the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them away. “I’m sorry, Glenn. I’m just…this is hard enough without having to be reminded of it every time I turn around.”
“I realize this is difficult for you, but Juliette, that’s how it is with deejays trying to get the scoop for their audience. He doesn’t know anything about who Avery is dating.”
She shook her head. “No, he doesn’t know, but how long will it be before everybody else on the tour does? You know how gossipy these things can get. I have to go out on stage every night after they’ve just been up there singing into each other’s faces like they’re in love.” She sighed heavily and glanced up at the overcast sky, refusing to let the tears fall. “It’s humiliating, Glenn.”
“Juliette.” Glenn shoved his hands in his pockets. “I hate how hard this is for you but you’re going to have to find a way to accept it. There’s a lot more of this tour left.” He paused, a troubled expression crossing his face. “I’m starting to worry about you, honey. If being here is going to be too much, we can get you out of it. It probably won’t be without legal conseque--”
“I have to be here.” She interrupted. “Cadence is here.” She took a deep breath and reached for the door handle of the car. “I don’t want you to worry, Glenn. It just…sucks.”
“I know. I know it does.” Glenn held the door for her as she got in, then shut it and went to the other side.
“Bo,” she said, meeting her bodyguard’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Do me a favor please and stop somewhere so I can get ice cream.”
Juliette had finished a third of her ice cream when Emily knocked on the door separating their rooms. “Come in,” she said, placing another spoonful on her tongue. She sat back on the couch, pulling her legs up and tucking them under her.
“Got your new phone,” Emily said as she stepped inside. “Do you want to go out for dinn-- really?” She motioned towards the ice cream.
“What?” Juliette said. “At least I’m not moping.”
“No?” Emily gave her a pointed look. “You’re already in your pajamas and it’s 6:30.”
Juliette shrugged, licking the spoon clean. “Radio interview wore me out.”
“What happened?” Emily sat on the couch next to her. “You were in a good mood after we left the gym.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well. That didn’t last.” She leaned forward, putting the container of ice cream on the coffee table. “Nevermind. I don’t want to talk about it. What were you saying about dinner?”
“It’s looking like room service?”
“Probably. I’m not really hungry.” She took the phone from Emily and held it in her lap. “Glenn is worried the tour might be too much right now.”
“What do you think?”
“I’m not sure.” She shrugged. “I wanted to get back to work and I missed performing, but this is hard. I wanted to get my life back together not just for me, but for Cadence too. Of course I love Avery and I miss him incredibly but I wanted Cadence to have her family back. My post-partum and everything that happened destroyed her family. And that kills me,” she said, her voice breaking over the words, “because she’ll never know how happy we were. I don’t want her to ever think any of this is her fault. Me getting sick or her parents not being together. I don’t want her to think she ruined everything just by being here. I know what that feels like and I was hoping I could fix it for her…but I can’t.” Juliette leaned her head back on the couch and closed her eyes. “And I already know what you’re going to say, that maybe it’s for the best.”
“I wasn’t going to say that at all,” Emily said, touching her arm. “I am going to say that right now Cadence has both of you. She’s got her daddy and her mama and she’s the happiest baby I’ve ever met. Yes, one day you and Avery will have to explain what happened but that is years down the road. It’s not ideal and I know it’s not how you wanted it to be but she’ll still grow up knowing her parents love her.”
Juliette turned her head so she could look at Emily. “Thanks.” She smiled slightly. “I’m sorry I’ve been in a mood. You didn’t sign on to babysit me and my kid.”
“No, I’m babysitting you because I care about you. This is one job I don’t mind doing for free.”
Juliette looked at the woman sitting next to her on the couch, hoping her face didn’t give away what she was thinking. She could count the number of true friends she’d had on one hand with fingers left to spare. Of course there had been scores of people who she thought were her friends, especially after she gained some traction in her career. But they had never been interested in her, the Juliette Barnes who grew up in a filthy, cramped trailer in Alabama. Emily was one of the few people in her entire life who truly cared; who had seen her at her worst and hadn’t run off. And Juliette felt a rush of shame for all the things she hadn’t known about her friend. She had no doubt that Emily had shared her history before, but she hadn’t paid any attention. It wasn’t as if she felt that Emily was beneath her. Quite the opposite actually. She envied Emily’s thoughtfulness, her patience and the dogged way she had of always looking at the bright side of things. But for years, she’d taken her assistant for granted. She thought about what Avery had asked her, why she had such a hard time admitting that she needed people. Juliette hadn’t answered his question, but it was something she had always struggled with. And she wanted that to change. “You know, there was one job title we forgot earlier,” Juliette said. “Emily, you are my best friend. The only one I’ve ever really had besides Avery. And you are so much more than Cadence’s nanny. I’m so grateful that you were there for her when I wasn’t. If it wasn’t for you talking Avery into letting her visit me I might not have a relationship with my daughter at all. I really don’t know what I would do without you.”
Emily leaned over to hug her and Juliette wrapped her arms around her assistant’s neck. “J, you’re going to make me cry.”
“You ever think the Rollergirls would have been less trouble?” Juliette said as she pulled away.
“Maybe,” Emily said, smiling. “But if I’d have made the team, I wouldn’t have that sweet baby girl or her amazing mother in my life.”
“Thank you for trying to cheer me up today. I’m not sure what else you could have done.”
Emily grinned. “Well, I have bean dip and Fritos in my room but I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.”
Juliette chuckled and stood up from the couch. “I’ve got an idea.” She went into the small kitchen and poured two glasses of sparkling water. “I know it’s not wine,” she said, handing one to Emily before sitting back down on the couch. “But we haven’t done this is a long time.” She held her glass up. “Cheers.”
“To what?” Emily asked.
Juliette shrugged. “To best friends.” They clinked their glasses together. “And to that bean dip that you’re gonna get out of your room.”
Emily giggled into her glass as she took a sip. “Figured as much. I almost didn’t tell you.”
“But you did,” Juliette sang. Emily set her glass on the coffee table and went into her room and Juliette got up to take the half empty container of ice cream into the kitchen.
“Bean dip and she almost didn’t tell me,” she muttered the words to herself as she rinsed the spoon off. The utensil clattered in the sink when she dropped it and her hand froze on the faucet as she suddenly thought of how she almost hadn’t told Layla about Jeff.
After her talk with Luke, she’d decided to confess the truth and had been relieved to get it off her chest. But there was something about the conversation that bothered her. Something about Layla’s reaction seemed strange. Juliette realized that she didn’t know Layla well, but the entire exchange had been almost too calm, as if they were discussing changing the line-up of the tour. She had expected tears and both she and Layla had cried but…it was almost as if she wasn’t surprised. Juliette shrugged in the empty room, thinking that she had expected more devastation but she’d been wrong about Layla manipulating Avery and maybe she was wrong again. Perhaps Layla had been more upset than she’d let on. But Juliette couldn’t shake the feeling niggling in her gut, that there was something off about the whole thing. And the last thing Layla had said, that the confession didn’t change anything between them - that really worried her. She knew there was no love lost between the two of them, but Layla’s words seemed to mean more than that. Juliette had already thought that she might possibly tell Avery but she could only pray that he wouldn’t find out that way - in fact, that he wouldn’t find out from anyone what had happened.
She hoped no one else would ever find out what happened. She’d done enough to disappoint Glenn and she had no idea how Avery would take that news, if he would care at all or how it would affect his allowing her see Cadence. That was her worst fear, that once he knew the truth of how Jeff had died he would use it as a reason to keep their child from her. She didn’t want to believe that Avery would ever be so heartless, but he had already told her that he hated the love he still had for her and that he wanted to move on with his life. He might think it’d be easier to do so if she was out of the picture completely.
Panic rose in her chest as she turned away from the sink and she took a deep breath, trying to calm down. She couldn’t lose her daughter. No matter what, she could not lose Cadence again.
Emily walked back in the room with the bean dip and chips. “What’s wrong?” She asked, setting the snacks on the table. “J?”
“Nothing.” Juliette tried to play off her worry as she walked back to the couch.
“Something’s wrong,” Emily said. “You were fine a second ago when I left. I come back and you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Um,” Juliette sat down and grabbed the bag of Fritos. She opened it and put one in her mouth, stalling for time. She couldn’t talk to Emily about her fears of losing Cadence without telling her about Jeff. And telling Emily about Jeff would put her friend in the awkward position of having to hide the truth from both Avery and Glenn. If she told Emily to uphold the confidentiality agreement she knew her assistant would, but it wasn’t the kind of discussion Juliette wanted to have on those terms. She swallowed. “Yesterday, I questioned your loyalty between me and Avery and I’m sorry for that. I’ve always been glad that you guys became friends.”
“Okay,” Emily said slowly as she sat on the couch. “Apology accepted. Now you can tell me what’s really bothering you.”
Juliette couldn’t help but roll her eyes. There was no hiding anything from Emily; she was way too perceptive. She decided to be honest. “There is something, but I’m not ready to talk about it.” She paused. “I honestly don’t know when or if I’ll ever be ready to talk about it.”
“And you need me to respect that?”
Juliette nodded. “Please, Em.” She bit her lip, already feeling like she’d said too much.
Emily regarded her for a moment. “Okay,” she finally said. “But I’m here.”
“I know.” Emily’s phone chimed and Juliette watched as her assistant glanced at it and then frowned. “What?”
“Avery wants to know if you want Cadence tonight.”
Juliette’s eyebrows rose. “What? This is three nights in a row. Why didn’t he text me?”
“I spoke to him earlier and told him I had to replace your phone. He probably just thought you hadn’t gotten the new one yet. He says he wants to get some work done on Lay-
on the album.”
“Getting some work done on the album, huh? Is that what they’re calling it?”
Emily ignored Juliette’s sarcasm. “You want me to go get her?”
“Let me talk to him first.” She called, her heart pounding in her chest as the phone rang.
“Hey,” Avery said. “I didn’t realize you had your new phone.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I thought you would be keeping Cadence tonight.”
It took him a few seconds to respond. “I didn’t think you’d mind spending more time with her.”
“I don’t mind. Of course I want her, it’s just…” She shook her head, realizing at once that he couldn’t see her and that it really didn’t matter what his reason was for allowing her to spend time with their daughter. What mattered was that she would get to spend another night with her baby girl when a few weeks ago she’d only been allotted a few hours a week. “Emily’s on her way.” She nodded at her assistant. “Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he said. “But you’re welcome.”
“Bye.” She dropped the phone on the couch and looked over at Emily.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m good, Em.” She put on a smile. “It’s nothing my little girl won’t fix.” That, at least, was true. Spending time with her daughter was the best form of self-care that she could think of.
Emily left, and Juliette pried the top off the can of bean dip. Her assistant returned a little while later with Cadence in her arms and Juliette stood up, swallowing as she dusted her hands off on her jeans.
“Hi, Angel. How’s my baby tonight?” Cadence waved and held her hands out towards her mother, babbling a string of sounds that only she knew the meaning to. “I’m excited to see you too, baby girl.” Juliette took her daughter in her arms, laughing as the baby hugged her around the neck.
“He said she already had her bath.” Emily dropped the diaper bag on the floor next to the couch.
“I see someone’s got their pajamas on already. And Mama’s got hers.” She squeezed her daughter’s foot and then looked up at Emily. “Why don’t you get your pj’s on and we can have a slumber party? We could order a pizza.” She gestured towards to floor. “And spread a blanket out and watch movies. Isn’t that what girls usually do? I’ve never been to one.”
“Yeah,” Emily said. “That and talk about boys.”
“We’ll skip that part,” she said, looking into her daughter’s blue eyes. “It’s just us girls tonight.”
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Much like her mother, Cadence was an early riser. Even before he opened his eyes, Avery could hear her playing in her crib. He stretched out on the bed, squinting into the dim light of the hotel room and watched as she pulled her blanket over her face and then yanked it down. She repeated the action several times, giggling every time she pulled the blanket away. Once she bored of that she talked to herself, running through a string of consonants. Her little voice rose sharply as she pulled herself up on the railing and banged her hands against it.
“All right,” he said as he kicked the covers off his body. He shuffled over to the crib. “Good morning, Sweetheart.” He picked her up and kissed her temple. “I hear you. You want out.” Avery returned to the bed and lay back on the pillows with Cadence on his chest. He closed his eyes, hoping she would let him have a couple more minutes rest before he had to face the day. He hadn’t slept well. Actually, he hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night since he’d joined the tour.
The lack of sleep had caught up to him the night before and he’d been practically dragging his feet by the time he’d picked up Cadence from Emily’s room. She was already asleep anyway, whimpering just a bit as she had settled on his shoulder. He would have let her spend the night with Juliette, but she’d had their daughter for three consecutive nights near the beginning of the week. She wasn’t complaining but he didn’t want her thinking he was dumping the baby on her so he could have his nights free. Juliette didn’t know but he’d actually spent a couple of nights alone in his room, thinking until a headache blossomed beneath his eyelids.
He couldn’t help feeling that he’d acted impulsively. It was a good gig, being Layla’s producer and band leader, and he’d certainly needed the money but he regretted not putting enough thought into how touring would affect Cadence. It was difficult to keep her on a set schedule while traveling. Avery hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be, how much he would miss his baby girl when he was working long hours with Layla on her album during the day, performing at night and sometimes working on the album again after a show.
And then Layla. Avery spent a lot of time thinking about her. He liked her, but he’d had no intentions of starting a relationship with her for several reasons. She was his boss, technically. And he’d had enough of getting involved with the women who held some sort of power over him. Will. Layla’s ex-husband had come to be one of Avery’s best friends and even though that relationship was water under the bridge, he didn’t want there to be any awkwardness between the three of them. Then the whole situation with the tour and Juliette and Cadence…like he’d told Layla it was complicated. He knew Juliette didn’t like her and that she’d accused Layla of some pretty terrible things in the past, but Layla had been nothing but thoughtful and kind since he’d gotten to know her. And Emily’s words had made him reconsider everything. He didn’t want to Layla to think he’d used her. She deserved better than that. She knew about his history with Juliette and how much he’d been hurt and that hadn’t scared her away. Avery wanted to try a new relationship with someone who was less complicated than his ex. Someone who came with less emotional baggage.
Since they had tentatively started their relationship Layla wanted to spend every night together, and had even suggested they bunk together when they arrived in Richmond. He appreciated her eagerness, but he wasn’t ready to share a room and he had also begged off spending the night with her for the second time that week, which had not made her happy. But they would be together for most of the day, working on her album before the concert that evening. It’d be another long day for him and for Cadence, who would spend most of it with Emily.
Avery peeked his eyes open as his daughter pushed against his chest and sat up, her legs straddling his stomach. “Does Daddy have to get up now?” Cadence shook her head. “I don’t?” He chuckled as she shook her head again. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table. “Yeah, I do.”
He lay Cadence on the mattress. Avery yawned, blindly reaching behind him for a diaper on the nightstand. His hand bumped the table and the clock fell on the floor. “Damm-ng it.” He leaned over to pick the clock up and when he turned back around, Cadence had flipped over and started crawling across the bed. He caught her leg and stopped her before she reached the edge. “Almost got away that time,” he said, lifting her and laying her on her back. She twisted around, whining as he held her with one hand while fumbling with the box of baby wipes with the other. He handed her one of her toys to distract her. “At least one of us is full of energy this morning. Daddy wishes he could stay and play games with you, Princess. But we’ve gotta get our day started.” He fastened the new diaper. “Get dressed, get something to eat. Go to work,” he muttered. “But not you,” he said, as he stood her up on the bed. “You get to go play with Emily.”
“You’re getting it. Em-ily.” He stressed the beginning of the name, hoping that she would repeat it.
“Mmm-mamama.” Cadence dropped her toy and clapped her hands together.
“Yes, you do get to see your mama today.” He got up from the bed and tossed the dirty diaper into the trash can in the corner.
He knew her mother had some press things scheduled, but since Emily would have their daughter the entire day, he figured she’d see Juliette at some point. For his part, he’d seen Juliette here and there, usually as he left the stage after Layla’s set and she was getting ready to go on. If they did happen to see each other she kept her face schooled in a polite smile. She was a pro at that, keeping her real emotions hidden behind a mask.
Avery knew she’d been hurt by his rejection. For that he was extremely sorry. He wasn’t sorry for wanting to - needing to move on from the damage of their relationship but he regretted the way he’d done it. Instead of going to Layla’s room, he should have spoken to Juliette. He should have been honest with her. She was right about one thing. He was terrified of giving their relationship another chance. It was better for all of them that door be completely closed.
Avery had been successful in that, in shutting Juliette out. Now that he had started dating Layla, he knew his ex would leave him alone. He knew her. She’d already begged him for another chance; she wouldn’t ask again.
Juliette had asked him if he was happy and he’d said yes, but it wasn’t exactly the truth. He wanted to be happy and he believed he could be with a fresh start. Since that night Juliette had barely spoken to him and kept their few interactions limited to conversation about Cadence. He supposed he should be grateful. It had been what he wanted. Now he was free to move on and free to love someone else.
Avery knew nothing would ever be how it was with Juliette. He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to feel for another person what he’d felt for the mother of his child, the helpless, consuming love he had thrived in when they were together. Even the few nights when he’d seen her weaving through a throng of roadies, microphone in hand as she walked toward the stage - his heart dropped. He welcomed the sensation like he would an old adversary. In the time that she’d been gone he thought those feelings had died, replaced by anger and disappointment and sadness and a myriad of other emotions that surfaced when he thought of her, none of them pleasant.
But when she showed up on Gunnar’s porch, radiant as a morning star, he’d felt that familiar tug in his heart. Avery realized he had no defense against the hold she had over him. He tried to hold onto his anger but even that didn’t last. She was trying to make things right. For their child, that was a good thing. Cadence deserved her mother and now that Juliette was healthy there was no reason for them not to have a relationship. But he couldn’t give his ex another chance. Pain inevitably followed the loving and he wouldn’t survive another blow like that. Juliette would hurt him. He knew she would. She always did.
Avery searched through the Cadence’s suitcase and pulled out a small pair of pants and a soft yellow shirt. “All right, baby girl. Let’s get you dressed.” He taken a few steps towards the bed when someone knocked on the door and he turned around to answer it.
Layla gave him a bright smile when he opened the door. “Hey,” she said. “I was hoping we could have breakfast together.”
“Sure,” he agreed. He let her in, giving her a quick kiss as she walked inside.
“Great. I thought it’d be nice to start the day off since we didn’t spend last night together.”
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her comment. “Layla, I told you Cadence was tired last night. I was tired.” He walked around the bed to the nightstand and gave Cadence her pacifier.
“I know,” she said. “But I have a bed in my room and I can get a crib in there too.”
Avery sat down on the bed and pulled Cadence’s pajama top over her head. “We can’t spend every night together.” He smiled as he said it but he was serious. He wanted this new relationship to work. They’d gone from friends to lovers too quickly and he wanted to slow down so they could build on their friendship. “And you’ll have us all day tomorrow on the ride to Indianapolis. It’s almost ten hours so…” He let the rest lapse as he put his daughter’s arms through her shirt.
“I can’t wait.” Layla sat on the edge of the bed, watching as he finished getting Cadence dressed. “I can watch her while you get in the shower.”
He hesitated at the offer. His daughter was friendly, but she was getting to the stage where she was only comfortable with people she knew and she hadn’t spent a lot of with Layla. Sometimes she would go to her no problem then other times she would cry if Layla attempted to hold her. “Maybe I should call Emily to come get her.”
“Come on, Avery. I’ve babysat before.” She walked around the bed to where he was and held her hands out for the baby. “You can go get dressed. We’re fine.” She leaned over and spoke to the baby. “Hey, Cady. You want to play with me for a while?”
Cadence shook her head and Avery laughed, knowing it didn’t mean anything. She shook her head at everything these days. But Layla shot him a sharp look.
“She has to get used to me,” she said with a bit of hurt in her voice. “We’re together now.”
“She will,” he said. He stood up and carried Cadence to her crib. “I’ll just put her in her crib.” He sat the baby down and handed her one of her toys.
Layla sat on the edge of the bed facing the crib. “Okay. I’ll watch her from here.”
“I’ll just be a minute.” Avery quickly gathered his things and went into the bathroom. He turned the water on in the bathtub but then twisted the knob off, thinking that he could hear his daughter crying. He opened the door open and listened but didn’t hear anything. He left the door cracked during his quick shower, peeking his head out from behind the curtain every now and then.
When he came out of the bathroom, Layla was crouched on the floor holding one of Cadence’s hands as the baby stood, very shakily, on her bare feet. “Look,” she said excitedly. “She might walk.” His daughter smiled and waved with her free hand and pulled away from Layla so she could drop to the floor and crawl towards him.
“Hey, Princess.” He picked her up and tickled her, smiling as she laughed.
Layla stood. “She was just about to take a step before you came out here. I wanted to show you what she could do.”
“Maybe wait for me next time.” He sat on the bed and adjusted Cadence in his lap. “I want to see her first steps.”
“Oh, yeah. Of course.” Layla sat next to him, brushing her arm against his as he struggled to get socks on his daughter’s wiggling feet. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Don’t worry about it. You were just excited.” He turned Cadence around so she stood up in his lap facing them. “And next time you guys practice, make sure she has socks on. Juliette has a thing about her wearing socks if she’s gonna be on the floor.”
Layla shrugged. “No problem.” She reached for one of the baby’s hands. “I bet it won’t be long before she’s walking back and forth between us. Isn’t that right, Cadence?”
His daughter blinked, smiled and shook her head.
Avery sent Layla down to get them a table at the restaurant in the hotel while he took Cadence to Emily’s room. When he got to the 17th floor, he knocked on her door but she didn’t answer. He was about to call her when the door to the next room opened and Juliette stuck her head into the hallway.
“Hey. Morning,” she said. “We’re over here.” A smile ghosted across her face before she turned to their child. She lifted the little girl from his arms and fussed over her as she carried her inside the room. He followed behind, noting that there were three places set at the table. He didn’t see Glenn but it wasn’t the first time that week that he’d walked in on a team breakfast.
“Good morning.” Emily held a carafe of orange juice. “We were just about to sit down. I can get you something if you’re hungry.”
Juliette looked at Emily and then glanced at him. “Oh, I’m sure he already has plans,” she said, strapping Cadence into her booster seat.
“Yeah, I do,” he said, smarting from her words. “I’ll just leave her bag here.” He dropped the diaper bag close to the door.
“Say bye-bye, Daddy,” Juliette said, but Cadence’s eyes were on her mother and neither turned around to wave.
Avery left her room, shaking his head as he walked towards the elevator. He didn’t understand why he was bothered by what had just happened but he was, not that he could have or even should have eaten breakfast with them. He got on the elevator and pressed the button for the lobby, reminding himself that he had no right to feel anything in regards to who Juliette chose to eat breakfast with. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Avery could practically hear his mother’s voice in his head.
His stomach lurched a little, both from hunger and the speed of the descending elevator. He realized he was being irrational. Glenn and Emily were Juliette’s support system and he’d been adopted into the family when he got involved with her, but he wasn’t part of that inner circle anymore. It was silly for him to get upset at her comment, especially since there had been no hint of sarcasm in her voice. She’d said it as though it was a known fact and she was right. He did have plans; he was literally on his way to have breakfast with his girlfriend, the one he had chosen.
Avery leaned against the wall of the elevator even as it slowed to a stop. “This is ridiculous.”
The doors opened to the lobby and he could already see Layla rushing towards him, practically skipping. She reached for his hand and he allowed her to pull him from the small, cramped space into the lobby. He silently followed behind her while his thoughts floated a few floors above.
“Wait.” He stopped and pulled his hand away, flexing his fingers at his side.
Layla looked at him in confusion. “What? You changed your mind about eating here?” She motioned over her shoulder at the door to the restaurant. Her eyebrows furrowed under her bangs. “Avery?”
“I just need to wash my hands,” he said.
“Okay.” She nodded. “I’ll go in and wait for you.”
He found a bathroom and washed his hands twice, three times, then just let the water run over his wrists. The mirror stared back at him as he ran a wet hand over his beard, trying to clear his mind. It was more than breakfast. It was…Juliette. And this was exactly why he hated that she had rejoined the tour. Seeing her made him question everything, right down to the minutia of the inflection of her voice when she made a casual comment about plans that he actually did have. He wanted to be free of all of it - of being affected by her, of loving her, of not being able to get over her despite his best efforts. It just had to stop.
Avery wiped his hands on a paper towel and left the bathroom, resolved to let her go for good no matter what it took.
He was quiet over breakfast but it didn’t matter. Layla talked enough for both of them. She was excited about a few new ideas she had for her album and was ready to get to work as soon as they finished eating. Avery mostly listened, questioning a few things here and there. Her ideas were good ones and she had a clear direction of what she wanted her album to be. She’d been inspired by Jeff’s death so the majority of her songs were about love and loss. Avery could certainly relate to the theme but he didn’t consider it a sad album. It helped that she had such a powerful voice and he enjoyed working with her. She was great in the studio, willing to learn and keen to take his direction. But he was hoping to get a chance to work on his own music at some point. He had some lyrics bumping around in his head and wanted to get them down before they were lost.
“Ready?” Layla asked.
“And willing,” he said, smiling at her. He reached in his pocket to get his wallet and pulled out Cadence’s pacifier. “Dammit. I forgot to leave this for her.”
“Doesn’t she have another?”
“She does but she knows the difference.” He shook his head apologetically. “She’ll want it before tonight. I’m gonna run up there and drop it off.”
“All right. Then I’ll meet you in my room.”
She leaned in but he turned away, very aware of the fact that there were tour staff eating at the tables surrounding them. A look of uncertainty crossed her face and he squeezed her hand. “See you in a few.”
Layla headed out and he stayed and paid their bill. He caught the elevator, riding it to the 17th floor for the second time. Avery could hear his daughter crying as he neared the room and from the sound he could also tell that they were still in Juliette’s room.
“What’s wrong?” he asked when Emily opened the door.
She stepped aside to let him in. “She saw Glenn without his hair,” she explained.
“She freaked out.” Juliette stood by the bathroom with the baby in her arms, trying to calm her. “Oh, sweetheart. You’re okay.” She shushed Cadence, even as she turned to the open bathroom. “I told you to stop wearing that thing a long time ago, Glenn. She thinks that’s your real hair. You scared her half to death.”
From where he stood, Avery could hear the amusement in her voice.
“She did the same thing when she saw Gunnar with a hat on.” Emily said.
“Well, that just shows she has good taste,” Juliette rubbed circles on the baby’s back as she quieted down. Glenn came out of the bathroom, his usual coif back atop his head.
Juliette pointed at him. “See, baby. That’s your Papa Glenn. You know that guy.”
Avery watched as Glenn offered to hold her, but Cadence clutched her mother’s robe. Her eyes grew big as she looked at him, staring at his hair suspiciously as if it was going to fly off his head at any moment.
“Hey, kiddo,” Glenn said softly. “It’s still me.” She stared at him a few seconds more and then broke into a grin as if she’d just gotten the punch line of a joke. She reached for him and Glenn took her from Juliette and kissed her cheek.
“Aww,” Emily said.
“Look at that,” Juliette said, putting one hand on Cadence’s back and one hand on Glenn’s. “I love seeing you two together.”
“Hey.” The three adults turned around, looking at Avery as if they had forgotten he was there. He felt like an intruder. “I just wanted to leave her pacifier.” He handed it to Emily and left the room quickly, walking with purpose towards the elevator.
He got off on Layla’s floor and used the key card she had given him to open the door. She stood by the dresser, a notebook in hand.
“That was fast. I thought we could start--”
Avery strode across the room and took the notebook from her, tossing it on the floor. “I don’t want to talk about music right now.” He grabbed her around the waist, pulling her towards him.
She giggled, then wrapped her arms around his neck. “Okay, Tiger.” His lips crashed into hers and he urged her towards the bed, pushing her backwards until they both fell on the mattress.
Avery sat on the couch, writing while Layla showered. The sound of the water was muffled by the door, but otherwise the room was quiet. He needed that stillness when he was working. He’d learned that he worked best that way, at least with a draft of something new. He shifted on the couch, stretching his leg out as his pen scratched the lined notebook. The words were flooding out of him; he had trouble writing as quickly as he was thinking. Until he caught on a turn of phrase. Something in the rhythm of the words didn’t feel right and he went back to see if he could figure it out. Maybe if I rephrase…the bathroom door opened and Layla stepped out, her hair wrapped up in a white towel. She said his name and he put up a finger. He just needed a second to capture the thought. Sometimes his ideas were like teeny darting fish and if he didn’t get them solidified on paper he could lose them, lose his concentration.
She flopped down beside him, jostling his hand so that he scratched a deep line on the page. He could almost see the idea as it faded from his mind. He didn’t even hear what she was saying. Avery had mentioned it before, that if he was writing and he held up a finger she needed to stop talking and let him have a few minutes. It was something that Juliette had understood; Scarlett had understood. Even Marilyn had understood.
“Layla,” he interrupted whatever she was saying. “I was right in the middle of something.”
“Is it a song?” She asked. “About me?” She took the notebook from his hand and leaned back on the couch to read what he’d written.
He took it from her, setting it down on the coffee table in front of them. “Listen, I know I said this before but if you walk in on me writing--”
She gasped. “Oh, my gosh. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to break your concentration.”
“It’s okay.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Don’t worry about it.”
She folded her hands in her lap and moved a little further back on the couch. “Why didn’t you want to kiss earlier?”
He raised his head to look at her in confusion. They had just done a lot more than kiss. “What?”
“Earlier at breakfast. You pulled away. Are you…having second thoughts?” She looked down at her lap as if she didn’t want him to see her face.
“No.” He covered her knee with one hand. “No,” he said again, putting more emphasis on the denial. “Layla, I’m not second guessing anything. But I do think we should keep our relationship private.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s just keep it between the two of us for right now.”
“I mean away from the public eye. Of course we’ll tell our friends.”
“Why?” she asked again. “We’re celebrities. We can’t hide it.”
“We’re not really…” He decided to let that one go. Her definition of celebrity status was beside the point. “I don’t want to hide anything. I just want…” to be happy. The words almost spilled from his mouth but he stopped himself before he could finish the sentence. “I think we should wait a bit before an announcement hits the press.” He tipped her face up with his fingers and smiled at her. “Can we agree to that?”
“Sure. We’ll keep it private.” She returned his smile. “Can we get to work now? On my album?”
“Yes,” he said. “Let’s get some work done.”
Avery jolted awake on the couch, feeling disoriented as he opened his eyes into complete darkness. He blinked a few times until his eyes adjusted and he could make out the bulky outlines of the television, the coffee table in front of him, the bed and Layla’s sleeping form. He rubbed his neck, wincing as he turned his head. Layla had gone to bed soon after they got back to her room from the arena, leaving him to try and work on his song. He’d gotten stuck on a line or a phrase or maybe the entire song; he wasn’t even sure anymore. He remembered turning the lights off, hoping that the void of light and sound would help him get back into a creative space. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Hadn’t helped him earlier and he’d sat on the couch, basically counting Layla’s breaths as she slept. He must have fallen asleep, which wasn’t surprising considering how much rest he’d been missing the past few nights.
He glanced at Layla and then at the clock on the nightstand. Just after 2:00. Not that late and still plenty of hours for him to get some rest before he had to pick up Cadence in the morning. Juliette had texted and asked to keep her overnight since their daughter would be with him on the bus for most of the day. There was no reason to deny her request and then no reason to tell Layla no when she suggested he spend the night with her.
Avery got up and walked to the counter that passed for a kitchenette, turned on a light and rinsed a mug so he could make a cup of tea. He attempted to be quiet as he put the cup of water in the microwave to heat it and wished Layla’s hotel room had come equipped with one of the Keurig machines he’d spied in Juliette’s suite.
It might not have even mattered about the noise because Layla slept like the dead. At first Avery thought it was the tour, that she’d been experiencing the same exhaustion that he’d been suffering from the entire week but she claimed to be getting enough rest. He came to realize she was just a heavy sleeper and even though she cuddled after sex she’d eventually pull away, rolling so close to the edge of the bed he half-feared she’d fall to the floor.
Just something to get used to, he thought. They were still learning each other, still figuring out each other’s quirks. Layla liked to listen to talk radio in the shower and preferred her steak rare. She was considerate and he was very touched by her giving up her bed on the tour bus so he could be comfortable with Cadence. Not everybody would have been so selfless.
He took the mug out of the microwave and dropped a decaf tea bag in, watching as it bobbed a few times before sinking into the water. Avery let it brew for a couple minutes and then leaned against the counter and drank it straight, piping hot with no sugar. The black tea was almost bitter but he drank it anyway hoping it would help him get back to sleep. When he finished the tea he turned off the light, shucked his jeans and got in bed with Layla.
There was an expanse of space between them, a gap that made the bed seem larger than it actually was. He rolled so he was facing her and stretched his hand out until it brushed the hair on her pillow. Her hair was his favorite thing about her. Dark liquid strands, like his but infinitely silkier. He rubbed a lock of her hair between his fingers and then moved his hand away.
He willed sleep to come so he could be rested by the morning. For some reason, Cadence didn’t sleep well on the bus and he would need his wits to deal with her if she was fussy.
His phone rang, rumbling against the coffee table as it vibrated. Avery scrambled to toss the covers to one side and tripped out of bed, barely catching his balance before he slammed into the couch. Dread pooled in his gut when he saw Emily’s name on the screen.
“You better get up here,” Emily’s voice was rushed and uneven. “Cadence is sick.”
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
AN: My apologies. Last week was horribly busy or you would have had this sooner. I really enjoy writing from Avery's POV, even when he's doing things I DO NOT agree with. Reviews are always appreciated.
Avery’s knuckles had barely scraped the door when Emily opened it, ushering him inside. “She’s been throwing up,” she said, pointing towards the bedroom. “We can’t get her to stop.”
He could hear Cadence coughing and he rushed into the room, noting the vomit splattered on the carpet. Juliette was in the bathroom, holding their daughter over the toilet.
“She just puked again,” she said, lifting the baby upright. “That was the third time.” Cadence was like a limp doll. She laid her head on her mother’s shoulder and blinked slowly, a dull glint in her eyes.
“I don’t know.” Juliette wet a washcloth in the sink. “She was fine when we went to bed but she woke up crying and then she threw up. A lot. When I got up to yell for Emily she did it again.” Her hand shook as she wiped their daughter’s face with the towel. “I don’t know what to do, Avery.”
He felt an unexpected surge of sympathy at the quiver in her voice. He had experienced the terrifying helplessness when their daughter had gotten sick before but she hadn’t. “Juliette, it’s okay.” Avery didn’t want her to panic, knowing it wouldn’t help the situation. “Here. Let me see.” He took the baby, hugging her to his chest. “Hey, Princess.” He kissed her temple; she wasn’t warm. “No fever.” He said with a slight smile. “That’s good.”
“Yeah,” she said, wringing the towel in her hands. “Do you think it was something she ate? She had a bottle when I got here, but I made her formula the same way I always do. Maybe I got the measurements wrong?”
“It’s probably a virus or something, Juliette. It’s not your fault.” She bit her lip and by the way she kept twisting the towel, Avery could tell she wasn’t convinced by his words. “Listen,” he took his hand off Cadence’s back and squeezed Juliette’s shoulder. “Whatever this is, she’s gonna be fine.” She nodded and he turned his attention back to their daughter. “How’s Daddy’s girl? Not feeling so good tonight?” Cadence shook her head against his shoulder.
Juliette grimaced. “She might actually mean it this time.”
He followed her back into the bedroom and watched as she picked her phone up from the bed and shook it off. “I would have called you sooner but my phone was sitting in a puddle of vomit.” She poked at it, then sighed. “Seriously the third one that’s been destroyed since this tour started. Emily’s going to kill me.”
Avery glanced at the empty crib in the corner of the room. “So she was sleeping with you?”
She looked up from the phone. “Yeah,” she said sheepishly. “I think she sleeps better with me than in the crib.”
He nodded, not really surprised. Before the post-partum, Juliette could hardly stand to put their daughter down. He wondered if it was Cadence who slept better or actually her mother.
Emily appeared at the door, leaning against the frame. “Do you want to call the tour doc?”
“That might be a little premature,” he said. “She doesn’t have a fever. Let’s see how she does for a little while. Maybe she got it all--” Cadence interrupted his sentence by throwing up on his shoulder. Juliette hurried towards him and took the baby and Emily went into the bathroom and returned with wet towels. She handed one to him and one to Juliette.
He wiped at his shirt as Juliette sat on the end of the bed and peeled the soiled pajamas off their daughter.
“I think we should call him.” She ran the towel over the baby’s chest, then turned Cadence on her side when she started retching again. “Something’s wrong with her, Avery.”
“Okay, okay.” He gave up on cleaning his shirt and started to unbutton it. “We should probably go ahead and call,” he said with a nod to Emily. She left the room and Avery dropped his shirt in the corner, grateful that the T-shirt he’d worn underneath was still mostly dry. He sat on the bed and smoothed his daughter’s hair from her face. “I’m sorry, baby girl.” He looked up at her mother, noticing the tears in her eyes. “Juliette.” He reached for the hand that was patting Cadence’s back and held it still. “I know this is scary. But we’re gonna get through this, okay?” She closed her eyes and it took a fair bit of strength for him to resist wiping away the tears that fell on her cheeks. He squeezed her fingers instead. “We’ll get through it together.”
Cadence threw up once more, this time on Emily, while waiting on Luke’s tour doctor. Dr. Durham arrived not too long after their call. He was a little disheveled, but Avery appreciated how gentle he was with Cadence who was getting more and more upset each time she vomited. Juliette had managed to calm her down and the doctor examined the baby while she sat in her mother’s lap on the couch.
“I’m not a pediatrician but my guess is that it’s probably a virus,” Dr. Durham said. He rubbed Cadence’s arm before sitting up. “Did she get vaccinated for rotavirus?”
The doctor looked up at Juliette and her eyes widened. “I don’t…” She turned to Avery. “Did she?”
He could read her expression; the mix of concern and embarrassment on her face as she asked the question. And he knew what she was thinking, that she should have been able to answer the doctor’s question. She would have known Cadence’s medical history if she’d been there. It used to enrage him, the thought that she had abandoned them and left all of their daughter’s care up to him. But in that moment, Avery was unable to explain the protectiveness he felt towards her.
“Yes, she did,” he answered the doctor. He brushed his hand over Juliette’s shoulder, letting his fingers linger just long enough, hoping she’d be reassured by his touch.
“Good.” The doctor raised his eyes to look at Avery. “Usually the symptoms last for a week or so but since she had the vaccination, it shouldn’t be as long.”
“How long do you think?” Juliette asked.
“Hard to say, but about a day or so. Maybe a little longer.”
Avery ran a hand through his hair. His first thought was of Cadence and how she should have been at home and not in a random hotel suite, no matter how nice. Then he considered the tour and what a sick child meant for both he and his ex-wife.
Dr. Durham pushed at the bridge of his glasses. “If it is rotavirus, expect fever and diarrhea. It’s pretty common for kids to pick it up at least once.”
Juliette nodded at the doctor’s words and Avery hoped she finally understood that their daughter’s illness wasn’t her fault.
“It might be a mild case, if we’re lucky.” Dr. Durham shrugged and frowned as Cadence whimpered around her pacifier. “Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing we just have to ride out.”
The doctor left after instructing them to keep Cadence hydrated and to call again if she got worse. She was quiet when the doctor left, lying still in Juliette’s lap. Avery sat on the couch in the seat the doctor had just vacated and checked the time on his phone, just a little after 4:00.
“You should get some sleep,” Juliette said to Emily. “Doesn’t make sense for all of us to be awake.”
Emily had been standing behind the couch but she walked around it to face Juliette. “You sure?”
“Yeah. We might need you for reinforcement in the morning.”
“All right.” Emily kneeled and put her hand on Cadence’s leg. “Feel better, Peanut.” She looked up at both he and Juliette. “Holler if you need me.”
“We will.” Juliette glanced over her shoulder as Emily left the room and adjusted Cadence in her lap.
Avery watched as she leaned over and placed a kiss on their daughter’s forehead. “It’s strange to see her so quiet,” she said. “She’s usually talking and wiggling around.”
“She got that from you. The talking, I mean.”
“You think so?” She smiled faintly. “Maybe.” She glanced up at him and then back down at their daughter. “I am glad she got your hair instead of mine.”
“My hair?” He looked at her in confusion. “She’s blonde.”
“I mean that she got your waves instead of my wild curls. I used to pray about it when I was carrying her, that she’d be spared the frizziness and the hours of straightening it.”
He almost said what he was thinking, that he had always loved her hair in its natural state of unruliness, especially when it was long. “You used to pray about that? That she wouldn’t have your hair?”
“And that she wouldn’t stop growing at five feet.”
He shook his head because that was yet another thing he loved about her. “For some reason I was really worried about her having an extra finger. I had nightmares about it.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Really? Do extra digits run in your family?”
“No,” he said, rolling his eyes at the memory of the dreams he’d had. “I kept thinking how much harder it would be to teach her how to play the guitar.”
She smiled a little but kept her eyes on the baby in her lap. “But she was perfect.”
“She is that.”
She scooted a little further into the corner of the couch and cradled their daughter in his arms, fussing as she adjusted Cadence on her lap.
“You should lie down too,” he said before she got too comfortable. “Get a little rest. She hasn’t thrown up since right after we called Dr. Durham. Maybe we’re over the worst of it.”
Juliette protested a little, but he could tell she was tired and he only had to insist a bit more until she gave in and shifted the baby from her arms to his. He noticed that she quickly pulled away from him to stand. She went in the bedroom and came back out with two blankets, one of which she gave to him.
“There’s puke in my bed,” she explained, shaking the blanket out in front of her.
“You could sleep with Emily,” he suggested.
She shrugged. “I know, but I want to stay close in case you need me.”
In case you need me. He had needed her. He had needed her and she hadn’t been there. Avery didn’t say anything else as she turned off all of the lights except for one and curled up in the plush chair across from the couch.
“Goodnight,” she said.
“‘Night,” he said. “Or morning at this point.” He turned Cadence so she was lying on his chest facing the ceiling and covered both of them with the blanket. Usually she would have been squirming around on his lap, but she was quiet and still. He kissed the top of her head and could see her beautiful dark lashes (something else she’d gotten from Juliette) blinking slowly as she stared out at the room. She should be at home, he thought, once again struggling over his decision to join the tour.
If they’d been back in Nashville, she might not have even gotten sick and it would have been just another evening for the two of them. They would probably have been lying on his bed at Gunnar’s house as they were on the hotel couch, listening to music. He often put her to sleep that way, playing his favorite albums for her and explaining to her how much influence an artist or band had over a period in his life. When she was just a few months old she would lay there flailing her tiny fists in the air as he talked. As she got older, she sometimes joined in the discussion with her babbling. He thought she was expressing excitement over the music when he played certain songs for her because she would start waving her arms and kicking her feet. Avery had been pleased, thinking that she agreed with his musical tastes until he noticed she had the same level of enthusiasm when Will gushed to her about football.
He glanced down as Cadence’s head listed to the side. She had fallen asleep, leaving him awake and alone. Juliette slept in the chair, lying in a position that had to be uncomfortable. Avery remembered how he used to hold her the same way he was holding their daughter. When they had started dating they’d spent hours that way, on her couch or his, trading stories until the wee hours of the morning. An ease grew between them, a closeness he’d never had with anyone. He felt that he could share anything with her. She trusted him with the few good memories of her childhood and he told her about his difficult teenage years at home. She admitted that she’d grown up thinking The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was a romance. He told her that his grandmother had taught him to play the piano, drive stick shift and knit. They shared a bottle of wine or a pitcher of sweet tea, depending on the mood. Sometimes they wrote. Sometimes they would make love and end up on the opposite end of the couch from where they’d started. But most of the time it was just talking and cuddling. And laughter. There had been plenty of that.
Sleep edged in on him and he dozed, skirting the edge of consciousness. A memory floated up, one that he cherished but usually didn’t allow himself to enjoy. The day of their daughter’s birth he’d been a bundle of anxious excitement the entire trip to the hospital, praying he would make it in time and then when he had finally got there, he’d had to shift his focus to supporting Juliette through her labor. He only started to calm down when he first held his daughter and counted her fingers and toes. After Emily and Glenn left and the nurses were content to leave mother and baby to rest it was just the three of them. It was quiet in the hospital room; the newly named baby was swaddled in a receiving blanket and sleeping in a bassinet next to Juliette’s bed.
“I’m gonna lie down,” he asked, leaning over to kiss his wife’s forehead. “Do you need anything?”
“Just you,” she said, running her fingers down the sleeve of his denim shirt. “Sleep with me?”
“Juliette, there’s no way we’ll both fit on that bed.” He looked at the sliver of mattress on either side of her.
“Sure we will. I just recently lost a lot of weight,” she said, scooting nearer to the edge. “Come on.” She motioned with her head.
He rolled his eyes but pulled the covers back anyway. He had missed holding her the past two nights that he’d been on tour. She lay back on the pillow and he put his arm around her waist.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I’m only staying until you fall asleep.” He tightened his arm around her, knowing even as he said it that he would stay the whole night even though his ass was hanging dangerously off the side of the bed.
“Not for that. For her.” She carefully twisted around so she could see him. “For everything.”
The love in her eyes was almost palpable; a sweet haze that enveloped him, making his heart beat faster.
“Thank you for her,” he said. He sat up a little so he could cup her cheek as he kissed her. “Get some rest, babe. It’s been a long day. And please don’t kick me off this thing.”
“I’m not making any promises.”
Cadence’s screams jarred him out of the memory. He opened his eyes just as Juliette startled awake. She had barely stood when the baby vomited again. So much for her being over the worst of it, he thought.
There was no more sleeping after that. The diarrhea started right before daybreak. The diaper changes were odorous and explosive. After ruining five sets of pajamas, Juliette said to hell with it and they left her in a diaper, a loose towel wrapped around her. Cadence spiked a mild fever and refused to drink even water from the bottle, turning her head away any time it was offered. She cried when they lay her down to change her and so they took turns pacing the floor with her.
Emily, saint that she was, ordered breakfast for them before going out to get some Pedialyte and restock on diapers and wipes. He and Juliette drank cup after cup of coffee, nibbling on the food in between diaper changes, cleaning up vomit and trying to soothe their daughter.
Emily had returned and he’d just handed the baby off to her when his phone rang. Layla. He stepped into the bathroom to take the call.
“We’re supposed to leave soon,” she said instead of a greeting.
“I know.” He glanced at the mirror over the sink and gaped at his reflection. Bloodshot eyes, patchy beard, splattered stains on his shirt that were hopefully dried vomit. He hadn’t slept, truly slept in…yesterday? Day before?
“Well, are you going to be here soon?” There was a hint of a whine in her voice that grated on his nerves.
“No. Cadence is still sick and -” He broke off; he could hear the baby screaming through the door. “I need to get back in there. I’ll call you later.”
“Wait. What are you going to do? How will you get to Indianapolis?”
“I don’t know, Layla. I can’t even - that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now.” He didn’t think it was possible, but Cadence’s cries grew louder on the other side of the door. “I gotta go.” Avery didn’t wait for her response before ending the call and sliding the phone back in his pocket. He went back in the living room and relieved Emily, wincing as Cadence wailed in his ear.
Juliette came in from her bedroom, having just changed her clothes again. Their daughter had ruined two sets of ornate silk pajamas that he hadn’t recognized (or particularly liked). She’d pulled her hair into a tight knot at the top of her head and put on a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and socks. She moved a dirty towel out of her way with her foot and looked at the messy floor and the trash can which was overflowing with soiled diapers. “They’re gonna need a hazmat crew to come in here and clean this up.” She reached for their daughter, taking the crying baby from his arms. “Come here, Sweetheart.” She tried to coax Cadence into drinking from a bottle, but their daughter turned her head and cried harder.
“She has to be hungry,” Emily said. “But she won’t take it.”
“She has to,” Juliette said, passing the baby to Emily. “She’ll get dehydrated if she doesn’t drink anything.” She went into the small kitchen and grabbed a utensil from a drawer and offered Cadence the Pedialyte in a spoon. The child’s cries slowed to hiccups. “Please, baby, just take a little for Mama.” The baby opened her mouth a bit and Juliette put the spoon on her tongue. “Thank you, Angel.” She traded the spoon and bottle for her daughter. “You are such a good girl.” She nuzzled the baby’s cheek. “You’re gonna feel better soon.”
“The buses are leaving,” Avery announced, pushing his hands into his pockets.
She turned away from Cadence to look at him. “There’s no way,” she said. “Avery, I doubt we could make it to the lobby without some kind of explosion.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Please tell me you’re not planning on taking her.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’m just stating a fact, Juliette. What kind of an idiot do you think I am?”
Emily looked up from the Keurig at him and Juliette stopped pacing to stare. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to--”
“No,” he interrupted her before she could finish her apology. “I’m sorry I snapped. I’m tired but you didn’t deserve that.”
“Hey,” Emily spoke up. “You guys look like zombies.” She set a mug of coffee on the counter. “Let me have her for a while so you two can rest.”
“You don’t have to do that, Emily.” Juliette said. “Are you sure you want to take her on by yourself?”
“Yes.” Emily took Cadence into her arms. “You guys have been going all night.” She made a face then, glancing from Juliette to him. “You’ll have to share my bed though, unless you want to wait for housekeeping.”
Juliette didn’t even look at him as she tossed a, “Thanks, Em,” over her shoulder and headed towards her assistant’s room. Avery hesitated, but realized he could either follow her or pass up what might have been his only opportunity to get some real sleep. It was an easy decision.
Emily had a king-sized bed and Juliette had already settled on the left side of it when he walked into the bedroom. She’d buried herself under the covers and faced the wall and had probably already closed her eyes. Avery lay on top of the blanket on the right side of the bed and rolled away from her. He closed his eyes but sleep wouldn’t come despite utter exhaustion. He and Juliette had slept like that at the end before he’d left her to go stay with his parents in Ohio. Same sides, same positions.
When they had first started dating, Juliette slept as if she were used to being alone, her small body splayed and stretched out over the mattress. Avery was likely to wake up with a knee in his back or an arm flung across his neck. She calmed down as their relationship progressed, as if she just had to get it in her subconscious that he would be by her side. She stopped fighting him in her sleep and reached for him instead, sliding an arm around his waist or rolling over to press against him so her back was flush against his. Even when she was heavily pregnant and perpetually hot and restless, he’d find that she had moved close to him in the night, sometimes hooking one leg over his hip. All that changed soon after she had the baby. She would stay on her side of the bed and he’d have to scoot over, curving his body around hers and pulling her tight against him. He didn’t realize she had post-partum depression, but in hindsight, it was one of the first clues that something was wrong with her because it was completely unlike her to remain so far away from him.
Lying in bed next to her again was torturous, even if she was an arm’s length away. She was only an arm’s length away. Avery shifted uncomfortably as he realized he could smell her; the sweetness of her natural scent, beneath any perfume she may have been wearing. He couldn’t help but think of the tender strip of skin in the crook of her neck. His favorite spot. He would bury his nose there and inhale and then press his lips to her flesh and feel her heartbeat, her laughter rumbling through her.
That thought opened a forbidden door and he was suddenly assaulted by memories, images of them in bed together when they were doing everything but sleeping. When they were gentle with each other, playful or aggressive. He remembered how she would sometimes rouse him from sleep with her mouth. She liked to do that, she’d told him, because she loved the look of surprise on his face when he woke up.
Avery tore his eyes open. He was on his feet a second later before he could really process what he was doing. He couldn’t stay there. He wouldn’t get any sleep lying next to her. With one last glance at her, he went back through the door connecting the two rooms and met Emily’s eyes briefly before collapsing on the couch. “Can’t sleep,” he said.
Emily paced the floor with Cadence over her shoulder. “Really? Because you look like you’re about to pass out. I figured you’d be able to fall asleep anywhere.”
He chose to ignore the implication in her comment and stretched out on the couch, lifting his legs up on the cushions. He turned so he was facing the back of the couch and closed his eyes. Sometimes Emily reminded him of his sister. They both had a way of saying things by saying other things. There were times when he admired that skill set, but not when he was sleep deprived and thinking of his ex-wife in ways he shouldn’t. He forced all thoughts of Juliette from his mind and welcomed sleep, hoping she wouldn’t haunt his dreams.
Avery woke up with the distinct feeling of a hangover. His eyes were gritty and his tongue felt swollen and strange in his mouth. Housekeeping had come and gone and must have picked up around him. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, blinking repeatedly until the graininess under his lids was gone. By the light streaming in through the windows he could tell it was no longer early morning. His phone buzzed in his pocket signaling a missed call and he pulled it out just far enough to read the screen. Layla. Three missed calls. He heard Juliette’s soft chuckle behind him and he turned his head to look at her over his shoulder.
“Your hair is all over the place,” she said.
For the briefest of moments he thought she was going to run her fingers through his hair as she had done a hundred times before, but she moved her hand to place it higher on Cadence’s back.
He combed through his hair with one hand. “How long was I asleep?”
“About three hours. We took Cadence into Emily’s room so she wouldn’t wake you.”
“How is she?”
Juliette smiled and turned so Cadence could see him. “Better. Fever’s gone, she hasn’t thrown up in a little bit and she’s taking the Pedialyte from the bottle like a good girl. The diarrhea is still with us though.”
He nodded, trying to shake off the feeling that he was going to throw up himself. “Hi, Princess.”
She gave him a sleepy wave and he glanced at her mother. “Did you sleep?”
“A little,” she shrugged. “About an hour or so. Glenn came over to check on her before he left. He ended up flying out with Luke. I guess Layla has a radio interview before the show and he wanted to be there.”
Avery guessed that that was what those missed calls were about. “Did Luke find a replacement for you?”
“Last I heard, no,” she said. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I hate to leave him in a bind.”
“I know you do.” The phone started buzzing in his pocket. He pulled it out of his pocket, silenced it and set it on his leg. “But it couldn’t be helped.”
Juliette walked around the couch and sat down carefully, rubbing the baby’s back as she started to whimper. “Avery, you don’t have to miss the show. You could take my jet and come back tonight. She’s feeling a little better and Emily’s here with me.”
“I’m not leaving her here with you.” The hurt in her eyes was so plain his breath hitched in his throat and he realized how she must have taken his words. “What I meant is that I’m not gonna leave you to deal with this by yourself. It’s not that I don’t trust you with her. I told you we’d get through this together.”
“I know how important this job is for you.”
“She’s more important,” he said immediately. He was moved by her concern for his job. It couldn’t have been easy for her, encouraging him to go perform with his new girlfriend. “There will be other shows. I’m sorry that you’re going to miss this one. You always liked playing that arena.”
“I do love Indy,” she said. “And I hate disappointing my fans but I’m right where I need to be.” She smiled down at the little girl who was quietly sucking her pacifier. “She is the most important thing.” Juliette looked up at him. “We’ll get through this, right?”
He knew she wasn’t talking about Cadence being sick. And he noticed she’d left off the word together. She was talking about them, getting over each other, their marriage and their family. It was what needed to happen. He knew that, but it was still painful. Avery found himself unable to continue meeting her gaze so he looked at their daughter instead. “We’ll get through it as long as we remember to put her first.”
She gave a little nod and pressed her fingers to the corners of her eyes. His phone buzzed again and they both looked down. Layla again. Juliette sighed and stood from the couch. “I’ll let you take that.” She went into the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Avery allowed the phone to buzz in his hand a few more times before he answered. He could tell by the tone of Layla’s hello that she wasn’t happy and he apologized for being unavailable, but she wasn’t upset with him. She’d hoped that Juliette’s absence would mean that she’d get to extend her set but Luke had found a replacement.
“Jade St. John of all people,” she complained. “After she wouldn’t take me on her tour.”
Avery didn’t know anything about all that but he did know that Layla wasn’t ready for a full-length set. Her band wasn’t ready. She wouldn’t listen to reason and even though he was in a better mood after his nap, he didn’t have the patience to calm her down after dealing with his child all night. He wished her good luck with the interview and the concert and got off the phone. He slid it halfway into his pocket and then thought better and powered it down and set it on the coffee table.
Not too long after, room service came with a late lunch and he heard Emily telling Juliette that Luke had found someone to perform in her place.
“Jade St. John,” Emily said as she sat on the couch with Cadence. “I wonder how that happened.”
“They used to date,” Juliette said. “For like a hot second.” She poured herself a glass of water. “Luke told me about it.”
Avery took a huge bite from his turkey sandwich to stop his mouth from asking what else she and Luke had talked about before or after cozying up on stage together. It wasn’t his business.
“Kinda ironic that she’s the one who saves me, but she puts on a good show.” Juliette sat next to Emily and offered Cadence a piece of banana. “Is your appetite coming back, little girl?” Cadence took a small bite and then reached up and took the banana from Juliette’s hand so she could feed herself. “There’s my monkey,” Juliette said. “Mama told you that you’d be better soon.”
Sitting where he was, Avery could see his daughter smile at her mother and he exhaled in relief. She was on the mend. There were a few more messy diapers after that, but they were nothing compared to what they’d previously dealt with; no leaks, no need to change clothes after changing her.
The day wore into evening and once it was apparent that the baby was feeling better, Emily kissed her goodnight and went to bed. Avery continued pacing the floor until Cadence fell asleep and he laid her down in the crib in the bedroom. She slept for twenty minutes, just long enough for him to get comfortable on the couch and start dozing, then she was crying again.
“At least she’s not screaming like she was earlier,” Juliette said as she followed him into the bedroom.
Avery leaned over the crib and put his hand on Cadence’s diaper. “I think she went again.”
Juliette groaned. “I was hoping she was over it by now.”
“She might be.” He changed her on Juliette’s bed and she hovered by his side, hands clasped together as he unfastened the diaper.
“Please,” she said.
When they saw what was inside, he let out a sigh of relief and Juliette threw her head back and mouthed, “Thank God,” to the ceiling. He held up one hand so she could give him a high five. She went for it, but then they both seemed to suddenly remember the baby and tapped their hands together softly. Cadence took a little more Pedialyte but never fully woke up. It wasn’t long before Avery laid her back in the crib.
Juliette flopped down on the bed, throwing one arm over her head. Avery hesitated before lying down next to her. “Never thought I’d be so happy about a dirty diaper.”
“You know what sounds great right now?” She said.
She held up her fingers. “Four uninterrupted hours of sleep.”
“You know what would be even better?”
“Now you’re talking.” A beat of silence and then she lifted her head and looked over at him. “You think she’ll really sleep that long?”
His lips twitched in a tired attempt at a smile. “Don’t jinx it,” he said.
It occurred to him as he lay there, that Juliette had been the mother he’d always thought she could be. She’d been loving and patient with their daughter and had really taken on the lion’s share of her care, pacing the floor with Cadence until he or Emily pried the baby from her arms. He was ashamed for not considering how much she would miss their daughter when he accepted Layla’s job offer. Juliette needed to be with their daughter just as he did. It was a huge turnaround from how she’d been before she went into treatment.
Her hand was near enough to his that he could feel the heat radiating from her skin. His fingers jerked, but he didn’t reach out to touch her. “Hey,” he said. “I’m really proud of you for getting help.” He glanced over when she didn’t respond. Her eyes were closed and she snored softly. He turned his eyes back to the ceiling. Maybe it was for the best that it was left unheard.
Cadence cried out, breaking into the silence of the room. Juliette jumped and started to sit up but Avery put his hand on her arm to stop her.
“I got her,” he said, moving off the bed. He lifted the baby, patting her back as she snuggled into his chest.
“I think she just wants to cuddle,” he whispered. She settled as soon as he lay down in the bed and Juliette rolled over and put her hand on the baby’s back.
“I told you she sleeps better in bed,” she muttered.
Soon her breathing slowed and he knew she’d fallen back to sleep. They’d made it through. Together. Avery closed his eyes and as his mind started to drift he moved, accidentally brushing his fingers against the back of Juliette’s hand. He fell, finally, into a deep sleep that was more peaceful than any he’d had since joining the tour.