John glanced up as Dominic came into the studio. He looked concerned for lack of a better word. John wouldn't say they were good friends or anything, but there were plenty of times like this week over the years when it was just the two of them. They talked. John knew, for instance, he'd lost his wife in a car accident years ago and never pursued marriage again. He was a first generation American to Italian immigrant parents. He was named after a saint.
"You have a phone call," he said politely. When he'd first started working for John he'd call him Sir. John quickly put an end to that. He didn't have him here to make some sort of statement about his financial status. He just didn't know how to cook and had too many rooms to take care of. He was still just a pretty regular guy. Or so he thought anyway.
With Claire living here John had thought about hiring someone else, but to this point hadn't gotten beyond the thought stage. Claire would be just fine if Dominic wasn't here. Well, she'd likely tell him to hire someone to come in and clean the house, but cooking she'd be good with on her own. He'd thought about it, but honestly he liked the man. He'd never had that before and so John realized he'd keep him around until or unless they started spending the bulk of their time in Chicago where having him just wasn't necessary.
"I'm busy," John said. Claire was gone on some business thing for the week so John was taking the time to write a couple of songs that had been niggling the back of his mind lately.
"It's your daughter," he said.
John wasn't sure when Dominic had figured out who Melissa was. He hadn't told him straight up, but he'd known. Then he imagined little got past the man. He also knew Dominic wouldn't gossip or sell their information to anyone. He was too proud to do something like that. Proud of his reputation. His families.
"She sounds … upset."
"Oh, all right," he said. He went into the part of the studio where the technical aspects of recording happened when they were working on their records. There was an extension in here. No phones in the recording studio.
Did Melissa not know Claire wasn't here this week? Maybe not. He figured the phone call wouldn't last very long once Melissa found that out. If she was upset about something he was pretty sure she'd want her mom.
"Hey," he said.
'Dad?' she said. John could hear instantly what Dominic meant. The simple word Dad came out sounding as if she'd been crying. Crying pretty hard, too.
'Can I come home for the weekend?'
"You can come here anytime you want. You know that. Your mom's not here, though."
'I know,' she said. She choked back a sob.
She did? And she still wanted to come here?
"All right," he said. He wasn't going to argue with her about coming here or not. Hell, he wanted her here. "You need me to get you a ticket?"
'No, I have the credit card Mom gave me in case of an emergency.'
"Okay. Use it. I'll clear it with your mom later. Give me a call when you know what time you'll get in and I'll be there to get you." He knew she wouldn't charge a few hundred dollar airplane ride ticket without good reason. She'd grown up without a care in the world for the most part, financially at any rate. She wasn't completely irresponsible, though.
"Hey," he said softly, mindful Dominic hadn't hung up the kitchen extension yet. He hadn't heard him walk into the room yet, either. He was probably taking his time to give them a chance to talk since she was upset. He was, John could admit, a pretty nice guy. "Everything all right? I mean, clearly it's not. Are YOU okay?"
'I will be. I just want you.'
"Yeah, sure. Anytime."
'Thank you. I love you.'
"Love you, too, Missy. See you soon."
He disconnected then and went upstairs.
"Everything okay?" Dominic asked.
"I don't know. She wants to come home for the weekend."
"And you agreed?"
"I couldn't say no to her. You heard she sounded upset same as I did. If she calls back and I'm out, get her flight information so I know what time to get her."
He wasn't really surprised he'd agreed, he was probably just making sure she was coming.
"Of course. I should go out and get some things she likes then."
John smiled a bit at that. Dominic liked Claire, but he really seemed fond of Melissa. Not in a creepy funny uncle way, just as a grandfather-type way. There weren't Pop Tarts or Eggo's in the house when she wasn't here. She liked other things, sure, but those were two things – among others – that were here strictly for her. She also liked oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips in them instead of raisins, and Dominic made those quite a few times over the summer.
She must have really needed something because here he was at the airport close to midnight that same night waiting for her to deplane. There were times being famous had its perks. Lots of times, actually. Tonight was one of them. They let him go through security and wait for her at her gate. He was pretty good at figuring out which in the TSA line would let him through.
He spotted her as soon as she walked out of the jet bridge into the terminal. He'd spot her anywhere and he sort of wondered now how he hadn't realized immediately that July night who she was. His own fault. He just hadn't put any thought into her to think about any appearance similarities to her mother. He saw a bit of his mother in her, too. Her chin, just different enough from Claire's for him to notice. For the most part, she was one hundred percent her mother.
Her beauty wasn't the first thing he noticed tonight, though. It was her face. He'd expected after hearing her crying as she had been on the phone for her eyes to maybe be red or puffy. He hadn't expected for her face to look as though she'd been on the wrong side of a Wladimir Klitschko boxing glove.
She had sunglasses on, but they didn't hide the bruising on her cheek and jaw. He wasn't sure he wanted to see what was under the glasses. He took a deep breath. She'd called him for a reason.
He pushed off from leaning against the wall to meet her once she'd gotten close to where he stood.
"Hi," she whispered.
"Hey," he said.
"Can we not talk about it here?"
"Yeah, sure," he said. "I do have one question for you, though," he said, lifting the sunglasses out of the way so he could see the full extent of what was going on. He guessed if she was wearing them at midnight it was bad. It was and he sighed softly. She winced a bit when he reached for them and his heart sunk a bit at that.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. Well, the one good eye anyway. The other one was too swollen shut to shed tears.
"No apologies necessary." Whatever happened to her, he didn't care. "Have you seen a doctor?"
"No," she said.
"Your mother would tell you to see a doctor," he said.
"No," he said. "And there's a prime example of why we should stop at the hospital on the way home to be sure there's nothing they need to do for you."
"Okay," she said.
She pulled away when he moved to slide his arm around her and draw her to him. He tried not to take it personally, but he had to admit it hurt that she'd draw away from him like that. They hadn't gotten to the point of hugging all of the time or anything, but they'd gotten pretty comfortable together spending every day of her summer break together.
"Okay," he said, holding his hands up in a familiar surrender pose. "Do you have a checked bag?"
"No," she said, gesturing to her backpack. "I have all I need in here."
"Okay," he said, taking it from off her shoulder.
"I know you can. Let me carry the fucking bag for you, all right?"
She scoffed slightly. "All right."
She slid the glasses back into place.
"You can keep them off."
"No," she said with a shake of her head. "I don't want people to see you with me like this."
He understood that, he supposed.
"Of course, with the sunglasses on at this time of night people are going to see you with me and assume you're stoned out of your mind. I'm not sure that's a better thing for them to think."
She sighed, sliding the sunglasses off then.
"Probably a wise choice."
They stopped at the emergency room on the way home. No stitches were necessary, which John had more or less suspected. She got a prescription for some pain pills, which would help. She was an adult so he hadn't sat in while she told the doctor what happened to her, so he still had no idea beyond the fact she'd been beat up when they got back in his car after picking up her prescriptions. There was a second, stronger, pain medication to help her sleep if she needed it.
She was quiet on the drive back to his house. He let her be quiet. He couldn't make her talk, and wasn't sure he wanted to make her talk. Her head was against the passenger side window and he heard the shuddering breaths before he noticed her shoulders shaking.
He rested his head against the headrest, moving it a bit trying to figure out what to do. Was he supposed to prod her for details? Leave her alone? His instinct was to reach out for her, but she'd made it abundantly clear she didn't want him to do that at the airport.
"I'm such an idiot," she murmured when they were about home.
"You're a lot of things, Missy, an idiot is not among them."
She sniffled loudly, wiping her nose and eyes on the sleeve of the yellow Wellesley sweatshirt she was wearing. The school color was blue he knew, but her class had a color, too. Yellow. He didn't understand it, but that's the way it was.
He didn't ever think he was missing out by not being a suit and tie type of guy. Tonight, though, he wished he was so he'd have a handkerchief or something to offer her. Of course he probably wouldn't have driven to the airport at midnight in a suit. So who knew if he'd have one on him right now.
That was all she said.
"Uh, Dominic prepped your room and everything. I'd take some of that stronger, help you sleep pain killer."
"I know," she whispered. "You never went to hospitals or got pain killers, did you?"
"No," he said.
"I can't even imagine."
"You get used to it," he said with a shrug. He set her backpack on the table before locking the garage door. "You want something to drink or eat before we go upstairs? I know Dominic went out and bought some things he knows you like. Smells like he baked some cookies, too."
"I'm only here for a couple of days."
"We like spoiling you."
She stepped up to him then, hugging him tightly.
"Hey," he said, arms going around her. She started shaking against him, crying into his chest. He didn't know what the fuck to do with that. "It's okay," he whispered, kissing the top of her head.
"It started so innocently," she mumbled.
"Getting to this point," she whispered.
"Okay. I'm confused."
"She was so jealous of Sean. Of you. Of what I was doing. That my parents could accept I was with her."
"Wait. A girl did that to you?"
She laughed softly.
"Sorry. I don't know what I was assuming, but that wasn't it."
"She found some messages from Sean on my computer. I'd gone to the bathroom to shower and we'd been chatting. You know, instant messages."
"I hadn't told him I was with anyone because I really wasn't sure when we got back to school after not seeing her all summer if we still would be."
"Right," he said. He could see that. Caution. He wasn't sure he'd jump in and admit to the girl he liked he was seeing another guy either without being pretty fucking sure that was the path he wanted to go down.
Their planned visit hadn't happened. John had no idea why. He just knew he'd never met the other girl.
"Anyway, she saw the IM's he sent. They weren't bad, but he was being Sean. You know? Flirting. Letting me know he's still interested. Talking about kissing me."
"And did this?" he drew away a bit then, sliding his hands up to her head so he could draw her away to look at him. He saw it then. The look in her eye. He should have recognized it at the airport, but he hadn't been looking for it. "This wasn't the first time."
"No," she whispered. "It was never like this. We'd argue. At first she would yell. A couple time she threw things. One time she hit the wall. Then she slapped me," she said with a shrug. "I was so startled that she hit me. Slap or not. I thought for sure I'd done something to deserve it. I mean, why else would she hurt me? That was only a couple of times before today. And before you tell me. I know. I don't deserve that."
"Good," he whispered. "And you know you didn't do anything, right? I did a lot of fucked up shit as a teenager, none of which deserved any of the punishments I received. There is no way that you could possibly do something any worse than I did."
She smiled a little at that. Though it didn't quite meet her good eye so he knew it wasn't a real smile. Not one of her best smiles anyway. And she gave him great ones a number of times now for him to know the difference.
His favorite smile of hers was her first night on stage with them. He wasn't sure if until that moment she'd thought it was a lie, a joke, or just a dream. He was pretty sure he could have died after that moment and thought his life had finally had meaning. It hadn't been about sex or money. It hadn't cost him a damned thing to let her come with them, other than possibly his pride if she'd sucked. He remembered how nervous she was that night, but he, Sean, Claude, and Billy were all there to help her through it. She hadn't needed any help, just the little boost of moral support they'd given her. She was good to go.
He much preferred that smile to the one he was getting tonight. He got it. He understood. His father hadn't always hit him. His mother hadn't always berated and criticized him. It started small. Like his dad kicking his toy Tonka truck into the TV. The truck had fared better than the TV. Like his mom telling him he needed to behave better to not upset his dad the next time.
"I just didn't know what else to do. I was so scared."
"You did the right thing."
"I can't avoid her forever."
"Yes. Yes, you can, Melissa. I haven't talked to my parents in twenty years."
"I mean, I'll see her…"
"That doesn't mean you have to let her into your place."
They hadn't bought a place because Claire had made him realize that buying a place with the knowledge they'd be unloading it again within three to five years wasn't worth the risk. There was no guarantee she'd go to graduate school and if she did in the Boston area. So, they'd looked and found a condo to rent close enough to campus that was big enough for all of them. That way whenever they wanted to visit they had a place to stay and Melissa was locked into one address for the next however many years. She'd talked with her mom about whether she thought she could have Natasha live with her this year. Claire hadn't thought it was a good idea. She and John would be paying the rent and it would be too easy to take advantage of something like that. Melissa had understood her mom's thoughts on it. There was no telling how many nights Natasha stayed there or whether she had a key.
"Did you happen to call the police?"
John sighed softly. "You probably should have."
"Yeah, I get it."
"I just wanted to get out of there."
"Does she know you left?"
"No, no one does. She stormed out, I called you." She'd called him pretty early. Not six in the morning, but it'd been before nine. It was none of his business if Natasha had spent the night or why she was there that early.
"Does she have a key?" John asked. Her leaving town meant if Natasha had a key she was free to come and go as she pleased. If she was capable of doing this there was no telling what she'd do coming by to find out Melissa had left town for the weekend.
"No. I left the door unlocked for her if I knew she was coming over. I know you guys didn't want her to have a key."
"True." They hadn't furnished the place with top of the line things, but there was definitely more costly stuff there than the average dorm room. Not to mention Melissa's guitar and equipment.
"Are you going to tell Mom?"
"I kind of have to."
He slid his thumb along the cheek that wasn't as battered as the other.
"She's not going to judge you or be upset at you."
"She could be disappointed."
"No! Don't think that. I don't think there's a way you could disappoint her, Melissa."
"I didn't think so."
"This isn't your fault. Even if you were flirting with Sean. That doesn't give anyone, Natasha or whoever, the right to hit you. That's abuse. You could file charges against her looking like you do."
"I know. I don't want to. It's embarrassing that I let it get to this point."
He understood that. It was one of the reasons he acted the way he had in high school. He was a big guy. It was embarrassing that he didn't have the guts to stand up to his old man. Years of being beaten down – mentally more than physically – left him helpless to do anything but take it.
"Let's get you up to bed. Yeah? I'm sure Dominic will go to town with breakfast in the morning."
"He said when I called back you were writing," she said, grabbing a couple of the cookies he noticed.
"I was working on some things, yes. I figured with your mom gone I'd take advantage of the time on my hands."
"Well, I think so."
"Anything I can hear?"
He said, kissing the tip of her nose before finding her forehead.
"I love you, Kiddo. I'm sorry that anyone ever laid a hand on you." He was sorrier than he could ever express to her that she knew what it was like. He would have been more than happy to go through life knowing no one had ever laid a hand on her.
"Thank you. I can't believe I thought she was so nice."
"My dad had people fooled, too."
"I guess. I've never met anyone with a temper before."
"No," she whispered. "Not like that. I was actually kind of scared of her sometimes she'd get so mad."
"I thought I could," she shrugged. "I thought maybe not touring with you this summer so she saw that I was normal would be different."
"You are normal. You just happen to be on the talented side of things and have an old man who can let you dip your toes into the pool."
"I know. She doesn't get that, though."
"Not your problem. Does Sean know?"
"Sort of. He knew she'd done angry things before."
"He should have…"
"I made him promise not to tell you. I thought it was my fault. I thought if I loved her enough she'd be happy."
John chuckled softly at that. He knew that feeling very well. "If I had a dime for every time I thought that."
"I know. I know it's not now."
"You need me to fly back with you? Go to campus or anything to make sure she can't bother you?"
"No. I hope she'll leave me alone."
"She doesn't, you call the police, Missy. I'm not kidding. Someone who does this over some Internet messages is prone to do anything."
He grabbed her backpack then, sliding it over his shoulder as he led her upstairs.
She smiled a little at the flowers next to the bed.
"Dominic," John said.
"You accusing your old man of being a thoughtless jerk?"
"No, just you're not the flowers type."
"Is that bad?"
Melissa shrugged, kicking off her shoes. "Girls like flowers," she whispered.
"I guess they do." He handed her the backpack, which she promptly unzipped to grab the bags from the drug store. "You need anything my door's not locked."
"Are you going to call Mom?"
"At this time of night? No. She'll think someone died. It can wait."
"Sure. Get some rest."
"I love you."
He smiled at that. "I love you, too. I'm glad you called."
"Me, too. And, please don't yell at Sean. He did what I asked him to."
He laughed a bit. "Yeah, I know. I won't yell, but I will be talking to him."
He nodded then, closing her door. He got ready for bed, debating about calling Claire regardless of the time. She was out in LA, so it wouldn't be crazy late. She was trying to negotiate a deal, though, for a company to work with her on something. She'd mentioned dinner. He didn't want to upset or distract her from getting what she needed to do done.
He heard a knock at his door a little while later. He hadn't fallen deeply asleep, but he'd definitely zoned out to the point sleep wasn't far behind.
"Yeah," he called out. He knew who it was. Dominic had no reason to knock on his door at this time of night.
"Can't sleep?" he said.
"No," she said with a shrug.
"Well, I told you my door was open. We could…" He didn't really have anything to offer her in his bedroom.
"How did you face them?" she asked.
"Your parents? Your friends? Mom?"
"Well, I had a hard time with your mom, thinking she'd really like me if she knew the whole truth. That's a big reason I didn't know she was pregnant until months later. It was easier for me to just not talk to her then take the chance I was too damaged. The rest," he shrugged. "I just tried to develop a thick skin and not let them see it bothered me."
"I have to go to classes on Monday looking like this," she said.
"Yeah, you do. I hope you'll remember that feeling, those looks, that embarrassment when she calls or comes to see you with apologies."
"I don't think she will."
"Just saying. Whether it's a female or not, you deserve someone who will be good to you in every which way. People argue. Your mom and I argue. You don't know the whole of my upbringing, but you get the gist. I've never once thought about hitting someone I was mad at. Women anyway. I've hit guys, sure."
"Yeah, well, he said something totally uncalled for."
"He told me and I agree with you. I told him that, too. He was talking of quitting the band for a while after that."
"I'm glad he came around. He's a valuable member."
He reached for the remote, pushing the covers back.
"Come on. Let's see if we can find something to watch."
"You were sleeping."
He shrugged. "You're more important. You sleeping is especially important."
She slid into the bed as he pushed the button to turn the TV on.
"Twister?" he asked.
"No," she said with a shake of her head.
He nodded simply, setting the remote down. It looked like it was pretty close to the beginning, too.
"I still can't believe Charlie Sheen was in this as basically an extra," she said.
He grunted softly. As if he cared.
"What? He's cute."
"I like his brother better," John said.
"You think his brother's cute? Does Mom know that?"
"No, I didn't say that, just that I liked him better. I did like Platoon," he said with a slight nod of his head, thinking over Sheen's body of work.
"Let me know when you want me to leave."
"As long as you want to stay here, you're welcome."
"It's not weird?"
He shrugged. "As long as we don't think it's weird, no."
"Sometimes in high school, before she married Stu, when there was bad weather and the possibility of school getting cancelled. I'd crawl into bed with Mom. We'd listen to WBBM on her radio by the bed to see if I had to get up."
"And if you didn't have to get up?"
"We'd both fall back asleep."
"I think I would have liked to have seen that."
"I wouldn't have gotten into bed with her if you were there."
He kissed the top of her head, shifting them so she could rest against his chest.
"I wouldn't have cared, sweetheart."
"Sure, just what every Mom and Dad wants."
"Hey," he said. "Those are some pretty nice memories. I can't recall ever snuggling with my mom. So, hold onto those and don't ever think I would have stopped you. Unless I was, you know, naked. Then I probably would have stopped you."
"Ew," she said with a laugh.
"Is that an ew to the male body nude as a whole?"
"No," she said, with a shake of her head.
"Just your old man, huh?"
"Well, you're my dad."
"Scarring for life, huh?"
"Not everyone looks like me, I hope you know that."
"I do," she whispered.
"And that's not what I meant at all. I thought you were pretty cute myself growing up, seeing you on records."
He chuckled at that. "I'll bet that was kind of weird."
"Well, I didn't like imagine growing up and marrying you or anything weird like that, but it was a little strange."
"Mom's pretty lucky to have you."
"I'm the lucky one, and don't ever think otherwise."
"No. I mean, I see some of the other dads my friends have."
"Oh, you mean, your mom has a hot guy with an amazing body scarred with all life's lessons who's in a rock n' roll band."
"Well, yes, that's not how I would have phrased it exactly."
"So," he said, focusing on the TV for a bit.
"Cameron or Ferris?"
She laughed softly.
"Maybe my answer is Sloane or Jeanie."
"Okay. Well, then?"
"Ferris," she said softly.
"Sloane," he said, causing her to giggle.
"What's so funny?" No lie, it was fantastic to hear her laughing. Even if it was maybe something they shouldn't be talking about. Characters they thought were hot or whatever. Was there a rule? He didn't know. He wasn't saying he'd choose Sloane to fuck or anything. (Boy would he have when this movie came out, but he knew enough not to say that to his daughter.)
"She'd be my answer, too."
"Well, yeah," he said. Obviously. Jeanie was a bitch. Okay, toward the end she came through for Ferris, but holy crap she was a bitch for ninety-nine percent of the movie. There wasn't anything attractive about that.
"Is it weird that while I was seeing her I was still attracted to Sean? I mean, not like leading him on or anything, but I couldn't tell him for sure never."
"Well, he's not a woman."
"Maybe you're attracted to both. Jazmin is, though I think if she were to settle down into a relationship she'd do it with a woman. Don't ask me why I think that beyond observations that the people she's gotten closest to an actual relationship with have been women. Maybe Natasha was just a phase, a curiosity. You're nineteen, you're allowed to do that. Who knows? Is it weird? No, because it's how you feel."
She sighed softly, shifting a bit against his chest. "Thank you," she whispered.
"You don't have to thank me, but you're welcome." He reached for the remote, clicking the button on it to show what was coming up next. "And hey, look at that Back To School is on next. Must be Eighties comedies night or something."
"I've never seen it."
"No? Well, if you can't sleep that will change tonight."
"Mom would have," she shrugged against him.
"Freaked out? Called the police?"
"We should, just in case, take some pictures tomorrow. I hope we don't need them, but it would sure be nice to have."
"We have the hospital visit."
"Sure, that's a handwritten chart. Pictures would show clearly how bad what that chart reflects is."
"I'm not going to make you, but if there's a chance she's going to cause a problem or come after you again."
"Do you have classes with her?"
"That helps. I mean it, though, Missy. You need to call the police, do it. Just because she's a woman doesn't mean she's not going to do worse than this next time."
"I know. I didn't think she'd do this!"
"Well, I hope you didn't and stay with her."
"You going to fall asleep?"
"I think so," she whispered.
"Good," he said.
"Don't want to talk to me anymore?"
"No, I want you to rest."
"I took the sleep stuff."
"Must not be very strong sleep stuff if you're still sitting here talking to me."
She shrugged. "I'm not sitting and I'm getting sleepy. You can turn the TV off."
He chuckled. "It's fine for now, Missy," he said, running his hand against her hair before leaning down to kiss the top of her head.
"Night," she said, nestling against him much the way Claire did and he chuckled a bit at that.
The phone call with Claire would not go well. He knew that much. She'd freak out, appropriately so. He knew he had to call her, though. If he didn't it'd come back and bite him in the ass someday. He was not proficient at how relationships worked, though he felt he'd done pretty well so far. He just knew, though how things like this worked. He had to tell her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com