Sheet Music - A Rock 'n' Roll Love Story (41 page)

Seconds later the boy appeared in the foyer.  Michael’s face instantly lit up with happiness.  “Hey, John, how have you been?”

The boy gave a reluctant nod and smiled shyly at Michael.  He was a pre-teen now and his appearance reflected as much.  His head was still covered with a thick matting of dark curls, the same color as Michael’s, but his face displayed more of his mother’s sharp features -except for the eyes.  There was no doubt John shared the same distinct shade of pale blue eyes as his father.  Michael smiled proudly.  By anyone’s standard, his boy was turning into a handsome young man.

“Do you still play video games?” Michael asked.

“Yes and I’m better than all my friends too,” he answered with conceit.

“Oh yeah?  That sounds like a challenge to me,” Michael smirked, turning the ball cap around backwards as if preparing for conquest.

Beth watched from the doorway for a few minutes then retreated into the sanctuary of the master bedroom.  Hours went by before Michael and John appeared in the bedroom.  Michael fidgeted with his car keys.

“It’s getting late.  I should get going,” he commented.

Beth sat upright on the bed and closed the book she was reading.

“Are you coming back tomorrow, Dad?” John asked his father.

Michael laid an arm around his son’s shoulder and tossed an inquisitive look toward Beth.  “As far as I know,” he answered.  “Let me speak to your Mom for a minute and I’ll talk to you before I leave.  Okay?”

John dropped his shoulders and trudged back to the living room.

“So, what’s the deal with tomorrow?” he asked, trying to keep the attitude out of his voice.  “Do we still have an appointment at noon?”

“Yes,” she replied, sliding her legs over the side of the bed to stand.  “We have a lot to talk about.”

Michael nodded.  “Okay, I’ll be back then.”  He turned to leave the room then stopped, pivoting his head over his shoulder.  “Thanks,” he mumbled.

“For what?” Beth asked.

“For letting me see my son.”

Michael called Annie when he returned home and again she ignored his call.  He cursed loudly and tossed the phone onto the bedside table and drifted into the shower.  The next day, Michael arrived on time for his meeting with Beth.  A babysitter was just leaving the suite with John, on their way to the infamous FAO Schwartz toy store.  Michael gave the woman a stack of money and promised to see John when they returned.  Then the door closed and Michael was alone with Beth.  The mere thought of it sent a cold shiver down his spine.

She was dressed in a short silk skirt and button down blouse with her blond hair piled up on her head.  A knot began to form in his stomach.  He followed her into the living room and took a seat on the couch.  Beth chose a chair located in front of him and sat, slowly crossing her long legs.  Michael turned away, refusing to fall for her manipulations.

“You look wonderful, Michael.  You’re so tanned.  Have you been working outside?”

“No.  We’ve been living at the beach.”

“We’ve?  Are you referring to that girl from the accident or is this a new one?”

“She has a name, you know, and it’s Annie.”

“I didn’t know you two were still together.”

“No thanks to you,” he mumbled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she replied defensively.

“I heard about your phone call while I was on tour, Beth.  Not particularly smart.”

“I spoke the truth as I knew it.”

“That was twenty years ago!  You have no idea who I am now,” he answered, throwing his arms over the back of the couch.  “At any rate, it doesn’t matter now.  Annie and I are still together and things couldn’t be better.  In fact, we were married a couple of months ago.”

“Yes, I think I might have read something about that somewhere.  I can’t remember,” she lied.  Not only had she read the article, she cut it out of the newspaper and put it in her private scrapbook.

Beth studied his face, so handsome and ageless.  “Do you love her?” she asked suddenly, her voice so soft it was barely audible.

He locked his eyes onto hers and answered quickly.  “Yes, very much.”

Beth turned away, as if his words knocked the wind from her lungs.  “Wow, I never thought I’d live to hear you say that,” she said, moving to the window.  “I didn’t think you were capable of it.”

“I guess I had to find the right woman,” he replied smugly.  He knew his words were killing her and, in some perverted way, he was enjoying it.

Silence filled the room as Beth stared out at the city traffic below.

“Look, I’ve said all I’m going to say about Annie.  My relationship with her is very personal, and frankly, the last person I feel like sharing the details of it with is you!  So, could we please change the subject and discuss the reason you dragged me into town?”

Beth drew a deep breath and returned to her chair.  “Okay,” she sighed, nervously wringing her hands.  “There’s a man in my life and he’s asked me to marry him.”

The smile on Michael’s face was quick and brilliant.  “Congratulations.  I couldn’t be happier.”

“Why?  Because it will bring an end to your alimony payments?”

Still smiling, Michael nodded.  “Sure, why not?”

Beth shook her head.

“Anyone I know?” he asked, curious as to whom the unlucky bastard was.

“He isn’t in the business, so I doubt you’d know him.”

“Does he have a name?”

“Frank.  His name is Frank.”

“Okay.  So, you wanted to meet to tell me you’re getting remarried?”

“No.  Well, partly.”  Beth stood again and went back to the window.  “Look, Michael, Frank wants to adopt John after we get married and make everything legal.”

“No fucking way!” Michael screamed, as he quickly rose to his feet.  “You’ll have to kill me first!”

“I told him you’d never agree to it but I promised him I’d at least mention it.  You have to admit you’re not exactly the best role model as a father, Michael.  If you’re not on the road with the band you’re in the recording studio.”

“Go to hell!  It’s not like you gave me a God-damned chance to be a father, Beth!”  He turned and headed toward the door.  “It’s shared custody or nothing.  I won’t agree to anything less.”

“All right, Michael.  You made your point.  I think we can reach some sort of agreement,” she answered, trying to calm his fury and prevent him from leaving.

Michael squeezed his eyes tight and gritted his teeth.  A heavy sigh of anger released from his nostrils.  She knew every button to push on him to get the reaction she wanted.

“How about a week next summer?” she offered.

“How about a month?” he returned.  “And I want to see him every other holiday - effective immediately.”

“Okay.  Bottom line is, John needs a father figure in his life.  He’s getting older now and he’ll be looking for the type of guidance I won’t always be able to give him.  But if we agree to this and you screw it up, that’s it.  Deal’s off.”

“Likewise for you.  And my lawyer wants this all put on paper too.”

There was an awkward pause between them and Michael shifted uneasily in place.  He didn’t want to leave until John came back from the toy store but he had nothing left to discuss with Beth either.

Beth crossed her legs again and smiled up at him.  “We made a beautiful boy together, didn’t we Michael.”

Without emotion he nodded.  “That is the only good thing that came out of it.”

“Oh, come on, Michael.  It wasn't
all
bad.  We did have some good times too.  At least I can remember some.”

Michael plunked himself back down on the couch and stared at his hands.

“It was good in the beginning before the drugs took control of our lives,” she continued.

He looked up into her face.  “I don't ever remember when the drugs
weren't
in control.”

“It was recreational at first.  That was when you and Brian were getting the band started.  Remember all the great parties we had at our apartment on Lincoln Street?”

Michael smiled and nodded.

“Remember that dog Brian used to have?  What was his name?”

“Shitz,” Michael laughed.

“Yeah, that’s it!  God.  I remember we used to get that poor dog stoned all the time.”

“I’m surprised the dog lived as long as he did,” Michael added.

“And then we moved into the big house,” she sighed.  “That’s where John was conceived, you know.”

Michael stared at her silently, wishing she would stop talking.

“It was still good back then, Michael.  Wasn’t it good for you?”

He began to squirm on the couch and glanced at his watch, wondering when John and the babysitter would return.

“Can I ask you something?  And I want you to be truthful,” she said.

“Depends on the question.”

Beth nodded and carefully considered her words.  “In all the years we were together, was there ever a time when you loved me?”

Michael closed his eyes and dropped his head onto the back of the couch.  “Damn it, Beth.  What kind of question is that?”

“You can’t answer a question with a question,” she smiled nervously.

Michael rubbed at his forehead and eyes.  Then suddenly lifted his head, locked his eyes on Beth and opened his mouth.  “Okay, then my answer is no.”

Beth got out of her seat and went back to the window.

“I was fucked up back then,” he explained.  “I loved the drugs, I loved my band and I loved the lifestyle.  There wasn’t much room left over for anything or anyone else after that.  But that was a long time ago.  I got sober and I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been in my life.  I love waking up in the morning now.”

His eyes dropped to his lap.  “And I love Annie,” he sighed quietly, almost to himself.

“She’s a very lucky girl,” Beth replied, resting her head against the window pane.

Just then, the door to the suite slammed shut and John came breezing into the living room with the babysitter in tow.

“Hey Champ.  Did you find anything cool to buy at the store?” Michael asked.

The babysitter rolled her eyes.  “I didn’t think I was going to ever get him out of there!”

Beth quickly wiped a loose tear from her cheek before John noticed and forced a smile onto her face.  Michael followed his son into his bedroom to view the video games he had bought and stayed the rest of the afternoon letting his son win.

At five o’clock Beth popped her head into the bedroom.  “Michael, we have dinner reservations at Sabatino’s, if you’d like to join us.  That is, if you don’t already have plans with Annie.”

Michael glanced at his son’s wide smile.  “Sure, let me make a quick phone call.”  He stood and pulled his cell phone from his belt.  Then walking into another room for privacy, he dialed Annie’s phone.  Again, there was no answer.

As soon as dinner was over, Michael left the hotel.  It had been a long day and the need to hear Annie’s voice was making his body ache.  A few minutes later, he breezed into his house and immediately checked his answering machine in the kitchen.  Maybe she had called the house instead of his cell phone, he thought.  But there were no new messages from Annie.  He glanced at the wall clock.  It was half past nine.  Way too early for her to be sleeping.  He called again.

In the shower, his thoughts drifted back to his visit with Beth and John.  How different his life was now and how grateful he was for the changes.  He stepped out of the shower and toweled dried, then wrapped the terrycloth around his narrow waist.  With his hair still dripping, he called Annie again and the machine picked up to record.

“Annie, please pick up the God-damned phone.  I really need to talk to you.  I’m sorry and I want to talk to you about this.”  He paused and sighed heavily.  “Come on, baby, talk to me.”  Another pause.  “I love you.”  Quietly he hung up the phone.

In the morning he rolled over and instinctively reached for Annie’s warm slumbering body.  Instead he was greeted with the cold empty space which she would normally be occupying.  It was just before nine and the sun was already up above the tree line and filtering inside the large windows of his room.  Without much thought, he reached for his phone and called Annie.  This time the line was busy.

He got dressed in record time, eager to get the ball rolling on the new custody paperwork.  If it went smoothly, he hoped to be back on the Vineyard by tomorrow night.

After a quick meeting with his lawyer, the next stop was at Brian’s house.

Brian reluctantly opened up his front door.  “Did you patch it up with Annie yet?”

“Still working on that.”

“I’m really sorry, man,” Brian sighed, scratching at his head.

“It’s okay.  I’ll deal with it.”

How’d it go with Beth?” Brian asked.

“She found some other sucker to call ‘husband’.  Imagine that?  And she wants me to take John for a month next summer.”

“Wow, that’s good news.  Anyone we know?”

“Nope.  By the sounds of it, he’s a paper-pushing, white collar suit.  I wish the bastard luck, because he’s gonna need it.”

“I guess congratulations are in order, then,” Brian smiled.

“What do you mean?” “I suspect your alimony payments will be ending soon.”

A broad smile formed on Michael’s face.  “Not soon enough.”

Michael was in his car when the sudden ring of the phone broke his concentration.  Figuring it was Annie, he answered it before the second ring.

“Hey babe,” he purred into the phone.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Beth corrected him.

Michael’s heart sank to his feet.  “What’s up?”

“The new custody papers are ready.  Do you want them?”

“Of course I do.  I can be there in about twenty minutes.”

“Sounds good.”

His phone was ringing again before he had a chance to put it away.  This time it was Annie.

“Hi,” she said.

“You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice,” he said.

“We need to talk.”

“I know.  I’ll be flying back this afternoon.”

“Okay.  I’ll see you then.”  And then the line went dead.

On the plane back to the Vineyard a weird mixture of trepidation and excitement flowed through his body.  He hated how things were left between them, but he was also eager to share his good news about the custody agreement with her.  He ran his hands down the length of his thighs, trying to wipe the dampness from his palms.  They had a lot to talk about and he was anxious to get it done.

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