Second Chances - 2
This book is dedicated to the readers and bloggers who gave Cassie and Josh a second chance.
“I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”
“You’re going to show those rock-gods how we jam in Kansas.”
I tore my gaze away from the entrance of The Blast Room, where Shawn and his agent waited. I shifted my body sideways toward Josh, bringing a squeak from the leather truck seat.
If my stomach were Irish, it’d be dancing a jig right now.
“Champ, I don’t jam. And these guys”—I pointed at the dark door of the bar—“don’t jam either. What music did you Ivy-Leaguers listen to anyway?” My mouth curled into a smile for the first time that morning. The knots torturing my guts loosened. A tiny bit.
“Nothing I’m going to admit to now…” He shrugged and smiled back. “But it doesn’t matter because whatever cool I retained in school, getting into politics is gonna kill it.”
“When have you ever been cool, MacBride?” I gave him a slap on the chest. “But thanks, I get the idea. I’m still fighting to keep my breakfast down though.”
Josh had on a well-worn pair of jeans and the same washed-out T-shirt I’d given him for his seventeenth birthday. It was a bit too tight for him now because he wasn’t a boy anymore, but I still loved seeing him in it. His short hair was the same mess as it’d been when he got out of bed earlier that morning. No more preppy Oxford snob.
His hand rested on the nape of my neck. Soon his fingers were lost in the mass of my hair. Hair I’d wasted a silly amount of time arranging into a rock-friendly look. At least I hoped it looked that way. Any more of Josh’s massaging and I’d end up a Dolly-Parton lookalike.
But I didn’t mind. Not really. I only cared for Josh and the fact that he was back in my life... for good.
I leaned forward and rested my hand on his thigh. His leg muscles tightened and I enjoyed the effect I had on him. I kissed his cheek. Faint stubble tickled my lips. He turned, our foreheads touched, and he twitched his nose against mine in what I secretly called ‘our kiss without a kiss.’ Yeah, when it came to Josh MacBride, I could turn into a total cheese ball.
“It’s going to be alright, Cass.”
I straightened up and nodded. His hand slid along my neck and down my shoulders. One last squeeze and he broke his touch. “You should go.”
I should definitely go. The meeting was at ten and it was now five past.
“This is only a trial run,” I said. “They’ll probably hate my music.”
For the first time ever, I saw Josh roll his eyes. “Damn, if you keep putting yourself down, I’m going to strangle that sweet little neck of yours.” His fingertips brushed my cheekbone. “And you might totally suck anyway.”
I forced the air out of my lungs, and then inhaled deeply. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
“I’ll be waiting for you, Cass. Always.” The warmth in his eyes told me he was telling the truth.
I got out of the truck and began to miss Josh instantly, but I forced myself to cross Broadway. The first thing that struck me when I entered The Blast Room was the staleness of the air. It was that familiar, decaying smell of music venues when no one was playing and no one was listening. Soulless.
My fingers tightened around the handle of my guitar case. It weighed more with each step I took down the stairwell leading to the bar.
I recognized Shawn’s husky voice before I saw him. Shawn was the lead singer of The Libs. I’d met him in Oxford a few weeks back when they performed at The Turf, where I briefly bartended before my life—and Josh’s—twisted into unknown territories. Shawn was Sam’s friend from The Big Easy and Sam was… well, who was Sam to me? A friend who had gone the extra mile? If you could even consider a marriage offer to get my child back an ‘extra mile.’
Shawn’s arms around my shoulders chased the memory away. He dropped a kiss a little too close to the corner of my mouth and I stiffened. The guy was the affectionate type. He was also the smoker type. Judging by the red rims of his eyes, he’d already smoked half of the prairie in Kansas.
He dragged me toward his agent, an older guy with streaks of grey in his hair, who gave me a once-over. Not in a sleazy way though, but a cool, professional appraisal.
Shawn climbed onto a bar stool next to his agent. “That’s Will. I’ve told him so much about you that he’s about to throw up.”
Ugh! I gave Will a fragile smile and glued my gaze on the tips of my boots. Shawn was doing me a huge favor but I was definitely more into ‘under-promise’ and ‘over-deliver’ than bold self-confidence.
“Wanna drink?” Shawn nodded towards the shelves behind the bar lined with Maker’s Mark, Gordon’s and Captain Morgan. Just the thought of alcohol so early brought an acrid taste to my mouth.
“I’m good, thanks,” I mumbled. Did all musicians get wasted at ten in the morning? Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the rock scene.
“Let’s get on with it, Cassie.” Will was all business. I knew, without a doubt, this would be my first shot at the big league… and maybe my last.
“I’ll help you set up. Terry’ll be here soon.” Shawn got back on his feet and I followed him to the small stage. It was littered with flyers from previous shows. Terry was the tour manager and he’d be deciding if I could fill in for the next weeks. Will was there to see if I had any star power and, maybe, sign me sometime down the line.
Shawn adjusted the microphone to my height while I got out my guitar, threw the strap around my neck and started strumming. I adjusted it to make sure it was tuned to perfection. The feeling of the chords underneath my fingertips woke a familiar, secret part of me. The part that didn’t fear anything.
Shawn winked at me and walked off the stage, back to Will’s side. “Can you play that song about the boy? The one you sang back in Oxford?”
My heart sank because it was painful to sing those lyrics. The words had come to me on a dark day when I’d lost hope that I’d have any part in my son’s life. I looked around the room, at all its dark corners. The venue was empty, but bright lights were aimed at me. They burned my skin. The raw feeling of exposure lasted only a minute or two. I began to sing and I knew I was home.
Not long after, when I walked out of the venue, the bright rays of the sun made me wince. Josh’s truck—our truck—was still parked in the same place. Josh was leaning against the passenger door, his arms and ankles crossed. I checked the traffic and strode toward him.
“They want me,” I simply said.
Sparkles brightened his pecan-colored eyes and the familiar dimples appeared when he smiled. His hand circled my neck and he pulled me against him. I breathed in the lemony scent of his aftershave.
He snuggled in the hollow of my neck and said, “Of course they do, baby.”
But his smile didn’t match his voice.
“Of course, the fact that you only filed for divorce last June won’t work in your favor.”
Sawyer Curtis had suddenly veered from his usual dull tone to one with an unfamiliar accusatory edge. I tilted forward on my seat. The small body of our newly-appointed attorney hid further behind his desk. “I was studying in Georgetown, then Oxford, and Cassie had to care for her grandmother. But we’re now back together, Mr. Curtis. That’s what should matter.”
Curtis stared at me over his dark-rimmed glasses. The man reminded me of a wet and pitiful owl with his dull hair around his flat, round face. His appearance didn’t match his reputation, though; and certainly didn’t match the small fortune I was paying him. A fortune I’d reluctantly borrowed from my mom.
“I am perfectly aware of the predicament you’ve found yourselves in. I am only drawing your attention to the obvious. Even though you may be the child’s natural parents, have a bond with him and his adoptive grandfather—well, at least Cassandra does—you’re still without a permanent address, permanent jobs and—”
“—That will soon be remedied. I’m leaving for D.C. tomorrow and will start in my new position as early as next week… with Senator Estevez.” I hated name-dropping but it was now or never.
Curtis wriggled in his far-too-big seat and continued as if I hadn’t said anything. “An adoption is a time-consuming process. We’ll have to complete all the application forms as well as go through the required training. Then we’ll come to the home study and the extensive background checks, and even if you’re finally approved to adopt, Lucas won’t be given to you straight-away. Pre-placement visits will have to be scheduled and it might take up to a year after his permanent placement for the adoption to be legalized.” The attorney had delivered the speech in a single breath. He took another one before he continued, “As you mentioned, this professional opportunity is in D.C, which is in a different state from where the child lives. I can’t point out how important—“
“If our case seems like too much hard-work for you, please let us know now and we’ll seek legal advice elsewhere.”
Curtis recoiled and Cassie clasped my hand. As always when she touched me, I wanted to get closer to her. She leaned toward me to bridge the narrow space between us. “Mr. Curtis is only trying to warn us of potential obstacles. We’ll have to prove ourselves.”
The lawyer nodded, visibly relieved by the tiny woman next to me flying to his rescue. I forced myself to relax.
“Mr. Curtis,” she started and I knew what she was about to say, “I was asked to go on tour with a band. I might be offered representation by an agent at the end of it.” She bit her lower-lip and threw a sheepish sideways glance at me. “I don’t want to do anything that could weaken our case. So if you think I should give it up…”
She left her unfinished sentence hanging in the air. Curtis seemed to weigh the pros and cons in his head before answering. “And how long will the tour last?”
“Six more weeks. I’m filling in for a guy who broke his leg. I can cancel if you think—”
Curtis raised his hand to stop Cassie and it made me resent him even more. “No need, Cassandra.” But his voice softened as he pronounced her name and he was clearly making an effort to smooth his sharpness when talking to her. “If it’s only immediate and temporary, it shouldn’t be any problem. We have to use the next couple of months to fill the forms and gather all the basic information and documentation anyway. However…” he cleared his throat, “I believe a judge will have serious reservations about any prospective mother who lives on a tour bus. Add to this the fact you’re a high-school drop-out who abandoned—”
“—We’re not here to revisit the past. Cassie has a gift and I intend to support her career, in the same way she’s supporting mine.”
Cassie ignored me. “I understand, Mr. Curtis.”
The lawyer nodded, then his focus swung back to me. “I simply want to make sure all odds are stacked in your favor.”
His words were clearly a peacemaking gesture. And Curtis was right. Lucas was not yet ours. “We’ll do everything you ask us to do.”
“Also, please don’t forget that the unsupervised access to Lucas you’ve been granted today is purely thanks to the good word of his grandfather. Cassandra seems to have a close relationship with him and the caseworker. Remember that under absolutely no circumstance at this stage are you allowed to say or do something that could compromise the child’s balance.”
“That’s pretty vague,” I said.
“You should act as well-intentioned friends of his late parents and of his grandfather. No more. Don’t discuss your biological bond.”
“We won’t,” Cassie answered.
When we walked out of the downtown office of Curtis, Curtis & Brown, LLC, the early August heat fell over us like a lead blanket.
Cassie whistled. “That went well.”
The stoop in her shoulders said otherwise. So did the crease between her eyebrows. I couldn’t stand seeing her like this, not after I’d promised we’d get Lucas back. I grabbed her hand and invited her to look at me. “Curtis may not be much of a people person, but I think he’s exactly who we need.”