"Then, what has happened to you?"
I walk over and fall onto the couch next to her. I seem to have no grace these days. All I do is fall and plop.
I don't know where to start with everything that's happened. My life is one big mistake after another—except for Jack Henry. He's the only thing that's been right in my life. Ever. "I guess I should begin by telling you why I went to Australia."
She doesn't know about my relationship with Blake. I kept him a secret from her because I knew she'd discourage our relationship. She would've told me it was a bad idea to get involved with my producer. And she'd have been right.
I can see that she's not happy when I tell her about our liaison, but she doesn't say anything, so I move straight on to my trip. And my Jack Henry. My face involuntarily smiles just by saying his name. It's impossible to not beam at the sound of it coming from my mouth.
I think I see her soften as I describe the love of my life and how I feel about him. I leave off most of the details about our arrangement, except the one where we agreed our relationship was over once I left. I add a white lie and tell her the decision was based on the impossibility of a long-distance relationship rather than the fact that he never wants contact with me again.
The thought brings tears to my eyes. It was so easy for him to let me walk out of his life. I told him I loved him and he couldn't tell me the same. Because he didn't want me.
When I finish giving her the PG version of my time with Jack Henry, I move on to my meeting with David and Blake. She seems pleased with what I'm saying, but then it all comes to a screeching halt when I get to the part where I undescended Blake's testicles for him.
I get up from the couch and pace the floor. I totally expect her reprimand for my actions—the ones that will likely kill my career—but she surprises me. "That bastard threatened to ruin your career while he pinned you to your car? Kicking him in the nuts is the least of what he deserves to have done to him. What he tried to do to you is blackmail, which is illegal, so don't you worry about a thing. We'll take care of this."
Who's we? Is she referring to me and her, or her and the sperm donor?
I suddenly hear a man's voice, and it's angry. "Who pinned you against your car and threatened to ruin your career?"
I jump from the sovereignty in the voice. When I look toward the commanding speaker, I see Jake Beckett standing in the doorway. I know my eyes must be huge by the bizarre way he's looking back at me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
I don't say anything as he cautiously walks toward me, like I'm a skittish animal ready to run at any moment. He doesn't take his eyes from me, staring at my face. He looks mesmerized. As badly as I want to, I can't take my eyes from his, either. It's like staring into a mirror. I never knew we were this similar.
He reaches out to place his hands on each side of my face. My initial reaction is to pull away, but I can't. I crave this man's affectionate touch for a reason I can't identify. "My God, you look just like my sister. It's amazing."
I've spent most of my life hating this man for what he did to my mother and me. He got her pregnant while he was married to another woman and then pretended we didn't exist. He threw us away like trash. I hate him for it and every moment he could've made my life easier but chose not to.
I hate you. The words dance on the tip of my tongue. I want to say them—or maybe scream them—so I can see the look on his face. I want to hurt him the way he's hurt me all of these years.
When he finishes looking at me, he takes his hands away and uses them to pull me into a tight embrace. My face is pressed into his shoulder but it doesn't stop the words I'm determined to say. "I hate you," I weakly whisper as I halfheartedly push against him, but he only grips me tighter.
"You can tell me you hate me as much as you like, but it won't change how much I love you, Laurelyn."
I want to tell him how painful it's been to feel unloved and unwanted by him my whole life and how it directly affects the way I view every man I interact with. Instead, I'm shocked by what I'm feeling. This isn't at all the reunion I'd planned in my head. All the years of anger I've felt for this man melt away because he's my father and he's holding me for the first time. I regress to that little girl who dreamed and prayed he'd want me because I was worth loving.
"I can never tell you how sorry I am for being absent from your life. But I promise you that it will never happen again. The world is going to know that you're my daughter because I love you."
I never needed the world to know I was Jake Beckett's daughter. And I sure don't need them to know now. I don't want his free pass into the music industry. "No. I don't want anyone to know."
I'm sure he doesn't. Most people wouldn't. "I don't want my success based on the fact that I'm Jake Beckett's daughter. I want to make it because I'm a damn good musician. If you announce that you're my father, I'll never know if I was good enough to succeed on my own."
I can tell he doesn't like it, but that's really too bad. "I'll do whatever you want, Laurelyn. Just promise me I can announce it after you've proven yourself."
I'm not in a place where I'm anxious to make promises. "Let me make it first, and then we'll go from there."
I've spent the last week at my apartment in Sydney because I thought I'd lose my mind if I stayed another day at Avalon. Laurelyn's memory haunts me every place I look. There isn't a place on the vineyard that I don't see her, but my bed is the worst. I won't let Mrs. Porcelli wash the sheets because I want to lie in them and still smell Laurelyn next to me.
How desperate is that?
My decision to come to Sydney was ultimately a good one. Although the whole number-fourteen thing was a huge mistake, it opened my eyes to what needed to be done, so I can't regret it in that aspect. But in every other way, it was the stupidest decision I'd ever made. I don't know why I thought anything could drive Laurelyn out of my head. Amnesia couldn't erase her from my brain. She's etched there forever.
My time hiding out at my apartment has come to an end. It's time for me to return to Avalon. I can't neglect the vineyard during the harvest any longer.
I'm almost ready to leave when my phone rings, my brother's name on the screen. It's early yet. I immediately worry something has happened to Dad because Evan would never call me so early otherwise. "What is it?"
"Nothing's wrong. I, uh…was just wondering if I could come by and talk to you for a minute before I go to work?"
This is strange—not like my brother at all. And he doesn't have to be at work until much later, so I know something's up. "Sure."
"I'm leaving the house now so I'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
I take one look at Evan after he arrives and I return the compliment he gave me a week ago when he picked me up at The Langford. "You look like shit." He doesn't retaliate and that's when I know that whatever is up with him is serious. "What's going on, bro?"
"I just need to talk to somebody."
"Okay. I'm somebody, so shoot."
Evan rubs his hand across his chin and that's when I notice he hasn't shaved—in a while—which isn't like him at all. But it isn't like me, either, and I'm sporting the same unkempt look on my face right now. "It's Em. She's pregnant again."
I don't know what I was expecting, but that definitely wasn't it. From the looks of him, I thought it would be something more dire. "Oh. Well, I guess congratulations are in order, but I'm a little surprised. I didn't think you were planning on more kids."
He laughs but doesn't appear at all amused. "We weren't. She left her birth control pills at the house when we went away on that little weekender a couple of months ago. We thought we'd be okay if she caught up on them after we got back. We were wrong."
"How does Em feel about it?"
"She's happy—and already talking about it like it's a boy. She's always thought I wanted a son, but I never cared if we had one or not. I'm crazy about my girls."
He doesn't have to tell me how much he loves his daughters and Emma; they're his world. He could've had all the money and luxuries I have, but he turned his back on it for his family. "So you're not happy about a new baby?"
"No, I'm not. And I'm a selfish motherfucker for feeling the way I do." He draws a deep breath and releases it slowly before he begins to pace my living room floor, hands on each side of his head. This is a new look for him and it has me worried about the reason behind his conflict.
I don't know if I'll be able to help him, but I can listen, even if I can't offer advice. "You can tell me what's on your mind and I won't judge you. I mean, hell…look at what I've been up to for the last four years. It's not like I've been tightening my halo. I'm in no position to pass judgment."
He sits on the couch and leans over, head in his hands. "I feel like I just got Emma back. Mila has practically been attached to her tits for the past year. Twelve damn months is a long time for your wife to have a kid milking her day and night. Bro, it's the worst kind of cockblock. I feel like a bastard for wanting my kid to lay off her food source so I can get a fuck."
Wow. Those are some words I'll never get out of my head. I could've done without hearing that.
"Two months. That's how long Mila's been weaned, and it's been great. Both kids are out of our bed and in their own rooms. I've finally been able to fuck my wife in our bed instead of sneaking off to do it quietly on the couch when she doesn't have a kid sucking on her like a leech. But now there's going to be another one coming along to get between us."