I searched through the house for Daddy. He hadn't been home for like centuries. I missed him so much. When he was gone, it was like being on an island all by myself with only a few strange monkeys to keep me company.
Elias was more like a gorilla, but Eric was definitely a baby chimpanzee, crawling all over me. He was only two after all. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world going to that orphanage and picking him out when he was a baby. It was like getting a puppy or a turtle or another fish only better. He was a little bundle of poop and drool and smiles. I loved him. But Mother asked me to watch him a lot so he didn't hurt himself. She was always busy. I wished she was busy today instead of telling me I had ballet lessons again.
I hate...H. A. T. E. ballet.
But she never listened to me.
She gave me her scary eyebrows and said I just wasn't trying hard enough. That's why my ballet teacher, Ms. Brunella Davin, got all pruny faced at me. I liked to call her Ms. Cruella De Vil, but Mother would yell at me if I ever said that.
Finally, after marching up three flights of steps, I found Daddy! He was messing around on the keyboard with Eli.
"Hey, Brussel Sprouts, what's up?"
Eli hit a TON of horrible notes. He'd never be the Greatest Musician Ever like Daddy.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Sure, sweetheart, what'cha need?"
MURP! went the notes.
Ugh...Eli was so BAD! I tried hard not to plug my ears.
"No, Eli...like this," Daddy said, showing Eli to just use one finger for now. I loved it when Daddy gave me music lessons. I was going to be good at playing one day, too!
I put my hands over the keyboard. "I can't talk with that noise!"
Chuckling, Daddy got off the seat and turned to me. Eli whined. He was always whining when he didn't get his way. "What is it?"
"Mother is forcing me to do ballet. Didn't you tell me I didn't have to? Just like I don't have to wear those scratchy tutus and those icky pink tights? I want to play soccer but she won't let me." Daddy always told me I could do whatever sport I wanted, but when he was gone, Mother took over and wouldn't allow it. Now, he was finally home. I knew he'd change things again. He'd rescue me like one of those fire fighters on my favorite t.v. show.
His eyebrows raised in a funny way. "She's forcing you to do ballet?"
"Yeah...she told me to get ready now, but I HATE it. And you said I didn't have to but Mother never listens to you when you're gone, and I'm stuck like my toy truck that's never going to make it out of that mud pit at Richardson Park."
Sitting Eli down, he said, "Oh, honey, I'm sorry I've been gone...ballet isn't really that bad, is it?"
I didn't want to, but my lips pulled down into a droopy bow and my insides felt all mushy and lost. "I...I....Ms. Brunella is so mean to me and I'm no good at it and...when I try to do what she wants she yells and it's scary..."
"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry." Daddy rubbed my arms, trying to make me feel better but it wasn't working.
Wrapping me up in a smushy hug, he said, "Don't worry. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. I'll talk to Mother. Okay?"
Daddy was the B.E.S.T. best!
But then I wished I hadn't said anything and went along to the horrid, scary, no good ballet lessons because in a few seconds, I heard shouting.
Walking into my brothers' room, my parents were fighting again.
They didn't used to fight. But now, they were like Crystal's parents. Crystal said her parents were going to get a divorce. She'd heard her mom talking to someone on the phone just the other day. And she said it will be good for all of them because her parents shouted at each other all the time. She said having divorced parents is better than having put together parents.
She thought she knew everything but she didn't.
Put together parents that do not fight and love each other and kiss in yucky ways was the best. Everyone knew that. She liked making stuff up so she could lord it over everyone that she was the queen bee of the world.
Fighting parents and divorce were the scariest words on the planet.
"I can't believe you're pulling this shit again, Winter. We've been over it. Why do you undermine what we agreed on like that?"
"Why should I follow what you order? You're never home. I'm the only parent around here. You're a visitor."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" I couldn't believe she would say something like that to me. It was all I could do not to shout at her. I quaked with anger surging through me. "We agreed. Together. I didn't order you to do shit."
"Watch your language around the kids, Jackson."
I hated losing my temper in front of them. Little Eric was too young to realize his parents were at each other's throats again. If I'd known I would have come home to this, I would have stayed away for another three months.
Little by little, I was losing the loving wife I used to have. We'd decided to adopt since Winter really wanted another child. But with the pressure of me being away, all it did was stress her out more. Eric was a sweet kid, but Eli was a handful and needed constant attention. With a toddler and a four year old plus a precocious eight year old, it was too much when I was gone. And now, it seemed that Winter could care less about what we planned out together and agreed to before I left. She was trying to control Siobhan. Make her into a clone of herself. That wasn't going to cut it with me.
"Let's go into our bedroom so we can discuss this," I said, trying to calm down. I hated it when my parents fought. I remembered Pops yelling at Dad a lot at one point. Seeing Siobhan's face ripped me apart.
When we got to our room, I said, "Listen, I'm sorry..." I sighed, trying to figure out how to calm the situation down.
"You knew this was our finale tour," I said, stroking her arms. "I'm focusing on producing music now so I can stay home... why are you yelling at me, trying to make me feel guilty about being away?"
She bristled at my touch. Something she'd never done before. "Um...I...uh...I can't do this anymore..." she whispered.
Her words knifed through me and I lost it. "Do fucking what? Life? Because that's what this is, Winter. Deal with it."
She flipped her hands in my face. "Oh. You think that's what this is? Let me tell you, it isn't.
"Life in this family is what I do. I've been the only one in this marriage that has ever given a damn. You go off and do whatever the hell you want and then come waltzing home and think that things had better be whatever you deem is perfect or else. Well, guess what? They aren't. And you know what else? You can parent the kids all by yourself tonight because I'm leaving."
She pushed me out of the way and stalked through the door.
I couldn't believe this was happening. "Damn," I groaned, pulling at my hair. Why was she acting like this? Normally, if we fought, we'd both say we were sorry and it'd be over. Many times with a romp in the bed, but this was different, and it was scaring the shit out of me.
I wanted to go after her, but with what she'd just said, maybe she just needed some time alone to cool off.
I did, too.
But it was getting late and she hadn't come home yet. This worried me, so I called her but it went straight to voice mail. I called Luci to see if she went over there.
"Hello?" Luci's high voice rang at the other end.
"Hey, Luci, sorry to call so late. I'm just worried about Winter. Is she over there? We had a fight and she left, but never came home."
I heard her sigh, making a scratching sound over the phone. "Jackson...we need to talk."
Luci assured me Winter was okay and that she'd meet with me the following morning.
Winter never came home, but Luci warned me that would happen. She wouldn't tell me anything else. I figured Winter was over there, asking her not to say anything to me since she was so mad. I wondered why Luci wanted to get into the middle of our fight.
Since I couldn't meet her at a restaurant without getting mobbed, I told her to meet up at my studio where I was going to do some work.
We settled in on the studio penthouse couch.
"So...is she fine now?" I asked. "I mean, will she come home? I feel really bad that things got so out of control last night."
She stared into my eyes and said, "Jackson...Winter and Paxton are having an affair."
It was as if time stopped. I wasn't sure I heard her right. No way could that be true. "What...? H-How? I mean...how do you know this?"
"I didn't for a while, but a few months ago, Paxton left his epad out, and I saw some texts he'd had with Winter. They were making plans for a weekend together. Then Pax lied to me about going fishing with Patrick from work. I called Patrick just to confirm the lie. Then I hired a private investigator to get solid proof." She winced at me. "I'm sorry you had to hear like this. I would have told you sooner, but I needed to get all the evidence so I could nail him. I'm going to take him for every dime he's worth."
It was like a massive train roared in my ears. "I...um...God...I just..." Closing my eyes, I whispered, "Shit." A giant boulder seemed to pitch into my stomach, wrenching it. I felt like throwing up.
My life was gone. Everything I knew.
"God, I'm so sorry, Jackson. If you want to know where they are, just use the 'find a phone' app. I did. The two are so brazen they didn't even think to click that off their phones."
My thoughts went instantly to Pax, one of my best friends for more than twenty years, banging my WIFE!
Rage was an understatement at how I was feeling.
Pulse quickening in fury, I tried to catch my breath.
I was going to find them.
After I managed to mumble out a good bye to Luci, I stormed over to the computer and installed that phone finder app. Hands shaking, I tapped in Winter's phone number.
A tiny red dot pulsed over the Grande Hotel.