Stacie sighed as she held her daughter in her lap and showed her the video for the third time in as many nights. “See, baby? That’s momma with all of your aunties. I wish you had a chance to know them.” She sighed again. What the hell had gone wrong? The last time she had spoken to any of them, Emily had sung a song to calm Bella. She’d waited with anticipation to hear about the end of tour. Music news showed that Beca won some contest and she toured with DJ Khaled, but her phone number had changed, and no number of messages had persuaded the former Barden Bella to call Stacie back.
The doorbell rang and Stacie moved Bella to the sofa. “Wait here, baby, I’m just going to get our dinner.” She crossed over to the door and opened it, pulling cash out her pocket to give a tip. When she looked at the delivery person to take her food, she faltered, “Emily?”
Emily shuffled her feet uncomfortably. “I wondered if there was another Stacie Conrad who lived in the area. I thought you moved back with your folks?”
Stacie blinked, “Um, I got a job here. My folks bought this house...wait, come in. Please?”
Emily hesitated. She didn’t have another delivery, but she could lie and say she did. At the same time, it was good to see one of the girls.
“Please,” Stacie asked again, her hand resting gently on Emily’s wrist.
With a smile. Emily nodded and entered. She looked over at the sofa and the little girl who so resembled her mother. “Well, hello. You must be Bella.”
Bella looked at her mother and then at the other woman who was the same height and had the same hair color. “Mama?”
Stacie hurried over, “Yes, baby, I’m here. This is my friend, Emily.”
“Emmy,” Bella replied.
“Close enough.” Emily nodded. “You are beautiful, Bella.” She looked at Stacie, “you must be really proud.”
Stacie picked Bella up. “She really does make my life better.” Stacie rested her cheek against her daughter’s head. “We were just going to eat. Will you join us?”
Emily hedged, “I dunno.”
“Please,” Stacie asked again. “There is plenty.” She took the bag Emily still held and started to move to the kitchen. “Come on.” She paused and looked back.
Emily finally followed and sat in an empty chair while Stacie got Bella settled on her highchair.
“Bella gets chicken, don’t you, baby?” Stacie spoke softly as she took out the package of grilled chicken and tore up strips for Bella to grasp in her fist. “The salads are huge. I’ll get a plate and we can split it.”
Emily watched while Bella wiggled and kicked and giggled as she picked up a piece of chicken to stuff in her mouth. “You are an adorable mess, aren’t you?”
Stacie laughed as she sat down to split the salad onto two plates. As she handed one to Emily, with a fork, she commented. “This one takes after me in more than looks, Legacy.”
“Please, call me Emily.”
Stacie froze and looked over at her guest. Emily was looking down at the plate, her face pink with some emotion. “Sorry. Emily. I...” she stammered.
Emily looked up with a sad smile. “It’s ok, you wouldn’t know. I’m just not that girl anymore.”
Stacie nodded. “Well, I’m not the same as I was in college either.” She swallowed hard as she thought about how to recreate a little levity. She took a bite of salad, and wiped Bella’s face with a napkin. “Life hasn’t turned out like I expected,” she finally sighed. “I thought seeing a former Bella would be a happy occasion. It’s not. Is it?”
“It is,” Emily tried to sound reassuring. “But like you said, life isn’t like I thought it would be.”
“What happened?” Stacie asked softly. “You sang that beautiful song to put Bella to sleep then I never heard from any of you again.” Stacie put her fork down.
“Mama?” Bella asked.
Stacie wiped Bella’s hands and lifted her out of the chair. She rested her head against her daughter’s soft hair. “Mama is ok, baby. Just sad.”
Bella wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck.
“I don’t know what to say, Stacie. I’m sorry I took the order.” Emily stood up. “I should go.”
Stacie turned to look at Emily. “Don’t. Please.” For the third time since she opened the door, she begged. “Tell me what I did? Why did I lose my family?”
Emily froze at the kitchen door. She turned back, “you didn’t do anything, Stac, I promise. It isn’t your fault.”
“Then why?” Stacie couldn’t stop the tears that traced her cheek.
Emily returned to the table with a groan. “Oh, god, Stacie, it was such a mess.”
“What happened?” Stacie whispered, still cuddling her daughter.
“We were sitting at a cafe and a man walked up. I don’t remember what he said, but we all thought it meant we won the contest.” Emily began.
Stacie frowned. “What contest?”
Emily sighed, “after we arrived in Europe, we found there was a contest to become Khaled’s opening act. God, I wish I could remember what he said!” Emily shook her head. “I think Flo was the first to get in the van, CR was last. We thought he was taking us to the award ceremony.”
Stacie started to rock Bella, really more for her own comfort than her daughter’s, as she listened.
“We were so stupid!” Emily looked up at the ceiling. “We were singing and celebrating. Then there was this weird clang sound. I remember I felt like we were floating. Aubrey couldn’t get the window open. CR couldn’t get the door open. We were being kidnapped.”
“Oh my god.” Stacie’s voice cracked. “Hold on.” She stood up and took Bella into another room. When she returned, she sat closer to Emily. “Who, I mean...” she didn’t know what to ask.
Emily couldn’t look at Stacie. She was studying the table again. “Amy’s dad. She is an heiress, I guess. He wanted her money and threatened to kill us one by one until she paid him.” She finally looked at Stacie, “he gave us 30 minutes.”
Stacie reached over and gingerly placed a hand on Emily’s arm. “You all got away?” Her stomach tightened with fear. Who had they lost?
“We did.” Emily found herself gazing at Stacie’s hand. “Beca showed up on the deck behind us. Fergus almost realized she hadn’t been there the whole time. We’d be dead if he had. She convinced him to let us sing before we died.” She looked up at the ceiling again. “We did Toxic.” She shook her head. “Amy dropped through a skylight or something. She started spraying her dad and his goons with a fire extinguisher. At the end, we were all in the ocean and the yacht exploded.” She looked back at Stacie, “you know, I don’t even remember if her dad got off of it.”
“I don’t know I really care.” Stacie sounded fierce. “If he did, I may have to track him down and castrate him.”
Emily smiled, “we didn’t really ever talk about it. We talked about what to do next. Amy was gonna use her money to do more one woman shows. CR was going to join the Air Force. Chloe was going to veterinarian school and Aubrey to Mykonos.” She sighed, “Beca was going to open for Khaled.”
Stacie tried to slow her still beating heart. “What did happen next?”
“Beca started to sing, then pulled us on stage.” Emily started to tear up. “She said she wouldn’t let us down or give us up, but the next morning she and Chloe were gone. All of our phones were ruined in the ocean. Amy stayed in France to talk to the police. Aubrey stayed to help, since she spoke French better than Amy did. The rest of us said our goodbyes after we cleared customs. I never heard from anyone else.” Tears streamed down her face. “I had to drop out of school. I couldn’t concentrate. My parents wanted me to go back to Ohio, but I couldn’t face them after what a mess I made of things.
“Oh, honey,” Stacie wrapped her arms around Emily and rocked her the way she had Bella. “None of this was your fault.”
“I should have been stronger.” Emily hiccuped.
Stacie shook her head. “No one knows how they will handle a trauma, sweetie. You had your life threatened, then lost your entire support system.” Stacie stroked the long brown hair. “You aren’t alone anymore, sweetie. I promise. You have me and Bella. If you will have us.”
Emily rested her head against Stacie’s shoulder. “But I’m such a fuck up.”
“You are not. Now, tell me; where are you staying?” Stacie spoke briskly.
“I’ve been couch surfing.” Emily blushed. “Delivery driver makes enough for me to keep my car gassed and insured, plus my prepaid phone working.”
Stacie nodded, “now you are staying us.”
“Stac,” Emily began.
“I won’t take no for an answer. This house is paid for. My parents bought it for Bella. You keep paying for your phone and car, I will handle the rest, if you will sometimes babysit and save me daycare costs.” Stacie smiled, “it’s a win-win, Emily. I get a sister back and a break on daycare. You get a secure place to stay, and a family, if you want us.”
Emily put her head back on Stacie’s shoulder and cried.