The treatment centre she enters herself into exactly three weeks after she froze backstage is remarkably similar to the one they'd placed Scarlett in, and Juliette cannot help but shudder as the doors swing closed behind her, an ominous sound if she’s ever heard one. They can try to make this place ‘high-class’ as much as they want, a small fountain in the entryway and the smell of lilacs in the air, but this centre, like every other treatment centre she’s ever known in her life (most of them courtesy of her mama), will still have bland white walls, a lingering smell of disinfectant and a strict no sharp objects allowed rule.
She’s here for one reason, and one reason only. And it’s by thinking of Cadence that she manages to muster enough strength to sign herself in, voluntarily entering into ninety days worth of intensive treatment.
Juliette can only hope that ninety days will be enough time for her to get better, because she hates feeling this way. Hell, just a few weeks before she’d wept into Luke Wheeler’s shirt, and she abhors crying in front of anyone - a select few excluded. And although she’s managed to successfully wean herself off drugs and alcohol she knows she still has other issues to face, knows she has only just begun and that there is weeks of hard work ahead of her.
But she’s made the first step hasn’t she? She’s doing what everyone has been begging her to do for months. Surely everything else from here on out is going to be just a little bit easier.
After she's finished filling out a seemingly never ending pile of forms, a nurse takes her by the arm and leads her down the hall to the small, sparse room that shall be her home for the next few months. Juliette strips herself of her clothes, more than happy to be rid of them, changing into the nondescript pyjamas offered. Once dressed, she places the crinkled photo of Cadence that she carries everywhere on the bedside table, propping it up against the dim lamp, a place of honour. Her wedding ring and earrings have been taken from her, the nurse harping on about how dangerous they could be, so this photo of Cadence, months out of date and dotted with water marks from previously shed tears, is the only reminder Juliette will have of her family for the entirety of her time here. The family she’s screwed up, the family she’s certain she’ll never be able to get back, not after what she’s done. Avery has given her more than her fair share of chances, more than she’s ever deserved, and she’s ruined every single one. Hell, not just ruined, she’s ripped them apart, stomped on them and set them alight, destroyed them entirely.
And she signed the divorce papers, her signature drunkenly scrawled but still legible, still legitimately hers. She signed them, and Avery has surely had them processed by now. It’s what she deserves.
Tears start pooling in her eyes as she sits down on the lumpy bed, but she refuses to cry. There’s no point, and she’s cried enough tears to last her a lifetime. Avery probably won’t let her see Cadence until she’s finished her treatment, and by that time their daughter will be nigh on a year old. Crying isn’t going to help her, getting better is. She has to get better. It’s her only chance at trying to rebuild some semblance of how her life used to be, the only chance she has of returning to who she used to be.
She misses being happy, misses feeling anything other than bitterness and rage, so she refuses to cry.
It’s a refusal that lasts until her first therapy session, her therapist, Jenny, taking Juliette by the hand and telling her that it isn’t her fault, that she’s done the right thing by coming here and trying to get better, that if she promises to work hard there’s a high chance she’ll be back to her old self in no time. Jenny asks about her daughter, and when Juliette opens her mouth and tries to talk about Cadence, her sweet sweet Cadence, sobs, not words, are all that come out, her cheeks quickly dampening with tears.
The routine of the treatment centre reminds Juliette of what little she remembers of her time in school, and she supposes having such a strict schedule only aids in patient recovery. Breakfast is at 8:30 sharp, individual therapy sessions after that, then lunch, then free time, then dinner, and then finally group discussion. Juliette doesn’t hate it here, not really, not after she’s had a few days to adjust. It’s better than donning her Juliette Barnes façade day after day, night after night. Here she is just Juliette, a woman with her own problems, a woman trying to get better. Some of the other patients recognise her, judging from the way their eyes widen and their mouths open as if to shout, but either due to their own volition or from a strict warning from a nurse they don’t bother her. For that she’s thankful. She doesn’t need any more reminders of the life she chose over her family, the life she chose over getting better and feeling love instead of disgust whenever she looked at her daughter.
She’s been here for two weeks, the days surprisingly flying by rather than lingering on like she had feared, when she’s told that if she’d like to make a phone call, she can. Juliette nods in understanding, her mind whirling. Who in the world could she possibly want to call? Luke, to thank him for helping her, to tell him that she’s doing better? Rayna, to apologise for everything? She almost laughs – that’s an apology which will take more than a mere phone call. Deacon? Sitting on her bed, she thinks hard for a few moments, fingers laced together, until it finally comes to her.
She might not be able to call Avery, but she can call Emily – and although that trashy tabloid wasn’t true, Emily’s just as much a part of Avery and Cadence’s life as she is a part of hers. If Juliette rings her and tells her everything, well then, sooner or later Avery will also find out. So she picks up the phone, and dials her assistant’s number from memory, fingers shaking somewhat as she presses the buttons in rapid succession. It begins to ring and Juliette waits, holding her breath, for the phone to be answered, but it just keeps ringing.
Hi, you’ve reached Emily. Sorry I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message, and I’ll be sure to call you back!
Instead of throwing the phone to the other side of the room, instead of screaming with frustration, Juliette merely sighs and leaves Emily a message, telling her where she is, why she’s here, and the number where she can reach her. Rationally she knows that Emily’s probably too busy to answer the phone, looking after Cadence in her stead, but the fact that she, Emily’s boss, has to resort to leaving her employee a message infuriates her. Still, Juliette finishes her message with a simple “I’m sorry” and hopes it’s enough to make Emily want to call her back.
It isn’t. But she perseveres, and someone, somewhere, must be smiling down upon her, because that night the phone is answered, Emily on the other line. For a moment, Juliette doesn’t know what to say. Will Emily berate her, for screwing up time and time again? Or will she try her best to understand, to forgive, the way she has a million times before?
She forgives. For some reason, Emily forgives her, and Juliette weeps. When Emily asks about visiting hours, she weeps again, because for the last three weeks she’s sat alone in her room every time the other patients received their visitors, certain that she’s going to be alone for the next three months, that no one in their right mind would ever want to visit her. Stifling a sob, she tells Emily that she doesn’t know, but she’ll find out.
When she hesitantly asks about Avery, about Cadence, Juliette can almost see Emily’s face light up. She can certainly imagine it, and for a moment, she’s entirely jealous that her assistant gets to see her daughter almost every day, that a woman that didn’t carry Cadence for nine months, didn’t labour for hours to bring her into the world, is the one who rocks her to sleep and reads her a story, but she knows that Emily is only doing it as a favour to her, helping Avery out because she cannot. It’s only just over two months, and then she’ll be the one who sings to Cadence, the one who plays blocks with her and laughs when she tries to stand up but falls over instead. So she swallows her irrational jealously, tries to temper it with a bout of thankfulness towards Emily, and merely listens as her assistant raves on about Cadence, about how much she’s grown, how alike Juliette she looks, how much of a sweet soul she is, how she’s much easier boss than Juliette ever was. Even Juliette laughs at that, because she has been terrible to Emily, hasn’t she? She’s been terrible to seemingly everyone she knows, Emily especially, and yet…her assistant is more than willing to still be part of her life.
Just before they end the call, Emily desperate for sleep after running around after Cadence all day, Emily tells her that she’s proud of her, of what she’s doing. It’s those words, “I’m proud of you”, words Juliette has hardly, if ever, heard within her life, that make her weep after she ends the call, pressing her face into her pillow.
She’s doing the right thing. She knows she is, knows she could not continue down the path of self-destruction any longer, but being reassured by people who have known her at her worst, who have been there through everything, well...it only helps to reaffirm what she already knows.
Visiting hours are 10 to 4, Monday to Saturday, and tentative arrangements are made for Emily to visit whenever she is free next. They don’t specify a date, and truthfully Juliette would rather Emily be looking after her daughter than visiting her. She isn’t quite sure she’s ready to let anyone see what a mess she’s truly become, so perhaps that’s why the appearance of her assistant, her friend, in the doorway one afternoon startles her. Juliette’s sitting on her bed, enjoying her free time before dinner, when someone clears their throat and jolts her out of her quiet musings.
She looks up, and it’s Emily, a smiling, genuinely happy to see you Emily. “Hi,” Juliette murmurs, unsure whether she should stand up from her bed and hug her assistant, unsure if Emily would even welcome such an embrace. Instead, she settles for a soft wave and a smile.
“It’s good to see you.” Emily steps inside the room, still smiling. When Juliette gestures for her to sit beside her on the bed, Emily does. It is only when they’re seated beside each other that Juliette shakily inhales and drops her head onto Emily’s shoulder, her assistant instantaneously rubbing soothing circles onto her back. “You look better.”
Juliette nods slightly. “I feel better. I mean, a little. I’ve detoxed, so that’s over. The rest will take time, but the doctors and therapists all say that I’m making good progress.” She shakes her head softly, sighing. “I should have done this sooner. I should have listened to y’all, instead of being such an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot, Juliette. And you’re doing it now. You’re doing it, and that’s all that matters. There’s no point dwelling on the past, trying to change things that have already occurred. All that matters now is your recovery.”
“Very wise, Emily.”
Her assistant laughs. “Well I spend most of my time playing with your daughter... so I suppose I’m grateful for this chance at adult interaction. You’re definitely better to talk to than Will or Gunnar, by a long shot.”
At the mention of her daughter, of Cadence, Juliette perks back up, lifting her head up off of Emily’s shoulder. “How is she?” she asks quietly, nervously, lacing her fingers together. “Is she doing okay?”
Emily offers her a gentle smile and a comforting hand on her shoulder. “She’s perfect, Juliette. She’s thriving.” Her assistant rustles around in her handbag, looking for something, before retrieving her phone with a triumphant grin. Juliette ignores the text from Avery still present on the screen, jealously bubbling up in her, accepting the phone when Emily passes it to her, a video already playing on the screen. It’s Cadence, babbling away as she plays with her toys, clad in a blue dress and matching headband. She’s glad Emily’s around to dress her, because she’s certain Avery would have their daughter dressed in onesies everyday if he could. She’s babbling away to herself, incomprehensible nonsense that makes sense to no one else but Cadence, except for one word.
Mama. Mama, her daughter says, over and over again, repeating the word like it is a prayer. Mama, mama, mama.
And for all her refusal not to, Juliette cries, nearly dropping the phone as her body is racked with loud, teary sobs. She weeps for what seems like an eternity, Emily wrapping her arms around her and holding her tight.
“She knows exactly who you are Juliette,” Emily tells her. “I’m not her mama,” she reassures her, “you are.”
“How?” Juliette blubbers out. “How can she know who I am, when-”
When I left her behind, time and time again, without a second thought? When I refused to hold her, love her, even though she loved me the way I’ve always wanted to be loved? When I threw something directly at her, putting in her danger when it’s my duty to protect her?
Emily laughs, a welcome sound. “You can thank Gunnar for that. Avery told him not to, but whenever he can, he plays Cadence videos of you. Especially when he knows Avery is going to be out of the house. He plays her anything he can find. Interviews, concerts, the videos Avery still hasn’t deleted off his phone. The first time Cadence watched you on television and called you mama, Avery was furious. But he can’t change what Cadence knows, not now. In fact, if she were here right now, I’m certain she’d know exactly who you are.” Emily smiles sadly. “I’ll try to bring her next time.”
“Really?” Juliette hastily wipes away her tears, certain that her eyes are bloodshot and her face a mess. “I mean, can you?”
“You’re her mother, Juliette. You’ll always be her mother, no matter what. You deserve to see her, and Avery can’t stop that from happening.” Emily runs a soothing hand down her back. “I’ll convince him. I promise.”
“Thank you,” Juliette says, straightening up. She inhales quickly, before gesturing weakly to Emily’s phone. “Now, do you have anything in there of Cadence that isn’t going to make me cry?”
Emily nods, and they spend the next hour or so giggling over videos of Cadence with food all over her face, of Cadence kicking her legs furiously, of Cadence being twirled around by Gunnar. Avery appears in most of the videos, and at the sight of the man who once was her husband, the man she shall forever love, Juliette’s heart feels as if she has stabbed it profusely with a knife, but she dons a smile for Emily’s sake and watches her daughter bob up and down in her jolly romper, grateful for what little glimpses of Cadence she can get.
Emily leaves with a tight hug, promising once again to bring Cadence with her next time.
Juliette doesn’t hold her to such a promise (how can she?), but she does fall asleep that night easily, ready to live through the next two months or so of treatment and reunite with the daughter that knows exactly who she is.
“I’m bringing her,” Emily tells her over the phone the next day. “Next Monday, at 2. Avery’s agreed. There’ll probably have to be someone at the centre supervising you with her, but I’m bringing her. And she’s oh so very excited to see you, aren’t you Cady?”
Mind whirling, all Juliette can register is, “Cady?”
Emily laughs. “Will's fault. He shortens everything and it’s just, I don’t know, stuck. Cadence is a mouthful, Juliette. Especially when you’re trying to soothe a screaming baby and get her to go to sleep.”
“I’ll make sure to choose a shorter name for the next one, okay?” Juliette says without thinking. The next one won’t be with Avery, that’s for sure. She won’t ever have the chance to give Avery a child with his hair, his beautiful hair that Juliette longs to run her fingers through.
“Please do,” is all that Emily says.
There’s a moment of silence, before, “I like Cady. It’s sweet. I’ll have to thank Will.”
With what? A gift basket? No. A beer basket? Something. She’s certain that most of the money she’s made from the recent album is going to be spend on not only her time in this treatment centre and at Horizons, but on gift baskets for everyone she’s hurt over the last year. Glenn’ll probably get ten, she misses her manager – the closest thing she’s ever had to a real parent - so very much.
And she’ll definitely have to get one for Gunnar, because his interference in ensuring Cadence knows who she is deserves to be thanked. It had been a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. After she’d cheated with Jeff she’d thought Gunnar hated her, despised her, for breaking Avery’s heart. But he had been nothing but warm congratulations when they had married, and had gifted them with a sweet teddy bear when Cadence was born. He’s Avery’s closest friend, and so he should be entirely against Juliette making contact with Cadence, after everything, but for some reason, he isn’t. Juliette suspects it has something to do with Micah, the nephew Gunnar had been duped into thinking was his son, because Avery's told her that things are still tense between them, Gunnar longing to see him but Micah obstinate in his refusal. Still, she’ll have to thank him.
“See you Monday,” Emily tells her. Juliette mumbles a goodbye.
That’s three long days away, but she’s lived through worse.
Come Monday, she hears Cadence before she sees her, nervously sitting in one of the visiting rooms, Jenny in a chair beside her. She’s glad it’s Jenny supervising her, because she knows just how eager Juliette is for this visit, how much she misses her daughter. At first, Juliette had been annoyed by the idea of having to be supervised, seeing as she hasn’t seen Cadence in months, but then she’d realised that Avery is letting her see her daughter, despite everything, and if having Jenny sitting silently at the back of the room is the price to pay for such a gift, she’d gladly pay it ten times over.
There’s a jumble of toys placed in the centre of the room, toys that surely thousands of children had touched, but Emily had assured her that’d she would bring some of Cadence’s favourites. As she sits and nervously waits for Emily to sign in, Juliette almost laughs at the absurdity of the situation. Months ago, she had been desperate to get away from her daughter, desperate to not spend the majority of her days around her, and now here she is, only seeing her daughter due to Emily’s intervention and willingness to go out of her way to bring her here. She’s just glad Cadence is still so little that it’s unlikely she’ll ever remember this place, or her mama in it. Juliette doesn’t want her to remember her like this, broken and desperately trying to rebuild herself, desperate for another chance.
No, Cadence only knows her as her mama, her mama that might not be there all the time but who loves her nonetheless. She knows that without Gunnar sneaking Cadence videos of her, her daughter would probably be calling Emily mama by now. And Juliette couldn’t be able to blame her, blame anyone, not when she’s the one who abandoned Cadence for months, left Emily to help Avery raise her. She’s so very angry at herself for doing what she did, and she doesn’t think she’ll ever be okay with her actions, not when she’s caused such havoc in what was the closest thing she’s ever had to a perfect life.
Juliette shakes her hand softly, playing with the fraying edge of her sweatshirt. Emily had, thankfully, sent over some of her clothes, only the comfortable ones, and with them on, she feels a little more like herself, more Juliette than patient. And she needs to be Juliette, if not for herself, than for Cadence, for the daughter who deserves two parents present in her life. Avery should never have been left with the burden of raising her, not when they’d signed on to do it together. She inhales, deeply, tells herself that she shall have to dwell on such thoughts later, and a second later Emily walks into the room, Cadence safely clipped in a carrier.
Juliette can hardly breathe at the sight of her daughter, can hardly think, as Emily introduces herself to Jenny and puts down her stuff. She’s here, in the same room as her, after so very long. And she’s so big, nothing like the little baby she’d held in her arms and promised the world to. She chokes back a sob, biting down hard on her lip to keep herself from crying, because this is a happy moment.
Emily unclips Cadence, her daughter’s legs kicking rapidly, and a heartbeat later, she’s in Juliette’s arm, her soft, warm flesh squirming as she tries to get comfortable. Her eyes dart over to Emily for a moment, until Juliette speaks. “Hi baby girl,” she murmurs, holding Cadence as tightly to herself as she can, desperate to register every change that she’s missed. A hand soothes down her wayward blonde hair, Juliette grinning as she remembers how adamant Avery had been that it would go darker. Score one, Juliette’s genetics. “Hi. Hi, Cady. I’m your mama, and I’ve missed you so very much.” She presses a soft kiss to Cadence’s brow, inhaling deeply. “So much.”
At the sound of her voice, Cadence peers up at her, her eyes dark. They’d been blue when she was first born, as most baby’s eyes are, but now they’ve deepened to a brown, a colour which must come from Avery’s side. It wouldn’t do for her to be an exact copy of Juliette, and the colour suits her daughter, who is perhaps the most beautiful baby Juliette has ever seen – not that she’s biased.
Cadence looks up at her with those beautiful brown eyes, her fingers stretching to curl around a strand of Juliette’s hair. It hurts, but Juliette welcomes the pain. Upon her arrival to the centre, she’d requested a haircut, desperate to make some sort of physical change that showed she was starting over. Her hair falls only to her shoulders now, the ends healthier then they have been in a long time, and Juliette rather likes it. The length reminds her of when she was pregnant with Cadence, and she thinks she’s going to keep it short. She outgrew the voluminous curls years ago.
Cadence tugs at her hair, and in the sweetest voice she’s ever heard, babbles, “Mama.”
To her utter surprise, she doesn’t cry. Tears do pool in her eyes, but she blinks them away, rubbing circles on her daughter’s back and nodding. “Hi baby.”
This little bundle of flesh in her arms is quite possibly the best thing she has ever created. Cadence may have grown since she last saw her, may have experienced many things without Juliette being there to experience them with her, but there’s no need to dwell on that now, not with her daughter in her arms at long last. So she stands up from the chair, holding Cadence gently, and gets ready to play, longing to hear the sound of her daughter’s laugh.
Jenny deems the session a success, her therapist unable to hide her smile as she watches Juliette and Cadence together, and it is only when Cadence passes out in the middle of storytime that Emily reluctantly suggests that it might be time for her to leave. A part of Juliette silently protests the idea, that same part wanting nothing more to gather Cadence up in her arms and run, run, run, never letting anything separate them again, but one look at her daughter’s sleeping form, Cadence’s hands curled into little fists, and she agrees. She places Cadence gently down in her carrier, tidies up the toys and with one last kiss to Cadence’s forehead, bids Emily goodbye with a quick hug.
“Tell Avery thank you,” she murmurs, gazing down at her daughter. “I don’t know how you managed to talk him around, but I’m so grateful you did.”
Emily nods. “I will.”
“And thank you for bringing her. Seeing her…it reminded me why I’m here.” Juliette shrugs. “Only two months to go.”
Emily waves a hand in the air, scoffing. “Easy. You’re Juliette freaking Barnes, and you’ve been through worse.” She offers her a soft smile. “And we’ll be back on Thursday, okay?”
“So soon?” It isn’t that she minds…only, she’d thought that visits would be limited to a weekly basis.
Emily shrugs. “Well it’s either come here, or spend yet another afternoon at the park. I prefer here,” she teases. “The women at the park, for some reason, have taken it upon themselves to judge me. I guess everyone saw those photos from a few months back.”
Juliette visibly winces at the memory – her, angrily ringing Emily and berating her for swooping in on Avery, unaware that her assistant was doing nothing of the sort, only trying to help her in the only way she could by taking care of Cadence. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs, looking at Emily. “I really am. I never should have said those things to you.” Cadence makes a noise in her sleep. “You were only trying to help Avery out, help me out. I know that now.”
“It’s okay. Like I’ve told Avery, I’m happy to do it. I mean, you’re still paying me so.” Emily grins. “Anyway, I’d better get this sleeping beauty home and awake before she ruins her sleeping schedule, otherwise her daddy will be annoyed.”
Juliette frowns. “I didn’t realise,” she says. “I just got caught up in the moment, I didn’t even stop and think about naptime.”
Emily places a hand on her arm. “Neither did I. Don’t worry about it, Juliette. Honestly, it isn’t a big deal. What’s a few hours of missed sleep compared to Cadence seeing you again? Avery will understand, he will.”
“Still, tell him I’m sorry.” A somewhat meaningless apology, considering all she’s done…but Jenny told her to start making amends somewhere. “On Thursday we’ll definitely make sure she gets a nap in.”
Emily nods. “See you Thursday,” she says, and Juliette watches her leave until she rounds the corner and Cadence is unable to be seen anymore. She exhales shakily, running a hand over her brow, until Jenny’s voice breaks the silence.
“You did well, Juliette.” She shrugs, unable to accept such praise. Good? What, playing with her daughter for a few hours, when she should be at home taking care of her? Only she wants to do is scream at herself, to berate herself for being such an idiot, so she says nothing, her mouth closed tightly so nothing can escape. “I’m seeing real progress.”
“Well, I’m trying,” she retorts, unable to stop the snark.
Jenny nods, smiling at her. “We’re definitely noticing.”
On Thursday, her plan of ensuring Cadence has a nap is ruined when her daughter refuses to settle, screaming her lungs out at every attempt. Emily reassures her that it’s just because it’s an unfamiliar place, that it’s not her fault, but still. Her screaming makes Juliette uncomfortable, makes her remember all the times she let Cadence cry in her cot, her heart desperate to soothe her but her body repulsed at the thought. Emily notices, and she gathers Cadence up in her arms, humming gently to her. Juliette sits there, useless.
Nothing works. Nothing. Not a bottle, a song, a cluster of kisses. Nothing.
Until – Emily deposits Cadence in Juliette’s unmoving arms and rustles through her handbag for her phone. Cadence peers up at her, red-faced and teary, and she opens her mouth as if to scream again, when music starts playing from Emily’s phone. It takes a few moments, moments in which Cadence thankfully calms down, her eyes drooping, but Juliette eventually recognises the song. It will never be on an album, never be sung on tour, but it is perhaps the song she loves the most. The lyrics come back to her easily, and when she opens her mouth to question Emily, they come out instead, her voice somewhat strained as she sings, after weeks of going unused and months of abuse via drugs and alcohol before that.
When you wake, I will be here to hold you in my arms.
Once Cadence is settled, sleeping soundly, Juliette turns her attention to Emily. An eyebrow arched, she questions, “Why that song?”
Emily comes to sit beside her, fidgeting somewhat. Eventually, she simply offers a shrug. “I have no clue. But it’s the only thing that calms her when she works herself into such a state.”
“Avery doesn’t mind? I mean…” she trails off, sentence unfinished, but Emily understands. Doesn’t he mind that the only thing that calms their daughter is her singing, her, when she’s the one who walked out and left them and he’s the one there for Cadence twenty-four seven? Surely he does. She would, if the roles were reversed.
“He did, at first. We had an argument over it, but the day after I walked in and he apologised immediately. Said Cadence had been crying her heart out last night, right up until he started playing the song. I guess he just realised that as much as he didn’t want to be reminded of you, Cadence’s wellbeing would always come first.”
“I miss him, Em.” The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them. She’s been doing that a lot lately, blurting things out without a second thought. Jenny says it’s good for her, to say what she’s thinking, what she’s feeling, but it feels strange, after going so long bottling everything up and swearing that she’d deal with it later. “I miss him so much. When I was on tour, sometimes I’d wake up thinking he was beside me, and I’d be devastated when I realised he wasn’t.”
Emily nods in understanding. “He misses you too,” she tells Juliette. “I mean, he doesn’t say it, but I’d like to think that I know Avery well enough to know he misses you. He keeps himself busy so he hardly has time to think about it, but he misses you. Will told me that they talked a month or so back, and Avery was in tears by the end of it.”
Juliette feels tears prickling in her eyes as she asks, “How am I ever going to make it up to him?”
“By getting better.”
She scoffs, dismissing Emily’s words. “I doubt that’s going to make up for the months of abandonment, the hurt I’ve caused. Getting better is only going to help me, not him. Maybe if I’d done it earlier, but not now. Not after everything.” She runs a finger tenderly over the place her wedding ring used to sit, wishing that a solution would present itself, that her marriage could somehow return to the way it used to be.
“We’ll see,” is all Emily will say. She’s always been always an optimist, the counterpart to Juliette’s pessimism.
They sit together in silence, Juliette’s lullaby playing softly in the background, until Cadence wakes up, hair tousled from sleep. Juliette smiles down at her, stretching out a finger for her to clutch.
“You could write him a letter.”
Emily’s suggestion startles her, Juliette entirely enraptured with her sleepy daughter. “You could write him a letter, and I’d give it to him. He might have ignored your texts, your calls, but he can’t really ignore something as tangible as a letter. And if he tries to throw it away, I’ll hit him.”
Juliette laughs. “You won’t.”
“I’ll get Gunnar to. Or I’ll distract him with Cadence and take the letter back. Either way, the only bad thing that could occur from you writing a letter is Avery not reading it, so what’s the harm in writing one?”
Juliette is silent, but Emily is persistent. “Write him a letter Juliette. Write down everything you wish you could tell him, and trust me, he’ll read it. And maybe, he might begin to understand. I’ve told him you’re getting better, and so have your doctors, but he still doesn’t believe you are, not truly.”
She inhales. “Okay. I’ll write him a letter. Honestly, when did you get so pushy Emily?”
Emily beams, and below them, Cadence tiredly blows a raspberry.
I’m sorry. I know those words probably don’t mean anything for you anymore, but I am. I’m sorry. For everything, but most especially, for not seeking help before. I’m sorry it took me ruining everything to admit I needed help, and I’m sorry I abandoned you and Cadence, time and time again. You both deserve better, and I’m sorry I let this disease get the better of me. I guess I’m just not as strong as everyone thinks.
Emily says she’s told you I’m getting better, and I am. It’s been rough, especially at the beginning, but when I look at Cadence I know it’s all worth it. Before she was born I promised her that I was going to be a better mama than my own was, and I meant it. It’s just taken me a while to remember that promise.
Cadence is wonderful, Avery. You’ve done such a great job with her, and I can only apologise that I made you take on such a role by yourself. I promised to be by your side, and when things got hard, I fled. I’m sorry. For a hundred, a thousand, things – too many to list. I’m sure you remember exactly what I should be sorry for, anyway.
I’ve got so many things to apologise for, so many people to try and get to forgive me, that I’m sure I’ll be paying penance for the rest of my days. And I have utterly no idea where to start. If Emily hadn’t forgiven me, I don’t know where I would be. Probably not in this treatment centre, that’s for sure. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have such a great friend, but I’m so glad she’s part of my life. And a part of you and Cadence’s life. I’m glad you had her to lean on, seeing as I wasn’t there.
I should have been there. And I know it doesn’t make up for anything, but from now on, I am going to be a hundred percent present in Cadence’s life. And one day, when she’s old enough, I’ll tell her what happened, what I did, and pray that she forgives me.
Thank you for letting me see our daughter. It’s helped more than I ever imagined it could.
All my love,
He reads the letter late at night, when Emily’s finally left and Cadence is sound asleep. The house is quiet, empty, Will out somewhere and Gunnar over at Erin’s. Avery doesn’t quite understand why Gunnar’s trying to pretend he’s over Scarlett, trying to move on with another girl, when it’s clear as day that he still loves her. But he isn’t a position to judge, so he stays quiet on the subject, offering Scarlett a shoulder to cry on after she breaks up with Caleb and not saying anything when Gunnar rolls in dishevelled from the previous night.
He opens the letter quickly, just like ripping off a bandaid. He’d considered not reading it, thought about trashing it, but Emily had warned it that she’d know if he did, and that she’d promised Juliette she’d make him read it. And she’s somehow roped both Gunnar and Will into ensuring he does, so it is with the threat of the both of them pinning him down and forcing him to read Juliette’s words that he’d agreed to read it, by himself.
He only manages to read past the third paragraph before the tears start, Avery placing a hand over his mouth to stifle his sobs, not wanting to wake Cadence up.
He misses his wife so much. He misses his family, the family he'd chosen for himself, the family he'd thought would be forever.
He misses being happy.
Week ten of her treatment begins with a group therapy session. She’s come to know most of the other residents quite well, and to her surprise, she doesn’t entirely hate all of them. There’s a few who are exactly like her, suffering from post-partum, and over several cups of coffee they’ve come to know each other quite well. She knows that they recognise her, but they don’t befriend her because she’s Juliette Barnes. They befriend her because she’s suffering too, and any source of human kindness in a place like this is extremely welcome, necessary even.
Instead of going with them to the dining room after the session though, she heads back to her room. Cadence is due for another visit in an hour and so, and she wants to make herself look presentable, wants to finish organising the activities she has planned for them to do together.
She wrote Avery a letter over three weeks ago, Emily swearing that she’d give it to him and make sure he read it, but she hasn’t heard anything from him. And she hasn’t bothered to ask Emily, because if she had a message to pass on, she’d surely tell her. It’s better to just push it to the back of her mind, to focus on finishing up her treatment and then trying to readjust to the outside world. She hasn’t been on social media for over three months, and she has no idea what excuse Luke has made for her absence. After she leaves though, she plans to tell the truth, because she’s over pretending. She’s been sick, she’s still sick, but she’s getting better.
Jeff’s death though…it is another matter entirely. She knows that Luke managed to convince everyone it was a suicide, but the memory of what really happened still haunts her, still leaves her gasping for air in the middle of the night. And she isn’t sure, after what happened thirteen weeks ago, if she is ever going to be able to set foot on a bright stage again without being reminded of that night.
But that’s a problem for another time. Right now, Cadence is mere moments away, and she doesn’t need to be thinking about these kind of things. Whether she’s able to perform or not, there’s enough money in her bank account and more coming in from her album sales and royalties. Enough to ensure that she will be comfortable, at least for a few years. There’s no need to rush back to work, and to be completely honest, she isn’t sure that she’d be welcome back. Not with Rayna that’s for sure, and while Luke may have been a godsend to make sure she got help, she did kind of leave him in the lurch and all, with an opening act for such a major tour.
Still, all that matters for now is Cadence, and making sure that her daughter knows just how much she adores her. Nothing can ever make up for the months she’s missed…but surely, she must get points for trying.
Cadence is dressed in somewhat Juliette neither recognises nor likes, but her daughter is seemingly enamoured with the cheap lace stitched around her wrist, so she says nothing, merely pursues her lips slightly and swallows, a bad taste lingering in her mouth. Moments later though, she cannot contain her curiosity, asking Emily, “Where did that dress come from?”
She knew it would arrive, the day in which Cadence began to wear clothes that she hadn’t purchased before she was born, knows that her daughter is growing far too quickly to still be able to fit in clothes Juliette had bought. Avery’s far too busy to worry about whether their daughter is dressed in the nicest clothes money can buy, she understands that. It just stings, that’s all. Juliette supposes it’s because she thought she’d be around, to make sure Cadence had nice, perfectly fitting clothes whenever she needed them, was dressed immaculately at all times. Her own childhood, Juliette had been forced to deal with the issue of only having a few items of clothing to wear, money seemingly better spent on booze and pills than it was on making sure she was clothed and fed. She’d thought it would be different with Cadence, and seeing her daughter dressed in something so obviously cheap, something that wouldn’t have looked out of her place in her own childhood, is yet another reminder of her failure to be a proper mother.
Emily looks over her shoulder at her. “Oh. Avery’s friend bought it for Cadence.”
The word hurts Juliette more than she’d like to admit. Friend. Avery has friends that she doesn’t know about. Specifically, judging from Emily’s current expression, lady friends. Lady friends that like to buy her daughter (her daughter!), cheap, tacky clothes.
But Juliette knows, just like she knew Cadence would outgrow the clothes she’d bought, that one day Avery will move on. He deserves to, and nothing, aside from their daughter, really ties them together anymore. Hell, she’d not just cut what bonded them in half, she’s completely hacked it to bits. He deserves someone in his life that treats him like the remarkable man he is. He deserves to be happy.
It still hurts, but she suppresses the urge to cry and instead gratefully takes the block Cadence hands her, clutching it tightly.
“Oh,” she murmurs, Emily coming to sit near her. “That’s nice. I mean, of her.” She offers Emily what she knows is surely a pathetic excuse of a smile, but Emily knows her best, knows her like the back of her own hand, and merely smiles back.
They play with Cadence for an hour and a half, before Juliette notices her eyes getting droopy, her little yawns, and suggests a nap. Agreeing, Emily searches through Cadence’s things, handing Juliette a charming purple onesie, an article of clothing she appreciatively accepts. In a mere moment, her daughter is stripped of the revolting dress, and Juliette has to resist the urge to light it in on fire, Emily stuffing it away out of sight instead. She sings Cadence to sleep, a finger trailing up and down her arm gently, and when her daughter is entirely conked out, Emily begins to speak.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious. Avery’s new friend, I mean. He hasn’t brought her into the house or introduced her to Cadence yet. She only knows that Cadence exists purely because I rang Avery when they were out, claiming that it was an emergency and that he needed to get home right away.” Emily laughs, shaking her head. “It wasn’t, of course. Cadence was totally fine. I was just sick to my stomach, thinking of him and his friend out together, having a good time, while you’re here working so hard to get better.”
Juliette rolls her eyes at Emily, laughing. “He deserves to be happy Em. Jeez, you couldn’t have even given him a night?” Emily shrugs, and that only makes Juliette laugh harder. It’s nice, even if she is laughing about how her assistant slash best friend tried to ruin a date between the man Juliette loves and a lady with incredibly bad taste…even she knows that this is an extremely messed up situation. But still. It’s nice. She doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to laugh, not when she’s faced with battling her illness, the mistakes she made, each and every time she awakes.
“He should at least come to see you. I’ve told him to, time and time again, but he refuses. Says it’s enough that he’s letting Cadence come, that if I say you’re getting better, then that’s good enough for him.” Emily sighs. “I’m sorry, Juliette.”
“I’ve made my bed,” she replies, softly. “And I’ve gotten pretty good at lying it in.” She sneaks a peek at Cadence, still sound asleep. “It’d be nice to see him, but really, Cadence is the only thing I need.”
“That dress is hideous though, isn’t it?”
Juliette nods, laughing. “Entirely.”
Emily grins. “Sadly, I think it’s going to meet with an ‘unfortunate accident’. Pretty soon, in my professional opinion. What do you think? Misplace it, or trash it altogether?”
“Trash it.” Sweetly, she adds, “Please.”
Emily steps out to get a crappy coffee from the visitors lounge, claiming that she’s bone tired and needs the caffeine. It’s only a few minutes until they’re due to leave, but Juliette doesn’t want to wake Cadence, her daughter so very sweet when she sleeps. She’s nervous, hands laced together tightly, because this is the first time she’s been left alone with in daughter, the first time in months that it’s just been her and Cadence, Cadence and her. Jenny is here of course, silently observing in the corner, but still. It’s a milestone, the fact that her doctor hadn’t protested when Emily announced her need for a coffee, the fact that they both trust her enough to let her be alone with Cadence. It warms her heart, just a little.
Soon enough, this will be a regular occurrence. Juliette knows she signed away her parental rights, an action she regrets immensely now that she’s stone-cold sober and knows exactly what that means. Hopefully Avery is amicable to her seeing Cadence regularly, at least once or twice a week, and in time, she prays, he will be fine with her asking for joint custody. She’ll just have to be patient, which will be a completely new experience for her, but one she thinks she’ll be able to manage.
Cadence stirs in her makeshift bed, Juliette thankful that she only has a few more weeks left in this place. It must be uncomfortable for her daughter, sleeping in a carrier that she’s nearly outgrown, when she has two perfectly good cribs.
“Hey Cady girl,” she murmurs, her daughter blinking up at her. “You ready to go home now?” She looks over her shoulder, because surely it should not be taking Emily this long to get a coffee. She doesn’t want her to get in trouble, taking Cadence home later than she should. However, she’ll gratefully take a few more minutes, helping Cadence out of the carrier, her daughter warm in her arms and still somewhat bewildered from her nap.
“Where’s your Auntie Em gotten to, huh?” Cadence gurgles in response, blowing a raspberry, and Juliette merely rolls her eyes. “Real mature Cady.”
“She left. I asked her to.”
Juliette’s glad she’s sitting, because if she wasn’t, she’d most certainly fall to the ground in shock. Her daughter’s face lights up at the sound of her daddy’s voice, Cadence fumbling in her lap as she strains her head to look over Juliette’s shoulder.
She can hardly breathe, hardly think, and she most certainly doesn’t want to turn around. Thankfully, Avery doesn’t approach her, but rather, Jenny. “Can we have the room?” he asks, and at this level, seated on the floor, Juliette is more than happy at the chance she’s given to ogle his butt. He’s always had a good one. It does feel a little wrong, what with Cadence in her arms, but hey…Cadence wouldn’t be here if she didn’t find Avery attractive, and god does she find Avery attractive. Everyone on her team, even Emily, had thought her desire strange, knowing exactly the type of guys that had appealed to her before, but there is just something about Avery. She cannot describe it, not exactly, but it’s a feeling she never wants to let go of.
Jenny nods. “If you’re sure.”
Her heart races as Jenny packs up her things, her doctor offering Juliette a soft, reassuring smile as she leaves. Avery still hasn’t turned around. She has a million questions, all of them on the tip of her tongue. What does this mean? Why does Avery want to be alone with her and Cadence? Is he going to tell her that it’s been great, and he’s sorry, but he doesn’t think she should be around Cadence anymore? Cadence, as if knowing exactly just how much her mother’s mind is whirling, stretches out a hand to clutch at her hand, and Juliette is thankful for the distraction.
“She does that to my hair too.” Avery sits himself down in front of her, smoothing his hands over his jeans. When she looks up from Cadence, heart in her throat, he smiles. “Hi.”
God he’s gorgeous. She’d almost forgotten. His hair is slightly longer than when she saw him last, but she doesn’t dislike it. She’d never dislike anything about Avery.
Juliette is almost certain that everyone in the centre can hear just how fast her heart is beating. “Hi.”
Silence settles over them after that awkward greeting, but it isn’t uncomfortable. They’ve got too much to say to one another, Juliette especially, that they cannot decide what to say first. So, they settle for saying nothing at all, distracting themselves with Cadence. Juliette hoists her out of her lap, placing her down between her and Avery, a highly effective buffer.
“How has she been?” Avery, as usual, is the one to offer an olive branch. Juliette gladly takes it.
Smiling, she answers, “Great.” She runs a hand over Cadence’s back, offering her daughter a hand to hold. “She’s always great.”
Avery chuckles, a sound that sends a jolt of longing straight down her centre. God, she misses this man. “I guess she must save all her Juliette days for me then.” At her arched eyebrow, Juliette still enamoured with the way Cadence’s hand clutches around hers so eagerly, he laughs again. “She’s a total diva some days, Emily, Gunnar and Will can attest to that. Our daughter can be very demanding.”
Just like her mother, he leaves unsaid.
He runs a hand over their daughter’s hair, and with a dry mouth she notes the presence of something entirely shocking. There, on Avery’s left hand, sits his simple wedding band, the one a heavily pregnant Juliette had rushed around to find hours before their morning ceremony, desperately trying to find a jewellery store that opened early. He’s still wearing it, even though he’s most certainly processed the divorce papers by now. Still wearing it, even though he’s been on a date, is moving on with his life. She doesn’t know why he’s wearing it, but she doesn’t question it. After all, she’s still wearing hers – or she would be, if the treatment centre didn’t think she could cause harm with her ring. She’s Juliette Barnes, of course she has a diamond wedding ring!
“Thank you for letting me see her,” she blurts out. “I know you didn’t have to, and you probably didn’t want to, so thank you. It’s helped more than I thought it would.” She said as much in her letter, but she isn’t sure he’s read it, so. It doesn’t hurt to repeat it.
Avery nods, silent.
She continues. “When I was up on that ledge, all I could think about was how much I’d screwed up. I’d screwed up everything, but the thing I regretted the most was leaving Cadence. I swore when I was pregnant that I was going to be different, I was going to be a better mother than my own…and I ended up just like her, leaving my kid behind in pursuit of a better life. So when Jeff pushed me back and after I’d sobered up and realised what had really happened, I knew I’d been given a second chance. And that I couldn’t waste it.”
Avery’s brow is furrowed, his mouth pursued. “What ledge, Juliette?”
Instead of answering his question, she asks, “They didn’t tell you? I told them to tell you.” She scoffs, shaking her head. “Of course they didn’t tell you. They couldn’t risk the truth being found out.”
“They didn’t tell me what?”
For a moment, she considers not telling him, considers laughing off what she’s said and avoiding his questions. But it’s Avery, and he deserves to know. “I tried to kill myself. I don’t know if it’s because I was drunk out of my mind, or whether because I really wanted to, but I tried. Jeff saved me. He died saving me.”
“You tried to kill yourself,” Avery repeats. She doesn’t dare look at him.
“Juliette,” he pleads, his hand reaching out to grasp her arm. “Please, talk to me.”
Embarrassed, nervous, anxious…she doesn’t know exactly how she feels at the moment. She wants to tell him everything, because it’s Avery and he should know everything, but she’d thought Luke had already taken that burden off her shoulders. Finding out he hasn’t, that Avery has been left in the dark, makes her more ashamed of her actions than she’s been in weeks. A man, Jeff, died because of her. Not matter how much she hated him, no matter how terrible of a man he had been, he had still died, and for no other reason than to ensure she lived. How is she ever going to be forgiven for something like that? Does she deserve to be forgiven?
But Avery is here, a hand on her skin and his blue eyes pleading. He’s here, and he wants her to talk to him.
She’s never been able to deny him anything, so she does.
Juliette starts at the very beginning, telling him why she fled the night of her launch party. Apologises, profusely, for leaving yet again, leaving when she’d sworn she would stay and try to work things out. Tells him why she ditched her phone, why she told her team to ignore his frequent calls and messages. He listens, and the feeling of his fingers against her arm somehow gives her the courage to continue, to delve into the truly appalling stuff. A one woman party, they’d called her, Juliette consuming enough booze and pills every night to kill a racehorse. She tells him how devastated she was when he gave her those divorce papers, but that she understands why he did so. And while getting those papers may have made her want to drink and party harder, Avery is in no way at blame for her ending up on the ledge that night. She’s a grown woman, she has control over her actions. She could have stayed in her room, but she didn’t. She could have poured her alcohol down the drain, but she didn’t.
When she’s finished, telling Avery how the stage lights made her remember what had happened, how she’d come to Luke weeping and asking for help, his mouth is drawn. His fingers still linger on her arm, but aside from that, he offers no reaction to her confession. Cadence is happily playing between them, their daughter unaware that she’s just bared her soul to her father, yet again. He’s the only one she’ll ever confess such things to, the only one she thinks could possibly ever understand. He might not be a part of her life romantically anymore, but he’ll always know her better than anyone else ever could.
Offering her a wan smile, Avery trails his fingers down her arm to clutch at her hand, a gesture of support. She takes it, eagerly, thankfully, saying nothing. What else could she possibly say?
Avery breaks the silence, in the end. No matter how comfortable it is, it’s still silence and it isn’t going to help them move forward. “I told Emily to leave because I wanted to spend some time with you alone,” he says, passing Cadence her discarded doll. “She’s been harping on about how much better you’ve gotten, how great you are with Cadence, how much Cadence loves visiting you…and I’ve been ignoring her. I thought it was for the best. I thought, I’ll let you see Cadence, that’s your right, but I don’t have to have anything at all to do with you anymore. Emily’s more than happy to take Cadence to these visits, and surely she’ll be happy to continue ferrying her around once you’re released. You get to see Cadence, I get to try and move forward with my life. Everyone wins.”
Such a bluff dismissal causes her heart to twinge, but she doesn’t show it. She won’t show it, because Avery feeling this way, like his only choice is to remove her from his life entirely, is her fault. She can feel sad about it, but later, when she’s alone.
He continues. “So I tried. Moving on, I mean. I ran into this woman, quite literally, on the street, and we started talking. And she didn’t know who you or I were, surprisingly. That was a nice change, not having to pretend for the public that everything was okay. It was just nice to talk to somebody as just Avery, not as Juliette Barnes’ husband.” He laughs, shaking his head. “But it hasn’t gone anywhere. It isn’t going to go anywhere,” he clarifies, looking right at her. “She isn’t my type.” Avery fingers his wedding band. “And besides…”
He shakes his head. “Anyway. I decided to come here, to see how you were doing, Partly because Emily’s somehow roped Gunnar and Will into harassing me, and partly because Cadence has been so happy whenever she comes home after seeing you. I was jealous, at first, that you could just swoop back in after being absent for months and make our daughter so happy, but.” He shrugs. “I figured, if she’s so happy after seeing you, if Emily’s so adamant that you’ve gotten better, if your doctor keeps ringing me trying to update me on your progress, well, they can’t all be lying. Right?”
“They’re not.” Somewhere, somehow, she finds her voice.
Avery nods. “I know. Standing in the doorway, watching you with Cadence…it was exactly what I’ve been dreaming of happening for months. Us, one happy little family. I knew in that instant that you’ve gotten better, because if you hadn’t you would be so comfortable letting Cadence near you, so happy to be merely playing with her.”
“I’m sorry it took me so long. I’m sorry it took me standing on that rooftop, letting someone die so I could live, for me to realise that I needed help.” Juliette inhales shakily, fingers shaking as she holds her hands up to her jaw. She could really use a drink right now.
“I’m sorry you felt that ending it all was your only option.” Avery pulls one of her hands away from her jaw, holding it tightly. The metal of his wedding band is cool against her skin, and she shivers, both at the coolness, and at Avery’s touch. “You should have rung me. You should have talked to somebody.”
She laughs, a pitiful sound. “I couldn’t talk to anyone. No one knew what was happening, like you said. In the public eye, everything was fine. I spent hours in makeup everyday covering up my dark circles and trying to soothe my bloodshot eyes, and I performed every night exactly like Juliette Barnes would. I thought about getting help, but how would I ever be able to without someone finding out and leaking it to the press?” She shakes her head. “Better to die…at least that way, I’d be remembered.”
(What if I become irrelevant at twenty-five?
That’s not possible. You will always be the unforgettable Juliette Barnes)
“You should have rung me.” Avery’s voice is hard, his gaze unflinching. She’s knows he’s angry, and he has every right to be. Standing on that ledge had been yet another selfish action. It had been hard enough on Juliette when her own mama had passed, and she’s a grown woman. Cadence is not even a year old, and if Jeff hadn’t pulled her back from that ledge, their daughter would have been motherless before her first birthday, forever to live with the knowledge that her mother would rather kill herself than be around her family.
“I couldn’t. I didn’t dare. You wouldn’t have answered. You shouldn’t have, anyway. We’re divorced, remember?”
Avery sighs, exhaling. “You’re right. I probably wouldn’t have answered. Even when the news came about Jeff’s death, even when you gave that statement to the press, I didn’t care. Will pushed me to call you, seeing as he was in contact with Layla, but I refused.” He rubs his forehead tiredly. “I’m an idiot, honestly.”
She’s the one to stretch out and grab his hand this time, and thankfully, he doesn’t pull away. “You’re not an idiot, Avery. You didn’t know what was happening. No one did.”
“Still,” he begins. “I know you. I knew what was happening with you, and I just cut you off completely. I’m supposed to be there for you, in sickness and in health, and I just cut you off, furious that you were breaking my heart all over again, leaving us again.”
She smiles, and repeats, “We’re divorced, remember? You don’t need to uphold your vows anymore.”
Avery presses his lips together tightly, and Juliette’s heart leaps in her throat as she considers what he might say next.
Yes, you’re right, we’re divorced and legally I have full custody of Cadence, so sorry but you won’t be able to see her after you’re released. Have a nice day, good to see you’re doing better.
It’s nothing of the sort. In fact, somehow, it’s good news. Kind of.
“We’re not actually divorced,” Avery tells her, quietly. “Not yet, anyway. I know you signed the papers, they came in the mail months ago, and I was going to file them straightway. I was going to, I told myself every night that the next morning I’d wake up and file the papers, but. I didn’t. I don’t know why, truly. I knew it was the best thing to do, the only way to really move forward, but I just couldn’t. I hated upholding this farce just for the public, but when the papers came in the mail, signed by both you and I, something stopped me from filing them. And then Emily came and told me about you being here, your doctor came and pressed me to let you see Cadence…and I just forgot entirely about filing them. They’re somewhere in my room at Gunnar’s.” He laughs. “I actually don’t remember where I stashed them, so.”
“We’re still married?” she asks, as quiet as Avery. He nods, and she struggles to keep from smiling. They may still be married, but Avery isn’t still in love with her, surely. How can he be, after all she’s done? The best she’ll probably get is his friendship, and that will have to be enough for her. They were friends before, it shouldn’t be too difficult to adjust to such a situation. She’ll just have to forget all about the late nights spent curled up in his embrace, the way he held her so reverently after Cadence was born, telling her how proud of her he was over and over again. She’ll probably have to move, because her house is filled with memories of them – good and bad. She actually hasn’t slept in her own bed since the night Avery crashed her hastily-thrown party, the night he kissed her in Cadence’s nursery. They hadn’t slept that night, Juliette desperately pressing her body against his and kissing her way down his chest, frantic to reconnect with the husband she loved. Loves.
“You should file the papers,” she murmurs.
Then, “And you should stop wearing your wedding ring. You don’t need to protect me, maintain this façade anymore. I’m planning on releasing a statement after my treatment’s done anyway. Of course,” she says, “I won’t be able to tell the entire truth, not about everything, but still. In a few weeks everyone will know what’s been going on, what I’ve been suffering with. They’d find out sooner or later anyway. It’s better if I tell them on my terms. So, you don’t need to keep acting like we’re one happy family.” Quieter, she adds, “Not if you don’t want to.”
“And if I want to?”
She shrugs, resisting the urge to pepper him with questions. “It’s entirely up to you Avery. I don’t expect anything… not after everything.” Juliette offers him a soft smile. “I just want to be happy again, and spend time with our daughter. That’s all that really matters.” She laughs, mostly at herself. “It may have taken me a while to realise it, but I know that now.”
“I want to be happy too,” Avery confesses, rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand gently. “I miss being happy.”
Cadence peers up at them in that exact moment, distracting her. Her daughter offers Juliette a sticky hand, one she takes within her own. Holding the hands of the people she loves most in this world, Juliette’s lips curl into a grin, an expression that is nothing like she one she dons for the public, but rather, entirely true.
When Jenny declares her free to go, her therapist sweeping her into an unexpected but not unwelcome hug, Juliette struggles not to cry. It’s been a rough ninety days, the months before that rougher still, but somehow she’s coming out the other side relatively unscathed. Unscathed and stronger, an entirely new person forged out of the ruins of who she used to be. Juliette’s forged herself into better person she hopes, one that shall be able to deal with whatever life decides to throw her next, without drugs or alcohol or self-destruction.
Cadence deserves that kind of person in her life, deserves a mother who is able to deal with her tantrums and needs without breaking down. Juliette isn’t entirely sure she’s ready to step back into the world again, but Jenny thinks she is, so it is with a shaky hand and a sense of anticipation that she signs the offered release forms. Shouldering her bags, she waves a fond farewell to Jenny and steps through the doorway of her room, inhaling deeply.
The sight that greets her when she finally enters the lobby, the place she’d dismissed with a roll of her eyes mere weeks ago, is the thing that breaks her, Juliette’s eyes pooling with tears. She drops her bags in an instant, letting his arms slide around her, an action so easy, so familiar.
“Glenn,” she murmurs, tears dropping onto the collar of his shirt. “I’m so sorry.”
Her manager, her closest friend, hell, the only father figure she’s really ever had, simply shakes his head at her apology. “I forgave you a long time ago Juliette. All I want is for to forgive yourself.”
She peers over his shoulder to smile at Emily, her assistant grinning back at her. Beside her, a welcome surprise, is Avery, Cadence sitting upright in the carrier dangling from his hands. These four people are the only ones whom matter to Juliette, and she’s caused them so much pain. She doesn’t know how they’ve managed to forgive her, how they can stand to be in such close proximity to her, but she’s thankful that they’re here. With them by her side, she’s certain that she can face anything.
She nods at Glenn, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “I’m working on it,” she tells him, pulling out of his embrace. Emily’s arms wrap around her next, her assistant swaying them back and forth on the spot slightly.
“Thank you,” Juliette murmurs into her ear, Glenn engaged in conversation with Juliette. “For everything. You’ve been amazing Em.” Emily merely smiles, pulling back to look Juliette directly in the eye.
“I’m glad you’re better.”
At this, Juliette has to laugh. “Trust me, so am I.”
Emily relieves Avery of Cadence, her daughter energised and making noises from within her carrier. Glenn opens the door for them to step through, and then holds it open for Juliette. She’s terrified, eyeing the door anxiously. She’s been outside during her time here, of course she has, but this is different. This is real, and once she steps foot out of this clinic, everything will be different. Better, but different, and she isn’t sure she’s ready to leave the comfortable routine of the clinic behind, not just yet.
Avery looks sideways at her, a brow arched in question. She says nothing, but Avery somehow knows exactly what she’s thinking, and offers her his hand. Juliette smiles at him, tentatively.
“Come on,” he tells her. “Let’s go home.”
Home. Juliette thinks she’s never heard a sweeter word. She takes Avery’s hand, her wedding ring sparkling from her left hand, back in its rightful place.