“God, Avery.” Juliette giggled as her husband kissed the top of her shoulder. “You are insatiable this morning.”
“You started it,” he whispered in her ear. She acknowledged the truth of that statement as he caressed her stomach with his fingers. “And I didn’t hear you complaining a half an hour ago. Although your mouth was busy doing other things.”
She rolled over to face him. The early morning light gave their bedroom a soft glow and formed a halo behind his head as he leaned over her. She pushed his hair out of his face and pulled him in for a kiss. “I’m not complaining, baby. Far from it. But our daughter’s gonna be at that door in a minute and I’d rather not have her traumatized by the sound of her parents going for round three.”
“I’m not the loud one.” He squeezed her thigh, pulling her close and she could feel him hardening against her stomach. “Maybe we should soundproof that door,” he muttered, lowering his head to trail his lips on her collarbone.
“Babe, you’re not listening.”
“I hear you. I just don’t understand why you’re even talking right now.”
“Avery.” She couldn’t help moaning as he began kissing her neck but she moved her hands to push him away and wiggled out of his grasp, rolling out of bed even as he reached for her. “We don’t have time.”
“Wait. Don’t - Ju-”
The knock on the door was almost too quiet to hear but there was no mistaking the small voice on the other side. “It’s me. Cadence.”
Avery groaned, flopping back on the pillows.
“Sorry, baby,” she said, pulling his t-shirt over her head. “Hate to say I told you so.” She found her underwear and pajama shorts on the floor and slid them on. “Aww,” she said, noticing the pout on his face. “Rain check?”
“Yeah,” he said, his eyes on the ceiling. “Rain check.”
Juliette walked away from the bed and opened the door to greet their daughter. “Morning, baby girl.” She smoothed her hand over Cadence’s hair, which was wild and frizzy from sleep.
“Good morning, Mama. Is Daddy sleeping?”
“You know, baby, Daddy’s having a real hard time getting up this morning. Let’s let him have a few more minutes.” She turned around and winked at him before closing the door behind her.
Juliette spooned the last of the cereal in her mouth and turned around in the chair, watching as Avery slid a legal pad into his messenger bag. “You leaving?”
“Yeah,” he said, glancing up at her and then back down to his bag. “I told Gunnar I would help him work out the kinks on a song he’s been working on.” His eyebrows furrowed as he looked around the living room. “I’m actually running late,” he said absently.
She pushed her bowl away, got down from the chair at the island and picked up the notebook lying on the counter, then walked across the room to hand it to him. “I thought you’d be home today. I was hoping we could get some writing done.”
“Thanks,” he thumbed through the notebook before putting it in the bag. “Yeah, I meant to mention it to you yesterday but it must have slipped my mind. I’m sorry, babe. But I’ll be all yours this weekend.”
He smiled at her but she couldn’t help feeling annoyed at the unexpected change in plans. “Scarlett can’t help him with the song? Isn’t that kind of what she does?”
“Well, the song’s a gift so no, she can’t help this time.”
“Avery,” Juliette glanced at Cadence, still in her pajamas and sprawled across the couch as she watched television. “Did you forget about tonight? This was your idea.”
“I did not forget family date night and I won’t be late.” He reached for her hand, pulling her towards him. “I promise.”
His hands drifted to her hips and Juliette felt her irritation slipping away with his proximity. “You better not be,” she said but there was no real threat in her tone. She flattened her hands on his chest and stood on her toes to kiss him goodbye, then watched as he leaned over the couch and tickled their daughter’s stomach.
“Daddy’s leaving but I’ll see you later, Princess.”
“Bye-bye, Daddy,” she said through her laughter.
Juliette’s eyes followed her husband’s back until he turned the corner into the hallway. She heard the door close a second later and sighed. There went her plans of working. It would have just been a few hours in the afternoon and she’d already asked Emily to babysit so they could have the time. She’d been looking forward to it since she’d only just decided to start an album and so far, she’d been writing by herself. They weren’t the first songs she’d written since the plane crash and everything that came after. She’d sold some, finished a few and tucked them away but she hadn’t felt like starting a new album in a very long time. After everything, she’d wanted a break and had taken one, though it had lasted years, perhaps longer than anyone anticipated.
The few songs she’d completed were different than anything she’d written in quite a while and she wanted her husband’s help in moving forward. However, Avery had recently committed to producing two full-length albums after having just finished one earlier that week. He was in demand and his schedule was sometimes erratic, often depending on the availability of the artists he was working with. Juliette didn’t begrudge his well-deserved success, but he had been increasingly busy and now with him running off to help Gunnar, she couldn’t help but feel as though she might have to book time with her own husband in order to get him to write with her.
Cadence patted her forearm. “Will you watch cartoons with me?”
Juliette turned her attention to her daughter and her annoyance dissolved when she saw the hope in Cadence’s eyes. She probably wouldn’t get any work done, but she would get to spend the day with her daughter. “Sure thing, baby. What are we watching?”
"Mama, I’m bored.” Cadence put her crayon down on the table and then put her elbows on the play table and propped her head up on her fists.
“Baby girl,” Juliette continued coloring the puppy that was on her side of the coloring book they had been sharing. “I think you are the most easily bored 4-year-old I ever met. You’re bored of cartoons, your toys, practicing your letters and now you’re bored of coloring too?”
Cadence nodded. “All the way bored.”
“All the way and it’s only lunchtime.” Juliette looked up at her, noticing that Cadence didn’t move but her eyes followed her mother’s hand as she put down the brown crayon and reached for the yellow. She had her father’s expressive baby blues and just like him there was always a whirlwind of emotion held just beneath the surface, even as she was claiming utter boredom. “Mama’s gotta figure out something for us to do, huh?”
Cadence nodded again and Juliette took note of her yawn, hoping she might be able to convince the little girl to squeeze in a rare afternoon nap.
“Okay, my angel. First let’s get some food in our bellies and then we’ll see what else we can get into.” She put down the crayon and held her hand out for Cadence as she stood up from the uncomfortably small chair she’d been sitting on.
“Can we have bologna?” Her daughter trailed her fingers on the wall as they walked towards the kitchen. “It’s my favorite.”
“Of course we can.” When they got to the kitchen she lifted Cadence up onto the island. “Here’s what we’ll do.” Juliette handed her a bowl of grapes and put two plates next to her. “You sit here and count out ten grapes for both of us. Can you do that for Mama?”
“Yes, ‘cause I can count to ten.”
“Okay, good. You do that and I’ll fix the sandwiches.” Juliette warmed the skillet and melted a pat of butter in it. As she got the bologna out of the refrigerator, she was once again struck by the irony of making her daughter a sandwich that she used to be ashamed of eating. When she’d been a kid it was cheap white bread and mayonnaise packets that Jolene had stolen from some fast food joint. Sometimes they’d have the bologna but no bread and Juliette would eat the deli meat cold, straight from the package. Other times they’d had bread and no meat and it’d just be a mayonnaise sandwich.
She cut a slit in two slices of the bologna so they would fry flat and turned so she could watch the stove while making sure Cadence was okay up on the island. Her daughter held the bowl of grapes in her lap and pinched one at a time off the bunch, counting as she dropped them on a plate. “Good job, baby,” Juliette said as she reached ten. Cadence looked up at her and Juliette was reminded of Jolene in her crooked little smile and in the way she tilted her head. There were times when she saw hints of Jolene in Cadence. In the way she frowned if she was puzzled and her love of all things pink, even her fondness for bologna sandwiches.
There was a time when Juliette hated her mother and hated everything that reminded her of Jolene. But there were other times when she missed her incredibly. Her mother’s birthday had passed a few months ago and she’d wanted to visit Jolene’s grave, maybe even take Cadence with her, but found that she just couldn’t. It would hurt too much to stand at the marker and wish her mother a happy birthday while fielding the many, many questions she knew her daughter would have. In the end she’d gone through the small box of her mother’s things that she had kept and pulled out a sweater that she’d given Jolene for Christmas. Juliette had held the sweater in her lap for a while, thinking of how her mother had worn it often during the winter even though it was a little bit too tight. That evening, she made a small casserole of pink macaroni with a dollop of cream cheese and sprinkled on plenty of black pepper. She served herself a portion from the corner, just like Jolene would have wanted.
“Happy Birthday, Mama,” Juliette said. Tears came to her eyes and the food blurred until she could only see a mess of red on the plate. Avery found her at the table, sobbing so hard she couldn’t lift the fork. He’d sat down and held her hand as she cried it out and then ate the cold macaroni with her as she talked. “There’s so much I want to say to her that she’ll never hear. I wish she could see me being a mama to Cadence. I wish they could have met each other.”
“She’d be proud of you, baby,” he said. “You should tell her whatever it is that you want to say. It might make you feel better to get it all out.”
She started working on the song that night, staying up to play with words and melodies even after Avery had fallen asleep beside her. Juliette usually named a song after she finished composing it, but this time she started with the title. What I want you to know. It was an apology, a lamentation and a love letter. It came so easy it scared her. She was finished drafting it before her husband had been asleep an hour. Then the next day she found that she had more to say and two songs later, more still. At first she kept them to herself because she wasn’t sure if she was still writing songs or if it was just a jumble of nonsense set to music. When she finally showed them to Avery he encouraged her to keep going.
“Are these - am I crazy?” She’d asked. “Are these any good at all?”
“You’re not crazy,” he’d assured her. “You’ve really got something here.”
Juliette wrote about things she didn’t think she would have been able to say to Jolene if she was still alive. They hadn’t had that kind of relationship, especially after Juliette hit her teenage years and her sole focus was getting the hell out of Alabama and as far away from her mother as she could.
But now, five years after her mother’s death, she would have liked for Jolene to know she regretted the years they’d missed and that she mourned the things her mother would never get to do. Jolene would never tuck her grandchild in at night or read to her or know the sound of her laughter. Now that she had a child of her own, Juliette truly understood her mother’s sacrifice. She’d give her life for her daughter without question and without a second’s hesitation.
Her own childhood had been a mess and she was absolutely determined that Cadence would never feel as she had when she was growing up. Being with her daughter was one reason why her self-imposed break had lasted as long as it had. She’d wanted to make up for some of the time she’d missed when Cadence was a baby. Her priorities had shifted, majorly, and she had chosen to be a mama instead of a superstar.
Juliette didn’t make the sandwich the way she used to have them. For Cadence it was thick-cut bologna and real cheese and actual, name brand mayonnaise that hadn’t been pilfered and brought home in the bottom of a raggedy purse. She spread mayo and mustard on wheat bread, cut the crusts off and sliced it into four perfect triangles, which was the only way Cadence would eat sandwiches. They had chips along with the grapes and ate at the table.
“What are we gonna do now, Mama?”
“Take a nap?” Juliette said hopefully.
Cadence shook her head immediately. “Naps are for babies.”
Juliette sighed. “I figured you’d say that.” She popped her last grape in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Cadence swung her legs under the chair, wiggling her toes and it gave her mother an idea. “Mama can paint your nails. How about that?”
Cadence’s eyes brightened. “Can I have pink?”
“You can have whatever color you like.” Juliette said, then reconsidered. “Except black. Don’t think your Daddy would like that.” She gathered up the plates and took them to the kitchen, then picked up her phone after noticing there was a message notification on the screen. Emily had texted to cancel on her, saying something came up. Juliette supposed it was convenient because she’d forgotten to call her assistant and tell her not to come. It was a little strange because Emily had never waited until the last minute to cancel on her. She texted back, It’s fine, Em. U ok? A few seconds later she got a response. Great! Just busy! Busy doing what, Juliette was tempted to ask. But she had a hint. Months ago, Emily had started dating Tim, a sound engineer that Gunnar, of all people, had introduced her to and their relationship was getting serious. Juliette knew Tim a little as he’d worked with Avery before. She knew he was a bit impulsive and liked to surprise Emily with unplanned day trips.
Maybe he’d come up with something fun for them to do, Juliette thought. She set her phone back on the counter and tried to squelch the small bit of jealousy that burned through her. Avery had been so busy lately; they surely hadn’t had an opportunity to sneak away somewhere. Family date night had been his idea, although why he wanted to spend it getting all dressed up and sitting in a fancy restaurant was beyond her. She didn’t question it though, because he had promised that after wrapping up this latest project, he’d be free…for the weekend at least.
“All right, Cadence.” Juliette turned around and called her daughter. “Are you ready for your mani-pedi?”
“Yes!” Her daughter jumped down from her chair and followed her mother to the master bathroom where Juliette opened the drawer where she kept her fingernail polish.
“Whoa,” Cadence said. “That’s a big, big lot of fingernail polish.” She spread her arms wide to emphasize.
“Yes, it is.” Juliette thought about her mother saying similar words to her after she’d stolen polish from the grocery store. All that seemed like such a long time ago. “Mama will pick five and then you can choose from those.” She set five different shades of pink on the counter. “But pink is only for your toes, okay? Daddy says no color on your fingers until you get a little bit older. I think we can get away with some sparkle though.” She rummaged through the small bottles until she found a clear coat with flecks of glitter in it. She shook it in her hand and watched as the bits of color swirled around. “I don’t think Daddy will object to this one.”
Cadence chose a bright, pretty pink and Juliette gathered everything else they needed. They sat on the edge of the bathtub and soaked their feet in a bit of warm water. She washed her daughter’s feet, tickling her soles and laughing when she started giggling. Then it was her turn, and Cadence crouched in the tub and patted at her mother’s feet with the washcloth. Juliette had turned around to reach for the bath towel behind her when she felt her daughter’s touch. Cadence traced the scar on her left leg with a finger, gently pressing against the smooth, flat line of skin as she followed it up her mother’s shin.
“Mama,” she said. “Does this hurt?”
“No, baby,” she answered. It didn’t hurt, but Juliette hated it. It reminded her of one of the worst years of her life. Everything that had happened from the time her daughter was born until her plane crashed. She’d broken her leg and badly injured her back and there were several uncertain weeks when she didn’t know if she’d ever be able to walk again. She’d been stuck in a wheelchair, helpless and frustrated, and had suffered through months of grueling physical therapy. That was all she saw when she looked at that scar and she usually kept it covered. Cadence didn’t know about the plane crash. Her daughter only knew that her mother had been hurt in an accident but that she was okay now. She and Avery had decided to wait until she was older to tell her anything else. Juliette knew that one day Cadence would have questions and she’d have to face them. One day she’d have to tell her daughter about everything, including the stupid fingernail polish that she used to steal. She dreaded it, but knew it was inevitable.
They sat on the bathroom floor and Juliette massaged Cadence’s hands with lotion before painting her nails. “Be still, baby girl,” she said for the third time.
“I’m trying, Mama.”
“I know you are.” Juliette dunked the brush in the bottle of polish again. “I know it’s hard to sit still and you’re doing so good but you have teeny little nails and I don’t want to mess up.”
Cadence momentarily stopped wiggling. “You should have pink toes and sparkle nails too.”
“You want me to have the same as you?” Juliette carefully brushed another coat of the glitter polish on her daughter’s pinkie. “That’s a great idea. Then we’ll match.” She finished with Cadence, cautioning her to try and be still for just a little longer so her nails could dry. Thank God for fast-drying polish, she thought as she started on her own nails.
“I know a joke,” Cadence said. She blew on her fingers, imitating her mother. “Wanna hear it?”
“Mm-hm.” Juliette glanced up at her and then back down at her thumb. “Tell me.”
“Chicken.” Cadence didn’t quite understand the concept of knock knock jokes. That was as far as she got before bursting into giggles. And even though she’d already heard the joke twice that morning, Juliette couldn’t help smiling. She didn’t know what it was about the word chicken that was so hilarious to her 4-year-old, but she watched as Cadence fell back on the tiled floor and rolled on her side, her little body shaking with laughter. Juliette didn’t mind the chicken joke or how many times her daughter repeated it. Every single time, Cadence laughed as if it were the funniest thing ever and it was the sweetest music to her mother’s ears. And every single time Juliette heard that laugh, she thanked God for the silly little girl who was the heart of the Barkley household.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Mostly backstory. And a fair bit of fluff to go with it.
One of Juliette’s favorite places was a smaller spare room near the back of the house. She thought of it as Avery’s record room, since his collection of LPs had engulfed hers when he’d moved in after they first married. Her husband was admittedly anal about his vinyl. He kept them in plastic sleeves, alphabetized by artist and then in order of release date, which Juliette thought was a little overboard, but he’d explained that if he was looking for a specific record it was easier to find.
“I have a system,” he’d told her as he rummaged through a box the movers had packed. “The system must be respected.”
She had rolled her eyes and waddled from the room to leave him busy categorizing, but she was thankful that he was working his way through the many boxes littering the house. Getting that room set up seemed to be a priority for him and he brought a chair in for her so she could sit with him while he unpacked and organized their records on the shelves. It was slow going. A few times he’d find an album in a box that it shouldn’t have been in and he’d mutter about the hastiness of the movers while finding the correct place for that record. A couple times he’d come across something he wanted her to hear and he’d stop and play that album or he’d find something of hers that he hadn’t heard and they would listen to that. They found themselves spending a lot of time in there even after he’d gotten everything unpacked and organized exactly the way he wanted. As Juliette neared the end of her pregnancy the chair was replaced with a plush, oversized couch so she could put her feet up. It was cozy; a good place to talk or write or nap together, which ended up happening quite often.
Avery took all of his records when he moved his things out and Juliette remembered how pitiful her sparse collection looked on the nearly empty shelves. It took a while for him to get everything back in its place after he moved back in. A few days of him muttering, once again, about the movers and Cadence banging on the baby gate in indignation at being shut out of the room. Avery was no match for his daughter’s tears and more often than not, Juliette would find that he’d let her in and settled her on his lap while he continued sorting through the records. That’s how she usually ended up in there, keeping the busy toddler out of trouble so he could focus on what he was doing.
It became their daughter’s favorite place to nap. Juliette would put on a record, usually something soothing and slow, and rock Cadence in her arms until she fell asleep. Now that the little girl was older and had apparently given up napping, she loved to visit the room so she could dance and sing.
After their nails were dry and miraculously free from smudges, Cadence led the way down the hall, already telling her mother what she wanted to hear. In that regard, she was truly Avery’s child. Her father had exposed her to so many different genres there wasn’t much she wouldn’t listen to. Often, Juliette could hear her and Avery rocking out all the way from the living room. Sometimes she would go spy on them, watching as Avery strummed an air guitar and Cadence jumped around the room, whipping her hair back and forth.
For her, Avery had disregarded his system and set aside the records she most liked. Cadence had her own shelf and though she couldn’t read the album titles, she knew them by the covers. She quickly picked one up and handed it to her mother. It happened to be one of Rayna’s earlier records and Juliette knew she’d chosen it because she loved “Best Songs Come from Broken Hearts.”
“Good choice,” she said as she set the record on the turntable. “You got your mike?”
“Yes,” Cadence said, holding her toy microphone up so her mother could see it.
“And I have mine.” Juliette gripped a matching pink microphone in her hand. “Let’s do this.” She turned the volume up and they sang and danced through the entire album until they were both breathless and collapsed on the couch. “Aren’t you getting tired?” Juliette asked, trying to hide the hope from her voice.
“No,” Cadence giggled.
“Mama is,” Juliette said, adjusting a pillow beneath her head.
Cadence leaned against her side, resting her head on her mother’s breast. “Can I sing with you, Mama?”
“Let me catch my breath a minute, please.” She put a hand on her chest and could feel her heart pounding beneath her palm.
“No, I wanna sing a real song. On a record.” She sat up, looking at Juliette with excitement in her eyes. “We can sing together like you and Miss Rayna.”
“One day, baby girl.” Juliette promised, shifting so Cadence could lie back down next to her.
“And Daddy can work on our album.”
“I bet he’d like that.” She kissed the top of her daughter’s head. “We have to start getting ready for dinner in a little bit but,” she interrupted herself with a yawn, “let’s just lay here a while.”
“I’m not tired,” Cadence warned as she wrapped an arm around her mother’s waist.
“I know. That’s what you told me,” Juliette said. She smiled to herself as Cadence yawned and inched even closer. It didn’t take very long until she could feel her daughter relaxing, seemingly growing heavier as she fell asleep. “Thanks, Rayna,” she whispered. Naps had become rare blessings soon after Cadence’s fourth birthday.
Juliette yawned again. Neither she nor Avery had gotten much sleep and he was right, she’d started things when she’d woke up in the middle of the night and reached for him. She moved slightly to grab her phone, which she’d fallen on top of when they’d flopped on the couch. She was planning to set the alarm so they wouldn’t oversleep, but saw that she had missed a text from Avery. Hey, baby. Just thinking ‘bout my girls. Love you both. Juliette grinned and used her free hand to text him back. We love u too, babe. And miss you. She hesitated, then deleted the last before sending the text and setting her alarm. She dropped the phone beside her and glanced down at Cadence before closing her eyes.
Juliette had promised herself she wouldn’t complain about Avery’s long hours. Her husband loved making music and she understood how easy it was to get caught up in the studio. She wouldn’t nag him for working so hard, especially when he was the one consistently working since she’d taken a step back from the limelight. She did miss him though. When he was at home he was all theirs, completely present as both a husband and a father, but the late nights were becoming the norm rather than the exception.
One of the main reasons she’d vowed not to complain had snuggled into her side, snoring softly as she napped. Avery had sacrificed so much for Cadence and he’d continued to sacrifice, for Juliette this time, after the plane crash. He was by her side at the hospital when she woke up in a state of confusion, not knowing where she was or what had happened and he supported her through the entire ordeal. It took her a few weeks to realize he was doing too much. He’d taken over from Bo, chaperoning her to and from physical therapy and he spent most of his days at her house, waiting on her and making sure she was comfortable. She was grateful, but she realized she had to push him away, back into his life. She wouldn’t have him giving up anything else for her.
Avery got an offer for a producing gig that he’d have been a fool to pass up and she insisted that he take it. “You can’t stay here and be my nursemaid,” she’d said, starting a conversation that would end with both of them in tears. She’d been sitting in the wheelchair with her hands clasped in her lap and she had a hard time meeting his gaze as she told him she thought they should focus on being friends. “It’s the best thing for us, Avery. For all of us.”
He made it plain that he didn’t agree, but said he didn’t want to argue. His voice wavered when he’d said goodbye and she’d wanted to call after him and stop him before he reached the door but she knew she shouldn’t. She closed her eyes against her tears, expecting to hear the door close as he left. Instead she heard his footsteps coming back into the living room and she looked up in surprise.
He leaned against the doorframe and stared at her for a long moment. “I can’t leave it like that, Juliette,” he finally said. “We can move as slow as you want. If you want to be strictly friends and co-parents for a year or three or five, I don’t care. Whatever you want. But I’m not walking away from you again.”
“Avery, look at me,” she gestured to the chair. “Stuck in this thing.”
“You’re going to walk again.” He came into the room, stressing the words as he walked towards her.
He sat on the edge of the couch and turned the wheelchair so she was facing him. “For the record, I love you regardless of whether you walk again or not, but I do believe you will.”
“I feel completely helpless. This isn’t something I can just make happen. I might be in this chair forever and that terrifies me.” She couldn’t blink away the tears anymore and she wiped her cheek as they started to fall. “Cadence is going to be walking soon and I want to chase after her. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.”
“I’ve never known you to back down from a challenge.” He reached over and wiped the tears from her other cheek with his thumb. “Juliette, you are without a doubt the strongest woman I know and you can do this. I believe in you and I need you to believe in you. It won’t be easy, but I know you’ll be back on your feet eventually.” He paused, hesitating as if he was deciding whether to continue. He put his hand over hers in her lap. “One day,” he said slowly. “One day, hopefully not too many years from now, I’m going to ask you to marry me again.” He stared into her eyes, allowing that to sink in for a moment. “If you say yes, I’m gonna be waiting for you to walk down the aisle to meet me at the altar. So I can’t have you quitting on me now.”
His words gave her a goal. When the physical therapy got too hard, she focused on the image of walking down the aisle with Glenn at her side. She thought about dancing with Avery at their reception. They took things very slowly, rebuilding their friendship first and then moving into a romantic relationship. He moved back in a year after the crash and Juliette was chasing after their two-year old by the time he proposed.
A few weeks after her second birthday, Cadence had figured out how to wriggle out of her clothes and her diaper. She hated being wet but she absolutely refused to use the potty. Juliette could sit her on the miniature toilet and she’d wiggle and squirm but wouldn’t do anything more than that. But as soon as her mother put a fresh diaper on, she’d wet herself and then cry until she was changed.
Juliette decided to try to lead by example and sat on the toilet with Cadence next to her on her own little potty. Her daughter stared up at her with her eyes opened wide. “See,” Juliette clapped her hands. “Mama’s using the potty. Yay, Mama!” Cadence joined in, clapping her hands with her mother. “Now you use the potty like a big girl.”
“No.” Cadence shook her head and then jumped up and ran from the bathroom into the hallway, leaving her pants and diaper on the floor.
“Cadence!” Juliette hurriedly wiped and yanked her pants up before chasing after the toddler. “Cadence Barkley!” She caught up to the toddler at the end of the hall and stood over her with her hands on her hips. She took a deep breath, ready to scold the child until Cadence looked up at her with the most cherubic expression. Juliette sighed and relaxed her arms at her sides. “Baby girl, don’t run fr-” Cadence suddenly peed on the floor, interrupting her mother’s sentence. They both looked down at the puddle and her daughter wiggled her toes in the wetness and then burst into tears.
“Good grief,” Juliette said, lifting the toddler to her hip. “I’m the one who should be crying, kid.”
It was warm outside, the weather verging on summer, but she dressed her daughter in a set of zippered pajamas and put them on backwards so Cadence couldn’t get out of them. Her daughter was not pleased. “Sorry, baby, but you can’t pee on Mama’s floor.” She shook her head as she walked down the hallway. “And I can’t believe I just said that.” She carried Cadence to the record room, sat on the floor and rocked her to sleep, singing over her daughter’s cries. When the toddler finally nodded off, she carefully moved the little girl from her lap to the carpeted floor. She leaned back against the wall and started dozing, then jerked her head up when Avery called her name.
“Hey,” he said, stepping over the baby gate.
“Hey.” She cleared her throat. “What are you doing here so early?”
“I had an-” He stopped himself when he noticed how Cadence was dressed. “Clever. I take it the potty training’s not going so well?”
“No,” Juliette said. “I have half a mind to leave her in diapers until she turns 10.”
“I imagine that would make elementary school difficult for her.” He leaned over, reaching for their daughter.
“Wait. What - are you cra- what are you doing?” She whispered fiercely, batting his arms away from the sleeping toddler.
“I was gonna move her to the couch.”
“Avery, I swear, if you wake this kid up you’ll be taking her back to the studio with you.”
He glanced down at their daughter again and then sat next to Juliette so the little girl was stretched out on the floor in between their legs.
“What are you doing here anyway?” She asked again, watching warily as he ran a hand over Cadence’s hair. “It’s just noon.”
“I had an errand to run and I decided to stop by and check on my girls.”
“Well, let’s see. This morning, Cadence pulled every single tissue from a box of Kleenex. She figured out how to take the lid off her sippy cup and dumped water all over the couch. She got a hold of the remote and put it somewhere. I can’t find it and I have looked everywhere. We’re both still in our pajamas at lunchtime and I just finished cleaning up a puddle of pee from the hallway floor.”
“But you managed to get her down for a nap and at least she didn’t chuck your phone in the toilet again.”
“I love how you can always find the silver lining,” Juliette said. She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes. “I still have days where I wonder if I’m doing this right.”
“Eh, so she ruined a box of Kleenex and waterlogged the couch. She’s 2. The terrible twos, isn’t that what they call it?”
Juliette glanced down at their daughter, napping peacefully between them. “I would never call her terrible, but she is…”
“A force to be reckoned with.” He finished her sentence.
“I was gonna say busy, but that’ll work too.”
“I think it’s just natural to doubt ourselves. We’ve never done this before. There are times when I’m so proud of her independent streak but then other times when I miss the sweet baby girl who didn’t say no to everything and wouldn’t take her diaper off in the middle of the night and fling it from her crib.” He chuckled and pretended to throw something across the room. “She has a great arm, by the way. We should get her into softball when she gets older.”
“Avery, I’m serious.”
“All right.” He reached over and took her hand. “You’re a wonderful mother, Juliette. You’re patient and loving and our daughter is thriving. Is there something else bothering you?”
She shook her head a little, still amazed at how well he knew her. “I was wiping up the floor and it struck me that I could be on tour right now. It was just a little blip of a thought but it made me think about how different things are.”
“You can go back to work any time you want.”
“I know,” she said. “I know I can but I don’t really want to just yet. Can you imagine what that kid would do to a tour bus? But if I’m being honest, I do miss some things. I miss that feeling right before a big show, that nervous, excited, fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach. And I miss the little cheese danishes from craft services. Of course, Glenn. Seeing him work with other artists is tough but I wouldn’t change anything we’ve got, Avery. Our little girl is a handful but I’m right where I need to be.”
“Right where you need to be,” he repeated the words almost under his breath. “So maybe you don’t want to headline a national tour right now but you could perform around Nashville. It’s been over a year. I know you miss it.” He squeezed her fingers so she would look up at him. “I can get you some of those cheese danishes if you want.”
She rolled her eyes but gave him a smile. “You know how to woo a girl, don’t you?”
“Maybe I do.” They sat in silence for a few minutes until he finally spoke up. “Since we’re being honest, I didn’t go to the studio this morning.” Juliette turned to look at him but he kept talking before she could ask the question. “I went to pick this up and then afterwards I couldn’t decide on how I was gonna ask you.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a ring box.
She covered her mouth with both hands. “Avery, what are you doing?” she whispered, her eyes growing wider as he moved to open the box. He lifted the lid and she caught a glimpse of a diamond before squeezing her eyes closed.
“Listen,” he said. “I know we’ve had -”
“Hold on.” She put up a hand to stop him. “Are you seriously proposing right now? Here, on the floor? I’m not even dressed!” She was louder than she meant to be and they both glanced down at their daughter. Cadence whimpered and kicked her leg out over the carpet but didn’t wake up.
“Yes,” Avery said simply. “At least I’m trying to. I know. It’s crazy. I had this whole other thing planned out but then I went and picked up the ring and I had to come straight home. Right where I need to be. I couldn’t wait any longer, Juliette. I don’t need an arena tour, babe. You give me that nervous, excited, fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I see you. I love you so damn much and I’m asking,” he took a deep breath before continuing, “I’m asking you to be my wife.”
Juliette finally looked down at the ring he held. It was beautiful. Completely different from the band she’d had before but still simple and elegant. “Yes.” She held out her hand so he could slide the ring on her finger.
“I’m sorry it didn’t happen the way you might have wanted.”
“You definitely surprised me,” she said. She cupped his cheek with her palm, wanting to wipe the concern from his face. She’d been taken aback by his sudden proposal but she wasn’t disappointed. “It was perfect.”
“Good,” he exhaled as if he’d been holding his breath. “I don’t plan on ever doing it again.”
“You won’t have to.” She leaned forward to kiss him over their sleeping daughter. “I love you, Avery. I can’t wait to be your wife again.”
On their wedding day she wore flats, wanting to be as sure-footed as possible. She held Glenn’s arm but only had eyes for the man standing at the altar waiting for her. When she reached him she held out her hands, her fingers trembling with anxious excitement and Avery took hers with his own, his fingers steady, strong and sure.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
“White dress or this pretty blue one?” Juliette had learned it was best to give her daughter a choice of outfits. That usually curbed any disagreements over Cadence’s penchant to wear stripes with prints if left alone to choose her own clothes. Juliette was hoping she’d choose the blue dress so she held it up a little higher in the air and moved it closer to Cadence.
“This one,” Cadence clutched the frilly skirt of the white dress, squeezing it in her hands.
“Okay.” She hung the dress from the doorknob and turned back to her daughter’s closet. “And your shoes…” She stood on her toes, stretching to reach the small box containing her daughter’s dress shoes. “Are way up here. Daddy must have put them away.”
“I wanna wear my cowboy boots.” Cadence picked them up from the closet floor and held them up to show her mother. “Aren’t they pretty?”
Juliette turned around and glanced at the fringed leather boots as she lowered her arms. “Your boots are very pretty, but I think for tonight I’d rather you wear the other shoes.”
“Mama, please? Auntie Scar got them for me. They’re pink and that’s my favorite.” Cadence pouted, dropping the shoes and crossing her arms over her chest. “I don’t like the other shoes.”
“Cadence, just the other day you told me you loved your dressy shoes.” Cadence set her jaw and Juliette recognized the look as one of her own. She sighed, knowing the conversation could easily turn into a battle of wills. She remembered the parenting advice her mother in law had once given her. Don’t fret the small stuff. In the grand scheme of things, this was tiny. Who cared if the boots didn’t at all match the style of her dress? “All right, baby. But if I let you wear those boots you have to promise you’re gonna sit real still while I fix your hair.”
“Okay, Mama. I will.” Her daughter beamed up at her before plunking down on the floor and pulling one of the boots on.
“Wait a minute,” Juliette said. “Let’s get you dressed before you put your shoes on, silly girl.” She helped Cadence change clothes, pulling the dress over her head and zipping it up before letting her daughter put on the mid-calf cowboy boots. She had to admit they didn’t clash with the dress as badly as she thought they would.
“All right. Let me do your hair and then I have to get ready myself. Daddy will be here soon.” She picked up a hairbrush from the dresser and glanced at the clock on the wall. She’d hit snooze a couple times before finally rousing Cadence from her nap and now they were a little pressed for time. She sat in the ugly but extremely comfortable green chair in the corner of Cadence’s room and motioned for her daughter to sit between her legs. Cadence picked up her baby doll before walking over to sit down. She placed the doll between her own legs, a small pink comb gripped in her hand as she began combing the doll’s hair. It had been a special thank you gift from Uncle Will and Uncle Kevin for being the flower girl in their wedding a few months before. The baby doll was currently her favorite toy; she had named it after them, carried it everywhere and wouldn’t go to sleep unless she had it in bed with her. “Willa Kay’s hair is yellow like ours.”
“Blonde, baby.” Juliette corrected her while gently pulling the brush through her daughter’s hair.
“Is blonde the same as yellow?”
“Okay, blonde.” Cadence had a much heavier hand than her mother and roughly raked the comb through the doll’s head. “Nana’s hair is blonde and yours and mine. Was your mama’s hair blonde too?”
“Yes, it was. A beautiful sunny blonde just like yours.” Cadence’s hair was very similar to Jolene’s, straight with just a bit of a wave near the ends.
“But Daddy’s hair is brown. And Grandpa.” Cadence pulled through her doll’s hair again and Juliette was sure Willa Kay would have been complaining if she were real. “But Papa Glenn’s hair is blond.”
“Uh, yes.” Juliette giggled, thinking of her manager’s toupee. “It probably is still blond.”
“Where is Papa Glenn? Is he on a tour?”
“I think he’s…” she trailed off, realizing that she actually didn’t know where Glenn was. He was still technically her manger, but he’d taken on other artists at her insistence. There’d been no point to him waiting for her to go back to work when she hadn’t been sure if or when she would. “I’m really not sure where he is, baby.”
“Can we call him?”
She checked the clock again. They had time for a quick call. “Not a bad idea. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you.” She hadn’t seen Glenn in a few months, not since he’d left on the first leg of a tour with one of the artists he was managing. They’d been separated before when he’d either quit or been fired, but that time felt a little different. He stopped by the house to say goodbye and she remembered hugging him for a long time before pulling away. “I’m gonna miss you,” she told him, trying to hide how upset she was. Of course he saw right through that.
“I’m going to miss you too, kiddo.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Call me anytime you want. I’ll always be there for you.”
They’d spoken several times since he’d been gone, but not as often as she might have liked. She put the hairbrush down and picked up her phone to dial Glenn.
He answered after just a couple rings. “Hey, honey,” he said.
“Hey, Glenn.” He said something in response but there was so much noise in the background she could hardly hear him. “I didn’t hear you. Are you at a sound check or something?”
“Yeah,” he yelled a few seconds later. “It’s too loud, Juliette. I can’t hear. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
The call ended abruptly and Juliette looked at her phone in surprise. “Sorry, baby girl,” she said, setting the phone down. “Papa Glenn couldn’t talk right now. We’ll try again tomorrow, okay? But right now we have to finish getting ready for our date night with Daddy.” She rested her hands on Cadence’s shoulders, silently reminding her to be still before gathering her daughter’s hair into a loose braid.
“Mama, can you braid Willa Kay’s hair like mine?”
“Hmm, I’ll try. Is she gonna sit still for me?”
Cadence giggled. “Yes.”
“Or is she a wiggler like you?” She finished the braid, secured the end with a barrette and then leaned over to tickle her daughter’s sides. Cadence squirmed, laughing as she scrambled away.
Juliette picked the doll up from the floor and did her best with the thick synthetic hair. Willa Kay’s braid wasn’t as neat as he daughter’s but she didn’t have time to redo it. “Here, baby.” She stood from the chair and handed the doll to Cadence. “I’m gonna get dressed. Stay in here and play and I’ll be back in a little bit.”
After one last glance at Cadence, Juliette left her daughter’s room and headed down the hallway towards her bedroom. She opened her closet door and walked inside, searching for a pair of heels to match the designer pants she’d chosen to wear. She bent over, reaching for a pair on the bottom shelf when she spied a bright orange piece of paper in the corner. She pulled at it, carefully tugging it free from beneath a box where it had been squished. It was crumpled, but she recognized the origami bird immediately.
She and Avery had only been dating for a little while when she’d told him that her father used to make paper cranes for her before he’d been killed. It was one of the few memories she had of her father, one she cherished and she’d been fighting back tears when she told Avery how he’d make the bird fly over her head before presenting it to her with a flourish.
That first one from Avery was a heartbreaker. Lopsided and clumsy, made from a piece of lined paper he’d torn from a notebook. He’d given it to her during the same week that he’d told her he loved her for the first time, when she was still wrestling with her guilt over what had happened with Jeff at the BMI party. He’d figured out how to fold origami for her. It was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for her and only served to make her hate herself even more for the mistake she’d made by having sex with Jeff. After Avery broke up with her she kept it in a drawer, unable to trash it but unable to look at it again. She’d almost forgotten about that first crane until after they married and he folded a white one, leaning over to balance it on the mound of her belly one afternoon after she woke up from a nap.
“You’re getting better,” she’d told him, holding it up in the air so that the light shining through the window refracted off the crisp white paper.
The morning after they came home from the hospital with Cadence, he served her breakfast in bed and she found a diminutive pink crane peeking from behind her biscuit. “Avery,” she’d breathed as she plucked it from the breakfast tray. “It’s perfect.”
It became a thing he did, a small gesture of affection, though she never caught him actually making them. There were times when the reason was obvious; the day after she finally agreed to start dating him again she found two turquoise cranes kissing on the kitchen counter. But sometimes there was no reason she knew of and she’d find one in a random place, in the bathroom behind the mouthwash or next to the coffeemaker. If he left the house before she was awake she might find a crane on the other side of the bed, resting on his pillow as if it were poised to take flight. She had accumulated quite the flock in a drawer, birds of all colors and sizes.
It was a while before she realized he was numbering them, his familiar handwriting marking the underside of a wing. This one from the closet floor was 27. She remembered finding that one in the fridge, perched on a container of yogurt that had expired while they were on their honeymoon. He was well into the 50’s by now, the latest having been discovered on her nightstand just a few nights ago. She’d been holding it in her hand when she climbed in bed to thank him; the small, delicate brown scrap of paper had been quickly forgotten about when her husband circled his arms around her. The next morning she brushed her toes across something sharp and found the bird buried near the bottom of the bed, a little worse for wear for its misadventure but still mostly intact. That crane rested comfortably in her drawer, unlike the orange one she held in her hand. She fumbled with the paper, reshaping it as best she could.
“How’d you manage to get out of your sanctuary?” She asked, frowning as she slid open the drawer and dropped the crane inside. She reasoned that the bird was an older one, a honeymoon gift. They had been remarried almost a year, it could have fallen out of the drawer at any point since then. Her phone rang, interrupting her thoughts and she left the closet to answer it. “Hey, babe. Are you on your way?” She returned to the closet, finally retrieving the shoes she’d been after.
“Hey,” her husband said. “No, I haven’t left yet. I’m sorry, hon, but -”
“Avery.” She didn’t bother trying to hide the incredulity in her voice as she stood, dropping the pair of heels she’d just picked up. “Are you canceling?”
“No, I’m not can- as if you’d ever let that one go.” Her husband sounded a little muffled through the phone but she could hear the amusement in his tone. “I just need a little more time. We’re still fiddling with the song. I can tell we’re gonna go long and I don’t want you guys waiting for me.” He paused, said something to someone in the background that she couldn’t make out. “I called Bo to pick you up.”
“Why’d you do that?” She hadn’t even seen Bo in months, much less needed him to chauffer.
“He can drop you off and we’ll just take my car back home. You’ve got about…” he paused again and she could picture him pulling the phone away from his ear to check the time. “An hour. Are you already dressed?”
She abandoned the shoes and left the closet, glancing down at the capri-length yoga pants and oversized T-shirt she’d been wearing most of the day. “Not exactly.”
“Do me a favor and wear that dress, the black one I like with the lacey back - you know the one. Please.”
“I know which one but…” Juliette frowned at his unusual request as she walked into their bedroom. “I already had something set out.” She stood in front of their bed and looked at the clothes she had spread out across the bedspread. “Um, maybe. What about you? You’re not changing?”
“I grabbed something this morning. I had a feeling the day might go this way.”
“Okay. Well, let me go, I’ve gotta hurry. And Cadence is in her room being very quiet so I need to check on her.”
“Yeah, that’s not a good sign. I’ll see you soon then, babe. Bye.”
“Bye.” She tossed the phone on the bed and considered the clothes she had been planning to wear. Pants, white shirt, short-waisted jacket. Nothing at all like the cocktail dress Avery had asked her to wear. She stepped back into the closet, easily finding the one he’d been referring to. It had been a birthday gift a few weeks before, which was odd in and of itself because Avery had never really been interested in what she wore. Even if asked, his standard response was, “You look beautiful,” to whatever she had on, including the ratty pair of sweats she used to wear to physical therapy.
She laid the dress next to the pants and chewed her lip, thinking for a few seconds before starting towards her daughter’s room. She could make up her mind after checking up on her. It was never a good idea to leave Cadence alone for too long.
“Baby girl,” she called as she walked down the hall. “Bo is gonna pick us up soon.” She slowed to a stop as she walked through the door, cut short by the sight of Cadence’s hands covering something in her lap. “What are you doing?” she said apprehensively. Her daughter startled and looked up at her. Juliette could see the black top of the Sharpie market clutched in her small fist. “Cadence Barkley, what are you doing with that?” She held her hand out for the marker. “You know better than to play with these. These are permanent and you could - oh.” Juliette inhaled sharply when she saw Cadence’s hands move to cover something else. She recognized Willa Kay’s plastic toes between Cadence’s fingers. “What did you do?” Juliette crouched, taking the doll from her daughter’s lap. Cadence had scribbled on the leg of the toy, leaving a line of dark ink down the left leg. Juliette looked at her daughter in confusion. “Why would you do this?” She asked, making sure to keep her voice even. “When your uncles gave this to you they wanted you to take care of it.”
Cadence’s shoulders slumped as her face crumbled. “Is Uncle Will gonna be sad at me?”
“No,” Juliette said, smoothing her hand over her daughter’s hair. “No, baby. I don’t think it’s possible for Uncle Will to be sad with you, but I don’t think he expected you to destroy his gift. And you really wanted this baby doll.”
“I didn’t ‘stroy her, Mama. I wanted her to be the same as us.”
“The same as who, Cadence? Mama doesn’t understand.”
“As me and you. See,” Cadence stretched her leg out and pulled the skirt of her dress to the side so her mother could see that she had also drawn on her own leg with the marker. “Now we all have a scar and all of us are the same. And it won’t ever go away because it’s permament.”
Juliette looked down at her daughter’s leg and could see that Cadence had done her best to imitate the scar on her leg. “That’s why you…” She sank the rest of the way to the floor, staring at the doll she held. Sitting cross-legged she could see the smooth scar tissue peeking out from beneath the edge of her yoga pants.
“Mama,” Cadence put her hand on Juliette’s knee and moved so she was in her mother’s line of sight. “Was I a bad girl?” Her face was pinched in the way it was when she was trying not to cry.
“No, sweetheart.” Juliette set Willa Kay aside and pulled her daughter into her lap and hugged her. “You’re a very good girl.” She squeezed Cadence and then pulled back so she could look into her eyes. “But we don’t draw on our toys or ourselves. Okay?”
“Okay.” Cadence drew the word out to three syllables and a look of sadness remained on her face.
“Hey.” Juliette leaned closer to her daughter. “Thank you for telling me why you drew those scars. You did that to be like Mama?” Her daughter nodded and Juliette licked her lips, thinking about how to handle the situation. She marveled over having a daughter who wanted to be just like her when she’d wanted so desperately not to be like Jolene. “You know, we have a lot in common. We both have blonde hair and we both love to sing and--”
“And our nails are the same!”
“Yes, that too. But you know what? We can’t be completely the same. You have your daddy’s beautiful blue eyes, but mine are a different color. And I can’t color my eyes blue, can I?”
“No,” Cadence giggled.
“I love that you have your daddy’s eyes. And his ears.” She tickled her daughter’s ear, smiling as the little girl laughed. “I have a scar because I was in an accident but you and Daddy don’t have one.”
“Because we wasn’t there.”
“Right. You weren’t there and I’m so thankful that you weren’t, baby, because you might have gotten hurt.” Juliette blinked, holding back tears. She did not even want to consider what might have happened if Avery and Cadence had been on that plane. She shook her head a little and smiled at her daughter. “It’s okay that you don’t have a scar, baby girl. Mama and Daddy love you just the way you are. Do you understand?”
Cadence tilted her head and nodded slowly.
“Good,” Juliette said. She glanced at the clock on the wall. “I tell you what, since you drew so neatly how about you keep it tonight but when we get home, we’ll wash it off, okay? Off of you and Willa Kay.”
“But you said the marker was permament.” Cadence reminded her.
Juliette raised her eyebrows. “Well, that’s true…” She licked her thumb and rubbed it against her daughter’s leg, hoping the ink would smudge. It didn’t. “Hmm.” She scratched her nose with a finger as she thought. “You know what? Daddy will figure something out. He’s a smart cookie.”
Cadence giggled. “Daddy’s a cookie?”
“Yep.” Juliette stood and held her hand out to Cadence. “And you’re my sweet angel.”
“I know what you are, Mama.”
Juliette rolled her eyes when Cadence started laughing. “Oh, I should have seen that coming.”
“Hey, Bo. It’s so good to see you.” Juliette ushered her driver inside the house and gave him a hug. She stepped back, noticing the suit he was wearing. “You didn’t have to get all dressed up just to drop us off.”
“Oh, no.” She put a hand over her mouth, cutting in before he could finish. “Did you already have plans? I’m so sorry.” She turned around and called for her daughter. “So what is it?” She asked, turning back to Bo. “You got a hot date later tonight?”
Bo chuckled but didn’t deny it.
“You do!” She said. “Anybody I know?”
Cadence ran down the hallway towards Bo and threw her arms around his waist. “Hi, Bo!”
“Hey, Cadence. How are you?”
“I’m good,” she said. “I know a joke.”
“Oh, boy.” Juliette opened the door and motioned her head for them to walk out in front of her. “Get ready to be entertained.”
Bo dropped them off in front of the restaurant after dutifully laughing at Cadence’s chicken joke in route. He helped Cadence down from the car and then held his hand out for Juliette.
“Thanks, Bo,” she said, stepping down from the car. “Have fun on your date.” She held her daughter’s hand as they walked inside and approached the host. “I’m meeting my husband. It’s under Barkley.”
He led them into the restaurant. She pulled at hem of the dress as she walked, belatedly wondering if she’d made a mistake in choosing to wear it. It fit fine, but it left her legs - her scar exposed. Her husband would neither notice nor care but she was still self-conscious about it.
“Mama, can I have the big girl drink again?”
“What big girl drink?” She smoothed the dress over her hip. “Oh, a Shirley Temple? I don’t know,” she squinted down at her daughter. “Are you a big girl?” She teased.
Cadence nodded. “I’m 4.”
“I know. You are getting to be such a big girl.” The host held the door to the private dining room open and she continued holding Cadence’s hand as her daughter entered the room in front of her. “Thank you,” she said, glancing back at the man as she walked into the room.
Juliette jerked backwards, accidentally pulling Cadence with her. Her mouth dropped open and she covered it with her free hand as she realized what was happening. She barely registered her daughter saying, “Whoa.” Her friends, her husband and Glenn had all been waiting to surprise her. She put a hand over her heart in an attempt to calm it, unsure of whether to kiss her husband or kick him.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Blame Juliette for the delay and content. She had a one track mind and all she wanted was to be with her man. I'm very happy because I so desperately wanted to get this done before the sneak peek - which I'm still in shock over. Can't believe it's happening in just a few days! Please enjoy this last chapter and let me know what you think!
I did want to note that Juliette mentions her father making paper cranes for her in 221 as she's talking to a soldier. I happened to come across that detail on a rewatch and decided to incorporate it in the story.
When she and Avery left the restaurant, Juliette was still buzzing from the party. She blew a kiss at Cadence, waving as her daughter followed Scarlett and Gunnar to their car. Avery looped an arm over her shoulder and she leaned into his side as they walked to his SUV. Her feet hurt like hell, but she didn’t care. She’d had a great meal, her heart was full and her cheeks hurt from laughing.
Avery brushed a kiss against her temple before opening the passenger door and she climbed inside and buckled the seat belt, watching as her husband walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side. She waited until he’d gotten in and started the engine before asking, “How long have you been planning this?”
“It’s been a while,” he said, glancing at her before checking his mirror. “Babe, it’s your thirtieth birthday. How could we not have a party to celebrate?”
Birthdays were big deals in their household and that was mostly due to him. He treated her like a queen, lavishing her with attention and affection. That was what she loved even more than the gifts; the way he put everything else on hold for that one day.
By his standards, her actual birthday celebration three weeks before had been low-key. Breakfast in bed and a few gifts, including the dress she wore. She hadn’t felt the least bit slighted because what she’d most wanted was to be with him and he’d taken time off from recording, spending the entire day with her and Cadence. They hung out in their pajamas, playing rounds of Memory and CandyLand while listening to music. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in getting their daughter to take a nap so they could sneak in a quickie before dinner and by the time Juliette had blown out her candles, she was aching for her husband’s touch. It took two songs and a story before Cadence finally fell asleep and after giving her goodnight kisses, Juliette shooed Avery out into the hallway and closed the door behind them.
“Right here,” she’d said, pushing him backwards a few steps away from their daughter’s room. His back bumped the wall and she weaved her fingers into his hair, pulling him down for a kiss. “I need you right now.”
“In the hallway, babe?” He’d asked, one eyebrow raised in question. But he was already lifting her so she could wrap her legs around his waist.
Overall, it had been a great day and she hadn’t thought any more about her milestone birthday. Walking into a surprise party that Avery had been planning for who knows how long had been a complete shock.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked, glancing at her and then back to the road.
“I did, baby. Thank you so much. Glenn being there was…” she shook her head, unable to think of the words to describe how happy she’d been to see the man she thought of as her father. “Thank you for doing this for me,” she said.
“He insisted on being here. That’s why the party was after your birthday instead of before. Only time he could get away.”
Juliette reached down to slide one shoe off. “I feel a little silly.” She took the other heel off and moved it to the side. “You put together this elaborate plan, the family date night, the dress, arranged for Gunnar and Scarlett to take Cadence for the weekend and had Glenn there. I had no idea.”
“That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?”
“I just feel a little off my game.” She shook her head. “My instincts used to be better than that. Here I am teasing Bo about his hot date and turns out he was dressed up to come to my party. And Emily. Did she help you?”
“All I’m gonna say is Emily’s a genius. And I’m not telling you anything else because I want you to keep believing your wonderful husband masterminded the entire thing by himself.”
She laughed and reached for his hand so she could thread her fingers through his. “You are wonderful. A five-star husband.” She lifted his hand and kissed his knuckle.
“I try.” He took his eyes off the road long enough to wink at her and Juliette felt a small spiral of heat unfurl in her center. Her husband’s palms brushed roughly against the steering wheel as he navigated the car towards their Belle Meade home. “Are you tired, hon?”
“No, I had a nap earlier.”
“Good,” he said, making the final turn into the driveway. “Up for a couple more gifts?”
“Babe, I don’t need any more gifts!” She watched as he shifted the car into park. “You’re spoiling me.”
Her husband reached for her, cupping her chin with his hand. “Let me,” he said, caressing her cheek with a calloused thumb. “You’re mine to spoil.” He moved his hand, sliding his fingers around her neck and leaning forward so he could press his lips to her forehead.
He pulled away and she stared at him, appreciating again how beautiful he was. Those eyes, that perfect nose and the sweet tuft of hair under his lip. He was the only man who had ever truly loved her; the one man who had taught her how to believe in love. “I’m so lucky,” she said.
“Funny, that’s exactly how I feel.” The skin around his eyes crinkled with his smile. He gave her a soft kiss on the lips and then got out of the car, walking around to open her door.
She walked to the house barefoot, her shoes dangling from his hand as he unlocked the door. “Nothing’s gonna happen when I go in, is it?” She went inside slowly, squinting into the dark living room. “There’s no mariachi band lurking in the corner, is there?”
“Not this time,” he said, setting his keys on the hallway table. “Maybe next year.” He took her hand, leading her past the living room and into the back of the house. When they got to the record room, she sat on the couch while he searched the shelves for an album. She sat back against the cushion, twirling her hair with one finger until he finally chose one and put it on, something bluesy that she didn’t recognize. Avery reached behind the couch to retrieve her gift.
“Good hiding spot,” she said as she took it from him, shaking the box before removing the wrapping paper. He sat next to her as she lifted the lid. Inside was a large, black leather scrapbook. She glanced up at him before opening it, expecting to see pictures of them; maybe he’d picked up the professional photos they’d recently had taken of Cadence. But when she flipped the cover open, there was a picture of the first crane he’d made for her, the pitifully cute one he’d made from a sheet notebook paper. He’d written a note and affixed it under the picture.
#1 for you, my love. Took me five tries to get it right. This one reminds me of us when we first met - both of us imperfect, both of us made of music and determination. I’d like to think this bird could fly if it had to, that it could soar and sing at the same time. With any luck, he’ll find another crooked little bird with a song in her heart and fall hopelessly, completely in love with her as I have with you.
“Avery.” Juliette fought tears as she turned the page. She suddenly understood why she’d found the wayward bird in her closet earlier in the day. He’d taken pictures of all of her cranes and included a line or two with each one describing the reason why he’d made it or where it’d been left for her to find. She turned the pages slowly, reading each comment before moving on to the next. She laughed at some, like the picture of the crane that was stained from falling into her marinara sauce on one of their first dates after they got back together. Her eyes welled up with tears when she saw some of the others, like the one he’d given her after she’d had a setback in physical therapy; a black bird with a Beatles lyric scrawled across the wings in silver Sharpie: “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”
He put a hand on her leg, stopping her before she turned to the last page. “When I first learned how to make these for you, I read a legend that said if I fold one thousand cranes I’ll get a wish granted.”
“A thousand?” She looked up from the book at him. “Long way to go.”
“That’s okay. I already got my wish,” he said, smiling at her. “I’m not in a hurry. At the rate I’m going, it will take me years to finish.” He shrugged. “Figured one day we could look back and remember the journey.”
“You are so sweet.” Her fingers lingered over the page she had yet to flip, idly drumming against the picture of the 55th crane. “I’m gonna need a bigger drawer.” She finally turned the last page. He and Cadence posed in the picture, both of them smiling as she sat on his lap balancing a gold crane on her palm.
Happy 30th Birthday, sweetheart. I love you. All of you - your sweetness, your rough edges. I love how you challenge me. I love that you snort when you’re laughing really hard. I love the mother you are to our daughter. I love your legs. You are my everything and I’m so thankful we found our way back to each other so we could be the family we were meant to be.
“Avery, this…” Juliette couldn’t finish her sentence. The gratitude and love she felt for her husband welled up in her throat and she threw her arms around his neck and held him. “I don’t snort,” she said when she could finally talk again.
“Yes, you do, baby,” he said over her shoulder. “But it’s adorable.”
She sat back, holding on to his shoulders. “Thank you,” she said. His eyes were warm; the color of a summer sky and she held the scrapbook on her lap as she leaned in to kiss him. That soft, grateful kiss turned passionate and the book quickly became an obstacle, blocking her from getting closer to her husband. He pulled away to move it to the floor and then there was nothing between them. She was almost in his lap, hands splayed on his chest as she kissed him, gently nipping at his bottom lip with her teeth. She lifted her head long enough to tell him to close the door. It was habit, thinking of their 4-year-old and the few steps separating her bedroom from where they were.
“She’s not here, babe,” he reminded her. He smirked, his fingers fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. “You can be as loud as you want to be.”
It was her turn to smirk as she reached for his belt buckle. “I’m thinking you’re the one that’s gonna get loud tonight.”
He cocked one eyebrow at her. “Yeah?”
Juliette was always amazed by how he could make her feel so much - amusement, annoyance, arousal - with just that one simple movement. She unbuckled his belt and reached for his zipper. “Oh, yeah.”
Juliette woke up the next morning with a smile on her face and a song lyric scurrying through her mind. She yawned and stretched, her legs bumping her husband’s as he lay sprawled across the mattress. She didn’t remember when they got to their bedroom but she knew most of his clothes were strewn on the floor of the record room. Her dress had been abandoned in the hallway, along with his T-shirt and his socks. And she could see her bra dangling from the doorknob. Lucky shot, she thought. As far as she could remember he’d been the one to take it off and toss it over his shoulder as they made their way to the bed. She sat up and reached for her notebook, wanting to get the words on paper before they disappeared.
When Avery woke up a while later she was still writing. “Morning, Beautiful,” she said, stealing the words he said to her almost every day. “I was wondering when you’d wake up.” She brushed his hair from his face. “You must have been in some type of sex coma.”
He laughed into the pillow, “Now you’re taking credit for my late morning?” He reached for her, snaking his arm around her waist. “What are you doing up so early?”
“Had lyrics in my head when I woke up and had to get them down.”
He hummed a response, moving closer to her so he could kiss the top of her thigh. “Come here,” he said. “Snuggle with me.”
She set her notebook back on the nightstand and slid under the covers, moving so they were spooning and his chest warmed her back.
He swept her hair to the side so he could kiss her shoulder. “It’s been a long time since we got to sleep in.”
“I know. But I missed that early morning knock on the door.” She admitted. “Her sweet little voice.”
“It’s me. Cadence.” Avery’s voice rose as he intimidated their daughter. “As if it could be anyone else.” He chuckled and moved, setting a warm palm on her thigh. “Gunnar said he’s gonna get her some new material so she might come home with a few new jokes.”
“Good. The chicken joke is getting a little…”
She elbowed him for that attempt at a joke. “You’re hilarious.”
“I’m hungry too.” He lifted his head and glanced at the clock. “And still tired. I feel so drained.”
She did laugh then, twisting around to look at him. “You blaming me for that?”
It took him a second to figure out what she was referring to. “No, I meant - well, yes, that too. But I meant the party. I was so worried something would go wrong and give it away. I didn’t want the surprise spoiled for you.” He moved his hand, trailing his fingers up her arm. “But since you brought it up, I have been thinking…our sex life is almost embarrassingly satisfying. I keep thinking it’s going to plateau, that it can’t stay this good forever, but then I’m wrong. Happily wrong.” His fingers suddenly stopped caressing her arm. “Baby, please tell me you feel the same way and I’m not making a fool out of myself.”
“No, I’m with you,” she rolled over so she could face him. “It’s amazing. Except I don’t really think about it leveling out. I think it’s just gonna keep getting better.” She kissed him, relaxing back on the mattress as he rose up on his elbow and leaned over her. His chest was warm and solid and she brushed a thumb over his nipple, teasing him with her fingers. He moved his lips to her neck, aiming for the sensitive spot right in the crook of her neck and she squirmed, biting down on her lip as he slid his leg in between hers.
His stomach groaned suddenly, loudly enough to surprise both of them. “Sorry,” he said, pulling away from her to sit up. “Did say I was hungry.”
“You did, poor baby. Let’s get you fed.” She pushed the blanket away and sat up. “I’ll just take a rain check on that orgasm.”
He swatted her behind as she moved from the bed and rummaged through a drawer for a T-shirt. “I owe you,” he said. “Babe, do you see my boxers anywhere?”
“Avery, I don’t even know where my own underwear are,” she said over her shoulder as she left the bedroom. “Much less yours.” She headed for the kitchen and washed her hands as she pondered what to make. She didn’t usually cook for them, since she was remarkably terrible at it most of the time, but she did know how to make a fairly decent cheese omelet. She’d gathered everything she needed and was whisking eggs in a bowl by the time he made his way in the kitchen with a pair of her panties in his hand. He made coffee and sausage and they ate at the island.
He’d just eaten the last bite of his omelet when he suddenly looked up at her. “I almost forgot,” he said, wiping his mouth. “I have one more gift for you.” He went to the refrigerator, poked around in a drawer and came back with a pastry box.
“You had this hid in the refrigerator this whole time?”
“I knew you’d never look in the vegetable crisper.”
“Hmm, you’re probably right about that.” She picked at the tape sealing the box and then opened it to find that it was full of cheese danishes. “Are these…?” She glanced up at him, then back down at the pastries. “Are these from craft services?”
“They are,” he said.
“Thank you, baby, but I don’t understand.”
He closed the lid and pushed the box away from her, then took her hands in his own. “Consider them a slightly premature celebration of your next album release, which might turn into a tour.”
“I’d say it’s very premature then since the album isn’t even written.”
He nodded. “But it’s going to be. Soon. That’s the thing. You’ve taken off some time and I think it was great for you - for us to have you here full-time. Every time we talked about you going back to work you said you weren’t ready and you were fine with performing every now and then and writing for other people. When you showed me what you were working on a few months ago, that was the first time in a long time that I’ve seen that spark in your eye again. You’re working on some great stuff, babe. Those songs are so visceral and I think you’re ready to get back out there. Am I wrong?” She shook her head. “Good. That’s great. Then let’s write this thing, hon. Let’s get in the studio.”
“I want to, Avery, and I’m glad I have you for this weekend, but you’re about to start two new projects. How will that work?”
“One of those is just a short EP, babe. Four or five tracks. That won’t take long.” He paused, waiting until she’d made eye contact to continue. “And the other album I told you I was producing is actually yours.”
She pulled her hands away from his. “What?”
“When I saw what you were writing, I knew, babe.” He reached for her hands again, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. “That’s why I’ve been working so late lately. Just trying to get everything else out of the way so I could I block out the time. I’m all yours. Producer/husband/co-writer.”
“Seriously?” She couldn’t stop herself from grinning.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing his cheek before hugging him. “Thank you, baby. You know how to woo a girl.”
“Maybe I do,” he said, resting his chin on the top of her head.