I suddenly turned to Bea. “Do you want to go see Uncle Justin play?”
“Will you promise to be good?”
I placed her in the crib before impulsively tearing my clothes off, worried that if I didn’t hurry up, I’d wuss out and decide to stay home. I put on a red dress that I hadn’t worn since before I was pregnant and slipped breast pads inside my bra to avoid wet spots. I styled my hair into loose curls and applied my makeup. Within minutes, Bea and I were dressed and in the car.
Returning to Sandy’s gave me the jitters. I hadn’t been back since last summer. I was also inexplicably nervous for Justin to see me in the audience when I’d already told him I wouldn’t be there.
He was in the middle of a song I didn’t recognize. As usual, the crowd was transfixed on him with women creeping up closer and closer to the front just to be near him and get a better look at his beautiful face while he sang. It was always so emotional for me to watch him perform. Thankfully, Bea was behaving in her carrier, allowing me to soak in every moment of being here.
I made my way to the mahogany bar to say hello to Rick the bartender who gave me a glass of seltzer on the house. Relaxing in my seat, I closed my eyes and cherished the sound of Justin singing as he began a cover of Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. That haunting song seemed made for his voice. When I felt my eyes getting watery, I cursed at myself. Why did I always get so sentimental whenever he sang? It just always felt like every word of every song had meaning and could somehow be applied to my experiences with him.
Sure enough, halfway through the song, Bea started to cry. This was not the kind of song that masked the frenzied cries of an infant very well. A lot of heads were turning toward me. There were whispers, probably people wondering why I’d brought a baby to this kind of establishment in the first place.
Hot flashes permeated my body. Even though he continued through the song flawlessly, Justin’s gaze travelled over to my corner of the room. Our eyes locked. I was mortified for having interrupted this beautiful song. When it finished, I started to head toward the back room. Justin gestured with his hand to tell me to stay. I continued down the hall anyway until his voice through the mic stopped me in my tracks.
“So that baby you hear crying is actually special to me. Her name is Bea. Her mom is Amelia, who’s also special to me—one of my oldest friends. Anyway, would you believe that this is Amelia’s very first night out since Bea was born more than three months ago? Amelia didn’t want to come here tonight. She was afraid that people would stare at her if the baby started crying. I told her not to worry, that the people here were kinder and more understanding than that. She didn’t take my word for it, but she took a chance and came anyway. Believe me when I say…she hasn’t had it easy. She’s doing a hell of a job raising that little baby all by herself. I think she deserves a night out, don’t you?”
Raucous applause followed, and Justin motioned for me to come to him. Bea was still screaming.
“Give her to me…the carrier, too,” he said away from the mic.
Justin placed the Baby Bjorn across his chest and slipped Bea inside before securing her. My baby girl was exactly where she wanted to be and finally calmed down. Of course, she did.
He repositioned his guitar to accommodate her and started to sing a song that at first sounded like a lullaby. Then I recognized it as Dream a Little Dream. I couldn’t contain the smile on my face as I watched Bea up there with him.
The women in the crowd were gushing. If they thought they loved him before, now their ovaries were absolutely combusting. The applause from the crowd was the loudest on record after he finished.
When Justin took Bea out of the carrier, her butt was facing the microphone. Magnified by the mic, a sound that mimicked an explosion rang out through the restaurant. It quickly occurred to me that all of these people were just witness to my daughter’s explosive diarrhea.
Justin completely lost it. As he handed her back to me, he was laughing along with everyone else. He whispered, “Bea just busted serious ass.”
“I’d better go change her.”
As I was walking away, he stopped me. “Amelia.”
“You look beautiful.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I tried.” Even though I brushed his compliment off, I hadn’t felt beautiful until that moment. Now my heart was beating a mile a minute.
The next morning, when we woke up, Justin was gone. There was a note on the kitchen counter.
It was the first night you both slept. I didn’t have the heart to wake you before I left. Take care of Bea. I’ll see you soon.
An entire week went by with no word from him.
I tried not to overreact. After all, we weren’t his responsibility. The loneliness just seemed so much worse now that I knew what it felt like to have someone around. Bea’s insomnia was worse than before, too. I honestly think she missed him. So did I.
In an act of desperation, I called my mother and asked if she would be willing to stay with me for a week or so. She’d only been at the beach house for three days, and I was already wanting to shoot myself in the head. She spent more time on the phone with her boyfriend or on the upper deck smoking her Benson and Hedges cigarettes than she did with Bea and me. It was stupid of me to hope that her becoming a grandmother would change her selfish ways.
While she did manage to watch Bea so that I could get a few hours of sleep each night, inviting her to stay with us turned out to be a mistake. On the last night of her stay, rather than spend quality time with Bea, she chose instead to badger me about taking legal action against Adam.
“When are you going to force that guy to pay up, Amelia?”
Right after Justin left, I’d taken Bea to have her blood drawn. Adam also went to a lab in Boston, and it was confirmed yesterday that he was definitely her biological father.
“I don’t want to put Bea through dealing with him right now. He has to make the first move as far as I’m concerned. He’s been so mean that I don’t even want him in her life.”
“Well, you’re not going to be able to support yourself much longer. You need to get a man even if it’s not him.”
“I’m not going to bring a man into Bea’s life just to use him for financial support. I’ll find a way to take care of myself.”
I’m not you.
“Good luck doing that on a teacher’s salary.”
“At least I have a respectable career to fall back on. I’m sure you think it’s better for me to just not work, mooching off strange men like you did. Thank goodness my father was one of the good ones. But I can assure you, I will never put Bea through the kind of childhood I had, with men coming and going.”
“You act like you were abused. Your childhood wasn’t that bad.”
“You wouldn’t know. You were absent for most of it.”
“Did you really invite me here to fight, Amelia?”
“I need to sleep. You’re leaving tomorrow. Let’s stop fighting. Do you mind staying up with Bea so I can get a few hours in?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
I figured I might as well take advantage of her last night here. She probably wouldn’t come back after this tumultuous experience.
A few hours later, something disrupted my sleep. It was well past midnight. The faint sound of people talking downstairs seemed to register. My mother was supposed to be watching Bea, so who the hell was in my house?