[I have no pics at all for this post. Grump.]
Sky hadn’t really believe it, but her agent turned out to be right. Word got out about Sky’s private Sing-a-Gram performances, and demand was so high that she had to hire a receptionist to take orders. She could sing till she was hoarse all day and not fill all the demand. Sing-a-Grams could easily swallow up all her time for Ghostwriter AND her children. So she decided that she could only book three a day, and she turned a lot of business away.
Her family was a handful. Dylan took care of himself for the most part, though he humored her by letting her work on homework with him. Dylan wasn’t a brilliant student, but he was hard-working and creative. Most of the time he figured out the answer to the problem before she really understood it. He spent half of his evenings at Castle Marmalade with his mum, so Sky felt extra pressure to make her time with him count.
Abby, on the other hand, was a demanding toddler, and she had no interest in playing by herself. She would howl if she didn’t feel she was the center of attention. Forest was no help with child care. Hunter came over some afternoons to give Sky a break, and Sky had to hire a babysitter when she was out doing Sing-a-Grams. But most of the time, Sky had to amuse Abby by herself. Single motherhood was exhausting.
In the midst of all this, Sky received word that her elderly Aunt Ada had passed on. Uncle Alberto, who had always been something of a playboy-wannabe, vented his grief by hitting on every woman he could find up and down the streets of Avalon. Sky’s cousin Tomas was mortified.
One day, he called in and hired Sky for Sing-a-Gram serenade for his current obsession, local stage magician Echo Weaver, who he had persuaded to go on a date with him at Coffee Under the Sea.
With trepidation, Sky met her uncle there. The date had already gone sour, and Echo was shouting profanity at him on the patio in front of the coffee shop. [I kid you not. It was hilarious.]
Sky stood on the sidewalk with her musical paraphernalia, waiting for one or the other of them to notice her. They didn’t. This was terribly embarrassing. Finally, she said, “This doesn’t look like the best time. Why don’t we reschedule, Uncle Alberto?”
Alberto noticed her for the first time. “No, of course not!” he said. “Echo my dear, this is my talented niece, Sky Sample. She’s going to serenade us.”
“Don’t call me dear, you perverted old codger,” Echo snarled. The she focused on Sky. “Sky Sample of Ghostwriter? You’re kidding me!”
Sky was surprised and impressed that a local celebrity performer knew her name. At least it distracted Alberto and Echo from their public scene. She set down her portable stereo bubble-blower, hit the ON button, and began to sing.
The finale was a flourish of roses, which Echo refused and Sky had to present to Alberto. Then the two of them picked their fight right back up where it left off. Sky packed up her things and made to get home as fast as possible. Then she noticed someone watching her from behind Echo and Alberto.
It was Xia Wu.
Sky froze. Xia walked over to her, not bothering to stifle her laughter. “That has got to be the most awkward performance I’ve ever seen,” she said. “You pulled it off with about as much style as could be expected.”
“That’s a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one,” Sky said.
“OK, it was a train wreck,” Xia admitted, “but it was fun to watch.”
Xia went on to comment about the weather and ask about the music business. In spite of herself, Sky was drawn in. Xia’s dry sense of humor was infectious, and it helped her relax from her public embarrassment. She hadn’t intended to mention it, but somehow she let slip that today was her birthday.
“Your birthday? You’re kidding me!” Xia said. “I hope you’re planning to do something to celebrate.”
“My triplet brothers are coming over tonight so we can have cake together,” Sky agreed. “It’s not a bit deal, but we’re all really busy right now.” Then she surprised herself by saying, “You’d be welcome to join us. Hunter is baking the cake, and he’s a great cook.”
“I’d be delighted,” Xia said.
Sky gave her directions to the house and made her escape. And indeed, Xia arrived a good 10 minutes early, while Hunter was putting final decorations on the cake. Eliana was there with little Ash, getting visibly round with her and Hunter’s first biological child. Hunter and Eliana certainly hadn’t wasted any time, but they looked incredibly happy. The babysitter had already put Abby to bed, but Dylan had arranged to swap days with Leah so that he could be there for the celebration. Everyone eyed Xia with surprise, but she too the attention with panache.
There was singing and candle blowing — one candle for each triplet. The cake was delicious. The conversation was nice, if interrupted a lot by Ash. Xia told outlandish stories about the lavish parties she used to throw at Castle Marmalade and kept everyone laughing. Eventually, Hunter and Eliana had to go home, Dylan to bed, and Forest to work. Sky and Xia were left alone.
“Thank you for inviting me,” Xia said. “It was so warm and, well, family-like.”
“It was my family,” Sky pointed out.
Xia chuckled. “I come from a big family too,” she said. “Your family is a lot like my family. Everyone made me feel welcome.”
Sky smiled. “I’m glad. It wasn’t much of a party, but I have to say you were the life of it.” She stood up to escort Xia to the door.
Suddenly, they were standing very close together, and Sky couldn’t deny the chemistry she’d been avoiding all day.
Xia was watching her without even trying to hide her desire. “I don’t have anywhere I have to be,” she said softly.
“Xia,” Sky pleaded. “We shouldn’t.”
“The last time –“
Xia sighed. “The damage is done. We might as well have the fun we’re already paying for.”
Xia was right. Sky had already lost Leah. She couldn’t lose her a second time. Sky had been avoiding Xia like the plague since that night in the pub, but the reason for that was gone, wasn’t it? What was she afraid of now?
“I don’t want any commitment,” Sky said. “I’m not good at relationships.”
“I know,” Xia said. “Neither am I.”
And then Xia kissed her, and they both lost interest in talking.
They woke in a tangle of bedsheets to the sound of a toddler howling in the next room. Xia sat up. “Ugh? What’s that!”
“That’s Abby,” Sky said. She dragged herself out of bed, kicked aside her discarded lingerie, and pulled on a robe. “Don’t worry. She’s always like that. I’ll just get her something to eat.”
Sky made her way to Abby’s room and picked her up, deftly cooing over her to calm her down. She sat the cranky toddler on the floor and produced a bottle of milk, freshly warmed in the microwave. Then she sat on the floor and stroked Abby’s green hair while she drank.
She looked up to find Xia standing in the doorway. She looked like she’d been hit with a two-by-four.
“She’s mine,” Xia said.
Sky gulped. She’s actually forgotten Abby was Xia’s child, and she’d never said anything because that would have further entangled them. “Yes,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s a long story,” Sky evaded. “But I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear.”
Xia’s gaze was so intense that it almost seemed to burn Sky’s skin. “I have time,” she said. “You better start talking. And you’d better get used to seeing me because can’t get rid of me now.”
I think this post actually turned out longer than it would have with pictures. I guess because I had to describe everything you couldn’t see.