Sky’s next big gig was at Coffee Under the Sea. The coffee shop was getting more and more of its business from live performances, and apparently Sky’s unsatisfactory performance at the park was enough to raise her profile as a solo artist enough for them to call her personally.
This was a much higher-profile performance. Sky was nervous. So nervous she had trouble keeping her feet on the ground — literally. She hadn’t felt this ghostly in a long time.
She arrived very early to the performance only to find her old lover February Callender hanging out at the coffee shop. February hated her for some reason she’d never really figured out. Not a good way to start the evening.
She tried to calm her nerves with a cup of coffee. It turned out to be pretty good coffee.
The crowed was smaller than her park performance drew.
On the other hand, they were much more engaged. The smaller crowd felt so much more intimate. She was able to build a rapport with the the listeners.
Her heart took flight. Sky had been a professional musician for so long that she’d lost track of the simple joy of sharing music that had drawn her in when she was young.
Afterward, the audience begged for pictures with her. They also wanted to buy her album. The problem was, Sky had never recorded a solo album.
She wondered what it took to reserve a studio. Maybe she could do a combined studio album with Ghostwriter.
While Sky was out, thinking of anything but home, it happened.
The Sample Estate was invaded. Again.
This burglar was not driven away by Riddle’s barking. Maybe he thought a dog was the worst defense the family had.
The sound brought Xia running. She never hesitated before acting. She had been trained for just such a moment.
The burglar never stood a chance.
The burglar alarm called the police department automatically, but Xia had the situation well in hand before the cop arrived.
Still high on adrenaline, she chattered to the cop about the fight while he cuffed the criminal and read him his rights.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said respectfully. “You’re one of the good guys. If you don’t mind, I’m going to look around the property for anything irregular after this guy is secured.”
“Certainly, officer,” Xia agreed. “Anything I can do to help.”
As soon as the coast was clear, Abby came clattering down the stairs. “You were amazing!” she cried. “Tell me everything!”
Abby adored her mum, and she was always trying to get Xia’s attention. But this time Xia really had been amazing, and she was eager tell her daughter all about it.
The cop returned. “Everything seems to be secure, ma’am,” he said.
He and Xia got their first real look at each other.
“Wow,” Xia breathed. “Have I ever mentioned how much I appreciate a man in uniform?”
“Um,” Abby said. “I’m going to go into the kitchen. And call Dion. I’m sure he wants to hear all about this.” She scrambled out of the room as fast as she could.
Sky returned, flushed from her performance, to find Xia making time with the police officer in the foyer.
“Hi Honey,” Sky said flatly, taking in the scene. “I’m home.”
“Sky!” Xia said, not taking her eyes off the policeman “May I introduce you to Officer Cobalt? You just won’t believe the night we’ve had!”
“Sky looked away. I’ll give you guys some privacy,” she said. “I think I need a drink.”
She escaped to the kitchen and stripped off her winter sweater, only to find Abby sitting at the breakfast bar, talking intensely into her phone. “I gotta go Dion. See you at school.” She hung up. “Mama!” she said. “Did Mum tell you all about beating up the burglar? She was amazing.”
Sky sank into the seat beside her daughter. “I guess that explains a lot,” she said. “What happened?”
Abby breathlessly shared every detail she’d witnessed from the top of the stairs. “Mum is such a badass!” she squealed. “And she’s totally making time with that cop. I’m sure you don’t mind. I know you and Mum have this open thing, and I think that’s totally the best thing! Monogamy is such a silly idea anyway –“
Sky let her talk, and she tried to listen, but her mind was a whirl. At last she said gently. “We can talk about this tomorrow. You still have school. This whole situation is exciting, but it’s not worth your grades.”
Sky raised her eyebrows. “Now, young lady.”
So Abby headed off to bed, and Sky tried to think. In the foyer, she could barely hear Xia saying goodbye to the police officer over the pounding of her own heart.
She avoided Xia’s gaze as her lover pranced into the kitchen. “Can you believe this? What a night! And did you see how hot that cop was?” She did a little pirouette and singsonged, “I got his phone number.”
“You were amazing,” Sky said, “or so I hear.”
“Wait,” Xia said. “What’s wrong?”
“I didn’t think you were into guys,” Sky said.
“What, him? Sure I am, I guess, if it’s the right guy. Does it bother you that I’m bi?”
“I think I just need some time,” Sky said. “I don’t have any reason to be upset. I know you want an open relationship, and I’ve always been happy with that. I just–“
“Wait,” Xia said. “We have an open relationship because *you* wanted one. I never asked for us to be open.”
Sky’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Finally, she managed, “I don’t understand. We’ve talked about this.”
“We talked about how we didn’t need commitment, and we weren’t going to require commitment from each other. You never asked me if I wanted it.”
“Wait!” Sky cried. “That’s not fair! If you didn’t want to live like this, you had to say it! I never tried to push you to anything that didn’t make you happy! I trusted you to be honest with me!”
“Hey, hey,” Xia pulled Sky into her arms. “Please calm down. I don’t mean you did anything wrong. You’ve always cared and listened.”
Sky clung to her, trying not to try. “I’ve been doing my best,” she murmured. “I really have.”
“You’ve been wonderful,” Xia said soothingly. “But let’s step outside. I think the walls have ears.”
Sky took a deep breath “OK,” she managed. Xia took Sky by the hand and drew her out onto the chilly back deck.
“I need to come clean,” Xia said. “I told you I had a crush on you in high school, but it’s more than that. The truth is that I couldn’t get you out of my head. You were just, well, aglow, and you were so crazy about Leah I knew I didn’t have a chance. I knew it was stupid to set my heart on some girl who didn’t know I existed, and I tried not to be stupid about it. I tried really hard to love Plum the way I loved you, but I don’t think I was ever honest with myself about how much I still wished we could have a chance.
“I was stupid that night in the pub with you because it was the dream I hadn’t been able to chase away since we were kids. Suddenly the real Sky noticed me, and I just couldn’t let the chance slip away, no matter what the cost.”
Sky frowned, trying to take it all in. “You never told me you felt this way,” she said.
“At first I didn’t want to admit it,” Xia said. “We’d just destroyed our relationships with our chosen life mates. I pretty much hated myself, and I knew you did too. I didn’t want to spoil your chances with Leah, and then I didn’t want to become your crazy stalker either. I don’t believe that you have one perfect mate or any of that kind of nonsense. I was determined to make my dreams of you go away.
“And then when we were both free and had a chance to try each other out for real, we were both so broken. I didn’t think you could take crazy love talk, and I didn’t think I could handle saying it even if it were true.”
Sky’s breath caught. “I was a disaster,” she agreed softly. “I was sure that I was some kind of broken good who would destroy anyone who loved me.”
“I’m really happy with exactly what we have now,” Xia said. “If you want to keep our relationship open, I’m fine with it. And not doormat I’ll-give-you-anything-you-want fine, but actually fine. The open relationship is fun. What what I want most is you. If you want to change things, let’s talk about it.”
She stepped into Sky’s arms and stared into her eyes with frightened, naked honesty. “I love you, Sky,” she said. “I always have.”
For a moment, Sky felt the old terror of commitment descend on her, but she realized that it was a cobweb of a fear that she could shake off with no trouble. She took a long shuddering breath and said, “I love you too.”
This is the last of the string of burglaries. I guess the game was making up for the fact that I’d never had one in like four years of playing the game.