Love and Music, Book 3
How stupid they all are. I’ve been waiting and watching all these years right under their small-town noses, and no one has guessed. I don’t care what I have to do, I will come out the winner, even if I have to destroy everyone else.
* * * *
A squeal erupted from the corner of the outdoor seating area. Darling’s best friend, Madison Clark—now Madison Jacks since marrying Link—made her presence known. “Darling, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you.” Darling’s friend pulled her to her feet and gave her a tight hug. “Holy vanishing friend, Batgirl, you’ve lost weight! So how is your summer vacation starting off?” Madison released her from the rib-cracking hug.
Was her weight loss that obvious? How chunky did she used to be? Okay, get over it.
Her friend’s exuberance was something Darling wished she could bottle up and sell. She’d be a millionaire by now. Her friend was confident, impulsive, and beautiful. The perfect woman to have reformed bad-boy rock star Link Jacks and brought him not only to the altar but made him a doting daddy for their now fifteen-month-old son. She was blissfully happy for her friend, though she envied her charisma and life direction. And yes, she was a closet fan of rock band Becket.
“Thank you. I did drop some pounds since I’ve been crazy busy. I really need to finish packing to move into Gran’s lake house. Ah, anyway, so much to do…But enough about me. How is that beautiful baby doing?” Darling asked, retaking her seat.
“Oh, William is great. He has a new tooth since you last saw him, and he’s pulling up to toddle all over the place, making me a nervous wreck. I constantly worry about him falling.” Madison paused to sit at the table. “We’re going to be staying in England with my sister and her family for two weeks before the European leg of the Becket tour really kicks off, so I am sure he will get lots of spoiling.”
Madison deftly motioned a waiter to their table and ordered what sounded like a feast for a late afternoon luncheon between two friends and former college roommates. “Could we have a bottle of the Krug champagne, the garden salad platter with seasonal fruit, a cold salmon plate, and a selection of cheeses, please.” The large order rolled off Madison’s tongue before Darling could protest the amount both in cost and food. Madison held up her hand, stopping any speech, and in her usual bossy tone said, “And not a word about this. This is my treat. Damn, we haven’t gotten together in forever.” She flicked her hand before continuing, “Oh, and Link is going to meet up with us here. That man can eat. It’s the least I can do since you will be watching our dog while we’re away. I can’t thank you enough for doing this. Stupid quarantine rules that Europe has for bringing pets. I just couldn’t picture our sweet Beauty Belle in a kennel for two months.” Her friend frowned dramatically.
Darling laughed at the gesture and glanced around the outdoor seating area. The late June sun warmed her skin. She enjoyed the people-watching at its prime. She soaked up the energy of New York City’s East Village sidewalk scene, casually eyeing the hip young business crowd finishing late lunches, the early happy-hour patrons wandering in for cocktails before more intimate dinners elsewhere. She even spotted a few of the local East Village freaks popping in for snacks. It was a popular spot to see and be seen. She’d been amazed that Madison had been able to get a last-minute reservation at such a trendy spot on a Thursday afternoon. Apparently her friend’s tenacity knew no bounds.
Darling continued to study the small, overpriced menu despite their order already being efficiently scribbled down by a clean-cut tuxedo-shirted waiter. She just didn’t know where her life was going and what she should be doing with it, so somehow staring at a pricey menu seemed as good a way as any to hide in indecision.
“Darling. Earth to Darling?” Madison tapped her water glass with her fork, the pinging noise capturing Darling’s attention at last.
“What? Oh sorry. Just woolgathering, I guess.” She moved her gaze from the menu.
“Don’t tell me you’re still brokenhearted over that asshole Zack? You deserve so much better than some obnoxious opening-act loser.” Madison had few kind words for Darling’s ex-boyfriend, singer, and front man of Zombie Punch. Well, why should she? He was so totally her opposite and an ass on top of it all.
“Hell, no. I’m done with men forever. I need to get my head on straight and figure out what I’m doing with my life. I have until August to let the school know if I want to renew my teaching contract for another year. But, I still don’t know what I want to do. Teaching just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.” Darling paused to sip her water and shake her head. “The kids walked all over me. Lately I’ve just wanted to hole up in Gram’s old lake house, bake a few thousand cookies, and take up collecting cats. Either way, I have this summer to get a plan going. As usual, my dad and his new wife are on an extended vacation, and with their desire to be alone and the time difference—I am, for once, really out of touch with everyone. Maybe that’s just what I need.” She pasted a weak smile on her face, and Madison frowned.
“Are you going to be okay? Maybe you should go with us to Europe, and I’ll figure something else out for Beauty Belle. You seem so down and, well, scared.” Madison let her words hang in the air as the waiter approached the table and deftly uncorked their champagne.
“No, I am going to be fine. It will be nice to have a dog with me at the lake house. I won’t be alone. Really, I have to figure out what I’m doing. I’m twenty-two years old, and the only independent decision I’ve ever made was to date an idiot man-child—what a disaster that was!” I feel like dough that just won’t rise.
“Hey, don’t beat yourself up! You are strong, smart, an incredible cook, and a wonderful woman—who happens to be my very best friend in the whole world. Therefore I am the only one that gets to pick on you. Don’t let one ass-hat of a man get you down.” Madison gave a sweet pep talk, but she just wasn’t in the market for it today.
Despite her best intentions, Darling let her thoughts drift back to her breakup with Zack. They’d hung out as friends for quite a while before he showed any romantic interest in her, and even that had been weak at best. He was a carefree kind of guy, and she’d been surprised that a tattooed singer wanted anything to do with a plain Jane like her. She was a tad too curvy and tried to hide it by wearing oversized blouses and loose skirts or slacks. Her blonde hair was more brassy than golden, but she knew she had a nice smile. Wearing braces for six long years had at least given her that much. Although, up until last year, she’d still had to keep her retainer in at night so her teeth wouldn’t shift back out of alignment. Pull it together, chickie; you are supposed to be enjoying time with a friend, not wallowing.
The waiter returned and poured some more champagne into each of their flutes before shuffling discreetly away.
Madison held up her glass. “Here’s to summer. May you find love and adventure and the right path for you.” Darling clinked her glass and took a healthy swallow. “Oh, and that ever elusive big O too,” Madison added before taking her own drink.
Darling sucked a bit of champagne down her windpipe and gasped. She felt her face heat as people from nearby tables turned her way, their attention captured by Madison’s over the top addition to the toast. The mention of orgasm—or in her case the lack thereof—brought back thoughts of Zack. Stop it. Just stop. You don’t want to think about the things he said. He had been calling her again lately, and Darling knew it had more to do with her friendship with the wife of one of the Becket band members than any real nostalgia for her company. He wanted her to help get his band reconsidered for more opening dates. Darling might not be as daring and outgoing as her friend, but she was no fool to be used twice.
“Not funny, Madison. I can’t believe I ever told you that,” she answered once she could breathe again.
“Well, you meet the right man, and you will know what you’ve been missing and will never look back. You just need a love slave who will push you over the top. Speaking of over the top, are you sure you don’t want to come with us for part of the tour? You’d meet lots of people, and we could have some fun in Paris.”
“No way. I still haven’t fully forgiven you for that last fiasco you talked me into.”
“Why, Darlin’, whatevah do you mean?” Madison asked in her best Scarlett O’Hara impersonation.
“I mean I spent a night in a not-so-nice jail after that stupid idea of yours to go swimming at the Park Point Hotel by claiming we were guests for the owner’s son’s engagement bash.”
Madison laughed, her eyes watering from mirth. “That was too funny! The look on your face when we got busted for trespassing! Ah hell, it had seemed like a good idea during the heat wave and after those shots of tequila. And it almost worked. We got to hang out in the pool with all those hot guys for at least an hour before they caught on.”
“Yeah, probably noticed we were the only women at a gay man’s party.”
“Okay, so I messed up, I just assumed the groom was straight. Live and learn, right?” Madison sipped her drink.
“I don’t know how Link puts up with you. Anyway, this summer is going to be good for me. Some time to face old demons and get a plan going without you—no offense—or well, anyone to tell me what to do. I need this. Plus that old house will require a lot of cleaning and organizing if I do decide to sell it.” Darling sipped the cold champagne, enjoying the bubbles fizzing on her tongue. “Yummy. This is just what I needed to kick off my summer of discovery.”
“Hmm. I’m not buying it. I think you should let us come with you to the lake house. Just for a couple of days to get you settled in. We are practically going to be driving right by that part of Connecticut on our way to Boston to fly out.”
“Why don’t you guys just fly from JFK?”
“Funny thing…We need to do a walk-through passport for my nephew, Christopher. His passport ran out, and nobody caught it until last week. The fastest way to renew was to go through an agency in Boston, and it just worked better to fly out on the Becket jet from Logan. Christopher is a bit challenging to travel with as he has dual citizenship through his dad. Besides, it would be fun to check out a house right on a lake, and I could help you with the organizing. Link can take Will to the beach or mess around on his guitar while we do some girl stuff. Come on, Darl, I’m going to be gone all summer. Let’s hang out for a bit. We barely see each other anymore.”
Darling could never resist her friend. They’d been roommates all through college and talked every other day, even after Madison met up with Link.
“I can’t imagine Link is going to want you and his son at the lake house for the weekend once he knows what’s happened there.”
“You just leave all that to me.” Madison gave her an over-the-top wink and giggled.
I should probably be afraid.