When I started on this strange adventure, I never in a million years thought that I’d ever be writing “Chapter 40” but here we are :-)
It’s been (and continues to be) a blast pulling these storylines together with you.
Here’s to another 40! *Cough*
No-one hold me to that insane statement—okay?
Enjoy the chapter and—DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!
Love Toni xx
With the late morning light streaming in the guest house, sleep which had been so elusive for such a large portion of the night, I now deemed impossible.
The thoughts I’d be wrestling with as I fell into a fitful sleep didn’t seem quite so appealing in the light of the day.
I needed to set things straight with Liam.
The thought rebounded through my mind the same way the morning light bounced from the reflective surfaces in the guest house.
My resolution to get to it this morning wasn’t such a fantastic idea any more.
In fact, the idea of walking into the main house and fronting the morning ensemble of the band took on sudden gargantuan proportions.
It was one thing to see them trickling out into the hotel dining room when I had the security of the bar to be running, but quite another to step inside of their space and not have a real purpose to be there.
My tummy grumbled, reminding me that it had been quite some time since I’d eaten. If nothing else, hunger would drive me inside the main house.
With a resigned sigh, I pulled the coverlet aside and made for the well-appointed bathroom.
The large rain shower was a blessing and once I’d dried and dressed myself, I felt more human and able to face whatever may be waiting for me down below.
In the light of the day, the full splendour of the tropical gardens became apparent. I had been right, from the moment that Liam had sent me that first photograph, he’d love these gardens.
As I rounded the back of the pool house, I saw him.
Sitting in a cross-legged pose, under a towering palm.
All that was missing was the big blue buddha from the hotel.
I came to a complete halt and just stood, staring. The way Liam folded the bulk of his body into himself had always fascinated me and it was one of the reasons that I loved observing him in the hotel garden.
Out here, in amongst the towering palms and the low, lacy foliage, he could easily have been a warrior from some forgotten time.
Only the beach towel he sat on, the swimming shorts and the scent of chlorine that tickled my nostrils gave any indication of the time he resided in.
Tiny droplets of water from his morning swim still clung to various parts of his body. The bulk coming from the tangled mass of his damp hair.
The overwhelming desire to chase those droplets of water as they traversed the hard planes of his muscular body slammed into me so hard I had to take a deep breath.
Where had that come from?
I watched his chest rise and fall as he practiced the rhythmical breathing I knew was part of his daily routine. The palms of his hands were pressed together at his chest and my eye couldn’t help but continue to scan the dark, inked solid mass of his body.
Every muscle somehow tense, but relaxed in the same moment.
A feral longing to run my fingers across the expanse of skin that housed the solid bulk of his body erupted inside of me. I’d spent many mornings watching this man meditate, but this morning felt as if I were looking at him for the first time.
Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed.
Quiet as possible, so as not to disturb Liam, I walked up beside him, crossed my legs and dropped into a similar meditative position.
It wasn’t until I sat down that I realised how much I’d missed the reflective and calming presence of the physical bulk of his body.
The undertones of Liam’s familiar scent mingled with the strange scent of the unfamiliar garden.
Liam’s eye half open—the one closest to me. He eyed me with that single chocolate brown eye and acknowledged my presence before closing it again and returning to whatever place in his head that he went when he sat like this.
A flutter of excitement ran through my body.
My breathing quickened.
This reaction too was new.
If he could have this effect on me merely sitting in the garden—what would happen when we eventually made it back to the bed that I’d just left in the guest house?
My body shuddered in anticipation as I closed my eyes and tried to meditate.
I’d heard Alannah’s approach well before she stopped in front of me. I knew it must be her, no-one else would be coming from the direction of the guest house.
Besides, I’d listened to her approaching footsteps long enough back in Auckland that I knew the rhythm of her step. They were a little muffled on the soft bark of the garden path, but they were Alannah’s footsteps.
She stopped, as she always did, but then she surprised me by coming and sitting beside me.
That was new.
With her presence beside me came a new and strange sense of contentment.
This morning while I pounded the pavement around the Hills I’d processed my annoyance at her forcing me to leave her alone in the guest house.
While I’d sat here meditating, a sense of allowing things to happen at their own pace had come over me.
Now she sat beside me, I was aware that my real annoyance was with Calvin.
I didn’t want my mind to wander to him right now, so I concentrated on my breathing, well aware of the presence of Alannah beside me.
I wasn’t used to meditating with another person.
The blue buddha back home didn’t disturb my serenity the way that Alannah did.
With a heavy sigh, I gave up and opened my eyes.
The first thing I saw was Alannah looking at me.
“Good morning,” I said, “you know you’re supposed to close your eyes when you’re meditating.”
“I tried,” she said with a warm smile, “but my stomach keeps growling. Did it disturb you?”
“No,” now it was my turn to smile, “but having you sitting beside me did.”
Her slight smile broadened into a full-blown grin. “Really?”
“Yes, really?” I unfolded my body and stood up. Then I reached down and offered my hand to Alannah. She took it and I helped her up off the ground.
“Better get you inside for some breakfast then.”
“You think I’ll be allowed?” Alannah asked, “with being banished to the guest house and all.”
“I’ll be taking that up with Calvin later,” I replied, “don’t you worry about that.
Besides, you might be glad of the quiet of the guest house after you’ve had breakfast with the band.”
“You forget,” she said as she fell into step with me and we walked hand-in-hand back to the main house, “I’ve known you lot from the outset.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but you haven’t had to live with us full time.”
Why was I defending Calvin’s decision?
Maybe I’d enjoy the chance to escape to the guest house on occasion. And not just because Alannah was housed there.
We entered the kitchen in the main house and Dylan and Jesse were sitting up on a couple of bar stools drinking coffee, the remains of toast and vegemite sitting in front of them. Easily pleased, the two of them were vegemite freaks and insisted that the black spread be shipped in for their breakfasts.
“Hey guys,” Alannah threw them a quick wave of her hand as I watched her scan the room for anyone else.
I dug some fruit out of the overflowing bowl and then found myself some oats and nuts.
“What you want to eat?” I asked Alannah.
“Where’s everyone else?” she replied.
“Marty’s not made it out of the sack yet,” Dylan replied, “and Calvin’s in his office.”
“We’ll catch up with Calvin after we’ve eaten,” I said to Alannah, “what do you want?”
“Fruit’s good,” she replied, “you got any herbal teas here?”
I pointed in the direction of the well appointed pantry. “If you can’t find what you want, just put it on the list on the fridge and catering will take care of it.”
“Catering?” She cocked her head to one side. “You have staff?”
“Like I’d eat anything any of these blokes cooked,” I said waving the box of almond milk I had in my hand in the general direction of Dylan and Jesse.
“Yeah,” Jesse said, “we have to get up on stage every night. A good dose of the shits from something that Dylan here cooked wouldn’t go down well.”
“What are you saying about my cooking?” Dylan asked, giving Jesse the finger.
“That it’s shit!” Jesse replied.
I pushed the fruit bowl in Alannah’s direction. “If you give catering a list, they’ll make sure that the guest house is supplied with the essentials, then you won’t even have to come down here for breakfast with these apes.”
“Who you calling an ape?” Jesse said with a good gestured grin. “Takes one to know one.”
“Takes one what to know what?” Marty asked as he entered the room and made a beeline for the coffee machine. “Oh hey, Alannah, how are you?” He looked at Alannah as if he’d seen her for the first time. I guess that could be the case since his attention lately seemed so taken by Pet.
“I’m good,” she replied. “Great show you guys put on last night.”
“Pet says we’re freaking fantastic,” Marty replied.
“Pet seems to think that anything to do with you is fucking fantastic,” Dylan teased, the emphasis on the word ‘fucking’.
Marty gave him the finger and proceeded to deploy coffee from the machine itself into a cup.
As I ate my breakfast, I continued to be entertained by the good-natured banter that ping-ponged back and forth across the room.
We’d had a good night.
The band had been received well.
From all accounts, Calvin was happy with what had happened as well.
Alannah sat by my side, drinking herbal tea and writing up a list of things she needed for the guest suite.
Another moment of peace and belonging stole over me.
These people were my family.
I loved them all.
Life was sweet and I was enjoying the sense of calm.
Calvin rolled in the room.
“Liam, a word in my office when you’re ready.” He issued the command and then turned on his wheels and headed back out of the room.
That sense of serenity vanished as fast as it had arrived.
My blood felt as if it had gone to boiling in my veins.
It made no sense that I should feel as if Calvin were a threat—he’d been the one who’d seen something in me that no-one else had ever seen, yet I felt as if Alannah and me were being treated differently than Marty and Pet.
Was I being unreasonable?
I guess I’d find out now that I’d arrived at Calvin’s office door.
“Yo!” I announced my arrival and waited for an invitation into Calvin’s office. He’d taken up residence in a large, second lounge and somehow managed to surround himself with all the baubles of musical management. I could almost have convinced myself that I’d walked into his office in Auckland, except for the size of the room and the conventional Californian furnishings.
“I meant what I said last night,” were the first words that fell out of Calvin’s mouth after he invited me to step into his sacred space with a nod of his head. “I’m relying on you to set a good example for the rest of the band.”
Not waiting to be invited to take a seat, I settled myself in one of the two comfortable armchairs on the other side of Calvin’s large desk.
“Why me? Why aren’t you holding Marty’s feet to the fire over his relationship with Pet?”
Calvin’s head snapped up, his eyes boring into mine from across the cluttered surface of his desk.
“Because you know I’m all about how it looks. Marty and Pet bring a great synchronicity to the table.” He linked his fingers together, indicating the tight knit fit he described.
“And me and Alannah don’t.” It wasn’t a question. A simple statement.
“I’m about getting bodies into gigs for you guys. You, of all people, should know how I feel about the public’s perception of the band members having girlfriends.”
“Did Steve get this speech?” I couldn’t help but grit out the words. Every muscle in my body felt tense. The cold touch of the leather seat I sat in did nothing to cool the rising heat of my anger.
“He did. I guess Alannah didn’t mention that to you.”
I shrugged. “Why would she?”
“Because I’ve noticed the relationship the two of you have developed over the years. You don’t think I’m stupid.”
No-one could ever accuse Calvin of being stupid.
“You know I have the greatest of respect for you.”
“And me you,” he replied. “I just need you to know that this isn’t anything personal—it’s about the band.”
“It’s always about the band.” Now I felt like some kind of complaining girlfriend. “It just gives me the shits that you’re 100 percent behind Marty and Pet and you want to treat Alannah like some kind of outsider.”
“Is Pet living in the guest house?” Calvin asked with an inkling of a smile touching his lips.
A heavy sigh escaped my body.
“Look,” Calvin said, wheeling himself out from behind his desk. This I knew to be a concession coming from him. He’d moved out of manager mode and into advisory father mode. “I love that woman as much as you do.”
I raised an eyebrow and stared him down.
“Well, maybe not quite as much as you do.”
The further concession quashed what little remained of my anger.
“So why are you treating her like an outcast?”
“I’m not,” Calvin replied. “I’m asking you to try to keep it low-key and away from the fans. Is that asking too much?”
“This is still about Steve isn’t it?”
“Anyone who’s been following you will know who she is. I don’t want all that shit coming to the surface, not right now. Work with me on this, mate. We’re both on the same side.”
I took a deep breath.
What he was asking wasn’t too much really, was it? I could see the sense in his reasoning, but would Alannah?
* * *
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