During times like those, when his father was gone, his mother could often be found alone in bed, crying. There were some mornings, far more often than to be called occasional, when Anna did not get out of bed until the sun had passed its zenith and started its way back around.
On those mornings, Mick would wake up and wait for his mother to come to him. He would wait until ten or eleven, sometimes even one. And then, understanding that it was one of those days, he would eventually begin to fend for himself.
Anna would later open her bedroom door and join the world of the living, often to find her baby boy cross-legged on the floor, eating dried spaghetti. She would run to him and sweep him up in her arms and she would say, “My boy, I am so sorry. Let’s get you something to eat.”
She would take him to the bakery, buy him every roll and donut he wanted. She would fill him with sugar, ply him with laughter. She would pick him up into her arms with glee, cradling him to her, calling out “My Michael, my Michael, fast as a motorcycle” as she ran with him through the streets. People would stare and that made it all the more fun.
“They don’t know how to have a good time,” Anna would tell her son. “They aren’t special like us. We were born with magic in our hearts.”
When they got home, Mick would have an ache in his stomach, and he would crash from the sugar and fall asleep in his mother’s loving arms. Until the chill settled into her again.
Soon enough, Mick’s father would come home. And the fighting would resume. And then they would lock themselves in their bedroom.
But eventually, whether it was weeks or months or even a year, his father would leave again. And his mother would stay in bed.
And Mick would have to fend for himself.
• • •
Mick married again, shortly after he divorced Veronica. The biggest star in Hollywood. It was a huge scandal, the talk of the town when they had it annulled the next day.
Nina saw the headlines in the grocery store while June was buying milk and bread. She couldn’t read the words on the cover of the magazine and June wasn’t even sure if her daughter recognized the face of the man that was her own blood. After all, June had cleansed their home of his music and photos. She had changed the channel the few times his face invaded their TV screen. But still, Nina stared at the picture on the front of the magazine as if she could sense its importance.
June picked up the stack of magazines and turned them around.
“Don’t worry yourself with that garbage,” she said, her voice steady. “Those people don’t mean a thing.”
June paid for her groceries and told herself she didn’t care what he did anymore. Then she took the kids home and poured herself a Sea Breeze.
• • •
Then came the spring of 1962.
Mick was single and in Los Angeles for a show at the Greek, one of the last on his third world tour.
In his dressing room backstage afterward, Mick loosened his tie and threw back his fifth Manhattan of the night.
“You ready to come out and play?” said his makeup girl with a glint in her eye.
Mick was already bored with her and he hadn’t even touched her. He rolled his eyes and grabbed his drink. He was getting so sick of all the people around him all the time. And yet, he didn’t want to find out what his soul had to say when he was by himself. And so, he came out and charmed the VIPs and beauties who had made their way backstage.
There were so many girls. So many women. For some reason, all of them seemed too easy lately. The way they clamored for their chance to hang on his arm, the way their makeup was all the same, their hair all sprayed in the same styles. Even their beauty seemed meaningless—what is one beautiful woman if you’ve slept with hundreds already? What does it matter if the pretty teenager in the corner is batting her eyes at you when you’ve had the world’s most famous woman in your bed?
Mick had started getting into the backs of his limos alone at night, drunk and already half-asleep. The night after the Greek was no different. Just him and his driver and a bottle of Seagram’s.
Mick rested his head against the window, watching Los Angeles whiz by as his driver sped farther toward the Beverly Wilshire. Mick was now drinking his whiskey right from the bottle. Perhaps it was the sights of his old city, perhaps it was the smell in the air, perhaps it was the reckoning that was emerging in his soul. But when he closed his eyes, June’s face appeared in his mind. Round, wide-eyed, gentle. She was making him dinner, pouring him a drink, hugging the children. Beautiful, patient, kind.
Things had been easier, then. When he had relaxed into her, in their life together. However small and simple it was. She was a good woman. With her, he was as close as he got to being a good man.
“Let’s go down to the 10,” he said to the driver, before realizing what he was even doing. “The 10 to PCH, please. Up to Malibu.”
Forty-eight minutes later, he arrived at the front door of the first house he had ever owned, the home of the only woman he ever truly loved.
• • •
June woke up to the sound of the waves crashing and someone pounding on the door. She put on her dressing gown.
Somehow, she knew who it was before she turned the knob, but she couldn’t quite believe it until she saw it. And then there he was at the threshold, in a stylish black suit, with a white shirt, and his thin black tie undone, hair tousled just so. “Junie,” he said. “I love you.”
She stared at him, stunned.
“I love you!” he shouted so loud she startled. She let him in, if only to get him to quiet down.
“Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the dinette, the same vinyl chairs he had sat on before he’d left them almost two years ago.
“How did you get even more beautiful?” he asked as he obeyed.
June waved him away and brewed him some coffee.
“You are everything,” he said.
“Yeah, well,” June deadpanned. “You’re a whole lot of nothing.”
He had expected this. She had a right to be angry. “What have I done with my life, June?” he said, his head in his hands. “I had you and I ruined it. I ruined it because I got distracted by cheap women, women who don’t hold a candle to you.” He looked up at her, his eyes watering. “I had you. I had everything. And I gave it all away because I didn’t know how to be the man I want to be.”
June was not sure how to respond to the words she’d been dying to hear.
“I cannot live without you,” he said, realizing he had come here to get back what he’d lost. “I cannot live without all of you, my family. I have been such an idiot. But I need you. I need you and our children. I need this family, Junie.” He got down onto his knees. “I was sorry the moment I left you. I’ve been sorry ever since. I am so sorry.”
June tried, desperately, to make the lump in her throat go away, to hold back the tears forming in her eyes. She did not want him to know how broken he had left her back then, just how desperate she felt now.
“Give me one chance to fix it all,” he said, “I’m begging you.” He kissed her hand with humility and reverence, as if she alone could cure him. “Take me back, Junie.”
He looked so small to June then.
“Think of the life we could give the kids. The five of us, vacations in Hawaii and barbecues on the Fourth of July. We could give them a childhood of everything you and I ever dreamed of for ourselves. Anything we can think up, we can give to these kids.”