Alex’s light-brown eyes were bright and filled with care as he added, “You got this.”
Her eyes watered over as her smile returned to her lips. They thanked us both one more time, and the sister grabbed her phone from Tyler, who was still snapping photos with a mocking smirk on his face.
As the women began to walk away, the pregnant one looked back toward us. “Alex? Oliver?”
“Your music . . . your albums . . . your music gives me light. I hope you know how important what you’re doing is to the world. You’ve saved me more than you know.”
Alex’s eyes glassed over before he blinked back his emotions and gave a halfway grin. He always was the emotional one out of us. “Without you all, our music doesn’t exist. You’ve saved us more than you know too.”
I nodded. “Without you, we’re singing in the dark. You bring us the light.”
They hurried away, and I looked down at the puddle sitting in front of us, then turned to Tyler. “I’m going to need a new pair of shoes.”
Alex smirked at me, cheesing harder than ever. “The puddle on the ground kind of makes me think of a good theme song for today.”
“What is it?”
“‘Float On,’ by Modest Mouse.”
I gave Alex the same kind of grin he was shooting my way because the song was too perfect. We did exactly that, too, after the most awkward yet somehow perfect interaction between two fans.
We floated on and went ahead to play one of our best shows to date.
“Hey, mister! Hey, mister! Number one or number two?” that small voice asked, breaking me away from my thoughts of the past as she pounded on the bathroom door.
I almost smirked at the nosy kid. I wasn’t big on children, but I had to say, the girl was forward and bold.
She gasped and dashed away. “Mommy! That guy has explosive diarrhea!” she hollered, making me wide eyed. I didn’t even know number three was an actual thing that other people knew about, and now the girl’s mother thought I was exploding my insides into her toilet.
Not much later, another knock came at the door, only this time it wasn’t a tiny voice. “Uh, sorry to interrupt, but can you hurry it up? I have to get my daughter to her day camp, and I have a busy day ahead. So . . .” Her words faded as I opened the door. “I mean, only if you’re okay. If you’re sick, we can be late. Or if, well, if you have number three and—”
I swung the door open. “Sorry. I’m ready,” I said, trying to bury the embarrassment building inside. Wonderful. She thought I was blowing up her toilet.
“No, you’re not! You didn’t flush or wash your hands!” the little girl hollered my way. Again with this girl and her hollering. Did she not know what an indoor voice was?
I walked over to the toilet, flushed it, then went to the sink, quickly washed my hands, and dried them. “There,” I said, smiling a fake grin. “Happy?”
She placed her hands on her hips like the sassiest girl alive. “You’re supposed to wash your hands to the song ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to get rid of all the germs.”
“Yeah, well, you know what? We don’t have time for this. Come on, let’s go,” the woman said, hurrying toward the front door.
We walked the hallway and then rode the elevator down in complete silence. When we hit the first floor, a man was coming out of the main office, and he shouted toward us.
“Emery! Emery! You’re late on the rent,” he said.
Emery was her name. I liked it. It fit her, from what I could tell.
Her shoulders tensed up as she grabbed her kid’s hand and started walking faster. “I know, Ed, I know. I swear you’ll have it by the end of today. I get my check from Seven.”
“I hope that’s true. Honestly, Emery. You know I like you, but I’m busting my ass here. I can’t let you keep sliding.”
Emery’s eyes shifted to the ground as embarrassment washed over her entire body. She seemed fragile, as if she’d shatter if life hit her one more time. I sensed a stern shift in her energy as she lowered her voice. “Can we talk about this later, Ed? Just not in front of my kid?”
Ed’s eyes shifted to Reese, and he gave a pathetic frown. “Yeah, all right. Just get me the money, will you?”
Reese pulled on Emery’s sleeve. “Mommy, I have money in my piggy bank you can have.”
And just like that, I knew the kid had a heart of gold, even though she was sassy. Emery looked as though she was going to cry from her daughter’s offer.
Before she could reply, Ed looked over to me, and his eyes widened. “Holy shit! You’re Oliver Sm—!”
Emery gripped my arm with her free hand and pulled me closer to her in a protective manner. “Okay, we’ll chat later—bye, Ed!”
The woman handled me better than my own security team.
We hurried out of the front door and headed around the corner. Emery walked up to her car and glanced toward me. “You’re going to have to get out of Dodge before people start realizing that you are in this neighborhood. Ed has a big mouth.”
I rubbed the back of my neck and nodded. “All right. I’m sorry for any trouble I’ve caused.”
She smiled, a genuine curve to her lips, and it was clear that I was wrong—that smile was the best feature on her, not her eyes. Still, her eyes took a very close second.
But those eyes plus that smile? Phenomenal.
After seeing that pairing, something tightened in my gut. A sense of familiarity.
“Thank you for the apology.” She opened the back door of her car and helped her daughter into her booster seat. She turned back to me after closing the car door. Her hands landed on her hips, and she narrowed her eyes as the sun shone directly into her line of vision. “Well, it was nice to meet you. Even though it wasn’t the most normal night of my life.”
I nodded once.
She walked around to the driver’s seat and glanced over toward me. I kept looking up and down the street, trying to familiarize myself with the neighborhood, but of course, I was completely lost.
Emery cleared her throat and tapped the top of her car with the palms of her hands. “Do you need a lift?”
“That would be great,” I breathed out, walking to the passenger door of her car.
She snickered low and shook her head. “Um, I actually meant like, the app, Lyft. Like, the car service where they pick you up. Or even Uber . . .” Her words faded off, because she probably saw how damn idiotic I appeared.
Of course that’s what she meant, Oliver, you dumbass.
“Yeah, right. That’s what I meant. I would, uh, yeah. Okay.”
She must’ve taken pity on me, because she glanced up and down the street, then at her watch. “Or I can drop you off to wherever you’re going.”
I lowered my brows. “You’d do that?”
“Sure. It’s no big deal.”
“I’m sure you’re busy . . .”
“No, she’s not. Mama lost her job at the hotel, so she doesn’t do anything during the day,” Reese said matter-of-factly from her rolled-down window.
Emery’s eyes widened. “How did you know that?”
Reese shrugged. “Heard you talking to Ms. Abigail about it when you dropped me off at her house the other day.”
Emery embarrassedly smiled my way. “Kids have a way of talking too much. But it’s true. My day’s pretty open, so I can give you a ride.”
“I appreciate it.” I went to open the passenger door again, and she held her hand up.
“Whoa, whoa. What do you think you’re doing?”
“I thought you said you’d drive me.”
“Yes.” She nodded. “But after driving you last night, you’ve lost your front-seat privileges. Back seat.”
What did that even mean?
“Now, hurry up, will you? Reese can’t be late.”
She hopped into the driver’s seat. I slipped into the back seat and sat down beside Reese, like a damn child. All that was missing was my booster seat.
“Good God, what’s that smell?” I barked out.
“That, my friend, is the smell of your vomit,” Emery replied.
“I threw up in your car?”
“Yes, and all over me.”
Note to stupid self: you owe this woman a deep cleaning of her car, a houseplant, and probably a million dollars for babysitting your ass.
Every self-hating thought I could muscle up filled my brain all at once. I was shocked Emery hadn’t pushed me out on the curb and left me for the vultures to finish off. Them or the paparazzi—same thing, really.
She turned the key in the engine. The car roared, hiccupped, coughed, and spat before she put it into drive.
“Eww, you puked in Mama’s car?” Reese hollered, making a grossed-out face. “That’s gross.”
“An accident, I’m guessing.” I looked forward toward Emery. “I’ll pay to have it cleaned.”
Emery shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll figure it out.”
She rolled down the windows to air out the vehicle as Reese covered her nose with her hand and asked, “Mama, can you put on our music?”
Emery glanced back at her daughter as she began to drive. “Not today, honey.”
Reese dropped her hand, appearing shocked. “But Mama! We listen to it every day!”