“So you say. I want Miles to have everything I didn’t. A safe and loving,
home. He’s not had a dad, but he’s had you and Jules’s dad too. Do you have any idea how to find him? This rock star?”
Cal handed over a file. “You have given that to Miles. As for the rock star? We can go one of two ways. His brother owns a tattoo shop in Seattle. Adrian lives here in the Northwest and he’s noted for being very close with his family. I can contact his management and then go through his attorneys. Or I can contact the brother and try to go a more informal route.”
“All this time he’s lived here?” She shook her head, astounded. “I’ll do it myself, next week. I want to see this guy in person. Not that I’d necessarily judge anyone by a family member, god knows I’d hope people wouldn’t do that to me. But if I’m going to expose my family to theirs, I want to see it myself.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No. But I do want you to keep on representing me in this. Just in case.”
“I’m here for you. As your friend and as your attorney. Keep me apprised, all right? And don’t do anything stupid.”
Adrian pulled his SUV into Brody and Elise’s driveway, grinning when he caught sight of a little girl, two white-blonde pigtails flying behind her as she ran across the yard chasing a six-foot-tall man.
Rennie’s head was canted back, her mouth open on a screaming giggle of, “I got you, Dad!”
Adrian moved up the walk to where his sister-in-law swayed back and forth with a bundled-up baby in her arms.
“Hey, Elise.” He kissed Elise’s cheek and peeked around to see Marti’s face. Her big green eyes blinked, owlish, until she recognized him and gave him a toothless grin.
“Since you’re here, she won’t care one bit about Momma until she gets hungry, so you may as well take her.”
Laughing, Adrian took his three-month-old niece into his arms, loving the weight and warmth of her as she snuggled into his chest. “Hey, punkin. You ready for a day at the zoo? I bet your sister is.”
He looked back out to where Marti’s big sister got caught up into her dad’s arms, laughing so hard she couldn’t talk. Further proof of just how magical Adrian’s brother’s life was.
“You were amazing last night. Best show ever.” Elise still swayed, even as Adrian held Marti, until she stopped herself with a laugh. “Sorry, I just do it so often it’s hard to stop. Probably keeps us both calm.” She winked.
“Thanks. It felt really good. I was glad to see you both there. I know it’s hard to get the time away.”
“Marti slept the entire time we were gone. She cried more when my mother left than when I did, I have no doubt. I was glad to be there to see you play.”
“You ready for a date with two of my three best girls?” Brody ambled over, Rennie still in his arms like a monkey.
“I lost a tooth, Uncle Adrian. I’m totally done now. All my teeth are adults.” Rennie grinned and showed him the space.
“Awesome. Was there blood?”
“Not a lot. I was wriggling it and wriggling it and then Dad just up and walked over, grabbed and pulled. Can you believe that?”
Adrian laughed and Martine, Marti for short, huffed her own laugh to mimic. “I can, baby doll. He did the exact same thing to me. I was in third grade.”
“He cried. You didn’t.” Brody smirked as he put Rennie on her feet. “Go get your coat and hat.”
Rennie tore off, Elise in her wake.
“Todd texted as he was leaving with Alexander. They should be here shortly and then we can head out.” Todd was their sister Erin’s husband—well, one of them—and Alexander was their son. Nearly a year old, he was walking, babbling, and generally ruling the roost.
Adrian’s SUV had enough car seats for all those who needed them. He liked the ability to come over and commandeer any of his nieces or his nephew at any time. Loved taking them to the park or the zoo. Loved the normal, sweet love he got in return. Better than screaming groupies any day of the week. Even if sometimes the interior smelled like spit-up and he found Goldfish crackers in the oddest places.
“Come on in. I need to get the diaper bag and stuff. I’ll use the carrier rather than deal with a stroller at the zoo.”
Adrian followed his brother into the house. Once bachelor digs, it was now a family home. Rennie’s art was up on the walls and on the fridge. Toys of all sorts lived in bins. Bicycles, helmets, Hula-Hoops, the house was filled with it all.
“The deal is,” Elise handed Brody the diaper bag, “let me feed her now and then you’ll have a bottle for the zoo too.”
At the sound of her mother’s voice, Marti waved her little arms and leaned toward Mom and those giant breasts. Adrian didn’t blame the kid one bit.
The two settled in a quiet corner, Elise rocking and nursing as she managed to also tell Rennie the location of her hat.
Brody leaned over, kissed the top of Marti’s head and then his wife’s forehead. “Such a multitasker.”
The noise outside drew Adrian out to greet Todd and Alexander.
“Yo! Yo!” Alexander waved at his uncle.
“Yo, kid, how’s things?” Adrian picked up his nephew and got a hug in return.
They went in to grab everyone else and headed just a bit down the road to Woodland Park Zoo. Rennie had requested a trip to see the elephants and get pizza afterward at Zeeks.
As Saturdays went, Adrian thought that was as fine a day as it ever got.
Brody watched Rennie, her hand in Todd’s as he stood with Alexander and looked at the penguins swimming around. “She’s getting so big. She paints her toenails, Adrian. What the fuck?”
“A house full of girls.” Adrian snorted. “Every man’s dream.”
“Damn straight.” Brody looked to his oldest and waved. “Never could have imagined I’d love being woken up every few hours just to see this sweet face.” He bent and kissed Marti’s head. She grabbed his beard and pulled so he’d give her the theatrical
she wanted so badly. “But holy shit, it’s hard. I want to do it right.”
“You’ve done it once, no, twice before with me and Erin. We turned out pretty good. You and Elise are great with Rennie and Marti. You were meant to be a father.”
Brody colored just a little bit. He kissed Marti’s fingers and cleared his throat. “I want this for you too. Complete with the holy-shit-my-daughter-is-going-to-be-a-teenager-in-just-a-few-years moments.”
Adrian knew it. Knew he wanted it for himself too. He wanted a wife and some kids. Wanted to come home to a house filled with noise and people waiting just for him.
Rennie returned and after a caress to Marti’s foot, she put her hand in Adrian’s and tugged. “My ears are cold.”
Adrian adjusted her hat a little. “Is that a weak cry for pizza? You gotta step your game up. Cute you’ll always have, but smart and cute? Well, you’ll be unstoppable.”
She nodded, face solemn. “Yeah. Maybe some hot chocolate would help too.”
Alexander toddled over, holding his dad’s hand. Todd swung his son up into his arms, parking him on a hip. “The boy and I throw our votes in with Rennie. I’m sure if Marti could talk, she’d agree.” Todd leaned in and kissed Marti’s nose and she grabbed for his hair. Smart man avoided it easily and she frowned for a moment.
“Pizza it is.”
They walked over and Adrian realized how much his life had changed in the last few years. He’d made the deliberate choice to slow things down and find his joy in creating again and to be with his family as it started to grow with a whole crop of babies.
“Erin told me to tell you she really loved the stuff you sent over. Those guys are lucky to have you in their corner.” Todd kept an eye on Alexander as he mawed a pizza crust. “And you lit up last night on stage. I’ve never heard you two so tight. I thought you were good before; now I think you’re the best you’ve been. Erin is excited about music again.”
“Man, Erin and I wouldn’t have gotten many of our first, big important gigs without help from local guys who’d hit it big. Getting an opening spot on a Pearl Jam tour? Gigantic for us. It’s important to help. Keeps the scene vibrant. Gives back.” And truth be told, it had been more fun helping produce those few tracks for this up-and-coming band than he’d had in a while.
“Now it’s time to settle down.” Brody and Todd nodded, like it was so easy all Adrian had to do was snap his fingers.
“It’s on the list. But it’s hard to find people who are with me for me. Cope up and swiped Ella and the group doesn’t have any more single women hanging around. Maybe I need to get hit by a car or something, since that’s how Brody netted a woman as awesome as Elise.”
Even as he spoke, he pointedly ignored the two women at a nearby table who kept looking over and whispering.
“We were rooting for Karen the baker.” Todd wiped Alexander’s face as he spoke of the local woman Adrian had dated for a while late the year before.
Finding the right woman wasn’t as easy as he’d assumed it would be. First, he didn’t have the time really, so the women he dated were temporary. It didn’t really matter if they only saw each other a few times and went in other directions. But now it did. He found himself looking at an entirely different set of priorities. Partly it made him feel responsible and, shit, the rest of the time he felt like a lazy dickhead for not being able to do something as simple as find a woman who didn’t care about his fame and the money he had in the bank.
“My teacher is nice. Maybe you can ask her out.” Rennie helped herself to another slice of pie.
“Your teacher is in her sixties. She’s a little old for Adrian. But thank you for thinking of him.” Brody tried not to smile, but he lost the battle. Adrian knew the feeling.
“Appreciate it, sunshine. Good to know you’ve got my back.” Adrian grinned at her.
“You’re so pretty to look at, even Momma says so. Plus you need to start having babies or you’ll be too old to run after them.”
Todd snorted a laugh.
“Ever the speaker of important truths, Irene.” Brody managed to say this as Marti whacked his arm, trying to get some pizza near enough to eat. “Not gonna happen, tiny bug. Your mother would kill me if I fed you pizza.”
Marti’s goofy smile faltered and her bottom lip trembled. Adrian would have given her pizza in Brody’s place just to see the smile again. But Brody was made of sterner stuff. He brought the bottle into her sight and she narrowed her eyes at him and looked to the pizza again.
“Just like your sister, eh? Don’t like to be told no.”
“Who does, Uncle Brody?” Todd asked, pushing his glass of soda farther from Alexander’s reach.
Rennie sang to her sister and Marti’s grumpy face disappeared.
“Short attention span. Babies are awesome that way,” Brody muttered. “Still, the expiration date on this little outing is getting close. Martine has Mom’s milk in a bottle or from the source, and smart girl that she is, she won’t want the bottle.”
One of the women who’d been staring snapped a cell phone picture.
“Hey, I’d appreciate it if you deleted that,” he said quietly. “I don’t want pictures of children to circulate.”
“Will you take a picture with me and my friend, then?”
“No pictures. People should be able to eat pizza in peace.” Their server bustled back over with a box for the remaining pizza. “Sorry about that,” she told Adrian.
“It’s okay, comes with the territory.”
“A guy should be able to eat pizza with his family, you know?”
This was why he tended to stick to his favorite, most trusted places.
Still, not wanting to be a dick, he autographed two napkins and dropped them off at the table. It seemed to satisfy them.
“Erin just texted me. She and Ben probably haven’t even gotten to dessert yet and she’s jonesing for Alexander.” Todd laughed. “Ben’s just as bad.”
“Tell them to get lunch to go and come to the house for a play date.” Brody packed their stuff up and Adrian grabbed the rest, including Rennie, who hadn’t stopped talking for longer than a breath.
“Uncle Adrian?” She stopped him once they’d arrived back at Brody’s place. He bent to look her eye to eye.
“What is it, sunshine?”
She grinned and then her smile faded into uncertainty. “Do you love Alexander and Martine more than me because I’m adopted?”
He hugged her, picking her up and moving to sit with her on the big rocker out on the porch. “Irene, my darlin’, I love you because you’re you. How could I love you less for that? I love Alexander and Marti for who they are. Not more, not less. You’re all my nieces and nephew. And your dad is Brody, got me? Doesn’t matter whose biological stuff made you into the fabulous girl you are. Being a dad is about the day-to-day stuff, not DNA. Do you love me any less than you would if I was related to you by blood?”
He ached for her just then. She always seemed so confident and easygoing, but it had to be hard for any kid to get a baby brother or sister in any circumstances.