December 28th, 2009
Patrick still had an apartment in LA. It was convenient, when he was in town on business, and meant he didn’t have to stay in yet another hotel or anonymous serviced apartment.
His place was kind of dusty and empty, and the odd smell wouldn’t clear until the air conditioner had been running for a couple of hours. But, with Dickenson rumbling through the rooms exploring, the mustiness would be replaced with dogginess very soon anyway.
Pete tossed his bag on the bed and flopped down beside it. “Have I said thank you?” Pete asked.
“Just a few times,” Patrick said, opening the bathroom door so Dickenson could explore in there too, then regretting it as the dog nosed into the toilet bowl and began to drink the water.
“Thank you,” Pete said. “My mom says thank you as well, because she hasn’t had to fly out here with me this time.”
“You’re just lucky everyone agreed I’m a responsible adult,” Patrick said. “Rather than realizing that there’s no way I should be in charge of you and a child.”
Pete rolled over, so he could see Patrick. “Are you in charge of me?”
“I think the LA Superior Court believes I am.”
Patrick crawled onto the bed, beside Pete, and Pete slung an arm across him. Dickenson hopped up onto the end of the bed and rolled across their legs.
“I hate this,” Pete said. “Coming here like this, then having to go away again. It’s like someone, somewhere, looked inside my head during my worst time and found the nightmare that made me scream the loudest, and now I have to live it over and over again.”
“Four months,” Patrick said, hanging on to Pete. “That’s five visits. Then this is over forever.”
“Or it is forever,” Pete said. “If I crash and burn the psych test.”
“Do you have any reason to think you will? Has your own therapist said that?” Patrick asked.
“No,” Pete said, sounding distant. “She’s convinced I’m playing with a full deck, and that everything that went wrong was circumstances and bad management, but she’s not the psych I have to persuade of that.”
“Then stop panicking,” Patrick said.
“Do you think taking Dickenson with us is a good idea?” Pete asked.
“I think it’s an awesome idea,” Patrick said. “Also, I’m not letting you leave her here alone in my apartment. The building has noise tolerance policies, which I don’t think she’s read.”
“You don’t own Milo and Otis?”
Patrick stared at Pete for a moment.
“No, I don’t, oddly enough.”
“I should have packed it.”
Patrick closed his eyes briefly. “Do you want to change your T-shirt? Then we can continue this discussion in the car.”
“Okay,” Pete said, climbing off Patrick.
Patrick reached back and grabbed a pillow, and pulled it over his head, just to hide from the world for a moment. Pete lifted the pillow off, and peered worriedly down at him.
“I can take Dickenson around the block, if you need some downtime.”
Patrick shook his head. “No, you’re fine. We should get going.”
The late afternoon sunshine bounced around the living room of Patrick’s LA apartment, too bright and hard. Patrick sat down on the couch, and Dickenson hefted herself wearily up beside him and put her head on his knee.
He watched Pete walk past him, and into the bedroom, then heard the shower start a short while later. Pete’s face had been shuttered on the drive back to the apartment, his head turned away from Patrick as he stared out of the window, earbuds jammed into his ears, music loud enough to be static to Patrick’s hearing.
Patrick had left him be, because saying goodbye in the driveway of Pete’s former home had been unbearably painful, even to watch.
The minutes ticked by, Dickenson drooled and sighed, and the shower still ran.
“That’s enough,” Patrick told the dog, pushing Dickenson off his lap gently and standing up.
The bathroom was thick with condensation, so that Pete was just a blur through the glass of the stall, his back to the door. He didn’t turn around as Patrick closed the bathroom door.
Patrick kicked his shoes off, and dumped the rest of his clothes on the floor, then slid the shower stall door open and stepped in behind Pete. The water was far too hot, stinging his skin, and he turned the hot water faucet down, easing the force of the shower.
Pete didn’t say anything, just leaned back against Patrick, letting Patrick hug him from behind.
“The world is full of precipices,” Pete said. “Everywhere I look, each turn I take, there’s another oblivion begging me.”
“Don’t walk off the edge, please,” Patrick said, resting his face against Pete’s shoulder.
Pete turned around, slippery against Patrick, and clung onto him.
“For the three of you,” Pete said.
“Three?” Patrick asked.
“I’m not letting anyone else look after Dickenson,” Pete said. “They won’t understand that she has very specific walking expectations.”
“Or about the whole Milo and Otis thing?” Patrick suggested.
Pete burrowed his wet face against Patrick’s shoulder.
“How did my dog wind up as weird as I am?” he asked. “She was supposed to be part of keeping me normal.”
Patrick sighed and hugged Pete tighter.
“How was it?” Pete asked, when Patrick let himself into the apartment after seeing Pete’s therapist.
Patrick bent down to pat Dickenson, then hugged Pete, who smelled of dishwashing detergent and coffee, just home from work.
“Interesting,” Patrick said. “I like her.”
Pete nodded. “And? How was the session?”
Patrick sat down on the couch in the living room, and Pete knelt on the couch beside him.
“We talked,” Patrick said. “About how I feel about you. About how I’ve felt about you over the years.”
Pete sat back on his heels and nodded. “You look tired. Was it difficult?”
“Hey,” Patrick said, reaching out a hand to Pete, who was pulling further away. “Any difficulty was because I don’t know yet how to be like you, and keep what I’m feeling on the surface. I did talk about why we hadn’t got together sooner, which is something that’s been bugging me.”
Dickenson climbed up onto the couch, and Pete sat down properly, giving her a lap to overfill.
“Me too,” Pete said. “All that missed time.”
“But it wouldn’t have been like this,” Patrick said. “Ten, or even five years ago. It would have been messy and disastrous.”
“I was out of control then,” Pete said.
“We were both out of control,” Patrick admitted. “We would have just exploded.”
“Immolation is never attractive,” Pete said. “And now? Are we out of control now?”
Patrick shook his head. “I’m tired and scared, but have both hands on my own personal steering wheel. Whatever is happening to your go kart is your responsibility.”
“I might be going too fast, but I’m driving within the lines. I’ve been thinking about what might happen next,” Pete said. “When the LA Superior Court decides one way or the other, and I can stop pretending to hold down a normal job.”
“What do you want?” Patrick asked back. “Do you want your old life back?”
Pete rested his head back and closed his eyes. “These months, living here alone, and now with you, have been the quietest and calmest of my life. I’ve written more and felt more than I knew I could. I don’t want to go back to how it was before.”
Pete opened his eyes and turned his head to smile at Patrick, Dickenson rolling onto her back as Pete scratched her tummy.
“Then we keep doing this,” Patrick said.
“Can we make some music too?”
Patrick nodded. “Sure, just hand me the lyrics.”
Pete’s smile was open and warm, and Patrick knew his own answering smile was goofy and affectionate.
Pete was a fucking wreck, sitting on the bed in Patrick’s LA apartment, partly dressed in a suit. Patrick sat beside him, glass of water in his hand.
“Take this,” Patrick said, holding out a tablet and the glass of water.
“What is it?” Pete asked.
“A tranquilizer,” Patrick said. “Your therapist gave it to me, to give to you today.”
“I fucking can’t,” Pete said. “I can’t turn up at the court out of it.”
“Take a quarter, or a half then,” Patrick said. “I’ll take the rest with me, so it’s there if you need it. You can’t go into the court freaking out either.”
Pete took the fragment of the tablet that Patrick broke off for him, swallowing it with half a glass of water.
“I can’t do this,” Pete said, burying his face in his hands so his voice was muffled. “I can’t walk in there, and listen to some shrink tell a room full of people that I’m still fucking crazy and can’t see my kid.”
“You said your assessment went well,” Patrick said. “You got through it without breaking down, or getting angry.”
Pete’s face was bleak when he took his hands off it and looked at Patrick. “They’re going to talk about what I was like before, about when I had the breakdown.”
“And then your attorney is going to show everything you’ve done since then to get your life together again.”
Which would include Patrick taking the stand. Patrick and the attorney had spent an hour prepping, the day before, just in case the cross examination turned ugly.
“Fuck,” Pete said. “I can’t do this, not all over again.”
“You’re going to,” Patrick said. “And you’re going to hold it together, no matter what happens. Then we’ll come back here, and you can freak out, or punch walls, or get drunk. But for the next few hours, it’s all about breathing and thinking and talking.”
Pete nodded. “Just don’t leave me alone.”
“Not unless I get tossed out of the court,” Patrick said. “In which case, you’re going to have to hold your attorney’s hand instead. Bet she bills you extra for that.”
“You do not want to know what this is costing me,” Pete said.
Patrick picked Pete’s tie up off the bed and handed it to him. “Put this on, and some trousers. The car will be here soon.”
Pete’s attorney had booked a car for them, at Patrick’s request. While Patrick could drive Pete to the court, getting Pete home again if things went badly would potentially require both of his hands and all of his attention.
Pete sat in the back of the car, Patrick’s fingers gripped tightly in his own, and Patrick could see Pete’s throat moving as he sub-vocalized, counting to himself.
A block from the courthouse, Patrick’s phone rang.
Pete turned his head, eyes flat with worry.
Pete’s attorney spoke with Patrick for a moment, then Patrick put his phone away.
“Go around the block,” he said to the driver, leaning forward.
“What’s the problem?” Pete asked, when Patrick sat back again.
“The press have got Ashlee cornered at the entrance. We need to give her time to get clear,” Patrick said.
“Fuck,” Pete said. “Is there a back way in?”
“Only the one the people who are in detention come in through,” Patrick said. “Do you want to give that impression?”
When the car drove past the courthouse entrance, Patrick could see the knot of reporters with cameras on the four or five steps outside the glass doors to the courthouse.
Three minutes later, on the next pass around the block, the press was spread out, some down on the curb, scanning the traffic.
“Okay,” Patrick told the driver. “Pull over.”
“This is not how I wanted to do this,” Pete said.
“I know,” Patrick said, straightening his tie. “But just push past them, and don’t say anything. You know how to deal with this.”
Pete fidgeted with his mirror shades.
“I meant you and me.”
The car rolled to a stop, behind a taxi, and Patrick said, “What?”
“I wanted to do this right, not as part of fucking court testimony.”
Patrick smiled and squeezed Pete’s hand. “Believe me, that’s not what I’m worrying about at the moment. C’mon, I’ll even hold your hand.”
The car door was opened by someone from Pete’s legal team, and Patrick stepped out and waited for Pete to slide across the seat and join him, the shutters on the cameras sounding like cicadas on a summer evening.
Pete grabbed Patrick’s hand, as soon as he was out of the car, and with the attorneys holding their elbows, they pushed their way through the pack of photographers, heads down.
Pete stumbled on the steps, and as Patrick and the attorney steadied him on his feet, Patrick wondered if Pete had his eyes closed behind the mirror shades, blocking out the world. Patrick didn’t blame him.
The glass doors slid open, and they were through, away from the press. The attorneys kept moving, toward the bank of elevators, where someone was holding one open for them.
Inside the elevator, Pete leaned against Patrick, and Pete’s attorney said, “Pete? Are you ready to focus?”
Pete nodded and took his sunglasses off.
The court was a closed session, and Ashlee only had her sister and mother sitting behind her, not the massed rank of her entire clan, which was a relief. Patrick wasn’t up to dealing with the whole Simpson troupe, and he possibly never would be again.
Pete leaned back in his seat as Patrick was switching his cell phone off.
“Can you slip me the rest?” Pete whispered. “I’m either going to throw up or pass out, and there’s nothing to count in here.”
Patrick glanced up, at the blank walls and bland contemporary art, and pulled his notepad of scribbled musical notation out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Pete.
“I don’t think I can do it discreetly. This is not the time to get busted. First recess,” Patrick whispered back. “Count that instead. “
Pete nodded, taking the notepad. “Don’t let me drink any coffee.”
At the lunch break, as Patrick walked out of the court, his arm around Pete, Jessica came over.
“Um, hi, Patrick, Pete,” Jessica said. “Ash wants to know if she can talk to Patrick, if that’s okay?”
Patrick glanced at Pete, then at Pete’s attorney.
The attorney nodded, and Pete said, “Sure, go find out what she wants.”
“I won’t be long,” Patrick told Pete, and he walked over to where Ashlee was standing by herself, in the hallway.
“Ashlee?” Patrick said. “You wanted to see me?”
Ashlee nodded. “Thanks, I know this must be difficult for you.”
“For everyone,” Patrick said.
When Patrick looked across, Pete was standing with his attorney outside the courtroom, head down, and he looked defeated.
“Can we make this quick?” Patrick asked.
“Is Pete really okay, inside himself?” Ashlee asked. “Everyone is saying he is, you know, the psych and you, but he doesn’t look it. But you’d know how he really is, wouldn’t you? You’d tell me the truth?”
“He knows how to sleep, and to dream, now,” Patrick said. “Only today, he thinks the world is going to take his dreams away from him.”
Ashlee nodded, looking like she was about to cry, and Patrick walked back over to Pete.
In the waiting room, Pete took the bottle of orange juice Patrick handed him and rubbed at his face.
“You were good,” Pete said quietly, his head tipped toward Patrick, when Patrick had sat next to him.
“I answered the questions,” Patrick said. “That’s all.”
“It was what you said.”
“It’s not difficult, talking about how strong you are,” Patrick said, his voice low enough not to carry to the two women sitting opposite them, sipping takeaway coffees.
Pete rolled the bottle of juice between his hands. “I owe you. I owe you so much.”
“No, you don’t. You don’t owe me a thing,” Patrick said.
Pete took the cap off his orange juice and drank some.
“You’ve not switched your phone on?” Pete asked.
Patrick shook his head.
“I don’t want to know,” Patrick said. “I can deal with all that when we get home. I spoke to Andy and Joe yesterday to warn them, and they’re both braced for the press onslaught. I pity the poor journo who manages to get through Andy’s defenses and then finds out what Andy actually thinks.”
“Andy was blunt when I spoke with him,” Pete said. “Even for him.”
“He was trying to spare your feelings when he spoke to you directly,” Patrick said. “You should have heard the uncensored version.”
“Do you think he’ll do a repeat performance for me, when this is over?” Pete asked.
“I doubt we’ll be able to stop him.”
Pete drank more of his juice, then passed the bottle to Patrick.
“What did Ash want?” Pete asked. “Is it something you can tell me?”
Patrick drank the last of the juice. “She was worried about you.”
Pete nodded. “I’m worried about me, too.”
“You both worry too much,” Patrick said, looking up as Pete’s attorney gestured at them from the doorway of the waiting room. “Intermission’s over. Time for the second set.”
“This time, Ashlee’s singing,” Pete said, following Patrick out of the waiting room.
In the courtroom, while Ashlee was being sworn in, Pete’s shoulders were hunched over, and Patrick could see his attorney had a tight grip on Pete’s hand. There’d been no good way to prepare for this part, where Ashlee gave testimony about Pete’s breakdown again. Pete had never been able to talk coherently to Patrick about the first time, at the hearing where he’d lost custody, and Patrick guessed there were very good reasons.
Ashlee’s attorney asked her, “Do you have any reason to think that Mr. Wentz has not made a full recovery?”
“No,” Ashlee said. “I’m satisfied that he is in control of his life and himself. I’d like the existing custody and access order amended to a more equitable arrangement that better reflects the needs of our child.”
The Family Law Bench Officer leaned forward and asked, “Ms Simpson? Would you trust Mr. Wentz to be alone with your child for an extended period of time? Today? Tomorrow?”
Ashlee looked over at Pete, and for a moment, Patrick could see the old Ashlee, from before everything had gone wrong.
“Yes,” Ashlee said. “I trust Pete.”
Pete was making odd gulping noises, and his attorney was hissing, possibly from what Pete was doing to her hand.
Ashlee’s attorney stepped away, and Pete’s attorney declined to ask any questions.
“Five minute recess,” the clerk called. “All stand.”
Ashlee didn’t look at Pete and his attorney, she just walked out of the court with her mother and sister buzzing after. Patrick slid down, to squat beside Pete, who’d put his face down on the desk.
“That was unexpected. Hang in there, Pete,” the attorney said. “Just a few more minutes.”
“I’m out of coping,” Pete said, without lifting his head.
“Bullshit,” Patrick said. “Pull yourself the fuck together.”
Pete turned his head to peer at Patrick under his elbow.
“And that is why you are one of my three favorite people in the world.”
Patrick frowned. “Um? Are you telling me Dickenson is a person?”
“Are you willing to tell her she isn’t?” Pete responded. “Because she sure thinks she is.”
Ten minutes later, Pete hung tightly onto Patrick’s arm and walked out of the court, into the hallway.
Ashlee was waiting outside, away from her family and lawyers, and she walked over.
“Pete?” she said. “Can we talk?”
“Yeah, sure,” Pete said. “Thank you, for what you did.”
“It was the right thing to do,” Ashlee said. “So I did it. I’m going to make a statement outside the court, on the steps, about the ruling. Did you want to make it a joint statement, from both of us?”
Pete glanced sideways at Patrick, who shrugged.
“I can’t,” Pete said. “I’m probably never going to say anything publicly about any of this, it’s all too difficult. And I’m pretty much incoherent now.”
“I’ll do the talking, and you can stand beside me. I just thought I’d offer.”
“Give me ten seconds,” Pete said, and he turned and leaned against Patrick, and said, “Oh, fuck.”
Patrick hugged him, and said, “Why don’t you do it? It says good things about the two of you cooperating.”
Ashlee smiled weakly at Patrick, looking as tired as Patrick felt, and patted Pete’s back.
Pete nodded, against Patrick’s shoulder, and said, “Okay.”
Ten minutes later, Patrick stood half-hidden behind Pete’s attorney, and watched Pete and Ashlee face the crowd of press on the steps of the courthouse.
“What was the ruling?” someone shouted. “Who got custody?”
Ashlee put her arm around Pete’s shoulders, and Pete pushed his mirror shades on more securely.
“We’re both very happy with the outcome of the hearing today,” Ashlee said. “It really was the best possible result for everyone involved, especially our son. It’s been a bad year, but it’s over, and we can all move forward.”
“Pete!” a reporter shouted. “A comment from you?”
Ashlee turned and hugged Pete, and he hugged her back, then their attorneys swooped, pushing through the press and bustling them both out, down to the waiting cars.
Patrick made his way around the back of the tangle of people, and to the other side of Pete’s car, fast enough that he didn’t get left behind.
Once the car was moving, Pete took off his sunglasses and loosened his tie, then let out a long breath.
“That was some fucking huge rabbit hole we just fell down,” Pete said. “Let me know when we hit the bottom.”
“Sure,” Patrick said, pulling his own tie undone. “But this time, there’s a big, squishy trampoline down there, not jagged rocks.”
Pete grinned without opening his eyes.
At Patrick’s apartment, Pete threw his suit jacket on the couch, then kicked his shoes across the room and pitched face first across the carpet.
“Please tell me that was real,” he said. “Please tell me I didn’t dream the whole fucking thing.”
Patrick slung his jacket on top of Pete’s, and sat down next to Pete.
“Congratulations,” Patrick said. “Joint custody, and two days unrestricted access a week for the next year, then you’ve got a 50/50 split.”
“I can’t get my head around this,” Pete said. “It’s like the idea is too big. Also, your carpet smells bad.”
“Blame your dog for the carpet thing,” Patrick said.
Pete rolled onto his side.
“Want to move to LA with me?” he asked.
Patrick pulled the laces of his shoes undone, and ditched them across the room.
“Sure. We’ll need a bigger place, and a yard for the dog.”
“It’s not going to fuck up your work, is it?” Pete asked.
Patrick shrugged. “So it takes longer to fly to New York when I work there. On the other hand, working in studios here will be just around the corner. I might demand that everyone records out here. I’m sure I can be a primadonna about it, if I try.”
Pete flipped over, onto his back. “Want to celebrate?”
“What did you have in mind?” Patrick asked.
“I’m thinking takeout Chinese, which we won’t have to share with Dickenson since she’s with my mom, and then a DVD that doesn’t star quadrupeds.”
Patrick took his phone out of his pocket and switched it on, then held it out to Pete.
“Sounds good, since I don’t think leaving the apartment is wise. And speaking of your mom, you’d better call her.”
Pete nudged Patrick with his toes. “Boot your laptop,” he said. “And load some real estate sites. Let’s find somewhere to live while we eat.”
Patrick let himself into the house after a day of meetings, dodging packing cases and kicking the door closed behind himself, then called out, “Hey, anyone home?”
Dickenson barreled down the hall, skittering on the bare boards and sliding into Patrick, forcing him to lift a knee to protect himself, and another dog charged around the corner of the hall, woofing excitedly, then slamming into Dickenson.
“Pete!” Patrick shouted. “There’s another dog in the house! Budding or binary fission is not an adequate explanation!”
Pete slid around the corner of the hall and collided with the wall.
“Hi!” Pete said, steadying himself on the wall and grinning. “That’s not a new dog, that’s Rigby. She’s come to visit.”
Patrick looked down at Dickenson and Rigby, who were rolling together at his feet, and stepped over the tangle of canine enthusiasm with difficulty.
“Okay,” he said, nodding to himself. “I can deal with this.”
“Isn’t it great?” Pete said, hugging Patrick, once Patrick was past the packing case mountain in the hall. “Looks like there was invisible ink on the custody and access order that said I got to have Rigby too.”
Patrick hugged Pete back. “I’m really glad for you, and for the dogs.”
Pete’s grin was huge.
“Please tell me you at least got the bed set up,” Patrick said. “And there’s something to eat for dinner.”
“Bed, couch, TV, basic bathroom, minimal kitchen, enough clothes for you to go to work tomorrow,” Pete said. “Today, I’m winning at unpacking.”
“Couch,” Patrick said, pushing past Pete, into the living room that held only a couch, a TV, and empty bookshelves.
He sat down on the couch, which was covered in dog hair, and smiled.
“I’m on preschool pick-up duty tomorrow,” Pete called out from the kitchen as both of the dogs bounced onto the couch beside Patrick. “So I wouldn’t encourage you to raise your expectations too high for then. This might be it for a couple of days.”
If Patrick twisted around on the couch, he could just see Pete, who was chopping and frying things in the kitchen, making good smells.
“Cookies?” Patrick asked hopefully. “Are you making cookies again tomorrow?”
Pete threw a something at Patrick, which sailed over the couch and landed on the floor. Dickenson hopped down and sniffed at the carrot chunk, then ate it, before climbing back onto the couch.
“Who’s the preschooler?” Pete asked. “Who am I actually making the cookies for?”
“I don’t see why you can’t make enough for everyone,” Patrick said. “Can’t you just do something like double the recipe?”
Pete started laughing, and Patrick turned around enough that he could see Pete properly.
“What?” Patrick asked, Dickenson clambering over his back inconveniently.
“More like quadruple it,” Pete said.
Rigby pushed her nose under Patrick’s arm, and Patrick patted her.
“I don’t think this couch is big enough,” Patrick said, watching Pete add stuff to the pan. “Do they make couches big enough for two adults, one kid and two dogs?”
“Have to,” Pete said. “Realistically, I think we need a bigger bed, too. I was single, with one dog, when I bought the last one.”
“Two people, two dogs now,” Patrick said. “Unless you want to explain to the dogs that they sleep somewhere else?”
Pete looked scandalized. “Rigby might accept that, but Dickenson won’t.”
Patrick let Ashlee in, and said, “Don’t fall over anything. We’re still unpacking.”
“Hire professionals,” Ashlee said. “End everyone’s suffering. Do you think there’s any chance you’ll have a second bedroom ready by Saturday? I need to fly to New York, and Mom is busy.”
Patrick said, “Follow me, and don’t trip over the guitars.”
He pushed open one of the other bedroom doors, showing Ashlee the assembled and made up bed, the shelving, the drawers and drapes.
“No toys yet,” Patrick said. “Pete wanted to find out what to get, to duplicate what you had at your place. He figured identical toy collections would lead to less grief.”
“Did you do this?” Ashlee asked, following Patrick into the kitchen.
“Not a chance,” Patrick said. “I’m deep in label and production meetings, as well as finishing off The Cab’s latest. Have a cookie.”
Ashlee took a cookie from the tray that Patrick pointed to. She leaned against the counter, and watched the two dogs and two humans wrestling on the lawn, through the kitchen window.
She was smiling sentimentally when she looked back at Patrick. “I added your name to the approved-person list at preschool, just in case Pete gets stuck in traffic or something.”
“Okay,” Patrick said. “What do I need to do? Show some ID?”
“In theory,” Ashlee said. “But after the photos in People, they’ll probably just hand the brat over to you.”
“What photos? You know I don’t read shit like People.”
“Celebrity Dads We Love,” Ashlee said. “Looked like the three of you were doing some serious negotiating over coffees somewhere. I do hope at least one of you was drinking a babycino.”
“I don’t let Pete have too much caffeine,” Patrick said. “Celebrity Dads? Really?”
Ashlee held out the tray of cookies.
“Have a parenthood cookie.”
“Um, thanks,” Patrick said, taking a cookie.
Ashlee watched as Dickenson sent Pete sprawling across the lawn.
“I had to do what I did,” Ashlee said.
Patrick said. “Pete’s never talked about what happened, but things must have been really bad for you all.”
“I wasn’t being vindictive.”
“Pete was a fucking big, dangerous mess?” Patrick asked, and Ashlee nodded.
“It’s hard to remember now. And I don’t know how the two of you got from blog entries saying you’d both been sighted at underground gigs in the Chicago ‘burbs, to signing a contract with Interscope for an acoustic album together and suddenly becoming the Parents Everyone Adores, but it can’t have been as easy as it seems from the outside.”
The door to the yard crashed open, then Patrick could hear the dogs guzzling at their water bowls and the faucet running in the bathroom.
“The hard part for me was finding him,” Patrick said.
Ashlee smiled at him, and turned around and bent down with her arms open.
Pete rolled over so he was draped half over Patrick, and Patrick thought about complaining.
“C’mon,” Pete whispered. “You can go back to sleep afterward.”
“I don’t have to go to work today,” Patrick reminded Pete, turning over to face him. “You really going to let me go back to sleep again?”
“Sure,” Pete said, his hand inside Patrick’s boxers already.
Patrick had to pull Pete’s clothes out of the way, and it took his half-asleep brain too many seconds to remember why they were both sleeping with clothes on…
“Pete?” Patrick said, because talking was not easy, not when Pete was really concentrating on what he was doing.
“There are no dogs on the bed.”
Pete chuckled. “Want to do something to make the most of that?”
“And the TV is on.”
“So, Dickenson has finally worked out how to use the remote?” Pete said. “You can focus better than this.”
“Pete…” Patrick warned.
“Shit,” Pete said.
Pete scrambled out of bed and grabbed a pair of jeans off the chair at the bottom of the bed.
“You’re going to need more than a T-shirt,” Patrick pointed out, watching Pete ease himself into his jeans and do the fly up.
“How high do you think he can climb?” Pete asked, pulling a hoodie on.
“I think you’re about to find out,” Patrick said, rolling over again. “Close the door on the way out.”
Patrick had to put the pillow over his head to block out the squawking and thudding from the kitchen, but he’d lived on a tour bus, he could block out worse things than Pete, a child and two dogs in a kitchen.
Pete woke him again, after a long enough time that the room was completely light and Patrick felt like he might be able to cope with being human.
“Hey,” Pete said, sitting on the edge of the bed and holding out a mug of coffee. “We made you breakfast, too.”
Patrick sat up and put his glasses on, then took the coffee.
“Is it a reasonable time?” Patrick asked. “A non-resentful time?”
“After nine,” Pete said.
“Okay, I’m willing to consider breakfast. Is the food any good?”
“I made the omelet,” Pete said. “So I can vouch for that part of the menu. Any complaints about the standard of the toast or juice should be taken up with the shorter chef.”
Something about Pete made Patrick think of dominant scales, with raised third notes and flattened sevenths. Patrick touched Pete’s knee, through the hole in the denim.
“What is it?” Patrick asked.
“I dreamt last night, and when I woke up, I could remember it, you know, the fragments. But I didn’t write it down, because I’m all here already and I don’t need to catch the little bits anymore.”
Patrick must have raised an eyebrow or something, because Pete said, “Don’t look like that. I’m not manic or anything. If I was, you wouldn’t have had to prod me repeatedly last night to make me stop snoring.”
Patrick nodded. Pete definitely had been asleep through the night.
Later, they all sat on the bare floor of what would be the music room, in the middle of a jumble of guitar cases, dogs and toys. Patrick played a Phyrgian scale, with a raised third note and a flattened seventh, as part of the bridge of one of Pete’s dream songs, and Pete rolled a toy car back across the boards.
“What was that?” Pete asked. “It wasn’t there last time.”
“I thought of it this morning,” Patrick said, failing to remove Rigby from his legs before playing the bridge again. “If you want to argue about it, we should wait until later.”
Pete paused, looking confused, then said, “Um, I don’t want to argue about it. I like it.”
Patrick looked up from where he was still negotiating lap space with Rigby, and blinked.
“Okay. A new phase in our songwriting relationship. I can work with this.”
Pete lay back on the floor, which was effective in tempting Rigby away from Patrick’s knees.
“Are people just going to want to, I don’t know, hate us or whatever, for how sickening these songs are?” Pete asked.
Patrick frowned. “Um, not with titles like ‘Failure of Self’ and ‘The Color Between 2am and Coffee.’ If you want to change the track list, I’ll have to go back tomorrow and kneecap people to arrange it.”
“Artistic control,” Pete said. “Didn’t we have it?”
A toy car whizzed past Pete’s head, and Dickenson charged after it, claws clattering on the bare boards.
“There’s control, and there’s pitching the concept of an album then changing our minds,” Patrick said. “And you handed over responsibility for all that to me, remember? Leave me alone to do my job.”
Pete grinned and drummed his fingers against the boards while Patrick played the bridge again.
Soon, it would be five o’clock, but there’d be no heart-breaking good-byes. Instead, there was a week ahead of preschool pickups and cookie visits, and another weekend to follow.
And once the sun had dropped lower, they’d walk Dickenson, four times around the park, because she had very specific walking requirements, at least according to Pete.