FAITH AND THE ROCK STAR
SIX YEARS LATER
Ryan looked at the cool blue waters of the lake that would take him home. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and finally, after seven long weeks, he was going to see his family.
“You’ve been missed, bud.”
“It feels like forever,” Ryan said to Tex.
The Texan had been waiting for him in Brook, and just seeing the face of his friend had told him he was nearly home.
Talon had played four concerts, and he’d been away from home for too long. Seven weeks too long, as far as Ryan was concerned. He wouldn’t be doing it again. He didn’t leave Lake Howling often these days, but when he did, he left his heart behind.
“Snow forecasted for later, so you got in just in time.”
“I would have walked if I’d had too.”
“I think your girl feels the same.”
“Is she all right, Tex?”
“Still the mouthy opinionated fire cracker you married, bud. Just like my wife.”
“And we wouldn’t have them any other way.”
Six years had passed since he’d come home to see Hope and fallen in love all over again with Faith. Six of the best years of his life. They’d fought, laughed, and loved, and his life would be empty without her.
“Your boys convinced Mac to let them sleep up in the loft.”
“Heard about that,” Ryan said. “They lasted an hour, and the cold and dark drove them back downstairs.”
“To be expected at four,” Tex said. “Christie told them she’d go with them next time.”
“They worship her already, this will just add to that.”
The helicopter swooped down and there was his home. He saw the long low building he and Faith had debated over building for hours, perched on the ridge.
“Where is my family, Tex?”
“I kept it a surprise that you were coming home. But that wasn’t easy, let me tell you. I had to stay away from everyone for the last three days since you texted to say you need a pickup. I’m an open book according to my wife.”
“So she knows?”
“Yes, but can keep a secret unlike me.”
“Knew it would be hard on you, but also knew you’d keep it quiet.” Ryan’s eyes scanned the landscape of his home town.
“It’s junior band practice at The Facility today.”
“Nice. How’s that all working out?”
“Annabelle got ear plugs and said it makes it more bearable. I go cold turkey and sit through it with no support.”
Tex brought them down safely on the piece of land he and his brother had purchased to park their helicopters. A small building had the words ‘Texan Taxis’ painted in black on the roof.
Ryan got out and thanked his friend. Older now, but still, in Faith’s words, ridiculously handsome. The Texan still looked like he could grace the cover of any magazine.
“See, you ditched your cap,” Tex nodded to his head. Ryan wore a beanie. Taking it off, he pulled his Lakers cap out of his pocket.
Tex swore and tugged down the brim of his Longhorns one.
“Let’s go loser,” Tex nodded to his four-wheel drive.
Soon they were inside, driving the lake road into town.
“Enjoyed the concert, Ryan. You guys were awesome. We all got together to watch it, and your twins said daddy was the best in the band.”
“At least they respect me.”
“Someone’s got to,” Tex pulled up outside The Facility.
“Thanks again, bud.” Ryan got out and headed for the building, excitement climbing because he was just seconds away from seeing his family and holding his wife.
Built to match the look of the town, they’d painted the building white, with green trim. It had a big sign over the door that said ‘The Facility,’ which everyone had surprisingly agreed on.
Noise greeted him as he wrenched open the door. His eyes went to the stage, and he saw his twins. Benji was bashing away on a small set of drums and Leo strumming his guitar. At four, there was more enthusiasm than skill. With them were local kids. Rose O’Donnell sang. Christie Gelderman was on the keyboard. Emily, Buster and Willow’s girl was playing tambourine and singing too.
His eyes went from them to the woman seated two rows back, watching. Beside her were other parents who were also friends.
Ryan was walking toward Faith in seconds. He slid into the row behind her. She was talking to Branna, who sat to her right, although damned if he knew how with the noise level in here. Her hair was in a messy bun, she wore an old sweatshirt of his and he wanted to get his hands on her.
“Hey sexy lady.” He whispered the words into her ear.
She froze, then shrieked. Leaping to her feet, she spun to face him, and there she was his beautiful girl. Six years had only made her more so.
“Y-you’re home.” Tears filled her pretty eyes.
She made it out of the aisle at the same time he did and was soon in his arms.
“God, I missed you,” he buried his face in her neck. “I’m not leaving again.”
“I won’t let you,” was her muffled reply.
For years he’d traveled. They’d come with him mostly, but this time they’d stayed, and he’d felt like he had a limb missing the entire time.
He kissed her softly.
“I love you,” she breathed against his lips. “I-I’m so pleased you’re home.”
“Me too.” He kissed her again, then just held his girl. Enjoying the feel of her pressed to him.
“They’ve seen you,” Faith laughed.
He released her and went to the stage, where Mike Tucker was attempting to control the under tens.
Opening his arms, Leo was closest and launched off the stage. Ryan caught him, holding his little body close, then swinging him in a circle. He lowered him to his feet in time to catch Benji, who was way more of a daredevil than his brother. Bending, he picked up Leo and held them both in his arms. Stepping back, he fell into a seat.
“We missed you, Daddy,” Benji said.
“I missed you too. You guys sound fantastic up there.”
“We are good, although Mikey keeps making us play the same stuff over and over,” Leo said.
“Which is how you learn.”
They were a mix of him and Faith, all put together to make up two incredible little humans.
“We want to play for you!” They climbed off his lap and ran up the steps to the stage.
Faith took the seat beside him, and Ryan lifted an arm and tucked her into his side.
“They’re terrible,” she said, leaning her head on his shoulder.
“Surely not. After all, their father is a rock god, and their mother sings like a goddess.”
“No signs of that coming through yet.”
Mikey Tucker shot Ryan a look, half grimace, half smile, and then the recital started, and it was truly terrible, but he gave them all an A+ for effort. When it was done, he and the other parents got to their feet and clapped loudly. Faith kept her arms around his waist, anchoring them together.
“Coffee?” Buster yelled.
“Make it a double,” Faith said.
They bundled up warm in their winter clothes, then went to The Hoot Cafe. Faith held her husband’s hand and was pretty sure she didn’t want to let him go for at least a week, maybe more.
Life had gone on as normal when he’d left to do the concerts. A small tour that their manager had said they were obligated to perform. She and the boys had understood. It was who Ryan was, and part of what made him the amazing husband and father he was today.
She’d hated every moment he’d been gone, but never let him see that. But now he was back, and they would not be parting for that long again. Faith had never thought she’d love another human like she did her family, and yet with Ryan, it was that and so much more.
He got her just like she got him.
“Get on that coffee will you, Faith,” Buster said, shedding coats off children.
“You get on it. I need to talk to my husband. He’s been gone for weeks.”
“You talk every day, don’t give me that crap,” he muttered, but Buster made his way to the coffee machine. Around them, their friends sat. Noah and Lucy, Jake and Branna, Brad and Macy, Newman and Noah, and the Texans and their families.
“Well, hell, the rock god is back,” Noah said to Ryan. “We’ll have to spend the next few weeks re-acclimatizing him into being humble all over again. No room service here, bud.”
Lucy held her daughter’s hand as she leaned into hug Ryan.
“Hey baby girl,” Faith smiled at Stella. She was shy, unlike the twins, and took time to come out of her shell.
“Always humble, bud. It’s not like you guys ever let me forget where I come from.”
Faith sat and watched Ryan remove the twins’ layers. He was a good father, and they loved him. Now he was back to share the load of raising two boys that had more energy than an entire town, and she had to say in her current condition she was happy about that.
The twins hugged him again, talking over each other, then they ran away to where the other kids played with the toys Buster and Willow supplied. That had grown with more children into an area. There was now a small table, chairs, and shelves with books and toys.
“I missed all this.” Ryan pulled her chair close to his. “Damn woman, how is it possible you look sexier than you did before I left?”
“If you guys are going to get all kissy face, I’m probably gonna puke,” Jake McBride said around a yawn.
“All nighter, bud?” Ryan rose and slapped his hand.
“Those idiot Finlay brother just had to go and procreate.”
“Get you with the big words,” Newman said.
“Mitch’s five-year-old daughter iced up the deck. Poured water along it, the cold did the rest. She then called the brothers outside, and they all ended up on their asses.”
“Ouch,” Faith said.
“Problem being, Mitch fell over and broke his wrist. Brodie then fell over him and hit his head, so he had to be monitored for concussion. Not happy that I had enough to do with those two idiots, Josh came out to see what was happening and fell over both to them. He broke the other wrist.”
“You couldn’t write that shit,” Ryan laughed.
“Yeah. Anyway, I’m taking my tribe home so I can lie on the sofa and they can spend the entire time being quiet and looking after daddy,” Jake said picking up his boy and draping him over a shoulder.
“See you at the Lawrence’s tomorrow for brunch,” Buster called.
“We got work to do, is my guess, seeing as we’re hosting Christmas Eve brunch?” Ryan looked at his wife and smiled. A secret smile that suggested the kids would go to bed early tonight.
They were soon in the SUV and heading back out of town. In the back the twins talked in that code they had no one but them understood.
Driving up the ridge, they were soon pulling up in the drive.
They built the house of stone and wood, and it sprawled across the two sections. A second building away from the house was his studio.
The kids ran inside while he took his wife’s hand and walked to the edge of the property to look at the lake and mountains beyond.
He pulled her into his arms and just held her close.
“I don’t feel right when I’m not with you and the boys. I mean, I feel ok, but just not right,” Ryan tried to explain.
“You have this empty feeling,” Faith said.
“That you can’t fill.”
“Yeah, like I need to eat something, but I can never quite find the right thing.”
“I couldn’t have explained it better.” He tilted her chin up for a long kiss.
“Mom. Benji’s not sharing!”
Ryan sighed, then released her and headed into the house.
He woke with Faith in his arms and knew by the quiet that it was snowing outside. She lay with her head on his shoulder, and his fingers were numb, which suggested she’d been there all night.
He moved, easing his arm out. After kissing her soft lips, he pulled up the covers and got out of bed.
Heading downstairs, he looked at the clock. Still early, 6:00 am. The twins would wake in about thirty minutes.
Ryan stoked up the wood burner, then opened the curtains. Snow capped mountains greeted him, and white powder sprinkled the ground outside.
He and Faith had made love last night. A reconnecting, and every second had brought him back to her. She made him feel so much, and while that had changed from the intense emotions it had been when they were first together, it was now so much more. She was his soulmate.
They argued, no getting around that fact. Faith would debate the right way to pour coffee if she could. But they’d learned to compromise.
Heading to the kitchen, he switched on the coffee. Pouring a cup, he went to the seat they’d had put in the window and settled there to look at the view he never tired of.
Their friends and family were arriving for brunch today. It had become a tradition that one of them hosted it. This year it was them, and Faith had done all the heavy lifting on that. But he knew there would be plenty of preparation still needed before their guests arrived.
Looking to the stairs, he saw her. Hair a wild untamed mess, she wore baggy sweats and another one of his sweatshirts.
“Hey, you,” she headed his way, dragging a blanket off the sofa as she walked.
He lifted her between his legs, and she tucked the blanket around them. She then took his coffee and settled back against his chest.
“We’ll get about fifteen minutes is my guess before they wake, then it’s all go,” Faith said.
“I wrote a list for today of what needs doing.”
“Get out, go you with the organization,” he nuzzled her neck.
“Ryan, I need to tell you something.”
“I didn’t know for a few weeks, well five actually.”
“Ok.” He had no clue what she was getting at.
“Then I went to see Jake.”
“Faith, tell me you’re all right,” his insides went cold.
“Of course, I’m all right.”
Good, that’s good then,” his body relaxed.
“What?” He took the cup from her, and lowered it to the floor, then spun her to face him.
“Before you left, that night Mac and your mom had the boys—”
“I remember that night. It kept me going for weeks.”
“Well, we kinda made a baby.”
“Kinda?” His smile was so wide it nearly hurt. Grabbing her, he kissed her hard.
“We made a baby that will arrive in about seven months.
“Are you feeling, ok?”
“A bit of nausea, but nothing too bad. I get tired.”
“I bet. Our boys are certainly active. Well, I’m here now so you can take it easy.”
She scoffed. “As if.”
“I thought you looked even more beautiful than when I left.”
“No, you didn’t,” she smacked his chest. ‘But thank you, that was a lovely thing to say.”
“Truth,” he crossed his eyes, a Lawrence family tradition when you were being honest.
She leaned in and kissed him. “Merry Christmas, Ryan.”
“The best present ever, thank you. Have you told the boys?”
“I thought you’d want to be there when we did that.”
“No time like the present.”
The thunder of feet on the stairs told him his boys were awake and ready to start the day.
“And let the fun begin,” Faith said, getting off his lap.
They told the boys, and it was declared that whatever was percolating in their mother’s tummy had better be a boy.
By the time the first guests arrived, the Lawrence household was as ready as it could be. Two long tables ran from one side of the dining room to the other and into the lounge. They were dressed with a red cloth, candles and greenery that Faith had got from Mac in The Roar. The place smelled of mulled wine, turkey, and every other Christmas scent you could think of.
“It’s cold as hell out there,” Brad said, walking in with his seven-year-old boy, Luke. Behind them came Macy and their other boy, Billy. Now at the awkward teenage stage, his face showed no emotion.
“Hey, Billy. How you doing? Tell your dad that hell is probably hot for me, will you?” Ryan said.
“Dad, Ryan said hell isn’t cold.”
“Right,” Brad smiled. “Gotcha.”
They all arrived then. Mac and his mom. She’d mellowed in the only way Millicent Lawrence could. She wore a pink scarf that Mac had given her and had changed up her black boots for pale grey. His store now had a display about saving the environment and discussing things like low carbon emissions.
“Hey, Mom,” he hugged her, and she allowed it. Her grandsons, however, she was a revelation with them.
“Nana!” They ran across the floor, arms out, and flew at her.
“Still shocks me, I’m not going to lie,” Cubby wandered in while Millicent was on her knees blowing kissing into the twins’ necks.
“Seeing her softer side?” Ryan asked.
The Sheriff of Lake Howling nodded. On his back was his daughter Libby.
“Your legs not working, kiddo?” Ryan brushed a kiss over her cheek.
“She doesn’t want to get her new boots dirty and have to take them off,” Katie said.
She carried two bags in one hand, a plate wrapped in foil in the other.
“I told her that shoes are off inside. Someone did not receive that piece of motherly wisdom well.”
Libby stuck out a foot to show off her bright red boots.
Tex entered, weighed down with more bags. His sweater had a Rudolf on the front with a huge red flashing nose.
“Christie got it for me. Is it too early to start drinking? I’ve been up since five with Joel. He likes to get a good start on the day.”
“Don’t think rules apply at Christmas. So have at it,” Ryan waved to the fridge.
He slapped hands and did a chest bounce with the men. The woman he hugged and kissed cheeks. Annabelle wore a Christmas sweater with a tree on it that said, ‘Get Lit’, and looked her usual glamorous and stylish self.
“Hey, big bro,” Hope waddled in wearing an ankle length sage green wool dress and lime green woolen socks. She was having their third child. Newman had a backpack, seven bags, and looked cool as always in a buttoned-down shirt and jeans.
“Uncle Ryan!” His nephew and niece ran his way.
He hugged them and others, laughed and thought life just about near perfect. When the door opened again and in walked Jacob Robertson and his siblings, Ryan didn’t tense. He’d got that under control. They didn’t have a relationship that meant they talked often, but at least they could now be civil. His brothers and sister, however, he liked a lot.
Ryan headed for the kitchen to get drinks after greeting them.
“What the hell is in your ears, Mc Bride?” Buster asked when Jake followed him into the kitchen.
“Earplugs. I have sensitive hearing.”
“Like hell you do. And shame on you for not sharing with us,” Ryan said.
“Not my fault if you still haven’t wised up, bud.” Jake took the beer and headed back out.
“She’s happy,” Buster nodded to Faith, who was hugging her brother.
“We both are.”
“That’s good then,” Buster said, and that was the end of that discussion, Ryan thought.
They all sat, children between adults, to stop fighting. Christmas music played, and a fire roared in the wood burner. Ryan sat at one end, and his eyes found Faith. She wore a red dress and Santa hat. In her ears swung holly earrings.
“If I can have your attention before we feast,” Ryan got to his feet. Declan O’Donnell’ tapped his glass with a fork, and everyone stopped talking.
“I just want to say thanks to each and every one of you for being in our lives. When I leave here, I know that Faith and the boys are supported because you all step in for me and watch over them.”
“To be fair, she’s way more low maintenance than you,” Annabelle said.
“I bet. But I mean it. You guys are the absolute best and our lives wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“Sorry!” The door opened and in ran Mikey with a girl.
“Well now, what do we have here?” Jake said.
“Everyone, this is Ally, a friend,” Mikey said, his ears going pink, which suggested Ally was a great deal more than that.
“Hello,” she gave a little wave, clearly terrified.
“Our boy is growing up,” Tex whispered.
Branna got to her feet to hug Mikey and meet Ally. Mikey then circled the table, greeting everyone, which he knew was expected of him. Then settled next to Patrick McBride, with Ally next to him.
“Right, as I was saying,” Ryan continued. “I just wanted you all to know that you guys are special.”
Annabelle handed Ethan a serviette to wipe his tears.
“And Faith and I are expecting another baby in about seven months.”
Everyone shrieked with excitement. Ryan felt a little tug on his hand and saw Benji there. Lifting him into his arms, he looked at Faith. Her smile was for him alone.
He then raised his glass. “To our tribe.”
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