Dedication: I went without this for the last one, but it goes without saying that I couldn't write without Ashley there to bounce ideas off or get her honest opinion.
Shelby Jameson had been gone for over three years.
He had lived several lifetimes in between. He could no long recount any little moment that had occurred in this span. His wife, Lindsay, was always nudging his arms during these recollections, forcing him to nod his head in non-memory.
He had finished college in three and a half years. He didn't remember what classes he took, there had been a lot of reading and math involved though, or what he had learned. But he had a bachelor's degree on record, and that was all that mattered. He didn't remember waking up or falling asleep, nor did he remember when it was that the seasons changed.
There were big things he recalled, of course. There was that day, the summer after high school graduation when he and Lindsay had moved into their apartment in the City. It had been a hot one. His t-shirt had been soaked with sweat in the time it took to get from the car to the front door of the building. He had been wearing a blue shirt. Lindsay had been wearing sandals and a summer dress that was fitted to hide her pregnancy. It had been all he could see when he looked at her.
Their daughter had been born that September. Shelby remembered that, too. It had been a cold day. The air held a chill that no amount of sunshine could shake. His day had been filled with classes. It was a Friday. There had been twenty three minutes left of his last class when she had gone into labor. They had named her Annabelle Lyn Jameson.
She was now three years old.
She had his grey eyes, his dark brown hair, as well as the smooth and straight texture to it. All he could see was his past when he looked at her.
Her infancy, in his memory, had blurred together to be a string of nights of relentless crying and late night visits to the pharmacies. She had not been a happy baby.
She was content, now.
He did not remember the last day of his last class. It had been a month ago. There was supposed to be this releasing feeling from all the pressure being lifted off of you. All it had meant to him was that he got to work full time at his father in law's firm uptown.
He had needed a change.
Shelby and Lindsay had grown up in Long Island. Suffolk County, to be exact. They had grown up together, she had lived three blocks down from him. He had smoked his first cigarette with her. She had been dating his cousin when he had first gone down on her.
It was for better or worse. (For richer and poorer. In sickness and in health.)
Sometimes, he believed they did not suit all that well together.
They hadn't had enough time alone to figure it out.
One night, in the back of his band's van, she had sworn there was no one she had ever loved more than him. He had believed it then, because they had been young. What had they known of love, anyway?
Time had stopped then.
They moved back to Long Island two weeks earlier.
Shelby hated New York City. He hadn't thought much of it before, but now, after a few years of working, living and going to school there, he was ready to return home. He hadn't been home since he had left. That was the way the schedule worked. Their families came to them.
His parents took the train up every Saturday afternoon, to attend Saturday night mass with them. They were staunch believers in the word of God. Shelby and Annabelle were disappointments to them. But Annabelle had been cleaned of his sins at her baptism. She still had a chance.
He, he was just trying to keep up with the consequences of his actions.
Shelby barely saw anything of the Island. But he had a house there. And it was nice to be in the house, and know he was home. It was nice to have the knowledge that when he returned home, he was taking the train back to Long Island, and not the Subway across town.
He was finding there was a lot of nice things about living on Long Island, again. For one, it was home. For another, he arrived home at the same time every night, and he could spend time with daughter. Before, it was always night classes or work or day classes and working at night. It had been exhausting and stressful. And on weekends, when he should have been able to relax, their families would drive up to go to Church and visit. (He couldn't complain. They made it possible for him to go to school and still have a place to live with Lindsay and their daughter.)
None of that any more. It was work in the City, and home at night. And as such, him and his daughter (had begun a tradition. (Because everything had a schedule.) After dinner, when Lindsay went upstairs to take a bath, him and Bella would sit in the living room and watch Fuse. (It was the only remains of music that were left in him.) When Lindsay would come back down, the channel would magically change to Nickelodeon. It was their own little thing. (No one else was allowed.)
Shelby had started taking guitar lessons at the age of seven. He and his friends had started and tooled around in band since junior high. Music had been all of him. It had saved his life more than once. It was his little secret. Almost a legacy to pass down onto his daughter.
Bella, as he called her, had amazing concentration for a three year old. They had been sitting on the sofa for the past twenty minutes, and she did little but stare at the television screen. She didn't move. Not even to fidget. Then again, she was normally quiet and reserved. Sometimes she reminded him so much of himself when he was younger, it frightened him. (She deserved a much better life.)
So Shelby smiled down at her, just to see if she'd smile back. She did, and he felt better about it. She could be quiet. She was curled up on his side, sucking her thumb while the video jockey rambled on about the video that had just played.
Bella reached over started toying with his tie, while the screen faded into the next video.
It was "Esoteric Angel" by Cinder Hooks. It made Shelby blink, he had heard about the various degrees of success from the bands in high school (Cinder Hooks had been signed, so had Lie on the L.I.E. but they hadn't lasted past the first EP and had broken up during recording the first full length) but it was strange to see it a reality.
Cinder Hooks had been the last band Shelby was in.
His childhood best friend, Chase Evans, was the front man. He hadn't even see Chase since high school graduation, and here he was on television. (Sometimes Shelby wondered what it would have happened in his life if he had never fooled around with Lindsay that first time.) (Bella tugged on his tie, and he thought it was most likely best that things had worked out the way they had.)
The song was (better than) good. (Shelby couldn't remember the last time he listened to music, for longer than the car ride to his parents house on Sunday.) Shelby hadn't picked up a guitar in almost four years. It was insane. He hadn't sang in almost three. (He used to sing to Bella when she woke up in the middle of the night.) His younger self was nearly rebelling at the realization. (Remember how hard he had to fight for guitar lessons? How much work he had to do for them?)
The stairs creaked with footsteps and the channel flipped over to a show about a cartoon rabbit. Bella giggled. (She always did whenever this happened. She enjoyed the thrill of keeping a secret.) Shelby reached over and tickled her, and she giggled some more.
She sighed as he stopped and Lindsay walked into the room.
"Oh, Daddy." Bella sighed, again. This time for another reason.
Lindsay tightened the belt around her robe, before entering the room. She looked over at the television. "Enjoying your show, Belle?"
Bella smiled at him quickly before turning to her mother, "Yes, Mom."
It was almost strange. Bella had never gone through a Mommy phrase. (But she had always called him Daddy) Lindsay had always been just Mom.
Lindsay reached over and smoothed down Bella's brown hair. (Which was already straight and smooth.) "That's good, honey. It's time for bed now."
"Okay," Bella looked over at him. Not because he could extend her bedtime, but because the other part of their tradition was that he read her a story before she fell asleep. "Daddy?"
Shelby started to stand up, but Lindsay stopped him by picking up Bella herself. "Daddy will be up in a moment. I need to talk to him first."
Lindsay crouched down so Bella could kiss Shelby good night. Then she waved at him. He returned the wave.
(He stole a quick look at Fuse while Lindsay was upstairs.) (It was no longer on a band he had known.)
He shut the television off when he heard her coming back down the stairs.
"Hey," Lindsay greeted him once she was back in the room. The robe had loosened again, but this time she didn't bother tightening it.
She slid onto his lap, while he returned the greeting. "Hey."
Then she leaned over and kissed him. Like, really kissed him. Which was great and all, and he could see where it was going. But he could have at least read Bella her story first. It made more sense that way.
Shelby pulled away from the kiss. "So what's going on?"
Lindsay kissed under his ear before answering. (Lord, he couldn't remember the last time they had just made out or fooled around.) (They were only twenty-one. Sometimes it felt like they were ten years older than that.) "I have great news."
"Oh yeah?" Shelby questioned as she kissed him again. They suited well together. "What's that?"
She pouted (because he wasn't exactly playing along), so he kissed it away. Her hand pulled his shirt loose. She bit his lip. He shifted her on his lap.
They were seventeen again. They were eighteen and locked away in some walk in closet at a friend's party. Their only light was a flimsy, dim bulb, and the sound of their breathing contended with the noise from the party outside the room.
Lindsay pulled away, and he pulled her back for another kiss. Seventeen had been too good of a year to let go of yet.
She laughed. It almost felt genuine. "Aren't you curious?"
Not as much as he should be.
But it was obviously important, if it was worth postponing tucking their daughter in. "What's your good news?"
"We're going to have another baby!"
"Wow." Wow. They had just gotten everything in order. (He was out of school. They were just paying off their parents. They had moved back to where they belonged.) Shelby hadn't even thought of having kids beyond Bella. Wow. "That's..."
"Good, right?" Apparently it was a rhetorical question, because she kissed him again.
Yeah, it was good. Kids were great. Bella meant the world to him. "Amazing."
They were thirty again.
He had managed to lose ten years in the past four.
Lindsay laughed, kissed him, and slid off his lap. "You should probably read to Belle before she falls asleep." Absolutely. "But when you come to bed, I have a surprise for you."
Shelby knew. (He had seen a glimpse what was underneath the robe.) (That was kind of wow too.) "Okay."
When Shelby stood up to go read to Bella, he felt heavier.