Epilogue: Fifteen months later, Southhold Recording Studio
"One, two, three, four . . ."
The melodic tones of the 1963 Cherry Red Gibson 335 wafted through the sound booth, rising every four beats in tempo. Just as the man behind the microphone opened his mouth to sing, there was a sudden CRASH followed by a gasp, then a groan.
All eyes turned to the source of the single syllable as Guy cussed good-naturedly and held up the errant building block. The infant in the playpen gurgled and threw another block at the drum kit, chortling when it bounced off a cymbal. A mad scramble ensued from the surrounding adults. His china blue eyes widened and his bottom lip began to quiver at the unwanted attention.
"It's okay, Jonathan," his father said as he swept him out of the playpen and into his arms. "We didn't mean to make you cry, mate." He began gently jiggling the baby who by then had worked up two large tears, one sliding down each cheek. "There, there," his father soothed as the others groaned and walked away, shaking their heads with disgust.
"You know, Jace, we DO have a playpen back here too," Gwen said softly from the control room. At the frown her husband gave her, she rolled her eyes.
"But he doesn't like it back there in that stuffy old room," Jace replied, a petulant tone to his voice. "Do you, mate? You like being with Daddy."
"Ga," Jonathan said agreeably as he poked a finger right into his father's eye. Jace pulled back and blinked hard as chuckles erupted around him.
"Is that any way to treat Daddy?" he said, grinning as Jonathan patted his father's chest, then gave him a wide, two-toothed smile.
There was no question that Jace was a devoted father. Gwen watched the interplay between the two. Guy and Reed pulled the playpen away from the drum kit and closer to the man who insisted that a baby be in the studio. They probably had decided it was his problem, she thought, grinning as Jace complied and set little Jonathan into his webbed cage. There was also no question that Jonathan Highsmith had his father wrapped right around his little finger. It was amazing what one tiny baby could do to a big forty-nine year-old man.
Gwen mused over the past months' nonstop changes as she rewound the tape and readied for another take. Marriage to Jace was not without its eventfulness, from fans camping on the doorstep to the flash of camera bulbs. Coupling all that with her pregnancy, Jonathan's birth, the remodeling of the carriage-house, getting Rhiannon and Broderick settled in and adjusted to an entirely new life, and the single two-month tour that Mystic Balance had conducted in the United States – well, it was a wonder she'd even had time to stop and think.
Yet she had, she realized, thinking of the long, lazy late evenings she'd spent curled up by the fireplace, nursing Jonathan while Jace reclined next to her. Sometimes they'd engage in conversation, sometimes they'd enjoy nothing but companionable silence. More often than not it had lead into something more delightfully intimate after the baby nodded off to sleep.
Jace had been loathe to leave behind his pregnant wife during the tour, but because Mark had been anxious to leave the band and equally anxious to say farewell to his fans, he had not a lot of choice. At that point the new album had been finished, complete with the re-recording of "Reunion" and bearing the name of Odyssey. It had taken off up the charts almost immediately, much to the joy of those who had been a part of its making. Only a few people were privy as to where the logo of a Celtic knotwork interlaced M and B intertwined with a five-pointed star and surrounded by smaller stars had come from.
"Hmmm, resembles a tattoo I've seen somewhere," Gwen had teased when the studio artist had presented it to them. Jace had merely shrugged and held back from grinning outright when Gwen winked at him.
She'd spent the time without Jace supervising the remodeling of the carriage-house, removing every vestige of Chantell from the surroundings. The sterile white was replaced with warm, lively colors, and the old overhead oak beams were stripped down to the rich-looking wood. The loft rooms were converted into bedrooms for the kids, much to their delight, along with a third bedroom that would become the baby's once he was old enough to sleep upstairs on his own. Meanwhile, Gwen had one room down the hall from hers and Jace's designated as the nursery, and it was all she could do to restrain Jace from sending home all sorts of brick-a-brack and baby items from America while he was on tour. When Jace returned, it was to colorful abstract prints hanging on the wall and children's artwork stuck onto the refrigerator with magnets. His home had become lively, bustling and bursting to the rafters with joy and love.
She snapped out of her reverie long enough to start the sequence again, then sat back as Jace counted off once more. This particular tune had been in tribute to his discovered joys in parenthood, complete with a tinkling sound that resembled the sounds of a music box. Instead of a woman's sigh, there would no doubt be baby gurgling sounds, Gwen thought with amusement. That factor would probably go over equally well, remembering the bombardment of feminine fan letters after "Reunion" had been released as a single.
With Mark now gone, there was an empty void, one that the remaining four Mystics fretted over being filled. Their highest prospect, one Leanna McCormack, had finally gotten her entanglements freed and would be winging her way to England in the coming days. Meanwhile, they were rehearsing without a keyboardist, hoping for the best when she arrived.
The fans had stuck by Mystic Balance through all that had occurred over the past few months, from Hippie's departure through the hearings to determine Wesley Drummond's ability to stand trial. Some had decried that Wes gotten off easy by being institutionalized, even though it had been what Jace had wanted. Gwen sighed as Jace brought her out of her thoughts and beckoned for her to play back the darned take again.
"You know, Highsmith, it sounds real good right now," she admonished, getting a wrinkle of the nose from him.
"It has to be perfect, darlin'," he replied as he set the Gibson onto its stand and walked into the control room. "Bear with me just one more time." He bent over and gave her a light kiss before making a few adjustments to the console. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, then looked into the sound booth and froze.
"I think you have a problem."
A loud TWOING made Jace whirl, console forgotten as he dashed into the sound booth. Jonathan looked up from where he was sitting in his playpen in the center of the room. Lying across the floor was the Gibson with the stand lying across it and a few broken strings scattered like so much limp spaghetti. Fortunately, aside from the one tiny tip of the stand that Jonathan had laid his fingers on and shoved, it was all out of the infant's reach, Gwen noticed, relieved.
Jace rushed towards the baby and all eyes were upon them, breaths held. Jace and his prized Gibson, Gwen thought, leaning forward expectantly. Jace bent over . . . and scooped the infant into his arms for a quick, fierce embrace as sighs of relief were expelled all the way around.
"Maybe your mum is right," he murmured softly to the baby, giving him a firm kiss on the forehead. "The sound booth is no place for a baby who has learned how to reach dangerous things. Here, darlin'," he added as he went back into the control room and handed the infant to his grinning mother. "I leave him to your able hands."
"That's not the only thing you'd put in my able hands," she teased softly as he bent over to kiss her. His replied with a long, deep kiss that sank straight into her soul, his arms about both her and their child as he demonstrated his love for them both.
"Only my love and my life," he lovingly whispered before, smiling, he released them and strode back into the sound booth.