Zoe barreled through the front door. The night had been grueling. She was working the cash register, and it came up short. She knew who had caused this shortage, too. Then, she was faced with what to do about it. Should she tell her boss up front, or just leave it alone? She thought about it long and hard. In the end, she chose to leave it alone. Her choice, however came back to bite everyone on the behind. Zoe was mortified. And it left her tense.
“That’s it!,” she said, slamming the front door. Erik must have been asleep, because he staggered out of their bedroom, hair disheveled, trying to see her through blurry eyes. His glasses left, somewhere.
“Zoe, are you all right?” he said, raking a hand through his thick gray locks.
Zoe pushed the air with her hand. “I made a stupid mistake is all. I knew who had shorted the cash register and instead of telling Maury, my boss, I let him discover it for himself.”
“Well,” Erik prompted, “what happened after that?”
“Simple, since no one fessed up, he just took it out of our tips. Everyone’s including the bartender. Me.”
“I made sure the bills were all paid for this month,” Erik said, trying to comfort her. He could well read the distress in her tired features. “We should be fine. Don’t worry about it, Zoe.”
Zoe wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. “I was saving for a dishwasher,” she sighed. Erik hugged her back and then eased away so he could look her in the face.
“How much did you lose?”
“I think it was about forty Simoleons.”
“Forty? You make that much in a single night?”
“No, tonight was on the slow side. I average closer to fifty-five, most nights.”
“I think I’m in the wrong business.” Erik walked back into the bedroom and pulled a wad of cash from his stash in his suit pants pocket. He handed it over to his wife, unceremoniously. “Here. Once in awhile I’ll get a few tips playing the piano. Unless, of course, a former pianist comes into the bar and all but lays claim to the piano bench. I put up a fight, but the audience wanted their old favorite back,” Erik shrugged. “It’s all good. This is all I got. Not much, but I’d like to add to the dishwasher fund.”
Erik smiled as Zoe hugged him again. “This is why I love you so much,” she said. Hugging her back, Erik kept his secret. Zoe’s birthday was coming up, and he already had her dishwasher on order.
The next day Erik found himself confronted by his daughter. She barely made it through the door from school and went right back out, hollering, “I’m going to the library to study!” Lifting his eyebrows for a moment, he quickly nodded, happy she was once again taking her studies seriously. Erik went to work as usual and chatted with his co-workers before he got down to business. All-in-all, it was a good work day. He came home, chatted with his sons and as they sat down for a bite to eat, Patrice slammed the front door. So like her mother, he thought.
“You could have told me,” she said, grabbing a plate from the counter before plopping onto her tree stump to eat.
“Tell you what, precisely,” Erik said, doing his best to keep calm. He was the father, the head of the household, and it was his perceived job to maintain an aura of paternal quiet. His was to diffuse situations, not inflame them. Patrice flung a small scrap of paper at him. It landed on the tabletop in front of him. He picked it up. Book code. No title, just three letters and some numbers followed by a decimal point and then a single number and a letter, indicating the stack and shelf. Erik remembered his days spent in the university library.
The boys just kept eating their camp stew their mother had prepared for them before she’d rushed off to work. For the most part, Ayden just listened while Braylon plotted ways on how to use whatever information Patrice had dug up on their old man.
Erik glanced up at her expectantly.
“I have an assignment to write about a famous person. Guess who I found? Erik Cantrell,” she said, without skipping a beat, her question obviously a rhetorical one. “There’s a biography on him. I found a copy on the shelf and flipped through it. He is or was quite a famous musician. A Rock Star. There are pictures, too. And some cd’s. We’re allowed to have a listen in the audio department of the library. You know what’s odd?”
“What’s that?” Erik feigned his ignorance, knowing his gig was up, and doing his best not to squirm.
“Well, besides the fact that he has three brothers, one older and two younger, and an only sister, just like you do, and they all have the same names as your siblings. He sounds just like you. Isn’t that incredible?” She held her hands up, forming a box to gaze at him, as if a film director framing her shot. “You kinda look a little like him, too. That’s just too incredibly weird.”
“Small world we live in. I hear everyone has what they call an astral twin.”
“That’s it, that’s your story? I suppose you’re sticking to it, too. Why, Daddy? Why didn’t you trust us. I always knew you had some mad guitar skills, but I couldn’t piece together why you were working for a music company, instead of off touring.”
Ayden spit out his milk, the tabletop dotted with it like so many raindrops. He nearly choked at her words. “Say, what? Patrice, is this another one of your fake news reports? I’m sick of it. You’re always imagining all kinds of nonsense. Maybe you should write a book or something.”
“Hm, maybe I will. Maybe I’ll call it, ‘Daddy Dearest’.” She flashed her father a look.
“They say you can make all kinds of money writing a tell-all book,” Braylon said.
“Seriously, Dad, how could you? I really want to know. We’ve been living a pretty austere life,” she said, and began pressing on each finger of her left hand, as if counting off a list. “We don’t own a car, a TV, or even a computer. If you hadn’t been given that fancy stereo as part of a promotion, we’d be pretty out-of-touch. We barely have any flooring, and then it’s just in the kitchen. We live like paupers. What did you do with all of that money you made?”
Erik sat still in his chair. He should have seen this coming. How was it his own father was always a step ahead of all of them? Aaron, Joey, Jr., himself, let alone Brianna. How did he do it, and why did Erik always fail at it? He glanced over at his daughter, his firstborn. He never realized just how beautiful she really was. Up until recently, she’d always worn weird bright colors around her eyes, obscuring them, really, and her hair in a rather outlandish style, pulled tight into high knots atop her head. She’d made a change for the better. Her makeup was more muted and enhanced her eyes like he’d never seen them before. Her long blonde hair was stylish, soft and very feminine.
“You’ve made some changes,” he said. “I like it. I never before realized how much like your mother you look. It’s a nice change. I also admire your change in wardrobe. Very stylish, very feminine and complimentary.”
“Don’t change the subject, Dad. This is not about me.”
“Sure it is,” he said, grinning, at last feeling in the game, at least. “What made you decide to change? Were you just tired of your look? You see, like you, I needed a change. Our reasons may be different, but I needed to change.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ayden said. “You mean you were a big time Rock Star and you just needed a change and now we live like this? Does Mom know?”
“Yes, and yes,” Erik said, easily. “Pretty quiet, don’t you think? A nice quiet, regular life. And I can still share my music. Without all the negatives. The worst that’s happened was one day the letter carrier walked through our house to get to the mailbox out front. Previously, the paparazzi would invade my yard, snapping their pictures. I even went overseas to another country on tour, and they walked right into my hotel room! In the middle of the night. I was sleeping, or trying to. When I still lived with your grandparents, they would hop the fence and swim in their pool.” He looked at all three of his kids, one at a time. “You see, fame can be a good thing, so long as it doesn’t take over your life. I was young and green and had no clue as to how to handle it. It pretty much beat me up and spit me right back out again. Yes, I was wildly successful, but I had no life. I couldn’t be sure my date was with me, or Erik Cantrell. I was engaged three times, before I met your mother and none of them quite fit. I was lonely and wanted more out of life. So, I hit the reset button. And now I have your mother and all of you. I think I came out pretty good in the end.”
“But,” Braylon said. “Don’t you miss it?”
“Sometimes, but then I look at all of you, and it passes. And, Ayden, I think you should be the one to write it.”
“Write it. Write what?”
“My biography. I’ll be more than happy to sit down to an interview any time. In fact, come up with a list of questions and I’ll record my answers for you. I’m getting up there and not sure how many days I’ve got left.”
“Because I know you’ll be fair.”