UNEDITED EXCERPT of All I Need is You
© 2014 M. Malone
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KAYLEE WILHELM STOOD at the window and watched the cottony white flakes fall from the sky, blanketing the lawn of her childhood home. When she was a child she used to love the snow, running around trying to catch the crystalline fluff in her mouth. It had felt like magic, like stardust on her tongue. Now that she was an adult all she could think of was pollution and acid rain. Of the inevitable mess, of shoveling and clearing off her car. There was no doubt about it.
Being a grown up sucked sometimes.
Not that she’d had a choice. She unhooked her daughter from her carseat. Kay hadn’t had the luxury of adjusting to adulthood. She’d been dropkicked into it with no safety net.
“And I wouldn’t change a thing,” she whispered and kissed her daughter on the nose. She stood, settling the baby on her hip.
“Did you bring her teething ring?” Her mom, Henrietta Wilhelm, pawed through the diaper bag, her usual pinched look in full force. Kaylee felt her good mood start to dissipate.
“What about her blankie?”
Kay bit her lip to suppress a huff of impatience. She’d been raised to be a good girl. To speak with care, to help those less fortunate and above all else to respect her parents.
It was just really hard to do sometimes.
No matter how great she was feeling, her mother had the ability to bring her down in 60 seconds or less. Especially when her mother was always impeccably groomed and Kaylee felt like such a mess.
Her mom’s black hair was styled in precise curls that formed a halo around her face. Her smooth brown skin bore few lines and her makeup was perfect. Kaylee pulled her lip balm from the back pocket of her jeans and applied a thin layer, hoping the slight bit of color would keep her from looking like a twelve year old. She rarely wore makeup but it usually didn’t bother her. Except when she was around her mom.
With laser precision, Henrietta’s eyes narrowed and focused on Kaylee’s bare face. Before she could comment, Kay answered her earlier question. “Yes, I brought her purple blankie and an extra one just in case she throws up on it again.”
Her daughter Hope seemed to sense that they were talking about her because she squirmed in her arms. Ever since Hope had discovered that she could move around by holding on to the furniture, she didn’t like to be held anymore.
“Oh, she wants to come to me. You want to come to Grandma, don’t you? Yes, you do.”
Her mom plucked the baby from her arms and carried her off toward the kitchen. “We’re going to feed you. I know you’re hungry.”
“Actually, I already fed her.” Kay sighed when her mom didn’t slow down or even acknowledge that she’d heard her. As usual her mom was going to do whatever she wanted. After all, what did she know? She was just Hope’s mother.
No big deal.
Kay looked around the living room. She’d grown up in this house, given her first performances on the shaggy brown rug in front of the fireplace and brought her first boyfriend here to meet her parents. The familiar sight of the pictures over the mantel and the knitted blanket on the back of the sofa should have been comforting. Instead it felt like she couldn’t breathe in here sometimes.
“Don’t let her get to you, pumpkin. You know how your mother is.”
Kay turned at her father’s voice. With his jet-black hair shot through with streaks of silver, Leeland Wilhelm was a striking man. To Kay, he was the most handsome man alive. He’d always been her champion and her protector. Even now when he didn’t agree with the way she was living her life, as a single mom trying to break into the music business, he was always in her corner.
Always on her side.
“Thanks, Daddy. I won’t.” She gave him a quick hug and then walked down the hallway and into the kitchen. Hope was already strapped into her high chair and eating a cup of yogurt. Half of it was on her cheeks and the other half was on the front of her bib. She gave Kaylee a big, toothy grin when she saw her.
“I’ll be back around ten to pick up Hope. I’m sorry it’s so late. I’ve just got a lot of catching up to do.”
Her mom waved her apology off with an impatient flick of her wrist. “It’s always something. They want you to sing it again, sing it differently, sing it better. They’re never satisfied.”
Kay swallowed her usual protests. She was tired of defending her profession to her mom. Especially since her mom should have understood. She was a singer before getting married and had recorded a few albums.
“Okay, I’ll see you then.”
Kay kissed Hope on the top of her head and then left, her steps quickening as she approached the front door. There were days when it was harder than others to leave. Days when her mom made her feel guilty for having to work so late or days when Hope cried and clung to her. Those were the worst. Even though she knew intellectually that Hope was fine as soon as she left it was still hard to leave when her baby girl was crying.
There were some days it was all she could do to get out while she could.
* * * * *
FOR NOT THE first time in the past few months, Elliott Alexander wondered if he was getting old. He was great at his job and that hadn’t changed. But being the muscle had never been this exhausting.
“The senator has asked me to convey that he will answer questions at a short news conference after the hearing.” He ignored the riot of questions thrown out by reporters and blocked them from following his current client, Senator Ross Evans, up the courtroom steps. A particularly nasty reporter who’d been dogging their steps for days stopped short just before bumping into his chest.
He wouldn’t have minded knocking that little twerp to the ground.
The senator hadn’t been sure about hiring a firm headed up by a former bouncer but due to his connections from his younger brother his firm had an impeccable record protecting celebrities. Alexander Security Incorporated had started out providing protection for boy bands but after his move to Washington D. C. they’d branched out to protecting the celebrities of the nation’s capitol: senators, congressmen and influential businessmen.
“Hey boss, I’ve got a message for you.”
Eli turned to face one of his newest employees, Tank Marshall. He’d hired the young gun straight from the military. That was how Eli got most of his guys. They were tough, disciplined and determined. Exactly what he needed.
“What is it?”
He kept his eyes on his client as he responded. The senator was spearheading a controversial new bill about immigration. He’d contracted ASI because he expected there to be threats against his life. He wasn’t wrong. They’d intercepted several messages in the Senator’s mail that indicated he was a target.
Now they just had to keep him safe.
“Carly’s been trying to get in touch with you. She has some stuff that needs your signature and she also said you got a package.”
Eli’s brow furrowed. This was exactly what he’d been trying to avoid. Sleeping with an employee was the worst cliché in the book and for good reason. It was messy. It was complicated. And when it was over, it was awkward. His assistant had seemed fine with their no-strings-attached arrangement. Until she suddenly wasn’t. Now he was ducking his own business affairs just to avoid dealing with her.
“Right. I’ll take care of it. Thanks.”
“Oh yeah, she said it had something to do with a prior case. K. Wilhelm.”
Everything in Eli seized up in that instance. “Wait, which case?”
Tank backed up a step, which wasn’t surprising if Eli’s face looked half as tight as it felt. He tried to smooth his features into something resembling calm as Tank fumbled in his pockets. He finally pulled out a scrap of paper and offered it to Eli. He squinted to decipher the other man’s crappy handwriting.
Package from K. Wilhelm. Received over the weekend. Already checked by security.
He looked up to see Senator Evans was entering the courthouse. He’d assigned a team of guys to shadow him but he’d wanted to be personally involved in this case. Pushing papers behind a desk didn’t suit him. The more he threw himself into work, the less he could obsess over how jacked up his life had become. He still remembered the soft open expression on Kay’s face when she’d realized they were standing under the mistletoe last Christmas. Kissing her was a luxury he shouldn’t have allowed himself.
Especially since he’d had to witness the devastation on her face a short time later once she realized that he wasn’t coming back.
“Wasn’t she one of the girls in the singing group? I was on that job last year. Do you need me to check on it?”
Eli shook his head and motioned for Tank to follow the Senator. Even though her case had been closed, he didn’t need anyone to check on Kaylee.
He always knew exactly where she was.
* * * * *
KAYLEE ADJUSTED THE microphone and nodded to Jackson, who was behind the glass in the control room.
“Whenever, you’re ready.” Jackson’s voice came through the headphones, a crisp whisper directly into her ear. His production assistant, Michael MacCrane gave her the thumbs up.
It was still a little weird to sing by herself. She’d grown-up singing in the church choir and had performed with her friends for years. But it was only recently that she’d started singing solo. It was exhilarating and wonderful. It was also incredibly scary.
There weren’t many things she was good at. Kay considered herself a good cook and great mother. But there was only one area of her life where she never entertained insecurity. One thing she knew she could do better than just about anyone without question.
Kay knew she had the voice. It was all the rest she was worried about. She wasn’t fashionable and she wasn’t thin. These were things that shouldn’t have mattered but did. People expected their pop stars to be glamorous. Kaylee wasn’t glamorous.
But she knew what it was like to hope for something more. That was what her songs were about. It had taken months and her best friend Sasha threatening to do it herself before Kay had worked up the nerve to show Jackson any of her music. The songs she’d written were personal and it wasn’t easy to open them up to criticism. But Sasha was right. Kay didn’t want to record other people’s songs. If she didn’t put herself out there, she’d never know if she had what it took. More importantly, she wouldn’t have an album that felt like it was truly hers.
The glass door to the recording booth opened and Jackson entered. He crossed the room and stood next to her silently for a few moments before speaking.
“Kay, we don’t have to do this song if you’re not ready. We’re actually a little ahead of schedule so if you need to just take a day, it’s cool.”
“No, I really want to record this today. It’s just the first time I’ve sung it in front of anyone.”
Jackson crossed his arms. “It’s a great song. The title, Don’t Stay So Far From Me, I’m assuming it’s personal.”
She couldn’t look at him as she nodded. Sharing her voice was like breathing. It was as natural as talking and walking. She’d been doing it her whole life. But her songs had never been public before. She’d always written in the privacy of her room, keeping her songs as a private record of her innermost thoughts and feelings. Sharing them now, even with people she liked and respected was difficult.
“It gets easier, you know. Putting your heart on paper. I originally told Ridley I loved her through a song I’d written. I’m not even sure if I knew what I was saying myself when I wrote it.”
Kay smiled. “She loves you just as much.”
Jackson inclined his head. “He cares about you, too. I can tell.”
She couldn’t talk about Eli with him. It was his brother. Of course, he would assume the best.
She looked out to the control room. Mac watched with sympathetic eyes. Did she really look that bad? Like a scared little girl afraid of what everyone would think? But the truth was she was scared. Scared that people would make fun of her and worse, that no one would even care enough to do that and she’d just fade back into obscurity.
But fear hadn’t gotten her anything so far. Maybe it was time to try bravery on for size.
“No, I’m good. Let’s do this.”
Jackson started to protest but something he saw in her eyes must have convinced him she was ready. He nodded and then left the room and took a seat behind the recording console again. He put his own headphones back on and then gave Kay the thumbs up.
When the music playback started, Kay closed her eyes and pushed all the negative thoughts away. As she sang the familiar lyrics, all the rest of it ceased to matter. It had been really difficult to sing such personal music at first but now it was easier than she could have ever expected. This song reflected her experiences and her pain. Singing about it was second nature at this point.
She sang throughout the first verse and then added a few new riffs to the chorus they’d already recorded. Every time she sang, it got easier to be in front of an audience. To be the one that everyone was looking at.
“That was amazing.” Jackson’s voice came through her headphones again and Kaylee smiled gratefully. He motioned for her to come in the control room so she took off her headphones and walked through the glass doors separating them.
“Come here, I want you to hear this.” Jackson moved over so she could sit next to him. He hit a few keys and playback started. Kay nodded her head to the beat as the familiar music played.
On New Year’s Eve, after having a few too many glasses of champagne, she’d made a list of things she wanted to change in her life. Her relationships with her parents were at the top of the list. Next was being brave enough to show Jackson Alexander, some of the songs she’d written. She’d already accomplished that one.
The last one was to open herself up to the possibility of love. Eli had kissed her on Christmas Day and just like every time she remembered it, her body flooded with heat. She shivered thinking about his strong arms around her. For one shining moment, she’d thought he wanted her. But then he’d left and gone back to his house in Northern Virginia the next day. There were few things he could have done that would have pushed his point home more clearly than that. Throwing herself at him had only embarrassed them both. She had been caught up in a fairytale for the past year. Elliott Alexander wasn’t interested in her. He never would be.
“What you just did in there,” Jackson ran his hands through his hair. “We’re about ninety percent of the way there with this track. I don’t know how you do that. It’s almost too easy.”
Kay’s smile felt like it would stretch around her head it was so big. “So we can finish the song tonight?”
Mac nudged her affectionately. “We can probably finish two songs tonight if you keep singing the way you have been.”
Kay hopped up and headed back to the recording studio. “I’m ready if you are.”
It was time she learned to focus on the things in her life that were real. She might not be in love but she had something almost as good.