It was strange, watching them grow up into young adults from a distance. In the beginning, she’d had some hope that maybe she could be a substantial, significant figure in their lives; she’d never be an aunt, definitely not their godmother, but she wanted to be something. Kristen, at first, had been tolerably agreeable, letting her take them on occasional outings, once even letting Will accompany Lindsey and her back to Phoenix to visit their families in 2004. It had all stopped within a year or two after that, and she still wasn’t sure whether she wanted to know who had instigated the change. After all, if the children had asked? It would absolutely break her heart.
Lori had warned her not to get too invested, not to let it become ‘too much’. But of course she did and of course it had. They were Lindsey’s children, for god’s sake; she could as well forget how to write words on a page than unlearn her desire for their love and affection. As toddlers, they’d smothered her in hugs, had enthusiastically danced and sang to her songs, had even made her little pictures, crude sketches of ponies and dogs and stick-figures who resembled no-one she’d ever met. Now teenagers, alternately bright and surly, they merely gave her a polite hello when they made their irregular visits to see Fleetwood Mac play live. Occasionally she’d entice the girls into her dressing room, promising them an eyeful of lace and silk and chiffon, but it wasn’t as carefree as it had been when they were younger. They’d learned distance, maybe a natural result of their age, maybe something more deliberate. It hadn’t always been that way, though, and she treasured the memories, even the uncomfortable ones.
“Stevie,” Leelee had once asked as they sat backstage, not so long ago that she couldn’t remember the uneasy feeling in her stomach as the young girl watched carefully for a response. She’d felt judged, and the likelihood that that was probably more a reflection of her own guilty conscience than anything else was no salve. “Why do you make Dad so angry?”
And wasn’t that the age old question.
Apparently Stevie had underestimated how much of a coward she was, because she’d wanted nothing more than to run straight out of the dressing room and avoid the question altogether. Instead she’d awkwardly shifted on the over-large couch, gesturing for Lindsey’s daughter to sit beside her. “It’s not simple,” she’d begun, hesitant, unsure what part of the truth was her right to tell.
“It should be,” Leelee had insisted. “Why would you want to make someone feel bad?”
“Sometimes you can make someone sad accidentally, without even knowing. And there are other times when a person might be feeling or angry and so they try to make others feel like that too.”
“That’s not exactly nice,” she’d replied, a hardness in her voice that reminded her of days long gone, a judgmental tone she’d come to despise. This girl, though, she wasn’t him, playing idly with the hem of her shirt, frowning to herself. She couldn’t know.
“No, it’s not.” She’d seldom felt chastened by a seven-year-old… “That’s what’s called human nature, honey. Sometimes we all do not nice things. All you can do is apologize and try not to do it again.”
“Did you apologize?”
“For some things. We’ve known each other for a long time your Dad and me. We’ve said and done lots of things that weren’t very nice, and sometimes those things were sooo long ago that saying sorry just wasn’t enough to fix it.”
Leelee had rested her head on Stevie’s shoulder, letting out a deep sigh, and it was probably one of the most heart-breaking feelings she’d ever known. She’d let her hand drift to the girl’s shoulders before pushing a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. She’d been struck anew by how very darling she was, and while she’d long ago promised herself not to play a genetic ‘what if’ game, it had been difficult not to imagine what the difference might have been had things gone the way they’d once hoped. Lily. Leelee. It was almost cruel.
“I do love your Dad, Lee. Even though we sometimes get sad or angry at each other, we still care about each, you know. Like you and Will.”
She’d shaken her head vehemently. “I don’t care about him. Did you know he wouldn’t come and watch me at my first lesson on Shadow the other day? He was soooo rude.”
Stevie had chuckled and drawn Leelee into a sideways hug. “Brothers can be very rude, can’t they? You should ask your Daddy about that. His big brothers were always torturing him. One time Uncle Jeff even accidentally broke your Dad’s guitar. He ended up making my sweater wet, he cried so much.”
“What a baby!” Leelee had said laughingly.
“Indeed,” she’d agreed. “What a little baby.” She’d tugged on the girl’s ponytail gently. “It’s okay if he gets sad sometimes, though. Everyone does.”
“Oh, especially me,” Stevie had confirmed emphatically. “I can be listening to a song and it’ll remind me of a sad time and I’ll just start crying. Crying, crying, crying until Karen needs to find more tissues for me. Your Dad used to say that one I’d be all cried out, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
“Mom gives GREAT hugs when I cry, and Dad tries but…” Leelee had trailed off dramatically.
“I once told him that he just needed to practice more. If he could spend hours practicing his guitar every day, then he could practice hugging too.”
“And did he?”
“Uh, sort of. He decided to be super annoying, jumping onto our bed and squishing me. He said that it just an extra fun hug,” she replied, putting the requisite amount of outrage in her tone. Really, it had been fun, back when they’d first started living together and they’d openly reveled in the freedom of their own space. Inevitably, they’d ended up making love afterwards and that, as always had been even more enjoyable. Not exactly something she could tell his middle child though.
“He’s silly sometimes,” Leelee had said, rolling her eyes.
“MOST of the time,” Stevie had corrected, a warm weight settling somewhere in her chest when Leelee burst into giggles.
She’d always adored the sound of the acoustic guitar, had once swooned to hear Lindsey’s voice serenading her, but this, the warm body of his daughter snuggled into her side, her innocent laughter? She’d needed this.