"I like this one," Libby decides, "The color suits you."
"Washed out peach?" Jacklyn snorts, "Pastels are your thing, not mine."
"Well, you can hardly show up to Portia's wedding in one of those animal print and sequin mini skirt things you like," Libby replies.
Jacklyn turns away from the dressing room mirror to face her mother, "Are you sure you don't want to add a 'slutty' onto that description?"
"Jacklyn, sweetheart," Libby sighs heavily, "Please, I just want you to look nice for Bill's daughter's wedding." And 'nice' of course doesn't include anything Jacklyn's closet, which is why her mother dragged her out to Beverly Hills to go dress shopping.
"I hate this fucking dress," Jack grumbles, but grudgingly agrees to buy it anyway, the same way she accepted her invitation to Portia's wedding. She and her new step-sister are hardly close, both being adults when their parents married and only they see each other during big family events. Unfortunately for Jacklyn, Portia's wedding is one of those big family events she's obliged to attend, like it or not.
"You know, it's not too late for you to change your RSVP to include Nico...it would be nice to se you together at the wedding."
"Mom, just, no," Jacklyn groans, "Don't involve yourself in this."
"I am involved," Libby answers, "This is a family matter. And it just pains me so much to see the both of you suffering like this."
"I doubt Nico is suffering now that he's escaped the hell we were living in," Jackie says sharply, "And I'm just fine without him, thanks, Ma."
"No, you aren't," Libby replies, "I'm your mother; I can tell when you aren't happy. You've been doing really well with you program, and you've sobered up, but you aren't happy. And neither is Nico. Bill and I ran into him the other night while we were out having dinner with Portia and Rainier, he was sitting alone at the bar, and he's obviously missing you, Jacklyn."
"Well, it's not like he talks to me," Jacklyn sighs, "He barely even looks at me when picks Trill up."
"Maybe you should try talking to him," Libby urges.
"Maybe," Jacklyn reluctantly agrees, though she has some serious doubts. But, sooner or later, they will have to talk, if only to make this separation official. Jacklyn turns away from her mother, busying herself with the dress so her mother doesn't see her struggle for composure.
While Trill and Luca play skeeball under Debbie's supervision, Andrea pulls Nico aside for a private talk. "You know you're welcome to stay with us."
"Thanks, again, brother. But I'm good where I am."
"You can't live in a hotel forever," Andrea chides him.
"Why not? When we were on the road, that's how we lived. Why should this be any different?"
"Because it isn't right, not having a home, Nico. It's not right for Trill," Andrea says, "Kids need stability."
"And how is crashing at your place any more stable than staying in a hotel?"
"Because it's family, at least," Andrea answers, grasping his brother by the shoulders, "Her whole world has been shaken up by this separation. You need to do something about it, brother. Living in a hotel like a tourist isn't cutting it."
"I'll think about it," Nico promises, though the last thing he can imagine doing is moving into Andrea and Debbie's place. But his brother is right, the situation as it is isn't really working, for him or for Trill. But, just like the time when Jacklyn had kicked him out after his affair with Marilyn had been discovered, he's loathe to commit to any new situation, preferring a state of limbo to actually accepting a permanent break.
"Daddy! I want to go on that!" Trill enthuses, pointing at the gyrosphere at the end of the pier.
"That's for grown ups, sweetheart," Nico laughs.
"They'll let me on if you tell them to," Trill insists.
His daughter has already gotten too used the idea that her rockstar father can get anything he wants. "Baby, that isn't safe for kids. Let's find another ride for you."
"Can we get ice cream?" Trill's attention turns to the next thing she sees.
"That, we can do," Nico agrees.
After ice cream, Nico and Trill commemorate the day with a photobooth picture.
"I wish Mommy could be in the picture with us," Trill muses quietly. Nico excuses himself to run off to the restroom.
"You should tell your Dad you want to go to Disneyland," her cousin Luca suggests, "And tell him to ask my parents to come, so we can all go together."
"Why can't you just ask your parents to take you?" Trill asks.
"Because they'll say 'Maybe later'. But they'll say yes if your Dad asks them."
"What if my Dad says no?"
"He won't, duh, because he doesn't live with you and your Mom. So, he'll take you anywhere you ask. It totally works, all the kids in my school with divorced parents do it all the time."
"My parents aren't divorced," Trill answers vehemently, "And I don't want to go to stupid Disneyland."
"Trill, baby, you are getting too big for this," Nico laughs when she jumps into his arms to kiss him goodbye.
"You'll come again next Saturday?" she asks before letting him put her down.
"Of course, sweetheart, every Saturday."
Her lips purse together in a pout, "I hate waiting the whole week to see you," she says.
"Me, too, baby," Nico sighs, kissing her again before letting her go.
He watches his daughter run into the house, turning to wave to him one last time before she disappears inside. As he's heading back to his car, Nico is surprised to hear Jacklyn call his name.
"Can you come inside?" she asks, "I want to talk to you."
Nico fidgets in silence, wishing he could avoid responding altogether. He'd been dreading this moment for weeks now, the day when their marriage would officially end. But the time has come, he can't pretend otherwise, so he grunts his assent and follows Jacklyn into the house they'd bought together when they got married.
"Say what you have to say," Nico says, arms crossed over his chest like a shield.
"You know what? This was a bad idea," Jacklyn sighs, backing away from her decision to try talking to him. She's not gong to be able to break the wall he's built around himself, she'll only hurt herself by throwing herself against it. "You obviously aren't going to hear anything I have to say. So, forget it. Go."
Maybe it isn't what he thought it was going to be, Nico realizes, and drops his defensive stance. "I'm listening," he says, his voice low, lmost afraid to be heard, his eyes lowered, unable to look at her.
Jacklyn takes a deep breath. "First, I need to apologize to you. For all the shit I put you through."
"This is one of your twelve steps?" Nico asks, disappointed that that's all she wants from him now. "You don't need to apologize to me."
"I thought you'd be happy that I've been getting sober."
"I am, Jack," Nico says. Watching her drown herself had been slowly killing him as well as herself, and nothing he did or said could stop her decline. Everything he did just seemed to make it worse, any time he said anything, it ended in a fight. Leaving her was his last option, and maybe that's what got her into her program, made her get sober. He's glad for that, to see her back to the way she was before, in control of herself. But nothing else about their situation gives him any joy; she's obviously better off, and he's the only one left suffering. "You just don't have to apologize for it. Not to me." What the fuck can he do with an apology, when their family is broken?
She doesn't know what she expected from him, really, but this isn't going at all how she wanted. Jacklyn takes another deep breath, steeling herself to keep pushing forward, to try to connect with him despite his obvious resistance, despite her own urge to just throw up her hands and give up. "I've been writing songs," she tells him, "I was thinking we could work them up..." Their marriage isn't the only thing on the rocks; their separation has put the whole band on hold. A hiatus probably isn't the worst thing, given how lackluster their last few albums were, but sooner or later, they'll have to play again, or break up.
Nico rubs his neck before he speaks, shifting his weight back and forth, giving her every indication that he's going to back out of this. "I don't think that's a good idea," he mumbles.
"So, you can't even play with me, now?" she asks, using anger to stop her heart from breaking, "We can't even have a professional relationship?"
"Professional?" he asks, his voice hoarse with sorrow, "If you want professional, hire a guitarist. When I play with you, my heart and my soul are in it, and there's never been anything professional about that."
They step closer together, close enough to kiss. "I can't play with anyone else, Nico," she says, "No one else can play my songs like you."
It's been so long since they've touched that the slightest brush of his fingers on her arm as he reaches for her sends a tingle up her spine and makes her nipples hard, aching for him.
"Are you staying for dinner, Daddy?" Trill asks, coming down from her room.
"Is that okay with you?" Nico asks Jacklyn, his voice gruff as he struggles to pull back from the moment they'd just had, the first hint of intimacy in what feels like years.
Jacklyn nods, too breathless to speak.
"Sure, I'm staying," Nico says, gathering himself to turn his attention their daughter, "What are we having?"
"I hadn't really planned anything," Jacklyn admits, still not oriented around her own kitchen.
"Can you make a pizza?" Trill asks her father, knowing who to turn to for a decent meal.
Nico glances over to Jacklyn, who shrugs and says, "I probably have...stuff...for that. I think."
Nico scrounges together the ingredients for a basic pizza, and they all sit down for the first family meal they've had together in months. Trill chatters happily with parents, her excitement at this event more than obvious.
Jacklyn hangs back as Nico tucks Trill into bed later, letting him enjoy this time with their daughter. It had always been their nighttime ritual, and she knows how much Trill has missed it, and how much it must be killing Nico to not be here with like he used to.
"She misses that, you know, " Jacklyn says as the bedroom closes gently behind him.
Nico doesn't say anything, but leans against the wall, recovering from the emotional depths that just being able to tuck his daughter into her bed at night have sunken him into.
"You have time to play one song with me," Jacklyn says, seizing on his vulnerability. He won't refuse her now, she knows. His wall has broken, and she only has to push a little to get back inside.
Their Pink Hell album had been a major success, not just in sales, though of course that's the measure that mattered to their label, but musically, it was the best they had ever been. After that tour, she finally agreed to marry him, and everything was perfect. Then, things started to turn, the next couple of albums just weren't as inspired, the stress of touring was wearing on her. She started drinking again, using coke and pills, whatever came into her hands while on the road. And they'd fight, every day, every night, all night, so that they could barely meet on stage without making their arguments public.
The song she plays for him now takes all that pain and crafts it into art, a work of beauty that reaches the heights she achieved with Pink Hell, and Nico is once again honored to be part of that process, to be the one to work her raw, emotive melody into song.
"That was amazing," he tells her, "You have to record that."
"My best work always come from pain. Everything I wrote when we were happy was crap," she says, anguished and bitter, "Now that I'm miserable, I'm finally writing good music again."
"That's bullshit," Nico says, vehement and earnest, "It's just that pain is the only thing you let yourself feel. You're so afraid of letting yourself be happy that you completely close yourself off to it, and you're too numb to write."
Jacklyn sits quietly, not moving or responding.
He said too much, he thinks as her silence persists, and turns away from her, whispering hoarsely, "I should go." The last thing either of them need now is another argument.
He stops suddenly as a ragged sob breaks her silence, "It's true," she whispers, "I was afraid that what we had couldn't be real. I was sure you were going to break my heart. So I broke it myself before you even got the chance. I ruined fucking everything."
Nico wants to take her in his arms and tell her it isn't true, that it's not what he meant, but that would be a lie, and not a healthy one at that, given her propensity to use drugs and alcohol as a place to hide from the truth.
So instead he gets on his knees before her and says, "I played my part in this mess, babe. It's not all on you."
He had come close to kissing her earlier, before Trill interrupted them. But even if their daughter hadn't come in, he probably would have stopped himself, for fear of where that kiss would lead and the pain that opening himself to her again would expose him to. Now, though, he's beyond stopping himself and above fear, his chest torn open and heart poured out on the floor for her.
"Oh, don't go," she moans as he rises, his lips pulling away from hers.
"I'm not going anywhere," he whispers, lifting her up with him.
"I'm taking you upstairs," he continues, "If that's okay with you?"
The time they'd lived apart, the distance he tried to create between them, all of it disappears when she's in his arms again, her skin under his fingers, her hand in his hair, pulling him down to her breasts.
"I've missed you, Nico," she whispers.
"I just want us to get to a place where we stop hurting each other," he says, "Can we do that, Jack?"
"I want to try," she answers.
They didn't make love very often when she'd been drinking, and when they did, it was angry and distant. In the months of their separation, the anger became sorrow and regret, and their lovemaking now is a song of healing, driven by a need for each other that had gone for so long unfulfilled.
The lay together, afterwards, in a silence that begs to be broken, but which neither of them dare disturb, reluctant to start the discussion they know will have to come next.
"I should go," Nico murmurs, sitting up.
"Seriously? You're going to just walk away from this?" Jacklyn asks, reaching a hand out to stop him.
"I'm not walking away," Nico explains, "I just don't want Trill to get the wrong idea..."
"The wrong idea being that her parents love each other?"
Nico sighs, rubbing his chin, "You know what I mean, Jack. We shouldn't get her hopes up until we've worked this shit out."
Jacklyn places an arm firmly over him, preventing him from getting up. "We can work our shit out a lot better together than we have been while we're apart. Tonight was amazing. All of it, having us all together for dinner, seeing you with Trill again. I want you to be here in the morning when she wakes up. I want that everyday, and I'll do anything to make that happen."
"That's all I ever wanted," Nico says, "But it can't be that easy."
"I'm not asking for easy," Jacklyn says, "We have a lot of work to do to repair things between us. I just want you here for it, not living in some hotel. You belong here, Nico, with us. I know you ant it as much as I do. Don't be afraid to take it."
Nico falls back on his pillow. She's right, it's only fear that's making him hesitate. Everything had become so painful, and he didn't have drugs or booze to hide himself in like she had. Instead, he ran from it, tried to use distance as a shield. "You're right," he decides, "I need to be here."