The sound of Cassidy’s excited screams greeted Riley when she opened the apartment door. At the end of the hallway, just inside the living room, she saw her daughter rolling around on the rug in a ball of curls and tulle and black patent-leather Mary Janes. And with her was someone else, a stranger. Putting her the tote-bag on the foyer table, Riley headed to investigate. Just as she was about to get to her destination, Shawn emerged from the hallway to the left that led to his in-home studio and tugged her by the arm.
“Hey,” he said, kissing her fleetingly, almost absentmindedly. “Look …”
“Who’s that with Cass?” Riley asked, cutting him off.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you. She’s a reporter. I’m getting a …”
“A what?” Riley said.
They had a rule about reporters. A simple one. Never around the children. Never. Ever.
“She won’t be taking any pictures or writing about them,” Shawn said quickly. “She’s doing a profile on me.”
“On you? For who?”
Hearing the name of the news organization, Riley pursed her lips and nodded. It wasn’t insignificant. Though Shawn didn’t pay much attention to trends in the news industry, she did, and this was no small thing.
“I told you I talked to Chris about getting back in the studio, right? The way he sees it, before I put any new work out there, I should do some slow re-introduction types of things.”
Riley nodded. “That makes sense,” she admitted. “But does this reporter … what’s her name?”
“Does she have to be here, in our house?”
“That’s what I have to tell you. She’ll be around for a minute.”
“What’s ‘a minute’, Shawn?”
“A week. Shadowing me.”
Riley groaned. “Does that mean she’s going to be here every day I get home for an entire week?”
“You never get home this early, so I don’t think you need to worry about it. She’ll probably be gone by the time you get here.”
“Is that a dig?”
“Nah. It’s a fact.”
They stared at each other, the tension between them rising like a slow boil. Since his revelation that he wanted to make music again, they hadn’t discussed it at length. In the moment, Riley had said the only thing she could say, that she would support whatever he wanted to do. But there was an unspoken understanding between them, that she was basically in ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ mode.
Riley spun toward the unfamiliar voice and found herself staring at a young woman in an army surplus jacket, with a messenger bag draped across her body. She had dark loosely curly hair, pulled to one side in a ponytail that she’d draped over her shoulder. Silver studs pierced her ears from lobe to shell.
Smiling a pretty, gap-toothed smile she looked embarrassed to have interrupted.
“I thought I heard another voice and was hoping it was you,” she said, extending a hand.
Riley took it. “Hello,” she said. “Riley Gardner.”
“I know,” the young woman gave a nervous laugh. “Of course, I know. I’m Livia. Did Sh … did your husband …?”
“Yes,” Riley nodded and smiled. “He explained that you’ll be shadowing him this week for a profile you’re doing. That’s great. Really exciting.”
“Yeah.” Livia nodded, still looking a little at a loss for words. Finally, it appeared she thought of something to say. “Your children are just adorable. That Cassidy …oh my god, I could just tuck her in my bag and make a break for it.”
Riley smiled again, more thinly this time.
“Oh my gosh … I don’t mean …” Livia laughed. “That was a creepy thing to say, sorry. Especially since that’s precisely the kind of nightmare that you probably … Okay, I’ll shut up now.”
“Well now that you bring it up,” Riley said. “Did Shawn mention our policy about the kids and press?”
“Yes! He did. I won’t be taking photos of them, and I won’t include any details about them at all in my piece.”
“I know it seems a little stupid,” Riley continued, “Especially since we can’t prevent people from taking their pictures when we’re out in public, and they even publish those pictures. But we’re trying to be intentional about not making them into little celebrities or giving the impression they’re newsworthy. I hope you understand.”
“Of course, of course,” Livia said.
She seemed a little jumpy, not able to decide which of her feet she wanted to rest her weight on, or what she wanted to do with her hands. Riley was accustomed to this kind of reaction to Shawn, and to them when they were together. But it was discomfiting to encounter it in her own home, and apparently directed at her and her children.
“Well, thank you,” Riley extended a hand again. “And … good luck with the profile. This one is notoriously difficult to get talking.” She nudged Shawn in the arm, realizing that during her entire exchange with Livia, he had said nothing. Not even reinforced her message about the kids.
“Is he?” Livia looked bemused. “He’s been very forthcoming with me.”
The ‘Commitment’ series finale.
On Sale October 21
ABOUT NIA FORRESTER
Nia Forrester lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA where, by day, she is an attorney working on public policy and by night, she crafts woman-centered fiction that examines the complexities of life, love and the human condition.
She welcomes feedback and email from her readers at email@example.com or tweets @NiaForrester.