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Going Solo (New Song Series Book 1)

Going Solo (New Song Series Book 1)

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Moving on is not so easy! Carson Bell had a lovely voice, a heart of gold, and was no slouch in the looks department. He was single-handedly bringing up his daughter, Mia, because his wife, Alice, abandoned them when Mia was just a baby. Alice decided to come back after ten years as part of her therapy. She had some things that she had to do: she would offer Carson a divorce so that he could move on with his life, and she would reconcile with those who had hurt her so she too could move on as well. What Alice hadn't banked on was how much she still loved Carson. Moving on would not be as easy as she thought.

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Chapter One

Summer 2010

"She's back!" Carson's office door flew open and his daughter rushed in, her eyes wide and looked overly excited. "I passed her when I was heading into the mini-mart, and she didn't even know that it was me."
Carson was busy signing off on invoices, a task he took great pleasure in, as he had left the greasy jobs to his employees and was enjoying the business side of things, just as Xavier had said he would.
"Who is back?" he asked his daughter absentmindedly. It was the beginning of summer, and he was already wondering what he was going to do with his hyperactive twelve-year-old daughter. She had already read the five books that he bought for her the week before and summer school would not start until a month's time.
"The female who had me!" Mia answered primly.
Carson stopped writing and looked at his daughter properly. The spattering of freckles on her nose seemed to merge into one, as he struggled to get her face in focus. The pen he was using clattered onto the table and he frowned.
"Stop joking around. That is not funny."
Mia walked toward his desk, her floral summer dress swishing around her legs. She stopped and jutted one foot forward, looking at him defiantly.
"I know it's her!" She folded her arms in a defensive pose. "She doesn't look much different from her pictures, except that her hair is shorter. She came out of her car and asked Emril if Carson Bell ran CarBell Mechanics. Emril said, "Yes." She took in a long breath and went back into her car. I could see her hand trembling from where I stood. She looked shaken up. She looked human, not like the half-alien I was imagining."
Carson drummed his fingers on the table and then said softly, "She is human, Mia, and you can say her name, you know. Her name is Alice."
"Alice." Mia sneered and then slumped, all her bravado leaving her lifeless. "What are we going to do about her?"
"We are going to do nothing," Carson said simply. His heart was beating heavily though, and he had a breathless feeling. Today was June 10. If it were Alice and not some look-alike, that would make it exactly ten years since she left—ten years since she walked out on him, leaving him holding their toddler, Mia.
The first three years he had been glad to see the back of her but for the last couple of years or so he had been yearning for answers and some closure. He did not know if he would understand her reasons for leaving. She had left him a hastily worded letter. He certainly wanted a few questions answered.
"I think we should ignore her," Mia said. "If she comes here, we should slam the door in her face."
"Mia," Carson looked at her sternly, "I don't want you talking like that about your mom." He looked at Mia's spirited piquant face and at the sparks that were flying behind her eyes. He saw a little bit of Alice in her, especially now that she was angry.
"She's not my mom. She's a mother," Mia said slowly and deliberately. "She's just a biological mother. She's the equivalent of a sperm donor..."
"Enough!" Carson said to his daughter, watching as she bristled with indignation.
"Mia, obviously I can't tell you how to feel about Alice, but she is still your mother." He paused. He did not even know how he felt about Alice. If you looked too closely at his emotions, they would not pass scrutiny either.
"Aunt Ruby said that she was a heartless person who doesn't deserve us and that..."
"Ruby shouldn't be telling you anything about Alice. She didn't know her." Carson cut in before Mia could continue. He knew that behind all the bravado and sneering was a little girl who longed to have a female figure in her life. He would have to have a talk with Ruby, Ian's wife, or ask Ian to talk to her. She should not be poisoning Mia's impressionable mind about her mother, even if her mother deserved it.
He looked over the invoices on his desk and leaned back in his chair. The briskness with which he had been tackling the paperwork was now gone. He felt a sense of doom and helplessness that he had not started the day with. He felt this way only because Alice was back.
He looked at Mia, who was chewing her fingernails, devouring them as if they were food. It was a habit he had spent the last six months trying to get her to quit.
"I am going to band practice," he said to her. "Want to come?"
"No," Mia said, "I want to talk."
"Okay," he said, packing up the papers that were strewn across his desk. "What do you want to talk about?"
He glanced at the clock. Every Wednesday at five, they had band practice upstairs in his building. He had a huge warehouse up there, and one of the first things he and the guys had done to the vast expanse was to create a space for the band. They had put up drywall to partition the space where they practiced and painted it a bright yellow. They added a bathroom, a kitchenette, and a small room with two single beds, just in case someone needed to crash there. As time went by, someone had carried a television so that they did not miss the news or sports. Soon more odds and ends had found themselves up there. Last year they added a pool table. They even had a small office, a notice board, and a soundproof room for recording.
His mechanic shop and auto parts store was close to downtown Montego Bay. It was conveniently located so that all the band members could stop by on their way from work. Sometimes they stopped by just to hang out. The space had its own entrance, and everyone had keys.
"I want to talk about her," Mia said softly, after a long pause that almost made him forget that he had asked the question.
Carson sighed, "Mia, can we talk about her when we get home? I'll tuck you into bed and I will answer all the questions I possibly can."
"Promise?" Mia asked, twirling her ponytail.
"Promise." He came around the desk and hugged her to him. She burrowed her face in his shirt.
"I love you, Daddy."
"I love you too, Muffin. Come upstairs and get me, if you need anything." He watched as she slowly walked out of the office. Her slim frame was hovering between that of a child and a teenager. He would soon have to go bra shopping with her and discuss changes in her body, and boys, and all of the things that he did not think he would have to tackle alone at this stage of her life, especially since she had a mother who was alive.
He shook his head and watched as she arched her neck toward him, her heart-shaped face looked sad.
"Have a good practice, Daddy."
Sorrow and loneliness dripped off every word. Guilt, raw and unadulterated, gripped him. He felt as if he were abandoning her just by going upstairs. He tampered down that feeling. Mia knew she would always have him around, and though his natural inclination was to cocoon and shield her, he wanted her to grow up to be an independent woman, not clingy and needy. It was a tough balance to strike because sometimes he found himself wanting to be overprotective.
"I am going to be upstairs," he said softly. "I am not going anywhere. After that, we will go home. Don't eat any junk food at the Mart, okay. I am going to fix us dinner when we get home."
She walked through the door and closed it softly. His confident Muffin was now acting like an abandoned child.
Alice, oh, Alice. Why did you leave and why are you back? How long would you stay this time? Why are you even here? His mind churned up question after question.
He got up from the desk and closed the drawers, pocketed the key, and headed toward the stairs in the middle of the building, and went up to band practice. Band practice was the only thing that kept him sane through the years.
When he neared the section of the warehouse where they had their room, he heard hearty laughter and then some singing. It was possible for the guys to all enter from the east side of the building and use their keys. He did not even check the close circuit camera to see whose car was in the driveway. Usually, everyone would eventually show up for practice. Well, everybody but his brother, Xavier. He had migrated to the United States eight years earlier. Of the original six members, the New Song Band now had only five.
When he entered the brightly lit soundproof room, Ian was sitting at the drums playing with the drumsticks and laughing at something that Aaron had said.
"Hey, guys." He inhaled. It had hit him while coming up the stairs that his estranged wife may be back. Like a delayed reaction, his body felt edgy and uneasy.
He sank in one of the comfy beanbag chairs that were in the brightly lit room and flung his legs over the edge in an indolent pose that belied the war that was going on in his mind and with his emotions.
"Tough day?" Aaron asked. He plucked a string on the guitar and raised his eyebrows at him.
Carson shook his head, "It was okay as days go; I renewed the contract to service the Palm Tree group of hotels. Thank you for looking out."
"You deserve it. You are the best in Mobay. I had nothing to do with that," Aaron said. He was Executive Vice president of the Palm Tree group, and Carson knew he had everything to do with him getting the contract, but Aaron was always uncomfortable receiving compliments or gratitude, so Carson let it slide.
Carson sighed, holding his head.
"Something is wrong." Ian piped up. "Let it out, bro."
"Mia just told me that she saw Alice," Carson said. There was a little tremor in his hand, and his voice was shaky as well. Maybe he should not have come to practice after all. He needed a quiet place to process the fact that Alice was here.
"Alice! Did somebody say, Alice?" Melody asked incredulously. She and Logan walked into the room at the same time. "You have got to be kidding!" she said, putting down her handbag beside one of the fold-out tables in the corner of the room and putting down a pastry box on it.
"Unfortunately, no." Carson shook his head. "Not kidding. Not even remotely."
Melody shook her head. "I hope it's not her. I didn't know her, but I do know that I hate what she did to you and Mia." Her pretty face scrunched into a frown as she considered Carson sympathetically.
She turned around and rummaged through her bag then held up some papers. She stapled a schedule to their notice board.
"Okay, guys. As your unofficial band secretary and Girl Friday, I have to beseech you to read the schedule. You missed the Bethel Church's Harvest, and the pastor was not pleased. You guys are professionals now and are under good management," she said sternly. "I know that you all can read, so read the notice board."
She rubbed her hands together. "I am super excited to say that we have a high-profile wedding in eleven months. Farrah Knight, the heiress, is getting married. It's a huge gig! So please, please represent well. Okay?"
"Okay." They grinned as their self-appointed manager opened the pastry box and took out a donut.
"I got plain donuts," she said biting into one. "I tried to convince myself that it is not as unhealthy as the ones with coatings, but it was a weak attempt."
She licked her lip and then bit into the donut. "Oh, by the way, I have the balance sheet stapled up here. She pointed to another sheet of paper on the notice board. We are in the black."
"So can we set up a gym here then?" Logan asked. "I think it would be wonderful to work out here."
"No," Melody said, shaking her head, "You guys all have access to gyms and gym equipment. Bring the equipment here and work out. I want to spend the money on stuff to do with the band: traveling expenses, et cetera, and I want to talk about uniforms."
Ian rolled his eyes. "I am not wearing any uniform, especially if it has anything to do with a suit and tie."
Melody smirked. "We'll see about that." She picked up her bag. "Have a good practice." She waved at them and left.
Logan blew kisses in her direction and smiled, looking at his other bandmates. "The Bible is right: ‘He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing.'" He headed to the mini fridge and took a bottle of water.
Carson snorted. "I beg to differ."
"Oh, yes." Logan loosened his tie, and looked back at Carson, "Mia claimed that she saw Alice."
"But Mia doesn't know Alice." Ian chipped in. "She may have seen somebody who looks like a picture she has seen of her."
Carson shrugged. "I don't know. The person made enough of an impact to spook Mia, and the lady was asking about me."
Aaron put down the guitar and picked up the saxophone. "I hope it's her. I hope she is here. Then you can move on with your life. Get a divorce. Marry that girl at church who has been making bug eyes at you since forever. What's her name again?"
"Pat," Carson said softly. "Patsy Henry."
Ian snorted, "I don't like her for you. She's too... something. I can't pinpoint what it is."
"She's not Alice," Logan said raising his eyebrows at Ian. "That's a big negative right there."
"No," Ian said frowning. "I don't mind if Carson moves on with somebody else. Ten years is a long time. I often encouraged him to do so through the years. I think Alice was cold-hearted and..."
"Here we go again." Carson sighed. "Ian, I know what you think, and I know what Ruby thinks too. By the way, tell her to stop feeding bad information about Alice to Mia."
Carson looked at his watch. "Where is Jayce? It's almost five-twenty. I can't stay too late tonight. I have a vulnerable, needy little girl who needs some daddy time."
"She needs some mommy time if you ask me." Ian snorted, "And I won't be telling Ruby anything. We were all there when Alice was around, Carson. We remember. We are your family. We had to pick up the pieces when that poor excuse of a woman left. Remember how it was, Aaron?" Ian asked earnestly.
Aaron nodded solemnly. "Carson was a wreck, wasn't eating or sleeping."
Logan was sipping water quietly. He touched Carson on his shoulder. "I am here if you need anything, Bud."
Carson nodded. "Yes, I know."
He sighed and leaned back in the chair, clasping and unclasping his hand. He remembered how it was too. Oh Lord, did he remember. At first, he was understanding, but as the years went by without contact with Alice, he had gotten bitter. He had concluded that Alice had never loved him enough to stay.
"I am here." Jayce walked through the door, puffing like he was on the verge of an asthma attack. By the looks of him, the gym would be justified. Before reaching inside, he would always start complaining about having to climb the stairs. He looked at his band members, his eyes settling on Carson and his raised eyebrows.
"Believe you, me. I have a good reason why I am late."
He looked at the digital clock on the wall and then shut the door, leaning up against the wall and puffing.
"I spotted this lady behind the wheels of a gray Honda Civic; she was right beside me in the traffic, heading in this direction. Her car window was down, and she was nodding her head to music and..." Jayce paused breathlessly.
"Why don't you stop chasing ladies, Jayce?" Ian grinned.
Jayce wheezed, "I wasn't chasing her for me, I was chasing her because I said to myself, why does that lady look so familiar? I followed her all the way to the Hip Strip. She was sitting on the seawall, crying. I mean like heaving, puffing kind of crying, the crying you do when your heart is broken beyond repair. I must have made a sound because she turned around, and when she did, I saw that it was Alice, Alice Murray... er... Alice Bell. Our eyes connected, and I should have waved, but I just reversed and got the hell out of there." Jayce walked toward the pastry box and picked up a donut.
Carson's heartbeat was doing a funny tripping thing by the time Jayce was finished speaking. His breathing was not quite even. He inhaled, "Guys," he stood up. "I can't stay for practice tonight."
The guys nodded with understanding.
"We'll sing an old favorite for the item at the church rally this weekend," Ian said quickly. "Maybe Jayce can take the lead?"
Jayce nodded. He was looking contrite. He did not mean to blurt out his sighting of Alice like that. It was insensitive. It may have been years since she left, but Alice had always been Carson's weakness. She was both his poison and the antidote.
Carson felt his pocket for his car keys and mumbled. "I am sorry about this."
"Go," Aaron said firmly. "Give Mia an extra kiss for us tonight."


Carson drove into the quiet middle-class neighborhood where they lived. He turned left onto Sunrise Drive and slowly crawled up the hill. Mia was looking out the window; her face looked sad. Usually, she was talking a mile a minute, but this evening she was ominously quiet. Her ponytail was undone, and she looked as if she had taken her fingers and pulled her neatly combed hair all over her head.
He patted her leg reassuringly then concentrated on the road. Alice would not know where they lived now. The thought came to him as he pulled into the garage of their four-bedroom house. They had moved two years ago. He had scrimped and saved and put every bit of extra funds he had into building this home. It was a difficult few years because he had expanded the business as well.
The house had a big yard, with a lawn, and a nice enough view of the city of Montego Bay. If you went upstairs, you could even catch a glimpse of the sea. Living on one side of him was a lawyer and on the other was a sprightly returning resident couple that he sometimes leaned on to baby-sit Mia. It was a far cry from his old neighborhood that was littered with zinc fences and board houses, in cramped yards with outdoor kitchens and bathroom sheds.
He sometimes felt surreal when he drove into the community. This was a very different atmosphere from the district where he and Alice grew up.
The garage door closed behind them, and he turned off the car. "Aren't you coming out, Muffin?" He looked at Mia.
She nodded listlessly and clutched her backpack to her chest. "I don't feel like eating," she said, looking at her father.
"Come on, Mia," Carson said, getting out of the car. "You were fiery this evening. You had energy, verve, and spirit. You were defiant. You wanted us to slam the door in Alice's face with disdain, and then suddenly you have no energy."
"I have thought about it over and over," Mia said, walking behind him as he opened the door leading to the kitchen, "and, I concluded, that something must be wrong with me for my mother to abandon me."
Mia walked past him and went into the kitchen, dropping her backpack on the floor.
Carson grimaced. "Then something must be wrong with me because she left me too."
Mia sat around a barstool. She was so self-absorbed that she did not hear her father's attempt to get her to lighten up. "Am I ugly, Daddy?"
"God, no!" Carson said feelingly. "You are the most gorgeous twelve-year-old ever, and you are very beautiful where it counts most—your attitude and how you treat others. You, my girl, are a gem."
Mia giggled. "Seriously?"
"Seriously." Carson hugged her to him and closed his eyes. She reminded him of her mother at this age, beautiful inside and out. He released her.
"Go bathe. You smell like that stray dog that you have been playing with at the shop."
When she marched off to her room, he picked up her backpack from the kitchen floor and sighed.
Dinner felt almost normal. They had Mia's current favorite dish, macaroni and cheese, and they skirted the issue that was uppermost in both their minds—Alice. They watched a documentary together in the living room until Mia fell asleep on his shoulder. He scooped her up and carried her to bed upstairs, tucking her under her zebra sheets. He was grateful that she was not awake to ask him questions about Alice.
He turned off the television and sat in his recliner. He was not ready to go to his room just yet. He turned off the lights and sat in the dark. Only then did he allow the flood banks of his memory to be released. He closed his eyes from the impact of it.