“JADA, HONEY, can we please just—”
Reese Matheson had been arguing with his girl and banging on the front door of his condo for twenty minutes, and it seemed she’d finally gone ahead with her threats.
Reese flew down the steps and around their unit to the pool in time to see his photo album plummet over the railing of their balcony and into the deep end to join his surfboard.
Reese focused on his family pictures, quickly sinking to the bottom. He climbed over the iron fence that surrounded the pool, dove in fully clothed, and swam frantically to collect his precious photos. As he surfaced he could practically see the fire in Jada’s eyes as she hurled a stack of his songbooks over the rail.
“You love those books more than anything! Now you can swim with them.”
On and on it went. She continued to clear the bookshelves of his irreplaceable music collection. He halfheartedly begged her to stop. She tossed them over into the pool. He rescued them. A crowd formed. Paparazzi snapped pictures…. Suddenly Reese knew exactly why this was happening.
The London photos.
“Jada, please. Can we—”
“We most certainly cannot! We’re through! You can pick up your shit and get out! You want to go traipsing around the world, having fun without me, hanging all over people? I’m too young to be sitting here cooped up!”
Reese snorted. The drama was too much. “Oh, please. You’re older than me.”
That did it. She squealed and disappeared from his sight only long enough to run back in and grab the pièce de résistance—his Tony.
“No, Jada. Please!”
The hunk of matter of which he was the most proud sailed effortlessly through the air. It landed in the water a foot out of Reese’s long reach. He dove after the heavy statue and surfaced in time to see his ex-girlfriend’s sorrow-filled gaze. She slammed the sliding door shut so hard that he was shocked the sound of breaking glass didn’t echo through the complex.
“Señor Matheson. Oh, I’ll help you.”
The little old man who tended the grounds took the statue from Reese and held out a hand to help him out of the water. A pile of soggy books lay at his feet—books that chronicled his brief but unbelievably successful music career. He’d gone from jam-band singer, to songwriter for a pop princess, to her tour mate, to singing a pair of smash-hit singles, to landing a movie soundtrack, and finally, co-writing a Broadway musical with his longtime friend and collaborator, Toby Griffiths. It was that last endeavor that earned them the coveted award.
Reese should be celebrating the end of their London run, not rescuing his memories from a saltwater pool. But if he stopped to really think about it, all the warning signs of impending disaster were there—no cute selfie texts recently and complete radio silence over the past week. Apparently she’d been building up to a blowout for seven whole days, during which every television, tabloid, and internet service had plastered his face and that of the lead in his show, Ethan Bradley, all over the planet. He couldn’t totally blame her. She was concerned with appearances, and appearing to be someone’s beard didn’t appeal to her, even if she knew it wasn’t true.
Reese slowly gathered up his belongings and, with the help of Enrique, loaded them all into his Tesla Model X. He tried to give the man soggy money from his wallet to say thank you, but the sweet guy refused it.
So now what? The condo was leased in his name, and he’d been paying all of their bills for the last two years, but he didn’t have it in him to fight anymore. He’d rushed home to drop off his stuff as soon as his flight landed and then planned to go directly to see his beloved grandfather, with or without Jada. Now he needed a new plan, one that involved dry clothes. He turned on the car and pointed it in the direction of the cottage he’d bought for Grandpa on the beach in the gorgeous Southern California town of Malibu. The little two-bedroom house had beach access and was perfect for Reese’s passion for surfing. The thought of working off his frustrations by riding some choice waves appealed to him. The whole setup appealed to him.
That was it. Since Jada had made the decision for him, he would move in with Grandpa. He’d already taken an indefinite hiatus to spend time with the old man. Now he’d be right across the hall.
The catch was that the place had only two bedrooms, and the other room was currently occupied by the caregiver Reese had hired for Grandpa, Jude De La Torre. The old man had suffered a series of minor strokes and then was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just over two years prior. He was sure Jude would understand. Reese was determined to have quality time with his grandfather before he’d have to make some difficult decisions. No time like the present. His heart felt considerably lighter as he drove toward his next adventure.
“REESE, MY boy, I wash my own balls. Don’t think because you’re taking over I need that kinda help. You got that? And I need you to get me them underwear from JCPenney, not this designer crap you brought me. They hold your balls in better, and my boys need all the support they can get.”
Reese had been sole caregiver of his grandfather, Thomas Matheson, for exactly two hours, and the old man hadn’t stopped peppering him with gems of geriatric wisdom.
“You know, I can deal with diapers, but old man balls is not exactly the topic of conversation I thought we’d be having right about now.”
“Well you better be ready for it. You reach my age, and your balls move into a new zip code. Right now it’s time for Jeopardy. I’m not missing my shows tonight.”
“Old man, Jeopardy doesn’t start until seven. It’s only five thirty. How about we go to Mulberry and have some pizza?”
“But I’ll miss my show. Jude never let me miss my shows.”
Jude. The name alone sent Reese into a whirlwind of guilt, irritation, and, well, feelings he wasn’t ready to admit. Reese showed up that afternoon after the debacle at the condo and sprang the news that he was moving in. Jude had remained infuriatingly quiet.
“Jude you’ve been wonderful, but I need this time with him. I’ll pay you for the next month, but I’m moving back in today. You understand, don’t you? Thank you for everything.”
Reese had hoped for some sort of reaction—anything other than silence. He never knew where he stood with his grandfather’s caregiver, nor could he figure out why it mattered to him.
Jude crossed his arms, stuck out a hip, and raised a perfectly formed eyebrow at him. “Very well. I’ll pack my things.” Jude moved swiftly from the room. He had his things together in thirty minutes and took another fifteen to carefully type up Grandpa’s medication and schedule.
Grandpa had been confused and downright ornery. The old man liked his caregiver, but Reese was family. They were it for each other.
“I’m your grandson and I love you. I thought we could have some time together, just you and me. I’m off tour indefinitely, and I want to focus on you. We’ve got your music to catalog, and I want us to work on my next show.”
But Reese had a sinking feeling that he might be too late. Jude had warned him over the past year that his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s was advancing at a rapid rate.
Before he left, though, Jude let Reese have it, albeit in his calm voice.
“What do you know about caring for an old man? You only know about taking care of yourself, Reese Matheson. What’re you going to do when he wanders? Have you thought about that?”
Ridiculous. How much trouble could his grandfather be? Reese was absolutely competent enough to take care of his beloved eighty-seven-year-old grandfather on his own. He’d been footing the bills for his care anyway. Moving in hadn’t been part of his plan, but it was a great idea.
That brought him back to thoughts of Jude. The guy had a big family. He knew from Grandpa that Jude had aunts and uncles and cousins in the area. Reese was sure he’d have a place to stay. It wasn’t like he was making him homeless or anything.
But no aspect of the transition was meant to go smoothly.
A Week Later
JUDE DE La Torre drove his ancient Nissan Pathfinder along the sunny Southern California coast toward yet another interview—his third in the week since he was abruptly let go from his last job as a live-in caregiver. The sounds of Neon Trees filled the vehicle, and Jude tried to let go of his stress. It wouldn’t do to go in all wound up and with a frown on his face.
Tita Germaine had set up the interview for him through her contacts as a labor-and-delivery nurse. Germaine knew everyone in the Santa Monica nursing community. If she didn’t know them, Tita Gemma had sold them a house or knew them from her volunteer work with the Filipino community. Everyone knew everyone, and that was why he needed to be discreet with his current living situation.
He’d gotten quite adept at grooming using the tiny mirror on the Pathfinder’s visor. He’d showered at Tito Rommel’s house early that morning, before his uncle got home from his night job, to avoid looking like he’d been sleeping in his car—which he had—and thanked the Lord once again that he still had a set of clean scrubs to wear for his interview. He’d have to hit the laundromat that night.
Jude needed a break. Ever since that entitled, clueless, spoiled brat Reese came waltzing in and told him he was no longer required to care for Mr. Matheson at the job he’d cherished for the past two years, he’d been in damage-control mode. Jude wet his hair with a spray bottle, used some product to even out the bedhead, and applied the last of his deodorant. He’d have to buy some toiletries. His meager savings didn’t allow for many purchases, but looking his best and being put together was the only way he was keeping it together.
His phone rang somewhere under a pile of papers on the passenger seat, and he dug frantically for it.
He’d called Jude several times over the past week with questions about Mr. Matheson’s medications and where his doctor’s office was located. The man had a college degree and a successful music career, but he couldn’t manage to look up a phone number, much less follow the directions Jude had written out.
He’d warned Reese that he wasn’t capable of taking care of his grandfather, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and needed full-time care. But Reese was adamant. He said he wanted time with him and could handle it. Jude admired his determination, but Reese was foolish to think he could do it on his own. But try as he might, Jude couldn’t just walk away from their situation, nor could he refuse Reese.
Despite how much he hated himself for it, he’d been terribly attracted to Reese since the day he interviewed for the home health care position. Reese’s wavy blond hair had hung down past his shoulders and covered one eye until he pulled it back in a ridiculously self-absorbed man bun and smiled with those stupid-white teeth and eyes so deep blue they were ludicrous. Jude had stumbled over his words, but somehow managed to land the job. He’d spent two long years watching Reese pop in and out of the house to visit his grandfather.
“What do you want, Mister Matheson?” Jude didn’t even try to keep the sneer out of his voice. The man, more like man-child, had taken away his job and left him homeless with his determination to do things his way. He wasn’t about—
“I need you.”
Reese’s voice was devoid of the swagger Jude had experienced from him in the past. It turned his blood cold.
“I don’t work for you or your grandfather anymore, Mister Matheson. You’ll need to call—”
“Jude, he’s gone. I woke up this morning, and the front door was standing wide open. I drove all over and called the police, but there’s no sign of him.”
Jude could hear Reese breathing heavy on the other end of the phone, as though he were power walking.
“I….” He paused. What did Reese expect from him?
“You know him. You know his routines, where he likes to go, what he likes to do. I’ve been gone for so long, I don’t even know where to start looking.” His voice broke on that last sentence.
Jude looked at his watch. He had ten minutes until his interview. They might reschedule. They might tell him to take a hike. He still had two more assisted living facilities he could contact, but he was running out of options. No one in his family had the room or the resources to take him in or feed one more. He’d been sleeping in the back of his SUV and parking outside the homes of various family members to be near help if he needed it. He always claimed to be at someone else’s house so no one would suspect his ruse.
Nope. Jude was going to find a job and a room to rent. He’d been on his own for years. He could handle his own business.
But Jude couldn’t walk away from Mr. Matheson. He’d become like Jude’s own grandfather. When he was having moments of clarity, they walked along the beach, and he sang to Jude and told him stories. He’d given Jude life advice that he found priceless. His own parents had been summoned back to the Philippines to care for his paternal grandparents, and they’d left him on his own at twenty.
Thankfully he’d finished a two-year Nursing Assistant program so he could support himself. Living with Mr. Matheson meant he could continue to take online courses toward his nursing degree and help financially with his younger siblings. It hadn’t meant saving money.
“I’ll help you on one condition,” he said to Reese.
It was a bit evil to make Reese promise him anything while he was frantically looking for his grandfather, but it was nonnegotiable.
“When we get him back, we do things my way.”
Jude heard cursing on the other end of the line and what sounded like Reese fumbling with the phone.
“Fine. Meet me at the house. Please, Jude. I’m so worried.”
That melted his heart a little.
“On my way.”