"Gunnar!" yelled Avery. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror, rolled his eyes, and pounded down the stairs. This whole thing was starting to feel like a big mistake.

He found Gunnar in the kitchen, chopping an onion, faced scrunched as if his eyes stung. "Did you say something?" He wiped away a tear.

"Yeah, look at me," said Avery. He waved his arms around to show how the sleeves flopped several inches below his fingertips.

Gunnar glanced over his shoulder and went back to his onion. "Okay, I looked."

"Do you notice anything strange?"

"You mean more than usual?" Gunnar chuckled.

Avery rolled his eyes. "Look again."

Gunnar put down his knife and turned around. "What?"

Avery waved around his too-long sleeves. He grabbed both sides of the shirt and overlapped them in front of his body at least four inches. "Does this look like my size?"

Gunnar frowned, but before he could say anything, Will bellowed from his room: "Gunnar!" He thumped downstairs and came into the kitchen wearing a black short-sleeve tee-shirt that was so tight you could see every ripple of his muscles. The sleeves barely covered his shoulders.

"Uh, that's an interesting look," said Gunnar with a sheepish smile. "Doesn't leave much to the imagination."

"That's because I don't wear an extra, extra small—"

"Hey," said Avery in protest. "Small, maybe medium, okay?"

"My point is," said Will, "is that we appreciate you doing laundry, but maybe one of us should do it next time." He peeled off the too-tight shirt and tossed it to Avery who'd taken off his own shirt and tossed it over to Will.

Gunnar rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess my mind's been on something else lately. Sorry about that."

"Is everything okay?" asked Avery.

"Yeah, you and Scarlett aren't already having problems, are you?" asked Will.

"No," said Gunnar, "and thanks for the vote of confidence."

Will and Avery shared a look.

"Okay, point taken. It's just that I want to do right by her this time. You know, go on dates. Cook romantic dinners. Try to avoid arguing. That sort of thing." Gunnar glanced at the microwave clock. "Speaking of which, you guys are going out tonight, right?"

Avery shrugged, lips twitching. "I don't have any plans. How about you, Will?"

"Nope, me neither." He held a blank expression for a second before breaking out in a grin. "Actually I'm going out to a club with Kevin. He says I'll like this one. It's new. How about you, Avery?"

Avery pulled the t-shirt over his head and checked the fit. It seemed okay. He fiddled with the sleeves, straightened the hem.

"Avery?" asked Gunnar after a moment of silence.

Avery rubbed the back of his neck. "No comments, okay? But I have a date with . . . Juliette." He winced and glanced at both of them and then looked away again. "We're going out to dinner. Cadence is already with Emily."

He could feel them glancing at each other, making him wonder if this was a big mistake. Maybe he should just go out to a bar and catch a new act, see some good music. Why open old wounds?

"Hey, that's great," said Will after a moment, and he sounded like he really thought so, which was a relief to Avery. He didn't need his friends' approval, but they knew exactly what he'd gone through because of Juliette, and how big a risk it was to start a relationship with her again.

She'd had PPD, Avery kept reminding himself. PPD. It was a disease, not a personality disorder. She hadn't been herself. And now she was better.

Still, he couldn't help wondering if all of her bad behavior had been from the PPD. He didn't know this for sure, but he was willing to bet that most mothers didn't abandon their families, throw away their phones, or become addicted to drugs and alcohol when they had PPD. Was he being a sucker for giving their relationship another try? Or would he be a complete jerk if he didn't?

He just knew if he had any chance at being a family with Juliette and Cadence as he'd dreamed, it seemed crazy not to take the chance. But he was terrified of getting his heart broken again.

"I'm the last one to comment on on-again, off-again relationships," said Gunnar, pulling Avery back from his thoughts. "But are you sure this is a good idea?"

Avery shrugged. "No, of course I'm not sure. But she came clean about what happened to Jeff and then left the Oscars early to be with me and Cadence. She seems to really want to be a family again." It sounded so logical, but why was his insides all twisted up about being on a date with her again?

"And you're still in love with her," said Will.

"Yeah, God help me," said Avery. There was that. A small, minor, insignificant point, and the reason why he'd been obsessing about this date all day long.

He should just go to a bar instead. Gunnar needed them out of the house, but he didn't have to go out with Juliette. Maybe he should go to Memphis. Or Austin. A long road trip would be good about now.

Gunnar sighed and shook his head. "I'm right there with you, buddy."

"Well look at all of us," said Will, "taking chances with love. I think this deserves a toast." He opened the fridge, grabbed three beers, and passed them out.

Avery twisted off the cap and took a long swig, not sure he was actually going to take a chance like Will said.

"Well, here's to a successful evening for all of us," said Gunnar, holding out his bottle.

They clinked them together and chatted about how different their lives were from when they first all started living together, and Avery wondered for the millionth time if he was making a mistake.

Then Gunnar noticed the time again and chased them out with a complaint that Scarlett would get there before he'd even started his marinara sauce, and he didn't want them around to make fun of him the next day if something went wrong, which it wasn't going to do, but it probably would if they were there to witness it.

Avery and Will went upstairs and sorted through their clean clothes, pulling out the items that had gotten onto their beds by mistake. They exchanged their shirts and jeans in Will's room, commenting on Gunnar's complete absent-mindedness.

"We're not even close to the same size," said Avery, shaking his head.

"I know. Your jeans would come up to my knees."

Avery made a face. "I'm not that short."

"Uh yeah, sure," said Will, not even bothering to his skeptical expression.

Avery rolled his eyes and turned back to his room, arms loaded with the correct clothes.

"Hang on a sec," said Will. He fiddled with a denim shirt, badly in need of ironing. "I've been meaning to apologize for Layla. I always knew she had a, well, ruthless streak about her. I just never imagined she'd direct it at you or Juliette."

"What do you mean?" Avery frowned.

"Well, I'm pretty sure she sabotaged Scarlett once when Scarlett had to work a press line. And she kind of blackmailed me a couple of times when we were married."

"Wait, what? You knew she might try to manipulate me and Juliette, and you didn't say anything?"

"Well, I didn't know." Will sat on the edge of his bed. "And she's not all bad. I treated her terribly, and she never told the press about me. She kept my secret and stayed married even though she didn't have to. I know Jeff's death really hit her hard. I just never imagined she'd use you to get to Juliette. But now, looking back, I can see that side of her."

Avery ran a hand through his hair and stared at his friend in disbelief. "Why didn't you say anything, man? I just figured since she was your friend, she was okay."

"I don't know." Will shrugged. "She seemed happy, and you seemed happy. After everything you'd been through with Juliette, I figured you deserved it. And didn't you say she gave up her room on the tour bus for you and Cadence?"

Avery nodded.

"See? She can be a good person."

"Unless that was all part of her manipulation," said Avery dryly.

"Yeah, good point. Anyway, I'm sorry. I should've said something. I just never imagined she'd turn out the way she did."

At Will's stricken look, Avery pushed aside his resentment. "It's okay. I'm guilty too. I think I wanted to block out my feelings for Juliette so much, that I ignored warning signs from Layla. And I used Layla too in a sense. I didn't think I was, but she was a good distraction for a while. So that doesn't say much about me."

"It's hardly the same thing," said Will indignantly.

"Maybe." Avery almost hated asking, but he was curious, and part of him—okay, a very small part, a teeny, tiny part, but a part nonetheless—still cared for Layla. "Do you know what's going on with her now?"

"Last I heard, she was moving home with her parents."

Avery nodded, relieved he wouldn't be running into her anytime soon.

"Her song is doing really well," said Will.


"At least you'll get more royalties that way."

"I guess." Avery hesitated at the door. "Have a good time tonight. I really hope you and Kevin make it . . . this time."

Will nodded. "Right back atcha."

"Will," yelled Gunnar from downstairs. "Kevin's here."

"Oops, I gotta go." Will plucked a navy blue, knit shirt from the bed and threw it over his head. He checked his reflection on the mirror and smoothed down his hair.

"Hey, Will," said Avery as he watched his friend splash on some cologne. "You don't think I'm an idiot, do you? For getting back with Juliette? Or at least, giving our relationship another shot?" He rubbed his eyes and noticed a slight tremble in his hand. He hoped Will didn't notice.

He did.

"Hey," said Will, grasping Avery's shoulder. He gave it a squeeze. "If we never took chances we'd all be lonely and sad old men, wondering why life passed us by. You love Juliette. She loves you, right?"

Avery swallowed back tears. He was always amazed at how a tiny bit of kindness from a friend could move him so much. "Yeah, that's what she said."

"There are no guarantees in life, so we have to take chances. I don't know if you and Juliette will work out this time, but I do know, you two never will if you don't try."

Avery nodded and reached over and gave Will's shoulder a squeeze. Then Will surprised him and pulled him into a brief hug with plenty of shoulder slapping.

"We'll be okay," said Will. "No matter what happens."

Avery nodded and wiped his eyes, trying not to be embarrassed about how often he cried in front of his friends, though they didn't seem to mind. "Yeah, we will."

Will headed for the stairs and paused. "You have a good time tonight."

"You too," said Avery. "See you tomorrow."

Avery went back to his room and dumped the clothes on his bed. He decided that the black tee was okay with a blazer from his closet.

He texted Juliette, "I'm on my way." And after a moment's hesitation, he added, "I can't wait to see you."

And God help him, he couldn't. He really couldn't.

She texted him back. "Me neither. But I'm kind of scared. Isn't that weird?"

Avery smiled. She had no idea what he'd been thinking. He texted back: "Not weird at all."

He snuck into Will's room, and splashed on a bit of cologne, knowing Will wouldn't mind. Then he went downstairs, said goodbye to Gunnar, and climbed into his car. He took a couple of deep breaths and remembered Will's advice: if he didn't try with Juliette, then they never would be a couple.

It's all he could do, he realized. It's all any of the could do.