A Fallen Star
Trent Richards had it all as the guitar god of Narcoleptic Souls: money, babes, and fans the world over. When he turned to alcohol to help with the pressure, the band imploded, sending Trent on a spiral that left him broke, alone, and the target of millions of bitter fans.
A New Opportunity
When his friend and manager offers him a weekend gig, but won’t tell him the details, Trent takes it despite fears that his friend is setting him up. Trent must fight his fears, his past, his manager, the perceptions of his new bandmates, and his own destructive urges in an effort to reclaim his life and find his passion again.
It’s a terrible thing to wake from a slumber, the sleep still in your eyes, to find your lover no longer by your side.
When I think back, I remember the long night of watered down drinks (for her) and distant conversation. What I can’t remember is doing anything to cause her to leave me the next morning.
At first glance, it was like any other morning when she went to work. She had made her side of the bed while I slept. She even left a bagel and cream cheese and a pot of coffee brewing for me for breakfast. We had been living together for a couple years at that point, and we had fallen into a routine that she had followed to the letter. There was nothing different that would have led me to think she had left.
Except that she smelled gone.
There was an emptiness in the apartment that hadn’t been there before, and it was palpable.
I don’t think I realized it, though, until I poured myself a cup of coffee, spread the cream cheese on the bagel, sat down at the bar stool in the kitchen, and tasted the first bitter drop of coffee to cross my tongue. It tasted like absence.
I looked up, examined the living room, saw the knickknacks we had purchased together still sitting on the shelf next to the television. Except the picture she had of her mother which normally stood next to the crystal turtle we had found in some tiny shop on one of our trips. The picture was missing. The turtle remained.
My ivory Eclipse electric guitar sat next to the shelf, unused in the year since I had left my last band, mocking me in its loneliness. Candi had said that it didn’t matter that I had left, that she stood by me, and would continue to stand by me until I found another gig. But the band had planted a sour seed deep within me, and even the idea of looking for another gig had become painful.
The walls were empty, where they had once been covered in posters, gold and platinum records, and other memorabilia from the band. I had taken it all down the day after I quit, claiming to Candi that I was doing it to make room for my next life.
Candi had even tried to put up a painting to bring some life to the room, but I had stopped her. I don’t even know why I stopped her. Maybe it was that those walls were reserved for my accomplishments. Maybe they just reminded me of my failure. Maybe I hoped they would inspire me to some new success.
Once Candi was gone, they only looked more empty—a blank canvas, and I had no paint.
But she had left the knickknacks. A sign that she might come back.
About a week after she left, when I hadn’t heard from her and she hadn’t returned any of my calls, I realized she wasn’t coming back and wasn’t going to pay her portion of the rent. I found myself looking at my bank account, which had dwindled to the point where it would pay, perhaps, three months’ rent. That was if I didn’t buy food, pay for power, or even take a shower. A measly six thousand dollars wouldn’t last long at all in downtown Seattle.
I swore, sitting there in the chair in front of my computer, there had been over a hundred thousand in the account just a few months earlier. I couldn’t recall, either, where it had gone. I knew we had thrown a few parties, and we took that trip to Miami, but it couldn’t have gone that quick.
I scrolled down through the history, checked every transaction, added them up. After fifteen minutes of that, I gave up. The numbers didn’t lie, even though I still didn’t think we had spent all that money. But we had. Or maybe…
No. She hadn’t spent it on her own.
I’d spent it on her.
And when she realized it was almost gone, realized I wasn’t bringing in any more, she just left. No dramatics, no arguments. She just moved on.
My doorbell, a deep sounding thromb, echoed throughout the apartment.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember if I was supposed to see anyone. I couldn’t remember having scheduled anything. I turned to ask Candi, because she always remembered…
She wasn’t there.
The thromb rung again.
“Fuck, I’m coming,” I said, though not particularly loudly. It might be someone I didn’t want to offend.
I got up from the computer, brushed my hand down my chest, and realized I was shirtless.
I looked down.
Underwear only, black, and in need of a wash.
And Candi wasn’t there to do it.
I decided I’d wash them later.
I walked down the short hallway to the door and looked through the peephole.
On the other side of the door, standing heavily in a worn leather coat, was my friend and sometimes manager, Mike. It was hard to tell through the peephole whether his hair was wet, or just especially greasy, but it hung in thick strands to fall below his shoulders, framing the short, but thick, beard he had worn since I’d first met him.
I opened the door.
“What do you want?” I asked, feigning indignation. It wasn’t hard, as I didn’t exactly want to see him right that moment, but his company would be better than the emptiness I’d endured since Candi left.
Mike put his hand up in front of his face.
“Jesus, dude! Put some clothes on! It’s afternoon, already.”
“Shit, is it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said and pushed past me into the living room with his head turned away from me. “It’s near three o’clock.”
I shut the door, and then followed him in, wondering how I had lost track of so many hours. I could have sworn that it was only ten AM.
A black t-shirt, free of any designs, lay on the couch. I picked it up and pulled it on. A pair of black exercise shorts lay on the floor, and I bent down and picked them up.
“Clean clothes?” Mike asked.
“These are clean…ish,” I said.
“You wore them yesterday,” he said.
“I had them on earlier.” I wasn’t going to confirm that I hadn’t had them on since yesterday.
“You weren’t sitting here watching porn, were you?”
I pointed at the computer screen and its dry, yet dire, proclamation regarding my finances. I didn’t give a shit if he learned how bad off I was. He knew all my secrets.
“Unless you think bank statements are porn…”
He didn’t look long at the screen before he wandered over and sat down on the couch, away from where the t-shirt had lain.
“Dude, you’ve got to get your shit together.”
I couldn’t tell if the statement was in reference to the numbers on the screen, or to something else.
I sat down in the computer chair and spun it around to face him.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“Bullshit. When was the last time you left this place and went out?”
“Last night,” I lied. “I went and got pizza.”
He glanced over his shoulder at the counter where the pizza box was sitting, half open. Beside it, a pile of takeout boxes from other restaurants collected over several previous nights crowded the counter-top.
“Like hell you did. You had it delivered. You haven’t been out of this place since she left, have you?”
I looked away and my eyes caught the picture of Candi’s mom. I could see Candi in her face, the dark eyes, the sharp bones of her cheeks.
“Jesus, dude. You’ve still got pictures of her mom hanging around? I would have chucked that shit first thing.”
“She might come back for it.”
“Have you heard from her?”
“She isn’t coming back for it.”
I knew that. Still, I didn’t even want to think that. My silence on the matter apparently bothered him, as he looked around the room, pausing on every item that Candi had left behind.
After he was done, he returned his gaze to me.
“She left all this shit behind. You’re sure she just left?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“She leave a note or something? She tell you she was leaving?”
“No, but I tried to call her at work. Someone else answered the phone, then passed me on to her boss.” I looked out the window but didn’t actually look at anything beyond it. “She told me that Candi had been transferred to the Denver office.”
“And Candi didn’t tell you? Dude, she’s not coming back.”
“I know, but she might.”
Mike snorted, but he didn’t say anything.
Instead, he stood up and went over to my guitar and picked it up. He put the strap over his shoulder—he’s a bigger guy than me, and the guitar rode high on him, but he didn’t adjust it.
I didn’t like that he was holding it. It was my baby, it was what I had used to bring me whatever success I had had.
Mike strummed a chord, and the steel strings jangled, completely out of tune.
He looked up at me.
“Dude, when was the last time you played this thing?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s been awhile.”
“I’d say,” he said, and then started tuning it.
When he was satisfied, he strummed a chord again, and even without the amplifier to explode the full body of the sound of the guitar, the tone was still discernible, still sweet.
“Better,” Mike said.
He took the guitar off and set it back on its stand, as if sensing my unease and giving in to it.
“Why are you here, Mike?”
He blinked his eyes twice, slowly, pondering my question.
“You’re a mess, dude. You haven’t played that guitar in months, I’d bet. You insist Candi is coming back when we both know she isn’t. This place, you’re letting it all go to hell, and you can’t even be bothered to put some clothes on before you answer the door.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” I said, more than a little belligerently.
“Are you drinking again?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
I had thought about it. The call of whiskey and vodka had grown stronger since Candi left, but I hadn’t given in. I hadn’t left the apartment, which was probably the only reason I was still sober. There wasn’t anything in the apartment to drink.
“Well, that’s something, I guess.”
I didn’t like his superior tone, and I tired of the grilling he was giving me.
“I know all the shit I’m in, Mike. I know I’m fucked up right now. Why the fuck are you here?”
“You swear you’re sober, that if I offered you a gig, you could stay sober?”
“A gig? I don’t want charity,” I said.
“It’s not charity,” he said. “I swear.”
“Then what is it?” I asked.
“You swear you can stay sober?”
“I swear,” I said. “That shit ruined Narcoleptic Souls, and I’m not going to let that happen again. You know I was sober for the entire time with Savage Anarchy.”
“I know. I just had to be sure. Your apartment looks like it did when you were drinking, just without the bottles. I wasn’t even sure if I offered you a gig, that you’d take it.”
“You still haven’t told me what it is. I might not take it.” I don’t know why I was so insistent that he tell me what it was. I still didn’t really want a gig. It was only my glance at my bank account that morning that caused me to have any interest at all. But if I was going to have to work to find out what it was, Mike was going to piss me off.
I determined that if he didn’t tell me in the next few seconds, I’d tell him no, just on the principal of not wanting to be fucked with.
“It’s just two nights and a couple of rehearsals,” he said. “A fill-in at The Showcase.”
“The Showcase? That’s what you’ve got for me? I haven’t played a place like that since I was sixteen. I thought you said it was a gig.”
He didn’t get agitated like I expected. He had probably anticipated my reaction.
“The place is under new ownership,” he said. “You’ve been away from the local scene for awhile. They actually book acts, these days. They don’t do the whole talent show thing anymore.”
I leaned back in my chair. He was right. I had been away. World tours in arenas, followed by hiding in my apartment except for the times when I went to parties. I’d avoided anything that even resembled live music.
He’d given me enough information to keep from kicking him out. Two nights, a fill-in. Nothing permanent. But he was still coy about the whole thing.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“Three thousand bucks for the two nights,” he said.
“You’re kidding,” I said, forgetting about who it was for the moment. “No one playing club shows pays that much for a fill-in.”
“They asked specifically for you,” he said.
“Do you want the gig? They didn’t want me to tell you who it was until you took it.”
I stood up, walked around the couch and into the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator and stood there, staring at the contents.
Three thousand bucks, and they didn’t want me to know who they were. That could only mean they thought I wouldn’t take the gig if I knew. I had ideas, people who I had had words with over the years. Bands that felt we had slighted them on our rise up.
The other option, of course, was that it was a band that was up-and-coming, but no one knew, and thought the only way I would play for them was if they offered enough money.
I shut the refrigerator. My answers weren’t in there. The beer I felt like I needed, but didn’t really want, wasn’t there, either. I wasn’t lying to him. I hadn’t started drinking again.
“Who is it? Is it someone I don’t like? If I say yes, and then I get there, and find out I can’t stand them, I’ll leave, no matter what the money is like.”
“You don’t know them,” Mike said from his seat on the couch. He didn’t even turn to face me.
“Then how are they offering that much? It’s a ridiculous amount of money for a two night gig at a club.”
But three thousand bucks would help me out.
Mike pushed himself up out of the couch.
“Look, do you care how they’re offering that much? The money is on the table if you show up for rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday, then the shows on Friday and Saturday. Personally, I think you need this. Get your head back in it. Do something productive. I know you need the money, and I bet you need something to kick-start you again. You’re too damned good a player to be sitting on the couch letting your fingers rot.”
I looked up at the ceiling, stared down the smooth, pearl white paint. Eventually, I let my gaze fall down to look at Mike, who was patiently waiting for my answer. Behind him, my empty wall stood, lending his argument weight that it didn’t really need.
“Fine, I’ll be there. Can you at least tell me the style of music?”
“I think you’ll like it. And hell, if you don’t, it’s only a week.”
He handed me a piece of paper, then turned and headed for the door.
“Where you going?” I asked.
“I’ve got things to do. I’ll see you at the rehearsal studio, Wednesday at noon.”
I looked at the paper he’d given me. It had an address on it. He’d expected me to take it, if he offered it.
“You’re going to be there?”
“Of course,” he said. He looked at me and smiled, his bearded face lighting up with the mischievous grin. “I promised them I’d keep an eye on you.”
He walked down the hallway without another word, then I heard the door open and shut.
I’d just agreed to play, and I had two days to get back into shape before I showed up at that rehearsal.
I looked at my guitar.
I stretched my fingers and imagined the steel strings underneath my fingertips. It was going to hurt.
But I had agreed, and I wasn’t going to go to that rehearsal cold.
I still had some pride.
It probably didn’t matter that, in the days leading up to Candi leaving me, we hadn’t spoken much. She was working, I was busy not working. She was tired, she said, and I took her at her word. What else was I to do?
I was oblivious, ignoring the world around me even as I pretended to live in it.
The pain in the pads of my fingers that came from sliding them up and down the guitar strings for the first time in a year was all it took to prove it to me. My fingers hurt like hell, and I loved it.
If I was only a casual player and spent only a half-hour or so practicing, my fingers would have been fine.
But I still had some pride in my ability, and the first half hour only proved to me how far out of practice I was.
I spent four hours the first day just working on my scales and chord switches, trying to get back as much of my speed as possible. I knew it wasn’t going to come all in one day, but I worked as if it would.
I tried to take breaks every half hour to rest my fingers, but even so, I had to quit before I wanted to because the pain was too much. I needed to give my fingers time to heal, time they didn’t have.
And I wasn’t even close to being as fast and smooth as I had been a year ago.
And it was frustrating as hell.
I looked at the tips of the fingers on my fretting hand and saw a deep redness where the strings had rubbed against them. There were lines in my fingers.
I was pushing it.
I knew if I pushed it too far, I wouldn’t be able to do the gig. There’s nothing worse as a guitar player than not being able to push down on the strings because you overworked yourself and gave yourself a cut on your finger. Steel strings and a sliced finger make playing nearly impossible. The sting of it is almost unbearable.
I sat down on my couch with my phone beside me, and stared at my guitar. I glanced at my fingers, then back at the guitar.
“This is your fault,” I told it.
It said nothing, though. It wouldn’t say a word without my fingers on it.
It wasn’t the guitar’s fault at all.
I picked up the phone and dialed Mike, but he didn’t answer, and I laid the phone back down.
Mike wasn’t going to give me a chance to back out. I both approved of his choice and hated him for it at the same time.
“Fuck you, Mike,” I said, even though he couldn’t hear me.
What I didn’t want to admit to myself in that moment was that I had enjoyed playing again. It had taken my mind off of Candi for those four hours as I worked to shake off the rust. I felt better than I had in weeks. Perhaps, better than I had felt since I quit playing a year ago.
The next morning, when I woke, I went right to my guitar, picked it up, and started to play.
My fingers still hurt like hell, but I ran through my warm-up exercises, my scales, and a series of chord progressions.
When I finished the warm-ups, I knew I wouldn’t be able to practice as much as I had the previous day, but my fingering felt smoother, which was a bit of progress.
I had to quit after an hour. My fingertips wouldn’t take any more, and I didn’t want to risk splitting them open. I didn’t want to quit. Again, thoughts of Candi disappeared in the effort to make my fingers work again, and reappeared soon after.
I examined my fingers. The redness was even darker than the day before. I didn’t think they’d heal before the end of the gig, but if I managed it correctly, they’d at least last. I wouldn’t be my old self on the guitar, but I had to hope that Mike had taken that into account. He knew I hadn’t been playing.
I put the guitar away, resolving to come back to it later in the day for another hour.
I found my phone and dialed Mike again.
This time, he picked up.
“Hey,” he said. “How’s it going?”
“My fingers hurt like a bitch,” I said.
“Good, good. I was hoping to hear something like that. You back to your old self?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll embarrass myself, but I won’t be shredding it all night, either.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t need to. It should be an easy gig.”
I rolled my eyes back in my head, even though I knew he wouldn’t be able to see them.
“Yeah, you know the songs, mostly.”
“Can you send me a set list?”
“Nice try, but you’re not going to get a chance to back out until after you show up.”
“You think I’ll back out if I know the set list?”
“I think that if you knew, you’d make guesses about the band that would be incorrect and back out. I don’t want that to happen. I worked too hard to set this up.”
“You’re an asshole,” I said. I could feel myself smiling, though.
“I’m only watching out for you, brother. Be there tomorrow, go through a rehearsal with them. If you want to back out then, be my guest. At least give it a chance.”
“You don’t have to worry,” I said, wondering if I was lying to him. “I’m committed to the weekend. The money is enough to see to that.”
“Good,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He hung up.
And I still had the rest of the day to worry about tomorrow while nursing fingers that wanted to play but needed to rest. I had all day to think about Candi and wonder where she was.
I stood out back of a two-story brick building that had all the earmarks of having been built fifty years earlier with some fine masonry work that now needed a lot of love. The windows of the first floor sported iron bars, and most were blacked out. A small sign to the left of the electronically-locked steel door said Blue Mountain Rehearsal Studios in delicate, hand lettered, calligraphy. The door was locked, and Mike hadn’t given me the key code to get in.
I glanced back at the plain white van I used to transport my gear. I had parked it in a small parking lot behind the building, taking the last stall. I carried only my guitar with me to the door, hoping that they had an amp I could play through. My own rig was far too big and too much of a pain in the ass for me to want to get it out just for a rehearsal. I hoped it would be all right. The neighborhood didn’t seem too shifty, but you never knew. I just hoped that the fact the van had no markings would keep it safe. That was the whole point of not marking it. I probably should have put an ad for a plumber on it.
The muffled sound of music being played seeped out through the cracks in the walls and windows of the building. There had to be at least three bands inside. Knocking was of no use.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked the time.
Mike had said to be at the door at ten in the morning, and that they had a four hour window in which to get the rehearsal done. I was early by a few minutes, but I had at least expected Mike to be there to introduce me to the band.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out slowly.
“Mike will be here,” I said. “I’m just early.”
Repeating the idea out loud gave it more power to calm my nerves.
I was wired.
Fuck me for being early. I should have played the rock star and been late, if just by a few minutes. Enough to be sure that Mike was here and that I wouldn’t be standing out back of a locked rehearsal studio like a chump.
I heard a car pull in to the parking lot, and I opened my eyes.
It was a tiny Kia something or other, black, economy wheels, and tinted windows. Music thumped out through the car’s thin walls—the owner spent more money on the sound system, I would bet, than they did on the car. Heavy music, thumping bass and crunching guitars, the kind of music I preferred to play. Thankfully, it wasn’t my old band.
The driver whipped into a parking space so quickly that I couldn’t get a look at them through the windshield before they parked.
Whoever it was, it wasn’t Mike. Mike only drove German engineering these days.
After a moment of waiting—whoever was behind the wheel, they were apparently going to finish listening to the song before shutting the car off—I realized that this could be one of the band members.
The music and the car shut off.
A few seconds later, the driver got out of the car.
Over the top of the other cars in the parking lot, a blonde-haired head popped up. The hair was cut close, but I could only see the back. I couldn’t make out a face.
And then the head turned to face me, and I saw it was a girl, well, older than a girl, but certainly not any older than her early twenties. She wasn’t wearing a whole lot of makeup, but her eyes still looked large and dark, deep pools I could fall into. Her hair was bleached, I now saw, as evidenced by her dark eyebrows.
She grinned as she looked at me, then waived.
I waived back, absently. I was far more interested in how hard my heart pounded within my chest.
I told myself it was nerves, just nerves. In a few minutes, I would be playing with a group, again.
She bounced out from behind her car, wearing a cut-to-shreds black tank top that still managed to hide the important parts and black leggings that clung to every curve of her legs. Her calf-high leather boots had to have springs in them, as the three inch heels on them could not have allowed her to bounce as much as she seemed to be doing. She was giddy as all hell.
“I hope to hell you didn’t hook me up with a bunch of fanboys, Mike,” I said under my breath. I still wasn’t in any sort of mental shape to deal with the fawning that always came along with them.
Unfortunately, Mike still wasn’t there to answer the question. I knew I’d have to put up with whatever he’d done, at least until he arrived.
The girl seemed to calm herself down as she approached me.
“You must be Trent,” she said, her giddiness only slightly evident in her voice.
I hoped I kept the shock off my face. I had thought she already knew me, that she was groupie material, but her first words put that to rest a little. She could be pretending.
“I am,” I said. “You are?”
“Elise. Mike said you were cute.” I’ll give her credit. She didn’t blush as she said it. Her eyes sparkled, instead.
“Wait… You don’t know who I am?”
“You’re Trent Richards, right?”
“Then you’re the guitar player that Mike sent to help us out. That’s all I know, I swear.”
The guitar player. What kind of game was he playing?
“Mike told me you asked for me by name,” I said.
Elise smiled, and leaned in to me conspiratorially. “Nope. We just asked him if he knew any guitar players that could help us out, with the requirement that male guitar players had to be cute.”
Then she stuck her hand past me and tapped the keypad a few times.
She hadn’t been leaning in conspiratorially. She was just letting us in.
“And you’re definitely cute,” she said with a smile.
The door latch clicked open.
“Come on, let’s talk inside,” she said. “The rehearsal space is way more comfortable.”
Then she bounced past me and into a dimly lit hallway. I guess giddiness was her natural state.
I followed after her.
She led me past a half a dozen closed doors, some of which were obviously occupied. The sound proofing was not enough to keep in all the noise. And some of it was just noise.
About half way down the hallway, Elise turned to the right down another hallway, and walked all the way to the end. She unlocked a scarred door on the right and stepped inside.
I followed her through, and she let the door shut behind us.
The room was a pretty good size, I guessed twenty-five feet to a side, with a raised floor on the far end that served as a stage. A nondescript drum kit was set up on the stage in the center with a couple of beat up amplifiers flanking it. An electric piano stood stage left, and three microphone stands lined the front of the stage.
Bass, drums, keyboard, one guitar, maybe two. Pretty standard rock lineup.
I glanced to my right and saw a plush bright-pink couch that was as big a couch as I had ever seen. It would have fit half a dozen people on it, and you could still get lost in all the pink. I know it probably says something about me, but I didn’t want to get caught sitting on that couch. I looked to my left, hoping to see a place to sit that was not so bright, and found only a beat up equipment crate, the black plastic adorned with spray-painted pink hearts.
All in all, ignoring the couch, the room wasn’t too bad as far as budget rehearsal rooms go. I’d been in worse. This one didn’t stink of beer or cigarette smoke, though there was a vague hint of perfume-covered sweat.
“You have exclusive use of the room?” I asked.
“Yeah. We shared the last one, and figure we lost more money in busted equipment and wasted time than we spend renting this place out. Plus, we can come and go as we want.”
I pointed to the stage. “Which amp do I use?”
“Oh, the one on the right. You’re taking Jan’s place.”
“Jan? How many girls are in this group?”
She laughed. “I guess Mike didn’t tell you much about us. We’re all girls.”
I gestured toward the pink couch.
“I guess that explains the couch. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the right guy for this gig.”
She walked over and stood right in front of me, looking up slightly to capture my eyes.
“Look, Mike said you can do this, and we trust him. We didn’t put an all girl band together on purpose. It just worked out that way.”
She poked me in the chest with an extended fingernail.
“Just wait until you hear us before you make any judgments. We haven’t heard you, either, you know.”
“You know,” I said as I stared down into her probing eyes, “you probably have.”
This close, I could definitely see she couldn’t be any older than twenty-three. There was too much bubbly innocence in her eyes. I felt like I could see through them to her soul, and there wasn’t any pain in it.
Of course, that couldn’t be true. Everyone had pain. I’d learned that the hard way. Maybe it was just my luck that I couldn’t see it in people if it wasn’t right on the surface, exposed by drugs or drink or a flaw in the person’s character—like with Candi and how I never saw her leaving. On the surface, things were good.
I turned away, unable to continue to look at Elise any longer, and strode to the right side of the stage. I set my guitar case on the floor in front of the stage and opened it up.
“That’s beautiful,” Elise said from behind me.
I felt her bending over me, but I refused to look up at her.
“It is, isn’t it?”
The ivory color had a translucent quality that gave it some depth. Maybe it was just the clear coat, but it really did seem that you could look three inches deep into the paint.
“It almost doesn’t look like it’s been played,” she said. I could hear the hidden question in her statement.
I reached into the case and picked up the guitar.
“It’s been played,” I said, not quite understanding why I was answering the hidden question. “I had it restored right after I left my last band, sort of as a present for finally making the decision to leave.” And also as a way to wash away the memory of the experience.
She didn’t need to know that the last couple days were the most I’d played it since I restored it. She didn’t need to know it sat unused for more than a year.
“Nice present,” she said.
I felt her stand up, and I stood up with the guitar and strapped it on before turning to face her.
She wasn’t looking at me, she was looking at the guitar. It was obvious she appreciated it.
“You want to try it?” I asked, making as if I would take it off.
She smiled and looked up from the guitar.
“No, no. I don’t play, though I’ve always sort of wanted to.”
“Then what do you do?” I asked.
“I sing, and I write lyrics,” she said.
I couldn’t imagine what kind of lyrics her bubbly personality would come up with. Bubble-gum pop, I’d bet.
I shut my eyes tight, and told myself to calm down. It wasn’t fair to judge her, or the band. They did what they did, whatever that was, and they had a gig. Whatever happened here, it was Mike’s fault, if the fault belonged to anyone.
“You all right?” Elise asked.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” I opened my eyes and was met with a worried gaze from her. “It’s just that I just expected Mike to be here to help me through this, or at least to introduce us. I’ve been through some…” Her eyes started to grow more worried, or worse, sympathetic. “Hell, it doesn’t matter. I’m guessing I have a pile of music to learn in three days. We should probably get to it.”
I grabbed the cable from my guitar case and went over to the amp to plug in. She stood where I left her. When I looked back, I could see the curiosity in her face, and perhaps a bit more than just bubbles.
Then she took a deep breath.
“Mike did say he would be here a little later,” she said. “He didn’t want to get in the way.”
I chuckled. “Of course he didn’t.”
I flipped the switch on the amp and waited for it to warm up.
“How soon until the others arrive?” I asked.
“They should be here, soon. Mike thought it would be better if I met you here a little early.”
And then it dawned on me.
“Tell me something. Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Not at the moment,” and then her eyes went wide as it dawned on her, too.
And then she laughed.
“You think he’s trying to set us up?” she asked.
“I think that’s exactly what he’s trying to do,” I said. “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
“Do the others know?”
“No. Mike told me not to tell them. He said he wanted it to be a surprise.”
“You weren’t even a little curious? You didn’t search for me on the internet?”
“I didn’t have time. Mike didn’t tell me your name until this morning. He’s a sneaky bastard, isn’t he?”
I nodded. I heard the hum of the amp behind me, its tubes finally warm, and a pretty decent level already set. My fingers itched to start warming up, but I still had to wrap my head around what Mike was trying to accomplish.
Elise was cute enough.
“He’s just trying to make sure I don’t cut out.”
“Why would you cut out?”
“I’d rather not get into it right now, but I swear, I’m good for these shows. I won’t leave you guys in the lurch, whatever Mike thinks I might do.”
Her smile disappeared, but she wasn’t frowning. She looked puzzled, instead, her brow furrowed.
“Well, then, do you want to tell me who you are?”
“How about we wait until the others arrive. Then I can surprise you all at once.”
I didn’t want to have to go through two separate fan-girl reactions within the space of a half-hour. Not that they would do that, but I wanted to minimize the chance.
“Fine,” she said with a laugh, but the puzzlement remained.
“I think I’m going to warm up, now, if you don’t mind. My fingers are itching to play.” And I didn’t want this conversation to continue much longer. I needed time to think.
“Go ahead,” she said, and turned away.
I started slowly, with limbering up exercises, then worked into my scales. The strings cut into the pads on my fingers, but not nearly as much as they had that first day. I was starting to grow back some of my calluses.
Elise walked over to the pink couch and plunged into its cushions. She reached into her purse, pulled out her cell phone, and started tapping on the screen.
She wasn’t going to wait for me to announce my identity, or for the others to show up.
Fine by me.
I kept an eye on her, but directed most of my concentration inward, toward my playing. I finished my scales, and then went into some chord work. A, C, E, all the way up and down the neck. Every permutation I knew. Then the minors, followed by the sevenths, the ninths. When those were done, I started another three chord combination.
I glanced up and saw that Elise was staring at me, her phone on her lap.
I kept working on my warm-up.
She glanced down at her phone, then back up at me. Her mouth didn’t exactly fall open, but her lips parted.
I saw her lips mouth the words “Holy shit.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
But I also couldn’t help but be worried. This was exactly the kind of reaction I had hoped wouldn’t happen.
I had drilled it into myself after Candi left.
No more star-struck girlfriends, no matter how much I liked them.