Rick walked into the shared sitting room, and sat down at the table, surveying his breakfast and caffeine options carefully. As he poured himself a cup of coffee he glanced at the book sitting next to the laptop that Zane was typing on. He wondered what it was, and if it was any good. The stab of nostalgia he felt pissed him off, but he did know exactly where it came from. He missed the book exchange.
They used to throw books at each other on tour in a running exchange of the various random paperbacks they'd pick up individually at airports; although they had never discussed the practice, Rick figured it was the main reason neither of them had yet bought an ebook reader.
But no book had passed between them for months; hell, they’d barely exchanged a civil word since Tokyo.
At least things had started to look up, to the point where Rick felt he could possibly start a conversation. Zane came back from his trip to New York slightly different than he had left, and Rick still was trying to tease out what those changes were. If he’d been forced to describe Zane’s current state it was that he seemed less secure, and also, somehow, more thoughtful.
Soon after his return Zane also started to talk in full sentences to the band, and communicating with them in the same comfortable, gently teasing way he used to. His passion on the stage started to re-emerge, and Dustin and Erica were openly relieved that the friendly, charming Zane that held the band together and his engagement with Snowborne was again palpable. He was the beating heart of the group, and the last few months had been a painful reminder of that fact.
Rick had eyed him carefully during this shift. He waited to be the exception to their leader's newfound warmth, and thus was pleasantly surprised when Zane started to acknowledge his presence again.
The tension started to dissipate during their first rehearsal after Zane came back from New York, 3 days later and a day before they were due to fly to Malaysia and Singapore. Dustin was careful and diplomatic, and Erica got much more personally involved in the minutiae of set-up than she had in months. Jarod, sensing the charged atmosphere, was unusually subdued. Rick told himself he didn't give a shit, but he'd not been sleeping well, and was tense.
And then Zane had surprised them all at a planned rehearsal. After striding in the door, and quickly checking the microphone, he'd turned to the guitarist.
"How are you?" He had asked, quietly.
Rick had blinked at him, startled, and it took him a good few seconds to get his expression under control. "I'm.... okay?"
"Good." He'd looked around at the rest of the band. "Warm up with 'Sweetheart'?"
And there it was; it had been their best rehearsal in a very long time. As Zane's mood improved Rick noticed he was on his laptop all the time, and when his laptop wasn't with him he was looking at his iPhone, obviously checking for something.
Sometimes Rick saw him smiling as he wrote or read, and he felt that strange emotion again. Who Zane was talking to was obvious - there had always only been one person who affected him that way. Rick hadn't had the balls, however, to bring the subject up until that morning.
"Are you writing to the brat?" Rick asked, keeping his tone as neutral and conversational as possible. Zane looked up from his laptop, and Rick almost laughed at the expression on his face. One could almost say he appeared aroused, with a slight flush and an almost wild look in his eyes. Not able to completely suppress his reaction, Rick grinned.
"He's not a brat," Zane answered and quickly looked down again, his voice oddly strained.
"True, but I'll still fucking call him that. I like it." Zane snorted in response, but it sounded amused, not angry. "You two getting back together? In an actual relationship-type way?"
Zane pursed his lips. "I don't know what's going to happen." he was silent for a moment. "I hope so. I have a lot to make up for."
"Yeah. Yeah you do." Zane didn't respond, so Rick went back to his paper. He was impressed Zane had even said as much as he had.
"You can't have him, you know," Rick dropped his paper again, and lifted an eyebrow at the singer until he saw his eyes. His voice had that quiet, driven intensity that made their slower songs so powerful. "I don't care if you fuck him a hundred times; it wouldn't matter. If he forgives me, I won't let you mess with him."
Rick laughed. "Fuck you, Butler. Don't be a dick." he stared right back and curled his lip. "You won't have to worry if Brad Fuckin' Pitt circa 1990 made a play for that sweet ass, as long as you don't treat him like shit. With the way he feels about you - who the hell knows why - that's all it'd take. Like you, he seems to not be that into casual sex." He took a gulp of coffee, and grinned. "Not to say it wouldn't be fun to try."
Zane looked down at the screen again, his gaze turned inwards. "Ethan basically told me the same thing."
"That'd it'd be fun to try?" Zane rolled his eyes. Rick switched to serious. "Yeah, the kid isn't half as dumb as he looks."
"No. And he doesn't look dumb. Have you seen Jarod lately?"
“Not since last night, no. He seems to really… be making new friends quickly wherever we go.”
“Yes. He’s also not letting Erica or I know when he disappears, and also coming back more fucked up than he used to. Keep an eye on him.”
“I will. I’ll also see if he’ll listen to me, although it’s doubtful.”
Zane nodded, then closed his laptop, tucked it under his arm and stood. Rick shrugged and went back to reading.
"Hey." Rick looked up again at Zane's voice, and then the book that had been next to the computer came sliding towards him. He looked down at it in surprise. "Just finished it; not bad. Dark. You'd like it."
Rick picked it up, nodded, and placed it in front of him. "Thanks."
"Sure." Zane turned and went into his room, closing the door behind him.
Rick picked the book up again and looked at the cover thoughtfully.
"Fucker," he said, shook his head, and took a sip of his coffee.
Fuck, Ethan. That set me back a couple of hours, that picture. I'm not going to lie: I've got some of your professional shots on my computer that I've found in various places. But that was much better.
I miss your smile.
Sorry I was so drunk that last email, but I'm now glad. There's a lot there that I've been avoiding, and that hasn't gotten me anywhere. Just like trying to avoid how I felt about you was a horrible idea.
No, I don’t talk to Wayne, and don’t have any desire to. He ghosted on me when I started singing in bands outside school, and made it clear it was because he saw me as competition. Tried to rip me down. What shocked was how much that hurt, despite knowing what a dick he was. It was easy to convince myself that love was bullshit and any relationship would end up that way.
Look how well that’s worked out. Seriously, you made it very hard to keep that up, and it’s my trying that fucked us over.
A few of years ago he came to a small Snowborne show and asked if we could partner up. He wasn’t doing well. It was sad, and I felt like a cold bastard. I don’t think I liked him for himself; only for what I saw in him that I wanted to be.
Have I told you yet how much I like that picture?
I'm selfishly glad to have been your first anything. I’m really sorry I've fucked it up so badly. You're a lot stronger than I was. But then, you're also amazing in ways I'll never be.
We’ll talk more about this later in person - I hope, if you’ll let me - but it’s when I first started to feel that way that I ran away. That you’re stronger than me, and I was getting in too deep, too fast with something I’d told myself was impossible.
I've been reading your dad's books, and everything you've told me about him makes me understand his writing more. The prose is amazing, but there is an underlying selfishness in everything he writes. No, he doesn't know you. Not that I don't have a lot more to learn about you, but even with exaggerations the character in "Bluest Road" bares only a passing resemblance. I'm going to take you up on talking more about your parents in person, and telling you more about mine. Family stories are always the longest ones. (For obvious reasons, I suppose.) Your dad seems unable to think too long about other people outside of a literary sense. I met a lot of his type when I took writing classes; did I tell you I flirted with majoring in English? A story for another time. But I'm sorry.
I hate that I don't have endless time to write you. I’d love to Facetime, but worried because I don't know when it’ll work. May I call you sometime? If you're too busy or not ready, I understand. No pressure.
At that moment, the time-delay and distance of email was anything but adequate, and I wished Zane would call me right then. How much I wanted to tell him how right he was, all the details that I'd learned recently by talking to my dad more. How he'd admitted that his new woman was really, really expensive, and thus while he'd gladly pay for my tuition it wouldn't be easy for him. (But on the flip slide I also didn't want to tell Zane that story, because his reactions to me talking about money made him want to give me some, which made me very uncomfortable. If we kept talking, that tendency of his would need a conversation.) And despite that being so typical of my father, his putting his immediate pleasure above the needs of more well-established relationships in his life, like that with his son, I wasn't angry. He'd grown up poor, my dad, and one of my mental pictures was of him as a brooding, anxious dragon, hovering over his hoard of money and begrudging any of its loss except to other aspects of his horde, aka his women.
That was him. That was my dad, and it wasn't going to change. And man, I wanted to hear about Zane's family, those faintly conservative people who seemed to have been a big influence on him but that he'd obviously distanced himself from a bit. Also, he'd call me amazing, which I could only respond to by doing sweet and dirty things to him in thanks.
There was a second email after that one, titled "Addendum", that I read next; the few times he'd sent more than one in a row I always made sure to absorb them in order.
It was a selfie of Zane. He was leaning back in bed, and holding up the camera at an angle as he smiled up at me, one of his hands running through his thick, lovely. There was that vulnerability to him, the low light softening his face and making him look young and oh-so handsome. And goddamn his chest was fucking sexy. I wanted to climb on top of him now, and cursed the miles that kept me from doing so. How much longer was his tour? 4 months? Goddamn.
It was very late, and my brain was scrambled, and I suddenly really needed to masturbate again. But he deserved a response, especially since my next day was going to be insanity, full of classes and then work and then meeting the L’Earls. But I did write him back, and responded with more about families, and also about how ridiculously sexy that picture was. Also, of course, how he could call me anytime.
We exchanged several more emails, and I learned about his sister Alyssa, and how his dad had a tendency to spend more time with his wine collection than his wife, although he’d generally been a better father than husband.
At one point he asked me if I was still hanging around ‘that tall guy in the club’, and I was honest: sometimes, yes, but he had a boyfriend now. The response was ‘good’. I decided it was better if I didn’t add a note that despite that (quite sweet) boyfriend, Areli had made it clear he’d take me back and forgive me if I ever came to my senses. As I liked Martin, said boyfriend, and was sure Areli and I weren’t suited enough to be together even if Zane hadn’t existed, I had politely but firmly declined that suggestion. I’d tell that to Zane in person - that sort of nuance was best discussed in person.
Several days passed until I heard from him, and while I of course wanted contact sooner I knew he was hitting the hardest part of his tour: a couple of stops in Russia, and then huge festivals in Europe again. When the phone rang and I saw it was an international call, though, I knew exactly who it was.
I was with the Trump d'Earls in the living room of Nam-il's apartment; her parents were quite rich, usually overseas and very generous with their only girl, so her place was the perfect art-collective crash-pad. Something about my face as I picked up must have given away how excited I was, because when I pulled the phone to my ear Nam smiled and pointed to her bedroom.
"you can talk in there," She said quietly.
I nodded and rushed in as I said “Hi, this is Ethan.”
"Hi, Ethan." Fuck, he sounded amazing over the phone, and it was a little rougher than usual. I'd forgotten just how the tone of his voice made me vibrate.
My heart was beating a bit faster than usual, but I was proud of the fact that I wasn’t freaking out. I was just very pleased to hear his voice. “Hi, Zane. How’re you?”
I could hear the smile in his voice, and it made me smile. “I’m exhausted, and my voice is getting cranky, and I’m getting sick of planes and tour buses. But the tour has gotten a lot better recently. Erica says it’s because my attitude is a lot less shitty.”
“Why was it shitty?” I was eager to have a solid conversation, and I asked the question without thinking.
There was a pause, and then a laugh. “Well, I was dealing with a broken heart of my own making.”
That took me a second. “Oh.”
“I did say it was of my own making. But it’s better now. A lot better. What are you up to?”
“Oh, I’m just hanging out with my art group…” and I prattled at him about what we were doing. “I’ll show you when I’m done.”
“Please do. I don’t know if I told you, but we watch a lot of movies on tour, and that reminds me of this french film we just watched. There was this woman in a balloon, and she would float to earth every 6 months to hang out with these men. It was very, very strange, and ridiculously beautiful. I’m still figuring out what it was about.”
“I heard about that one! What’s your theory on its meaning?”
“Heh. Okay, well, I think it’s about where the lines lie between friendship and sexual fixation - .” And then he told me, and I laughed, and asked him more questions, and brought up a movie it reminded me of. I felt like we could go on like that forever. He then stopped pretty much mid-sentence to change tact.
“You know what’s funny… this is the first time we’ve talked on the phone; I mean, really talked.” He was silent for a moment. “I know I’ve already said this, but I think that’s my fault.”
“I don’t think you can control the fact your job takes you all over the world. And I’ve seen you in motion.” I smiled, although I know he couldn’t see it. “You don’t exactly have a normal schedule.”
“Maybe. But I don’t think that’s the only reason. I like hearing your voice. It’s nice talking like this. But it’s hard, also, because it reminds me of how very deeply I fucked this thing up, and how much I need to do to un-fuck it.”
“Un-fucking doesn’t sound half as much fun as fucking.” It was a stupid joke, but he did laugh. He was beating himself up, and that made me feel bad. Not that he was wrong, of course, but I also needed him to know I wasn’t very mad at him any more. A bit guarded still, yes, but that would take some time to get over. But if he kept treating me like this, I’d get over it.
“Stop being so damn cute, it’s distracting,” he said with mock severity, and then there was a pause.“Look. Ethan.” His voice utterly changed tone, and the timbre of that change made me tense up. “I did want to talk to you on the phone for more than just chatting, although I wanted that also. But there’s something I need to say, and I didn’t want to send it in an email, yet I can’t seem to wait.”
Oh, fuck. “Oh?” I tried to keep my voice neutral. When Zane got serious in this particular way it did not go well for us. This is something I’d learned in Europe, and something inside me instinctively tightened up and clenched. I actually pulled my knees up to my chest, and wrapped my free arm around them. How much was this about to suck? I’d survive another break-up, I told myself. I had a large group of friends in the next room who would be there for me, and Mina and Scott weren’t very far. There was no 7 hour plane ride from hell. It’d be horrible, but I’d been through it before, right?
“I should have explained this a long time ago. In New York, when I stopped by. Or, much better, at the time. I definitely should have said it at the time.” He took a deep breath, and then laughed. “Erica’s been feeding me all these books about emotion and relationships. She’s too fucking good at knowing exactly what type of information will get me. But...I keep suggesting it, hinting at it but not saying it. I don’t know if that’s better than what I did in London. Look. I’m fucking crazy about you. I’ve always been. There’s never been any break in that. All there’s been is bullshit of me trying to deny that to myself. It scares me. You scare me.”
“Me?” I laughed, shakily. “Yeah, right. most people like to compare me to baby animals.”
“That’s because of how you look. You’re like a very sexy baby animal. Okay, that sounded so wrong. Also, you’re distracting me again.” Another pause, and then a breath. “Last time we talked about this when I was there I more or less just danced around it. But, yeah. No matter what I’ve said, or what I’ve done, how I’ve felt about you hasn’t changed. What has shifted was my screwy attempts to deal with it. So. Yeah. I’m really sorry that was never clear, that what you mean to me never budged. I’m… crazy about you. I adore you. Love?”
Ever experience the sensation of your brain breaking? I think that’s what happened to me right there. A definite metaphorical ‘crack’, like the tectonic plates shifting and giving way. “Huh.”
“Huh?” Now he laughed in a less-than-confident manner. “What are you thinking?”
What was I thinking? Nothing. Nothing at all. His words had successfully obliterated every word, every possible retort, every emotion from my mind. It was like I was full of only light and air, with nothing remaining that I could hold onto and throw back to him. This wasn’t a bad thing; quite the opposite. But it wasn’t very helpful in formulating a response.
Still, I had to try.
There was a commotion on his end of the line, and then a, “He what?!! Oh, fuck. Can I get a moment before we- fuck.” He sighed. “Ethan, I’m sorry. Fuck. Fuck. I can’t believe this, but Jarod just got arrested, and shit is hitting the fan. Can I call you when things settle? Of all the goddamn times for this to happen...”
“Thanks, you,” he said. Then he was gone.
I stared at the phone for a good, long time, eyes wide, and wasn’t sure when I fell back on the bed, arms spread out wide. Nor did I know how much time passed before Nam opened the door a bit, and peeked in.
“Ethan, you okay?” She entered, followed by Mariya and Caleb. I didn’t say anything for a moment, and she turned to them. “Guys, I’m not sure he’s okay.”
I closed my eyes. “I just heard exactly what I needed to, and it’s almost more than I can handle.”
“This that mythical famous boyfriend Areli’s so damn jealous of?” Mariya asked. After breaking up with him I had made Areli promise to not tell anyone about Zane, which he had kept in the specifics but completely blown in the general. He’d making it clear he’d been thrown over for some dick famous person, with that same spin that it wasn’t a true relationship and instead existed only due to my inability to resist that shiny gleam of fame and power. I’d been less than impressed with that, but had let it go. Areli has always been a gossip, and he could have easily taken that extra step to spreading Zane’s name.
“Feeling less mythical these days, since we’re talking regularly, but...” I said, and propped myself up, then made myself stand. “Getting pretty good at saying all the right things. But he had to run because of a very legitimate emergency, so… sorry. I’m a bit shell-shocked.”
“Come on, tell us all about it,” Caleb urged as we went back into the living room, and I could see all of them marinating in extreme curiosity.
“Only if I can both eat and draw my feelings at the same time,” I said, and they laughed.
The eating my feelings I was able to control, but the drawing came fast and furious. That night I drew a black and white picture in pen of a figure that was probably me surrounded and wrapped in visual representations of joy and confusion, scanned, and sent it to him. Nam had seen it over my shoulder as I’d been finishing it and smiled, then kissed me on the top of my head. Hopefully that meant it didn’t suck.
That’s a beautiful picture. Hopefully it’s a good reaction to what I said? It seems good, but I deserve to be wrong. More soon - everything has gone nuts.
I miss you.
That’s pretty much the most substantive message I got from him for about a week, but not at all the only. What surprised me was that despite how crappy things were obviously going - he kept saying things about the stories he would have to tell - he was still writing me. How did he have time for that?
I wrote him, I can’t wait to hear those stories, but I hope Jarod is okay.
I miss you too. I attached another picture of me to that. He seemed to like those.
Aside from that, I wrote him short update emails (not including the stress that was coming from the fact that I was in a constant negotiation with the school registrar regarding payment, and looking at another future-fucking school loan; why did I decide to go to such an expensive school in such a mind-blowingly expensive city? Oh yeah, being young and dumb.), sent art and pictures, and we talked about the next time we could talk on the phone or on Skype. Finally it happened, and something in me was all tight and ready and trying to respond to that incredible thing he had said, or at least suggested, to me weeks before.
“Fuck, Ethan, we have to watch Jarod non-stop, because if we don’t he slips off and finds a way to do something stupid. But he’s an adult. An adult who’s no longer allowed in several countries, but we can’t exactly hold him on house arrest in his hotel room.” It was about three weeks after Jarod’s arrest. Zane’s voice was exhausted. “I don’t know how his casual drug habit turned into heroin hardcore, but we’re not sure what to do. He won’t even talk about it. He just doesn’t seem to care.”
“God, I’m sorry. Has he ever done anything like this before?”
“In the 5 years I’ve known him? No, not on tour. But he’s not handling fame well, and Rick thinks it’s because he’s actually uncomfortable with all the attention, and can’t help but deal with it by acting out. It makes sense, and and it’s worrying, because we’ve got a ways to go. And Erica thinks we can handle it and keep it together, because she’s the one running the business side, and we have so many people dependent on us at this point. And, fuck, she hates nothing more than chaos. But his family is a nightmare, and he doesn’t seem to have anyone we can turn to for help that isn’t one of his drug buddies. It’s a goddamn mess.”
I was silent for a moment. “Do you think he’s going to hurt himself?”
“We’re pretty fucking worried he’s going to.”
“Huh.” There were so many things I wanted to say… but it didn’t feel like my place, because my opinions came from a deeply personal place, and I didn’t want to push them on Zane.
“What are you thinking?”
“It’s nothing - sorry.”
“Ethan.” He sounded serious, and even a little cranky. “That was one of the most loaded ‘huh’s I’ve ever heard. Aside from another recent one, which we need to discuss but I’m afraid of.” the crankiness dropped away, and suddenly he sounded worried. “This is too much information, isn’t it? Fuck, I’m sorry to burden you with this; we’re just getting to know each other, really, and I’m -”
“No! No, that’s not it, not at all. I’m selfish, because I’m glad you’re telling me this. It’s simply…” I took a deep breath. “You consider him a friend, right?”
“Yeah. He’s a pain in the ass, and sort of close-minded, and by far our biggest liability. But he’s got a sweet soul, underneath it all. And the rest of us all think too damn much. When we’re together, he can help us chill the fuck out. He’s necessary. And he loves the music; he loves it just as much as we do. Rick and I talked about that too… this has been such a slide downward that we didn’t notice that he’s not the guy he was two years ago. We’d been so fucking self-involved and focused on keeping our shit together and breaking out that we didn’t notice. Drugs and acting like a moron didn’t used to be his life. And Snowborne is pretty much all he has. Fuck. Honestly, we’re his only friends who aren’t shithead druggies.” He sighed. “Why’d you ask that?”
“Did I tell you about my mom, back when I was in high school?”
“You mentioned she went through a hard phase, and that you didn’t get along for a while. Was it drugs?”
I hesitated one last time. Shit, this wasn’t about me, and I genuinely wasn’t trying to make it about me, but I needed to tell the story to get around to my point, because the point was a vague feeling at that point which I wasn’t completely sure how to articulate. But I dove in anyways, because it was oddly important to me. “It was sorta drugs, because she did weed and cocaine sometimes at parties, but it was mostly alcohol.” I sketched it out as quickly as I could; how in my early teens, after my dad left, she started drinking, and then she started drinking more, and then it became her defining trait. And for a very long time I avoided her, because she was miserable, and she was making me miserable, and she also made it clear it was best if I wasn’t around to witness what she was becoming. I was happy to oblige, because it was getting pretty impossible to ignore the fact I was gay, I found I desperately wanted to share that knowledge in a carnal manner with my doofus best friend, my father had stopped calling me and generally acknowledging my existence, my clothes were all two years old, the ballroom-dance-team sponsors were spending more of the team money on my class fees, costumes and travel clothes than they could justify, and life fucking sucked all around. My reality was shitty enough without engaging too much with hers.
And then one day I came home, and she’d been drunk, and she’d been crying, with her wine bottle in front of her and cigarette butts piling up (she’d started smoking for the first time in ten years not long after the drinking kicked in) and it was pitiful. I’d said “hi, mom”, and she’d just waved in my general direction in a way she’d done countless times before, and then she’d sobbed even louder. At least that night it was sobbing, not yelling. She could get mean when she yelled. And that’s usually when I slinked around her, grabbed something from the fridge, and ran up to my room to hide until she passed out. Then I’d sneak out again, drag her to her bed - thank god she was light - clean up the kitchen, and draw furiously until I passed out. But we didn’t have a car at the moment, because she’d gotten in a DUI two weeks before, where luckily she hadn’t killed anyone, but she had no license and she had an ugly future of court dates ahead of her. And I’d been terrified, because I understood then that she was starting to get awfully close to killing herself in some manner, and thus leaving me twice as alone as I’d been when dad left.
So that night something heavily frayed inside me snapped, and instead of disappearing I marched up to the table, dropped my bookbag on the floor with a loud ‘splat’, and sat down angrily.
“Ethan?” She’d choked out another sob. “What are you doing?”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“What?” She’d looked startled. Even when she’d been crashing around, I’d never sworn at her before.
“Why are you doing this?” And then I’d yelled at her. “Why are you letting everything fall apart? Do you even care if you die, if you leave me alone? What the hell is the point of all this?” And I’d threatened to call her pain-in-the-ass but well-meaning brother who treated her like an eternal but beloved little girl, and her complicated bunch of old friends who she’d alienated, and her Aunt Elma who still loved the hell out of her to the point she sent gentle bible verses stitched into pillows despite years without a response or a thank you, and I’d told her how sick of her fucking herself up I was, and how it was destroying my life and goddamnit I wasn’t going to take it any longer because I loved her and this was all so very stupid.
And I’d thrown her wine in the trash, stomped away, and called every damn person I’d promised to. Shockingly, they’d mostly shown up, and they’d called, and they’d helped me with an intervention that I never could have pulled off on my own. And the next six months sucked. Dear god they sucked. And she relapsed, and she cursed, and kept sobbing and yelling alternatively, but it wasn’t always when she was drunk. And I stayed around, and I listened to her, and I stopped slinking away.
And at some point it had stuck. Not like she was happy most of the time, no, and in some ways I was more of the parent in that relationship than she was. But it never got that bad again, somehow.
“My point isn’t that you can do that, or that it’s really a similar situation at all, or… god, I think I just wanted to tell you that story, I’m sorry, Zane. But-”
“Don’t apologize.” There was something warm in his voice. “I’m glad you did. I’m glad to know that about you. It explains a lot.”
“Thanks.” It was ridiculous how relieved I was. I also wanted to ask him what, exactly, it explained, but I had to remember it really wasn’t about me. “But… I think my point is, I don’t think things like this go away? I know you guys care about the tour, and this is a big time for you, It sounds like right now you’re just trying to maintain the situation, and hope he keeps it together. But what if one day he goes out and he doesn’t come back because he’s done bad heroin, or he gets the shit kicked out of him, or he gets arrested in a country that’ll never let him out? You don’t sound like you want to kick him out of the band.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It sounds like touring is really bad for him.”
“Yeah, you’re right, and no, I don’t want to kick him out of the band. We might as well shoot him in the head ourselves at the point. Fuck no. No. I know what you’re saying. I’ve been thinking some of the same things, but I’ve been avoiding looking deeper because it’s going to be a cluster fuck. Shit.” He let out a deep breath. “What do we do?”
“Are you absolutely sure he has no one? No one at all who might be able to lend support?”
“Not that I know of… but it’s not like I’ve actually asked him, or had that conversation. Yes?” That ‘yes’ was said loudly, like he was yelling to someone in another room. “Already? Yes, I’m coming now. Ethan, I’m sorry. A lot more time has passed than I thought. Lots more. Fuck, I’m late. Thank you so much for listening.”
“Listen? I think I did most of the talking!”
“No, you really didn’t, except for the important parts. And everything you did say was really necessary. I-” he stopped. “Thanks. I know I’ve said this, but I miss you like crazy. I’m coming! Talk soon, you.”
“I miss you too,” I said, but he’d already hung up. Well, there was that. I didn’t get to respond to our last call, but I understood that Jarod was the focus. And I was a bit scooped-out from such an intense conversation and bearing myself like that. Had I ever explained the whole thing, in one, to anyone? No, not really, I don’t think. It was mostly in parts and pieces and slow reveals with everyone else.
Man, I hoped Jarod was okay. I hoped Zane was okay. I needed a drink, which hit me as ironic in light of the story I’d just shared about my mom. Life was goddamn complicated.
“Ethan, what’s wrong? You’re pacing, and you look exhausted.” Mina kicked her feet back and passed a glass of wine to Lucy, who had stopped by after a fight with her boyfriend to hang out with us. She’d just told us what a jerk he was, we commiserated but gave some constructive ideas for improving the situation without harping on the fact she perhaps wasn’t reacting very well, and we’d moved on to drinking. It was four nights after talking to Zane, and a whole bunch of things in my life had converged to turn it into a blur. A modeling assignment that took twice as long as promised, two school projects that took three times as long as expected, and I’d not heard from Senor Butler in the whole of that time but hadn’t been able to catch my breath to send an email seeing how he was doing. I also didn’t want to push him, what with everything going on.
“I’m flashing back to 6 months ago, here. Come drink something.” Scott had just came in, and had punched me in the arm. It still smarted. I was feeling overly sensitive in general, and was trying not to show it. “What’s up?”
I flopped down on the rickety old papasan Mina had bought off of Craigslist, and we all took a moment to wince as it loudly considered its existence and stability. “Oh, Snowborne is having some complicated times, and Zane is stressed, and I’m worried that I haven’t heard from him. It’s got nothing to do with me, tho’, so I also don’t want to nudge.”
“He still alive?” Lucy interjected with an undue amount of cheer. “You’re still dating incredibly hot band dude?” She was a smidge behind the times, having been wrapped up in her own drama.
“Yes, he’s still alive, and I suppose I am, although I haven’t seen him since that night. But he’s been… communicative. And very sweet..”
“Excellent!” She raised her glass. “I’m glad one of our relationships is not sucking.”
“Does our relationship suck?” Scott asked Mina conversationally, pouring her some wine. “I feel it’s implied here via omission that it sucks.”
“No!” Lucy look horrified. “I-”
“Nah.” Mina shook her head, and took a thoughtful sip. “I think she’s just saying we’re too boring to count.”
“Exactly!” Lucy’s face then fell. “Wait, no, that’s not what I meant at all. I - “
My phone rang, and I tuned them out to check out the display. It was Areli, and I briefly considered ignoring it, since I wasn’t in the mood for attitude at the moment. Still, that seemed unfair, as we were both trying to do a legitimate friend thing, and legitimate friends don’t ignore phone calls from each other, at least not too often.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Hey.” His voice had that ‘I don’t give a fuck’ tone he’d cultivated around me, but I was pleased there was a note of genuine friendliness tucked within. “What you up to tonight? Because if you’re free...”
I listened to his invitation and without hesitation accepted. “Oh, fuck yes, I need that. Can I invite everybody?" Areli said yes, and seemed surprised at my vehemence but didn’t ask why before hanging up.
“We are totally going dancing!” I declared with a huge grin to their expectant faces, arms in the air. Then I dropped them when it hit me how presumptuous that sounded. “Okay, well, I mean I’m going out dancing with Areli and his boyfriend at Blink but you guys are more than welcome to come. If you want to. No pressure. Meeting him there in an hour.”
“I think I’m in,” Mina said, and Scott and Lucy agreed. My mood was much improved, and I was practically bouncing as I got dressed, did my hair, and scanned my look in the mirror. Excellent, no one would even be able to tell I was thinking of sleeping for a week just a couple of hours before. I didn’t even check the screen when my phone chirped again, being pretty sure it was Areli again with some sort of update.
”We’re still going, right?” I asked instantly.
“Going?” Said the deep, smooth voice on the other end, amused. “And where are we going, exactly?”
“Zane! Oh, god, I’m so sorry, I thought you were Areli, and…”
“Areli?” his voice suddenly sounded wary.
“OH.” I was batting a thousand here. “Yeah, well, Mina, Scott, Lucy and I are meeting him and his boyfriend,” I stressed that ‘his boyfriend’ so it didn’t go unnoticed, “at a dance club and I’m really excited because it’s been an insane week, and I need to get out like crazy. Anyway how are you? Anything new?” I blathered all this as I stumbled into my bedroom and closed the door behind me.
He laughed. “Lots new, but I don’t want to keep you. We can catch up later. Which club are you guys heading to?”
“Blink? I don’t know if you’ve heard of it… it’s a new one down in Tribeca. But we’re in no real hurry. I should have time to talk.” I was puzzled. He’d been the one who had called me, but now he seemed to be hustling me off the phone, if in a generally cheerful manner. Had I done something stupid by mentioning Areli? Was it my tone when I picked up the phone and he was offended? His response confirmed my worst fears.
“That’s okay, really. I just want you to have fun. Talk soon!” And then he was gone.
“Fuck!” I swore, and had to resist flinging my phone across the room. I really couldn’t afford a new one at the moment. I stomped out into the living room. Everyone was ready to go, and I grabbed my coat.
“You okay?” Someone asked, and I nodded.
“Let’s go - I could use fresh air so I don’t start overthinking.” We started the trip and I told them all about the conversation. “He did sound upbeat and not upset, but he couldn’t wait to get off the phone, so I’m really confused.”
“Maybe he’s in a great mood and legitimately wanted you to have a good time?” Mina suggested. “And figured he’d catch you later?”
“Maybe.” I was doubtful. “There was something weird about it.”
“So much worry!” Scott put his arm around my shoulders. “Are we not dancing that worry away? Are we not here for this very purpose? We will drink and shake it off!”
I laughed as we got into the line for the club, and had to agree that was indeed the plan, and that I’d dragged them out and I’d better damn well improve my attitude. It was surprisingly easy to convince myself to do so, and that I’d probably hear from Zane soon enough. His life was nuts enough without me freaking out at him for being perfectly reasonable and thoughtful. My step regained some of its bounce.
Areli and Martin were already inside when we got there, and had claimed a sizeable non-VIP booth in the back, which was great, since there were so many of us. What wasn’t great was how Areli’s face broadcast a mix of joy, anger, and a flash of lust as soon as he saw me. Martin’s expression was a sharp and sad acknowledgement of Areli’s emotions, but the slight blond gave me a sincere hug regardless, and his smile was sweet. Inwardly sighing, I decided to seriously consider taking a long break from hanging out with Areli if this evening continued in this concerning vein. I had thought I owed my first New York connection a go at friendship as restitution for dumping him, but maybe what he really needed was some protracted distancing. He wouldn’t agree with me, but that was sorta the point, wasn’t it?
I was joking around with Mina, Scott, and Lucy, Areli and Martin still being oddly quiet, when Scott stopped in a middle of a sentence, blinked, and let his mouth fall open. "No. Way." He was looking at a spot behind my shoulder, at the bar.
There he was. Standing at the bar, alone. Wearing an artfully shredded short military style jacket over a white work shirt with dark grey slim pants and a perfectly tied fashionably ragged grey scarf tied like a cravat. We weren't the only ones who had noticed him -several people in the crowd were checking him out. His ability to look like he was straight out of a magazine was uncanny.
He was straining his neck around, obviously trying to spot someone. His eyes ran over us, but our booth was very dark, and it was probably impossible to see faces.
"He's looking for you," Mina noted; she was grinning, widely. She punched me in the arm. “That must be why he was so weird on the phone. Asshole was in town, and he wanted to surprise you.”
"For some reason he loves to do this to me." I tried to scowl, but somehow it came out in a smile. I couldn't look away; my heart was beating so hard it was drowning out the music. "It’s sort of twisted how much." I stood up.
"Go get 'em, boy," Scott cheered me on, raising his glass. "And you kick 'em hard if he's a pain in the ass."
"Good luck," I heard Martin say. He was a nice guy; I might have heard Areli quietly echo 'luck'. I nodded vaguely and strode over the bar.
To be Continued