a different corner
by rebecca logan
© Sun Devil Stories, Autumn 2005
it ought to be easy, it ought to be simple enough
“Kitty’s back,” I say to the others as they argue. I turn to look as Luke rolls his eyes and yells at me.
“We’re not playing any Springsteen songs. Especially not really fucking obscure ones. How many times have I got to tell you that?”
“I’m not arguing with you about what song to play, dumbshit,” I yell back. “Your girlfriend just walked in the door.” All four of them look towards the door and see Kitty standing in the doorway, looking a bit lost and extremely out of place.
“Great. Just what we need,” I hear Kirsten mutter under her breath.
“Don’t call her Kitty,” Luke says to me. “Her name’s Kate.”
“Whatever. She was Kitty once, she’s Kitty forever. People don’t change. You should have learned that by now at least. We all stay the same.”
“Look, just figure out a fucking song to play, okay,” Doug yells at us.
I pull out my harmonica. They all stare at me. Luke’s convinced I’m about to do my best Springsteen again just to piss him off. I put the harmonica to my lips and step up to the mic. I start to play. Kirsten is the first to recognize what I’m playing. She turns quickly and gives me a bass line to anchor myself. Luke relents and starts to play. After a minute of the three of us, Doug and Rahne come in together as one and we’re a complete band again, thundering our way through another song on a wet and lonely Saturday night.
“It’s funny how they shoot you down when your hands are held up high,” I yell at the top of my voice, giving life to a song that most people won’t remember but will live on in our hearts until after our band has faded away. “And you open up your heart and soul but that’s enough for most! I remember this much, there is nothing you shouldn’t speak of if you’ve got something to say and there is no one to be scared of, just get them out of your way! Going out in a BLAZE OF GLORY, my heart is open wide, you can take anything you want from me, there is nothing left to hide!”
The crowd’s into it now, moving and rocking along and it feels so great to be up here, to be where we belong that I wish we could keep this going forever. I know we can take the Alarm. I think we’re catching up to Dire Straits, especially as we learn to groove and not just to rock. Just CCR and the Clash to go to take the crown and since they’re both long broken up, I suppose it falls to us by default. This is what I give it up for. I’ve done it once, would do it again; the greatest feeling in the world, a good, sharp agent away from immortality. And now we have to end. Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? That’s what Springsteen asked. I guess my whole life’s a lie then because I gave it up for a dream and dreams don’t come true. Dreams fade and they die. And dreamers spend their lives being broken.
“When the nails are biting into your hands and the cross is heavy in your heart now is the time to really make a stand. MY HANDS ARE HELD UP HIGH!”
The final scream hits the crowd and I see Luke start to ease up. I can catch the fade in his eyes and I know he wants to go talk to her.
When the instruments come together for a finale, the guitar’s the first to disappear. It used to be the last.
I lied. People do change.
Every thing good in this world changes and the world dies all around us. Why does fortune smile on some? It ain’t me. It ain’t me. I ain’t no fortunate one.
“I want to go talk to her for a while. Let’s kill the act,” he says, quietly enough that the others can’t hear.
“It’s dead already, wouldn’t you say? The others deserve to know.”
The masks slip and we remember why we started all of this, what we hoped to get out of it. We can beat any band in the world he said to me as Rahne pounded on the drums as loud as she could and we reminded everyone why “Baba O’Riley” is the greatest song ever written, him flying through the chords as we both yelled into the mic ‘teenage wasteland! It’s only teenage wasteland!’ Even the Clash, I had asked him without words. Even the Clash his guitar answered with a resounding shot as we flowed into “Bankrobber”.
“Keep illusions alive,” he tells me. “Keep dreams alive. For a little while anyway.”
“Illusions are all we’re goin’ on now. It’s all we’ve got left.”
“You’ve got a dream,” he says, looking into my eyes. He’s bracing for a Springsteen quote, a Fogerty slam, a Reed comeback. But my words hit him like a slap to the face and were this a title fight I would now be crowned champion of the world.
“Dreams come, they go so easily. Swept off the table, across the floor. Pushed until they’re just out of reach. So you try to dream some more.”
They’re his words. The only four lines he wrote for our longest song, his cynical throw in to a song that relies on hope as its very essence. Four times in all these years I’ve seen him cry. It almost becomes five.
“What do you want?”
“Final song before we sit. Little bit of magic to maybe show it’s not all gone.”
“Raise the sky?”
“Raise the sky.”
I turn and pump my hands in the air. To the band, it’s a signal for the song. To the crowd, it’s a motion to come alive. And 139 of the 140 people in the room come alive. The song comes together just like it’s supposed to, like it always has before.
“Raise the sky. We got to fly, over the land, over the sea. Fate unwinds and if we die, souls arise. God do not seize me please. Till victory!” I sing, Patti Smith’s words. The words are hers. The energy is ours. The passion is mine. The loss is his.
For years we’ve used this song before sitting down for a while. I don’t want to take a break, don’t want to take a chance on all of this ending right now, but he’s my best friend in the whole world and I owe him this. Maybe I owe her this much too. She’s not Kitty to him. I can be thankful for that at least. That died with me. I wonder what died with her. The chance to reach out and love, to be free of all this, to raise the sky. I gave up her for this. Now I have to give this up to her.
“Take arms, take aim. Be without shame. No one to bow to, to vow to, to blame. Legions of light, virtuous flight, ignite, excite. And you will see us coming, V formation through the sky.”
Dreams do come. They do go. Dreams die. Dreamers grow up. All dreams are lies. Dreams can’t ever come true. Songs end. Passion comes to a close. I’m sorry, Kitty. Maybe you deserved better than to be pushed away for a dream that was doomed to die. Then, maybe you were a dream yourself.
“Raise the sky. We got to fly, over the land, over the sea. Fate unwinds and if we die, souls arise. God do not seize me please. Till victory. Victory. Till victory!”
The sounds end together. The fans in the crowd know this is our break song. The rest don’t much care.
The song ends, we break, simple as that. Kirsten’s focus drops onto her bass. Rahne heads to the bathroom. Doug starts talking to some of our longer term fans. Luke heads straight for Kitty’s table. I’m at the bar before he’s halfway there.
“You got 151, Jack?”
“Got it, Rick.”
“Bring it. Fast and furious.”
“I pay you for all night! You guys take more breaks than a fucking Teamsters crew!” comes the unpleasant voice of the club’s manager.
“Lou, our music is worth far more than what you pay us. You won’t even give us free drinks. Go hook up London Calling, let ’em have some fun and leave it at that.”
“Why do you fuck with me every night?”
“Because you whine so God damn much. Your bar is full. Leave it at that.”
“Lou, you pay them. You have influence. Make them play ‘Summer Nights’. Everyone loves it. Come on.”
I turn to face the newest whiny voice, ready to explode. God do not seize me please. Till victory.
“Melton, you ask my band to play ‘Summer Nights’ tonight and I will kick you in the God damn balls. You pay a waitress to stick on the Grease soundtrack, I will kick you in the God damn balls. You turn ‘Summer Nights’ on on the karaoke machine and I will kick you in the God damn balls. Am I making myself clear enough?”
Melton turns to Lou and the whine starts to flow. I throw my fist back but Rahne grabs it. She slides the drink into my hand.
“Drink up, tiger.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she replies and the drink is gone before she can blink. “Not in a good mood?”
“You like watching things die, Rahne?”
“Everything dies baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”
“Don’t waste bets on maybes. Even Springsteen isn’t always right.”
“When are you assholes getting back up there?”
“Lou, you dumbass,” she says, the green coming forward in the hazel of her eyes, “haven’t you learned yet to leave him alone when he’s like this? Go let the people karaoke for a while. It’ll keep them amused until we’re ready to finish.”
“I’m losing money!”
“Not as long as he’s drinking, you’re not. Just go away.”
And they do, the two of them slinking away, Melton stealing towards the stage.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, Melton,” Rahne advises. “He’ll do it. Don’t press your luck.”
Melton seems to finally learn a little and he heads back towards his booth.
“Don’t try to humor me, Rahne,” I say when she turns back towards me.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing that any more than I would of patronizing you.”
“What do you want?”
“Why is Kate staring at you?” Doug asks, coming up next to us. Rahne and I both look at him, then over at the table where Kitty stares at me. I think I can see her eyes, even in the darkness, see the dark brown, the same color her hair is, though it wasn’t that night, I think, it was auburn that night, that beautiful blend of red and brown, the same color as my rum and I slide the drink down and walk away.
“He’s thinking about my hair,” she says to me. I smile as I always do when she plays like she can read minds, especially Rick’s. Reading Rick’s heart has always been impossibly easy, singing it out, wearing it out, writing it out, using it as a weapon for and against love. But his thoughts are his own. They always have been.
“What makes you think so?”
“He was staring at it.”
“You could tell that from here?”
“He’s far easier to read than you think. He gives himself away.”
“And he’s far more complicated than you give him credit for.”
“He doesn’t love me anymore,” she says, which surprises me. She doesn’t talk of the two of them, doesn’t look back. I guess I wouldn’t either, if I were her. She’s left one life behind her already. Now she’s trying to escape a second one. And tonight we start that.
“Do you still love him?” I ask, not sure why. I don’t want revenge on either of them, don’t want anyone to get hurt. But maybe this is like when the two them first got in the car together; maybe someone has to get hurt. There is no way out. Maybe this is why it was suggested you should hide your love away. Hidden love can not be stepped on, only ignored.
She starts to cry and I think it was a mistake to bring it up, that I should have left well enough alone, should not walk among demons that can bring no good. But what she says next surprises me.
“It was my fault. I should have left well enough alone.”
I’m not sure what she means. Maybe this is just a bad conversation to be having. But she goes on.
“It could have just lived and died as unrequited love. It never had to come to life. But I wanted to be with someone who loved me. More than anything I wanted to be with someone who loved me. That’s what I told him. That I just want to be with someone who loves me.”
My hand reaches for her. Fingers close on each other and that’s enough to show her she’s with someone who loves her. The tears come stronger now but I can feel her squeeze and sometimes even the best of us find no other way to say I love you than a simple kiss and when my lips touch her forehead she pulls me in close.
“What power is this that we give to those we love to immerse us in pain?” she asks. “Love should be beautiful. Love shouldn’t hurt. It’s like you guys say every night. Love is the answer.”
I kiss her forehead again and my voice carries softly to her ear. “Love isn’t always the answer. But for us it will do.”
“What is your fucking problem?” I yell as he continues to drink from the bottle of 151 he somehow managed to pry loose from Jack.
“Don’t push it, Kirsten,” he says to me.
“Look, asshole, Kitty is not the end of your world. You’re a part of this band. We need you out there. Don’t fuck yourself up so much that you can’t perform.”
He starts to laugh. I take the bottle. I want to get through to him, to scream, to shout, notice me, save me, I can take you away from this, you don’t need her.
“Doesn’t much matter,” he whispers. “She wins. She always wins.”
I scream in frustration. The room isn’t really big enough for my full rant, damn little dive bar, hole in the wall, we can do better than this, I know with him leading the way we can learn to fly. Six years isn’t so much different. Nothing. We’re both adults.
“Look, asshole, forget her. She’s nothing. She was a girlfriend you had. That was a long time ago! She was just a girlfriend. She was not, is not, the long lost love of your life. Girlfriends come and go. Only love is real.”
Need I say I love you, I think. Need I say I care. Need I say that emotion’s something that we don’t share. I could say it, but then you’d know and you’d yell at me because you hate Phil Collins, even when he’s with Genesis.
“It was supposed to be forever. Love forever and ever.”
“Why? Because you fucked her? If you say that about every person you take to bed you’ll fuck up your life forever. Sex is not love. Don’t start confusing the two. Sex doesn’t mean eternity, not anymore. You’ll fuck somebody else, believe me.”
Easy enough to say for someone who’s in love for the first time in her life and who’s never taken anybody to her bed. But I think I’ve got him now. And of course I’m wrong.
“She left her husband for me.”
I try to sit but I miss the couch and find myself on the floor, clutching the bottle between my breasts. I don’t want to let it go, need something to hold onto. I slowly put it to my lips and tip it so the liquor slides down my throat. I start to choke on the taste and the strength of it and he gently reaches out and takes the bottle. I desperately want something to hold on to and he’s the only choice. Before I can pull him to me he kneels before me. He takes a long drink from the bottle and hands it back. I don’t drink this time. I just hold tight to the bottle and wait for him to say something. Finally I get tired of waiting and I start to talk.
“She was married?”
“A year when I met her.”
“How? I mean, these things, how do they happen?”
“I could say that sometimes things just happen but it was more complex than that. He didn’t really love her. He was just fond of her. I hoped it would happen. She wanted it to happen. She made her choice. It happened.”
“But she was married.”
“Yes. She was. But I was in love and that was all I cared about.”
“What did she care about?”
“I was tired of coming home and feeling more alone with him than I felt on the walk by myself. So I asked Rick to drive me. I was pretty sure he was head over heels. I didn’t have to ask twice. I remember him asking on the drive why Ken didn’t pick me up. I didn’t have the nerve to say, because it’s preferable to walk and to be alone.
“When we pulled in, he unlocked the doors so I could get out. I couldn’t look at him, couldn’t risk screwing it all, ruining what seemed to be a perfect moment. I said, all I want to do tonight, all I care about, is being with someone who loves me. He said he understood. And I locked the door. It wasn’t immediate. It took a little time. I could see him in the corner of my eye, staring straight ahead, so afraid to let it be real. And finally I turned to look and tears were in my eyes and then he was in my arms.
“The first kiss was quick. Our lips came together and we could both taste my tears. ‘Kat,’ he whispered. I told him not to call me Kat, that I had been Katie as a kid, that I was Kat to Ken, that I wanted to be something new, that I was tired of all this. ‘I love you, Kitty,’ he whispered. And that was that. I knew I loved him too, more than I could have ever loved Ken. But I had made a promise to love and honor Ken till death do us part. Then I pulled one of Rick’s tricks, what he used to do at work. I threw a song back at him. Help. I need somebody. Help. Not just anybody. Won’t you please, please, help me, help me. And that was it. I didn’t get out of the car.
“We went back to the apartment that he was sharing with his sister. I remember waking up in the morning and looking around his room, really getting to know him. I could hear him talking to Shawna out in the kitchen. He was talking about me. He said I was beautiful and funny and wonderful. Shawna asked if he loved me. He said yes. She asked if we were gonna get married. He said it couldn’t happen. She asked why not. He said, ‘because she’s already married.’ And that was the end of the conversation. And I wondered whether I was just taking advantage of him, if this was just a mistake. But then he came back into the room and our eyes met and we both smiled and that was that.”
“What happened after? How did you tell her husband?” I ask. I want him to forget about her. She’s done nothing but bring him pain since the day I met him. Something has to burn this bridge. But I want to know what happened.
“We went to work the next day. After work I drove her home. She had called Ken at some point, told him she was with a friend. After work we went to her apartment. Ken was asleep. We sat out on the couch for a long time and talked and we fell asleep there in each other’s arms.
“When I woke up, Ken was cooking breakfast. Kitty was in the shower. Ken came in with a plate of scrambled eggs. He handed them to me. I just stared at him. He told me that I might as well eat them, that she was in the shower. I didn’t say anything. Finally, he just stared at me and asked me if I loved her. I said yes. And that was that. He knew his marriage was over.”
It’s no wonder he won’t forget her. It’s no wonder she finds it so hard to simply walk completely out of his life. He doesn’t cry when he talks about her. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen him cry. His music springs forth so easily, his heart is so easy to see but I can’t ever know what he thinks. And this is what I’ve fallen in love with. This is the chance I’ve got to take. Take a look at me now. More Phil Collins for him. I should start crying.
I raise the bottle to my lips. Before the rum can slide into my throat he takes the bottle again. This time I reach out to take it back.
“Don’t start in about underage drinking,” I tell him. “I’m not in the mood.”
“I need you sober, Kirsten. I need you to stall Luke. I need to talk to her for a bit. Stall him so I can talk to her.”
“And say what? He’ll see through me in half a second. I can’t bullshit him.”
“I need time to talk to her about something. I need you to do this.”
“What do I say, Rick? What can I possibly say that he’ll actually believe, that he won’t know that I’m just stalling? He still thinks I’m just a kid. He’s not gonna take me seriously.”
“Tell him that you’re in love with me.”
“Like he’s gonna believe a lie that stupid,” I say as quickly as I can but my heart-rate has just gone through the roof. I’m trying not to look him in the eyes, but then I notice that he’s deliberately not looking me in the eye either. I look straight at him. He kneels there in front of me, staring straight down. His left hand goes to his mouth, curled around it, in something like the Rodin pose.
“Tell him,” he starts, then stops. Then he goes on. “Tell him that on New Year’s that you fell asleep in my arms. Ask him if it’s true. Ask if it’s true that I sang to you all night, just holding you in my arms. Ask him if it’s true. See what he says.”
I don’t want to ask him. I’ve heard that a good lie is in the details. But this, this is too scary to be fiction. I feel like an idiot, staring at him without a word. And he still won’t look me in the eye.
“I’m sorry, Kirsten. I should have told you that I knew. I should have told you about New Year’s. But I need to talk to her. Stall him, please. Just ask him if it’s true.”
“Is it true?” I ask and I’ve never heard my own voice sound so full of fear. It doesn’t get any better when he finally looks up and stares me straight in the eyes, those glorious auburn eyes of his that make me want to drown in them.
“Ask him,” he tells me. I think I will. I get up and walk out.
He sits by my side and whispers into my ear, singing softly words that I remember him and Rick writing on the coffee table in the apartment we shared after Shawna moved out. It was the first time I had ever seen them write together. They always liked to work alone, but this was when Rick and I wanted to share everything and they had tried to write with me there. I remember it being so cold, January in Seattle, with the icy wind blowing off the sound and up the hill against the complex. And it was this song. And I think he remembers it too.
“Somewhere in between heaven and earth. We can find out what all of this is worth. We can fade into love’s fair hand. And find ourselves in the promised land.”
Rick so much believed in a promised land. I remember him playing the Springsteen record over and over, his favorite song, singing I believe in a promised land. Maybe there are promised lands to believe in, to be found, to be walked upon. Maybe Luke and I can find them. Maybe seems like a safe enough place to start.
“Would you like to support the idea of the band playing ‘Summer Nights’,” a whiny voice says, cutting across my thoughts.
“Melton, go away,” Luke says to him.
“Oh, hi, Luke. Come on. Can’t you guys play it just once? For me?”
“Melton, the song is stupid, the movie is stupid, we don’t like to play it and nobody likes to hear it. Go away.”
“Luke, look at all these signatures. People are dying to hear it.”
“No, Melton. They’re signing that to get you to shut the hell up.”
“Respond to popular appeal, Luke. It’s where the big money comes from.”
I have heard all I am going to listen to. I stand up and stare at the whiny snot.
“Melton, go away before I kick you in the God damn balls!”
He stares at me, possibly wondering if I’m serious. But with my heels on, I’m taller than he is and I don’t think he likes his chances.
“Jesus Christ, Kate. Forget Luke. You should be together with Rick. Same damn personality.”
He turns and goes to bother another table but the damage is done. I stumble back into my seat as the color fades out of my face. Before Luke or I can say anything another voice intrudes.
“I need to talk to you.”
I look up at Kirsten wondering what she could possibly want to talk to me about. Maybe she’s finally hit her period and wants to know what puberty will be like.
“What do you want, kid?”
“I don’t want to talk to you, Kitty. Luke, I need to talk to you right away.”
The way she says my name, my old name, it’s like a spit of profanity that kills a conversation.
“Kirsten, I’m busy . . .”
“Now, Luke. Please.”
I look up again, expecting to see a little kid whining about her teenage problems. I’m surprised to see a beautiful young woman who looks genuinely upset and even scared. Luke squeezes my hand.
“I’ll be back soon,” he says and I smile to give him strength.
“I’ll still need you. I’ll still feed you.”
“Even when I’m 64?”
“Even when you’re 64.”
He kisses me on the forehead and disappears with her into the shadows. I look down at the table and think that I should have ordered myself a drink; the need to numb everything at this point would make this night easier to take.
The first thing I notice about the drink he sets in front of me is that it’s green. It looks a lot like a midori sour to me. My eyes follow the drink to the hand, pale and rough, and I wonder if a hand is enough to remember, to think how often the touch of that hand slid across every inch of my body. He sits down in front of me and I finally let my eyes wander to his. His eyes are caressing my hair again and thinking, I’m sure, about how it was once the same auburn tint as his drink.
“You’re right,” he says, a voice so close to Luke’s that I wonder, not for the first time, if they’re not really the same person.
“Right about what?”
“Auburn. A beautiful color. Exactly what I was thinking about.”
He takes a sip from his drink. I don’t ask. He wouldn’t tell me anyway.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“Is that a midori sour?”
“Of course. Another is on its way.”
“Then you have my undivided attention.”
“Is it true?” she asks.
“Where did you hear it?”
“Does it matter?”
“How many people know, Luke?”
“Know what? That you’re in love with him?”
A red flush rises on her cheeks and I know that’s the answer. I don’t know why this has come up tonight of all nights. A little more time and I could have helped her with this from the outside looking in.
Her flush reminds me of her age and I think that maybe we all underestimate her a bit. When Rick wrote “Teenage Nights”, he said it was partly about the fact that teenagers actually know a lot more about love than anyone else, that they recognize it for what it is, not the greatest thing in the world, but a force of power which people can use to get what they want. Maybe we’ve been wrong every night. Maybe John Lennon was wrong. Maybe love isn’t the answer.
“How many people know I’m in love with him, Luke?”
“How many people know about New Year’s?”
“Me. Him. Rahne. Kate. Shawna. I think that’s it. I think Doug and that guy he was with were gone by then.”
“So. It’s true.”
“You know it’s true or you wouldn’t be asking.”
“How long has he known?”
Don’t hurt her, I whisper to myself. She’s young, she’s in love, she’s scared, she’s vulnerable. Whatever you do, do not hurt her.
“A few months.”
“He read Love Songs.”
A look of betrayal slides into her pale blue eyes and I can understand why. Love Songs is an insight into her soul, a glimpse inside a young woman learning to grow up and fall in love. When I read it, I never would have guessed it was written by someone so young. It’s easy to see why she wants to be a writer. Some are blessed with talent.
“How did he get hold of it?”
“Doug showed it to him?” she asks, and she pulls back with a look of something like disgust.
“Don’t be too hard on Doug. He was trying to impress you. He read it and he didn’t get it. It was too much for him. So he showed it to Rick and asked him what it was about. Any insights Doug gave you about the story was something Rick told him. The whole thing went over poor Doug’s head. Rick wasn’t so lucky. He knew immediately what it was about. And who.”
“How do you know?”
“He showed it to me.”
She looks down for a minute and my eyes drink in her grace and beauty. She is nothing like Kate’s tall, full figure. Her slender grace and beauty do much to hide what a complex young woman she has grown into over the last year and a half since coming to UW. Her move to her left is so quick I almost miss the tear. The tear is so bright against her pale cheek, a crystal escaping from the pale blue ocean of her eyes. You should have told her, Rick. Look at her. Look at how much in love she is. Singing “Tougher than the Rest” and “4th of July, Asbury Park” softly into her ear after she’s slipped from consciousness is not enough. You owe her more than this.
“Look at the lonely people,” she whispers. Vintage Lennon and McCartney, I think to myself. Then I remember it’s the first line of her story.
“It’s a brilliant story, Kirsten. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. You should be proud.”
“What did he think?”
“Love songs aren’t about love,” I tell her. Her eyes come up and search my face for a reaction to the words from her story which I’m quoting back to her but I can’t do it. This is Rick’s life and he has to deal with it. “Love songs are a way of keeping the past alive, of fighting back against that which haunts us. When the guitar touches on the last notes and the last words fade away, those are my tears. I’ll let the song cry for me. I hope someday there’ll be no more love songs. And I’ll learn how to cry on my own.”
She takes a deep breath. I wonder what it must feel like, to hear someone quote what you’ve written. I’ve never been that lucky.
“Rick showed me those lines. Then he said, she’s got it wrong, nothing I’ve ever written, nothing I have ever sung, nothing I have ever played can match the power, the poetry or the passion of what she’s written. How can I tell her I know? I don’t match up to what she’s written.”
“He said that?”
“He said that.”
“He doesn’t have to match up to a character in a story.”
This time she doesn’t hide the tears. In the lights reflecting from the stage lighting up some pathetic local trying to keep up with the words to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” in karaoke and failing spectacularly, the tears come to life in her eyes.
“This is why I don’t write love songs,” she whispers. “I can’t get love to come out right.”
My hand reaches across to hers. Her fingers crawl into mine and close together.
“You’re young. You’ve got time on your side.”
“He’s made his own choice, Rick. Let him walk away,” I tell him.
“I have spent too much time, too many years in this band to walk away from it all.”
“I’m not asking you to walk away, Richard. I tried that. You didn’t want to go. He does.”
“Without him there is no band.”
“You can teach Kirsten how to play guitar. She’s young. She’s obviously very impressionable.”
“I’m not Kitty anymore.”
“You asked me to call you Kitty. Now you’re Kitty forever.”
“Do they really?”
“Not so much as you think.”
“Maybe more than you realize.”
“I need him.”
“You don’t need anybody.”
“This band needs him. Without him there is no band. There’s nothing. And I don’t want to have years of my life to end up counting for nothing. You should have counted for something and if I lose the band then I lost you for nothing.”
“You lost nothing. You made your choice and you stuck to it.”
“The band is the only thing I have left.”
“You have the kid.”
“Leave her alone, Kitty. You don’t need a pound of flesh from her. You’re mad at me. Leave her out.”
“What is the fucking problem, Rick? You don’t need him. You just want to have a fight over him to try and prove that he was yours first, that you can still have him. You go on about the band, but the band will survive. You don’t need him for immortality. You told me yourself that you’re close to getting a contract. You think they’ll require you to keep this particular guitar player?”
“They don’t sign cover bands to contracts. You need original songs.”
“So the tone switches without him. You want him. You don’t need him.”
“Yes. I do.”
“What is so important about Luke that your world will pass into decay if he steps down from the stage?”
“He writes music.”
“So do you.”
“No. I don’t.”
“There’s a reason I hide my heart. Out of sight, out of mind. And when I find out just who you are. The door will open for you to find a way to my heart.”
“What twist of fate paired you with someone who hates Phil Collins so much?”
“You know that song?”
“I don’t have Rick’s prejudice against pop songs.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“It wasn’t my place. I watched Rick and Kate for so long, through the good and the bad. I decided that people have to live their own lives. I’ll offer advice to anyone who asks. I will no longer give it out unprompted. In the end, people have to decide for themselves what is to be done and how their lives will work.”
“I love him.”
“I know that.”
“What should I do?”
“You should tell him.”
“He would appear to already know.”
“You tell him anyway. Knowing means nothing.”
“I thought knowing was half the battle.”
“Not in love. People always know or think they know or assume or presume. People must be told. It’s the greatest thing in the world to have someone look you in the eyes and tell you that they love you.”
“How do you think he feels?”
“He doesn’t know how he feels.”
“He doesn’t have to match up to an ideal.”
“He didn’t have to with Kate either. But he tried to. His own ideal of what he should be. And of course he failed because no one can match up to his dreams.”
“Does that include me?”
“You have to ask him.”
“That’s funny. He told me to ask you.”
“He told you to ask me what?”
I want to hit him, scream at him, shout every evil word in the English language in his face, I want to hurt him each and every and any way I know how. I want him to understand what he has done to me and I want that understanding to hurt, to cut deep and keep the wounds from healing.
“What about ‘The Card Shark’?” I ask. I know what he’ll say and I know it’s gonna hurt. This is the cardinal rule he tried to make me understand: do not ask questions you don’t want the answers to. But I need him to say this. Sometimes truth is more important than pain.
“Luke wrote the music.”
And now I don’t know who to be mad at, who to scream at, who to hurt. He should have told me. But which he? Either. Both. One of them should have told me years ago.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was supposed to be my present to you. Just from me. Just to you.”
“I didn’t care. I wouldn’t have cared. It wouldn’t have mattered. Richard, you should have told me.”
“Yeah, well, Kathryn, that’s what the other boy said.”
And the names change and we find new ways to hurt each other, like we have from the day we split.
“When did he say it?”
“When we wrote it.”
“Why didn’t he ever tell me?”
“You’d have to ask him that.”
“Why would you lie about this?”
“I never lied about this. I never lied about anything. I held something back.”
“I thought we weren’t ever gonna hold anything back. I thought that was what we agreed that first night.”
“Things change and sometimes you can’t do anything to stop it.”
“Then maybe you’ve answered your own question about the band.”
“This isn’t the way things are supposed to happen!”
But now I have him. He may remember the words to every song ever written, he may find a quote for every occasion, but I know the past, I know what we have said to each other, what wounds were opened and what wounds have never had the chance to close.
“Things happen the way they’re supposed to,” I say to him and I think I see his shields begin to crack. “It may not be the way we want them to turn out but they happen the way they’re supposed to. That’s what you told me when we both knew it was ending and didn’t want to admit it. Things happen the way they’re supposed to. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it.”
He loves to give us all his passion and pain when he’s up on stage and then shut the world out the rest of the time. But something is slipping and I have a chance to reach the man inside. But then the chance slips away when Luke comes storming in.
“What the fuck, Rick? Don’t fucking play with her like that. You need to talk to her.”
We both turn at the sound his voice. I catch a glimpse of Rick’s eyes and I know this was all planned, that he got the kid to pull Luke away so he could talk to me. Just when I think I have a chance to get through his shields go back up to full strength.
“You need to tell them Luke,” he says. “No more fucking around. If your decision is final, you have to tell them.”
This is the moment I hate, the real reason I want Luke out of this fucking band; to escape from the moments when he and Rick lock eyes and shut the rest of the world out. I can’t take this. I need one of them to let me in. You’ve both sang words to me, one of the songs the two of you are proudest of. And when we know love can tear us apart. I’ll hold you close and kiss your heart. So let me in. Let me in. You know that love can win. Let me in.
“I was gonna wait until we were finished,” Luke replies.
“They should know now. Before we finish. Make it all worth something.”
“Every night on that stage has been worth something.”
“Make this worth more. They deserve to know, Luke.”
Luke finally turns to me, finally answers my cry for help.
“What do you think?” he asks me. I want to support him, to be by his side and make it easier for him to walk away from what’s been his life for eight years, but right now I can’t. Sometimes pain has to find a release.
“You should have told me about the song.”
And there it is. He knows right away what’s been said between Rick and I, the final trump card that Rick has played. “The Card Shark” showed his hand.
“Rick can’t write a note of music. He’s never been able to. Until tonight, I was the only person the world who knew that. We’ve been best friends for seventeen years. Love counts for something. It should count for everything. But it doesn’t. And sometimes friendship has to count for something more. I love you. I’ll always love you. But I would still have never told you if he hadn’t.”
He leans forward and kisses me on the forehead, then turns and locks with Rick again.
“Let’s go. Let’s get this over with,” Luke says and Rick stands and they both turn to leave.
“I love you, Luke,” I say softly. He turns and smiles at me and I remember what he said to me a few years ago about the greatest feeling in the world is someone telling you that they love you and knowing that they mean it. I hold it in my head when Luke turns back and starts to walk away and I say, just loud enough “I love you, Richard.”
They both stop. They turn to look at each other. At last, Rick turns. I catch his eyes straying to my hair and my hands clench as I drive my nails into my palms in a desperate attempt to keep from crying. He takes two steps and is at my side. He pulls me close and his lips brush against my ear.
“I’ve never stopped loving you, Kathryn. Love doesn’t die. So make him happy. Please. Both of you deserve to be happy.”
I close my eyes and drink in the sound of his voice. I feel his lips softly touch my cheek. When I open my eyes they’re both gone.
We’ve been sitting in silence for five minutes waiting for Doug to stop flirting with every guy in the bar and come on back. Rick won’t meet my eyes. Rahne seems to be asleep. Luke is standing against the wall, lost in his own thoughts. Which leaves me to be one of the lonely people, I guess.
You know I love you but I just can’t take this. You know I love you but I’m playing for keeps. Although I need you I’m not gonna make this. You know I want to but I’m in too deep. Why won’t Phil Collins get out of my fucking head?
The more I stare, the more he looks away, the more I reach for words I know he doesn’t want to hear, doesn’t want to acknowledge exist, refuses to remember though he’s heard them on the radio on a thousand sleepless nights. Wake up to what I feel. Drown in me. I can save you.
“So what’s the deal, anyway?” Doug asks as he comes into the room. His ability to ruin the atmosphere of a room is unparalleled but he’s great with the keyboards. We all of us have something to give.
“Reality check time,” Rick whispers. I think I’m the only one who hears it. I turn to look as Luke starts to talk.
“I’m leaving the band.”
I think I’m gonna throw up. For the second time tonight I want to scream, to hit, to say you should have told me, both of you should have told me, one of you should have told me, I deserved to know in some better manner than this.
“I’ve always said you had a horrible sense of humor,” Doug says as he takes a drink of his beer. Rick continues to stare at Luke. Rahne’s eyes are open now but she won’t look up and I know this is real. Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? That’s what Rick says so often. I guess this is all a lie now.
“You owed us better than this, Luke,” Rahne says softly. “You did as well, Rick. We should have had better warning. We deserved it.”
Seven years ago, when Rick and Luke came to school together, they made a call for a drummer and she answered. Seven years they’ve played the Seattle scene, seven years these three have been together. Maybe they didn’t owe me anything. What a little over a year when compared to seven years, over a quarter of her life? Is this what love comes down to? A whisper of goodbye? Is that all we’re worth?
“It’s been a hard decision, Rahne. If I had told you guys, given you warning and had a few gigs, it would make it that much harder. I need to do this. This is the easiest way.”
“Wait a minute? Is he serious? I mean, is he really quitting or is this just a put-on?”
“Sometimes, Doug, you’re so fucking stupid, you amaze even me,” Rahne says. She stands and walks over to him, matching his sky blue eyes with her green ones. His don’t stand a chance. He looks to me for help, to try and figure out what is going on, why the party just doesn’t keep going. “Wake up, Doug. Something just died.” But she pauses as she thinks. The light comes into her eyes, the light that keeps the drums alive under her fingertips. “No. Don’t wake up. Keep dreaming. Go out to your boards. Play the best you can. Play like you’ve never played before. Go be a legend. Just don’t wake up.”
She turns from Doug. Not knowing what else to do, he turns and heads back to the stage. Without a glance to Doug, Rahne walks to Luke. She kisses him softly (I presume as I know nothing of soft kisses that show a deeper kind of love) on the cheek.
“You should have told me. But be happy. One of us at least should be happy.”
She turns away and heads for the stage. I watch her go and wish I could say what I feel. Then I don’t have to.
“So say how you feel,” Luke says and I turn at the sound. “It would be about time.”
I am ready to confess all, but I find Rick staring at me. Luke wasn’t talking to me.
“I’m sorry, Kirsten. You deserve better.”
“You’re a fool,” Luke says to him, “like always. She doesn’t want better. She wants you.”
“No, I don’t,” I say, quickly, forcing them both to look in my eyes. “I don’t want you, Rick. I love you. There’s a difference.”
There. That wasn’t so hard. Does anybody mind if I faint now? Didn’t think so.
Doug walks onto the stage in his usual daze. He sits down and starts to play around on the keyboards. The karaoke goes off and Doug focuses on every key that he slams with an intensity that he usually lacks. Rahne follows soon after and the two of them begin to give an amazing percussion duet, matching notes with melodies with beats into a trance. I begin to wonder what’s going on when Luke comes tearing out of the back room and over to my side.
“I need you to go help Kirsten. She’s out cold.”
With only a handful of words having passed between us, he takes the place on stage he has spent his entire adult life making his own. I follow the path Rick showed me many years ago and find myself in the back room. The sight that greets me is Kirsten lying in Rick’s arms as he tries to bring some life to the stone cold beauty of her eyes.
“Go. Out. Now,” I say as I drop to her side. He doesn’t know what to do. He knows the words to every song ever written, knows exactly what to say, how to say it, when to say it, knows always the right words and has no idea what the right thing to do is.
He doesn’t question me. He just stares. He knows nothing else to do.
“Go, Rick. Go play some Doors songs. Something, anything that doesn’t need a bass player. You belong out there. You’re no good back here.”
I reach my hand across. My fingertips brush gently across his cheek. In the darkness of the room, his eyes are the shade of auburn that he loves so much. Those eyes, a color I’ve never seen before, tell me that he’s scared, that he’s in love, that he needs her. He never needed me.
My hand falls back to my side. I lean forward and my lips brush along his forehead. I push him away. I close my eyes for a second to give him a chance to be gone. When I open them, he’s gone.
I turn to Kirsten. She’s fainted dead away. I go to the sink and wet a rag. Back at her side, I brush the rag across her forehead. Her eyes slowly flutter and come open. I wish I had beautiful eyes like hers. I wish I had passion like hers. I wish that things could have stayed how they were for a few short years. I wish things hadn’t gone so wrong. I wish that my need to be away from the band wasn’t ripping Luke and Rick apart. I wish I could feel like she feels. I wish he could have felt like this for me. I wish he could have needed me.
I see him standing in the darkness, looking back. It’s time to look forward. For one last night we can stare straight into the face of darkness. One last time, we can be the greatest band in the world.
I turn to look at the other two. Three words escape my mouth. In the deafening roar of our call they can no better than to read my lips and take a stab at the meaning. But sometimes, even in the dark, even without a sound, a connection can be made.
The three of us come together as one. In the darkness I can see his eyes turn to me, I can catch the shade of auburn that no one else in the world has. I can see the light come alive.
The connection is made again. He flies through the darkness and out into the lights of the stage. The microphone settles firmly into his hands and right on cue he uses words to bring the song to life.
“You know the day destroys the night. The night divides a day. Try to run, try to hide. Break on through to the other side!”
This is his calling. This is the only place in the world he feels comfortable, where he’s most alive. It’s no wonder Kirsten fell in love with him. When he’s coming to life under the lights who wouldn’t fall in love with him?
Her hand is shaking as she holds the bottle. I recognize the color of the liquid. It’s the color of my drink that helps me to forget the brown of your eyes. Those were the words he said to me. He’s forgotten the brown of my eyes. Now he’ll drown in the blue of her eyes. Drowning will be good for him. He’s been treading water far too long.
I hear them finish off “Break on Through” and tear into “Fortunate Son” as they try to keep pace with the crowd and ignore the fact that they are missing their bass player. I see her move to stand and I put my hand to her shoulder.
“Don’t get up yet.”
“They need me out there.”
“They’ve played in worse situations. They endure. They shine. Making good of the bad is what they do best.”
“Pretty words,” she says, sarcasm slipping in.
Her eyes raise to meet mine and I understand what Rick and Luke say about the capacity of the young to love, to believe, to live more than the rest of us. I wish I was her. I wish he still loved me. I wish, I wish, I wish. I wish I still believed in the power of wishes to come true.
“What are you scared of?” I ask softly.
“He loves you still, doesn’t he?”
“I think maybe he does,” I reply and her eyes drop at my words.
“Then there you go.”
I put my hand to her chin and raise it so that our eyes can meet. Never in my life did I want to kiss someone so softly, so passionately, with such real emotion, such real love. She is so lost and she doesn’t need to be because she has, in a way, already won.
“He may love me, kid. He may not. But he needs you. I’ve found that needs are stronger than love.”
The fear stays in her eyes but now the fear is something different. Nothing is more frightening than discovering we may get what we want.
“What do I do?” she asks. Her voice betrays her. Beneath this strange, passionate, beautiful young woman is the fragility of someone in love for the first time.
“Love is the hardest thing in the world to give but the easiest thing to take. It needs to be exchanged. Love him as much as he loves you. Exchange.”
“Easy enough to say.”
“Talking about love is difficult. Living it is even harder.”
“This’ll take a miracle.”
“Then maybe you should believe in miracles,” I whisper.
“Miracles are lies. Like dreams and hopes and wishes.”
“No, they’re not, Kirsten. Miracles happen everyday. Love. Life. Those are miracles. The most beautiful things in the world.”
“What’s the good in love? Look what it did for the two of you.”
“But he never needed me. Seven years now, he’s never needed anything when he was not behind the microphone, in front of the crowd, giving life to a song. Now he needs something. He needs someone. He needs you. You need him.”
“Is that what love is then?”
“Looks like love to me.”
“I’m scared, Kitty.”
“You should be a little scared. Miracles are something to be scared of.”
“It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive!” Rick is screaming to the audience as Kitty and I step out into the darkness. The crowd responds with a fiery passion, as they always do to the Springsteen songs. I’ve never understood why Rick can put so much passion into Springsteen’s songs but not his own. I guess, because he found something he loved, something he could put his heart behind with no looking back. Maybe that’s why Luke hates to play Springsteen songs. He knows he can’t match Rick’s passion. Maybe Rick was wrong. Maybe I’m the one who can’t match the passion he brings to life.
Love songs give us something to dream about. They’re a hope for a better world, a wish your heart makes that someday, somehow, everything can turn out for the best. I sing love songs because I believe the world has chance to be a better place. Love songs are the ultimate extension of dreams.
Rick never said that, but I gave those words to his stand-in in Love Songs. That’s the problem with writing fiction, especially fiction that attempts to have something to say. We have to decide if those words are what we truly believe.
I believe in what I write. It’s why I write. I have things I want to say. I have dreams that want to stand on the rooftops and yell out for all the world to see. There are no more philosophers; the only one who still get listened to are the songwriters and the novelists. Even the poets have gone by the wayside. So we say what we believe, chant the mantras of our souls. I love Rick. I have written that. Earlier I said it. Now it’s time to live it.
I hide in the shadows when “Badlands” comes to an end. I want one last chance to see the two of them stand together, to take a chance on conquering the world. There is no pause. They flow like they did when I first came to see them, staring up at them through the darkness and the smoke and hoping, praying, that someday I’d have the change to be on stage like them, to be a part of this kind of magic. Doug is taking Rahne’s advice and pounding away like he’s never done before. I know the song; the song that Rick said is the reason he wanted a band, because he wanted to be able to show that he could stand behind this song and give it justice.
“When routine vibes part. And ambitions are low. And resentment rides high. But emotions won’t grow. And we’re changing our ways. Taking different roads. Then love, love will tear us apart again.”
He dreams in words, I dream in chords. Together we find a melody. The melody finds a beat. The words and the chords flow together. Songs are born that way. Sometimes dreams are born that way too. He dreams in love songs. You anchor them. Love is born that way. A relationship between two people is just like the relationship between the guitar and the voice. They have to grow together, learn how they fit, what their mold will be. But love is like the song. Sometimes you can find it in one try and then it just grows more beautiful the more you play it. But you never forget that you learned how to play it in just one take.
I wish I didn’t know the words to the story but they’re my words. My own words working against my own heart. I’m not Rick. I don’t know the words to all the great songs ever written. I can’t throw out a quote to express how I feel. Even Phil Collins fades in my mind now that I need him most. So I’ll remember my own words, my own song. I will find a different corner. I will cross to another street. Where our song can fade to nothing. And I won’t recognize the beat. Around the different corner. Dreams might still come true. And I can find a love song. That won’t make me think of you.
Love will not tear us apart. Not again. I hate this fucking song, hate what it says about Rick and I, hate what it says about the world, hate what it says about love, hate that it’s true.
I find my way to focus out the song. I focus in on something else. I watch him lend his voice to Rick’s, to belt out the words they both know I hate. I watch his hands slide across the guitar and know that soon those hands will slide across my back and take me somewhere I wish I was now. His eyes are closed, as they always are, as Rick’s never are. Rick wants to see the world, to make it his own, to face it and win on any terms. Luke closes his eyes and drinks in the life that surrounds him and focuses that back into his hands and brings the chords to life. The hands are as much a difference between them as their eyes, on and off stage, in and out of bed. Rick’s hands are an extension of his passion, of his love for life, for music, and, once upon a time, for me. Luke’s hands have something to say, have chords that have been memorized and sometimes they act and he doesn’t know it. Rick uses hands to speak. Luke’s hands speak thoughts he doesn’t even know he’s thinking. Flip sides of one coin. We all need someone to show us what can be found on the other side of the mirror. Every day we wake up and we look in the mirror to see who we are today. If we’re lucky, once in our lives, we’ll find someone that’ll make that unnecessary. I wish I could make either one of them half as happy as they make each other.
As Kirsten goes on stage to join them and they are a complete unit once more I am reminded that it is night like this when Rick is right. Cover bands have nowhere to go. Bar bands will live and die and sometimes not even have a decent cover charge for people to hear them. Garage bands, even the best, will fade away. The best need something to call their own, a voice to add to the world. Tonight their voice stands louder than any band in the world.
“Take the stand. Do it for peace. Do it for love. Do it in the name of God above!”
The call is their own. The words are their own. The five of them give their call to the world. Tonight the world will listen.
“Beyond the silent night. Lies the dream for which we fight. When the sun in the sky no longer shines bright. That dream will show us all the light.”
Their words flow together, all their greatest hits, all the songs that could easily make their first album. I know the words as well as they do, so many countless nights down and around the U District watching them set the night on fire. This is better when they cover CCR, the Who or even Springsteen. This is their call. And it’s beautiful.
“Dream on, dream away. We can find true love today. Floating on the sun’s golden beams. It will touch you in your dreams.”
How many of these songs bear my presence in the words of one or the other? Words of love, words of hate. I have been the muse for two poets. Or maybe one poet and one musician.
“Years of hope, days of rage. That we read about on a history page. These are the times of your life. These are the times of my life. Memories of the past. Memories that will last.”
We each of us have a gift to give. That’s Rick’s dream, his way of looking at the world. He gives the world words, words that touch a chord in people and make them feel better about something in their lives, whatever that may be. Luke’s gift is the spark of music that lays down a beat and a melody to the words. Rick’s words make people look up and listen. Luke’s music makes them get up and dance.
“Hey, hey, what do you say. Can’t we find some peace today. The future gets closer everyday. Here comes the Year of the Dragon.”
I wish I had known. I should have realized it. Rick stands behind words, his shield against the world, to keep from getting hurt. It’s Luke who moves to the heart of the song, who sees the rhythm and the beat, who brings things to life, who makes this a band. Richard’s heart, his hopes, push the band harder and faster every night they take the stage. Luke keeps it anchored. Hearts sets free have a tendency to get destroyed out in the world. It certainly happened to me.
“No tears fall as he crosses the floor. No hearts stop as he enters the game. There will be no chance to stand down. In it for all, no backing from shame. Play your hand, he will scream for the deal. I will not back away in fear. No jokers walk in this wild room. I’ll stand for death but not anyone here.”
I will close my eyes against the world. He is right, was right, will be right, finds the right words, right thoughts, in whatever he chooses to say. His words touch on my heart and I wish I didn’t know, that I could still believe this song is his gift, a simple metaphor for a love he swore would never die, which still will not die, that lives on in spite of reason or time or place or all those other things that have brought me into the arms of his best friend and him into the arms of someone who was only fourteen that first night I woke in his bed and learned how to be alive again. This was the present for me, a beautiful song for my birthday that needed nothing more than his voice and a piano to come alive that first night. This should have stayed forever like it was that first night, a memory untouched by time or by a revisionist need to change what I want to remember.
“Are we the King and Queen of Hearts? Perhaps the two and three of Spades. Is innocence a mask for our fears? Will love stay straight and true or fade? The Queen of Diamonds played her hand in the night. Thinking she could match my straight flush. Never knowing you were my Ace of Hearts. A pulse of blood to make my heart rush.”
When the piano starts to fade, I see Luke make a motion to Kirsten and she starts in on a bass line, a sound I’ve never heard in any of their songs before and I wonder if maybe they’re done, if it’s all done.
“What is she playing?” Rick asks.
“Little something we were workin’ on last week,” I tell him.
“Music with no lyrics?”
“It’s got lyrics. Consider the music a little going away present.”
“You gonna provide me with lyrics or am I sitting this one out?”
“You know the words. Black and whites disappear into blue and whites.”
He stares at me, amazed, and I can’t say I’m surprised. He wrote those words when we first came here, the first song he ever wrote after we got to U Dub and it’s only taken seven years for me to come up with a sound to fit. But we all know our place now. We’ve all learned how to do this.
He moves, unsteadily to the mic. His hands are almost shaking as he takes it but when I give him a riff to go on he takes off.
“Black and whites disappear into blue and whites. They’re all on the streets so you do what’s right. You hear their call scream in the night. So you run away. You get away. Just as fast as you can. You hit Pike Place. You start going down. Run the Sound.”
And now they all scream, all the ones who keep coming in here every night because they know this is our pinnacle, the love affair with this city that we’ve been promising all this time, our last best chance to secure a deal.
“Run up to the U District. Run down the other side. You’re doin’ everything you can to hide. All those poor Mariner fans, they don’t understand. So you run, you run, fast as you can. You speed by the Needle. You start goin’ down. You Run the Sound.”
And this time as he sings the words, they all seem to be joining in. Even Kate.
“The sun sets into the water. I’m watching from the bridge. With my sister and my brother. Standing up on the hill, watching my love. Just staring down at her from above. The sun is setting and the land is getting dark. It’s time to blow right out of this park. Cut out past the Troll and on through the Fremont. And we start goin’ down. And we decide to gun and Run the Sound.”
They’re all alive, we’re all alive and maybe Rick was right, that it was the right choice to tell them, that this is worth more.
“Now the night is starting to run cold. And a darkness creeps on the edge of town. Out by the Boeing Plant planes are comin’ down. So we speed past U Dub and up around the lake. Never mind to what chances we might take. And we’re there out in the heart of the streets. And I run and I run till I fall at her feet. We start the car and we hit the night. We won’t stop until we hit first light. And down past the market and the boardwalk as fish fly through the air. We start running, goin’ down. And for one last time. We Run the Sound.”
He’s shaking when we all crash together for a finale. I think he knows, think we all know that this was the pure perfect way to end this, one final new song, one long last tribute to the place we all love, our little piece of history. Then he does something I don’t expect. He takes charge.
He turns to Kirsten and I shudder at what he might say. He holds out his hand. She stares at him for a minute, not sure what is going on. Then it hits her as it hits all of us.
He wants my bass. He’s asking for my bass. I turn to Luke but he doesn’t seem to know why Rick is doing this, if this is good or bad. It doesn’t seem that there’s any other choice; nothing left to do but follow him like we’ve all followed him for so long.
He takes the bass and places it in its cradle. He steps forward and kisses my forehead.
“Go stand with Kitty. It’ll make sense in a minute.”
I turn and see her in the front of the crowd, where she must have been one of the most vocal, screaming over the appearance of “Run the Sound” in concert. I don’t ask. I do hesitate, but then I see him move and explain the same to Doug and then it makes sense. They started together, the three of them, and while there’ve been different people to take the stage with a bass or keyboards or even a sax, it all comes down to those three.
When the three of them are alone on stage, he pulls the other two together and starts to explain something. I can see Luke start to resist whatever Rick is suggesting, but then he seems to give in. He starts to believe.
They turn and Rick and Luke shove the keyboards up to the front, next to the mic. Rahne shoves her drumkit to the left and I remember the one time I saw them, just the three of them, the performance that made me want to stand up by their side on that stage.
“There’s not a lot who would remember,” Rick says, standing behind the keyboards, “but we played our first show together here, the three of us, just like this, over seven years ago. For any who want to claim to remember, for all of you who’ve kept coming back each night, here’s a couple of last songs. The first one is for a specific someone,” and I can see him looking at me as he says it, can feel his gaze penetrating every layer. He gives me a smile and I can’t help but smile back as he finishes, “the second is for all of you.”
He looks down and stares at the keyboards, maybe wondering at how long it’s been. Then he begins to pound away. I know the song instantly and when he starts to sing I want to cry.
“Your scrapbook’s filled with pictures of all your leading men. Well baby don’t put my picture in there with them. Don’t make up some little girls’s dream that can’t ever come true. That only serves to hurt and make you cry like you do. Well baby don’t do it to me and I won’t do it to you.”
And I know now why Luke was hesitant, how much Luke hates to play Springsteen, but I also know what the final song will be and know this is my last chance to ever see the two of them on stage together.
“You see all the romantic movies, you dream and take the boys home. But when the action fades, you’re left all alone. You deserve better than this, little girl can’t you see you do.”
But I don’t, Rick. Just you. And maybe you do understand that. And maybe that’s why you’re singing this.
“Do you need somebody to prove it to you. Well you prove it to me and I’ll prove it to you.”
The rest of the words blur together because he’s smiling and I’m smiling now and we both understand. You be true to me and I’ll be true to you.
There is very little pause between songs, just a quick motion when Rick pulls out his harmonica and blows all his passion forward.
I don’t know many of these people like Bruce Springsteen, how many own any of his albums except maybe Born in the USA, but they all react, they scream with the harmonica because Rick infuses this song with so much passion and energy that you can do nothing but scream for more. I can barely make out the lyrics through the screaming and Luke’s blistering guitar but when the chorus comes I know because we all know and we all add our backing vocals to Rick.
“And the dogs on main street howl. Cause they understand. If I could take one moment into my hands. Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man. And I believe in a promised land.”
And he does. It’s so obvious from watching him that he honestly and sincerely believes in a promised land. And when he’s up there, we all do too.
When we stop, Rahne starts to stand up. I turn and put my hand up. She stops. I turn back to Luke.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he says.
“You don’t have to,” I tell him. I hold out my hands. He understands, at least enough to hand me the guitar. I swing my hand in a motion and point to Luke so the crowd will give it up for him and they do. He looks out at all the fans cheering for more, all the ones who know what we say when the night is really over. “Go be with her,” I whisper. Then the hardest words that have ever pushed forward from my lips come sliding loose. “Go be with Kate.”
“You haven’t said . . .”
“The night’s not over yet. Send Kirsten and Doug back up.”
“You know what you’re doin’?”
“Yeah. For once I do.” Then I turn my back. It just makes it easier not to have to watch him step down. Instead, I shove the keyboards sideways to make way for a second person up at the mic.
“This should be interesting,” Doug says as he sits down. “What are we playing?”
Rahne pricks up her ears at this. I turn, just in time to see Luke take Kitty in his arms and hold her tight, trying to forget seven years of his life. I turn to Kirsten and tenderly touch her cheek.
“You deserve better than this,” I say. She smiles when she answers.
“You be true to me. And I’ll be true to you.”
And her words, the inflection in her voice brushes me softer than any touch could.
“What new song?” Doug asks and I wonder, and not for the first time, how someone so stupid and lacking in social graces can get laid so often. Helps to be talented and extremely good looking, I guess. I walk over and glare at him. There is a long pause and suddenly it seems to hit him.
“You do remember how to play it, don’t you?” I ask.
“Well, yeah, but Rick . . .”
“No excuses, Doug.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, his eyes drifting towards Kirsten. I smack him upside the head, just hard enough.
“Don’t look at her. When I give you a cue, you play. Understand?”
“Does she . . .”
“Do you understand?”
So now it’s Rahne’s turn. But she seems to know what to do, always has since she answered the ad that Luke and I put at the Tower Records asking for a drummer.
“He’ll give you something to work with,” I tell her. “It should be enough for you.”
“A little surprise you’ve been working on?” she asks with a smile.
“Oh, yeah. Like the music to ‘Run the Sound’?”
“I hope you liked it. He’s been working on it for ages. Looking back, it’s obvious now that he wanted to finish the song before he quit.”
“Well it was the best way to end that band.”
“No more Luke. So it’s time to figure out how to do something different with what we’ve got. Are you in?”
“Hell yeah, I’m in.”
“Let’s do it then.”
And now there is just one to deal with. I turn and see that she has been staring at me, possibly since I pushed her off the stage. I slowly walk back over to her, thinking maybe this will give us both time to think about all of this. It’s a nice idea, anyway.
“You okay?” she asks.
“Not easy to go back and relearn all your dreams after seven years.”
“What are we playing?”
“It’s a new song. Doug’ll start. You’ll catch it real quick.”
“Are you playing lead?” she asks. I don’t look down, don’t give her a silly grin. I just hold out the guitar to her.
“Wait a second,” she protests.
“You are more than up to this.”
“I’m not Luke.”
“Good. The song’s not Luke’s. Time for something new. One song. You play for one song, then we all say good night and we go away and we learn to dream it all up again.”
She stares then, puts her bass down and very carefully takes Luke’s guitar.
“This is all new to me,” she says.
“It’s new to all of us.”
“I’m not quite sure what to do.”
“Try kissing me. We can let things flow from there.”
The kiss is nice, the nicest I’ve had in years, perhaps because she is young enough to not quite know what she’s doing but in love enough to put the required passion into it.
The kiss only ends when we realize the crowd is cheering us on. When we break, her smile I remember from when I was nineteen and somehow that feels just right.
“Okay,” I say, grabbing the mic,” one last song for everyone tonight. A new song. Something for you all to remember us by.”
“I hope it’s ‘Summer Nights’!” comes the irritating shout from the back of the bar.
“Okay. First one to muzzle Melton, I’ll buy you a beer. If someone actually physically throws him out of the bar, I’ll buy a fucking keg.”
There is a loud commotion followed by a chorus of cheers when the doors slam open and Melton goes flying outside.
“Thanks to you all. Thanks to everyone who has ever come down here to listen to us play. Luke, Kate, this is for you.”
I see the shudder in her body and I know I’ll see it again in a minute on stage. Luke smiles as Kirsten comes and takes his place next to me and Doug begins to play.
Rahne has already picked up on a rhythm when Kirsten turns to me and I see her shudder. I lean in close and kiss her again. It’s okay, she hears me whisper. You know the chords. I know the words. Just play.
She knows the words too. But she plays.
“Hearts long for distant horizons. Dreamers search out a promised land. Idealists strive for a return to Eden. And heroes take their honest stand.”
Luke is going nuts now, so weird to see him down in front screaming, but he knows the words, he knows the song. To emphasize the point, I pull Kirsten towards the mic to sing the chorus with me. Her chorus.
“I will find a different corner. I will cross to another street. Where our song can fade to nothing. And I won’t recognize the beat. Around that different corner. Dreams might still come true. And I can find a love song. That won’t make me think of you.”
I turn away from the crowd, turn towards her as I sing now.
“Saviors will come and soldiers will go. All we can do is watch from above. Hatreds will flare, passions ignite. All in that holy name of love. But if I see a different corner. I will stop there for a while. And if I see that look in your eyes. I might be forced to smile.”
But my smile is not forced, comes free form in thanks for her ability to write a song, for being able to write music.
“Roads stretch from valleys to deserts. Lonely hearts search for a place to be strong. Lovers will find it, I know they will. Dreams may be lies but love’s never wrong.”
Then, as the song heads into the instrumental section I make a motion to her and the crowd screams her name, Luke’s voice louder than any. I let her stand there, basking in the glory, and then sweep her voice back into mine.
“Around that different corner. Dreams might still come true. And I can find a love song. That won’t make me think of you. Around that different corner. Dreams might still come true. And I can find a love song. That won’t make me think of you.”
And she continues to play, the slow fade out which she has earned and I sweep her into my arms and hope a kiss can help things along. In the midst of holding her, of kissing her, of loving her, I manage to shout out a few words.
“Remember. John Lennon was right. All you need is love. Love is the answer. Good night. We’ll see you in the future.”