More Than Words
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Nick paused, looking as if he was considering what I’d said. “Your last album wasn’t bad, Cal. I heard where you were going. You just … didn’t quite make it there. It felt almost like you were holding back.”
I shook my head. “I wasn’t, at least not on purpose.” I pressed my lips together. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the problem is.”
“Maybe you need to stop dwelling on what the problem was with that album and let yourself focus on your current project. You’re looking in the wrong direction, Cal.”
I nodded, staring unseeing out the tinted window. “Yeah. Maybe.” I looked at Nick, feeling marginally better for having talked about it with someone I could trust. “Thanks for coming along, Nick.”
“I’m happy to. I needed a change of scenery. But I have work, too, so you’ll be on your own most of the time.”
I nodded, looking away again. Hopefully he was right. His faith in me felt like both a certain pressure and a blessing.
I’d met Nick when we were both seventeen-year-old punks who’d been sent to juvenile hall. I’d been fighting in an effort to get kicked out of school yet again, and Nick had stolen something so he’d get sent there to avoid his foster parents, if only for a night or two. He was a skinny, nerdy kid with glasses, a weird haircut, and worst of all, an expression that let everyone know he was scared. Easy prey. When some tougher kids focused on him, I’d fought them off. I’d always despised bullies.
We’d found that despite outward appearances, Nick and I were more alike than different—both constantly choosing between the frying pan and the fire—and we forged a bond. When we were both eighteen and finally free to make choices that didn’t include regular residency at juvenile hall, we took odd jobs, found couches to sleep on, and shared both food and a very meager supply of hope.
Music was my passion, and I practiced every spare second I had, carrying around backpacks of notebooks filled with compositions and CDs of my work, which I gave to anyone and everyone who might be able to give it to the right person. I’d met the wife of a bigwig in the music industry at a cocktail party I’d all but crashed, and—after some personal attention in her grand, velvet upholstered bed—she’d put my work on her husband’s desk. So yes, my first break had been a result of my willingness to trade sex for favors, and I wasn’t necessarily proud of that. But it’d gotten me where I was, so I tried not to think about it very much. When an afternoon of casual fucking was the difference between living your dream or delivering pizzas to make ends meet, you did what you had to do.
After that initial break, I’d sold a few jingles that were used in commercials and a ringtone that became extremely popular. I did a couple of video game scores and then the music for several two-minute film trailers. One (legitimately) lucky break turned into another, and I was able to strike out on my own. Nick, who had always been brilliant with computers, had a few lucky breaks as well and started his own website design company and was successfully self-employed. Hence his ability to come on vacation with me with not much notice. As long as he had his laptop, he could just as easily do business from Los Angeles as from the Loire Valley.
“So, tell me about this girl you went to see last night.” He used his index finger to push his glasses up his nose.
“Temporary insanity,” I murmured.
He raised a brow. “As opposed to all the sanity of your recent relationships?”
“I don’t have relationships, Nick. I have one-night stands.”
He sighed. “That’s going to get old one of these years.”
I made a scoffing sound, and Nick raised his eyes to the heavens and shook his head as if apologizing to the angels for my sins. I laughed quietly and looked back out the window again. “I kissed her last time I was here, nothing more. And … I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t get enough.”
I could feel Nick studying me. “You not get enough? This is different. Have you thought about looking her up online?” He paused. “I could see what I could come up with if you want me to.”
“I don’t even know her name.” I ran a hand through my hair as I looked back at him. “And it doesn’t matter. She was just a pretty girl, and there is no shortage of pretty girls anywhere in this fucked-up world.” So why the hell can’t I forget about this one?
“Hmm,” he said, not sounding convinced for some reason I didn’t care to know about. But he didn’t elaborate, and instead picked up a travel brochure the limo company had provided, obviously willing to move the conversation to a different topic. The brochure featured a picture of a large castle on the front cover, and I assumed it covered nearby attractions. “Is this where we’re staying?” he asked.
“I have no idea. My assistant booked it.” The only directive I’d given my assistant when I’d told her to book me a vacation spot in France was that it should be somewhere other than where the so-called jet-setters went but still somewhere with style. “All she said is that it’s spectacular.”
“No. The new one’s name is Myrtle.”
“What happened to Liza?”
“What do you think happened to Liza?”
He made a disappointed sound in his throat and shook his head. “You slept with that one, too? Jesus, Cal. How do you expect to keep anyone employed at this rate?”
“Myrtle is seventy and has fourteen grandchildren.”
“It depresses me that I’m still concerned.”
I laughed. “Touché. I’m not that bad.”
“Pretty damn close,” he muttered.
“Myrtle does have this interesting blue hair. I’m sort of tempted to find out if the curtains match the carpet.”
Nick groaned. “Ugh, you’re the worst. I’m surprised you haven’t put the moves on me yet.”
I raised my brows. “Don’t underestimate the romance of France, mon ami. You won’t be able to resist me for long.”
“Oh, I’ll be able to resist you—don’t worry about that.”
I laughed. “Seriously, what about you? When’s the last time you went on a date?”
“I was seeing a girl in L.A. for a couple of months. She said I work too much.”
“She was right.”
Nick bounced his knee. “I know. It’s just … building financial security means more to me than a relationship right now.”
I watched him for a second as he looked back down at the brochure. I knew what he meant. He didn’t want to live the way we’d lived for so long—surviving day to day, no guarantees of a roof over our heads, no safety net, just each other and a fire that burned in our guts for more. Of course, I had enough money now that I was his safety net if he needed one, but I understood that he wanted to make his own way, too. “I know, Nick.”
He looked at me and gave a small smile, a nod. “I know you do.”
We lapsed into a comfortable silence, and I gazed out the window at a train speeding by, heading in the same direction. The blurred profile of a brunette caught my eye and my heart gave a strange jolt, but as quickly as I’d seen her, she was gone. I sighed, closing my eyes. I was obviously so tired, my mind was playing tricks on me.
* * *
I doodled a monster made of musical notes between the staffs, stared at it, and then threw my pen across the room, crumpling the paper—empty except for my bad art—and tossing that as well. “Goddamn it!”
I stood, running the fingers of both hands through my hair and holding my head forward for a minute. I grasped my skull and shook my head, hoping that the movement might make something click back into place. Specifically, the creativity that seemed to have fallen loose and was free-floating through my brain, lost and unobtainable. I shook my head harder, using my fist to box my own ear so hard that a gasp of pain escaped through my lips. Fuck!