More Than Words
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I got up and stood in the doorway, watching as she grabbed her purse off the couch and headed to the door. “Thanks for the memories,” I called sarcastically.
She turned around stiffly, anger radiating off her, picked up an empty bottle of whiskey sitting on a table near the entry, and hurled it at me. I ducked, and the bottle barely missed me, sailing over my head and exploding on the wall behind the bed as the outer door slammed. I laughed. Drama, much?
But my laughter was quick to fade as I returned to my bedroom, picking up the stack of papers on my desk and riffling through them, my heart sinking like a stone when I saw what was on them. Nothing. I hadn’t written a goddamn thing, not one fucking note. I tossed the papers across the room, and they rained down on me. “Fuck!” I yelled as I sank into the chair, putting my elbows on the desk and gripping my head. “Fuck,” I said more softly, despair filling my chest. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
You’re a worthless idiot. I’m ashamed to call you mine.
He was right.
Worthless idiot. Ashamed to call you mine.
God, who wouldn’t be?
I sat there for a while, allowing myself to wallow in my own misery, my own self-contempt, before getting up and going to the bathroom. I tossed a couple of Tylenol in my mouth, chewing them as I stepped into the shower, cringing at the bitter, grittiness of the pills as I washed the smell of sex and alcohol from my body. Sadly, nothing could be done to cleanse my soul.
* * *
The Gift of Music Charity Ball was already in full swing when I arrived, the smooth sounds of a jazz band drifting across the room from the stage up front. Couples danced, the women’s evening gowns moving at their feet, a swirling river of reds and blues and purples. Chandeliers glittered overhead, and the smell of exotic flowers drifted in the air.
I stood in the doorway for a moment, looking around idly, catching sight of a sleek brunette ponytail. My heart stuttered for a moment, and then the woman turned, and I released a small huff of air. Why did thoughts of that girl I kissed in Paris still come to mind at the strangest times? It was bizarre. I rarely ever thought of the women I’d slept with, and I’d only kissed that girl. I could barely picture what she’d looked like. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was simply that I’d wanted more and hadn’t gotten it, and the regret of not experiencing her lingered. I sighed. It was as good an explanation as any.
Or maybe it was about Paris. Some romantic mystique that shrouded the City of Light. Even I wasn’t immune to it apparently.
A girl carrying a tray of champagne flutes passed by and I grabbed two, downing one quickly and then the other. Fuck, I don’t want to be here. But it was a benefit for childhood cancer research, so I’d forced myself to come—a good reminder that life wasn’t all about me and my stupid problems. I set the empty glasses down on a table behind me and surveyed the room again. I spotted Larry and Annette through the crowd, standing with two men, one of whom was wearing a garish, god-awful suit, and I made my way over to them.
“Callen,” Larry greeted me, stepping aside and making room for me in the circle. “So glad you’re here.”
“You know how much I love fancy parties, Larry,” I said sarcastically, taking another glass of champagne offered by a passing server.
Larry chuckled. “It’s a rough life. You know Anders Hanson, don’t you?” he asked, gesturing to the man standing next to him. Anders was wearing a skinny-fit, off-white suit, sleeves rolled up to his forearms, paired with a bright blue shirt and a multicolored, flowered bow tie. “And this is his assistant, Ralph.” I glanced at Ralph, giving him a nod, and then looked back to Anders. I recognized his name. He was the music critic for one of the most popular classical music magazines. I hadn’t met him in person, but I knew of him by reputation. He was known for his brutal honesty and “edgy” fashion sense.
Anders gave me a chin tilt that managed to be both arrogant and bored, and looked off over my shoulder as if he were searching for someone more interesting. Pretentious dick.
I looked at Annette, who raised one eyebrow and gave me a fake smile. Clearly she was still disgruntled over my treatment that morning. Not that it would keep her away from me. I needed to stop getting drunk and answering my damn door.
I gave her a blank stare as I raised my glass, and her smile slipped into a momentary scowl before she pasted another phony smile on her face. It was all a game. All of it. “I’m surprised to see you here without a date tonight, Callen.”
“Oh, you know me, Annette; I’m sure I’ll remedy that before the night is through.”
Her eyes narrowed, but then she looked away, feigning sudden disinterest.
“So anyway, like I was saying”—Anders chortled—“Brenton Conrad’s composition was so bad, the paper it was written on wasn’t worthy of being used to wipe my ass.” He laughed heartily at his own joke. “It was his first album, and I told him for the good of all humanity, it needed to be his last. I titled my review”—he held his hands up as if his own words were worthy of a marquee—“ ‘From Hell: Atrocious, Nauseating, and Flagrantly Desperate.’ ”
Brenton Conrad was a new composer I personally thought had some promise. His first composition had been mediocre, it was true, but nevertheless, a cold wave of anger slithered slowly down my spine—a feeling of disgust at the fact that this man thought obliterating someone with his words was even remotely entertaining. I leaned forward, feigning a look of confusion. “Flagrantly desperate? I’m sorry, was that a music review or the description of your outfit?” I looked him up and down, my gaze moving past the tapered bottoms of his pants and settling on his bare ankles. He wasn’t wearing socks.
Enraged disbelief simmered in his eyes before he managed to replace the expression with an overly large grin. “You didn’t tell me he was so amusing, too, Larry.”
Larry opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him off. “Oh, I wasn’t being funny, Anders. Your outfit is seriously nauseating.”
“Jesus, Callen,” Larry muttered.
“So, Callen,” Anders’s assistant interjected quickly, his tone apprehensive, clearly trying to change the subject and head off whatever he imagined was about to happen between me and his dipshit boss, “I heard you’re writing the music score for Discovering Hart.”
My stomach tightened, but I moved my eyes from Anders’s angry face to his assistant’s nervous one and smiled. “That’s right.”
He raised his shoulders and made a sound of excitement. “I’m in love with Marlon McDermott.” The star of the movie. “How’s the music coming?”
I took a drink. “Great. I have about half written already.” The lie rolled off my tongue easily. I wanted it to be true. Maybe lying about it would apply the extra pressure I needed to get something started. As if I didn’t have enough pressure already.
“That’s great, Callen. Why didn’t you tell me?” Larry asked.
I gave him a tight smile, downing my champagne and looking around for more. Last time we’d talked, I’d had Larry ask the studio for an extension and told him in confidence that I was experiencing a little writer’s block. Understatement of the fucking year. “I didn’t want to jinx it.” I grabbed another glass off a passing tray.
Anders laughed. “You artists and your ridiculous superstitions.”
You can’t do anything right. You’re ridiculous.
My skin was hot. The room was suddenly stifling. I pulled at my bow tie, needing air, needing to get away from these people. “Not quite as ridiculous as you thinking anyone cares about your worthless opinion.” Before he could even react, I turned and walked away, headed for the bar.
Twenty minutes and two drinks later, as I was beginning to feel nice and numb, Larry approached me, leaning against the bar. “The moody artist persona is only appealing to a point. You’ve gotta lay off the alcohol. It’s turning you into an asshole.”