*** Part 6 ***
Adree went into the coffee shop, it's one that they've played in before. She wants this to be her last time playing with Lianna. Seeing her at a table, Adree sits with her. The open mic has already started.
Lianna turns to Adree, "I didn't expect you to come. I signed up for just me, but I guess you can play too. If you haven't left Satirical entirely." She says spitefully.
"You know, I don't want to play music with you. But you threw a pity party, so I decided to come play one last time." Adree says loudly, causing a few people to turn and look at them.
"Well I'd rather not know you than have you playing with other people and not even telling me. Probably some guy involved anyway."
"I care about music Lianna, music." Adree says, standing up, "I don't care what you think of them, they're better than you'll ever be. I'm sorry I wasted my time with Satirical."
Adree grabs her equipment and leaves, walking alone on the sidewalk in the cool night. She didn't like Lianna accusing her of "betrayal" because of Ritchie. So, she walks home, in the dark, carrying her bass gear. She doesn't want to bother anyone, she'll keep this ordeal to herself.
Ritchie gets back to Ron's house, and goes inside. Ron and Valgrd are talking on the sofa, T.V. on quietly. Ritchie sits with them.
Ron turns to him, "Ritchie, I've been thinking. What if we got a few people together and rented a house?"
"How many people are you thinking?"
"Hmmm. Three or four I guess."
"That wold be cool. Anyone in mind besides you and I?"
"Well I'm starting a new job tomorrow, so if we have people, we can move by next month. I want to get out of my parent's house."
"I'm not really in a rush to move. But, if we have people agreed, I'm willing to do it that soon."
"Good. I want to move as soon as possible."
Valgrd is sitting in the middle of the sofa, looking attentively back and forth as they converse. "Oh, and another thing too," Ritchie continues, "I think we should play a show before Valgrd has to leave. We've made three songs just today. Have her and Adree learn two or three of ours, and we've a complete set."
Valgrd stands, "Teach me hows to play them now" she says.
"Eh, tomorrow" Ron replies, waving a hand. Ritchie agrees, it's late. The three rest on the sofa and watch television. Soon they're asleep, except for Ron. He gets up, turns the T.V. off, and covers Ritchie and Valgrd with a blanket. Then goes to his bedroom for the night.
Ritchie feels a hand on his face. "Wake up buddy" Valgrd says cheerfully. He rubs his eyes, wondering what time it is. She snuggled up to him during the night. Valgrd is an energetic sort of person, at first, he wasn't sure if she would fit with the rest of them. But yesterday, when they were playing, having a good time, it just worked. The four of them...
Ron walks in with sandwiches. "Don't you work today?" he says, sitting down and taking a bite.
"Yeah. Not until three though, three to ten shift. What time is it now?"
"About 11:30. Where are you working anyway?"
"At a coffee shop. 'Dreamy Steam' it's called."
"Oh! My girlfriend works there, did you meet Greta?"
"No, you never said anything about having a girlfriend."
"We've been dating for, I guess three months now. We wanted to make sure it was serious before we said anything. I just haven't really gotten a chance to tell you. She plays bass, I was going to she if she could play with us, but it seems we already have a bassist."
"Hmm. The lineup we have right now works so good. I'm sorry for not discussing bringing new people."
"It's okay. She has something going on anyway. It seems you've gotten your wish for a full band."
"Seems I have" Ritchie says, looking at Valgrd.
They eat, then Ritchie takes Valgrd back to where she's staying. He goes home, lugs his gear up to his room, makes a panini, rests, and gets ready for work. As he's leaving, his mom asks where he got the shirt he's wearing.
"Oh, I work there. I was interviewed Saturday, and told that I'd start today at three. This my work shirt."
"You didn't tell me you got a job! I don't know if the doctor would... Does your employer know of your..?"
"No, I didn't mention it. And I don't care what the doctor says, I'm going to work." He says, still feeling a bit bitter because his parents quit his last job for him. What good did they think they were doing anyway? The Failure didn't keep him out of order for more than, what, two days? He leaves for work. This is better than his last job anyway. This job has culture, and it's somewhere he thinks he'll quite enjoy the company.
Walking into Dreamy Steam, he sees the days poster: "Monday Night Poetry and Spoken Word Open Mic." Ritchie's never been to that kind of thing. He's seen people reading poetry in videos, but never has he been to an event for it. He's met by the manager, the man with the skinny goatee and black framed glasses.
"Hey Ritchie! Glad to see you're early, we can get your training started. You'll be working with Greta." And so it started, his education. It was more than just how to make coffee or clean the kitchen and shop at the end of the day. Over the next few weeks, he was exposed to things and people foreign to him, a place he didn't know existed. He's known by businessmen, poets, next door's hairdressers, musicians, writers, kids that come after school, painters, Goths. He felt almost like part of an underground society. The newly found band gets together and practices twice a week. They have material for an album now. They've been looking around for places to play, had a few auditions to open for other bands, then found an ad for unsigned bands to apply for a touring music festival. They sent in some material, no expectations, haven't received a reply. The deadline isn't for a few months at any rate.
Ritchie feels connected to this place. This city used to be hell to him, but it's suddenly changed. Now it feels more like a home than any other place. He's been unofficially living with Adree for a week and a half. Since the Failure, he feels he's left his old self behind. His parent's house only reminds him of how he used to be. Living with Adree, he feels peace. They've become quite attached, and even affectionate. They've become more than just friends or band mates, they're a couple, and their friends know it.
The band assembles in Ron's garage. It's Valgrd's last week before returning to Sweden. Knowing this, the usual energy the group has is dampened.
"I wish you could stay longer," Ritchie says, "even move here. If we could find another guitarist, we couldn't find one like you."
"Aww, thank you." Valgrd says, smiling. "Actually, my visa is good for six months. If I could finds the place to stay, I could stay. But we would definitely needs to start playing shows."
There's a murmur as they look at each other. Ron stands behind his drum set. "You could stay with one of us," he says, "we can find a place for you to stay."
"Yeah," Adree volunteers, looking at Ritchie "you can stay with Ritchie and I. We don't need the other bedroom anymore."
Valgrd slightly nods her head, "Cool. I'll have to lets my brother know. I don't thinks he'll like it though."
The practice goes well, more like a rehearsal, only they've yet to book a show. Adree doesn't perform today like she normally does, her liveliness is dulled. Ritchie noticed the difference this morning when she didn't go through her usual cosmetic routine, she didn't fix her hair or put on her usual lipstick. The band takes a break after a few songs, and they go inside. Ritchie keeps Adree in the garage, and closes the door behind Ron and Valgrd.
"Adree," he says, putting his hands on her shoulders, "is everything alright?"
She doesn't answer.
"I see the look in your eyes, and I know what it is." Ritchie speaks quietly, tears forming in his eyes.
Adree nods slightly, acknowledging that he indeed does. She's feeling down. She's left her former group of friends, her former life. She even left Lianna, who she felt helped her get into music. And what is she doing here? In a nameless band. A small part of her wishes she kept her former, shallow lifestyle. It was easy, but it was endless banter. She loves music, but she doesn't feel like she belongs with these people. She doesn't feel like a real musician. It's as if she's pretending to be herself, like she doesn't deserve to do what she loves.
Ritchie needs no answer. Sensing her pain, he draws her close and gives her a hug. "Just know Adree, your my love. I don't know how I would be right now if not for you."
"Right," she thinks, "sure I've been good for you, but I'm just a lover, a girlfriend." Speaking aloud, she replies, "Do you really want me in this with you? Playing music with you?"
"Yes, I do." He pushes her back and looks into her eyes, "We all want you to be here."
With that they go inside to snack with their fellow band mates.
Adree sits alone in her apartment, watching the world outside the window getting darker. She left as soon as practice ended. This silence gives her time to think, about everything. After what seems like a day, she breaks her trance, concluding that there is no reward for being alive. In the outreaches of time, nothing matters.
It's completely dark outside now, only the stars and a slice of moon light the sky. Her recent change has felt good, but Adree feels as if she needs more. There's a place in herself that she's yet to set free. She finds a sheet of paper, and writes a note. After waiting a while to see if Ritchie would come, she goes to bed alone.
Ritchie spent the night on Ron's sofa. Last night they ate and then Valgrd's brother came to pick her up. Adree left before they ate. Waking early in the morning, Ritchie leaves without a word, he worries for Adree. She seemed so depressed yesterday, he wishes he had left with her. It's quite a walk to Adree's place, but he gets there. Opening the apartment door, he calls for her.
"Adree? Are you here?" There's no answer. Ritchie walks around, looking in each room, no one. Sitting on the sofa, he notices a note set on the coffee table. Leaning forward, he examines it.
"10:30 on the W. S. Haul Memorial bridge, south side."
What could this mean? He suspects she means for him to meet her there, but for what? Ritchie knows where this bridge is, it's a short steel arch bridge that runs high across a deep river valley. There are places to park, and observation points on each side. He looks at the clock, it's 10:03. He gets in his car that he left at Adree's house, and departs, worrying for Adree all the way there.
He parks in the small lot before the bridge. The area is empty this morning, as the thick fog has yet to lift. Adree must have parked on the other side. Ritchie crosses the road, walking toward the southern side of the bridge. He makes his way carefully, this day hasn't felt right, he feels so unsure. About halfway across the bridge, he sees a pair of Adree's shoes on the sidewalk. Looking around, he can't see her, the fog is blocking even the other side of the bridge. Taped to the railing, there's a note. With a shaking hand, Ritchie pulls it off and opens it.
First of all, don't blame yourself. This is my life, and my issue. You didn't change me, I changed myself. I still feel attached to something, someone, that I've left behind. Don't worry for me, I'll be fine. Keep yourself running strong, and don't give up on your vision. No matter how much I would've liked to, I can't be a part of it. I leave my things to you Ritchie, take care of them. Remember me with good thoughts. I love you.
Ritchie is on his knees. Leaning against the railing, he stares down to the gushing water far below. His tears cloud his sight as he runs to the other side of the bridge, to see if Adree is there. It's empty. Walking back, his face is stoic, this grief is too much for him to show. He picks up the shoes as he passes, clutching them tightly as he goes back to his car. Pausing as he closes the car door behind him, he stares ahead into a white-grey cloud. "Could she really have done it?" He thinks, why? But he knows why, the reason began to show after her argument with Lianna, when she left Satirical. Adree constantly doubted herself, doubted her abilities, doubted her life. Ritchie saw it, and he tried to help, but now he wishes that he had done more for her. The last several weeks held great change. A new job, a new band, new friends, a girlfriend, a life that he'd wished he lived before. But now that life, that new Ritchie, felt lost. It felt to him as if all of his post-Failure life, his new beginning, no longer mattered.
Ritchie calls the police to report the incident. Over the next few days, they search the river, and question Adree's friends and relatives. Ritchie was silently suspected of her disappearance, but there wasn't any proof of him being involved. He would've never hurt Adree. Ritchie moved into Adree's old apartment, most of her things were left there, including her bass. Valgrd moved in with him, as was already planned before this ordeal. The police never found anything, the river goes out to the ocean, so she must be out there, untraceable.
The band had it's own time of mourning, they didn't play music together for almost a month. It felt wrong without her, even Valgrd felt as much. But time marches on, and the music must be made, so they arrange a practice. Greta was the obvious choice as the new bassist.
"Are you sure you want to live here?" Ritchie asks Valgrd as they're getting ready to leave for their first practice with Greta.
"Yah. I like it."
"You don't feel like, I bring you down or anything?"
"No. Whys you feeling that way? What Adree did was her choice, don't feels like you did it. I knows you were in love with her."
Ritchie looks down, scowling at the ground, "There's much you've yet to know."
Valgrd doesn't respond, she doesn't want to stir up his feelings for Adree. He seems happier today, with the band practice. She doesn't want to ruin it by making him sad before they play. There's a knock at the door. Ritchie opens it to see the postman with a large box. Knowing it's contents, he steps aside to let Valgrd sign for her guitar and amp head. Her brother sent them back from Sweden. Valgrd squeals with joy as she unwraps her Jackson Rhoads, then the amp head. She plays with her guitar for a minute, then checks the amp tubes to make sure nothing shifted. Seeing all in order, she picks up her guitar and looks at Ritchie.
She smiles, "What we waiting for?"
"Nothing. Just watching how happy you are, let's go then."
Before they lost Adree, their practices were getting serious. They quit bringing little amps to practice, and started playing more on a performance level. Ritchie's half-stack is still in Ron's garage, and the PA system is still set up. Valgrd has given Greta a crash course on their songs over the past few days.
Ritchie and Valgrd park in the driveway in front of the open garage. Ron and Greta are already there. Valgrd jumps out of the car and shows them her guitar, while Ritchie gets his instrument from the back seat. Walking into the garage, his eyes are fixed on a large bass amp, it was Adree's. He had almost forgotten about it. They had poked fun at her when she bought it, because it was her shoulder height. Averting his stare, he notices the silence. There's a tension in the garage as everyone sets up and tunes.
"Is that your amp?" Ritchie asks Greta, pointing to the small box by her feet.
"Why not use the big one? That's what it's here for."
"Well it's not mine, I just..."
"Use it. It pretty much belongs to 'the band' now anyway."
Valgrd did a good job of teaching Greta a few of the songs, they played through four somewhat smoothly. Definitely great for a first time. Ritchie smiles at Greta as they finish a song, he starts to take his guitar off to put it on a stand.
"Hey! We've got another song!" Ron says, leaning forward over his drum kit.
"You know, 'I Was Over' it's called."
Ritchie hesitates, remembering that song and why he had written it. It's a good song, but he can't bring himself to play it, maybe sometime in the future. "Eh, we don't need to play that one."
"It's part of our planned set. Let's play it, Greta already knows the bass."
"Nah, we're fine for today."
Ron motions with a drum stick, "Come on, lets play it, the last one."
Ritchie feels cold, "No! I'm not going to play that, not now."
Ron doesn't reply. He's had an idea of what the song is about, but wasn't sure. Seeing that Ritchie seems a little sensitive about it, he decides not to push the subject any farther. Greta and Valgrd are still standing there, paused, watching them. They've not an idea of why "I Was Over" should have any particular importance. The lot spends some time at Ron's house after their practice. It feels nearly as before they lost Adree, with the exception of Ron attentions being toward Greta. Valgrd wonders why Ron never invited her to come watch the former band play.