I tried to call Carrie Anne, but I didn't catch her. I figured it was time to talk to her and hopefully figure out the direction of things. The situation was weird as hell and it needed to be normalized.
I worked my shift at the store... My mental theme for the day was deciding whether the extracurricular emotional bullshit I was going through would eventually have a positive influence on my art, or if it would just be an exasperating distraction.
"Depth," I told myself. "Suffering over stupid bullshit will give me depth".
That night I worked on a long article based the recordings with Terry I'd made on the weekend. I'd pitched it to a local entertainment paper that I'd done some reviews for, and they agreed to run it and pay for it. I was going to put other unused chunks of conversation on my own site as well. There was a lot of good material.
I was slugging down hazelnut cream flavored instant coffee, sitting hunched over my little desk and typing on my laptop. It was a lot of copy and paste work, and online videos were a constant distraction.
There was a knock on the door. As usual, I had no plans and was not expecting anyone. I got up and had a look out the peep hole.
Doreen, the fifteen year old girl who lived on the third floor, was waiting, looking back and forth down the hall. I opened the door.
"Hey," she said. "Are you busy?"
I shrugged. "I guess not. I was working on something. What's up?"
She looked past me into the apartment. "I've got nothing to do," she said. "I was wondering if you wanted to hang out."
I looked at the digital clock on the stove. It was eight fifty-five. "Sure, I guess so. Um, is that going to be cool with your dad?"
"My dad's not home tonight. He thinks it's important that he still gets to go out with his friends. I don't know. Maybe he thinks he's providing a good example. He's completely lost with this parenting thing. Do you mind if I come in?"
I stepped out of the way and she entered. "Do you want a coffee?" I asked. "I have hazelnut cream flavored instant."
"Sure". She took off her shoes and started walking around the apartment, looking over my stuff like it was a garage sale. "I'm so wound up," she said. "I have to sit in that little apartment all day after school, and I've got nothing to do. Basically I'm just waiting for Dad to get home so I have somebody to talk to, so on a night when he doesn't come home it's like RRRR!" She gave a growl of exasperation. "I'm so bored!"
"That sucks," I said. "So you're dad's lost, huh?"
"Yeah, I think so." Doreen knelt down in front of my bookcase. "I just moved in with him a month ago, and he he was fine for a couple of weeks, but now he's getting really restless having me there all the time, you know? But I've got nowhere to go! We haven't lived together since I was four, and he doesn't really know how to handle a teenager. But what he doesn't get is that I don't need anything, except something to do or someone to talk to."
"Can't you go out on your own?" I plugged in the electric kettle to boil water for her instant coffee..
"Not really," she said. She was walking her fingers along the books on the shelf. "I've gone to that Starbucks a few times, but it's like, why? Why go by yourself? I haven't really made any friends that I can hang out with after school, and I don't know anybody else here. Except for Terry. And you."
"Right. How did you and Terry meet, anyway?" I put some bread in the toaster.
"I saw him coming up with guitars and I struck up a conversation. I guess I kind of forced myself on him because I've been so desperate for anyone to talk to. The thing is, he's usually home during the day, and I never have anything to do in the afternoons, so I'm always dropping in on him. He gets pissy about it, but he's pretty coo."
She picked out a book and opened it up. I looked at her sitting there. She was young and bright, but she was piling on personal issues when she should be having a good time partying with her friends. She was pretty and she seemed nice. She could have a high school boyfriend. Probably some young guitar player, like a fifteen year old version of Terry. But here she was, stuck in a city she didn't know, living in practical isolation with an inexperienced dad...
I made her some toast with honey and fake coffee. She took them back to the bookshelf. "Do you mind if I borrow a book or two sometime? I need interesting things to read. Can you believe my dad doesn't have a single book in his whole apartment? That says all you need to know about him right there."
My phone buzzed. It was Carrie Anne and I picked it up. "Hello?"
"Hey," she said. "You called?"
"Yeah," I said, glancing over at Doreen. She was munching toast and reading the back of a paperback. "Yeah, I just wanted to get your impressions on something," I said. "You know your friend, Megan."
"What about her?"
"Well, I get the weird feeling that Charlie is trying to play matchmaker with her and me. He's like, "Dude, you'll like her, she's a stripper." That's kind of a weird thing to say to someone, isn't it?"
"And you're like "Hey, awesome, I love strippers".
"What? No. And why are you telling people how much I love strippers, anyway?"
"I don't know, Terry. I don't remember telling him that. Is there a point to all this, anyway? I feel like you called me just to freak out over nothing."
"No, not at all. I'm just-- I'm trying to figure out where you and I are. I don't like having to deal with Charlie trying to hook me up."
There was a long pause, and I had a feeling she was trying to calm herself down. "Look Nate," she finally said in even, tightly-controlled tones, "Maybe Charlie is just trying to be nice. And if you don't like it, just tell him to stop. You're both adults. I don't want to have any shit with you, Nate, but if we're going to have problems, then maybe it's not worth it for either of us."
Shit. How the hell had that happened? There was no going back from there. I wasn't going to play to soft touch in the relationship. Besides, something told me I was going to come out of this looking badly. Better back off.
"Okay," I said. "I'll see you around then."
She paused again. "Okay," she said. "Take care, Nate."
The line went dead and I set the phone on the table. I sat down and had a sip of coffee.
Doreen was watching me. "Something important?" she asked.
I was staring into space. "I'm not sure," I said. "I think I just broke up with my ex-girlfriend."
"Oh." She paused and looked at the books again. "Um, so it's no big loss then, I guess."
"Yeah," I said. "I guess not." My stomach was beginning to hurt.
There was a knock at the door. I looked at Doreen. She was sitting there sipping coffee and looking at books. She was fully dressed. I was sitting nowhere near her. No trouble here, sir. "Is that your Dad?" I asked.
"Shouldn't be," she said, getting to her feet. "He shouldn't be back until one."
I peeped out the peep-hole. It was Terry. I opened the door.
"Hey man," he said. He was in jeans and a t-shirt, but had no socks on inside his shoes. He saw Doreen standing inside. "Hey," he said to her. "You're not home by now?"
"Relax, Terry," Doreen said. "Dad's getting home late."
I held the door open and he stepped inside. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Do you guys want me to leave?" Doreen asked.
"No, it's cool, it doesn't matter. Ah, your guitars." Terry walked over to where my two guitars stood. He'd already seen my acoustic. The SG didn't seem to mean much to him, and he turned to me...
"Anyway," he said, "I wanted to thank you. I've been thinking about the interview we did, and I think after all that talking, I was able to put some things in perspective. You know, regarding my career and so forth. It's been helpful for me."
"Oh," I said. "That's great to hear. I didn't expect that at all."
"Yeah. Now listen, I wanted to ask you about something else. I don't have a band right now. I've got this dude Paul that I'm helping, and he can play bass for me. I know a drummer that can do an occasional show. But I still need a guy who can fill in on guitar."
"You play guitar," I said.
"Right," he replied, "but I'm going to do a couple events where I'll do readings to promote the book. At the bigger events, like the painting show or the book launch, I'm going to play a couple songs and then read. When I'm reading, I want the band to keep playing, which means I'll need another guitar player. Do you think you could learn a few songs?"
I was stunned. "I guess so," I said. "I mean, f--k, am I seriously the only guitar player you can think of? I'm not even very good. You've been playing music in this city for like, thirty years. Am I the only guy you know?"
He smiled. "You'll do it for free, right?"
I shrugged. "Yeah."
"And you'll write about it on the 'net."
"Plus, you live in the building," he said. "You're pretty much perfect."
"But Terry," I said, "I'm not a good player. Doesn't that concern you?"
"Ah," he said dismissively, "you're not that bad. You just need lessons and practice. I can help you out, if you'll do it for free, promote it for free, and I don't have to worry about picking you up across town."
"Okay," I said. "Sure. Why the hell not?"
"Great." He gave me a slap on the shoulder. "That's cool. Okay, we'll work out the times, okay? We don't have to play anywhere for a couple weeks."
"Really? We're playing in a couple weeks?"
He stepped to the door. "Yeah, the art show. You'll only have to learn a couple songs."
"That's all right," I said. "Hey, Terry, what was it that you got perspective on? You know, after we talked."
"Career stuff, like I said. Like how I never really had a career. More like... A series of projects. Anyway, don't worry about that stuff. I'll talk to you soon." He walked out.
"Wow," I said. "Busy night."
"Yeah," Doreen said. She had a stack of four books. "Do you mind if I borrow these?"
"Hmm? Yeah, sure." I had a look to see what books she was taking, and she was on her way.
I stood in the middle of my apartment and wondered what the hell had just happened. It felt like some giant hand had just shaken the snow globe, and everything had to settle back down.
I closed my laptop and sat down on the couch. It was still early. Between the phone call and the buzz of possibly having a new band project, I was riding an emotional wave. I wanted more action.
I looked at my phone and hit the buttons. Charlie answered after three rings. "Hey, Nate. What's up?"
I asked Charlie for Megan's contact information. What he gave me was probably intentionally indirect. I hung up the phone and got cleaned up. Then I put on my coat and went out the door.
I'll be at The Horseshoe on Monday, April 30 to check out my buddy's band. Drop by and say hello. I'll be the tall guy that looks like a writer.
|"I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Say hello at @nolanwhyte.|