“Like, go away. Just you and me. We’ll take the car and just book into a hotel somewhere.”
“Because...” I sigh, heavily. “…Because I miss us.”
If Darlene was a crier she’d be crying right now. She’s biting the inside of her mouth to help push away the emotion. Sometimes I wish she’s just let go. “I miss us too.”
“This is what we need. It’ll be great. We’ll sleep in the same bed and wake up in the same bed and have breakfast in bed, and watch movies in bed...and, well we just won’t leave the bed.”
She chuckles and it’s almost as melodic as her singing. “Sounds perfect.”
“I’ll work extra hard to get everything done before the weekend. Okay?”
She nods and in a brave moment I pull her to the edge of her chair. She gasps in surprise but she’s smiling. It’s dazzling. I bury my head in her hair and take a refreshing breath. Her honey scented locks are like air to my claustrophobic lungs. I take in as much of it as I can before I have to leave for work. To my surprise I leave with the taste of Darlene’s mouth on mine and a fluttering of hope in my gut.
Four missed calls and seven text messages later I finally pluck up the courage to talk to Blue. It has to be done, I owe him that at least. I’ve shaken off the last of my hangover with the help of a late breakfast and I’ve prepared for the possible cold my makeshift bed may have given me by dosing up on medication. Touch wood, I’m fine.
Calling Blue’s number, I fidget incessantly with the corner of my gold pillow, burying myself deeper into my chair in the hope of finding some comfort. It offers zilch. I know exactly what I want to say but I don’t know how easy Blue is going to make it for me. Maybe I should have just text him...
He answers, “Finally!”
...Too late now.
“Hi, I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier. It was a mad night,” I explain, feeling mortified again at my actions.
“Did he hurt you?” he asks, sharply.
“What? No! Don’t be ridiculous.” I’m completely shocked that he would jump to that conclusion. Is that how our relationship comes across? He couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Despite what you think, Reid isn’t like that.” “He seemed pretty violent last night.”
“Yeah, to you. Are you surprised, Blue? You really didn’t have to antagonize him like that.”
“He came barging in demanding to see you. I wasn’t about to let him drag you home. You don’t have to put up with him, you know,” he says without a hint of irony, as if Reid is the bad guy.
“Are you for real? I’m his wife and he didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. Of course he was going to be a little mad. Just thank God that he never suspected what I was actually doing.”
“Are you saying you regret it?”
“Of course I regret it!”
“You shouldn’t. I don’t.” He really is shameless.
“Well, you should.”
I breathe out loudly, trying to push out the frustration and reign in some control.
“That’s what I was calling to tell you. Last night was a huge, drunken mistake. I’m not that girl and I don’t ever want to be that girl again. Which is why, like I said last night, I won’t be performing at The Nest anymore, and I certainly won’t be drinking there again.” “Pilgrim...” “No, I’m not Pilgrim,” I interject, finding it a little painful having to scold him when he regards me so sweetly. I close my eyes, needing to continue with this. “I’m Darlene Daley. But that doesn’t really matter anymore, because I can’t see you again, Blue.” “Not even as friends?”
“Not as anything.” “Now you’re being ridiculous. It was just a kiss, Darlene.” He says my name with sarcasm. “A kiss fuelled by way too much tequila.”
“And I can’t risk it happening again.”
“So don’t drink.” “You think it’s that easy?”
“Sure,” he insists and he actually sounds believable. “Look, I know you want to perform and I know everyone wants to see it. We don’t have to make this out to be such a big deal, because it’s not. It was a little slip. We’re friends, Darlene,” he says, cutting right to the core of my hesitance. That’s inevitably what I would miss the most.
I’m dithering for what feels like forever as I weigh up my options, running my hand through my matted hair as if it has any chance of soothing me. I naively thought that maybe he felt the same pull toward me, but perhaps it really was just a drunken mistake. Maybe I’d imagined all of the flirting beforehand and the chemistry onstage. Maybe he wants me back purely because he has a slot to fill at the bar and me and my guitar can fill it. I guess it all boils down to whether I can believe him.
“I don’t know if I can trust you,” I admit.
“So don’t. You don’t need to trust me if you trust yourself.”
Ah, touché, Blue.
“And that’s the million dollar question. Do you trust yourself, Darlene?” “Yes,” I answer, confidently. Whether either of us believes it is questionable.
“Then problem solved. I’ll see you tonight. You’re on at eight.”
With that he hangs up the phone. How did the conversation get flipped from me refusing to ever see him again to seeing him tonight? Either that man has a magical way with words or I am a complete pushover. I think it may be both.
I can’t deny that I want to perform tonight. The stage is calling to me and refusing it feels completely wrong. But will it be putting my marriage at stake? Reid made it perfectly clear last night that he holds no warmth for Blue, but surely he’d want me to be happy? And he knows how happy performing makes me so how could he say no? He wouldn’t say no, because I’m not asking his permission. I never ask permission of anyone, but I will warn him. Actually, I’ll ask him to come. God, I hope he does.
Picking up the phone again, I dial his work number. I get through to the office secretary who patches me through. “Hey, how are you feeling?” Reid asks over the top of rustling papers.
“Fine, thanks. I ate, I medicated, I rehydrated.”
“Good.” I actually hear him sigh with relief. I don’t know why he feels so guilty. That emotion should, and does, fall on me.
“I actually called to see what time you’d be finishing tonight?”
“Probably late if I want to finish up before the weekend,” he says on a long exhale. “Why?”
“I thought about it, baby, and I’m still gunna perform tonight.” I sense him about to interrupt so I cut him off. “Before you say anything, I won’t drink. And if you don’t trust me then you can come with me.”
“Of course I trust you, Darl, that’s not the issue. I just worry about you is all,” he says, sounding a little hurt, or maybe exasperated. My guilt doubles.
“So can you come?”
“I’ll try. Really, really try.” For once, he sounds genuine and I allow myself to believe that he’ll be there.
Ordinarily when dressing for a gig I would wear something a little more notable than jeans and a loose fitting knit, but considering the situation, I’ve played down any minute sex appeal that I may secretly be emitting. My hair is restrained in a messy bun and my makeup is minimal. I’ll probably feel a little underdressed once I’m on stage but I know that the music will be a good distraction for me.
I wait around at home much longer than I should, hoping that Reid is going to come barreling through the door. But he doesn’t. With only fifteen minutes until I’m due at The Nest I disappointedly get on my way.
It’s with faint annoyance that I notice the burnt out sun hiding between the buildings around me. I wonder if Reid notices the sunsets anymore or if he’s oblivious like he seems to be oblivious to the slow sunset of our marriage. It’s a painful metaphor.
The bar is already busy considering that it’s still early and I begin to wonder whether there is a mistake. Maybe someone else is performing. But when Nile calls me over in a flutter of excitement I can accept that it is me they are here to see.
In a soft voice Nile instructs me to leave my purse behind the bar and get a move on. Apparently everyone is eager for the night to begin. He hands me a bottle of water and practically pushes me toward the stage. I’m greeted politely and eyed expectantly as I walk through the thickening crowd. When I get to the stage I see a stool, a mic and an amp already waiting for me. It’s only now that my nerves kick in. Thank God. I welcome them with open arms, knowing that without them this means nothing. Regardless of my longing to see them, their appearance has me regretting my decision to abstain from alcohol. A Corona would go down very well right now.
As I sip resentfully at my bottle of water I scan the room for Blue. He’s nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s decided to hide and give me the space I need. Somehow, I don’t believe that. I have no doubt that he will appear eventually. I wish the same could be said for Reid. I can barely see the door from all the way back here, especially with the crowd between us, but I know I’m going to be checking it all night.
I lift my guitar onto my lap and notice the subtle quietness of the audience. I wonder how many have heard me before and how many are here out of habit or coincidence. I hope I don’t disappoint. I have a rough playlist in my head but I’m going to just play what I think the room needs, what I need.
Strumming the strings once, further hushing the room, I reach out and lightly alter the microphone’s placement before I speak into it.
“Evening, everyone. I have to say I’m both thrilled and terrified to see so many of ya’ll here, so tonight could go one of two ways. I’ll either be dancing along with the rest of y’all or I’ll be spending the majority of my time in them there toilets.” I cringe a little at the country twang in my voice that becomes more apparent whenever I take to the stage; a byproduct of growing up in the thick of a country band. The crowd chuckle though and I relax some.
It’s a little unnerving having no country music in my set list. Country is my comfort blanket but I just don’t feel it here. Country is the old me and the old me isn’t welcome in Chicago. Or at least that’s how it feels.
“We’re going to start off a little slow but we’ll pick it up later if y’all are still with me.” I smile a little knowing that I’m about to depress the fuck out of them. I don’t care, they’ll be dancing later and this song has been on my mind for months, so it’s about time it got played.
As I start to play Radiohead’s Creep I am instantly in my own little world. My voice is haunting as I sing the lyrics that I feel so connected to right now. Lyrics that tell of my loneliness, of my hate for that loneliness, and how that loneliness is only exaggerated by how easily Reid fits in here.
I wish I was more like him.
I’m singing it to Reid, telling him that I’ll try, that I’m trying. I’m doing my best to fit in when I feel so far removed from my comfort zone, to everything I know. I beg him to notice me like how he used to. I want him to feel this mass of space between us like I do.
I sing about running, not physically but mentally because that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve mentally put the space between us and I want to run back. I will do anything but it feels impossible, because I don’t belong here.
I’m surprised at the thunderous applause that this melancholy song gets as it finishes. Not everyone appreciates sad, especially not in this self-deprecating version, but like I initially thought, this place loves great music regardless of genre or meaning. I almost blush at the praise but I gather myself and thank the reception before moving swiftly onto the next song.
While I was lost in my own little musical bubble, Blue has planted himself behind the bar. I don’t know how long he’s been watching me but his eyes are kind rather than bitter and his smile is warm. I smile back appreciatively before looking around for Reid. In times gone by he would have made his way to the very front, pushing and shoving and creating all sorts of havoc so that he could be as close as possible to “his girl.” I wish that were still the case.
I sing for hours, anything from Florence and The Machine to Amy Winehouse, from The Avett Brothers to Imagine Dragons, and everything seems to be well received. Drinks are brought for me and requests are called out, and the whole while Blue has watched me with a serene smile. During a quick break he gives me a Corona, and I take it, feeling a little rebellious in the face of Reid’s no-show. He drinks with me and talks happily about my set. Begging me to sing some blues and me refusing since I don’t really know any.
Not once does he try his luck and he doesn’t mention anything that transpired between us yesterday, and for that I am truly grateful. When it’s time for me to take to the stage again he walks with me and helps me step up. I contemplate asking him to duet with me but I don’t, for fear of once again feeling the chemistry that I know accompanies our singing together. Maybe when I know hand on heart that there is nothing between us we could try again, but for now, with the smidgeon of doubt that is shelved neatly in my mind, I think it’s safer that we perform separately.
Perhaps I’ll sing something for him though.
Regardless of what happened between us just twenty-four hours ago, Blue has proven himself to be a true friend and I am so grateful. I really need him right now.
My heart stumbles upon King’s Of Leon’s Use Somebody and I don’t refuse it. Blue smiles immediately, recognition and appreciation residing over his stunning features. I sing softly, concentrating on each word and recognizing them as a reflection of my own thoughts. I pick up at the chorus, adding volume and pace to intensify the spirit, the crowd singing along to the wailing oh’s. The room is electric but all I can concentrate on is Blue’s unwavering eyes.
He gets it.
He gets what I am asking of him; to be there for me. When the song finishes and the applause lessens, Blue raises his bottle of Corona and winks. Friends.
At midnight I am finally done with the encores. After collecting my things and lugging my guitar onto my back I walk toward the bar. Blue has already given me my earnings from this evening and so there’s no reason to stick around. I have no intention of staying for a night cap as I have done previously. I’m too disheartened for that and I don’t want to drown my sorrows yet again.
Reid didn’t turn up.
After everything that ensued between us both last night and this morning there really was a large part of me that expected him to waltz through the door. What I would have given to see his lopsided smile lighting up for me. I check my phone and nothing. I don’t even know if he’ll be there when I get back. I don’t even know if I want to go back, but I know I have to. Obligations and what not.
“Drink?” Veda asks, already holding a Corona in her hand.
I shake my head. “No thanks, I should go.”
“I’ll walk you,” Blue says as he shrugs into his jacket.
“Oh, you really don’t have to. It’s only around the corner,” I insist. This can’t be a good idea, especially in Reid’s opinion.
“Then it’s no trouble, is it?” He’s already at the door, opening it and bowing theatrically as I pass through.
“I didn’t know you were such a gentleman,” I tease as he sidles up beside me, linking our arms to escort me home.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Pilgrim.” He’s smirking. It’s distracting.
“So, enlighten me.”
“Okay...” He pauses, pretending to think as we cross the road. “Did you know I have a thing for country girls, and girls who can sing? And that I’m working real hard to be good right now.” He’s laughing as he speaks and so I feel like he’s joking. He’s joking, right? “Did you know that nobody has ever sang a song for me before?”
“How do you know I sang a song for you?” I ask, knowing that he knew but knowing that I didn’t make it obviously known.
“Because you couldn’t take your eyes off of me for the entire song.” His smile is the broadest I’ve ever seen. It’s infectious.
With a matching smile I continue to tease. “You couldn’t take your eyes off of me for the entire set. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Pausing as we step up to the doors of my building, he eyes me curiously. “It means everything.” His features lose any trace of playfulness as they line up to produce the sincerest expression I have ever seen from him.
He’s actually got puppy dog eyes.
I thought they were a myth.
The ease between us has evaporated into the cold air as we regard each other embarrassedly. It is cold, right? I remember it being cold. For once, I’m actually burning up. Is he flirting? Am I flirting?
“I should go,” I whisper a little breathlessly.
“Because this is bad,” I assert, stepping back. He follows. I step again. He follows again. We’re dancing a predatory tango and I don’t know if I can or want to escape. With my back against the wall of my building I am trapped. His face is mere inches from my own but he may as well be pressed up against me for the effect it is having on me.
“No, it’s amazing,” he croons.
I’m stunned still, allowing his lips to clash with mine without any argument from me. I’m frozen rigid with shock until his hand cups my face and I melt into his touch. It’s such a giving kiss. Warm and soothing. I feel looked after in his arms, better than any warm bath or hot drink.
He’s so comfortable.
When my hands snake their way up to his chiseled jaw and I feel his ultra smooth skin I realize who I am with and what I am doing. I fist my hand in his shirt before pushing violently away at his chest. He stops, but he doesn’t let go of me so I have to wriggle free.
“You need to stop this, Blue. We need to stop this.” The words are strict but my tone is pathetic.
“Why? You could use somebody. I’m somebody. And I’ll be whatever you need.”
“That’s not what the song is about.”
“That’s exactly what the song is about.”
“I need your friendship, nothing else!” I stress, somehow finding the ability to appear strong.
“This is more than that and you damn well know it.”
“Because you’re making it more than that!” I shout. Blue looks down, instantly rejected and sour. Have I made him think anything different? I thought he understood that all I wanted was friendship but maybe I’ve given him confusing signs. His shirt on his chest is messy and crinkled where I viciously grabbed it, so reaching out and smoothing it down, I lower my tone and try to appease him. “Are we going to be able to do this? This friendship? Because I really don’t want to have to stop seeing you.”
“Doesn’t that tell you something?” he retorts, his dark eyes wide and persuasive. I look away, staring at my hand as it falls from his chest.
“Please, Blue.” My voice is tainted with unsaid admittance but he thankfully cooperates with my denial. Nodding his head, he begrudgingly holds out his hand.
“Friends.” I shake it. “Thank you.”
“I’ll see you Monday?” he asks. I nod, strangely bothered that I have to go so long before seeing him again. “See ya, Pilgrim.”
I’m able to smile a little as I make my way into the building and through to the elevator. I think we’ve both silently confessed that we know what is occurring between us but we know that it can’t go any further than being friends. If that’s all I am allowed then that’s what I’ll take.
When I open the front door of our apartment I am met with silence. For a moment I don’t think that Reid is home, but when I see his briefcase at my feet I turn the light on and look across the room. Spread out like a blanket on my chair, Reid sleeps soundly. I feel the bubbling of annoyance in my gut but it’s tamed by my own guilt.
He hasn’t even taken his coat off, let alone his shoes. It’s as if he has walked in, sat down and fallen asleep instantly. Is he that tired? He probably didn’t get much sleep last night. Sighing, I turn around to get a glass of water for bed. I’m halted by the flowers laying across the kitchen counter. Another gas station special.
It’s the thought that counts. It’s the thought that counts.
The previous bloom has prematurely died, so I gladly empty it into the trash can. I refresh the water and work at scaling down the stems to fit into the vase, all the while trying to be quiet so as not to wake Reid. When they’re as presentable as possible I walk over to him, wondering whether he will need a blanket despite his jacket. I’m momentarily struck by how even as he sleeps his brow is knotted tightly. Even unconscious he is still fretting. About work? About me? I hope not. God only knows I’ve given him reason to.
Remorse clings to me like sweat and I fall to the coffee table behind me, perching on the wooden rim as I jump off the edge of my sanity. I’m losing all control of my life and with it I’m losing Reid. Or maybe he is losing me. He’s let me down at every hurdle. But that’s his job at fault, not him, right?
Feeling utterly confused and alone, I stand up, inching closer to Reid before sinking into his lap. I curl up against his chest, finding peace in the feel of his expanding lungs and attempting to pace my breaths in the same way. It doesn’t work. For some reason it just won’t come naturally.
Minutes go by and I feel increasingly more comfortable. I kick off my shoes and pull my feet up so that all of my weight is carried by Reid. He stirs but doesn’t wake, and then I feel his arms surround me, holding me tight as he sighs heavily. I match his sigh, feeling great relief at being so close to him again, even if he is unconscious for it.
I must have fallen asleep because when I open my eyes it’s light. I’m in the same position, the same arms but without the same warmth. Reid is softly snoring as I scoot off of him. I stand and yawn, stretching out every tight limb. This is the second time I have slept out here with Reid and yet I haven’t spent a single night in our marital bed with him all week. Do I take anything from that? No, because I’m going to be spending the whole weekend with him as previously agreed. Despite the touch of nerves at spending so much time with my practically estranged husband, I also feel excitement creeping in. I can pack while he’s at work and we can leave straight away, making the most of our precious time together.
It’s almost seven. I can’t believe we slept there all night. I turn on the coffee machine and make my way to our bedroom to fish out bags from the closet. I go straight to my underwear drawer, pushing aside all of my basic sets and finding the ones reserved for special occasions. Holding a baby pink slip, a favorite of Reid’s, I turn abruptly when I see him leaning against the bedroom door frame. He’s removed his coat and shoes, loosened his tie and shirt, and he’s flattened his disorderly bed hair. He still looks sleepy but that’s not the most discerning feature of his. No, that would be his frown.
“Morning,” I say, with faint trepidation.
“Please don’t pack,” he instructs. His gaze falls to the silk in my hands and he sighs heavily, slapping his hand to his forehead and pulling it over his face.
“You don’t want to go?” I can’t hide the disappointment in my voice and I don’t want to.
He steps closer. “Of course I do. But, I can’t.” He deviates from me to the bed, slumping himself next to the bags in a heavy manner. “They’re sending me to New York for the weekend, well, until Tuesday.”
My whole body freezes as a chill runs through my veins and over my skin and I shudder in response. Even my eyes feel cold as I feel the need to blink excessively.
Oh my God, I’m going to cry.
I throw my nightgown at him and rush out the door, needing so desperately to get away from him and control the emotions that are threatening to appear. When he follows me out it’s evident he’s not going to permit me that space.
“Darlene, please, I tried to get out of it but this is a huge deal for me. This author has already had a string of bestsellers and he’s asked ME personally to manage his new release.” He pauses as if waiting for my big congratulations. Well he can go fuck himself! “Look, I’m sorry. I was looking forward to this just as much as you, but we can do it some other time, right?”
I’m leaning on the kitchen counter, taking deep breaths to combat the need to scream and cry in his face. After several moments of silence I am finally able to turn and look at him. He looks as miserable as I feel, but I have no sympathy. Not after being let down.
In the coolest tone I can muster, I state, “You go to New York. Maybe we’ll do it another time. Maybe we won’t. But I’m not going to put all of my hopes on you anymore. You aren’t going to be the only aspect of my life just like I’m not the only aspect of yours. I can’t be your sheltered, stay-at-home wifey anymore.” I say the words as they come, not thinking about how they sound or even what they truly mean. How I intend them to appear is strong, but they just remind us both of what my life has become since moving here.
“I never intended to be the only aspect of your life.” His voice is faint, pained and I see a little understanding seeping into his expression. I shrug, not wanting to further this conversation, having just explained more about my current feelings in that sentence than I have done in the last few months. He nods at my placid response and walks away.
Is that how she sees herself?
Is that how she thinks I see her?
God, I hope I haven’t made her feel that way. I hope it’s just her being dramatic. I don’t imagine her as a stay at home wife and I don’t want her whole world to be about me. I want her to be independent and fun-loving, hell, that’s what I fell in love with. It’s just circumstance that is to blame. Not me.
It’s killing me that she hasn’t got a job and it’s killing me that it’s killing her. It’s killing us.
I had hoped that maybe with these gigs she would find something to fill her time and she has, but it doesn’t look like it’s enough. Or maybe it’s my negativity toward her being there. It’s not the bar I hate and it’s not her singing. I love her singing again and I’ve been dying to watch her. It’s him I don’t like, and the drinking. Together they make me nervous and I can’t shake the feeling that the two combined spell danger.
It’s been hours since I left but I haven’t been able to keep Darlene from my mind for more than several seconds at a time. James, my senior editor, is clearly getting annoyed with my lack of focus. He’s been bugging me about what’s troubling me since takeoff but I’m not about to hash out my marital problems with someone who considers a two-time fuck a relationship.
“Look, we’re not meeting Clarks until tomorrow. Let’s go and blow off some steam tonight. You meet Clarks with this attitude and he’ll tell us to stick the contract. I need Boy Wonder looking hot and talking smart tomorrow, yeah?” James is regarding me expectantly with his glass of whiskey poised to clink mine. I’m drinking water. I don’t think it counts.
“Sure,” I submit, knowing damn well that I need to shake off this mood before we meet Clarks. This is my biggest break yet and if I land it then maybe, just maybe, my boss will give me the space I need. I’ve been thinking about talking to him for a while now but when I’ve only been with the company for five months I don’t want to seem like I’m not cut out for it. But I can’t just sit back and watch my relationship make room for my job. I’m prepared to do the hard sells and I will work my ass off to find and land everyone we need, but I can’t do the late nights, not every night, and I can’t always do the last minute meetings. It’s unrealistic to expect it of one person when before me it was done by a team.
For the rest of the flight I ignore James and fish out my book, knowing that the only way I’m going to push Darlene from my mind is by buying into another world. And not a book for work, but for play. The Catcher In The Rye was the book that my gramps first ordered me to read. He told me to stop watching crap on TV that would be forgotten in days and start reading books that would be remembered forever. I thought he had a screw loose, but like with most other things, he was right, and my obsession began.
I started reading every day, every hour of everyday. My grandparents had a collection to rival any library and since I lived with them I had every title to my expense. My grandparents were my legal guardians after my parents split up. My dad moved away and my mom couldn’t cope with being a single parent so she up and left. I have no idea where either of them are to this day. And I’m glad. There is no doubt in my mind that I have had a far better life with my grandparents than would ever have been possible with my mother and father. I would never have even dreamed of picking up a book in their presence.