Where She Went / Page 24

Page 24



TWENTY-ONE

We play for what seems like hours, days, years. Or maybe it’s seconds. I can’t even tell anymore. We speed up, then slow down, we scream our instruments. We grow serious. We laugh. We grow quiet. Then loud. My heart is pounding, my blood is grooving, my whole body is thrumming as I’m remembering: Concert doesn’t mean standing up like a target in front of thousands of strangers. It means coming together. It means harmony.

When we finally pause, I’m sweating and Mia’s panting hard, like she’s just sprinted for miles. We sit there in silence, the sound of our rapid breaths slowing in tandem, the beats of our hearts steadying. I look at the clock. It’s past five. Mia follows my gaze. She lays down her bow.

“What now?” she asks.

“Schubert? Ramones?” I say, though I know she’s not taking requests. But all I can think to do is keep playing because for the first time in a long time there’s nothing more I want to do. And I’m scared of what happens when the music ends.

Mia gestures to the digital clock flashing ominously from the windowsill. “I don’t think you’ll make your flight.”

I shrug. Never mind the fact that there are at least ten other flights to London tonight alone. “Can you make yours?”

“I don’t want to make mine,” she says shyly. “I have a spare day before the recitals begin. I can leave tomor-row.”

All of a sudden, I picture Aldous pacing in Virgin’s departure lounge, wondering where the hell I am, calling a cell phone that’s still sitting on some hotel nightstand. I think of Bryn, out in L.A., unaware of an earthquake going down here in New York that’s sending a tsunami her way. And I realize that before there’s a next, there’s a now that needs attending to. “I need to make some phone calls,” I tell Mia. “To my manager, who’s waiting for me . . . and to Bryn.”

“Oh, right, of course,” she says, her face falling as she rushes to stand up, almost toppling her cello in her fluster. “The phone’s downstairs. And I should call Tokyo, except I’m pretty sure it’s the middle of the night, so I’ll just email and call later. And my travel agent—”

“Mia,” I interrupt.

“What?”

“We’ll figure this out.”

“Really?” She doesn’t look so sure.

I nod, though my own heart is pounding and the puzzle pieces are whirling as Mia places the cordless phone in my hand. I go into her garden where it’s private and peaceful in the afternoon light, the summer cicadas chirping up a storm. Aldous picks up on the first ring and the minute I hear his voice and start talking, reassuring him that I’m okay, the plans start coming out of my mouth as though long, long contemplated. I explain that I’m not coming to London now, that I’m not making any music video, or doing any interviews, but that I’ll be in England for the kickoff of our European tour and that I’ll play every single one of those shows. The rest of the plan that’s formulating in my head—part of which already solidified in some nebulous way last night on the bridge—I keep to myself, but I think Aldous senses it.

I can’t see Aldous so I can’t know if he blinks or flinches or looks surprised, but he doesn’t miss a beat. “You’ll honor all your tour commitments?” he repeats.

“Yep.”

“What am I supposed to say to the band?”

“They can make the video without me if they want. I’ll see them at the Guildford Festival,” I say referring to the big music festival in England that we’re headlining to kick off our tour. “And I’ll explain everything then.”

“Where you gonna be in the meantime? If anyone needs you.”

“Tell anyone not to need me,” I answer.

The next call is harder. I wish I hadn’t chosen today to give up smoking. Instead, I do the deep breathing exercises like the doctors showed me and just dial. A journey of a thousand miles starts with ten digits, right?

“I thought that might be you,” Bryn says when she hears my voice. “Did you lose your phone again? Where are you?”

“I’m in New York still. In Brooklyn.” I pause, “With Mia.”

Stone silence fills the line and I fill that silence with a monologue that’s what? . . . I don’t know: a running explanation of the night that happened by accident, an acknowledgment that things never were right between us, right the way she wanted them to be, and as a result, I’ve been a dick of a boyfriend. I tell her I hope she’ll do better with the next guy.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about that,” she says with an attempt at a cackle, but it doesn’t quite come out that way. There’s a long pause. I’m waiting for her tirade, her recriminations, all the things I have coming. But she doesn’t say anything.

“Are you still there?” I ask.

“Yeah, I’m thinking.”

“About what?”

“I’m thinking about whether I’d rather she’d have died.”

“Jesus, Bryn!”

“Oh, shut up! You don’t get to be the outraged one. Not right now. And the answer’s no. I don’t wish her dead.” She pauses. “Not so sure about you, though.” Then she hangs up.

I stand there, still clutching the phone to my ear, taking in Bryn’s last words, wondering if there might’ve been a shred of absolution in her hostility. I don’t know if it matters because as I smell the cooling air, I feel release and relief wash over me.

After a while, I look up. Mia’s standing at the sliding-glass door, awaiting the all clear. I give her a dazed wave and she slowly makes her way to the bricked patio where I’m standing, still holding the phone. She grabs hold of the top of the phone, like it’s a relay baton, about to be passed off. “Is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m freed, shall we say, from my previous commitments.”

“Of the tour?” She sounds surprised.

I shake my head. “Not the tour. But all the crap leading up to it. And my other, um, entanglements.”

“Oh.”

We both just stand there for a while, grinning like goofballs, still grasping the cordless. Finally, I let it go and then gently detach the receiver from her grasp and place it on the iron table, never releasing my grip of her hand.

I run my thumb over the calluses on her thumb and up and down the bony ridge of her knuckles and wrist. It’s at once so natural and such a privilege. This is Mia I’m touching. And she’s allowing it. Not just allowing it, but closing her eyes and leaning into it.

“Is this real. Am I allowed to hold this hand?” I ask, bringing it up to my stubbly cheek.

Mia’s smile is melting chocolate. It’s a kick-ass guitar solo. It’s everything good in this world. “Mmmm,” she answers.

I pull her to me. A thousand suns rise from my chest. “Am I allowed to do this?” I ask, taking both of her arms in mine and slow-dancing her around the yard.

Her entire face is smiling now. “You’re allowed,” she murmurs.

I run my hands up and down her bare arms. I spin her around the planters, bursting with fragrant flowers. I bury my head into her hair and breathe the smell of her, of the New York City night that’s seared into her. I follow her gaze upward, to the heavens.

“So, do you think they’re watching us?” I ask as I give the scar on her shoulder the slightest of kisses and feel arrows of heat shoot through every part of me.

“Who?” Mia asks, leaning into me, shivering slightly.

“Your family. You seem to think they keep tabs on you. You think they can see this?” I loop my arms around her waist and kiss her right behind her ear, the way that used to drive her crazy, the way that, judging by the sharp intake of breath and the nails that dig into my side, still does. It occurs to me that there’s seemingly something creepy in my line of questioning, but it doesn’t feel that way. Last night, the thought of her family knowing my actions shamed me, but now, it’s not like I want them to see this, but I want them to know about it, about us.

“I like to think they’d give me some privacy,” she says, opening up like a sunflower to the kisses I’m planting on her jaw. “But my neighbors can definitely see this.” She runs her hand through my hair and it’s like she electrocuted my scalp—if electrocution felt so good.

“Howdy, neighbor,” I say, tracing lazy circles around the base of her clavicle with my finger.

Her hands dip under my T-shirt, my dirty, stinky, thank-you lucky black T-shirt. Her touch isn’t so gentle anymore. It’s probing, the fingertips starting to tap out a Morse code of urgency. “If this goes on much longer, my neighbors are going to get a show,” she whispers.

“We are performers, after all,” I reply, slipping my hands under her shirt and running them up the length of her long torso then back down again. Our skins reach outward, like magnets, long deprived of their opposite charge.

I run my finger along her neck, her jawline, and then cup her chin in my hand. And stop. We stand there for a moment, staring at each other, savoring it. And then all at once, we slam together. Mia’s legs are off the ground, wrapped around my waist, her hands digging in my hair, my hands tangled in hers. And our lips. There isn’t enough skin, enough spit, enough time, for the lost years that our lips are trying to make up for as they find each other. We kiss. The electric current switches to high. The lights throughout all of Brooklyn must be surging.

“Inside!” Mia half orders, half begs, and with her legs still wrapped around me, I carry her back into her tiny home, back to the couch where only hours before we’d slept, separately together.

This time we’re wide awake. And all together.

We fall asleep, waking in the middle of the night, ravenous. We order takeout. Eat it upstairs in her bed. It’s all like a dream, only the most incredible part is waking up at dawn. With Mia. I see her sleeping form there and feel as happy as I’ve ever been. I pull her to me and fall back asleep.

But when I wake again a few hours later, Mia’s sitting on a chair under the window, her legs wrapped in a tight ball, her body covered in an old afghan that her gran crocheted. And she looks miserable, and the fear that lands like a grenade in my gut is almost as bad as anything I’ve ever feared with her. And that’s saying a lot. All I can think is: I can’t lose you again. It really will kill me this time.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, before I lose the nerve to ask it and do something dumb like walk away before my heart gets truly incinerated.

“I was just thinking about high school,” Mia says sadly.

“That would put anyone in a foul mood.”

Mia doesn’t take the bait. She doesn’t laugh. She slumps in the chair. “I was thinking about how we’re in the same boat all over again. When I was on my way to Juilliard and you were on your way to, well, where you are now.” She looks down, twists the yarn from the blanket around her finger until the skin at the tip goes white. “Except we had more time back then to worry about it. And now we have a day, or had a day. Last night was amazing but it was just one night. I really do have to leave for Japan in like seven hours. And you have the band. Your tour.” She presses against her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“Mia, stop!” My voice bounces off her bedroom walls. “We are not in high school anymore!”

She looks at me, a question hanging in the air.

“Look, my tour doesn’t start for another week.”

A feather of hope starts to float across the space between us.

“And you know, I was thinking I was craving some sushi.”

Her smile is sad and rueful, not exactly what I was going for. “You’d come to Japan with me?” she asks.


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