“I’m already there.”
“I would love that. But then what—I mean I know we can figure something out, but I’m going to be on the road so much and . . . ?”
How can it be so unclear to her when it’s like the fingers on my hand to me? “I’ll be your plus-one,” I tell her. “Your groupie. Your roadie. Your whatever. Wherever you go, I go. If you want that. If you don’t, I understand.”
“No, I want that. Trust me, I want it. But how would that work? With your schedule? With the band?”
I pause. Saying it out loud will finally make it true. “There is no more band. For me, at least, I’m done. After this tour, I’m finished.”
“No!” Mia shakes her head with such force, the long strands of her hair thwack the wall behind her. The determined look on her face is one I recognize all too well, and I feel my stomach bottom out. “You can’t do that for me,” she adds, her voice softening. “I won’t take any more free passes.”
“For the last three years, everyone, except maybe the Juilliard faculty, has given me a free pass. Worse yet, I gave myself a free pass, and that didn’t help me at all. I don’t want to be that person, who just takes things. I’ve taken enough from you. I won’t let you throw away the thing you love so much to be my caretaker or porter.”
“That’s just it,” I murmur. “I’ve sort of fallen out of love with music.”
“Because of me,” Mia says mournfully.
“Because of life,” I reply. “I’ll always play music. I may even record again, but right now I just need some blank time with my guitar to remember why I got into music in the first place. I’m leaving the band whether you’re part of the equation or not. And as for caretaking, if anything, I’m the one who needs it. I’m the one with the baggage.”
I try to make it sound like a joke, but Mia always could see right through my bullshit; the last twenty-four hours have proven that.
She looks at me with those laser beam eyes of hers. “You know, I thought about that a lot these last couple of years,” she says in a choked voice. “About who was there for you. Who held your hand while you grieved for all that you’d lost?”
Mia’s words rattle something loose in me and suddenly there are tears all over my damn face again. I haven’t cried in three years and now this is like the second time in as many days.
“It’s my turn to see you through,” she whispers, coming back to me and wrapping me in her blanket as I lose my shit all over again. She holds me until I recover my Y chromosome. Then she turns to me, a slightly faraway look in her eyes. “Your festival’s next Saturday, right?” she asks.
“I have the two recitals in Japan and one in Korea on Thursday, so I could be out of there by Friday, and you gain a day back when you travel west. And I don’t have to be at my next engagement in Chicago for another week after that. So if we flew directly from Seoul to London.”
“What are you saying?”
She looks so shy when she asks it, as if there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d ever say no, as if this isn’t what I’ve always wanted.
“Can I come to the festival with you?”
“How come I never get to go to any concerts?” Teddy asked.
We were all sitting around the table, Mia, Kat, Denny, Teddy, and me, the third child, who’d taken to eating over. You couldn’t blame me. Denny was a way better cook than my mom.
“What’s that, Little Man?” Denny asked, spooning a portion of mashed potatoes onto Teddy’s plate next to the grilled salmon and the spinach that Teddy had tried—unsuccessfully—to refuse.
“I was looking at the old photo albums. And Mia got to go to all these concerts all the time. When she was a baby, even. And I never even got to go to one. And I’m practically eight.”
“You just turned seven five months ago.” Kat guffawed.
“Still. Mia went before she could walk. It’s not fair!”
“And who ever told you that life was fair?” Kat asked, raising an eyebrow. “Certainly not me. I am a follower of the School of Hard Knocks.”
Teddy turned toward an easier target. “Dad?”
“Mia went to concerts because they were my shows, Teddy. It was our family time.”
“And you do go to concerts,” Mia said. “You come to my recitals.”
Teddy looked as disgusted as he had when Denny had served him the spinach. “That doesn’t count. I want to go to loud concerts and wear the Mufflers.” The Mufflers were the giant headphones Mia had worn as a little kid when she’d been taken to Denny’s old band’s shows. He’d been in a punk band, a very loud punk band.
“The Mufflers have been retired, I’m afraid,” Denny said. Mia’s dad had long since quit his band. He now was a middle-school teacher who wore vintage suits and smoked pipes.
“You could come to one of my shows,” I said, forking a piece of salmon.
Everyone at the table stopped eating and looked at me, the adult members of the Hall family each giving me a different disapproving look. Denny just looked tired at the can of worms I’d opened. Kat looked annoyed for the subversion of her parental authority. And Mia—who, for whatever reason, had this giant churchstate wall between her family and my band—was shooting daggers. Only Teddy—up on his knees in his chair, clapping—was still on my team.
“Teddy can’t stay up that late,” Kat said.
“You let Mia stay up that late when she was little,” Teddy shot back.
“We can’t stay up that late,” Denny said wearily.
“And I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Mia huffed.
Immediately, I felt the familiar annoyance in my gut. Because this was the thing I never understood. On one hand, music was this common bond between Mia and me, and me being an all-rock guy had to be part of her attraction. And we both knew that the common ground we’d found at her family’s house—where we hung out all the time—made it like a haven for us. But she’d all but banned her family from my shows. In the year we’d been together, they’d never been. Even though Denny and Kat had hinted that they’d like to come, Mia was always making up excuses why this show or that was not the right time.
“Appropriate? Did you just say that it’s not ‘appropriate’ for Teddy to come to my show?” I asked, trying to keep my voice level.
“Yes, I did.” She couldn’t have sounded more defensive or snippy if she’d tried.
Kat and Denny flashed each other a look. Whatever annoyance they’d had with me had turned to sympathy. They knew what Mia’s disapproval felt like.
“Okay, first off, you’re sixteen. You’re not a librarian. So you’re not allowed to say ‘appropriate.’ And second of all, why the hell isn’t it?”
“All right, Teddy,” Kat said, scooping up Teddy’s dinner plate. “You can eat in the living room in front of the TV.”
“No way, I want to watch this!”
“SpongeBob?” Denny offered, pulling him by the elbow.
“By the way,” I said to Denny and Kat, “the show I was thinking of is this big festival coming up on the coast next month. It’ll be during the day, on a weekend, and outside, so not as loud. That’s why I thought it’d be cool for Teddy. For all of you, actually.”
Kat’s expression softened. She nodded. “That does sound fun.” Then she gestured to Mia as if to say: But you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
The three of them shuffled out of the kitchen. Mia was slunk all the way down in her chair, looking both guilty and like there was no way in hell she was going to give an inch.
“What’s your problem?” I demanded. “What’s your hang-up with your family and my band? Do you think we suck so badly?”
“No, of course not!”
“Do you resent me and your dad talking music all the time?”
“No, I don’t mind the rock-talk.”
“So, what is it, Mia?”
The tiniest rebel teardrops formed in the edges of her eyes and she angrily swatted them away.
“What? What is the matter?” I asked, softening. Mia wasn’t prone to crocodile tears, or to any tears, really.
She shook her head. Lips sealed shut.
“Will you just tell me? It can’t be worse than what I’m thinking, which is that you’re ashamed of Shooting Star because you think we reek to holy hell.”
She shook her head again. “You know that’s not true. It’s just,” she paused, as if weighing some big decision. Then she sighed. “The band. When you’re with the band, I already have to share you with everyone. I don’t want to add my family to that pot, too.” Then she lost the battle and started to cry.
All my annoyance melted. “You dumb-ass,” I crooned, kissing her on the forehead. “You don’t share me. You own me.”
Mia relented. Her whole family came to the festival. It was a fantastic weekend, twenty Northwest bands, not a rain cloud in sight. The whole thing went down in infamy, spawning a live recorded CD and a series of festivals that continue to this day.
Teddy had insisted on wearing the Mufflers, so Kat had spent an hour grumbling and digging through boxes in the basement until she’d found them.
Mia generally liked to hang backstage at shows but when Shooting Star played, she was right in front of the stage, just clear of the mosh pit, dancing with Teddy the whole time.
First you inspect me
Then you dissect me
Then you reject me
I wait for the day
That you’ll resurrect me
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, TRACK 1
When our flight lands in London, it’s pissing down rain, so it feels like home to both of us. It’s five in the afternoon when we get in. We’re due in Guildford that evening. We play the next night. Then it’s countdown till total freedom. Mia and I have worked out a schedule for the next three months while I’m touring and she’s touring, breaks here and there where we can overlap, visit, see each other. It’s not going to be delightful, but compared to the last three years, it’ll still feel like heaven.
It’s past eight when we get to the hotel. I’ve asked Aldous to book me at the same place as the rest of the band, not just for the festival but the duration of the tour. Whatever their feelings are going to be about my leaving Shooting Star, sleeping two miles away ain’t gonna minimize them. I haven’t mentioned Mia to Aldous or anyone, and miraculously, we’ve managed to keep her name out of the tabloids so far. No one seems to know that I’d spent the last week in Asia with her. Everyone was too busy buzzing about Bryn’s new love interest, some Australian actor.
There’s a note at the front desk informing me that the band is having a private dinner in the atrium and asking me to join them. I suddenly feel like I’m being led to my execution and after the fifteen-hour trip from Seoul would like nothing more than to shower first, just maybe see them tomorrow. But Mia has her hand on my side. “No, you should go.”
“You come, too?” I feel bad asking her. She just played three intensely amazing and crazily well-received concerts in Japan and Korea and then flew halfway around the world and directly into my psychodrama. But all of this will be bearable if she’s with me.
“Are you sure?” she asks. “I don’t want to intrude.”
“Trust me, if anyone’s intruding, it’s me.”
The bellman grabs our stuff to take to our room, and the concierge leads us across the lobby. The hotel is in an old castle, but it’s been taken over with rockers and a bunch of different musicians nod and “hey” me, but I’m too nervous right now to respond. The concierge leads us to a dimly lit atrium. The band’s all in there, along with a giant buffet serving a traditional English roast.