Melody’s home may have been nowhere; but mine was West and Emmett. It wasn’t the nicest part of Atlee and most people who could afford to move had. The remnants were those who couldn’t afford any better or who, like my landlady Mrs. Echer, were old enough to remember the place in its prime, back when it was lovely and bright. Most people my age would have left a long time ago; but I still saw it as lovely and bright and anyway, I could hear the gulls from my kitchen window.
Mrs. Echer owned a bookstore sandwiched between a bike shop and an abandoned apartment building just waiting for a strong wind to whisk it out of its misery. There was a door at the side of the bookstore, opening to a musty entryway just big enough to stand in. A narrow stairway led to another door that the previous tenant had decided to dent in three different places, a door with two bolts and a chain because sometimes the original lock worked and sometimes it didn’t.
Pop hated it, was always offering to put me up ‘someplace decent’. Jess and D kept threatening to call the health inspector and have the building condemned. Maybe then I’d take D up on his offer and move in with him and Clarke once their new house was built. Man, I was never gonna move in with D and Clarke; they’d have eaten me alive. Anyway, if I was going to live with anyone, it woulda been Nana Pearl. She worried and prayed herself into a tear wiping, scripture quoting frenzy, called at least twice a week to ask me why I wanted to trouble her into an early grave.
Only Tate and Blue had no complaints and neither spent nearly as much time over as I wished they would. Blue was…my fault. Tate was transient. He spent his time looking out for Vigh at Hospice House, then migrating between my place and Nana Pearl’s whenever the reality of life with Vigh got to be too much. Secretly I believed he would’ve spent all his time with Nana Pearl if he didn’t have that familiar sense of heart bleeding loyalty to Vigh…if he weren’t so worried about me.
They all worried about me.
I just wanted to live, leave past past and play my guitar, sing the blues I knew so well.
D was at the kitchen table with head in hands and hat on knee when I returned from Melody and the sunrise. Tate sat across from him, pouring over last minute homework. He scratched King behind the ears and slipped him a strip of bacon, happy for the distraction of damp fur and lolling tongue.
“We got any more of that?”
“Not exactly.” I followed his gaze to a saucepan full of Cheerios abandoned in the sink, “I did that before I knew you were out of milk.”
“Could you two please shut-up? My head’s killing me. “
This from D who now sat with face pressed against the table top, voice muffled.
“Hey, D, think it’s called a hangover.”
D shook his head, ” You got to actually have a drink to get one of those, kid.”
“Try like twenty! Son and me had to lug you up two flights of stairs last night.”
“Not that I owe the children any explanations, but you should have seen it, man. Drinks were flowing, crowd was vibing…”
“And you’re a dead man walking.”
“Jackson, can you please muzzle your brother?”
“Our brother, and he’s not wrong. If Pop doesn’t kill you for moonlighting after gigs, Clarke’ll kill you for being at The Lounge without her.”
“ See?” Tate shrugged, “We’re family. I care about your certain and imminent doom.”
“Care about walking your scrawny butt back to civilization if you aren’t outside in ten. I’m gonna hit the head.”
I waited til D’d gone, then nodded at the black rucksack sitting at my door, remnant from Tate’s old life with Vigh. Twelve years in Austin…less than pretty. Twelve years, I didn’t know he existed. Five years since the initial reunion spurred by Vigh begging Pop to come to her rescue once more. Five years of getting to know Tate, of incorporating him into Pop’s family while remembering never to argue with him about Vigh and silently gauging who had the right to the biggest grudge. Me, who Vigh left behind to be raised by her ex-husband and his family, or Tate who she kept to live on street corners and shelter cots.
It wasn’t tough for me. I loved Pop and Nana Pearl, Jess, and D. I’d had a good life, likely better than I deserved.
Tate seemed fine; but I always felt a need to be cautious with him, to pay compensation to this kid who wore dog tags belonging to a man whose blood I didn’t share.
“Yeah…” He wouldn’t look at me. “I thought I’d um stay with Nana Pearl for a while, put me closer to Vigh.”
“You hear from her?”
He nodded, “She says she’s doing about the same. L and Nana Pearl visit a lot.”
Silence while I pretended not to grasp his passive-aggressive dig about my not visiting our dying mother at all, then he was grabbing his hoodie from the wall hook, pausing to stare at me.
“You just seem…I dunno, happy or something. It’s that girl, right?”
“What girl? There’s no girl.”
“Yeah, there is.” Tate’s eyes were bright, “D said some girl came to see you play last night.”
“I also said it’s a bad idea and way too soon.” D was what Jerry Seinfeld called a sidler, the sort of person who simply appeared without sound or warning. He was also ruthlessly blunt. “You just started gigging with Pop again. Crysta finally agreed to let you see Blue. You got Tate rolling through here every other week. I’m not trying to tell you how to do what you do; but unless you plan on being transparent about this so-called life you’re reconstructing, I’d think twice.”
“So does that mean you’re going to tell Clarke about The Lounge?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be seen and not heard?” D shook his head at Tate incredulously, then grabbed his sax and headed for the door.
I laughed because nothing was funny, as sorry to see them go as I was relieved. Then I sat at the window with King at my feet, drank my usual cup of mud, and thought about a brown eyed girl with her toes buried in the sand.Recommended1 Simily SnapPublished in