The Silver Year: Chapter 2

Chapter​​ 2

Love​​ is a Loaded Gun

 

MARCH​​ 2011

 

“Why are you wearing that perfume?” Walter asked as he weaved through traffic.

“I like​​ it,” Amber said. “Why? You don’t?”

“No.​​ It reminds me of the smell of rum.​​ I’ve told you that.​​ Why are you wearing it today of all days?”

“Because I like it, okay? I’m sorry. I’ll never wear it again. What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal​​ is​​ I can’t think straight because​​ the smell is​​ all I can think about.​​ You know how much​​ that​​ smell bothers me—”

“Walter watch out!” she yelled.​​ His Prius​​ jerked​​ to the right, narrowly​​ missing a stopped car.​​ 

“Dipshit​​ should​​ learn how​​ a​​ brake​​ pedal​​ works!”​​ he​​ shouted.​​ “Asshole still​​ had a hundred​​ yards​​ in front of him.”

“I should’ve drove,” Amber groaned. “Can you please slow down?​​ They’ll understand if were a little late​​ . . . Maybe we should just cancel. You’re in one of your moods where everything’s wrong with the world and no one can convince you otherwise. I’d rather not have my family meeting that Walter as their first impression.”

“No, I just...” he struggled to explain because he couldn’t tell her exactly how he felt. “I’m just nervous, that’s all. You were only engaged to​​ Greg​​ two months ago and I cost your​​ mother​​ thousands of dollars.”

“To cancel​​ a wedding that would’ve been the biggest mistake of my life. It just took meeting you for me to realize that.”

“Not meeting​​ Amber,​​ cheating. It took​​ getting caught​​ cheating.​​ Let’s not forget that.”

She​​ exhaled loudly.​​ “Yes​​ Walter,” she said, “it took an earthquake to​​ wake​​ me up. But​​ none of that matters now.​​ They’re my family.​​ And if​​ I’m happier to be with you, then they’re happier I’m with you.​​ Besides, they never did like Greg.​​ They​​ could see I was pretending to be somebody​​ I wasn’t​​ for him.​​ But​​ with​​ you,​​ I can truly be myself because you accept all of me: the good,​​ the​​ dark,​​ and​​ the​​ beautiful.​​ And not only that…” she said, playfully caressing​​ Walter’s​​ face, “...everyone​​ agrees I​​ totally upgraded in​​ the​​ looks and intelligence departments​​ too.”

“But not the money department,”​​ he​​ muttered.​​ 

Amber​​ closed her eyes and took a deep breath.​​ “Please stop,” she said​​ putting a hand on​​ his​​ lap.​​ “I know this isn’t you. You have nothing to worry about.​​ My mother is especially excited to meet you.​​ You’ll​​ have a lot in common​​ with​​ science​​ and all.”

“She’s​​ one of the nation’s leading​​ cancer researchers. I’m a rental car agent.​​ Yeah, we’ll​​ have a lot in common.”

Amber bit her fist, then screamed,​​ Goddamn it​​ Walter!”, the levee of her patience finally broken.​​ “As kind as I know you can be,​​ you can also be such a selfish​​ prick.​​ Forget what this day is to you and think​​ about​​ what it means to me.​​ I​​ was the one who had to take responsibility for the wedding, not you.​​ I​​ was the one​​ who had to stay silent while​​ his family​​ mercilessly slut-shamed​​ me​​ to my face, not you.​​ Yes,​​ I​​ cheated on him​​ and​​ I’ve​​ had to pay​​ for it every day since. But today, I finally get to move on. I finally get to introduce my family​​ to​​ the man I really love.​​ But I guess he decided to stay home because he’s too much of a coward.

Walter​​ bent with shame.​​ “I’m sorry,” he​​ said​​ taking her hand. “You’re​​ right.​​ Please forgive me?”

“Of course,” she said, her anger quickly seized by that motherly-lovery smile. “I understand why you’re so nervous,” she continued,​​ “but​​ really​​ this​​ is a happy day, okay? I love you.” And again she reminded him of the real reason he was so uneasy.

“I love you too,” he lied.​​ He​​ hated to do it, but if​​ she​​ needed foma, now was the time.

Amber​​ wasn’t the first woman​​ Walter had​​ prematurely given​​ his heart to.​​ If only his heart kept in mind what a whore it was, it would stop believing anytime a woman gave him affection it was love. But a heart can never be a mind no matter​​ how well it pretends to be. The heart is great at weaponizing love for its own self interests.​​

Although​​ they​​ shared their depression​​ together,​​ it was becoming clear—clear to​​ Walter​​ at least—there was much on which they differed. While​​ Amber​​ initially​​ said​​ she was also an artist, a novelist, she actually​​ hadn’t​​ written​​ anything​​ since college.​​ Her depression​​ and​​ work​​ were always the excuse.​​ And although​​ he​​ empathized with both, he​​ also​​ tried to show​​ her​​ how he turned​​ his​​ depression into​​ inspiration, but​​ she​​ insisted her depression and​​ writing a book was​​ something​​ different,​​ something he would never understand.​​ But​​ he​​ understood—or he​​ believed he understood.

Walter​​ believed the​​ root of​​ Amber’s​​ depression​​ was the same as his:​​ perfectionism.​​ Her perfectionism, however, just​​ fed upon​​ itself in much less productive and time-consuming matters​​ than art, such as​​ her constant need​​ for​​ new​​ designer clothes; her hours craned over her phone​​ perfecting photos for her social media feeds and compulsive checking for assurance of this perfection;​​ her​​ applying​​ and reapplying of​​ makeup even though​​ he​​ told her​​ he​​ preferred her​​ without​​ it.​​ Being valued​​ no more​​ than one of Greg’s over fifty Rolexes for the last two years had taken​​ a​​ toll on​​ her​​ psyche​​ Walter​​ was beginning to see. So​​ out of​​ “love”,​​ he​​ told​​ her​​ he loved her even though he was​​ unsure because that’s what he believed she needed​​ for the time being. He also said it​​ in the belief that​​ one day he would actually mean it. He just had to help her find the person he believed she could be.

 

“Amber tells me you’re​​ the​​ singer​​ of​​ a pretty popular​​ rock​​ band,” Amber’s mother, Doctor​​ Catherine​​ Evans said.​​ Walter​​ felt​​ shaky under the blade of her steel blue eyes and the brilliance contained beneath.​​ Almost every advancement in cancer​​ research over the past​​ twenty​​ years​​ she’d​​ had​​ a​​ hand in​​ in​​ some way.

“Just​​ in the L.A. area​​ and​​ only because we’re also​​ an even more popular Guns N’ Roses tribute band,”​​ he​​ said,​​ still trying to comprehend his surroundings and company.​​ A greasy Irish pub called McCool’s wasn’t what he​​ expected​​ when Amber said she wanted him to meet her family for​​ the first​​ time​​ for​​ dinner. And her family, just as unexpected. Sharing the large pub​​ booth with them and her mother was a​​ longhaired and bearded uncle,​​ “Uncle John”,​​ and​​ Catherine’s best friend whom Amber referred to as “Aunt Tilly”, both of whom worked in the same lab​​ as​​ Catherine. This was​​ Amber’s​​ entire family. The rest of​​ her​​ relatives were​​ either dead, arrested, or estranged, including her​​ alcoholic​​ father who moved to Oregon when she was six and became a nonentity​​ she never liked to talk about.

“But you’re also getting label attention​​ and have a two-week tour coming up​​ I hear,”​​ Catherine​​ said to Walter.

“Yes,” he said​​ with a​​ flattered​​ smile,​​ “but no serious​​ offers​​ yet.​​ That’s why we’re touring the West Coast​​ to build up a following outside of L.A.​​ The tour’s taking​​ up all of my savings and vacation time, but I think a dream is a worthy investment.”

“It certainly is…”​​ Catherine​​ glanced at​​ Amber.​​ There was an awkward silence.

“Guns N’ Roses, eh?” Uncle John​​ then​​ said,​​ topping off Walter’s half-empty glass with one of their two pitchers of beer. “Are we going to​​ hear some​​ Axl​​ Rose​​ then?”​​ 

“I’m sure you will if I keep drinking like​​ this,” Walter said. “Remember, I​​ have to drive​​ later.”

“No you don’t,” Amber said. “Especially not after the way you drove here.​​ I’ll​​ drive.​​ You just​​ drink​​ and relax.” She kissed​​ him on the cheek​​ and​​ patted his​​ back.

“What’s your band’s name?” Aunt Tilly asked​​ Walter.

“Perfect Crime. It was the name of the band​​ when we​​ were only doing covers, but​​ we couldn’t think of another name, so we just kept​​ it.”

“Yeah, but tell them about your stage name,” Amber prodded.

“No, it’s so​​ embarrassing.​​ I wouldn’t even go by it if​​ it​​ wasn’t what everyone knows me as. But I’m kind of stuck with it now.”

“Come on,​​ they’ll get a kick out of it.”

“All right.” Walter sighed. “Quinn Quark. No,​​ not a dorky super hero, but my winning choice of stage names that only a twenty-two-year-old physics​​ undergrad would​​ think to​​ dub himself.”

Everyone began​​ laughing​​ but​​ Catherine. Instead she locked dead-eye onto​​ him​​ with a smirk that felt like an autopsy.​​ A​​ thick, silver​​ ribbon of​​ gray hair​​ played with​​ her cheek​​ from​​ a​​ jet-black​​ mane​​ of waterfalling​​ curls.​​ She​​ was​​ definitely​​ the​​ source​​ from which​​ Amber’s good looks​​ sprang; looks that were so​​ captivating, it drove Walter to commit adultery​​ against his better judgement.

“So is Quinn Quark an up, down, top, bottom, strange, or charm quark?”​​ Catherine​​ asked.

Walter delighted with a smile. It’d been a long time since he’d heard someone crack a physics joke.​​ 

“I guess he can be all six flavors​​ at times,”​​ he replied.​​ 

“Sounds like Quinn Quark is a little full of himself,​​ like he​​ fancies himself a Higgs Boson or something.”​​ 

Everyone laughed​​ now​​ but Amber.

“What?—oh forget it,”​​ she​​ said. “I probably wouldn’t​​ understand anyway.”

“It’s not that​​ difficult,” Walter​​ said.​​ “Quarks are elementary particles, which​​ just​​ means​​ you can’t get​​ any​​ smaller than​​ them. However, their mass has to come from somewhere​​ and it’s believed​​ that​​ the Higgs Boson gives​​ it to them.​​ Each quark has​​ a​​ unique behavior profile called flavors, and depending upon these​​ behaviors and​​ the​​ interactions​​ of the quarks, some of the most essential components of matter are birthed.​​ It’s how we get​​ existence​​ from nothing in a sense.”

 “Huh?” Amber said​​ mockingly. “I​​ told you I​​ wouldn’t understand. Definitely​​ wasn’t blessed with my mother’s scientific aptitude.”

“Science doesn’t require an aptitude,” Walter​​ said,​​ “just an interest.​​ Anyone can learn it.​​ It just takes some time to warm up to​​ because it can seem enigmatic and unfeeling at​​ first. But the more familiarity​​ you​​ gain​​ with its characters, the​​ more comfortable these​​ universes within our own become​​ opening up to you.​​ Science​​ can be just as endearing​​ as a good novel.”

“I’ll just stick to my novels thank you,” Amber said.​​ “Don’t​​ need​​ science mucking up​​ the only thing I find pleasure in.​​ And you know​​ me, I’m just​​ more​​ on the artistic​​ side​​ anyway.”

“You do​​ write​​ exceptionally​​ well,”​​ Catherine​​ said to​​ Amber.

“So does Walter,”​​ she​​ said​​ patting his back again.

“No, not like you,”​​ Walter​​ said. “You​​ were​​ a​​ creative writing major and​​ wrote novels in college; I​​ just​​ write lyrics and poetry.”

“I wrote really bad novels​​ in college,” Amber said.​​ “The only decent one I never finished.”

“I really wish you would​​ finish it,”​​ Catherine​​ said. “Writing​​ was good for you.​​ You need an outlet from the stress of​​ work.”

“When​​ Mom?​​ During my day and a half I get off from my​​ sixty-hour​​ work week?​​ I don’t have time​​ to sleep, let alone write.”

“Walter has the same schedule​​ and​​ still manages to​​ play in a band.​​ I know that can’t be easy.”

“Walter doesn’t work at the airport anymore. They moved him to​​ a​​ branch that’s only open five days a week after—actually, can we​​ just​​ stop​​ talking about this?​​ For once can we not talk about my writing​​ Mom?”

“Okay, but you know if you ever wanted to quit and finish your novel, I would support you.”

“Thank you, but I don’t need your support​​ just like I didn’t need​​ Greg’s.​​ I’m a grown woman fully capable of​​ surviving​​ on her own. Yes, rental car agent wasn’t what I had in mind when I graduated college, but​​ in​​ these​​ times​​ I’m lucky I even have a job. For now, I’m just going to support Walter while​​ we both​​ wait for the job market to recover,​​ or he hits it big with the band. I just​​ have this feeling he’s so close...”

“So,​​ you​​ also​​ had a hard time finding work​​ after college?”​​ Catherine​​ asked Walter​​ after a brief silence.​​ 

“Yes, but I can’t blame​​ it all on​​ the economy. I graduated with a physics degree, but barely. And if you can’t get into grad school,​​ well,​​ a physics degree’s kind of pointless.”

“That’s not true—well,​​ maybe in this economy it is, but not normally.”

“Yes, talk about 2009 being a shitty time to graduate. But​​ I had​​ to​​ start​​ paying​​ off my student loans somehow and luckily Endeavor​​ hires anyone​​ with a degree.​​ So yes, it’s not ideal, but hey, I never would’ve met Amber otherwise.”

Again the​​ elephant in the room​​ plunged​​ them​​ into​​ an​​ uncomfortable​​ silence.

“Um, hey Walter,”​​ Catherine​​ said,​​ “want to take​​ a shot with me at the bar?​​ Karaoke’s starting soon and we’ll need them​​ before we put our songs in, right?”

“Uh… sure,”​​ he said looking to Amber.

“You don’t mind?”​​ her mother asked her.​​ 

“No,​​ not​​ at all,”​​ Amber​​ said​​ smiling. “I’ve been wanting to get you​​ two​​ together for​​ some​​ time​​ now.”

 

“What kind of shot do you want?”​​ Catherine​​ asked once​​ at​​ the bar.

“Truthfully,​​ I’m not much of a shot person,” Walter said,​​ “but how about Jameson on the rocks?”

“Good answer,” she said​​ and​​ ordered two. “It’s not like the purpose of coming over here was shots anyhow . . . Cheers,” she said​​ after​​ the drinks arrived.

“Cheers,” Walter​​ said,​​ tensely clanking​​ his glass against hers​​ then took a sip. “So, what did we come over here for​​ then?”​​ he asked.​​ 

“To tell you you can relax.​​ Don’t worry, we already like you​​ so​​ much more than​​ Greg—in fact,​​ we’re elated​​ she’s no longer with that asshole.​​ I won’t get into it, but the guy was a piece of work.​​ So often I tried to tell​​ Amber​​ he wasn’t good for her, but you know Amber; she always sees the best in everyone, and you ultimately​​ have​​ to support your daughter. But thank God​​ you helped her see​​ the light.​​ She’s an artist at heart and should be with another artist.”

Catherine​​ took a long sip of her drink​​ and Walter did the same. “But you’re kind of a jack of​​ many​​ trades, aren’t you?”​​ she​​ asked.​​ 

“Not really,” Walter said.​​ “Music’s the only thing I​​ can​​ say I’m​​ somewhat​​ exceptional at, but I’ve​​ still​​ yet to prove​​ that.”

“Well…”​​ Catherine​​ said raising her eyebrows at him,​​ “I saw some​​ of​​ Perfect Crime’s videos online—sorry I was curious, and I have to say,​​ you​​ have some serious stage presence and​​ talent.”

He​​ smiled bashfully, then put his face to his glass again.

“It’s a unique sound too,”​​ Catherine​​ continued.​​ “I can’t put a finger on it, but it’s like an amalgam​​ of Guns N’ Roses,​​ David Bowie,​​ and The Clash, sprinkled with some Queen​​ and Pink Floyd. But it reminded me of something even more heavy metal​​ at times​​ too, like Metallica.”

Walter​​ laughed.​​ “You’re good,” he said.​​ “You pretty much​​ nailed all my influences.”

“Okay I’ll​​ admit,”​​ Catherine​​ smirked,​​ “I might’ve​​ saw​​ that somewhere online. But it’s true. I also read you write​​ all​​ the songs?”

“The other guys​​ have a part in​​ fleshing​​ them out, but yes.”

Walter​​ then​​ began​​ fidgeting with his paper coaster,​​ unable to look her in the eye for more than a few seconds.​​ 

“You still seem​​ anxious,” she​​ noticed.

“Sorry,” he took another drink.​​ “I​​ was just expecting… expecting​​ something else tonight and​​ I​​ guess I’m​​ still adjusting. While I’m pleasantly surprised, I’m still very surprised. I​​ just​​ wasn’t ready for karaoke and corned​​ beef.”

“What were you​​ ready for​​ then?”​​ she asked.​​ 

“I’m not sure, but not this. It’s​​ just​​ so hard for me to imagine someone like you​​ at an Irish pub, taking shots, drinking beer, singing karaoke. I mean don’t get​​ me​​ wrong, this is right up my alley, but you’re Doctor​​ Catherine​​ Evans,​​ one of the​​ forerunners in​​ cancer immunotherapy.​​ It’s​​ hard for me to imagine you anywhere outside a lab.”

Catherine​​ chuckled.​​ “So you’ve done​​ some​​ homework​​ also,” she said.​​ “And​​ most of the time I am in a lab, but when I’m not, I’m​​ still​​ a​​ small-town​​ girl from​​ Tennessee, fond of​​ her dive bars, whiskey, and admittedly country music—but real country, not that​​ shit​​ Nashville’s been​​ churning​​ out​​ lately. Knowing Amber,​​ though,​​ you probably never​​ knew​​ she​​ had​​ a​​ rednecky mother.”

Never.​​ I​​ mean,​​ Amber’s nothing like that, and​​ on​​ paper​​ you—well, I guess no one’s ever​​ just​​ what they are on paper, are they?

“Speak for yourself,”​​ Catherine​​ said​​ tipping​​ her glass at him. “What you​​ said earlier, that didn’t sound like​​ someone who barely graduated with their physics degree. How could someone who has such a visceral enthusiasm​​ for​​ science​​ have done so poorly in it?”

“There are many reasons.​​ But mostly because​​ at heart I’m just a simple​​ Arizona​​ boy​​ with​​ foolish dreams of becoming​​ a​​ rock star​​ and I’ve never let anything​​ take priority over that, including school.”

“But what if being a rock star doesn’t work out? Will you regret​​ not​​ taking​​ school more seriously?”

“I’m not thinking about that for the moment,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ and​​ took another​​ drink.

“I see…”​​ Catherine​​ said and mimicked. “What brought you​​ to​​ California​​ then,​​ school?”​​ she asked.​​ 

“You​​ could say​​ that.​​ I went​​ to​​ your alma mater too,​​ UCLA.​​ But my maternal grandmother, who I live with now, has always lived in​​ Torrance. So I’ve​​ always considered​​ California​​ just as much my home.”

“Are your parents still in Arizona?”

“My dad. My mother passed away.”

“I’m sorry to hear. When?”

“Um...” Walter cleared his throat. “She died giving birth to me.”

“Oh,”​​ Catherine​​ said caught off guard. “I’m​​ so​​ sorry.”

“It’s​​ okay,​​ something I’ve​​ obviously​​ dealt​​ with my​​ entire​​ life​​ . . .​​ My parents, it was just a one-night stand. My​​ father​​ was​​ working​​ as an IT consultant​​ at the time​​ and was traveling in L.A. when​​ he met my mother while she was performing at an open mic night.​​ She was a​​ songwriter​​ like me. Anyway, they hit it off, and​​ she got pregnant​​ after. She told him she was going to have​​ an​​ abortion​​ since he had a wife back home, but she couldn’t do it​​ in the end. My father only found out after I was born and she was​​ already​​ dead, so he did what he thought was right and took me in . . .​​ I’m sorry.”

Walter​​ shook his head​​ suddenly aware of​​ what he​​ was saying.​​ “I​​ didn’t mean to tell you​​ all​​ that,” he said.​​ “I haven’t even told Amber all​​ that​​ . . .​​ I don’t know if it’s the whiskey, or if it’s just easy to talk to you.”

Catherine​​ grinned.​​ “Must be the whiskey,”​​ she​​ said​​ and finished her drink, “because​​ a moment ago you were having trouble even looking at me.”

“Must be…”​​ he​​ said grinning back at her, then finished his drink.

“About time to put our karaoke songs in,” she said standing from her seat. “Will Axl be making an appearance?”

“Perhaps if​​ Dolly Parton​​ does.”

Catherine​​ laughed and shook her head.​​ “I knew I’d like you.”

 

 

 

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