The Silver Year: Chapter 4

perfect crime troubadour

Chapter​​ 4​​ 

Goodbye Forever

 

 

THE​​ TROUBADOUR, WEST HOLLYWOOD, TWO WEEKS LATER

 

“So here it is boys...” Lola’s​​ voice​​ boomed in the empty venue as she​​ smacked a stack of stapled papers,​​ “...Perfect Crime’s record deal—a copy for each of you.” She​​ threw​​ each one​​ like a​​ card​​ dealer​​ to​​ Walter and his bandmates​​ as they sat​​ on​​ the front lip​​ of​​ the​​ Troubadour’s stage, two hours before doors on their label showcase.

While​​ small in size​​ and sweet in face,​​ Lola​​ Roxy​​ was​​ a legendary but​​ rebellious​​ rep​​ in the music industry,​​ and​​ the only​​ one​​ who came​​ ready with a contract before they even played—although Walter and she had been in discussions​​ well​​ before.​​ In the nineties,​​ she’d been​​ the front woman of an infamous, all-girl, punk rock group named Malicious Creatures, who were notorious for onstage sex acts, drug use, and self-mutilation.​​ However, after everyone but herself self-destructed from​​ suicide or​​ drugs,​​ she​​ turned to the business side of things​​ where she​​ quickly made a name for herself and put Cirkus Records on the map.

“Take all the time you need​​ to read it,” she said​​ slowly​​ pacing in front of them,​​ her fuchsia​​ mohawk​​ finning her​​ tattoo-covered body​​ like​​ a​​ flamboyant​​ swordfish. “It’s​​ not long, and I believe Walter has already told you most of the details.​​ At Cirkus, we value​​ simplicity and transparency​​ unlike the big record labels​​ we​​ formed in response to—the​​ same ones​​ who will also be here tonight.​​ Yes, we can’t offer you​​ their​​ big label​​ signing bonuses,​​ but those bonuses will​​ most likely​​ lock you into​​ a contract as cross-collaterized as a company store​​ with​​ at least a three-album​​ commitment.​​ With us,​​ it’s one​​ album, and​​ you keep​​ your publishing, recording, and merchandising rights,​​ so​​ long as​​ you​​ deliver on​​ your​​ one​​ album.​​ After that,​​ you’re​​ free to​​ go.​​ However,​​ my track record speaks for itself,​​ so I doubt that will be the case.”

It was true.​​ Almost every act​​ Lola​​ signed​​ had​​ risen​​ to​​ some sort of​​ stardom.

“We’ll still give you modest bonuses to get by until the record’s out,”​​ she​​ continued, “but you’ll no means be living like rock stars—at least not yet.”

 “But you’re giving Walter a beach house,” Brian “Squids” Squibbs, the band’s bassist​​ said.

 “We’re not​​ giving​​ him a beach house, we’re renting him a small cottage near the ocean​​ to finish​​ writing your debut album.​​ Yes,​​ Walter’s​​ getting a little more out of this, but don’t you think that’s fair?”

“Well, it’s just no wonder he’s pushing this deal over the other ones.​​ Why can’t you rent a beach house for us all to write together?”

“Because​​ when have we ever written together?” Walter said.​​ “And do you suddenly have songs Squids?”

“Yeah,​​ maybe​​ I do.”​​ 

“Then let’s hear a song. Go get your bass or whatever you need to play it and let’s hear it.”

“They’re works in progress.​​ Just some ideas, like riffs and stuff.”

“Oh,​​ fuck off.”​​ 

“Come on guys,”​​ Seano, their lead guitarist and natural Slash lookalike,​​ said. “Squids,​​ Walter has​​ always written the music​​ alone.​​ You know that.​​ And​​ if​​ he​​ doesn’t write the album,​​ we’re out of a job.”

Jimmy Stokes, their drummer and not one for words, nodded in agreement.

Finally, Walter​​ was getting​​ through to them without Squids.​​ Since Jimmy hardly spoke and Seano never wanted to be involved in band politics, it was always Squids Walter had to deal with on everything, and everything​​ was always​​ a fight.​​ 

From the beginning, Walter saw​​ Squids​​ as​​ a​​ lazy​​ and unnecessary liability,​​ but like marriage, sometimes​​ blind eyes and compromise​​ are​​ required​​ to​​ keep a band​​ afloat.​​ Seano,​​ who was​​ irreplaceable in Walter’s opinion, founded the band with Squids​​ and they’d been best friends since the third grade. Also,​​ as Walter discovered at the two shows they tried to do without Squids, when Seano didn’t have his best friend, Jack Daniels became his best friend, so much so they couldn’t leave each other alone enough for Seano to make it to the end of a show before passing out.​​ So​​ for Seano, Walter put up with​​ Squids. Not just his unreliable performances, playing, and risky drug use, but also​​ his mouth.

“But​​ we​​ already have​​ two EPs​​ worth​​ of​​ songs written,”​​ Squids​​ said.​​ “Those are the ones​​ the fans​​ know.​​ We should be rerecording​​ them​​ for​​ our debut album.”

“Why?” Walter said. “So​​ we​​ can give them​​ more polished and inauthentic​​ versions​​ of​​ songs they already know? Besides,​​ my songwriting was​​ still​​ developing​​ on those EPs.”​​ ​​ 

“Well,​​ if​​ development means​​ more songs​​ like ‘Baby Blue Part 2’ or ‘MagPi Song’,​​ we’re fucked.”

“Then quit.​​ You’re​​ always​​ threatening​​ to,​​ but​​ never​​ have the balls to.​​ Go start your​​ own​​ band where you write​​ all​​ the music​​ and make all the rules​​ because​​ I’m done arguing the same points​​ over and over again​​ with you​​ Squids.”​​ Walter leapt​​ off the stage and began walking to the bar.​​ “I’m just done.”​​ 

“Walter!” Lola shouted​​ at him. “You’re done, when I’m done. Until then, sit your ass back on the stage.”​​ She stared at him until he did so.​​ “While I understand the new material​​ isn’t your old material,” she​​ addressed​​ his bandmates,​​ “what​​ great artist wants to repeat themselves?​​ With time, I think​​ the new material will grow on you. I believe​​ it’s something special,​​ so​​ special​​ I’m not only ready to sign you​​ right now,​​ but have you open​​ for​​ the​​ biggest artist​​ on our label​​ on​​ their U.S. summer tour​​ this year.”

“You mean…​​ Jester?” Squids asked.​​ 

“Yes, the all-mighty Jester,” Lola said.​​ “That way​​ before​​ heading​​ into the studio this fall,​​ there will be an audience waiting.​​ I​​ think​​ their fans will​​ take​​ to you. What do you think?”​​ 

We’re going on tour with Jester?!​​ Gimme a fucking pen, I’m in!”

Lola and Walter​​ smiled at each other.​​ He​​ had​​ negotiated the tour in knowing Squids wouldn’t be able to refuse; Jester was his favorite band.

 

As Jimmy’s lone, plodding, double-bass drumbeat beat the air during the breakdown​​ of​​ “Minerva​​ Doom”,​​ the third song of their showcase set,​​ the world felt wrapped around Walter like a warm bath of balance and harmony.​​ He was in​​ a place where he could make no mistakes; a place he could only find onstage—that is if it was a good show. If it was a bad show,​​ the​​ stage was​​ a sucking whirlpool of​​ chaos​​ and self-hatred.​​ 

Although​​ already decided​​ who they were​​ going to sign with, the label showcase was still​​ the music industry’s​​ formal​​ acknowledgement​​ of​​ Perfect Crime’s​​ arrival​​ to​​ the big​​ leagues,​​ an​​ event even​​ more​​ talked about​​ because they were a rock n’ roll act, a genre thought​​ of​​ as​​ all but​​ gone​​ by the industry. But people​​ are​​ always​​ looking​​ for​​ saviors.

With​​ Marshall full stacks, fuzzily distorted guitars,​​ and stories of​​ wild​​ shows, sometimes filled with unpredictable​​ drunken​​ debauchery—mostly exhibited by his bandmates​​ but Walter played along too, Perfect Crime sold​​ rock n’ roll​​ saviors​​ well.​​ But they weren’t simply making​​ something old​​ new​​ again​​ like so many​​ other​​ “new”​​ rock bands. They were​​ doing​​ something​​ wholly​​ new​​ with rock n’ roll itself, a sound so​​ new​​ it had to be heard because words couldn’t describe​​ it.

But like​​ all great music regardless of genre,​​ the​​ lyrics moved minds,​​ Walter’s​​ voice​​ moved​​ hearts,​​ and​​ most importantly,​​ the​​ music​​ moved​​ bodies,​​ both​​ masculine and feminine alike.​​ Walter’s​​ face also​​ swelled​​ genitals,​​ so that helped​​ too—or at least it helped​​ in attracting​​ the big record labels​​ back to rock n’ roll.

A sick man’s lying in my head no doubt...”​​ Walter​​ sang with his guitar slung over his shoulder as the crowd clapped​​ along to the beat,​​ “...it’s​​ a​​ wonder people think it’s me. I try to keep him down but he always comes out for everybody to see.​​ I​​ mean that’s why​​ you’re paying me...

Clap,​​ clap, clap...

“...The stage is blessed as a sovereign state from accountability.​​ So every time I cast my name on the marquee pane, we celebrate the death of me.​​ I mean, that’s why you’re paying me.​​ Great cemetery with personality!

In a well-practiced move,​​ he then​​ spun his heavy Les Paul back to his front and pick-slid into a grand power chord​​ which​​ re-introduced​​ the chorus:

Glory Hallelujah.​​ Glory,​​ glory friend!​​ Glory Hallelujah,​​ and I’m frying myself again.​​ Lying to myself again!

The band then broke into a double-time​​ chorus​​ and the crowd went into a frenzy of not exactly moshing,​​ but not exactly dancing. The dancefloor​​ became​​ a gigantic fun pit​​ of crisscrossing bodies, many​​ of whom​​ were​​ “Quarkians”,​​ Walter’s​​ most-dedicated fans​​ who were​​ mostly teenagers​​ who distinguished​​ themselves​​ by the bellbottoms​​ they​​ wore in emulation​​ of​​ his.​​ 

Onstage​​ or off, other than when he used to dress up as Axl Rose,​​ Walter’s​​ bottom half was always​​ seventies. And​​ his top half,​​ always​​ nineties:​​ a plaid flannel and​​ shaggy,​​ unkempt hair. The only​​ wardrobe item that​​ changed​​ was his​​ ceaseless​​ supply of​​ nerdy science shirts.​​ Tonight,​​ his shirt​​ had a picture of the physicist Richard Feynman with​​ the​​ caption “DICK!”​​ written​​ underneath it.

Grinding​​ Minerva’s​​ second to last chord​​ over his strings, Walter​​ took​​ a full swinger​​ before​​ hitting​​ the​​ song’s​​ stinger.​​ A roar blew​​ back​​ at him​​ from the crowd like wind from a blowhole.​​ Just​​ behind​​ the​​ blast,​​ Amber​​ clapped​​ with a proud​​ smile​​ and​​ blew him​​ kisses​​ from the merch booth she’d​​ been​​ dutifully​​ managing​​ ever​​ since​​ the​​ West​​ Coast tour,​​ the tour which​​ had​​ been key in​​ taking​​ Perfect Crime​​ from local sensation to​​ unsigned​​ phenomenon.​​ Because of this,​​ one of​​ Walter’s pet names for​​ Amber​​ was​​ lucky​​ charm.

“I know you​​ weren’t planning on​​ hearing​​ any covers tonight, but I’d like to do one,”​​ Walter​​ said​​ to the crowd as​​ he​​ set down his​​ guitar​​ and began​​ walking to his new​​ Wurlitzer electric piano, a​​ secret​​ gift from Lola, a secret between​​ only​​ them.​​ “It’s​​ not a Guns N’ Roses​​ cover, however,​​ it’s​​ a Neil Young song, and it’s​​ for my girlfriend, Amber Evans...” The crowd awed and clapped.​​ “I won’t point her out because she’ll hate me if I do, but I love you​​ lucky charm.” He​​ then​​ sat at​​ his​​ piano. “This song is called ‘See the Sky About to Rain’.”

 

“I love you​​ so much,”​​ Amber said after the show.

“I love you too,”​​ Walter said, his hand​​ undoing​​ her​​ pants. Dim, auburn​​ light​​ from a streetlamp twenty yards away drizzled onto her bare stomach stretched​​ across​​ his car passenger seat.​​ His car along with all the bands’​​ cars were parked in the​​ Troubadour’s​​ side​​ alley since it was where they had to load their equipment​​ in and out. Currently everyone​​ and their equipment​​ was​​ in for​​ about​​ another twenty minutes while the closing band, personal friends of Perfect Crime, finished​​ their set.

With his bottom half already de-clothed, after de-clothing hers, they joined​​ their​​ de-clothed halves together and made​​ wordless love​​ for two songs on the radio​​ until commercial break.

“I don’t know​​ why​​ it​​ didn’t click until I was onstage tonight...” Walter​​ said,​​ his mind still racing from the excitement of the night, “...but​​ this is the greatest day of my life. My life will never be the same​​ after. Today is the beginning of life 2.0.​​ And best​​ of all, I never have to wear that monkey suit for Endeavor​​ ever​​ again.”

“I know,” Amber said grinning,​​ I can’t believe we’re​​ finally​​ quitting.

Wait, what?​​ You’re quitting?”

Yeah. Not right away. But once​​ we​​ go on tour. Someone has to manage the merch booth, right?

“I think the label will probably have someone for that now.”

“But​​ what else am I supposed to do on tour?”

“Well...” Walter made​​ a​​ dry swallow,​​ “truthfully,​​ I​​ didn’t​​ figure​​ you were​​ coming because I didn’t know you were quitting your job.​​ And maybe the label might pay you, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to pay rent,​​ even if it​​ is​​ just to your mom.”

Amber’s eyes began​​ blinking​​ rapidly.​​ “But I thought...” she said, “I mean, I just figured we’d be moving in together​​ since​​ Cirkus is paying for a house. I know how badly you’ve been wanting to get out of your grandma’s,​​ and​​ you know​​ how badly I’ve been wanting to get out of my mom’s. I thought that’s why you had them put it in the contract.

“No, not at all. I put it in to be left alone. I have to finish writing our album.”

Her​​ body paused​​ along with their lovemaking.​​ “Okay...” she said, “but where do I fit in​​ in​​ all this? What’s your girlfriend supposed to do for the​​ six weeks​​ you’re on tour, then for however long you need to write​​ the​​ album?”

Unprepared,​​ Walter struggled for​​ words​​ so​​ only​​ the​​ crude truth came out:​​ “I guess​​ I was so caught up with everything else,​​ I didn’t think about​​ you,”​​ he said.​​ 

“Y-you… you​​ didn’t think about​​ me?​​ Amber’s breath began​​ quickening.​​ I put my heart and soul into this​​ band​​ too.​​ She pushed​​ him off​​ of her, then started​​ rummaging the dark floors for her clothes. “Your dream​​ has been​​ just as much​​ my dream​​ Walter.​​ How could you not think of me in its future?​​ How could you not think of your​​ lucky​​ charm?​​ Or was that just​​ onstage​​ bullshit?​​ I can never tell if you’re​​ really​​ being real on there​​ or not.​​ Because​​ right now, offstage,​​ I’m really beginning to doubt if you actually love me.

He​​ remained​​ silent, searching​​ for answers on the​​ dashboard, but the only answers he​​ found​​ were​​ all those little doubts he thought he’d gotten over.

“Say something!” she​​ yelled.

“I never asked you to share my dream,”​​ he​​ said​​ at last. “When I first met you, you had a dream of your own;​​ you wanted to be a writer. But once we got together, instead of finishing the​​ novel you always said you would, you just began making excuses until you convinced yourself it would never happen.”

Amber sighed.​​ “Because​​ I​​ realized I​​ don’t have the same​​ gift​​ in writing​​ that​​ you have in music,” she said​​ after a long pause. “That’s the truth.​​ After​​ seeing the dedication​​ you have—the dedication it takes to make art a​​ career,​​ I just came to terms I’m not cut out for it.”

“But dedication is different than being gifted,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “Dedication is something you can change​​ if you didn’t​​ let​​ your depression have such a stranglehold on it.​​ Depression is​​ a​​ part of your gift, and it can either work against​​ you​​ or for you.​​ Let me​​ show you how it can work for you, but I can’t do that if you​​ won’t​​ let me read your writing.​​ And from everything​​ your mother​​ has​​ said, it seems like it’s worth reading.”

“Of course​​ she’s​​ says good things,”​​ Amber​​ said annoyed. “She’s​​ my mother.​​ It’s​​ decent, but not exceptional, not like your music.​​ If you read my writing, you’d​​ know what I mean. Plus, I told you. The story​​ was​​ inspired by the death of Greg’s dad our first​​ year​​ together. You don’t want to read about that,​​ and I’m not sure I want to write about​​ it​​ anymore either.”

For God sake’s,​​ just​​ let me​​ read​​ it!”​​ Walter​​ said, losing his patience.​​ I don’t care if it was inspired by Greg​​ or if you don’t think it’s​​ ‘exceptional’.​​ I don’t​​ think​​ a great majority of​​ my​​ art​​ is​​ good, let alone ‘exceptional’. But still, I​​ share it​​ all​​ with you, even the stuff I’m most uncomfortable about.​​ How can we share our hearts together if you’re not willing to share​​ your art? Are they not one in the same? . . . In fact,​​ there’s​​ a lot I wished you’d​​ share with me​​ more, like when you’re angry​​ with​​ me, or when something I do bothers you.​​ But​​ instead you swallow it inside and​​ just​​ pretend everything is perfect.​​ Why?

Amber​​ hugged​​ her knees to her chest and began​​ sobbing.​​ “I’m​​ sorry!”​​ she cried​​ congestedly​​ into her knees, making her sound as if she were speaking into a paper lunch bag.​​ “If you want to know the truth…” she​​ said, then​​ made a long sniffle, “the truth is,​​ I’m​​ terrified​​ to lose you.​​ That’s why I don’t say anything. Because​​ I don’t​​ know​​ what I did to deserve​​ you, but if I didn’t have you, I don’t know what I’d do.”

“But​​ hiding your true feelings—hiding​​ your true self,​​ is exactly how you’ll lose me,” Walter said.​​ “I don’t want you to feel​​ like​​ you can’t express yourself honestly.​​ Why would anyone​​ want​​ that​​ in a relationship?​​ And why would I be with you if I didn’t think you deserved me?”

“Because you feel guilty.”

It slapped him in the face because it was true. It had always been true. His heart, however, had convinced him that he was in love with Amber because Amber would someday change​​ into somebody who wasn’t Amber.​​ But that​​ Amber,​​ he​​ was realizing,​​ only existed in his head.

“Amber, don’t think that,” was​​ the​​ best consoling comment​​ Walter​​ could come up with without lying.​​ He was​​ fresh​​ out of foma.​​ “However,​​ what​​ are​​ you supposed to do​​ now​​ if​​ my dream​​ is coming​​ true​​ and​​ you don’t have one of your own?​​ Are you​​ going​​ to sponge off me and​​ my dream​​ for the rest of your life? How is that any different than the complacent housewife you​​ refused to be for​​ Greg?​​ I just​​ don’t understand. I​​ thought​​ . . . I just​​ thought you were​​ someone with​​ their​​ own​​ dreams;​​ a love outside of just me.​​ That’s​​ what I want​​ because that’s what I have​​ with my music. I don’t want a sponge.”​​ 

“A sponge?”​​ Amber said. “Is that what​​ you really think of me?”

“I’m sorry, but​​ if you don’t have a job, a dream, and you’re moving in with me, then yes. I’m sorry, but​​ you know I sometimes​​ have​​ difficulty with​​ sugarcoating the truth.”

She was silent for a while.​​ “So...” she then said quietly, “what​​ are​​ you​​ trying to say​​ then? You don’t want​​ to be with​​ me​​ anymore?”

“I​​ think… no,​​ I am.”​​ Walter​​ began crying.​​ “I’m​​ so​​ sorry.​​ I love you, but you​​ still​​ need to find yourself.​​ I can’t​​ be your​​ surrogate dream.”

Amber​​ looked at him​​ dumbfounded​​ as tears filled her eyes. “Why…” she said lowly, “…why​​ are you the one crying?”

She​​ then​​ burst into​​ tears and began​​ groveling and clawing at him.​​ No-no-no…” she​​ pled. “Please.​​ Please.​​ I’ll begin writing again.​​ I just need time. Please, not right now. I had​​ plans​​ for us. Something that might inspire me to write again.​​ That’s what I need. Fresh inspiration.​​ Please.

“I’m sorry,”​​ he​​ said, “but you need to find​​ that inspiration​​ on​​ your own. When​​ you do, then maybe we can try again. But it’s the best for both of us​​ right now, okay? I really am doing this out of love.”

“No, no…” she​​ put her left fist to her mouth and began​​ gnawing her thumb’s​​ knuckle. “You don’t understand.​​ I had​​ plans for your birthday.”

“My birthday? That​​ was​​ over​​ three months ago.”

“Next year.​​ I had something planned for—”​​ Amber’s​​ face froze into​​ the​​ blank stare​​ Walter​​ had seen​​ in this car​​ before. Her thumb​​ then​​ began bleeding​​ from her clenched teeth cutting into it.

“Amber!” he said trying to pull the thumb out of her bite, but she clenched harder. “Amber​​ stop!​​ Amber!”

“What?” she​​ finally came to​​ and released​​ the thumb.​​ Looking more disoriented than before, she​​ didn’t​​ seem​​ to​​ notice​​ her​​ bleeding​​ hand or the blood in her mouth.

“You had another​​ staring spell​​ and​​ you​​ almost bit your thumb in half.​​ Are you okay?”​​ he said gently taking her injured hand​​ and showing it to her. It wasn’t permanently damaged, but the​​ top layer of​​ skin around her thumb’s knuckle​​ was almost removed.

“Of course I’m not okay!” she shouted​​ and pushed​​ the​​ bloody hand into his chest.​​ “You’re leaving me!”​​ She then​​ flung​​ the car door open​​ and​​ took off​​ down the alley.

“Amber stop!”​​ Walter​​ yelled​​ running after​​ her, catching her by the arm just​​ as​​ she​​ reached​​ the sidewalk of​​ Santa Monica​​ Boulevard.

“Don’t touch me!”​​ she​​ screamed​​ pulling her arm away.​​ “Get away!”

He​​ attempted​​ to keep hold of her, but she kept screaming bloody murder,​​ attracting a nearby hotel security guard.

“Should I call​​ the police​​ miss?” he said stepping between them. He then noticed​​ the blood around​​ Amber’s​​ mouth. “Did he hit you?”

“No,​​ no,” Amber said.​​ “But just​​ keep him away​​ from me​​ until​​ I get my car from​​ the​​ valet.”

“Amber, you shouldn’t be driving,” Walter said.​​ “Please come back​​ and talk to me​​ . . .​​ You don’t understand,” he said to the security​​ guard​​ blocking him.​​ “She shouldn’t be driving right now.”

“Is she intoxicated?”​​ he asked.

“No, but...”

“Are you intoxicated? Your breath smells like whiskey.”

“Yes,​​ I just had a glass​​ not that long ago, but—”

“Then don’t make another step toward her until she’s in her car and gone if you don’t want me to call the police. You understand me?”

Walter stood helpless on the sidewalk. “Catherine,” he​​ then​​ said,​​ and​​ ran back down the alley​​ and​​ into the backdoor of the venue.

 

“What do you mean​​ you​​ broke up?” Catherine said.​​ “Why?”​​ After being unable to find her downstairs,​​ Walter​​ finally found​​ her​​ playing darts​​ in the upstairs bar. He​​ told her what happened, but it​​ was loud and​​ she​​ was buzzed, so only some of the story​​ sunk​​ in.

“I’ll tell you later,” he said.​​ “But right now we need to stop her​​ from​​ leaving.”

“Amber’s leaving? She’s my ride home.”

“Yes, and she just had​​ a​​ staring spell.”

“Oh my God!” Catherine said finally getting it. “She shouldn’t be driving.”

They ran downstairs, but by​​ the time they made it to​​ the valet, Amber​​ was already gone.

 

“I should’ve stopped her,” Walter said as​​ he loaded​​ his gear into​​ his​​ Prius’s hatchback. “I​​ tried, but she just kept screaming like I was trying to kill her.”

“You did everything you could,”​​ Catherine​​ said,​​ pacing​​ with her phone to​​ her​​ cheek. “Damn it, she’s ignoring my calls now.” The phone then switched to​​ her​​ hands​​ and she began texting.

“Why did I break​​ up with her?” ​​​​ he continued, mostly talking to himself. “And why tonight of all nights?”

Catherine​​ put her​​ phone​​ down​​ and went over to him.​​ “Because​​ change brings things like this out of nowhere sometimes,” she said​​ putting a hand on his shoulder. “But​​ to​​ be​​ frank,​​ I thought this might happen once the band​​ took off.​​ I didn’t think​​ it would happen the night you signed, but​​ still.”

“What do you mean?”​​ he​​ asked.

“Well,​​ I could just see...​​ see that​​ you and Amber were on different paths, that’s all. I was just hoping—maybe foolishly—you might help her to yours.”

“And​​ I think​​ so was I.”

Catherine sighed and gave Walter a one-armed hug. “And​​ you had the best intentions,” she said.​​ But​​ I guess the lesson learned is​​ everyone has to find​​ their​​ own​​ path on​​ their​​ own.​​ You did the right thing​​ by leaving. It wasn’t​​ a healthy relationship.​​ I know because I left her father for the same reason.

She then gasped and quickly​​ moved away.​​ “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have said that.​​ Honesty​​ just​​ has a way of spilling out of me​​ sometimes​​ even​​ if​​ I don’t want it to, but​​ especially​​ if I’ve been​​ drinking.”

Walter​​ smiled.​​ He wanted to hug her again, but didn’t.​​ “No,” he said,​​ “I’m glad you did.​​ And strangely, I feel better​​ because​​ you did.​​ Thank you.”

Catherine’s phone​​ then​​ buzzed in her pocket.​​ Oh shit,” she said​​ taking it out.​​ It’s Amber​​ . . .​​ At home. Don’t worry, I’m safe. Just need time alone. Going to bed now. Talk to you in the morning.”

 

When​​ they​​ arrived at​​ Catherine’s​​ house, Amber’s​​ dark green Civic​​ was​​ parked​​ in the driveway.

“Looks like she’s​​ here,”​​ Walter​​ said pulling in front of the house and putting​​ his​​ car in park.

“Yes,​​ it does,”​​ Catherine​​ said looking at the driveway.​​ “So happy that’s over.” She then turned​​ to​​ him. “Well…” she said somberly,​​ “I guess​​ it’s goodbye now.”

“Yes,​​ I guess it is,” he said​​ just as somber. “Goodbye forever.”

“No, not​​ forever.​​ We​​ still can…​​ No,​​ we can’t. We can’t ever again,​​ can we?”

“No,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think we can​​ ever see each other again,​​ or​​ at least not for a​​ long​​ time. But everyone says that and it never happens. So​​ yeah, it’s​​ probably forever.”

“You’re probably right...”

There was a long silence, then​​ Catherine​​ began​​ weeping.

“I’m sorry,” she said,​​ “just a little emotional right now. I was so worried about Amber,​​ I didn’t​​ have time to​​ process​​ this was goodbye for us​​ . . .​​ We’ve sure had some great​​ times​​ together, haven’t we Axl?”

“Yes we have Dolly,” Walter said​​ and began​​ weeping too. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sing ‘Jackson’ with anyone else.”

“And here I thought ‘A Whole New World’ was your favorite duet? Or maybe it was just mine because you always insisted on singing Jasmine’s parts.”

Laughter began soaking up​​ their​​ tears.

“I’m going to miss your ‘dirty pictures’ from​​ the​​ lab​​ of HeLa cells and mutated DNA,” Walter said.

“I’m going to miss our​​ late-night​​ debates​​ after movie night,”​​ Catherine​​ said.​​ “Who else can I discuss the laws of thermodynamics and the concepts of Brahman with until​​ three​​ a.m.?”

They laughed again, then became silent.​​ The​​ air​​ became​​ warmer​​ and the windshield​​ began​​ to fog. As​​ Walter​​ watched​​ the fog slowly​​ grow,​​ so did​​ a​​ realization.

He turned to Catherine, but said nothing.​​ She​​ also​​ said nothing, but their​​ eyes​​ began​​ telling each other a lot.​​ The heat continued to​​ grow, then​​ something​​ pulled his hand to hers, resting atop her lap. She clasped it. The hands then began to caress one another.

“I…” Walter said,​​ but​​ before he knew​​ what he was​​ going to say,​​ his​​ lips​​ were​​ saying it on​​ hers, and his hands,​​ her body.​​ He​​ tore under her clothes and into her​​ soft flesh, as her hands began​​ doing​​ the same, grazing up and down his chest.​​ His mouth then found its way down her neck​​ and​​ to​​ her breasts​​ as her​​ hand found its way​​ down​​ into his pants. One of his hands then​​ followed into hers, and​​ after a great storm of panting, she began to spasm, then began​​ coming​​ greatly, soaking his hand and the inside of her pants, causing him to​​ spasm then​​ reciprocate​​ just as quickly and strongly​​ over her hand.​​ Looking down at the mess, it was only then that​​ they​​ both​​ comprehended​​ what was happening.

With sweat pouring over their faces, they sat​​ back​​ stiffly and sticky​​ in​​ their​​ seats, still breathing heavily and​​ wide-eyed on the now fully fogged windshield.

“I’m so sorry,” Walter said​​ wiping his hands on his pants.

“It was just as much my fault,”​​ Catherine​​ said​​ doing the same, then wiped​​ her forehead on her sleeve.​​ “I need to go.”

“I understand,” he said. “We probably shouldn’t hug goodbye.”

“Yes,​​ we probably shouldn’t . . . Goodbye Walter.”

“Goodbye​​ Catherine.”

 

The next morning,​​ Walter​​ awoke​​ in​​ disbelief of​​ the​​ twenty-four hours​​ before. Surely it had been a dream—or nightmare. But the​​ phone ringing​​ on his nightstand​​ was a reminder it was not.​​ It was​​ Catherine.

“Hello,” he said.

It was her​​ weeping​​ again.

“Catherine? What’s wrong?”

“Walter...” she mumbled.​​ 

“Yes? What is it?”

 “I’m not sure how to say this . . . Amber passed away last night. She had a grand mal seizure and​​ asphyxiated in her sleep.

His​​ eyes lurched back and his gut compressed as if gravity had suddenly​​ been​​ strengthened.

“No, no, no…” he​​ said and began​​ bawling. “I killed her.​​ I killed her!”

“Stop​​ it.​​ You didn’t kill her.​​ Please, don’t blame yourself.”

“How can I not?”

“Please,​​ just​​ don’t​​ Walter. It’s not your fault...”​​ Catherine​​ then​​ dwindled​​ into​​ more​​ crying.

“Catherine?”​​ Walter said.

“Yes?”

“I need to see you. I can’t handle this on my own. You’re the only person​​ who​​ understands.”

“And that’s exactly why​​ we​​ can’t​​ see each other.​​ No good will come of it​​ . . . I’m​​ so​​ sorry, but we​​ can never see each other again.”

“No, please​​ Catherine.”

“It’s for both of us​​ Walter.​​ But don’t let this stop your dream.​​ Go on tour, record your album,​​ put this pain in your art. That’s all I can​​ say​​ . . . I’m sorry, but I’ve got a lot more people to call; you were the first.”

“I can’t say goodbye.”

“Then I’ll​​ do​​ it for you . . . Goodbye Walter.”

The call ended. ​​ ​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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