The Silver Year: Chapter 2

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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, and you know how much that smell bothers me—”

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

“Fucker 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.”

“Yes, it took an earthquake to shake me up, but who gives a fuck? They’re my family Walter. If I’m happier to be with you, than they’re happier I’m with you. Besides, they never did like Greg. They could see I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. But he never really loved me. But you, you love me; accept me for all I am: the good, the dark, the beautiful—I can truly be myself with you. And not only that…” she said, playfully caressing his face, “I totally upgraded in the looks and intelligence departments too.”

“But not the money department.”

Amber sighed loudly, then took Walter’s hand. “Please stop,” she said. “I know this isn’t you. You have nothing to worry about. My mother is especially excited to meet you. And you know you two will have a lot in common with science and all.”

“Yeah, she’s one of the nation’s leading cancer researchers and I’m a failed physics major who’s working as a rental car agent. We’ll have a lot in common.”

“Okay, I’m just going to call and cancel . . . Fuck Walter!” she screamed, the levee of her patience finally broken and now flooding with anger and tears. “As kind as I know you can be, you can also be such a selfish asshole. Forget what this day is to you, and think of 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 to my family 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 so sorry,” he said. “You’re right. Please forgive me?” She squeezed his hand tighter.

“Of course,” she said, her anger quickly seized by those gentle eyes and that motherly-lovery smile. “I understand why you’re so nervous, but this really 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 Amber needed foma, now was the time.

Amber wasn’t the first woman he’d prematurely given his heart to. As with all things new, once the shine dulls is when you see truth. And it wasn’t necessarily her fault, it was his. It was always his. He had convinced himself this was the woman he loved, but himself like to change his mind a lot and became easily bored whether it be his friends, his lovers, his art, his interests, his life. The prospect of something lasting forever was what ultimately always scared him out of any sort of committed relationship. 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 can convince you differently. The heart is great at weaponizing love for its own self interests.

Although Amber and he shared their depression together, there was a growing list of things on which they differed. While she initially told him she was also an artist, a novelist, she hadn’t actually written since college, and her depression or work was always her excuse for not continuing. While he empathized greatly with her depression—and her work for that matter, but as someone who knew depression well, he knew the difference between it and just plain procrastination. He tried to encourage her by showing her how he turned his depression into art, but she said writing a book was different and something he would never understand. But he saw it for what it really was: the root of her depression and procrastination was her perfectionism, the same perfectionism inside him, however, hers expressed itself in much less productive and time-consuming matters. Her constant need for designer clothes; her hours craned over her phone, perfecting photos for her social media feeds and compulsive checking for assurance of this perfection; her hours of applying and reapplying her makeup even though Walter told her he preferred her face makeup free. He could see that being no more valued than one of Greg’s over fifty Rolexes for the last two years had taken its toll on her psyche. But how do you start faulting someone when it’s your fault they’re in need? And how do you leave someone in a time when love is desperately what they need? So out of guilt, he did his best to love her, and convinced himself through this love someday she’d see, but it was starting to become evident it might be a pipe dream.

So he pretended to love her although his heart was really with his band. They were beginning to get label attention and had a two-week tour planned. It was all his vacation time for the year, vacation time that took nearly a year of no vacation to accumulate, but something told him it would be the last time he’d have to take vacation, something told him he would soon be something great.

 

“So Amber tells me you’re the singer of a pretty popular rock band?” Amber’s mother, Doctor Karen Evans said to him. 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 this woman had had a hand in in some way.

“Just in the L.A. area, but only because we’re also an even more popular Guns N’ Roses tribute band,” Walter replied, still trying to comprehend his surroundings and company. The dining arrangements were very modest for someone of her echelon of accomplishment: some greasy Irish pub named McCool’s, and Amber’s family, just as unassuming: a longhaired and bearded uncle, “Uncle John”, and Karen’s best friend whom Amber just referred to as “Aunt Tilly”. This was not what Walter had in mind when Amber said she wanted him to meet her family for dinner, but then he remembered the family members she actually loved were in the vast minority. However, she only revealed how casual the dinner would be after his miniature meltdown almost killed them on the road.

Amber’s parents divorced when she was very young, her mother remaining only wedded to the lab thereafter. But in her limited leisure time outside it, she, Uncle John, and Aunt Tilly—who were also in cancer research—went to McCool’s every Thursday for corned beef and karaoke, and for the most part, these three people were what Amber called her family. The rest were either dead, arrested, or estranged, including her father, who after remarrying and establishing a new family, had moved to Oregon when she was six and became a nonentity.

“Guns N’ Roses, eh?” Uncle John 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.”

“Fine. 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 Karen. 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?” Karen 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—meaning you can’t get any smaller than them. However, their mass has to come from somewhere, and it is 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, 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 engrossing 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. 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,” Karen said to Amber.

“So does Walter,” Amber said.

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

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

“I really wish you would finish it,” Karen said. “Writing was good for you. You need an outlet from all 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? Please.”

“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?” Karen 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, you mind having a shot with me at the bar?” Karen asked. “Karaoke’s starting soon and we’ll need them before we put our songs in, right?”

“Uh… sure,” he said.

“You don’t mind Amber?”

“No, not at all,” Amber said. “I’ve been wanting to get you guys together for some time now. I know you’ll have a lot in common.”

 

“So what kind of shot do you want?” Karen 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.”

“Cheers,” Walter tensely clanked his glass against hers. “So what did we come over here for then?”

“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 not with him anymore. I won’t get into it, but the guy was a piece of work, and so often I tried to tell her he wasn’t good for her, but you know Amber, she always sees the best in everyone, and you’ve ultimately got to support your daughter. But then you came along, and thank God she saw the light. You’re a blessing for her and us. She’s an artist at heart and should be with another artist. But you’re kind of a jack of many trades, aren’t you?”

“Not really. Music’s the only thing I could say I’m exceptional at, but I’ve still yet to prove it.”

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

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

“Okay I’ll admit, I might’ve saw that somewhere online, but it’s true. So you write all the songs?”

“The other guys have a part in fleshing them out, but yes.” Walter was 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, I was just expecting something else tonight and I’m still adjusting. While I’m pleasantly surprised, I’m still very surprised. I wasn’t ready for karaoke and corned beef.”

“What were you expecting?”

“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 Karen Evans, one of the forerunners in cancer immunotherapy. It’s hard for me to imagine you anywhere outside a lab.” Karen 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. What you were saying back there, that didn’t sound like a failed physics student. How could someone who has such a visceral enthusiasm for science have done so poorly in it?”

“Because at heart I’m just a simple boy from Arizona 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.”

“I see . . . So Arizona, what brought you to California? School?”

“You got it. I went to your alma mater too, UCLA. But my maternal grandmother, who I live with now, has always lived in Torrance and I spent many summers in California. It’s always been a second home to me.”

“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,” Karen 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. 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.”

“Must be the whiskey,” she said, “because a moment ago you were having trouble even looking at me . . . About time to put our karaoke songs in. Will Axl be making an appearance?”

“Perhaps if Dolly Parton does.”

Karen shook her head grinning.

“I knew I’d like you.”

The Silver Year: Chapter 1

No new movies or television shows for a while? How about binging a new book, my new book, the Silver Year! Yes the day is finally here after a long eight years. For those of you who know me, especially those who’ve known me since this journey began eight years ago, it will be immediately apparent this is a story inspired by my life. I can’t deny that. However, although inspired by my life, this story is far separated from the original sources of inspiration and is truly a 100% fictional story. This in no way expresses my true feelings about any such persons in my actual life. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortableness of this was one of my biggest hesitations about releasing this book to the world. But since the theme of my book is the Buddhist principle of enlightenment through suffering, this is me becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, a message I think we could all use right now. But I also hope you can learn, love, but most of all laugh at this message too. Enjoy everyone, and as always, stay curious my friends!

P.S. I prefer to go into a book as a tabula rasa, but if you insist on knowing what you’re getting yourself into, you can find a synopsis here.

SIDE A

  

Chapter 1

Happy Birthday!

There it was, that cross. It haunted Walter’s Tuesday afternoon like the empty drink that sat beside him. “Nothing lasts forever, even my muthafuckin’ birthday,” he drunkenly sang to the tune of “November Rain” on his front porch while picking his backpacker guitar. It felt fitting as he imagined Slash kicking down the door of the old Catholic church across the street from him, wielding a guitar in a grand solo like the “November Rain” music video. Reality, however, was less dramatic: the door opened peaceably and a wedding procession filed out, while that t-shaped shadow kept creeping ominously closer.

The bride’s wedding dress was a luminous white against her dark Hispanic skin. Her hands were tucked under a bouquet of red roses, her figure shaded in an aura of fragile purity. It was her last still frame of innocence and the crowd excitedly snapped away to capture it. As she edged the sidewalk, her face met Walter’s eyes. The crimson lips were flared like the rose petals above her hips; a rich river of black hair rounded her face like a stone, the smooth curves advertising an age of still-budding beauty. She smiled at him. The shadow of the cross affixed to the top of the church then at last touched his feet, and for a pregnant moment they were alone in that shadow. In his polluted perspective, she looked like a slave on an auctioning block.

Mon Amour,” he whimpered as the bouquet was cast to the crowd behind her. She smiled again, turned, and abandoned him.

Walter’s heart crumbled as he watched “Amour” climb into the back of a limousine with a groom twice her age and size. As the car honked goodbye, Walter waved to them with a dumb smile and tears on his cheeks. He’d been left alone with his madness for too long and it was beginning to devour him.

The day began as almost all days began with a banana and peanut butter bagel sandwich called “The Elvis” at the Sit n’ Stay Café, half a block north of his home. There, the previous night’s scribblings were deciphered into a more legible and cohesive being, but there was still nothing of meaning. He’d lifted every stone within himself in search of a story and thought a bag of mushrooms might find some he’d missed, however, the only stones and stories found never should’ve been lifted or put on paper, as drugs, depression, and desperation can reveal a person’s sickest perversions. Around eleven, the first wedding began, and by four, he’d fallen in love with three brides and wished he’d been carried off in one Hearse. The day was February 14, 2012. It was Walter’s twenty-fifth birthday—and of course Valentine’s Day—and he was miserably alone.

Walter had a simple home in Huntington Beach, California within earshot of ocean waves on the city’s best and most historic intersection in his opinion: Tenth and Orange. Within a few blocks were his favorite restaurant, bar, and café; catty-corner from him, the houses of the city’s first mayor and judge, and directly across from him, a hundred-year-old Catholic church whose attendees always seemed oblivious to the singing lunatic across the street. Families, college students, vagrants, and billionaires lived harmoniously around him, and more bicycles and surfboards fed past his porch than cars, along with year-round posies of half-naked people so long as the sun was out. There were Sunday drum circles by the pier, Tuesday night street fairs, and the largest Fourth of July parade west of the Mississippi. Huntington was a beach city, tourist destination, and small town swaddled into one. It also had crime, seedy citizens, and plenty of assholes, but that only added to its charm in Walter’s view. It wasn’t as pristine and out of touch with reality as so many Orange County coastal communities were. It had attitude, authenticity, and just the right amount of gravel in its gut to stay grounded.

After the last wedding of the day, Walter began cleaning up the empty beer bottles and snubbed-out joints festering his porch. He’d been on a rampage since the night before. It started innocently enough with a few marijuana joints and a full bottle of merlot, but when he went back to the liquor cabinet for more, that’s when he discovered the shrooms stashed away for a special occasion, however, there were no more special occasions, so he ate them all. The remainder of the night was then spent in nudity, surrounded by candles, Jim Morrison spoken-word poetry, and crumbled up pieces of his manic thoughts. Other than this, his two-bedroom cottage was bare except for a camping cot, a patio chair, and a portable stereo. All his furniture had been sold, and anything remaining was in his grandmother’s garage awaiting his arrival. Tomorrow he was handing in the keys.

Feeling the onset of a headache, Walter set out on his regular walk to flush it, a stroll down Orange to Main Street, then to the end of the pier. He was going to miss his walk. It had been midwife to many ideas and decisions, including his recent one to become a writer—although he hadn’t told anyone yet. No one would understand and most likely no one would be happy. Not even he was happy. But writer is not a vocation most people choose; it’s an incurable affliction, only made worse by the tragedies of life.

ENDEAVOR RENTAL CAR LAX AIRPORT RETURN LOT, CHRISTMAS DAY 2010

 

Walter hated Christmas. It was why he didn’t mind spending the first eight hours of it on graveyard shift, isolated from the world in his unheated green, glass and metal booth just large enough for him and a backed-barstool chair. He’d also managed to sneak in his backpacker guitar as he would be free to fondle her most of the evening undisturbed. Filled with unwelcoming florescent light, his booth burned like a ghostly lighthouse on the black bitumen plane supporting a sea of sleeping rental cars. There was something holy about being in a place normally inhabited with crowds and noise. The LAX holiday rush had already swarmed and was now at their transient homes with their families, or with their intoxicants to forget their families, or tucked into bed with gleeful thoughts of Santa Clause and Christmas morning presents in their head.

Walter only had depression in his head. Not because he was depressed beyond his normal draping of it, but because it was the subject of his new, half-created song. While depression had often been motivator, this was its first time as subject.

Walter always wrote best alone, and alone he was. He hadn’t seen another person since his shift had started at midnight. It was now three. No one was returning a rental car on Christmas, especially at this ungodly hour. But ungodly hours were when Walter’s imagination reigned supreme; the hours of mischief, mystery, and romance. In the night the world becomes much more imaginary, and what’s dark in the day can be seduced by the strangeness of the night. Darkness was his greatest friend and worst enemy.

Yesterday I felt like I could do anything…” he sang softly into his booth, its flimsy, metallic materials shaking with the perfect tinny reverb. “But today I’m just struggling not to kill myself. But if tomorrow I feel like I, I could do anything, it only would be to escape, escape this hell, without you baby blue.

That was as far as he’d gotten in articulating his feelings perfectly. Even in expressing his flaws, he wouldn’t accept anything other than perfect. Nothing was immune to his perfectionism, which was why it was also catalyst, trigger, and savior of his melancholic schisms. But this ouroboros was also his creative core, churning like a pulsar star’s, crying out from the cosmos not wanting to be forgotten before it spun out and died.

“Nice singing,” a female voice scared Walter out of his head and back into his body, however, it was too late to save the former as it bashed against the back of his glass and metal capsule. He had had his chair leaned back and the unexpected voice sent just enough of a tremor through him to tip it backwards.

“I’m so sorry!” the voice said, then bent down to meet him, but its face was blocked by his crotch as his legs had folded over himself, wedged between the chair and the backside of his booth.

She carefully pulled the chair away and his legs unfolded, revealing the kindest face he’d ever seen. Even in the harsh light of his booth, it shone softly, reminding him of the church girls of his youth. The full contours of her plush lips and cheeks embellished this glow, and drew him into her button nose, so lovely he wanted to lick it. Her deep set eyes and long, wavy hair were earthy brown, accented by her pastel pink business coat and dress.

“Are you okay?” she said, her left hand reaching to the back of his head with a diamond wedding ring so protruding it nearly clawed his eye.

“Yeah,” Walter said. “Luckily this shack isn’t well-built and the walls are deceptively lenient.”

“Well, there’s nothing deceptive about this bump on the back of your head. I’m so, so sorry.”

“It’s okay. If it’s anyone but myself, I’m very forgiving.”

“That’s a strange thing to say to a stranger . . . It’s also very brave.”

“Not brave. I just have a bad habit of being overly honest in situations I shouldn’t.”

She smiled and it only further melted Walter. It had the gentle quality of both the caring mother and the caring lover he’d always wished for but never had.

“Bad habits are in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “I think it’s admirable.”

“Well, you’ve never been the victim of my bad habit . . . Are you new here?” Walter realized she was probably his coworker here to lunch him. No one else around his age in formal business attire—a requirement of Endeavor—would have reason to be there. His coworkers came and went so much and there were so many that an unfamiliar—although not always unwelcoming—face was nothing new.

A four-month term at the airport was required of all new executive-trainees in the greater Los Angeles area, and although Walter had never participated in Greek life in college, he envisioned the “Executive Training Program”, Endeavor’s official name for their LAX corporate labor camp, was something like a co-ed semester of it. After all, that is where Endeavor funneled most of its employee base from. Forty to fifty recently-graduated twenty-somethings exposed to only themselves, exhaust fumes, and their customer and management overlords—many still naïve adults themselves, working ever-shifting ten hour shifts five to six days a week to ensure no consistency of sleep, and the holiday schedule of a Jehovah’s Witness. Not only were they always physically and mentally strained, but micro-managed, dress-coded, and fucked in a three-way formation resembling the Eiffel Tower. While forced to live in the crotch and ass of their supervisors—some doing so literally, they also had to hand their own asses to frustrated business travelers, as rental car agents were a favorite target for them. Relief only came in the form of uncommissioned brownie points during the few times they succeeded to dupe unsuspecting tourists into buying often-times overpriced and useless upgrades and insurances. The carrot at the end of the stick was to someday hold the stick itself. The stick became their entire meaning, but what many failed to realize it came at the price of their soul, health, and youth. Simple street-gang tactics, just dressed in neckties instead of colors.

“Yes, it’s my third day,” she answered.

“What a shitty time to be called to the ETP,” Walter said.

“I know, they never give you any warning beforehand. Needless to say, my fiancé wasn’t happy. He actually told me to quit over it, but he’s been telling me to quit since I started. But where else am I supposed to find a job right now? This one was hard enough to get. Secretly, though, I don’t mind so much. I’ve never been a fan of Christmas. When you hate most of your family, it’s not a pleasant holiday.”

Walter smiled. “That’s a brave thing to say to a stranger,” he said.

“Hi. My name is Amber,” she said shaking his hand firmly as he still sat. “Amber Evans-soon-to-be-Sinclair.” She then helped him to his feet.

“Hi. My name is Walter, Walter Huxley.”

Walter. That was my late grandfather’s name, one of the few family members I love.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot. Not too many Walters under sixty.” Walter was again rewarded with a smile.

“What were you singing before I interrupted?” Amber asked.

“A song I’m working on.”

“Oh,” she said her eyes shifting to the side. “You must be the guy in the band.”

“So you’ve already heard about me? That’s been happening a lot with the new people lately and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.”

“It’s mostly about your band’s shows and what a party they are. Although a few women have had some choice words.”

“None of them bad I hope.”

“Not exactly. But I wouldn’t call them flattering to a woman who has a fiancé.”

“Well, I don’t intend to flatter women with fiancés.”

“Just sorority girls who don’t mind you’re sleeping with them all simultaneously?”

Walter cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m always safe,” he said. “We’re just trying to find a little fun in this hellhole.”

“I’m not judging you.”

“Sure doesn’t feel that way.”

Now Amber became uncomfortable and looked away. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Anyway, I’m here to lunch you.”

“Hard to call it a lunch at three o’clock in the morning,” he said, “I’m not even hungry.”

“What are you going to do then?”

“The same thing I was just doing, but in one of those cars out there.”

“What’s the name of the song you’re working on?”

“It doesn’t have one yet. Just a verse and a chorus.”

“Can I hear it?”

“I don’t know. It’s not a happy song.”

“It didn’t sound unhappy from what I heard. In fact, it sort of cheered me up. Not that I was sad exactly, but my mood’s always more vulnerable in the winter.”

Walter grinned. “You must’ve not heard the words then,” he said, “because the song’s about my depression.” Her pink-shadowed eyelids flexed open, the whites of her eyes looking like headlights of an oncoming car. “Sorry, my bad habit again,” he said.

“Don’t apologize,” she said. “Again, I wish I was brave enough to be so open.”

“Because you also suffer from depression? Vulnerable isn’t a word most people use to describe their mood.”

Amber gasped and closed her eyes, then turned away to reopen them out of sight. “You’re awfully perceptive Mister Huxley,” she said, “but that’s not something I think we should be discussing. However, I’d still like to hear your song.”

Walter began, and by the end of the first chorus, a perfect second verse somehow magically formed on his lips from the phrases and words he’d been plying over all night.

And today I woke up thinking you, you were my everything. But by tomorrow I know you’ll be somebody else. And I know it’s just me, me and my imagining, that you and only you can save me from myself. All of you, baby blue.”

Once finished, the air in his booth had become much warmer, the windows now noticeably fogged. Heat was radiating from them both like arms that couldn’t be held, only intensely yearned.

“I thought you only had one verse?” she said.

“I thought I did too,” he replied.

ONE MONTH LATER

“Pucker your lips as if you’re going to give a baby’s belly a raspberry kiss and blow while humming like this, bebebebebebeee… Now hum the scales with me…”

“bebebebebebebebe . . .  bebebebebebebebe . . . beb—” Walter’s phone vibrated in his pocket. A text from an unnamed number.

Are you in your car now?

            Yes.

Be there in two minutes. I can’t see you after the show, so I want to see you now.

He still had an hour before he needed to be onstage, so he put his vocal warmup CD on pause, a CD that had not left his car changer since his first and only vocal teacher had given him it three years earlier. Despite his band’s once-a-month gig at the Hollywood House of Blues providing a green room, before he had green rooms, he only had his car, and his car was still the only place that could calm his preshow jitters and where he could practice his preshow rituals uninterrupted. But for her, anything could wait.

Walter switched his stereo to the auxiliary channel, then scrolled through his iPod to On The Beach, their favorite album to have fun to. Soon, she appeared out of the clusters of cars around him in the parking garage, a few blocks away from the venue. He was careful to park on the basement floor, somewhere not too obvious but not too suspicious, not too crowded, but also not too empty. He wanted his 2002 unwashed, plain-gray Prius to look even more inconspicuous than it already was.

“See The Sky About to Rain” was playing as she opened his passenger side door.

“Ah, you queued up my favorite song,” she said as she sat in the seat and closed the door.

“Only because the sky is about to rain.”

“I know. Hopefully I’m not walking back in it.”

Their lips then went for each other’s. Walter reached over her waist and grabbed the side seat adjustment, leaning her back while his body floated over the center console, landing softly upon hers. He wanted to hide their actions below the window line.

“I don’t think we’re going to have time for a full meal tonight,” she said. “I’ve got to go back soon.”

“That’s okay. This is enough.”

“Enough to get you off?”

“If I focus hard enough, maybe.” He smiled.

“Here.” She pushed him up and back into his seat, leaning his seat back as he’d leaned hers. “Were you doing your raspberries?” she asked.

“Yes, but I put them on pause for you.”

“Don’t do that. I want you…” she undid his pants, pulled them and his underwear to his knees, then firmly squeezed the base of his penis, “…and your vocal cords to be relaxed and ready for the show . . . Let’s start the song over and we can raspberry it through.”

They began raspberrying together—she performing while also sliding up and down his shaft, but a minute in they were laughing so hard they could no longer focus.

“I’ll just finish you with my hand,” Amber said. “The key to a good BJ is the handwork anyway.”

As she did and as they kissed, Walter couldn’t help but think what a blessing and curse she was. He’d never been happier, yet never felt more ashamed. The one person he could finally share his body and darkness with was practically a married woman. But this was the only woman who did not shy away when he showed her his black dog. In fact she had a black dog of her own, and they were the greatest of playmates. Amber’s depression was beyond the comprehension of her fiancé Greg, so she began sharing it with Walter. But such shared secrets can only grow larger, less concealable ones.

“Oops,” Amber noticed he was going and swooped down to swallow the seeds of her sowing. He groaned and bit his lips while his hips arched as her mouth and hands worked to get every bit out of him.

“Thank you,” he said after. She rested her head on his lap with one eye looking up at him and half a smile. “Mind if we just lay down in the backseat together for a few more songs?” he asked.

“I can’t. I left Greg back at the venue with his friends. I said I needed to get some tampons.”

“You brought him?”

“How couldn’t I have? Plus, he’s a big Guns N’ Roses fan.” Walter raised his head above the window line. “What’s wrong?” she asked. He took a while to respond.

“Nothing,” he said, and brought his head back down. “I just wish I didn’t always have to meet you like you’re some kind of hooker. I just wish . . . I wish we could have a real date together.”

“Walter, you know that wish can’t come true. This has to stay just fun.”

“I know, but this is becoming more than fun for me. I… I think I’m falling in love with you.”

Amber’s face became mute, its muscles tensed in-place as if someone had pressed her pause button.

“Amber? . . . Amber?” He caressed her cheek, but she remained paused. “Amber!”

“What?!” she came to life.

“You just froze like someone turned an off-switch.”

“I what? . . . You what? You… you love me?”

“Never mind. I think something’s wrong. You don’t look right. I’m taking you to a hospital.”

“What?” She brought her head up woozily. Walter adjusted her seat to catch it with the headrest. She rested against it and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, and when her eyes reopened, they had a new sobriety. “No, that’s not possible,” she said. “I haven’t had one in over ten years.”

“You haven’t had what in over ten years?”

“A starring spell. I used to have them as a kid, but I grew out of it . . . I need to go.”

“No, I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“No you are not! I’ll be fine. And even if I did need to go, that’s my fiancé’s responsibility, not yours . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“But you did.”

She looked away as tears began streaming over her cheeks. “Fuck, my mascara,” she said. “Do you have any tissues?”

“There’s some napkins in the glove compartment.”

She slid open his sun visor mirror, and began dabbing her eyes to stop the flow of black tears. “We can’t keep doing this,” she said to her reflection. She then clicked the cover closed, and with no further words, left.

Onstage with his guitar, Walter looked out to the crowd he was tasked with entertaining. It used to be a lot more scarce during their first set, but in the last two years of playing, it was now nearly as full as their second set. His band, Perfect Crime, began as a Guns N’ Roses tribute, and because they weren’t middle-aged men like the six other Guns N’ Roses tributes in the greater Los Angeles area, they quickly became the go-to reincarnation in absence of the real band which was not Axl’s cut-rate version. Walter soon realized, however, that he could turn this counterfeited notoriety into real notoriety if his original music became the opener.

So now he had everything he wanted: just as many people there to hear their music—which in all but name was his music—as the icons they were later imitating, and all he could think was: Where is Amber? During his lifeless performances of the first two songs, he’d been scanning every corner of the venue for her, but it was becoming obvious she wasn’t there.

“Um,” Walter said to the already unenthused crowd, “this next song is a new one.”

“Walter, no!” his bassist Brain “Squids” Squibbs said from the side. “We are dying right now and that song will kill us. Skip it. Let’s do Minerva.”

“No Squids. I need this song right now. It’s the only thing that will save this set.”

“I’m not playing it.”

“Fine! Then get the fuck off stage. This is my music and its mine to kill if I want to, not yours.”

“Fine,” Squids said. He then turned off his amp, unplugged his bass, and walked offstage. Walter’s other bandmates didn’t try to stop him as spats between him and Walter happened pretty regularly, and Squids always rejoined them eventually.

“Um,” Walter said again to the unenthused and now also confused crowd. “I guess without further ado, here’s ‘Baby Blue Part 2’ . . . Y-yesterday I-I felt like I c-c-could d-do anything, b-but, but today I’m just str… str… kill myself—or shit. Um, I’m sorry. Let’s start over.”

But when the band did, he couldn’t sing a single syllable and he sure as hell couldn’t get in a wig and perform as a singing stripper after this. So he left, going out the backstage door, then back into the safety of his car.

He began driving, driving just to be driving. Not a heavy but not a light rain began falling, his wipers wiping across the coppery street lights and glowing green signs of Sunset, Santa Monica, and eventually PCH. He stayed on PCH, driving south with nothing but 100.3 The Sound quietly on the airwaves.

I’ll drive to midnight, he thought looking at the blue-green digital clock on his dashboard display reading ten-fifty-six. But when the clock reached its destination, time continued to flow south until just a little before one when Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” came on. Being a station staple, he thought nothing of it until the line of the song it was named after cut into him.

His eyes began to moist. He grimaced and cleared them, but they only grew more saturated, rapidly filling his eyes and dressing his cheeks. No longer able to see, he pulled alongside a parking meter on the side of the road, just inside Huntington Beach city limits. There he surrendered to sobbing. It was the first time he’d let himself since he could recall. As a child, he’d learned to hold in his tears, but now he was repaying for those lost years.

Walter opened the door still crying and stepped into a heavy rain. He ran from the car onto a large grassy knoll, over a beach bike path and onto the sand, where he continued running until he reached a lifeguard tower. He hoisted himself onto its slippery, plastic banks and tucked under the rattling eves of its empty turret. Facing the dark ocean and tempestuous sky, he began taking deep breaths, his lungs moving with the crush of the waves until they at last they washed his tears away. The rain then lightened and he allowed himself to smile. He was still mostly unhappy, but he’d found peace with it. But again he was interrupted by his cellphone.

“Oh my God, it’s Amber,” he said recognizing her unrecognized number. “Hello? . . . Hello? . . . Amber can you hear me?” the call then ended. His phone screen having been unshielded from the rainwater soaking his pockets, immobilized, then shut off, Walter failing to resuscitate it. Accepting it was a good sign she was reaching out to him, again his heart had hope.

After driving to his home in Torrance which was also his grandmother’s home, having done this to his cellphone before, he made a bowl of dry rice and dunked it and its battery in, hoping for the best in the morning.

When morning came, it came with success as his phone powered up as normal. There was a voicemail notification from the unrecognized number. He pressed play. First, he heard only crying, then a threatening male voice.

“Who is he?” the voice said. “Tell me who he is!”

“A-a-a friend from work, that’s all.”

“What’s his name?”

“What does it matter?”

“It matters because you went to see him when you were supposed to be getting tampons, but you’re obviously not even on your period.”

“I started earlier, b-but it was just light, so I took it out before we got home. I swear.”

“Amber tell me who he is!”

“Walter. The singer of the band. I just wanted to wish him luck, that’s all. I swear it’s the truth.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell me?”

“Because I knew you’d react like this. You react this way with every male friend I have—or had.”

“Have you slept with him?”

“What? No. Never. Our wedding is three months away.”

“Amber, I’ll ask you again. Have you slept with him?” There was a silence, then: “You have? I want you to tell him because he can’t hear you nodding.” Another silence. “Tell him Amber! Tell him who’s been fucking my fiancée . . . Say it you fucking slut!”

“Walter! I fucked Walter Huxley! Okay?”

“Thank you,” he said. The call ended.

Teaser for My Upcoming Novel, The Silver Year: A Great Adventure of the World & Mind

The Silver Year: A Great Adventure of the World & Mind

It had been Walter Huxley’s dream to become a rock star and he sacrificed everything to make it come true: a promising future as a physicist, a loving girlfriend, and arguably two people’s lives. But when one is born with the desire to brand his name on the world, he’ll destroy his own to do so. However, what happens when you realize your dream was not your own, just an expectation of everyone around you? And even worse, you realize this just as you’ve made your dream a reality, a reality you now hate but can’t escape.

On his twenty-fifth birthday, this is where Walter finds himself, living in the shadow of his own creation, his stage persona, Quinn Quark. After attempting to destroy Quark and abandon rock n’ roll altogether, Walter finds himself lost and in financial ruin, but surprisingly more famous than ever. Just as he’s on the verge of a mental breakdown—all in view of the public eye, he becomes the unexpected recipient of a birthday gift from a forgotten and unexpected friend, an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe. At first reluctant, he only goes as a means to escape his newfound fame in America, but in the process of traveling through eight countries, Walter meets a cast of characters whom will alter his life forever.

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