*It’s pretty short…and it’s all Gabriel and I’m not a dude, so I tried not to the make the conversation between Gabriel and Seb too girly but…who knows whether I succeeded or not.*
As he strode toward the bar, Gabriel heard Stacey exclaim behind him, in her drunkenness, “You kissed him! Details!” He cracked up laughing, face falling into his palm, before reaching the bar. For all that Len was slurring, Stacey’s voice had grown exponentially louder.
“Get me a beer, man?” He said to the bartender. Leaning back against the bar, he glanced around, his eyes wandering back to Stacey and Len, who were leaning across the table toward one another, sharing secrets. They really were the closest of friends. They probably knew each other’s darkest secrets, strengths and weaknesses. The vast majority of college roommates did not get along that well. He knew that from experience.
“On the house, Gabe.” The drink appeared beside him. Gabriel tossed back a sip, gazing around at people in the room. He used to play here during his senior year of high school, just as he had now. Sometimes he roped a friend into playing another guitar and singing backup, but most of the time, the five or six song sets had been him, solo, singing into the microphone, little more than background noise.
Landslide was accustomed to live performances, more so than most towns in rural Missouri, because of the Tallis. He’d performed there, too, during talent shows and as an opening act for the odd unknown indie band that would use the place as a concert venue. In Chicago, when it looked like the band would at least get a a twelve or thirteen song album together and a real honest-to-goodness tour, he’d been thankful for the practice.
“Now that felt good, didn’t it?” Gerry said from his left.
“It did, actually,” Gabriel grinned. “What was my rationale for not doing that?”
“Too much of a good thing?” Gerry shrugged. “I can’t read your mind, bro.”
“Mmm.” Gabriel took another sip. “How do you think the set went?”
“Good mix. I didn’t think you could pull off ‘Lucy in the Sky,’ but you did.” Gerry shrugged. “Hometown crowd, dude. They love you. And Stacey and Lenny love you, too.”
Gabriel felt himself smirk. “You like Lenny, huh?”
“She’s cool. We don’t have girls like that here.” Gerry turned to look at the pair, who had pulled away from each other. Stacey was calmly sipping her drink—something suspiciously pink—and Lennon was making a goofy face at her, mouth twisted unbecomingly. Stacey burst into laughter.
“She is such a goof,” Gabriel remarked. Gerry turned to his brother, right eyebrow arched up. “Lennon,” Gabriel added. “Len’s the goof. Stacey’s the ham.”
“Is that what you do in here all day? Analyze people?” Gerry asked.
“In vino veritas, Gerry,” Gabriel replied.
Gabriel needed to keep his mind occupied, busy as it was naturally, so he read at the bar, when there weren’t any customers, which was an astonishing amount of the time. The past week or so, instead of reading, he’d been scribbling in his notebook. It was half full with pure drivel. Most of it was junk and derivative, but it was a basis for something that was sure to be better if he only worked at it.
Gabriel’s bedroom was in the back left corner of the second floor, the opposite side of the house from Gerry, his parents and the now-unoccupied space that was his sister Sam’s room. Gabe had picked it himself, at an age where he wanted to be left alone. He’d unwillingly moved from Columbia to this godforsaken spit of a town—village, really—and he wanted to be left to his own devices. In time, since he tended to blast music and strum guitars at odd hours of the day and mostly night, it was a blessing to have a breadth around his area.
The notebook was open flat on his bed. He flicked through the pages, looking at his list of ideas. He had a few lines written on this song he’d been working on for a few days, but no concept. He had a melody, three chords, but he wasn’t sure where the song was going. He only knew that he felt compelled to try his hand at writing again. If he was a little rusty, well, it was like riding a bike. It would flood back. Might as well give it one last try. If he was going to leave this behind him, forever an unfulfilled part of his past, then he wanted to be damn sure that he was over and done with it.
She preferred him, he wrote. She turned her shoulder, a grimace on her face, and wanted him instead.
Gabriel blinked, pen slipping from his right hand. Oh. So maybe he wasn’t as over—he couldn’t even think her name without flinching—as he’d thought. Or not as he’d thought, but as he’d pretended. He’d walked around in a fog for the last six months, existing, neither happy nor unhappy. His mother thought he was miserable, as she put it. He wasn’t miserable. He was disinterested. There was a difference.
Analyzing people. Yeah. He wrote, “Except myself. Isn’t that how it goes?”
Being the only bar that served food within town limits, Gabriel saw every type of person sweep in and out of the place. He’d seen the middle-aged men, some laid off from the factory now, who came in to the Kettle and drowned themselves in cheap beer. The men who worked and lived on their tiny patches of farmland didn’t appear in the bar too often. They lived off the land.
The younger guys came in more often. Married or not, they gathered together in groups to watch games on the TVs. Some of them drank themselves into a stupor and grew raucous.
The women were something else altogether. Some of them could shoot down whiskey or tequila straight without a wince. The ones who impressed him were the super feminine girls who could do that, the kind who came in dressed up for no reason or had their hair and nails done all the time. He usually assumed they’d take beer or go for some fancy, fruity concoction with one part alcohol in it. Those who ordered those drinks, he reasoned, either couldn’t handle a more straightforward drink or wanted to feel cosmopolitan, even for a few hours.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
He liked surprises. He found contradictory elements in a person the most appealing. Mom used to say that he was too curious for his own good. And at the moment, with a handful of tangled words that weren’t cohesive enough, his curiosity veered toward Lenny McKinney. She’d turned skittish after the kiss, arms crossed tightly over her body, fingers twisting her hair around. What was her deal?
Gabriel bit his lip and squiggled a bunch of nonsense about a dark-eyed girl in the margins. When he used to get stuck on lyrics, when he couldn’t quite express what his busy mind was running, he could count on Seb, his college roommate and guitarist extraordinaire, to extrapolate. Len and Stacey reminded him of Seb. It was simply the college connection. Len and Stacey were not only still speaking to each other, but close friends. He and Seb? Not so much.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips. He missed Seb, but what he’d done—what they had done—was unforgivable. Unless…
She really did prefer Seb to him. Things like that happened. They’d been on the skids by then, anyway. The relationship wouldn’t have lasted much longer. Gabriel knew they weren’t going to be together forever; they were unlikely to last much longer than the eighteen months they’d been together. But there would’ve been less painful ways to go about a break-up.
“Fuck,” Gabe muttered. Before he could change his mind, Gabriel grabbed his phone and scrolled through his contacts.
“Gabe?” Seb’s voice came through the line a matter of seconds later.
“Yeah.” Gabriel paused, gathering his thoughts. “I think it’s time we at least call a truce. We’re supposedly adults, right?”
“I’m trying to write a song and I can’t fucking finish it.”
Seb let out a humorless laugh. “Music or lyrics?”
“Lyrics. It’s a lot of crap right now.”
“Pick a theme and go with it,” Seb said. “What’s got you stuck?”
“Shit,” Gabriel admitted. “I decided to get a real job.”
Letting out a huge breath, although his stomach was making queasy, clenching movements, Gabriel asked bluntly, “Look, is she there?”
“No. She’s out.”
“For now,” Seb answered. Gabriel flared his nostrils. “You?”
“Possibilties. What do you mean ‘for now’?”
“She’s…I don’t know. She’s not who I thought she was. All right, so what do you have? Are you scribbling random shit down again?”
After an entire day of strumming until his fingers tore open and bled, Gabriel had three completed, brand new songs.