Gordon woke to the sensation of his pulse throbbing in his temples. Too much tequila, not enough water. His throat felt dry, the taste clinging to his tongue unusual. He rubbed at his eyes roughly and swung his legs over the side of the bed, then nearly staggered due to the shortness of the bed. He had to find a bathroom so he could gauge how much he resembled a human being.
His clothes had moved from the floor sometime in the night. They had been folded and neatly placed in a chair. He shuffled over to at least grab his boxers to avoid traumatizing her roommates. He could feel every vein in his eyes throbbing, and the pink walls didn’t help him feel any more comfortable in his state of distress.
Photographs had been hastily tacked up on most surfaces, showing girls smiling together in clubs, in parks, in school uniforms.
He backed up slowly and expected to trip over a teddy bear any moment, but no stuffed animals jumped up to attack him. Still, the girl looked just the same as she did in those photos. She was old enough to work around liquor, at least unless there were exceptions being made for her to get by. He didn’t know what to think, but everything about her room cried out young, and it scared the hell out of him.
As did the knock on her door as a voice bellowed her name and then turned the knob.
In their haste, they hadn’t thought to lock the door. He felt the blood drain from his face as he uselessly held his boxers in front of his naked body, trying to will himself invisible because there were precious few places a man over six feet tall could conceal himself at a moment’s notice.
Lizzie stirred, and with the energy of someone who had long since learned to protect her privacy, she launched herself at the door. Sometime in the night she had slipped into his t-shirt, which fit her like a dress. “Dad,” she growled, confirming the worst fears in Gordon’s mind, “you know you can’t just come in here like this.”
The man on the other side of the door didn’t sound impressed. “It’s my home. Why shouldn’t I go where I please?”
“Because I have someone in here.” She threw a glance over to Gordon, her eyes refusing to meet his.
“You mean in addition to the two who were crashed out in the living room?”
“Yes. They’re in a band. They didn’t have anywhere to go last night. It wouldn’t be right just to leave them sleeping in a van outside work. Look, just give us a minute, and then we’ll come down for breakfast.”
Gordon couldn’t make out what the man said, but he could only assume that the man had acquiesced because the door drew shut under her touch. She sighed and leaned back against the wood, her hand reaching behind her to engage the lock this time. “Fucking tequila,” she grumbled beneath her breath.
“Your father? That was your father?” he yelped. He wanted to get dressed and beat a hasty retreat, but he wasn’t alone in this. He had his bandmates to think about, and oh god, had he fucked a teenager? No matter how he turned, she’d see him naked as he put his boxers back on. And really, she’d seen a lot more, even if they hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights. He fumbled with the material, keeping his gaze on his ankles. “My shirt. You have my shirt.”
“Oh. Right.” She gave him a modest smile and peeled off the faded blue t-shirt, revealing the fact that she had nothing on underneath. She looked just as good as she’d felt beneath him, her breasts full and her hips just broad enough to give her curves. She sat down on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs before patting the spot next to her. “I guess there are some things we need to talk about.”
“Like the fact that I could go to jail?” he asked, his voice a forced whisper. He writhed into his shirt inside out, then struggled to correct the error. “After the sort of day that I went through, I can’t believe you’d just let me. I mean, those guys at the bar. They knew, didn’t they? And they let it happen, Christ, to laugh at me again.”
Her face grew red, but she at least choked down her anger because she knew that she had misled him. “Relax, would you? Okay, so I guess I kind of lied about the roommates, but would you really have come home with me if I’d told you that I live with my folks? I’m not some kid. I’m almost nineteen. My uncle owns the bar, so he lets me work there and pays me under the table. I’m just trying to get my head around things, maybe find out if there’s something I can do with my life that’s more than waiting tables or pulling pints before my tits sag all the way down to my knees.”
She sounded remorseful enough that he could at least let himself sit down. It was better than pacing when his heart was hammering and his breath was shallow. “So you’re eighteen.” It was all he could come up with to say under the circumstances.
“I don’t know how many are around right now. Three older, one younger. The youngest is probably the only one about. His name’s Gordon too actually. So is my dad’s.”
In spite of himself, he couldn’t hold back a smile. She pressed her lips together to stifle the reaction, but she did the same. “Freud would have a fucking field day with you, you know that?” he asked.
“I know. My family’s really fucked up. I guess I am, too.” She looked over at her clothes, then reached out to find her bra. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t things would go like this. I don’t know what I was thinking last night. There was just something about the way you carried yourself, like the world was against you no matter what. It made me mad. It made me want to show you that sometimes, the world can just be nice. And I wanted you to want me more than you wanted to be pissed off about everything. I guess I just wanted you to want me.”
Tears were brimming in her eyes, clinging to the dark lashes. He felt his heart drop in his chest at the thought that he could upset a young girl like this. “Come on, none of that,” he said. He hesitated, then put his arm around her shoulders. She curled into his body, ducking her head to avoid his gaze. “You’re a beautiful girl. You could have anyone you want. Maybe everything’s confusing right now, but it won’t always be. And at least you don’t want to be a musician so you can spend half your twenties baring your soul in front of ungrateful bastards who want nothing more than to have you shut up.”
She laughed quietly and swiped at her eyes. “You’re just different. You’re not like the boys around here. I guess I was kind of pretending that you’d like me enough that you’d take me with me and get me out of here. I’m so afraid I’m going to die here, some granny in sweatpants with five divorces under my belt and not enough money to feed everyone.”
“Well, I’m already in that position with one mouth to feed. Minus the sweatpants and granny scenario.”
She gave his chest a playful shove and then moved to the edge of the bed to look for her underwear. “You’re awful. I don’t know why I wanted to see what it was like to be with an older man.”
She gave him a firm glare and then rummaged around for a dress that she could easily slide into. The baggy clothing combined with her lack of makeup made her look younger, more innocent. “None of that. You’re going to be pitying yourself after my dad makes you stay for breakfast so he can give you hell in a completely passive-aggressive fashion.”
He gritted his teeth but took it as his cue to slip back into his jeans. “I’m sorry I was such a shit yesterday. And about your dad. I just kind of crashed into your life, but regardless, you were the best thing that could have happened to me.”
“What a fucking liar you are.” She blushed, but when she smiled, he could see those crooked teeth that made her all the more endearing. “Whatever. You’re a musician. You probably get into weirder situations and sleep with more beautiful women all the time.”
“You’d be surprised.” They were back in their clothes, and with the blankets draw up over the bed, it was easy to pretend that they were back to owing each other nothing. There were a few one night stands in his past, but he couldn’t really remember one that was awkward like this. He was torn between self-preservation and protecting this young girl’s confidence. He probably wouldn’t have slept with her had he known her age, but the deed was done, and he couldn’t pretend that they were strangers. “Come on, let’s go endure the Inquisition while I’m still hungover enough to be suicidal and charge into it.”
Gordon’s bandmates had flown the coop at dawn, leaving behind a message that they were going to find junk food and wait for him at the van. This left him alone with his young lover and her father. Coffee had already been set out, toast at the center of the table. Gordon would have given away the shoes on his feet to get some greasy sausage, bacon, and eggs into his system, but the dry toast would have to suffice. He took a seat and offered a hand to the other man, who seemed exceptionally young to have a teenage daughter. He couldn’t have been much beyond forty yet, with a full head of light brown hair and a mostly unlined face. “Nice to meet you,” Gordon said, resisting the urge to add “sir” to the end of the statement. “Thanks a lot for the breakfast.”
“Well, it’s not a problem…” He paused, no doubt to demand a name.
“Gordon.” His voice felt thick in his throat. “I hear you’re called the same. Small world.”
“Yes. Small world.” Gordon Senior stared at his daughter a moment, then set about buttering his toast. “So, our Liz says that you’re in a band?”
“Yeah. We’re called Smile of Winter. We might change it since it’s a bit ubiquitous, you know? Tough to pin down. But we play indie rock, I guess. We’re from New York. Well, we all live in Brooklyn now. Same difference, really.”
“You’re a long way from home then. Big tour?”
“Hardly, but you take the paying gigs wherever they crop up, as long as they pay enough. Not a lot, but enough to justify buying the gas and a few drinks, anyway.”
“But not enough for a hotel room.” There was no room for the sentence to be a question, and so Gordon could only nod in affirmation.
“We’re not at that level yet. Too many other expenses. But we’re hoping it happens soon. We’re giving our all to everything.”
The older man nodded and picked up his mug and toast. “Right. I have some stuff to sort before I go to work, so I’ll leave you two to it. I don’t suppose you’ll be here when I’m leaving, so safe travels home, Gordon.”
“Same to you. I mean. Take care.” He flushed but at least didn’t look away as the older man left the room, his footsteps retreating up the stairs. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered.
Lizzie leaned over and kissed his cheek, though he could only read innocence in her touch. “You really got off lightly. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Probably because you’re leaving and we won’t see each other again.” With those words, her lip stuck out a little. He knew she was trying to be playful, but there was something regretful in her voice.
“We might see each other again. We never really know where we’re going to head on tour. But hey, if you ever get up to New York, you ought to visit me. I mean, if it’s a night I’m not behind the bar batting my eyelashes for tears or getting fired from a temporary job, I’ll probably be at The Fritz. I’d give you my phone number, but I’m pretty sure that’s the utility that’s been shut off this month due to non-payment.”
She elbowed him but shook her head and did her best to choke down any emotions she might’ve had. “Fuck off. I really don’t know what to think about you. One second you’re sweet, and the next you’re absolutely infuriating.”
He gave her an absent shrug. “I usually opt for infuriating. It’ll keep you from missing me too terribly.”
“I think I will miss you. I’ll always pretend that you were the one who could take me away from here, even if you’re living on the streets of New York.” She tore at the toast on her plate, the butter making the bread fall apart in jagged creases. She had had her night of excitement, but she knew that she would have to go back to her everyday existence, thinking about what might have happened. “Do you think you might write a song about me someday?”
“Maybe. But I won’t share it with anyone until people stop telling us how shitty we are.”
“I’m sure you’re not as bad as it seems. People just need a reason to care.”
Her words resonated in a strange way within him. Had he thought too little of others’ opinions, dismissed them and just accepted as a given that they wouldn’t care? Did he need to look outward more? He could have fallen into the inquiries more, but she was finished with her coffee and moved to put their dishes in the sink. “And you should lay off the drugs. Fucking ruined my brother’s life. I’d hate to see that happen to you.”
“Does that mean you’ll keep up with my band?”
“Only if your music doesn’t suck. It’d be a shame if it did after all you put me through.”