For her eighteenth birthday, Lizzie asked for only one thing: a plane ticket to New York. In the months that passed by, she’d let a few boys fool around beneath her clothes, but her encounter with the gangly musician so often reappeared in her thoughts. There was something about that man’s stubborn passion, his desperate drive that made him unlike all the others who thought she was pretty enough or just had a nice enough body. She had to see him again, if only to hear his band and let him know if she honestly thought they could make it.
Of course nobody wanted to send her off to the big city when she didn’t even know where she was going, so she did what she thought was the most rational thing for a girl in her position. She got drunk using a fake ID, got a tattoo far too low to be considered a tramp stamp, and bought the ticket herself.
She had once had a boyfriend who wanted to maintain a long-distance relationship when he’d gone off to college, so she nearly expected to be greeted by open arms and a kiss on the cheek when she stepped off the plane. “As though he remembers you exist,” she scolded herself as she shrugged on her backpack and began the disconcerting march from JFK’s terminal to the overpriced AirTrain. She’d only booked the weekend in the city, and she hadn’t bothered with a hotel room. All she had was some leftover birthday cash, a change of clothes, and hope.
Of course, she quickly exchanged some of the money and the hope to get drunk at the first bar she found when the subway spat her out on the Lower East Side. She found that in the darkest places, she didn’t have to flash any identification when cleavage was already on display. Tequila shots were a minor homage to the night they had spent together. Each time she let a new shot scorch its way down her throat, she had her regrets amplified. What if he had just issued the open invitation to visit because he had felt pressured not to break a young girl’s heart at the awkward end of a one night stand? What if he thought she was a ridiculous little girl or, worse yet, some sort of creepy stalker? Was it just stupid to come all this way with no back up plan? He could have a girlfriend now. Hell, he could have had one all along for all she knew. Bitterness and liquor complemented one another.
But after the third man approached her to offer to buy her a drink, her confidence blossomed. She wasn’t just some slut coming in off the street. She knew how to cock her head to pretend she was listening to a boring introduction, how to laugh at the appropriate pauses, how to lean over to offer a sympathetic glimpse down her top. If Gordon was no longer interested in her, then she would just have to find another suitable man to keep her company until Sunday.
The drink had numbed her fear, and she strode down the street like she’d lived here her entire life. She wouldn’t remember any of the landmarks along the way, that much was true, but she would fondly recall the way the night had spread out before her with the brightness and cheer and warmth of Christmas lights.
Somehow the bar was a little grittier than she had expected, but then again, so was this part of Brooklyn. One of her heels caught on the stairs—she had come prepared for how ridiculously tall he was—but she caught herself early enough to simply pull her little red dress back into place and then shimmy onto a stool. A stocky man with pockmarked cheeks and light stubble took one look at her and dropped the rag that he’d been fidgeting with. “Please tell me that I can do something to help you,” he entreated with a hint of an Irish accent. The kindness he offered brought a liquid grin to her face. She felt unstoppable.
“I certainly hope you can. You see, I’m looking for somebody, but he’s not expecting me.”
“And would that somebody happen to be me?”
“No, he’s…” She bit on her tongue and tried to figure out how to put him into words. She only knew his first name, and her household alone showed that it was far from a unique moniker. She’d have to force her inebriated mind to get creative. “He’s a little older than me. Really fucking tall, I mean unfairly so, and skinny as a pole. Kind of curly, dark hair. Doesn’t like shaving much. He’s got a big nose, but it’s not really in a bad way. Endearing. He’s in a band. At least he was.”
The man’s grin grew as he watched her try to sum him up. “Aye, that’d be Gordo. You’re not some sort of groupie, are you?” Because that’d be a bloody first.”
“No, I haven’t heard the band. He just told me if I’m ever up in Brooklyn to come here, and he’d probably be in.”
“Well, I can tell you that not only is here in this very establishment right now, but he’s probably fucking impatiently waiting for me to finish pouring his Guinness.” The bartender nodded his head behind him, and sure enough, that lanky form was bent over with his elbows on the bar, lips pursed as he waited for his drink. He was lost in his own head, clearly not looking to her end of the bar. The man finished slowly pouring the dark stout, giving it a proper head before he brought it over to Gordon. He had his hand going for his wallet, but the man shook his head, then deliberately pointed to Lizzie. So much for a subtle entrance. Words were exchanged between the two men, but she couldn’t hear what was happening before he pushed away from the bar and moved through the throng of weekend revelers to reach her.
“Holy shit, it’s you.” As soon as the words slipped out of his mouth, he tapped himself on the forehead with his free hand. “Poetic as ever. I’m so sorry about that. I’m just really surprised to see you since it’s been a while. Lizzie with an ie.”
“Gordon with a G.” She was so delighted that he remembered her at all and hadn’t retreated into the din of the bar that she put her arms around his neck. At least she aimed for that. Even in her heels, she was a bit too short, so she settled for putting her hands on his shoulders and pressing her body against his. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
He held his pint up high enough that she wouldn’t be able to slosh it everywhere. “You know, I really should have gotten your number, but we haven’t hit the road since the van died about fifty miles out of the city. It was a fucking nightmare. Are you here with family or what? A boyfriend? Girlfriends?”
“No, I came all by myself.” She beamed up at him with pride at her independence. She’d thought of herself as an adult already when they’d met, but she had such a newfound freedom that she was looking for the next impulse to leap upon. “I had my birthday, so I thought fuck it, what do I want more than anything else? And I wanted to see New York. I’ve never been here before, but I don’t really care about the touristy stuff. I thought I might hear your band. Or have you gone solo already?”
He laughed a bit and shook his head at her. “Not only are we still together, but we’ve signed a record deal. I mean, before we were signed to some shitty indie label that dropped us.” He swatted the words out of the air with the back of his hand, obviously not wanting to get into the details that could have left him so deflated when they had met. “But we’ve recorded another album. It’s fucking incredible, if I say so myself. We have a new guitar player, which is great because I’m pretty miserable at it if I’m honest. He’s actually here now, if you want to meet him. But fiiiirst.” He turned back to the bar, and sat there was a couple of shots of amber liquid. She’d had enough to know that she probably didn’t need to continue drinking, but her newfound spirit of independence meant that she was eager to accept anything bought for her. “I think I recall you liking tequila.”
“Tequila and sex,” she said, downing the shot. When she set the glass back on the bar, she saw how his cheeks flushed and laughed openly at him. “I’m teasing! I mean, I do, but not in public. I don’t want to embarrass you on your home turf, even if you did your best to mortify me where I worked.”
He covered his face with his hand but was more than motivated to put back the tequila when she said that. He washed it back with a healthy drink of the pint, even if the two beverages didn’t customarily go together. “Oh God. I was really just a miserable asshole then. I hope they didn’t give you too much hell about me. Please tell me that you’ve moved on to working somewhere where people treat you better or at least provide better company.”
“Oh, now you want to know what I’m up to.” She batted her eyelashes at him, then dissolved into laughter. There was a fine line between liquid confidence and liquid confusion, and she found herself approaching it rapidly. Talking about herself and her life back home just felt so complicated, especially when she was more than delighted to be in the moment there with him. “You’re much more handsome than I remembered you to be. I hope you’re not offended by that, but it was dark, and then you were hungover. It wasn’t the greatest impression, and I thought you were just trying to run off on me.”
Somehow her words just brought laughter rather than cringing. “It was the call of the road. Had to get on to the next gig, ya dig? But honestly, you were just so…hnngh.” He made the noise and balled up one of his fists, as though that would get across to her what he meant. “You were lovely and young and really nice, turned my night around. But I couldn’t just lead you on when I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. It wouldn’t be fair for either of us.”
She felt her cheeks growing warm and hoped that she could blame the drink rather than a sudden bout of shyness. After all, she’d brought herself this far, and to back down would just be a tragedy. “Well, I’m not as young as I was, but I hope you still find me lovely. I don’t know anything about this city, but I was hoping that I could see some of it with you.” In her mind, she was speaking in heavy innuendo, but she didn’t have a clue how she sounded to him.
To her relief, he put his arm around her waist and studied her carefully. “I suppose I could do. Have you been hitting the bars already?”
“Just one,” she admitted, holding a finger up to verify the count. “There are a lot of very generous men in New York. They might be very jealous of you right now. I didn’t even tell them about you, though I was tempted.”
He nodded and took a long drink of his beer, then set the glass on the bar. “You’d better credit me for that next time I’m in, Floyd,” he called out, then grabbed her backpack to sling over his shoulder. “Let’s head off into the night then, Lizzie. I think you’re about ready to hit the sack.”
She hardly noticed the walk back to his building. Being tucked against his chest was familiar and made her feel secure in some strange way. Maybe it was the night, maybe it was the new experience, or maybe it was just him. “I wish I’d had some advance notice,” he grumbled as he unlocked the front door, but she knew that he wasn’t really upset. He kept smiling too much to mean it. “I’d just take you to a hotel, but things are a bit tight at the moment.”
“The life of the starving artist?” she asked with a smirk. He let his firm hands guide her inside, and she was immediately struck by how chilly it was. Maybe the short skirt had been a poor move. The apartment was dimly lit and snug, with a good half of the living room housing guitars, amps, and equipment she couldn’t even begin to classify. There was a stereo bigger than the television, and both electronics rested on some precarious looking crates that had probably been liberated from dumpsters behind grocery stores. Sober, it may have been a sign that this was not the fantasy escape she’d sought, but after so much to drink, it just felt like a refreshing glimpse at reality. This man wasn’t living at home or forcing his parents to pay for everything. He was making his own way, fuck the consequences. She wanted to be able to say the same of her own life.
But he’d changed somehow since that night, she could perceive as much already. She’s worried about how she would be able to keep up with his partying lifestyle, preparing herself to take drugs for the first time if necessary, but all she got was a slightly older man holding out a tepid glass of water and offering her a bit of leftover chicken lo mein from the night before. She hadn’t eaten since leaving home, she’d been too nervous, so she pilfered the carton of Chinese without a second thought to manners or taste.
He pushed some clothes off the end of a battered blue sofa and asked her to sit. The kitchen was practically within arm’s reach, and it only took him a moment to crack a beer for himself before he settled down next to her. “I can’t believe you came all this way to see me,” he murmured. Even though she knew she couldn’t be all that attractive, shoving forkfuls of noodles and cold vegetables and meat into her mouth, he still looked on her like she was someone worth having in his home.
“And maybe to fuck you, too,” she pointed out once she’d chewed and swallowed, though she was beginning to lose the swagger that other men’s attention had given her. “Otherwise I blew money on Victoria’s Secret for nothing.”
He watched her curiously for a moment, then let himself relax back and laugh deeply. Something changed in his features when he let go like that. Fine lines crossed his cheeks, and his eyes nearly pulled shut to make way for his joy. She loved that expression already, knew she wanted to see it more. “I don’t get you,” he admitted. “I can’t tell if you’re trying to have me on or get me off.”
Why can’t it be both? she thought desperately, but she was at least sober enough to hold her tongue. Instead she set her food down on the wobbly mass that passed for a coffee table and then hoisted herself up onto unsteady feet. “I think I’ve had half of the main tour just by looking around here, but you could show a lady your digs.”
Gordon unfolded his thin legs and sputtered into his beer a bit. Apparently it wasn’t what he had expected her to demand of him. “I guess that would be the gentlemanly thing to do, and you’ve seen enough of my ungentlemanly side.” The wandering part of her attention wanted to know what he was thinking about doing instead and why he hadn’t bothered to be polite, but she couldn’t dwell inside her mind when he popped up to his feet so rapidly and stretched out his arms. “Right here you have the entryway/front hall/living room/guest room/rehearsal space/kitchen combo. It’s a very popular layout for the indie set,” he explained to her. “The oven’s shot, so don’t even try to sneak off to fix me a complete breakfast in bed before I wake in the morning. Or afternoon, if I so choose.”
She felt herself shiver involuntarily at the mention of breakfast. She didn’t want to be that tragic girl, but she liked Gordon and had nowhere else to go. For being as mature as she fancied herself, it was really far harder to get by without help than she could have ever imagined. Whereas he had recoiled at the thought of a handout, she could have burst into tears to know that it would be so easy to at least spend the night here. “I make a mean takeout,” she informed him, tapping his ribs to signal that the tour ought to continue.
He gestured to a small door just past the kitchen. “That’d be the bathroom. I suppose that’d be your favorite room, girl and all, right? Well, it’s just us boys here, so it’s probably disgusting to you. I don’t even want to show it to you because you’ll just go run into the night. Just know that it’s there, and if you have to use it, keep your eyes closed and the light off and don’t judge me.”
There was something about his self-effacing nature that made her giggle. When he was just feeling sorry for himself, it was annoying, but cut with humor and a bit of hyperbole, it was just the right balance. “You do remember that I have brothers, right? And I had this one boyfriend who I stayed with a lot, and he had a real problem with drugs. He really couldn’t look after himself, so I tried to do it for him.” For a second, she felt like the alcohol wasn’t enough, the memory coming back with all the heaviness that that reality had possessed. She could hardly breathe, and then she reminded herself that she was far from home and didn’t have to be that girl anymore. “Come on, don’t be a jerk. I’ve worked in the service industry. I’ve seen worse bathrooms.”
Concern flickered over his features, but she’d changed the topic so quickly that it was clear he didn’t want to make her linger in the past like that. “Well, Damon’s right next to the bathroom He’s the bandmate I was going to introduce you to. I suppose he’ll be home eventually. Unless he’s not. I wouldn’t be too upset if he didn’t come home. But he’s like a puppy. He knows his way.”
She didn’t entirely follow his logic, but she nodded along anyway. She teetered ahead and pushed on the next door she found. “That means this must be your room!” she cried out, and she was greeted by nothing but darkness. There was no light on, and there was no window to be found. She would have tumbled over, but he caught her elbow and drew her back against him.
“It’s really unfair that you can’t really stay upright on your own,” he told her as she leaned against him. It didn’t make her all that eager to push away and find her balance again. His breath still carried the scent of lager, and to her then, it was intoxicating. She didn’t have a single reason to resist him, not when it had been her goal to get back to him in the first place.
So when his lips did not meet hers, she was surprised. Instead he leaned around her to switch on the light, revealing a room that looked like it had been struck by a small but concentrated tornado. Clothes were scattered on the floor, and a mattress on the floor with its sheets kicked all to one side served as the bed. An acoustic guitar was propped up in the corner, somehow staying upright through sheer will given the amount of books, CDs and vinyls that were scattered nearby. “So,” she said as she took stock of her surroundings. It wasn’t like her room, which professed her interest in her friends, nights out on the town, and silly pop music. He didn’t even have anything up on the walls. “You like to read?”
“I was an English major,” he admitted with a shrug. There were so many things that they didn’t know about one another, and it was exciting to add another piece to the puzzle, to get some hint as to what the image might be. She waited for him to tell her a bit more about school, where he’d gone and whether he’d graduated, if he’d liked it or if he considered it a waste of time, but he just dropped down onto the mattress and pulled off his red Converse sneakers. “You must be exhausted after travelling so far.” His voice was low, and she couldn’t tell if his words had two meanings or only the obvious.
“Well, I’d like to go to bed. You seem to have the right idea already.” There were so many conversations that they could have, but it was late, and she had waited so long to see him. There was a spark, and she knew that he must have felt it too.
He patted the space next to him and then gave her a grin. “It is bigger than yours, if memory serves.”
There are so many awful puns that I could make right now,” she protested, but it only kept that smile on his face. Suddenly all she wanted to do was kick off her heels and settle down next to him, but she couldn’t make herself hurry because once she took that step, she couldn’t go back. So she counted the breaths as she moved. Five for the left shoe, six for the right. At this rate, it would take her until dawn before she settled in with him. He seemed to have other plans though.
The light was still on, a first for her, but she didn’t mind. It let her look up at him, to see his grey-blue eyes and pale skin, the dark freckle on his cheek and the curls that were falling over his forehead. Maybe he wasn’t conventionally handsome, but to her, he was beautiful. She was so comfortable there, she trusted him, but she had to close her eyes, just for a second.