One week after the album was released, they should have been celebrating sales figures. Instead they were in a terrible bar somewhere in the industrial bleakness of Ohio, helping themselves to shots because it was too dismal to race back to the van to begin the trip home. There had been no phone calls, no congratulatory statements on the radio. It was just business as usual, on the edge of defeat with even more money at stake.
Gordon wasn’t taking the lack of news well. He had put his heart into the recording process and had convinced a number of people to believe in him, his band included, and it hadn’t paid off. That was the kind of guilt he carried on a daily basis, as they continued to play in front of ten apathetic people who might have heard one of their songs on one radio show. But how could he begin to voice that lack of confidence to the people who were relying on him? Better to just drink and try to forget. Live in the moment. Stop worrying about the bank balance or the pressure to achieve that would inevitably come from the label.
Lizzie teetered on her high heels and slid back onto the stool next to Gordon. “You know, I can always drive the van if Simon wants to have a drink,” she offered.
“I didn’t know you drove.”
“You didn’t ask.” She reached over to his nearly empty glass to snatch a piece of ice so she could chew on it. She’d taken a few smoking breaks already, but she refused to let him keep her company outside because she worried about the quality of his voice when he was doing gigs every night. Even if nobody was listening, it wouldn’t do to go mute. “Besides, it’s been a while, and most of my driving was when I wasn’t supposed to be, but I’m really good at driving drunk people. It’s one of my top ten skills that don’t involve sex.”
What he wanted was another drink to numb his awareness that he didn’t deserve such a vivacious girl, but he was learning to curb impulses like that. “Do you keep top ten lists of every category in your life then?” he asked instead, attempting to distract himself with conversation.
She gave him a wink and then smiled. “Of course I do. I just wonder if your top ten list about me and my own match up.”
“Maybe.” He took a deep breath and then brought his glass to his lips. What little whiskey that remained had been watered down by the melting ice, leaving behind just a bit of a chill with none of the burn that he’d been seeking. It didn’t help to steel his nerves. “Look, Lizzie, there’s something that I wanted to talk to you about.”
She gave him a cursory glance, but it was enough for him to see the avoidance in her eyes. He knew that she’d been happy carving out her new home. He’d been working hard on his music, and she was proud of the determination he’d showed in getting the band signed to a major label and then putting out a record that he felt was far more mature than anything else that they’d done. She’d cleaned up the apartment, made it look like adults lived there rather than students, and she felt comfortable inviting over friends without embarrassment. But as a couple, they didn’t always talk about where things were leading and what it would mean if he ever got to tour further south or west. A handful of people at a time, the demand just never seemed to be on the horizon.
“Let me just get a drink first, okay?” she said, not really giving him room to protest. He could only assume that the offer to drive the van was off the table. He hated the pinched look on her pretty face, the way she immediately jumped to a terrible conclusion due to the way he’d phrased things. He probably deserved it and had to accept that rather than get worked up. So he just nodded and gestured to the bathroom, excusing himself so he’d not have to hear how strong an order she conjured up in her worry. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to respond to her, but he couldn’t begrudge her.
There was nobody else in the restroom, probably due in no small part to the fact that it smelled awful and had a dim red light that made the whole room disorienting. With either hand, he gripped the sides of the sink and tried to focus on his reflection in the mirror. The man who stared back out at him was getting a bit shaggy, needed to shave and definitely had dark rings under his eyes. He needed a good week in to rest up and get himself cleaned up.
What woman in her right mind would find him attractive? When he looked at himself, he just saw the prominent brow, the long nose slightly crooked, the thick lips and narrow eyes. His hair was a little goofy, and he didn’t know the first thing about being stylish. And then there was his negativity, his tendency to beat the hell out of himself before anyone else could inflict the damage. To him, it was the perfect form of protection, but he knew that others had to find it absolutely annoying. Lizzie was no great fan of that behavior, and maybe when she knew enough people in New York, when she smiled at some man who could offer her everything she wanted and who could pull his own weight without going off on ineffective tours, she’d come to her senses and leave him.
It used to be that when the fear took him over, he’d turn to something small to take away the stress. A pill, maybe, or a small bump or a toke. She’d told him that he didn’t need those things though, and hard as it was for him, he’d tried to put away those childish releases before they could eat away his life. More than anything, he just wanted to be able to forget that part of his brain that made him overthink and doubt himself. It didn’t help that the universe happened to agree with that side of his personality.
“I thought I’d find you in here.”
Her voice made his fingers slip from the cheap porcelain as he turned to face her. He nearly lost his balance, his heart racing at the surprise of seeing her in the narrow room. A martini glass was poised with attitude in her right hand, her left arm crossed over her chest. “Brings back memories, doesn’t it? I think you followed me into a bathroom once, and it was pretty shocking where things went from there. So. You said that you had something that you wanted to talk to me about. This is probably the best place to have a private conversation, right?”
She had a way of surprising him more every day. Even when he thought that he knew her, she pulled out this boldness that he wouldn’t expect, a strength of character that reminded him that she really could be fine without him. He had to work on being a better person if he ever expected her to feel the way he did about her. “Okay. Well. Yeah, I guess this will work. I didn’t mean to make it this big of a thing, honestly.” He looked to the door and wondered if they ought to lock it just to make sure they weren’t interrupted. As though she had read his mind, she twisted the bolt into place. “Do you want to have a seat then?” he asked dryly, knowing that the toilet wasn’t a place anyone would want to spend much time.
She rolled her eyes and took a healthy draw from her drink. “Just get on with it, Gordon.”
So much pressure had been built up. She was waiting for him to tell her something, and it was really so simple. He almost felt ashamed to get her so worked up, but he had to look her in the eye. That much was important. “Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about us lately. You and me, where we’re going and all that. And what I thought was—”
He was interrupted by a sob that came up from deep within her, like the pain had been ripped directly from her center. He stared as the tears came from her, darkened by the trail of her mascara. “I knew it!” she howled.
“Bringing me here, to the middle of fucking nowhere. I knew you were just going to decide I’m not worth it.”
“Look at me. I’m just this ridiculous girl. I just came to you on a whim, and you were nice to take me in, but then we got so serious, and you were trying to make it with your band and not start a relationship with someone. Now you might go somewhere, really take off, and I’m just the dead weight at home. And there are prettier girls, sexier girls. Tall, skinny girls! I saw a tall, skinny girl tonight!”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I just didn’t expect it to end like this, you know? I thought we had a good thing, but I always wondered what you were thinking with those songs and all.”
“I’m not fucking breaking up with you! I’m trying to tell you that I love you!”