For a moment, she just focused on breathing, her lungs working overtime to compensate for the tears that had so quickly become overwhelming to her. She reached out to find a place to set her drink, but the only flat surface that was cleaner than the floor was the relatively narrow lip of the sink. Instead she let both hands curl around the stem of the glass as she squinted at him in the dim light. “What did you say?”
“I said that I love you. Okay?” The fact that she thought he was breaking up with her had him feeling even more sour. How could she think that he was the type of guy who would abandon her as soon as things began to look like they were getting better?
“Of course I’m fucking serious. I didn’t want to tell you in some pisshole in the middle of nowhere, but I haven’t got a choice now, have I? Not exactly romantic.”
The shock on her features had given way to those brows knitting up again, and this time the tears flowed freely without the inconvenience of sobbing. She handed him her drink as she scrambled for a bit of toilet paper to wipe her eyes. “Oh my God,” she moaned, looking down into the makeup-stained wad of paper. “I can’t believe I said that to you. I was so afraid. I’m always so afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” To him, it was a total mystery how she could think that he’d do better.
“We don’t exactly have a lot in common. What if you just wanted someone who’s your age, who’s been to college, who can play guitar and sing and write her own music or music with you, who actually cares about Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr. and Pearl Jam and all those other awful bands that you ramble on about for days on end?”
“But if I was with a girl who already listened to those bands, I wouldn’t get to have the fun of subjecting her to my record collection for the first time. I know you don’t like the same things I do, but when I hit that one song out of fifty that makes you dance with me, that’s the greatest feeling in the world. I like that you’re young enough to have all of these romantic views of the world and ambition and how far I can go. I don’t care if you didn’t go to school. I don’t care if you ever touch a guitar yourself. I didn’t decide that I was going to fall in love with you or even anyone like you. I just spent time with you.
“And when I spent time with you, I noticed all these little things that meant so much to me. Like the way you try to make tea the way I do because it means so much to me. How you steal my t-shirts. How you straighten up the apartment. The way you try to cover up your freckles with your makeup but never manage to, not really, not when I’m up close. How you cry a few times a week over the smallest things. How big your heart is. You’re such a beautiful person, Lizzie, and I don’t know why you decided to gamble your heart on a guy who just wanted a night with a gorgeous girl because he needed an ego boost. I don’t deserve you loving me in return to supporting me when my life is so ridiculous, but I just think I’m stupidly lucky you’re here.”
She listened to his speech with the paper pressed beneath one eye, then the other. The red light made her emotions seem all the more negative, but once he stopped speaking, she managed to take a deep breath. And then she hit him on the shoulder.
“You fucking asshole. Why did you drag that out?” She sniffled to push her tears back, then leaned up as far as she could in order to kiss her on the cheek. “You are so ridiculous. Of course I love you. Why would I move in with you and look after your band if I didn’t?”
He really didn’t have an answer for her, not when his shoulder was sore from how she’d hit him. He laughed quietly because he didn’t know how else to react to her violent outburst. There were so many emotions sparking inside and out, and all he could think was that they were in the least romantic situation he could ever remember in his life. “Can we continue this conversation outside so I can at least have witnesses after you hit me again?” he suggested.
Her own laugh was faintly hysterical, caught between disbelief and embarrassment. “I’m not going to hit you again. I didn’t really meant to then. I was just—I was surprised,” she decided. She did at least wipe her face again and then unlock the door, leading the way out. Thankfully no eyes were set on them when they emerged together. They were rumpled, sure, but they hadn’t been gone enough long enough to raise suspicion.
“So you’re okay with it?” he said.
“You just told me that you loved me. I think it’s something that most girls want to hear when they’ve thrown their entire lives upside down for a boy.” She blinked up into the light, and for a second he worried that she’d start to sob again. She regained her composure and took her martini from him so she could toss back the alcohol. “You’ve just been so distracted lately, the music and everything. I’ve tried not to worry you with what I’m thinking about the two of us because I didn’t want to add more stress. But I wondered where we were going. We never talked about it. I want to be special to you though, of course I do. I don’t want to just bide your time while you’re home. I want to be yours. I want you to be mine. Even if you give nearly everything to the people who listen to you, I want to be the one who gets the rest. Always.”
“Well, as long as you’ll have me.” Her cheeks were burning, her makeup long since muddled by her tears. He could tell just by looking at her that she longed for the bed they shared rather than the public eye. “Look, I know money’s tight and all, but we can probably find a hotel nearby.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.” His emotions had been rattled all over the place, and as much as his pride disliked her treating him to something so pricey, he couldn’t imagine just sitting down for another drink and more banter. “I’ll just go tell the guys. I think there’s someplace just a couple of blocks away. They can get the name, maybe stay there or at least know where to find me in the morning.”
He hated leaving her there with her empty glass and those red eyes, but he didn’t know what else he could do. In his experience, it was incredibly easy for him to get dumped due to his neglect, his distraction, his drive to focus on just about anything else but the flame that grew between him and that other person. He’d never really had to break up with someone. He didn’t even know how he could project the possibility, but he was angry with himself for not making his love clearer to Lizzie every day that they could be together.
“Lizzie’s not feeling well, so we’re going to call it a night. There’s a crap motel a couple of streets over, so I figure we’ll just walk there and spend the night.” He spoke quickly at his band’s table, skipping over the greetings to blurt out his excuses.
Keith was busy twisting the stem of a cherry with his tongue, trying and failing miserably to create a knot within his mouth. “Can someone qualify as a Yoko Ono figure if we don’t actually sell any records?” he wondered out loud. Whiskey had given his cheeks a warm glow, and he was clearly in a mood to give someone hell.
“Look, I’m just telling you where we’re going,” Gordon said, keeping his voice as even as possible when he was already to the end of his patience. He was hardly sure about the state of his relationship, and he didn’t need his tenuous band to splinter apart in the same evening. It happened a few times a week regardless.
“Well, are we invited?”
“If you pay for your own room, yeah, sure, you can crash wherever you want. But the gig’s over, and we’re not writing or rehearsing or driving to the next show, so I’m going to go off and do my own thing if that’s okay with you.”
Simon ran a hand through his thick, dark hair and set his eyes on Gordon. Though the singer clearly hadn’t meant to create a fight, his approach had . “I think we might try to find a room there too, but in case we crash somewhere else, we’ll just call you in the morning.”
“Oh, will we?” Keith asked. “Are we going to cut our evening short so we can afford one bed between the three of us while he goes off and fucks his girl in a suite?”
“Don’t you even—”
“Oh, fuck you. You’ve already made up your mind. Go with her. You want the band to be a big success, great. But every time things don’t work out, you turn to her for support. I just think it’s kind of sick, that’s all. What are you going to do if we do actually start to succeed? What are you going to do with her? She’ll be around all the time because you can’t let her go, or maybe you will just give up on her because you won’t need her anymore. Those are your options. Have fun figuring it out.”
If he had been the sort to swing a fist, Gordon knew his knuckles would have connected with that smirk, but instead he turned on his heel and decided to internalize. It was his coping treatment of choice. Lizzie wasn’t at the bar, so he slammed his way through the door and saw her leaning against the outer wall, a cigarette between her full lips. Under normal circumstances, he might’ve nagged her for the nasty habit, but he just approached her and said, “Give it here.”
There was something in the depth of his tone that told her not to trifle around with a protest. She expected him to immediately crush the smoke underfoot, but instead he let it rest between his lips so he could take a deep drag. For all the joints he’d had, he’d only tried a couple of cigarettes and a truly dreadful cigar when a friend had become a father for the first time. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting this time around, but the smoke hardly felt warm within his lungs. It went in, at least he was pretty sure it did, and then his throat tingled a bit as it exited. That was all. There was no chemical rush from the nicotine, at least not the sort that would even register on his radar after years of indie experimentation. It was almost disappointing. Still, he handed it back to her and then gestured to the road. “Shall we go then?”
“You’re upset. Is it me?” She wasn’t trying to just assume that she was always the problem, but she’d had enough time away from him to begin to process how embarrassing her outburst had been, even alone with him.
He gave her a soft smile and hooked his elbow in hers. Their heights were so ill-matched that walking with one another sometimes made it difficult to make eye contact and be sincere, but he did his best for her. “It’s my own issue, I promise. We can talk about it when we get to the hotel. Or we can just have a really hot bath and then go to bed.”
“You’re assuming the bathtub and the bed are both presentable.”
“You should be applauding me for being optimistic for once in my goddamn life.”
The words made her laugh, and she rested her tiny palm against his forearm. “I worry about you, Gordy,” she said quietly in the night as they made their way from the pooled glow of one streetlight to the next. “You put so much pressure on yourself to be the one who makes or breaks anything. Sometimes you just don’t see how you have to let other people control things too. You’re not alone in anything you do, but you beat yourself up the most. You have to let off that steam. It scares me when I don’t know what you’re thinking. I assume the worst.”