She woke to a splitting headache and a stomach that wasn’t certain if it wanted to be filled or emptied of its already meager contents. “Fuck,” she murmured as she rolled over…and nearly smacked her bed companion in the face.
In spite of her body punishing her, she smiled as she thoughts back to their night together. The end of the evening was admittedly a bit of a blur for her, but she had ended up just where she had wanted to be. Asleep, Gordon looked much more peaceful, freed from the clash of his ambition against darkness. The rough stubble against his pale jaw made him seem younger, and where his body had fought against the blankets, she saw a surprisingly toned form for a man so slim. He was a catch, she had decided as much, but it was in a way that she felt she was uniquely qualified to appreciate.
But smiling down on her two night stand wasn’t going to put her digestive system right. The thought of the lo mein she’d blindly accepted the night before made her intestines lurch. Water. She needed water, and then if she felt brave enough, she’d look into the possibility of toast. Surely a bachelor had a toaster, even in a questionable apartment such as this. Probably lives on ramen noodles and cereal like he’s still a student, she mused.
Getting back into her form-fitting dress did not strike her as tempting when her stomach was on rough terms with her, so she opted for bra and underwear. It was the first step to getting dressed, she justified in her mind, and she could at least pretend that she was wearing a bikini. She pulled herself lamely off the mattress and found her bra, but her panties were already on her body. Well then. Probably just an early morning, zombified bathroom trip she didn’t remember taking, or so she told herself. Gravity was a cruel mistress and left her head spinning when she stood.
The apartment stood quiet in the early morning. Someone had cleared away Gordon’s beer and her Chinese, but her bag was still on the sofa. In the dim light, and perhaps through the haze of her hangover, everything looked a bit more battered, as though it had been claimed off the street or otherwise severely mistreated by its owners. It didn’t matter to her though as she beelined for the refrigerator. If he had a nice, big bottle of water in there, she would promise him all sorts of sexual favors, she vowed mentally. Peering in the relatively empty door, she grinned as she spotted a glass bottle. Once she got some painkillers into her system, it was going to be his lucky day.
She was still musing on this train of thought when she heard a laugh behind her. “Oh, like you didn’t know about the tattoo after last night,” she said snidely as she bent a bit more to show off as she grabbed the water.
“Actually, I didn’t.”
The voice that spoke was not one she knew. The bottle slipped from her fingers and shattered as she screamed. A stranger stood before her in a white t-shirt and black boxers. His dark hair was at bed-tossed angles, and when he held up his hands in alarm, she saw a hint of a belly, probably owing to his youth. “Whoa, whoa, sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Who the fuck are you?” she asked, backing up against the refrigerator. The appliance was cold on her skin, making her remember that she was only in her underwear. Futilely, she tried to figure out how to configure her arms and legs to cover herself.
Gordon came bounding from his room in his boxers, looking about as dazed as the other man. “What is going on? I heard glass…” He blinked at the sight of the other two in their underclothes, probably mulling what was going on.
“Who the hell is he?” she asked, jabbing a finger at the young man at the cost of her modesty.
“That’s Damon. He lives here,” he explained in a croaking voice. His eyes were nearly glued shut with exhaustion, as though he couldn’t bother to perk up for this sort of an issue. “Damon, this is Lizzie. Lizzie, this is Damon. Damon’s the band’s new guitarist. Lizzie is…” He licked his lips and let loose a grizzly yawn as he sought out a word. “A girl I met on the road. She bought me a drink, things happened, and now she’s here because she’s in love with me. Isn’t that right?”
She could tell that he wasn’t serious, but her cheeks were still burning. She was embarrassed to be in that state of undress, to have shattered the water bottle right in front of her bare feet, to be called out on her wild idea that this would be okay. “I can clean this up,” she murmured, but she just shuffled around the mess and then retreated back to his bedroom. She didn’t even think about the fact that she’d left her bag with her clothes behind in the living room, but she was too flushed to go back out and apologize for the awkwardness. She heard their hushed voices but just closed her eyes and tried to think of a way to pretend she was still asleep.
About a minute later, he slipped back into the room and lowered himself onto the mattress next to her. She didn’t want to be near him, not then, but there was nowhere for her to go. “Don’t worry about the water. Damon said that he’d take care of it,” he told her as he put his arm around her. Was he trying to make her feel better, or was it just for his benefit? She didn’t know, but she felt disgusted with the whole sorry situation.
“I’m not in love with you,” she told him as she kept her eyes shut tightly, telling herself that now was not the moment to cry. She had a tendency to let her emotions get the better of her, but she didn’t want to be a cliché, not then. She had to be strong and independent. It was that bravery that had brought her so far, and she didn’t want to give it up on account of some crush. “We just had fun together before, and you invited me. I needed to get away and see something different.”
He exhaled so loudly that she could hear it, even when her pulse was blaring in her temples. “I wasn’t serious about that, you know. I was just teasing you because I don’t know what to call this. It’s more than a one night stand but less than…I don’t even know. A bit of fun, it is, but that doesn’t sound right either, does it?”
“No,” she had to admit, though it was reluctant. She felt like she was fun, and it wasn’t selling it short to describe it accordingly. He did seem tormented about words, and maybe that was just the way of a songwriter. Or maybe she was just letting the mood of the hangover get the better of her.
“Besides, I don’t imagine you feel very well today given the way last night went.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you fell asleep with your hand down my pants.”
“Oh.” In her mind, they’d had another great lay and had settled into bed like two content adults. Not being able to hold her liquor felt like another embarrassing strike on the chart against her. “Well, I hope it was fun before that.”
“Mmm, it was very fun,” he confirmed, throwing in a wiggle of his eyebrows to emphasize his approval. Even if she didn’t feel great, she still found herself laughing. It didn’t seem fair that she had that effect on him, but it was his bed. A bit of leeway was understandable.
“Well, a girl has to do something to remain interesting. You have to work for it.”
“Is that permission?” he asked, his grin only becoming wider.
She shook her head as quickly as she could without inducing a fit of nausea and pushed her hand in his face so he would stop giving her that look. “If you don’t want me to vomit on you, you should just change your mind and think about more innocent avenues, sir.”
His lips twisted for a moment, but he rolled away and settled on his back. “I do like getting called sir, so I’ll acquiesce. Just because you appealed to my sweet spot,” he explained. His fingers still absently touched her arm, and she liked the fact that he didn’t give up on her entirely. “I’m impressed you came all this way though. I mean, I’m nothing special.”
She scoffed as he spoke because it seemed like he was fishing for a compliment. Who could aspire to be famous only to blow themselves off? To her, it seemed like a formula for failure. “You’re never going to get noticed if you act like that,” she told him. Summoning up some bravery, she rolled on her side and narrowed her eyes at him. “I think it’s the idea of you that stuck out in my mind the most. You’re still mostly a mystery, someone who writes songs and breaks hearts and has this kind of artistic calling. And you’re not willing to let reality to get in the way of that. I think it’s really interesting. It’s better than the people who get their shitty jobs that they endure for eight hours until they can’t stand it anymore and go to bars or clubs until they’ve washed it away.”
“I think I like your interpretation of me more than the reality I am. And that’s not self-deprecation. That’s just a fact.” He bit his lip for a second as he looked her over, then decided to take the risk and peck a kiss to her lips. “What about your life then? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Oh God, I don’t really know.” She was still a teenager, which meant that she was both an adult and completely committed to not being a grown up. “I’ve always liked the idea of being an entertainer of some sort. When I was a little kid, I used to do all sorts of things. I took dancing lessons, which I loved, and I did a bit of singing. I was also a model I guess, just minor stuff. I don’t think I’d want to be known just for my looks though. I mean, that sounds so cocky and backhanded, but those go eventually, and who wants that pressure?” When she noticed that she was rambling, she blushed and put a hand on her cheek. “I couldn’t be any of those things now though, so I’d just settle for being happy, I guess. Not pouring beer.”
“Why couldn’t you be those things?” He didn’t ask it with any edge in his voice. As he gazed at her, it was with confusion and pure belief. “If you want to be a dancer or a singer or a model or an actress, whatever, who’s to say you can’t? Maybe it’d be the hardest thing in the world to achieve, but maybe it’s the only thing you’re born to do.”
“Do you really think people are like that? Just programmed to have the good life, no matter what world they’re born into?”
“I have to pretend that it’s out there waiting for me, otherwise I’m going to just fight for this thing for the rest of my life without anything to show for it,” he told her with a sad smile. It broke her heart, so she knew she had to distract him.
“Play me a song.”
A slow grin spread across his features, revealing a boyish satisfaction that made her momentarily forget that she was in a rather compromising outfit in a strange city. “I guess I shouldn’t do anything too loud then, for your head and all,” he teased as he scrambled to the corner for his acoustic guitar. The pale wood had seen better days, and the pick guard’s plastic held dozens of shallow scars that reflected the room’s dim light.
“You must really love that guitar,” she observed.
“Love or hate. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to tell.” He settled back down on the mattress next to her, resting the groove of the guitar over his skinny thigh. A plectrum was tangled in the strings by the instrument’s head, and the groan released by removing it made her laugh and cringe at once. “Right. Do you want to hear a cover of something you already love, or do you want to discover your new favorite song, a Gordon Morrow classic?”
Morrow. So that was his last name. It made her think of the future, of potential, and she thought it suited him. She braced herself for his response, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to get some revenge on him for taunting her about her hangover. “You don’t happen to know any Britney Spears, do you?”
Fuck off!” He grabbed a pillow but at least managed to resist the urge to fling it at her. “Actually, I’ll have you know that we’ve just gotten this track played on the radio. Proper stations too, not just some indie local station where a student only spins his friends. Okay, so it was in the middle of the night, but don’t ruin my moment.”
She snatched the pillow from his grasp and curled her body around it. It made her feel a bit more human to sit up like that. “Well then, it’s decided. I need to hear this track before it’s all over daytime radio and everyone’s singing along. I have to find out if it’s good or if I’m going to have to stock up on batteries so I can just keep my headphones on listening to Brit-Brit for the next six months.”
He narrowed his eyes as though he had something snarky to say to her, but he dismissed those thoughts with a shake of his head. Instead he focused on his fingers’ positions on the fretboard and then closed his eyes. It only took a couple of strums for him to begin to nod along to the music that he was making.
Two cups of hot coffee
sweat their way into the day,
as hands explore other heat
and we vow to drink it cold
Even after the first verse, she had chills. His voice was nothing like what she’d expected. Subdued but controlled, it was a bit higher than his speaking voice. It was quiet but firm, like a whisper that had summoned up untold strength, underspoken but soulful and undeniably lovely.
I curve to your ribs
like there are magnets to pull me,
to break me,
to wind us into tender knots
that only grow tighter at the pull
His voice lifted in volume even as it became more grounded, dropping down within the scale. He didn’t seem to register the change with more than just a furrow of his brow, his eyes still firmly shut. To her, the words had such darkness and hope at once. Such sadness he must possess within him, but his drive and determination were obvious. His fingers drifted down the guitar neck steadily, creating a simplistic but moving solo, and then the last note was given the opportunity to resonate in the quiet of the room.
When his eyes opened, he set on her that cool, inquisitive gaze. “Well? Is it crap?”
She really had no idea what to say. She had given him hell about his music and aspirations, unrealistic as they were, but his performance had nearly moved her to tears. She had few friends who were creative, and they tended to just sketch their own tattoo designs or write love poetry to the embarrassment of their boyfriends. He had somehow found both the right words and notes on the guitar that would convey all that depth without getting too flashy or demanding. “Gordon. It’s beautiful.”
At the compliment, his face lit up even more than it had when he’d spotted her in the bar. It was an unsettling feeling, as though music were his first love and could never be bumped from that position. Of course he doesn’t love you, she had to scold herself because when he was singing only to her like that, she could pretend that it had a much deeper meaning than it did. It was still bittersweet to know that she could travel so many miles and not compare. “I don’t suppose it’s the song you’ve written about me though,” she added dryly.
He laughed and pulled the guitar over his head so he could rest it at what could arguably be considered the foot of the bed. “I started to write that one years ago, so you can’t fault me for it not being about you. But I write all the time, so maybe there is a song about you somewhere in the room. In one of my notebooks. Or in my head. Maybe I’m writing about you right now, just looking at you.”
“Bullshit.” She knew that he was just being flattering, but she still felt her cheeks burn. After pulling pints for a couple of years and waiting tables, she knew what it was like to be complimented by men regularly for her appearance. Still, it was usually some remark about her beauty, her breasts, her ass. He had a more mysterious, poetic way about him, and she wasn’t used to that kind of indirect approach. “If you’re making up a song about me right now, why don’t you play it?”
“Because it’s not perfect. I’m not a very good guitar player. It’s going to take some work. I don’t want to insult you with my crap. This is going to take polish to suit you.”
“Are you saying that I’m polished? I blacked out in your bed and broke glass all over your floor.”
“Well, compared to my last few dalliances…”
She released the pillow so she could swing it at his head, and even though he tried to duck, she still connected with his ear. There was no way she could hurt him with such a futile weapon, but at least she got a laugh out of him. “Okay, I surrender! You’re not classy! Is that better?”
“More accurate, anyway.” She looked to the door and realized that their raised voices had to carry over to his flatmate’s room. “Your friend is going to think that we’re fucking psychotic. Music and screaming.”
“That’s kind of his scene. He’ll be okay. Though I do think it’ll take him a while to recover from seeing a woman in her skivvies who wasn’t here to fuck him. He is kind of the handsome one of the two of us.”
She looked at him sideways and then pushed herself up to her feet. “As I recall, you didn’t have another guitarist when I met you. This changes everything. To think that I could’ve gotten it on with him instead of you. We wouldn’t have the whole Gordon name issue. It’s not too late…”