The bitterness carried Gordon into one of the many conference rooms at the label’s nearest office. He didn’t tend to go to this building, not if he could avoid it, and there was generally bad news trapped within these glassy walls. Transparency and casualness, that was what the place was meant to convey. Yeah right. Just because people wore jeans and were allowed to show a bit of thigh and cleavage while at work didn’t mean they were any less corporate or cutthroat.
He couldn’t be so critical though, not on a day like this. Others in the band and even management had offered to come along for support, but he’d waved it off. Even if Simon had been the one to first say the words, they’d been in Gordon’s head far longer. He couldn’t rely on other people to do his dirty business. This had been Gordon and Keith’s band first, and if one of them had to go, the other would have to deliver the blow. He’d much rather be the target of the other man’s hatred than pulling everyone else into the scope of that malice.
Lounging back in a leather chair, he leaned back to look out the window. Manhattan looked so impersonal and bleak from several stories up, with the wintry rain coming down in fat drops that refused to turn into snowflakes. Appropriate for his mood, he thought. He picked at a hangnail on his index finger, and the pain associated with it took his mind away from all the insults he would likely deserve by the end of this. He could just focus on the moment, on the struggle to remove the nail no matter how it would likely make him bleed. And it did.
Keith didn’t bother knocking before he opened the door. In many ways, he was Gordon’s opposite. Shorter and stockier, he had dark eyes and a mischievous grin on his face most of the time. Gordon had always enjoyed that light spirit about him. Well, before anyway. What had changed to make him the target of that sharp gaze and tongue? Was it the business manipulating the both of them, or had he lost it and let the frontman status go to his head? He had to remember to breathe and get through this. The aftermath had to come after.
“Just you then? I never really thought of you as the office sort,” Keith quipped as he found a chair at the opposite end of the table. Of course. He wouldn’t bother to sit down next to Gordon. They weren’t on the same side of the situation, and he must have realized that the moment he walked in the room.
“Yeah, well, I’m just in it for the giant table,” he responded. This was the guy who had shown him how to get the best sounds of his dirt cheap Fender, who had stayed out with him late at night only to spend dawn listening to rock bands he’d never even heard before. Keith had guided him to his favorites and knew a good sound when he heard it. Did it really have to come to this?
Yes. It had to be this way. He couldn’t keep living this way, couldn’t keep taking the stress out on Lizzie. He had made his choice.
Keith leaned back enough to cross his feet at the ankles and rest his heavy Doc Martens on the lip of the table. “What are Damon and Simon up to today then? Round of golf? Writing our next big hit together?”
Gordon wished he had a pitcher of water so he could offer Keith a drink. His own throat was dry, and he could hardly swallow. His voice didn’t sound like his own to him. He’d thought that being a musician was about recording songs and playing shows. He’d been young, optimistic, naïve. He wasn’t cut out for the business side, but if he was going to stay relevant, he had to learn. He had to grow a thicker skin and make these tough choices. “Look, Keith—“
“You can spare me the speech, brother. You wouldn’t take me to a place like this unless you had some bad news to deliver. Neutral ground like a bar, out in public? I could make a scene. But this?” He gestured around at the clear walls, the light carpeting, the soft lights. “You wouldn’t be caught dead here unless you wanted to contain something. So what’s this then? Another lecture on how I have to behave? Another desperate, earnest attempt to get me to clean myself up because you miss me, you miss us?”
“It’s not like that,” Gordon said, feeling exhausted already. He knew it was exactly like that. It hadn’t been his plan to come to a place like this, but he knew it was the right decision. Left to his own devices, he would have just done it over the phone like a coward. That wasn’t the way.
“What’s it like then? Am I getting a slap on the wrist because I actually give a fuck about maintaining the integrity of the band?” His heels slipped, and his feet slammed against the floor. It jarred Gordon but got his attention. As though to make some rock ‘n’ roll point, Keith slid out a pack of cigarettes and tapped them against his palm. “That’s why the other two aren’t even here, isn’t it? You’re calling the shots. You have been for a while. They’ll just agree with you because you’re the one who writes the songs. Well, I have a newsflash for you, Gordo. We all do our part. It’s not just about you.”
“I never said it was!” He closed his eyes and tried to will himself to lower his voice, but he knew it was futile. Keith had a way of getting under his skin that was unrivaled. He stayed like that until he was certain he could hear only the hum of the lights overhead. “I don’t want to be some kind of a band leader or icon or whatever.”
“What do you want then? A solo project with a backing band. You just can’t stand it, can you? The others will compromise, but I won’t. Because I remember when you were so terrified that you couldn’t even look at the audience when you were singing. When you barely knew three chords. When you’d rather live without heat in your flat than sell out your vision, no matter how many people told you it was absolute shit.” He could have gone on with his speech, but he decided to tear open the pack and slip a fag between his lips. He took a deep drag as he looked for a smoke detector. Fortunately, none were in the room. “The stuff you’ve been writing lately is tripe. It’ll sell, but it’s bullshit. Is that what we’re supposed to be dealing in now? Is that indie rock?”
The accusations had no trouble slipping beneath his mental armor. Years of struggling without progress had made Gordon into a better writer, he felt fairly certain of that, but such opposition also meant that he was insecure about what he really had to offer. All it took was one song to break onto the scene, but how long would it take to write another that could keep them afloat? “I can’t work with you anymore,” he mumbled.
“What was that? You’re going to have to speak up. That’s a bit more of the Gordon I used to know, but that won’t do for an audience that’s so far away now. Give me a bit of that new Gordon, the one that banters and charms.”
“I said I can’t work with you anymore.”
“Good. I can’t work with you either, you vacuous cunt.”
“Jesus Christ, Keith. Are you deliberately making this hard, or are you just that much of a fucking idiot? I’m firing you!”
He’d expected all sorts of reactions: shouting, crying, throwing whatever was within reach. But Keith just took another drag of his cigarette and tapped his ash on the table. “Yes, you are.”
The technicality flustered Gordon, but he knew that he couldn’t back down from this. It was too late. “I’m not just doing it because it’s what I think. Simon and Damon know we’re here. They agree. What changed, Keith? What is it that has made you such a fucking bitter person? It didn’t have to be like this. We could all be enjoying this together, but you’re just such a goddamn drag lately. Nothing’s good enough for you. Except the drugs, I guess.” He paused, remembering what Simon had said to him so many months before. “What is it? Is it jealousy?”
Keith spluttered and then yelped a laugh loud enough to echo in the mostly empty room. “What the fuck do I have to be jealous over? Your ability to figure out what’s going to sound nice on the radio and sell out? Your ability to convince everyone else that you know what the hell you’re doing, just because you’ve changed? Your ability to pretend to be something you’re not? Your ability to convince some girl that you’re hot shit when really you can’t—”
“Don’t you fucking dare bring her into this.”
“What? Oh, Lizzie?” A sneer took over his feature, an expression that Gordon had never really seen on him before. It was frightening to have never seen this side of the man before after knowing each other so long. “You think that turning your fuck buddy into your girlfriend is really going to work out? Do you even know her? As soon as you decided to make things serious, you’re off on a world tour. Do you honestly think she’s going to wait for you, or is she just going to find someone else who has just as big of a cock and can be home with her at night?”
“Shut up.” He pressed his palms to his temples because he didn’t want to be weak enough to cover his ears. Insecurities were heavy in his veins, and he didn’t need to hear those fears verbalized.
“You want her to need you so she can’t leave you. You want all of us to rely on you, and you always have. But you’re not up to the challenge. You can’t give any of us what we need. This band’s going to go under, and you’ll only be able to blame yourself and your vision.” He paused, relishing the last drag of his cigarette before he crushed it against the glass wall. “Besides, you know as well as I do that you can’t write songs when you’re happy. So what’s it going to be? The music or the girl?”
“That doesn’t fucking concern you since you don’t seem to be interested in either,” Gordon spat back. “Just go fuck off in a hole somewhere. The lawyer will get in touch with you about all the details.”
Keith balanced the end of his cigarette on his thumb as though to flick it at Gordon, but at the last minute, he let it drop on the carpet instead. That smirk was back on his face, more unsettling than ever. “Well, maybe she won’t leave you after all. I mean, if the money’s good, why not just cheat while you’re away? Works out well for everyone. Except you. Getting laid might make you less of a stuck up prick.”
He stood and grabbed the door, then turned back. This time his eyes were narrowed, teeth clenched. His rage was only just beginning to brew. “And fuck your lawyer. Mine will get in touch with yours.”
Gordon slouched in his chair and let his eyes shut until he heard the door slam. It was only as he sat there, breathing in the lingering ghost of smoke, that he realized that neither of them had spoken of what this divorce what would mean to their friendship. He knew that he had lost his best friend, but the drift had begun years before. There was nothing left between them by ash and legal papers.
When he glanced out the window, New York looked the same as before. Nothing had changed, but he felt even worse. What was it about work that made Lizzie so keen to go in even if she only complained about the job she held? Did she need him less as he was around less, or did she just not talk about it? How could they be together without being together?
He could surprise her. Take her out to lunch. Yes. He’d never been to her office before, but that would be a romantic gesture. He could finally meet the coworkers, see what the place was like, demonstrate his chivalry. Yes, that’d take his mind off things. He could be a shitty friend and worse bandmate, but at the very least, he could manage to be a passable boyfriend for the day to even things out.
What kind of flowers would she like? Would she want chocolate? She’d mentioned it earlier, but he knew she wasn’t really much of a fan. Maybe after work. Chocolate cocktails. Yes, that would do the trick. There was no reason to speak to anyone else at the label once the deed was done with Keith. He just left the door open and shut off the lights, finding his way to the lifts so he could focus on better times.