It was a very professional crowd, it seemed to me. They clapped in all the right places, cheered in all the right places, never got too crazy, but never lagged in energy either. Don’t get me wrong; that was perfectly fine. But it wasn’t special. Or maybe it was me. I was so ready for something to go wrong, and when nothing did, maybe my head wasn’t in the right place.
Ziggy knew how to play a crowd like that. Let’s face it, he knew how to play any crowd, deep or shallow, rowdy or subdued. Lacey didn’t show up as far as I could tell and I had to keep reminding myself she was okay.
I forgot all that when I came off stage and saw Remo standing there, whistling and clapping. He gave me a big bear hug, which surprised me, since he was usually more a shoulder-slap kind of guy.
Maybe the show was better than I gave it credit for.
I stripped out of my sweaty shirt and put on a dry one. The green room seemed noisier and more chaotic than usual after a show. I just concentrated on drinking a bottle of water and waiting for my blood pressure to return to normal.
“Digger says no promo party tonight,” Remo said, sitting down next to me on a folding chair. “You want to get away from the hotel for a while?”
“Yes,” I said, with feeling. Then I looked up and Ziggy was standing there. “Is that invitation open to everyone or just me?”
Remo opened his mouth to answer but Ziggy cut in. “No no, don’t worry about me. I’m beat. You go on.”
Remo and I said, simultaneously, “If you’re sure.”
Ziggy cracked up a little at that. “I’m sure. I’ll tell the guys you’re out if they start looking for you.”
“Okay.” I stood up, grabbed the Ovation’s case, Remo jerked his thumb toward the door, and we were outta there, that fast.
He was driving the same SUV he’d had the last time he drove me somewhere, or one that looked a hell of a lot like it. From the lot where he’d parked, which must have been for VIPs, a guard directed us toward an exit and we merged with the rest of the cars trying to leave just at the roadway. “So what kind of car should I buy?” I asked, as he eased us into traffic.
“Well, what kind of car do you want?”
“I have no idea. Something easy to park. Parking in Boston sucks. And we don’t have room for more cars in the driveway anyway, so I’ll probably have to park it on the street.”
“Well, that’s a start. Go test drive some things, I guess?”
“Chris says buying a car is like a part-time job until you pick one.” I shrugged. “Hey, thank you for Cat Elvis.”
Remo chuckled. “That’s one of those ‘I saw it and I thought of you’ gifts.”
“Ha. Well, so far so good, aside from last night’s mishap.”
“She’s going to be okay, though?” Remo asked.
“Yeah, far as I can tell. They let her out of the hospital in the middle of the day and she went home and Chris visited her there.”
“She’s his girl?”
“I didn’t even know she was famous until your old man told me,” Remo said. He drummed his hands quietly on the wheel to the radio, which was turned down so low I could almost not make out the song. Almost. Bob Seger, “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
“Famouser than we are anyway,” I said. “Where by we I mean me and the guys, not you.”
He shrugged. “Dunno about that. You brought the house down tonight.”
I didn’t want to contradict him so I just shrugged right back.
“You hungry? We could hit a deli or just do an In-and-Out Burger and take ’em home.”
“Those are the burgers that are supposed to actually be good, right? Man, I miss White Castle.” I was half pulling his leg there.
“You do not,” he said, not falling for it. “You never really liked their burgers and Digger only went through that drive-thru because it was the cheapest thing there was.”
“And he really liked it,” I said.
“Or at least the girl who ran the drive-thru,” Remo added.
“Point. Hey, you don’t think he’ll be mad that you and I went off without him, do you?” Not that I gave a shit if he did, but it occurred to me to wonder.
“I can see him anytime,” Remo pointed out, “since he’s on this coast most of the time. I don’t get a lot of quality time with you.”
“Awww,” I said, making fun, but feeling kind of warm and fuzzy at the same time.
“You didn’t decide.”
“Deli or In-and-Out.”
“Oh, um, I’m supposed to decide?”
“Who are you, Hamlet?”
“Burger, then, and let’s go to your house and play.”
“I was hoping you were going to say that.”
“You’re easy to please, Reem’.”
It was maybe an hour later we pulled into his driveway, burgers long since eaten, and we went up to his back deck and sat outside playing together for a while. He’d clearly been doing a lot with folk in his spare time, and we played some Appalachian folk tunes I recognized from a class way back when, tossing the riff back and forth like a game of catch.
It started to feel a little chilly when the wind whipped up, and it wasn’t like you can see the stars through the smog anyway, so we went inside after a while. “When’d you start getting into Appalachian folk?” I had to ask, while he got out a bottle of bourbon and two glasses. I sat on a stool at his kitchen counter while he got the glasses down from a cabinet.
“Oh, I’m working on a soundtrack project right now, and thought it’d be the thing.” He poured just a splash into each glass. “Turns out it’s kind of tricky to score, but I like the sound. Especially the way you play it. I might have to fly you back out here when your tour’s done so we can lay down a few tracks.”
He handed me a glass and we clinked, which I guess was my way of agreeing to it, and then I took a cautious sip of what he had poured. Huh, good. He knocked his back in one gulp, but like I said it was only a splash. “Does it pay well?”
“Union scale,” he said. “Probably only need you for two days, tops.”
“No no, I mean composing for soundtracks.”
“Well enough. It’d pay better for you, I’d bet, since you can do more of the actual scoring.”
“You’re the one with the degree in music.” He twisted the cork out of the bottle again.
“No, I’m the one with three semesters of music school and no degree,” I reminded him. “But, point taken, I probably could.” It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind. “I’m sure there’s a learning curve.”
He looked at me then, his hands stilling in their uncorking. “You’re a special player, Daron.”
“Playing and composing are two totally different things.”
“I know. I’m saying it anyway. Most of the people in this business don’t appreciate it. But I do. You’re a talent. I get reminded of it every time we play together.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I tried, “Thanks.”
He looked like he was going to say something else, but then didn’t, instead pouring himself another splash of bourbon and downing it in one shot again.
“So when do you hit the road again next?” I asked.
“August and September. A couple of dates in the UK and Europe on the slate, and then I think Japan before Christmas. Come on in the studio.”
I followed him into his home studio, which was as nicely decked out as many pro studios, though without the immense mixing board, just a small one.
I sat on a stool and crossed my ankle over my knee, swung one of his 12-string Ovations into my lap, and started to play. Just a few riffs at first, but you know how sometimes your fingers have a kind of momentum of their own. For a minute or two I thought he’d pick up a guitar and join me, but he ended up just sitting back, listening. I played through a rendition of Hotel California, and then just went off on whatever tangent my ears liked. He was recording it, I think.
Eventually I wound down.
“I should get you back to the hotel,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess you should. You coming to the Forum again tomorrow?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
When we were on the freeway, I thought of the question I’d wanted to ask him weeks ago but only just remembered. “Do you get lonely, Reem’? Living in a big house on a hill by yourself?”
He laughed. “Marlene moves in for a few weeks at a time,” he said. “Then she goes off to New York or Europe or somewhere and I don’t see her for a few months.”
“Marlene?” This was the first I’d heard the name, I swear.
“Yeah. Been seeing her on again off again for… about six years now.”
“Yeah. Neither of us is the marrying kind. She was here once three straight months and we were both crazy by the end of it. It works better long-distance with some sustained weeks of playing house.”
“Her regular home is New York. She’s an actress.”
“Oh. Um. How old…?”
Remo laughed again. “My age, if that’s what you were thinking.”
“Okay, I was. Well, that’s nice. I was kind of worried about you.”
“Ha! Well, appreciate the concern and all, but no, I’m not living a loveless hermit life, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”
“Who me, worry?” I grinned. “Can I be really nosy, then?”
“Do you see other people, too?”
He plowed right into it, like he’d answered this question before. “It’s about being happy, Daron. We both see other people. We’re both happy that the other person is having a good time. We just try to, you know, when we’re together, we make like it’s only us. That makes us both happy, even though we know we’ll hit a wall if we try to stay like that all the time, forever.”
What he said reminded me of Jonathan asking me to promise to be focused on him when we were together. “Yeah, I get it.”
“You should meet her sometime,” Remo said. “She’s out of town right now, or I would’ve brought her to the show.”
“Okay.” On again, off again, eh? I wondered if that could really work long term. I wondered if that was what J. and I were headed for. “Hey, so how’s Matthew?”
“Doing well, last I heard. He’s got a place in New York now, you know. You should look him up while you’re there.”
“Yeah? Or maybe he should look me up. I’m sure Digger would give him free run of backstage.”
“Could be. But if you have a chance, call him. I’ll write his number down for you when I drop you off.”
“Okay.” I got the feeling there was something Remo wasn’t telling me though. “Everything okay with him?”
“Oh yeah, far as I know. He’s taking a break from music work, he told me, and doing photography and some stuff, which is awesome. Let the man have the spotlight instead of the backstage role for once.”
“Yeah, I think he’s even got a gallery show going up soon. Call him and ask and you can tell me what he says,” Remo said. “Okay?”
“Okay.” I tried to remember how many days we’d have in New York. A few in the New York/New Jersey area. I also remembered that I’d be seeing Jonathan then, most likely. I wondered if I should arrange for them to meet. For some reason the thought of Jonathan meeting someone I’d slept with before sounded very uncomfortable, as if he’d be able to tell somehow. I told myself I was being ridiculous. But I worried just the same.