(Don’t forget! This Saturday, 5-9pm US eastern, the DGC 4th Anniversary Online Celebration! Bookmark the new DGC Chat room for the 5-7pm live chat with Daron and ctan: https://daron.ceciliatan.com/chat-room and then at 7pm ctan moves to her uStream channel for the video portion! Rumor has it she may read from Colin or Ziggy’s stories! More details to come!)
I barely got introduced to the Mazel brothers’ wives before we were shooed into our seats for dinner. Remo sat at the head of the table, with me next to him on the corner, Martin directly across from me and of course Jonathan next to me.
Maybe I shouldn’t say “of course.” I could imagine plenty of families who would have split us up. Maybe that would have been to make sure we weren’t holding hands under the table. Or maybe so we could each be grilled at opposite ends of the table about each other. Either way I would have been uncomfortable. I sat there thinking that fortunately, unlike my blood family, my chosen family didn’t have a stake in making me uncomfortable.
The caterers put the turkey on the table so we could see it and then whisked it back to the kitchen counter to actually carve it up while they put out all the other dishes. It was about as traditional a thanksgiving as you can imagine. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce. Since it was all cooked by professionals, the gravy wasn’t lumpy, the potatoes weren’t too salty, the stuffing wasn’t burned… In short, it was great.
Jonathan stood up to pour the wine and got to give a spiel about what kind it was. The caterers had decanted both bottles into a glass thing I had always thought was a vase. Everyone seemed to appreciate the spiel, which made Jonathan happy, which made me happy.
I wondered what it was like to be that quickly accepted by a group of new people. It wasn’t only that this was an easygoing, accepting group. Jonathan was good at meeting people. I tried to figure out how he did it. Maybe I could pick up some pointers that would help me if I met his family in a month, you know?
The wine tasted good, too. I tried to keep the topics of conversation off what was happening with the band and record company. That was kind of tricky, since music is the family business, as it were, it was a hard subject to avoid. But I got to talk about some of the bands I’d played with in the past several months, and people we knew in common, and I got to hear lots of road stories about Germany and England.
But you know how things go. You can’t always watch every word you say, and this wasn’t exactly a group where I felt I had to be watching what I said. So somehow we got onto the subject of our last tour and the accident. The explosion, I mean. And everyone wanted to hear about it. “Ziggy and I were side by side, and the can was right at our feet, next to a wedge monitor. And… whoosh.” I made a motion like I was splashing my face with water.
“Flames?” Martin pointed upward.
“Hot sparks, like sparkler sparks, but bigger. And when you get ’em in your eye, it’s no fun.”
Alex visibly shivered. “My worst nightmare, man. I don’t even like to get too close to the lights.”
Remo gestured for the decanter, which was empty, and passed it to a caterer who went to refill it with some other wine. “You got away lucky. Thank goodness it wasn’t a bigger firework and that the damage was minimal.”
Martin leaned across the table. “Yeah, you can barely see the scars.”
Jonathan looked closely. “I can’t see them at all anymore, actually.”
“Not on my face, anyway.” There was still a discolored patch on the back of one hand, but I didn’t even notice it anymore and I figured it would fade with time.
“Well, what goes around comes around,” Martin said. “Didn’t Megaton break up?”
“Last I heard,” Jonathan said.
I didn’t even remember hearing that, but I nodded in a knowing way. So did Remo, who then had to defend himself from the good-natured ribbing of his band over a recent incident where he tripped over his own feet on stage.
“How’s that ankle doing?”
“You know, the whole point of running wireless is no cords to trip over.”
“Now you know why Jerry Garcia sits on a stool these days.”
“Better trade in those cowboy boots for orthopedic shoes.”
Quite suddenly I yelled out, “Archie!”
Martin clapped his hand on his forehead. “Yes! I can’t believe I didn’t remember that.”
Remo looked back and forth between us. “What are you…?”
“Hey,” I said, now that I was thinking about it. “You want to call Matthew and say Happy Thanksgiving?”
“That’s a great idea. What say we do that while we make some room for dessert.” Remo stood up. “There’ll be pumpkin pie, hot apple pie a la mode, and a chocolate pecan pie.”
“Now you tell me,” Martin said, gripping his stomach and groaning.
“You in a hurry?” Remo chided. “Let’s take a break.”
The Mazel brothers moved to the pool table while I followed Remo into the office to the phone. He dialed then handed it to me. “You first. I’m going to check on the caterers.”
“Okay.” I sat down in the desk chair and listened to the ring. A machine picked up. “Hey, Matthew, it’s Daron, calling from Remo’s house to say Happy Thanksgiving. The whole gang’s here in LA. If you’re there, pick up, if you’re not there, call back. We just finished dinner and dessert won’t be for a while and I get the feel–”
“Hey! Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!” I could picture how his eyes crinkled when he smiled. “How’s LA?”
“Smoggy, crowded, and drug-infested. How’s New York?”
“Same as always. Tsk. And here I’ve been thinking you moved to paradise with your beau.”
“Well, you know, fairy tales always end before you find out the castle needs a new moat.”
“But you guys are doing all right?”
“Honestly?” I got up and closed the door. “Matthew, you’re the only person I can imagine saying this to. I feel like an ungrateful son of a bitch. He loves me like crazy but I can’t wait to get out of here.”
“Oh, that’s not good. It must be really bad for you to come right out and tell me like that.”
“Hey, Remo’s been trying to teach me to be a straight shooter my whole life. By which I mean someone who speaks plainly and directly, of course.”
“No kidding. Okay, so there’s trouble in paradise.” There was a whoosh of white noise as he must have sighed or forced out a breath. “You must really feel like you’re drowning.”
My throat tightened up as he said it. “Is it that hard to believe I’d tell you?”
“From how closed-mouthed you used to be? It’s a miracle. But good for you. Let me see if I can throw you a lifeline, eh? You and Jonathan aren’t getting along?”
I tried to figure out how to explain it. “It’s not that. I feel like there’s something wrong with me for even complaining, when I know so many people are alone or lonely or… you know. It’s not that I don’t appreciate how lonely I used to be. It’s not that I don’t like him, either! He’s great. But I’m going crazy.”
“I like being with him. And yet somehow I can’t be myself when we’re together. And it’s making me climb the walls. Is that insane?”
“It’s not insane at all.” He cleared his throat and I wondered if maybe he was trying not to laugh. “And he is a really nice guy. I know why you feel he’s a catch, Daron. But there are a lot of things to consider… when you’re in a relationship it changes who you are. The two of you together become something…”
I must’ve made a squeak of distress or something because he broke off and asked, “Are you all right?”
“You realize that changing who you are is the most terrifying idea there is? Oh my god, no wonder he can’t finish writing this novel he’s been working on. I’m changing him, too.”
“Maybe he feels it’s worth it to change who he is?” Matthew suggested.
“If that’s true, then the mismatch between how he feels about me and how I feel about him is even worse than I thought. How do I tell him it’s been fun playing house and I like being together but I really never meant for us to become a couple?” I nearly choked on this next bit: “How do I tell him I’m not in love with him?”
Matthew was silent for a moment. “Daron, how long have you been living with him?”
“We haven’t really been apart since we saw you in New York.”
“That’s almost half a year. You know, I think he knows you pretty well by now.”
Matthew was silent again, leaving me trying to fill in the blanks.
Oh. “You’re saying… he probably knows I’m not in love with him.”
“I think you love him more than you give yourself credit for. But I know, there’s a difference between loving him and being in love with him. If you wake up every day trying to figure out how to get out of the relationship–”
“If he knows that, then why keep going? Why not kick me out?”
“Well, why should he? Maybe he thinks you’ll come around. And even if he doesn’t, why should he be the one to do it? If you’re the discontent one, it’s your job to either end it or ask for what it takes to make you happy and give him a chance. The ball is in your court. If anything, the fact you aren’t serving it seems almost like proof you might come around. If you’re not asking for change and you’re not asking to leave, he doesn’t know what to do either.”
“Yeah. Wow. I guess that makes sense.” I let out a deep breath. “I’m afraid to ask for what I want.”
“Because you might not get it?”
“No! I think because I’m afraid I might! And then I really won’t be able to leave. If he does even more for me? Then I’d feel like a total heel for leaving him.”
“Sounds like you think you’ll feel like a heel no matter when you leave him.”
“But think about what you said there. What if you actually got everything you wanted out of the relationship? Why would you leave?”
“That brings us back to the whole thing about the relationship changing me. I need to get away so I can… focus. Find that center that is totally missing right now. What do I want? I shouldn’t be afraid to ask, but I feel pretty sure that what I want is not to be constantly having to… I don’t know. It’s hard enough to think about a career and who I am without having to put another person in the mix, does that make sense? I’m trying so hard to make him happy, and I think he tries hard to make me happy, but I’m not making myself happy in the process.”
“Sometimes trying hard to fix or maintain a relationship isn’t enough. Sometimes even when you both want it to work, sometimes it’s just not right. Maybe it’s time to move on.”
“Maybe. Maybe we should try moving back East, where I like it better and I won’t feel like such a fish out of water, before I give up, though.”
“Or maybe you should give it a break, and see how you both feel in six months.”
“Hm. That’d be a really sneaky way of saying I want to break up without actually having to say it.”
“Yeah. If I say I think we need a break? It’s like I want the benefits of breaking up without the drawbacks.”
Matthew laughed. “Maybe. I think it depends on how you say it, and on how he takes it.”
“I’ll think it over. I sure as hell am not telling him tonight. But enough about me, for fuck’s sake, how are you? How’s Archie?” Thank goodness I had remembered his name.
“Oh, Arch had a fall a couple of weeks ago which confined him to bed, and then to the apartment since he couldn’t do stairs, but he’s starting to get more mobile now. Honestly, his pride was the thing most seriously injured. Meanwhile he started a new medical regime and it seems to be doing him some good.”
“That’s great. That’s… I don’t even know what else to say about it other than that’s great.”
“It’s okay, Daron. I accept it. We’re not going to have a long life together. But at least we might have a few more years, and those years might be well spent. That’s a miracle unto itself at this point.”
“Don’t say you’re sorry. Don’t feel sorry for me. It’s okay to be happy at the good news. Truth is, no one knows how many years together you get. When my mom passed she left me a chunk of money. We can be comfortable for a while, and now that he’s back on his feet, Arch and I are going to see a little of the world while we can.”
“You’ve already seen the world.”
“C’mon, Daron. You know you can’t see anything from the back of the tour bus.”
“True. True.” I sat there in silence for a minute then, out of things to say but not quite ready to say goodbye.
“If you’ve made up your mind to leave him, it’s always better to do it sooner than later.”
“But not on a holiday!” I was scandalized by the idea.
“Why not? Are you sure that isn’t an excuse because deep down you want to give him one more chance? If you’ve made up your mind, why are you still together?”
“I guess… I want to be sure. And I keep thinking I’ll come up with a way to separate that won’t leave us both damaged and bleeding. I don’t want to do that to him. He deserves better.”
“Noble sentiment. But generally speaking, Daron, the longer it goes on, the more blood there will be.”
“Okay. Point taken. Thanks for the advice. I didn’t mean to dump on you on a holiday.”
“You have a warped view of what happens on holidays,” Matthew joked.
“Yeah, well, my family was warped.”
“Did you say Reem wanted to talk to me, too?”
“Yeah.” I opened the door and stuck my head out. “Except now I gotta find him.”
The phone was cordless. I found Remo in the kitchen, conferring with a caterer. She was in a white shirt and a sage-colored apron, remarkably clean for someone who had been serving food. When he saw me he came to take the phone.
“Okay, here he is. Bye now.” I handed it over and then went to sit by Jonathan in the living room, where they were listening to music and drinking coffee. A caterer asked me if I wanted some and I didn’t see any reason to say no, so I said yes to coffee, and yes to cream and sugar.
Then I slipped my hand into Jonathan’s, hiding it between my thigh and his. I know I’d just convinced myself more than ever that I had to let him go, and yet I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that we never know how much time we’re given–for life or for a relationship.