534. Justify My Love

I had two options when I got to the fourth floor. I could knock on the the door to 408, or I could knock on the door to 409, which was the actual bedroom that Ziggy had been in.

I worried that I’d put Tony in a compromising position if I knocked on 408. Digger had pretty much told him I wasn’t approved for entry. If I knocked on 409, though, and Ziggy opened the door himself? Well, it wasn’t like he wasn’t allowed to, was he?

Honestly, now that I had a moment of quiet I was replaying some of the crap Digger and Mills had said. Digger had called him, what? “His highness?” And Mills had called him a junkie prima donna.

The problem with remembering every sound you hear is that you can replay the sound like a tape. It’s how I know things I said when I was too upset to even know what I was saying while saying them.

I didn’t like what Digger and Mills had said, but I liked even less what I heard now in my memory of the fight Ziggy and I had just had. I’d said he acted like a “fucking whore.”

You know who used the word “whore” a lot? Digger. You know who didn’t? Me. Or so I thought.

I decided slipping a note under the door was a better idea than knocking. I hurried back to the telephone table by the elevator, conscious of time slipping away. Any second Mills and Digger might figure out I had flown the coop and come right back up here.

I tapped the pen against the paper trying to think of the words. I wrote the “I” in “I love you” before it occurred to me that was going to come across as desperate or possibly sarcastic, which would be another disaster. So instead I wrote:

I ‘ M
S O R R Y

Hadn’t he left me a cryptic note once in a New York hotel, with the word SORRY so prominent, so out of place with the rest of the note that I wondered why he’d bothered to write the rest? I wished I had a song lyric ready to add to it now, but there was no time for that.

I went back to his door and slid it under as far as I could, then held my breath.

I heard the hiss of the paper against the carpet as it was pulled the rest of the way into the room.

A moment later the door opened and I was looking directly into Ziggy’s raccoon eyes. I had forgotten we were exactly the same height.

“They’re coming,” I said. “Or they will be.”

“Okay. One sec.” He closed the door to a crack but didn’t shut it all the way, and long seconds ticked by while I wondered what he was doing.

Then he slipped out into the hallway with me, closing the door silently behind him. He’d put on a jacket and pulled on a pair of short boots. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“Somewhere Mills or Digger can’t have me thrown out of?”

That earned me the “oh really?” look, and he gestured for me to lead the way.

I took us to the end of the hall where I hoped there were fire stairs. There were. Thankfully we were only on the fourth floor. At the ground floor there was a door to the outside that said it was alarmed. I didn’t want to risk it. Fortunately there was another one, unmarked, that led into a service corridor. We came out the loading dock at the back of the building and then onto Madison Avenue. The doormen never saw us.

We walked a block on Madison while I tried to hail a cab with no luck. We were both being really calm and cooperative with each other, you might have noticed. I didn’t know if that was because we’d both gotten the explosion out of our systems or if we were trying to avoid it again or what.

I think we both knew we had things to say and we wanted to say them, whether we agreed on what those things were or not.

“Let’s just go to the park,” Ziggy said.

Central Park, he meant, which was a block away. It was night. Not the best time to be walking through there.

“There are benches on the edge, come on,” he said. “We’ll stick to where it’s populated.”

Like he read my mind. Okay, maybe it was obvious to anyone who had spent time in New York City that Central Park at night was something to carefully consider. “All right.”

When we reached the edge of the park, though, he pointed and said, “We’re right by the Alice statue.”

“Alice statue?”

“Alice in Wonderland. You haven’t seen this? It’s one of my favorite things.”

That settled it, I suppose. I followed him into the park where a giant bronze sculpture of Alice and various characters from the book were sitting on a magic mushroom. It being like nine at night in the summer and it being New York City, there was a gaggle of kids climbing all over the statue while their parents stood or sat around on the edge. A guy with a boom box was off to one side, rollerblading/dancing in front of it without a care in the world for whether anyone watched him or not. His T-shirt was hanging out of the back pocket of his cutoff shorts.

A woman stood up from a bench, pushing a stroller and yelling for her kids to join her. Ziggy made a bee line for the bench before anyone else could get it, and threw himself down tiredly.

I sat somewhat more gingerly next to him.

“So are you actually sorry or was the note just a ploy to get me to open the door?” Ziggy asked.

I was glad I hadn’t written I LOVE YOU, then, because if he’d said that to THAT, I think I would have walked away and never looked back. Or worse. I turned to face him, heat spiking through me, but I kept my voice down. “I’m not one for ploys.”

“Ah, I forget that.” He looked genuinely troubled by it.

“I can believe it if you’ve been spending most of your time with my father and Mills.”

He sighed heavily.

“But let’s not talk about them,” I went on. “Let’s talk about us first.”

“Okay, what are you sorry for, then?”

“For blowing up at you. I don’t know what got into me.”

“I take it you were upset by what you saw.”

“Or what I thought I saw, anyway.” I wanted to patch things up between us enough that I tried to give him an out.

He didn’t take it. “I’m sorry. I’m surrounded by closet cases who can be led around by their dicks. Literally. Sometimes I can’t resist grabbing them by the handle.”

My skin flashed hot and cold again. “Like you did with me.”

His mouth dropped open a little and his eyes widened with sudden panic. “That’s not what I meant. Daron–”

“Yes it is. We both know I was a terrible closet case and that you used it as a way to control me when you thought you needed to get creative control of the band. You’ve already apologized for that, Zig. I’m still working on forgiving you for it.”

He swallowed. “Okay. I guess that’s something. Is that why you react so badly when I do it to someone else, though?”

“Maybe. I think this time, running into you by surprise, I… it brought it all back full force.”

“Full force?”

“Panic attack level,” I admitted.

“Ow. Those suck.”

“They do.”

We fell silent on that point of agreement, while my defensive inner voices began to chatter: Why the hell are you trying to patch it up with someone who sends you into panic mode? This is why your relationships are doomed.

Okay, but you know what? We tried the other extreme, we tried stability with Jonathan, and it didn’t work. We’d also tried a sort of no strings attached thing with Orlando and that had worked, but the whole thing about there being no strings meant there wasn’t anything keeping us together, either.

With Ziggy, there were strings. Even the strings had strings. I wasn’t ready to cut them unless I absolutely had to.

“We both need to get out of our old patterns,” I said then.

“We do?”

“We do. You have to stop doing that.”

“Or you’ll have panic attacks.”

“That’s assuming I’m around you enough to see it, of course.” I held up my palms and looked at them, as if I could measure my worth, as a partner, as a musician, as a friend, based on what I saw there.

“Hey,” he said, and I knew he meant: look at me, so I did. “Do you want to be around?”

“Mills is the one who wants to break up the band, not me.”

Ziggy’s spine straightened. “What did he tell you?”

“A load of crap so far as I’m concerned. What did he tell you?”

“That while I was in rehab you whored yourself out to a lot of other bands, looking for a new job, and in the end you re-joined Nomad.”

I should not have been defensive, but I was. “That’s called making a living.”

“Oh, so you did what you had to do? How’s that different from me?”

“For fuck’s sake, Ziggy, I’m a professional musician. So are you. You are not, however, a professional professional.” I couldn’t bring myself to use the word “whore” again, not even though–or maybe because–he’d just used it.

“I’m an entertainer,” he said.

“Fine. Entertainer, actor, celebrity, fine. That doesn’t mean you have to have sex with whoever’s in charge.”

“But I like the sex.”

“Is that why you do it? Honestly? You just like it?” I had a sudden feeling of deja vu. Didn’t we have this conversation once before? Or had I imagined it? In the time we were apart there were so many things I wished we’d said I wondered if I were mixing fantasy with memory. “Let me be clear about this, Ziggy Ferias.” Yes, I was using last-name level vehemence. “I get jealous. I do. But I could live with you sleeping with whoever you wanted if that’s all it was about, freedom and being yourself and enjoying sex for the sake of sex. But when it’s this control-game bullshit? It makes me want to run far, far away. If you’re lovers with Richard Whatshisface, the director? Okay, fine. But you just told me he’s a closet case you control with his joystick.”

To which Ziggy had only three little words to say, in a very small voice. “You get jealous?”

Fuck. Had I come here to say it? Had I come here to confess, to admit it, to leave myself open to what torture he could inflict?

I was suffering anyway. That much I had already admitted. He knew, or at least he guessed. And I’d just set myself up as the one who didn’t use ploys, who was the honest one, right?

Right. Time to say it. “Of course I do.”My voice was almost as small as his. He leaned toward me to hear my words over the sounds of the boom box and the cavorting of children. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t in love with you.”

His intake of breath was sharp, sudden, like my words had cut him.

I kept talking, unsure if continuing was a balm or like salt in the wound. “You know how long I’ve been waiting to say that? A year. Maybe longer. I wanted to tell you… when I couldn’t deny it anymore. We were right here in New York.” Noisy, roiling, grimy New York. “The charity show. I…” Why was I telling him this part? I could barely stand to think about it myself. “I had half-convinced myself to tell you after our set, that amazing, amazing set. But I couldn’t find you during the break, and then came the accident.”

He already had raccoon eyes so the fact that his eyes brimmed wet now didn’t matter, make-up wise. But he still held it in. “You could have told me in the hospital.”

Oh for the love of… He thought I hadn’t come to see him on purpose? “They kept everyone but Digger from you. Because we’re not family.”

He pushed back. “You never called me when I was at Betty Ford, either.”

“They told me you were in isolation and no one was allowed to talk to you except for Digger.”

“And you believed that? Who told you that?”

“Digger.”

Ziggy clenched his teeth. “I was allowed to name two contacts. I named him and you.”

“No one ever told me that.” I shook my head slowly, trying to imagine how this entire year might have gone differently if I’d spoken with him. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t outraged, I was just… sad that our understanding of each other was so weak that he could believe I hadn’t wanted to talk to him. Maybe that was my fault, for holding back so much from him. For not telling him sooner. For not realizing it sooner.

The case against me wasn’t looking very good. “I heard you went off on vacation with Jonathan, while I was in there.”

So much for not angry, though maybe now I was as angry with myself as anyone. “Because I thought we weren’t allowed to talk to you for 28 days! And Carynne and Jonathan decided that I was going to gnaw my leg off like a zoo animal if they didn’t do something with me. And I picked Mexico so we’d be closer to you!” Unfortunately my voice got louder and my anger more heated the longer that statement went on. And I wasn’t done yet. “Then I refused to go back to Boston so I could be there when you came out and I even fucking drove all the way to Palm Springs so I could beat Digger to get you, and gave myself fucking heatstroke only to find out you had skipped the country with Jennifer Carstens! So don’t you fucking play this ‘I hear you went to Mexico with Jonathan’ game!”

His face shuttered like a window. He looked down, his shoulders hunched, and he closed off. When he looked up again his eyes were like pinpricks of light down a long tunnel. “I’m not allowed to be mad at you for going to Mexico with Jonathan?”

I slumped against the bench. “You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel, Zig, if I’m allowed to feel whatever I feel, how’s that?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, let’s get all the feelings out in the open and see if there’s anything left but scorched Earth when we’re done.”

“I thought you said you came here to tell me you loved me.”

“I actually didn’t know you’d be in the city at all, if you recall. But once I knew you were, yeah. There was no way I was leaving until we’d at least talked. And I didn’t know if I was going to have the guts to tell you. But I did. So there you go. I love you, motherfucker. There were times I tried to stop thinking about you, tried to forget because it hurt to think about you, but I thought about you every damn day.”

He looked down, tears dripping, and put his hand to his forehead, as if shading his eyes, but actually trying to block me from seeing. The splatters of water on his black jeans were obvious, though.

“Here.” I dug in the pocket of my leather jacket for a piece of paper towel I’d folded up in there after I’d splashed my face with water in the movie theater restroom.

He looked up but didn’t take the paper out of my hand.

I reached out slowly and dabbed at his cheeks. I steadied his head with one hand and wiped at the sooty smudges under his eyes with the towel. He leaned heavily into my hand then, like a cat. I scritched him like one.

He took my hand in his then, but didn’t seem ready to say anything yet.

“I don’t want to make you miserable,” I said. “And I can’t live with you making me miserable all the time either. If there’s no way to make it work, then there’s no way to make it work. But I couldn’t let another year–or another day–go by without telling you. All right? I fucking love you, I am in fucking love with you, and if that fucks things up royally there’s nothing I can do about it.”

He kissed me so suddenly that his head knocked into mine hard enough that I saw stars, or maybe that was the lack of oxygen from his squeezing his arms around my neck so tightly. Then just as quickly he let me go. Would you be surprised that he was the one who looked around us to see if anyone had noticed us? I know I was.

“Now can we talk about Digger and Mills?” he said, with a slight snarl in his voice.

“Sure,” I said.

“But wait.” Ziggy turned to sit sideways on the bench, his legs crossed. “We didn’t finish talking about us. You said we both have to break our old habits. We talked about mine. Now let’s talk about yours.”

Remember how I said I knew confessing I loved him was going to open me up? I could practically hear Ziggy sharpening his knives. But maybe it was about time I had some bullshit surgically removed.

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