We went into the studio. The feeling of calm that having him in my arms gave me–quieting the annoying part of my brain that cried like a lonely puppy whenever he wasn’t there–gave way to the unsettled feeling of walking across unknown terrain.
Except writing together was familiar enough ground, wasn’t it?
Not when I didn’t know what was going to become of the song, maybe. I wondered if I could put that out of my mind and just “get in the zone” despite that.
“Is this where you did it?” Ziggy said, poking around the studio curiously.
“Wrote that song for Sarah that went to number three.” He wasn’t looking at me when he said it. It wasn’t like there was a thunderclap and a devilish red glow in his eyes or something. He was telling it like it was. “I’m still kind of upset about that.”
“I know. You said that the last time you were here.”
“I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.” He sat down on the engineer stool at the mixing board. “But that’s not why I want to write a song right now. I mean, it’s not like I feel you owe me one because you wrote one for her.”
“With her,” I said automatically.
“Okay, with her, but it sounds like you, Daron.”
I shrugged. “If you say so. I think it sounds like her. But whatever.”
He spun himself in a full circle on the stool.
“So you don’t like your new guitar player.”
He stopped the rotation when he was facing me. “I like him fine except for the fact that he’s not you.”
Maybe you should have thought of that before… I thought.
“Before what,” he asked, and I realized I had said it out loud.
“Before you…” Since I hadn’t been aware of speaking at first I had no idea how that sentence was supposed to end. Before you signed that contract? “…wrote yourself a new ending.”
“You rewrote your future, Zig. And you wrote me right out of it.”
His eyes were wide, panicked. “But–”
“Was I crazy, thinking we’d finally figured some shit out in Boston? I thought we were on the same wavelength.”
“We can be again.”
I gave him probably the same accusatory look Digger had given me when I’d called him “Dad.” The did-you-really-say-that look.
Ziggy drew his knees up on the stool. He folded himself into an egg-shape almost, perched there. “You’re…you’re being very hard about this.”
“Yeah, I am. Because if you can’t understand why? Then I need to figure out how the hell to cut you off.”
“Maybe I could understand it better if every time we talked about it you didn’t jump down my throat.”
I forced myself to take a couple of deep breaths. “Okay, but…”
I tried to get my thoughts in order. I was having that feeling I sometimes did in therapy, like I had dug myself a hole by talking without thinking and I had to do a lot of thinking to get myself out of it. Which maybe was the point.
“But I feel like if you didn’t understand it before, I’m not optimistic you’ll understand it now.”
“So you don’t even want to give me a chance.”
“No! I mean yes, of course I’ll give you a chance.”
He unfolded himself slowly. “You know sometimes I have to hear things more than once for them to sink in, too. Even if they’re hard to say.”
I went and picked the Ovation 12-string out of its stand and sat down on a chair across from him. “Okay. I guess if we reach the point where I’m not willing to keep repeating myself I’ll know it’s time to walk away.”
His eyes got suddenly shiny when I said that. And when I saw that, mine began to sting a little, too. The thought of me walking away, after all we’d been through…
That we both reacted like that might have been what proved there was something there. A relationship, if you want to call it that. I don’t know what else to call it.
I needed to put my thoughts in order but what I did was played a little, a couple of my usual warmups that were ingrained in my fingers and then picked my way through a placid and sweet section of the soundtrack I was working on. I’d chosen the 12-string because it sounds sweet and placid most of the time, really, and I thought it would be calming.
It was. I finally looked up and said, “I know the band was always one of a dozen avenues to fame you could have tried. I know that. So maybe that’s why it’s hard for you to understand what it’s like for me.”
He rolled the stool closer to me so he could hear my voice. He had no makeup on right now, his hair was hanging down partway over one eye, all the styled curl gone. He had pulled his leggings back on but was wearing one of my flannel shirts, I realized.
“I don’t have some other avenue. All I’ve got is this.” I lifted the neck of the guitar a little. “This thing I did every hour of my life that wasn’t miserable. This is it. This is my salvation. This is my livelihood. This isn’t just what I do, it’s what I am.”
For a second it looked like he was going to argue, but maybe he was just opening his mouth to take a breath.
“Finding a band that works, building one that works… it’s incredibly hard. It takes something besides talent, besides drive. There has to be chemistry. Something has to click.”
He gave a little nod like he got that.
“Maybe it’s crazy and maybe it’s selfish but if I’m not expressing myself creatively I don’t know why I’m on the planet. I’m a waste of space if I’m not making music. I don’t mean that in a self-hate kind of way, either. It’s just… a fact. And yeah, I’ve learned I could stand on a street corner and do it and that would be… okay. I guess. But I’m sure you understand why I want more than that. And…”
“I knew I could never do it alone. I knew I wanted to do rock and I’ve always known that would mean finding a singer.” I found myself sucking in a breath, then, pulling myself back from the edge of tears, feeling like this was turning into a breakup conversation before I gave it a chance. “When you find the one, you know.”
He got to his feet suddenly, and I watched him beat back his anger, stuff it back down inside himself so that he could tell me something instead of screaming it at me. “You know how you said I should have asked you about it before I signed the contract?”
“Maybe you should have said that sooner, too.”
I stopped playing and put a hand over my eyes and it felt like the world was spinning. Had I really not said that? Had I really never told him? Not at the Carlyle, or in Central Park that night, or in his apartment later?
No, I probably hadn’t, because it had taken me so damn long to know it myself. “Yeah.” The word came out a croak. “I should have. I’ve… I’ve felt that way for a long time, you know? In fact, I’ve always felt that way. From that first day we officially met and I thought, god, I’ll do anything to make this guy our singer. I think I didn’t even let Bart get a word in edgewise.”
He was biting his lip so hard I wondered if he was damaging himself.
“But it’s taken me a long time to see it for what it is. And to admit it. If that’s my fault, okay, that’s my fault. If it’s something so wrong with me that I can’t have a functional relationship–or at least a functional relationship with you–then… then… that sucks and I’m sorry.”
Ziggy’s eyes were wide and serious. “I haven’t… I haven’t ruled out the possibility that we can… work it out. Somehow. You know.”
“I know. But to get back to what you were originally asking. Think of a band like a… a mansion. Every time we make an album it’s like we decorate another room. We get together and figure out what it’s going to be like, aesthetically. Then we build it. The band is the architects and the builders. The singer can be part of that, too, but his most important role is to be the… face of it. The museum guide who takes you through.”
He raised an eyebrow as my analogy was starting to get far-fetched. I knew it, too, but I had to try to make it work.
“So this new deal is kind of like if the butler suddenly turned to the builder-architect of the house and said, by the way, I own this now, and you can run along.”
“The analogy kind of sucks but do you see what I’m getting at? And now you’re saying you’ll hire me back as a sub-contractor to work on the house that I used to own? That I built with my own hands?”
He sat back down on the stool. “Maybe the analogy isn’t too far-fetched. Maybe that’s exactly why it seems so extreme. Because that’s how you feel.”
“Like you kicked me out of my own house? Yes.”
He pushed his hand into his hair. “I… definitely never intended you to feel that way. And I see why you think I should’ve known you would. And I’m sorry I didn’t. Even if it was partly your fault for never really telling me anything before.”
My cheeks were properly red at that. We stared at each other for a while.
“Will you help me with this song?” he finally asked.
It didn’t feel like either of us was promising the other much with that. But it was something.