I still didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand how it was possible to feel angry, confused, and betrayed and yet happy to lay eyes on him at the same time.
I know, I know: Write a song about it. Been there, done that.
I thought: if he walks up to me and treats me really cordially, really formally, I’m walking out. I can’t do it. I can’t play that part.
I was spared, though, by Priss nearly tackling him. She had been drinking merrily and caught her shoe on the edge of the shag rug of the living room and the hardwood floor of the entrance hallway and stumbled against him. Ziggy burst out laughing immediately and they exchanged apologies, and then Priss dragged him somewhat forcibly into the living room to meet someone.
At that point Antonio stepped calmly into the room and surveyed the place. We exchanged chin nods and after another glance at what Zig was doing, he came right to me.
“Beer’s in the fridge,” I said, stepping aside so he could get one if he wanted.
“Thanks.” He pulled out a bottle of something and relaxed a little. “How are the holidays treating you?”
“Not bad. You remember my sister? She’s here somewhere, too. I think you know a lot of these folks, actually.”
“Zig treating you okay?”
“Can’t complain. It’s steady work and never dull.”
“Watching doors and sitting in cars isn’t dull?”
“Trust me, a lot of employers I could do that for would be a hell of a lot duller.” He cracked a little smile. “He’s got me on salary now, which is helping a lot.”
“Your mom doing okay?”
“She’s great. It’s nice I can pay her rent. What with flying here, there, and everywhere I moved back in with her, but I’m never there.”
“How’s your brother? The skinny one, I mean.”
Tony laughed at that. He had two brothers. One was a former football linebacker who I had not met, and one was an aspiring musician, who I had. So he knew exactly which one I meant. “Ray-Ray just got accepted to some fancy arts camp this summer.”
I wondered if Tony being on salary now meant Ziggy had gotten his portion of the Megastar money, or if the cash flow was from somewhere else. I had no idea what his finances were like. I wasn’t about to ask Tony that, though. Tony deserved some stability–if jetting all over at a moment’s notice and possibly getting no sleep for days on end could be considered stability. “It sounds stupid, I know, but I feel better knowing you’re keeping an eye on Ziggy.”
“Don’t you ‘boss’ me. He’s your boss now.”
“Yeah, but I don’t call him boss.”
“What do you call him?”
“Extreme High Ruler of the Galaxy,” Tony said, completely deadpan, before he started to crack up at his joke, which made me lose it, too.
The party was starting to get a little crowded now with people I didn’t know. Oh, the one new person I met I should mention, of course, was Sarah’s mother. I’d heard so much about her I really hadn’t known what to expect. I was picturing some kind of stage-mom impresario with a cigarette on a long holder and huge sunglasses, I think. She was actually a short (by which I mean even shorter than me) somewhat plump woman with straight brown hair and librarian glasses on a chain. She was wearing a Christmas sweater. She didn’t bear much resemblance to her Amazon of daughter (who was leggy and tall even when she wasn’t in heels). She insisted I call her Mom. “It’s easier.”
The party crowd got thick enough that I lost track of Ziggy for a while. Remo and I got talking next to the booze decanters while sampling what was in them.
Having been hanging out for days already at that point, we were out of small talk. We had already discussed Broadway, politics, his trip to the rubble of the Berlin Wall, et cetera.
I kind of figured this was coming at some point.
“So your plans for next year are kind of up in the air,” he asked, but in that telling kind of asking.
“You told me in Japan you wanted to come do a real tour with us at some point…”
I remembered thinking that. I didn’t remember telling him that, but there was a lot I didn’t remember from that trip. “Yeah.”
“I don’t want to pressure you, but this might be the time for it, you know?”
“Carynne mentioned you’ve got a full slate for the summer.”
“Tour’s in two legs actually. It’s 27 or 28 dates in the spring, mostly April/May, and then two months off, then at the end of July another 27 or 28. Mostly arenas.” He shrugged like there was something to apologize for about that. Maybe so it wouldn’t come off as bragging.
There was a way in which it made complete sense for me to say yes. Then again there was a way in which it made complete sense for me to say yes to Ziggy, too. And I was resisting both. Why? Well, I knew I didn’t want Ziggy to jerk me around. That was obvious. But why was I feeling squidgy about going on the road with Nomad? Wasn’t that kind of inevitable?
Maybe that was it, though. I didn’t like feeling like the reason I did things was because it was fated, like I had no choice about it.
“Send the dates to Carynne and we’ll look it over,” I said, looking into the glass in my hand.
“I will.” And then he said nothing but it was that kind of silence that means somebody wants to say something.
Yeah, I guess I knew Remo pretty well. “I know,” I told him. “I know how much you want me to.”
He relaxed. “Good. I promise I won’t sprain myself this time.”
That made me laugh. It would be really fun to jam every night and see how much musical trouble we could get into. I realized I was already imagining the epic encores that would take place.
Which probably meant I was going to say yes. “I’m not jerking you around for the sake of jerking you around,” I said then. “I mean, it’s not like I don’t want to.”
Remo knocked back the rest of what was in his glass. “Is it important for me to know why you’re not jumping at the chance?”
“Eh…Since I don’t know why I’m not jumping at the chance, I can’t say.” I finished my drink, too, and set the chiseled glass tumbler on the silver tray with some others. “In fact, maybe I just figured out I’m being a fuckhead.”
“So I’ll do it.”
Remo’s hand was solid on my shoulder. “You just made my night.”
“Heh. Merry fucking Christmas.”
We hugged. Remo was drunk enough that he couldn’t tell how hard he was banging me on the back, but I was drunk enough that it didn’t hurt. He did pretty much knock the wind out of me, though.
“Now we better get this Christmas caroling going before we’re too drunk to do it,” Remo said. “Point me at the piano.”
So then came the caroling. For those of you who don’t have the tradition, it means everyone standing around singing songs about Christmas that they basically already know because you’ve heard them so many times. The singing went on for over an hour, you know? Get a bunch of musical people together and yeah, we went on for a while. The one rule we had was no doing a carol twice. Sarah announced this as a rule and I wondered why at first since of course you wouldn’t do the same song twice, would you? But then I realized it made sense. In this crowd there was always going to be someone who wanted to try it again or do it another way, and then we’d be there all night.
Sarah and Remo had apparently challenged one another to a duet of “White Christmas.” I’m not sure which one had challenged which, actually, but it was…nice. It was nice to hear Sarah sing in a style I hadn’t heard, and Remo, too. You had to be there, I guess. The impression I was left with was that Sarah had pretty much adopted Remo as an uncle. Which suited me fine.
They were just hugging at the piano after the song when Remo pulled his pager out of his inside jacket pocket. “Third time it’s gone off this hour,” he said. “I guess I better call in and find out what’s up.”
“Use the phone in my room,” Sarah said, and led him away.
Priss took Sarah’s place at the piano, and we moved on to something else, but the caroling was coming to an end. When it broke up I was sitting in the living room with the guitar resting on the floor between my legs. Some of the folks we didn’t know, including Sarah’s management folks, said their goodbyes, and the party thinned out.
And then Ziggy sat down next to me.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, his voice almost a whisper it was pitched so soft.
“Merry Christmas,” I said automatically, and then, before I could really think about it: “You doing okay?”
He shrugged. “Getting by.”
“I… I was wondering if you were going to be here. In town, I mean. For the holiday.”
He looked at the rug instead of at me. “I know. I meant to call you but I wasn’t really sure if I was going to make it back here in time. I didn’t want to…make promises I couldn’t keep.”
“Sensible,” I said.
“Me? Rarely,” he snorted and rubbed his eye with one hand, then cursed and looked down to see if he made a smudge on his knuckle. No, not much of one. “I managed to finish up what I needed to in LA, though, and hurried back.”
“So you could be here?”
“Sarah told me you’d be here. All of you.” His gaze flickered up at me. “I didn’t want to assume, but she invited me–”
I squeezed his hand in mine, down on the couch where our two thighs almost touched. “I’m glad you’re here.”
He squeezed back. “Me too.”
And everything was calm for half a second. Then I thought about the crap with the non-payment and the new round of legal bullshit. I was just making myself a promise not to bring it up at a party when Ziggy said, “We should talk about my trip to LA, but not right now.”
“Is Colin coming down, by any chance?”
“Not for Christmas, but we could probably get him down here for New Year’s,” I said. What did he want with Colin?
“Daron. You’re… squeezing kind of hard.”
“Sorry.” I forced my grip to loosen. I wasn’t jealous. I wasn’t. Of Ziggy and Colin? Please. Just apprehensive that a new roller coaster of emotional suckitude could be leaving the station.
“I need some accounting help,” Ziggy explained.
“Oh.” Oh. I relaxed. We had another half second of calm.
And then Remo came into the room with an expression on his face I’d never seen before–like he just had a massive spiritual epiphany and couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry, wide-eyed, wide-mouthed, short of breath…
“Melissa’s pregnant,” he announced.
“What?” shrieked both of the Mazel wives, who hurried over and practically beat him black and blue with their congratulations. I didn’t know who Melissa was, but apparently they did. The rest of us jumped in to offer our good wishes, too, then. Much champagne was then poured and the father-to-be toasted and I learned he’d convinced her to get on a plane from Nashville to be here with us in the morning.
And somewhere in all the hoopla Ziggy and Tony snuck out. How either of them could make themselves inconspicuous I don’t know, but I missed their exit.
I did not miss that there was a piece of paper in my pocket, though. Ziggy’s pager number. Which I already knew. But I guess he was making sure I knew he wanted me to call.
(Yep, another hit from 1990. A cover, Latin-pop inflected, at a time when the radio mainstream still didn’t know what to do with Latin pop, either. Another wave that was starting to swell but wouldn’t break for a while yet. -d.)