That night, to avoid tantrums on the part of any of the adults or children in the house, the compromise was that Landon would build a pillow fort in the living room and sleep in there, and I’d tell him a bedtime story.
I lay down on the floor partly under the coffee table with him and read him a Dr. Seuss book. I don’t remember which one. (Not the one that Bart’s stage name comes from–that I would’ve remembered.)
When we were done, Landon whispered in my ear. “This is silly.”
“Is it? I think pillow forts are awesome.”
“Not that, silly.” He poked his head out of the blanket roof and checked that neither of our mothers were listening. “My room is a much better place for indoor camping than the living room, but mommy insisted on here.”
I, of course, agreed completely, but somehow I didn’t want to foment outright rebellion. “Well, moms aren’t always right, but you know, it made her feel better if you went out here. So be proud you made your mom feel good, okay?”
His eyes went wide like little lightbulbs going on. “Oh. Okay. Night night, Uncle Daron.”
“Night night, Landon.”
I crawled out and found Ziggy sitting in the kitchen, paging through a magazine. I wanted to ask him if I’d done the right thing. I mean, think about it, the way Claire controlled us was by insisting that everything we do make her happy, so was I just fucking up this kid by telling him that choosing to do something to make his mom happy was a valid choice? Had Remo or someone told me that when I was impressionable and was that what gave Claire the ability to yank my chain so hard when I was growing up?
I didn’t think so. I think the main person who told me making your mother happy should be a priority was my mother herself. And I didn’t feel like Janine controlled Landon through emotional blackmail. Okay, sometimes it’s not as blatant as someone saying “do this or I’ll be sad, and if you love me you don’t want me to be sad, do you?” I know sometimes it could be subtler, or even an unspoken message, but I didn’t get that vibe from Janine with her kid.
Janine came into the kitchen. “He’s out like a light.” She glared at me like I’d done something wrong.
“That’s good, right?”
She sighed. “Yeah. He’s just so into you, so fast, it’s weird, though.”
“He’s a kid.”
“He’s starved for male role models is what he is.” Her tone was oddly resentful. “He didn’t take to Remo that fast. Just you.”
Ziggy closed the magazine. “Remo’s not his uncle. And kids always love Daron.”
“It’s true,” came Remo’s voice from the stairs down to the rec room. It had once been a garage but had been converted at some point in the past. “Kids take to him. Maybe because he’s closer to their size.”
Janine snorted at that like it was a joke or a dig at my height, but Remo didn’t actually mean it that way. “Speaking of which, how’s Ford?” I asked.
“I talked to Melissa earlier today. He’s fine. Growing up fast.” He said that last bit rather deadpan and I wondered if he regretted choosing between being with Claire at the end of her life instead of being with his son at the beginning of his. “You boys want to go get some coffee?”
“They’re going to start charging you rent at that Denny’s,” Ziggy joked. “But sure, if Daron wants to come along.”
So the three of us went out and got in Remo’s rental car, and off we went to the Denny’s. Ziggy snickered lightly when the hostess greeted him by name. She put us in the back corner booth where we couldn’t be seen from the door.
“Claire told me what she wants for a funeral,” Remo said as soon as we’d ordered.
“Okay, back up one second, though,” I said. “If she’s dead set–no pun intended–on having a funeral, why all the treatments and the surgery and stuff?”
“Well, you know, just in case.”
“That doesn’t sound like just-in-case, Reem.”
“Okay, that’s not the right words, but you know. Even if there was only a ten percent chance she might die, she would want to plan all the details.”
Well, true. “Sure, but if she really wants to fight this, is this where we should be? Boston has the best cancer hospitals, the best treatments, all the state-of-the-art facilities, the best doctors–”
Ziggy stopped me with the light touch of his fingers resting on my forearm. “Are you saying you want her to move in with us? Or to the Allston house?”
“Not necessarily. I mean, I know she needs a lot of emotional support, but is living with Janine the best choice for that? Remember, Court is in Boston, too.”
Remo rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Quit spinning your wheels on that kind of thing until you’ve asked Claire what she wants. Call me crazy, but maybe right before the dead of winter isn’t the best time to make a move to Boston, anyway.”
“Anyway, you want to hear the funeral details or not?”
Ziggy broke in. “How about we wait to hear the details from Claire herself, hm? A little later, perhaps?”
Remo nodded grimly. It’d be his secret to bear for now. “You up to coming to the hospital with me tomorrow?”
“I don’t know if I’m up to it, but I will,” I said.
“I’m just saying I know you have a lot of business to take care of tomorrow, when business hours rolls around.”
“I just seem to recall you have some phone calls to make.”
Well, that was true, but it was mostly going to be waiting for Carynne to get word about various things. “I’m sure I’ll have to talk to some lawyers later this week.” Mine–and possibly Sarah’s? Anxiety prickled at the back of my neck. It wasn’t just the lawsuits. There were the looming questions about my career. I dug the rubber band out of my pocket and started exercising my fingers. I might have forgotten to do it.
“Once we get settled at the motel, I’ll start catching up with who I need to.” He chuckled. “Barrett would have a cow if he knew I was just sitting in a Denny’s at midnight like this.”
“He would?” Remo asked.
“Yeah. Although we seem to have established this is safe territory.” I told the story of the time I took Ziggy to Chinatown and we ended up having to sneak out the back. “Rovings pack of fans don’t seem indigenous to this area. Barrett reamed me out pretty good for that one, though.”
“So you usually travel with a bodyguard?” Remo asked. “I mean, I get that sometimes it’s necessary, but does that sort of thing happen to you often?”
Ziggy just shrugged. Remo looked faintly horrified at the idea.
The waitress came and took our orders. I didn’t even have to open the menu since I pretty much had it memorized. Remo got decaf, Ziggy asked for ice cream, and I got Moons Over My Hammy.
“Where does he put it all?” Remo asked Ziggy.
“In his hollow leg,” Ziggy replied smoothly. “Has he always been like that?”
“Yes, but we used to think it was because he was going to get a growth spurt.” Remo shook his head.
“I burn it all off with nervousness,” I said, continuing my finger exercises. “I guess.”
The waitress came with coffee cups for all of us, but only Remo was actually interested in drinking it. “So,” he asked Ziggy, “you said you wanted to hear my thoughts on career path. Did BNC ever figure out when your US release is going to be?”
“Now they’re saying summer. To supposedly coincide with a tour,” he said softly, as if trying not to remind me of looming issues.
“This coming summer?” Remo asked. “They should have all your dates booked by now.”
“Um, well, yes,” Ziggy said, running his upper teeth over his lower lip. “As soon as I commit to them.”
“Wait,” I said. “Are you saying the reason Mills hasn’t committed to releasing the record is because you haven’t committed to touring this summer?” I knew we’d been avoiding talking about it, but I hadn’t realized that was the point it had come to. I felt a stone in my chest. “You know you could tour without me.”
“I know I could.” He was looking down at the untouched coffee in his cup, his eyelashes hiding his eyes from me. I could feel Remo keeping his mouth shut. “In fact, that’s what Mills wants.”
“Oh.” And of course sticking it to Mills was highly motivating to me… but the decision wasn’t that simple.
“Yeah. I don’t want to make any commitments until we’ve figured out some of our… personnel issues.” He cradled the cup between his two hands. “You know I want you there. But not if it’s going to kill you. Or our relationship.”
“It’s not going to kill me.”
“Except it damn near did.” So much for Remo keeping his mouth shut.
“Norovirus and a flesh wound isn’t the same as–”
“I’m not talking about what happened when you were on the road with me.” He jerked his head in Ziggy’s direction. “I’m talking about–”
“Hey!” Ziggy cut him off. “It was not my fault that Daron–”
“Stop it!” I put a hand on each of them, Ziggy’s hand beside me, Remo’s arm across the table. “Stop. My health is my responsibility. I’m not hitting the road again until I know I can do it without being in medication-needing levels of pain.” I didn’t specify whether that was mental pain or physical pain. “I don’t even know if I’m going to get back to the level of player I was.”
“Oh god, don’t say that,” Ziggy said, and Remo looked like he was thinking the same thing.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“Time. I need time to heal up and build up my strength and my skills again.” I didn’t know how to explain it better than that. “And I think I will. But I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t make myself miserable again, either.”
“With your allergy to middle-of-the-road pop,” Ziggy said. “That’s why he doesn’t want to tour with either of us anymore.”
“I didn’t say that!” My protest was a bit weak, though, because it was at least partly true. We’d even talked about it at this Denny’s last time, hadn’t we?
“It’s all right, kiddo,” Remo said. “I know Nomad was phoning it in before you came along. Fifteen well-known hits a night plus a couple of encores. We were mighty comfortable. Then all of a sudden we’re doing a new cover every other week, three or four long jams a night, et cetera.” He shook his head and Ziggy chuckled softly. “I’ve got no objection to you keeping it interesting.”
Ziggy was looking directly at me now. “Is that what it takes? Keep it interesting?”
“Look, we’ve been over this, but maybe you’ll hear me this time.” I let my hands rest. “What you do is a show, an extravaganza, an entertainment package. That’s… fine, I guess. But for me it’s not the same experience as a show where music is really the entire point. Where what people are paying to see isn’t the lights and the costumes and the dancing but the interactions between the musicians. How long before Linn decides the band should be behind a scrim or in a pit?”
“She wouldn’t,” he said, but he glared a bit and frowned, knowing I was right. “I mean, I wouldn’t agree to that.”
“You know what’s really inexpensive when you’re trying to tour internationally? Backing music on tape.” I tried not to sound like I was spitting out curse words, but I felt pretty strongly about the subject, as you might imagine. “The only reason Barrett wanted a full band for South America is because it was a warmup for Japan and the US.”
“And if you don’t continue as band-leader, we’re back to square one.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve got the arrangements already and you can probably hire the rest of them to pick up where they left off. Any guitarist with decent skills can learn my parts.” Okay, maybe not “any,” but I knew there were skilled, experienced players out there who could definitely do the job, especially given how limited I was in what I could do by the injury.
“I don’t think Bart and Chris would go without you,” Ziggy said.
“Sure they–” I stopped to force myself to think about it. He might be right. Bart didn’t need the money. Chris did, but he wouldn’t hit the road unless he felt like he had the necessary emotional support. Not that I was any good at that last time. “Same story: you can hire musicians to do what they did.” I got an idea suddenly. “You remember that Robert Palmer video with all the models dressed alike pretending to be his backing band? You really want to be radical and change things up? Hire all women as your backing band. Linn would have a field day with that.”
I could see Ziggy thinking that over and warming to the idea. Then he frowned. “No. Quit distracting me. That’s not the point of what we’re talking about here.”
“Okay, then what is the point?” I asked.
“We’re talking about what it’s going to take to get you back out on the road,” Remo said, firm but gentle like he often was. “Or whether it’s worth it to you to get back out there.”
“It’s what I do for a living,” I pointed out. “So I’m going to have to at some point.”
Ziggy’s frown deepened. “You make it sound like a chore.”
Yes, exactly! “It feeling like a chore that I needed to drug myself to the gills to get through is what I’m trying to avoid.”
His face went slack while he processed that thought. While it sank in. Then he bit his lip. “Was… was all of it like that?”
I took him by the hands. “No. The duet where it was just you and me was the highlight of every day. If anything, I hated that I couldn’t do a better job at it. Listen to me, Ziggy. I love you. I love making music with you, and I love playing music with you. We’re always going to do that somehow, some way.” I glanced at Remo who was keeping his mouth shut again. “That goes for you, too, Remo Cutler. You’re more my family than my actual family and you know it. You raised me and I owe you for who and what I am today.”
But Ziggy. I kissed him on his ring. “I want to play out just how much you mean to me any and every time there is a spotlight we can share,” I said. “Jazz club, soccer stadium, I want to do it all. You’re the half of my soul I didn’t know I was missing.” His eyes were glossy with unshed tears. “I thought that was enough–”
“But the original half of your soul was dying. I get it. I know.” Ziggy squeezed my fingers gently and let out a breath. “One thing feeds your soul, Daron, and it’s creating the music that speaks to your soul.”
“And you know I’m terrified I’m never getting it back.” My voice shook a little. “My hand might never be what it was. And I can’t write. I had a false start; I thought I was getting it back after months of nothing, but now there’s nothing again. My head’s empty. I can’t figure out what’s going on.”
“You’re still healing,” Ziggy said. “Remember? We talked about this. That’s why we moved to Boston. For some quiet time to heal and rest.”
“And here were are in Tennessee, being wound into new stress balls every day.” I saw the waitress coming and sat back from him a little, keeping hold of one hand under the table.
Remo finally spoke as she set a plate of food down in front of me. “It’s all right, Daron. I keep telling you, your health–physical, mental, spiritual–is more important than a paycheck. Or making me happy. We all go through patches where the song ideas don’t come, or they all seem to go nowhere. It just means you haven’t fully become the person who can write them yet. As you grow and change, that’s going to happen. You’re in between who you were and who you’re going to be. There’s no way to speed it up growth.” He looked at my plate and deadpanned: “Although I guess that’s one way.”
All three of us burst out laughing.
A little while later, Ziggy kissed me on the cheek. “That’s why we’re here, though, you know. Your spiritual health. Even if your mother is rough on your mental health.”
Remo raised his coffee cup. “I’ll drink to that.”