The next evening we went back to the same mall. Me, Remo, Courtney, Ziggy, and Claire. Janine had abdicated her vote into Court’s hands. Ziggy and I had already bought something for her and no one argued with us–by which I mean Claire didn’t object when we said we had. Court and I were put in charge of getting something for Ziggy, while Ziggy and Claire went off together to find something for Remo, and Remo… I lost track of what Remo was doing.
Court made a beeline for the record store. I caught up with her in the rock albums section. “You aren’t seriously thinking of getting him something in here…?”
“No, silly, I just wanted to look through the new releases. It’s so different here.” She began dissecting the categorization. “You notice? No R&B bins. And no alternative rock bins.”
“So no alternative rock?”
“I’m sure it’s here, it’s just not labeled.” She flipped through the CD longboxes at the divider marked with the letter M. A familiar-looking album cover appeared under her fingertips. “That’s interesting. They’ve got your instrumental album in rock M. And it’s not rock.”
“Not in the slightest, but maybe they figure people who are looking for me will look there?”
“I guess? And is it because of Marks or Moondog?” She looked at me. “Did you do that on purpose?”
“Pick a stage name that starts with the same letter as our last name.”
I had to stop and think for a minute. At various points in my career I’ve probably told contradicting stories about to try to make it sound better in the press. I told Court the truth. “Actually, the band name came first and I just liked the sound of it. That it happens to work as a last name is just a bonus.”
We moved over to the “instrumental” section, but Court didn’t appear to be looking hard for Tracks. “So, what did you have in mind for a gift for Ziggy?”
“Shit, I don’t know.”
She stopped and gave me a judgmental look. “Seriously? You haven’t been thinking nonstop for the past month about what you want to get him? Because I guarantee you he has.”
“No, I haven’t, and you might be right, but I kind of feel like the best gift we can give each other is each other, you know?”
“That’s very sweet and romantic but unless you’re going to tie a bow around yourself and hide under the tree I don’t think it’s going to work. Come to think of it, that’s more the kind of thing Ziggy would do.”
I couldn’t help but blush a little, because that was exactly the kind of thing Ziggy would do–if we were home alone, that is. I could vividly picture him trussed with red ribbon and wearing nothing else other than a red furry santa hat on his head. Jeezus. “Yeah, well. We’ve had a lot on our minds besides gifts lately.”
“Okay, well, time to catch up. No ideas?”
I tried to think, but my mind kept thinking about the music they were playing in the store. Record stores always have music on, of course. For a place that had no section for R&B, the song they were playing was surprising-sounding. It sounded kind of like an urban dance remix, kind of like something you’d hear on a Sheila E or Paula Abdul album, except kind of thin and watered down, and the vocalist… well, if he sounded “urban” at all maybe it was Brooklyn Italian?
“What the hell is this?” I finally asked.
“That’s a good question. And I can see we’re going to get nowhere on our gift quest until you find out.” She marched up to the clerk at the counter. He appeared to be about seventeen, in need of acne cream, and bored out of his mind. But maybe that’s just the perpetual state of being seventeen. He had to push his blond bangs out of his eyes. Court leaned over the glass counter that held audio accessories. “Hey, can you tell me what this is you’re playing?”
“Oh, yeah.” He pulled the CD off the cash register where it had been sitting and put it into a little rack on the wall behind him labeled with the words NOW PLAYING. Then he thought better of it and handed it to her. “First time I’ve heard it.”
“It’s awful,” Court declared, handing it back to him. “Why are you playing it?”
“Because apparently it’s the number one Christian album two weeks in a row.” He sighed, and hit eject on the CD player. Blissful silence descended. He seemed to remember his job, then. “Can I help you find something?”
“Yeah, a Christmas gift for a… good friend of mine,” Court said. “We’re kind of stumped.”
“Oh, um, does he like music?” Mr. Blond Bangs tossed his head this time to get the hair out of his face. His hair was otherwise respectably short. I felt sure that he combed it back when he went to school and he only combed it forward like this to try to look rock and roll.
“You could say that,” Court said, grinning.
I realized pretty soon after that that she was flirting madly and I decided to wander away before he started deciding he recognized me. I decided to stand outside the store. A security guard who didn’t look much older than the clerk gave me the eye as he passed by.
She came out a little while later and we started walking as we resumed the discussion. “Get any bright ideas while waiting out here?”
“Get any bright ideas from Mr. Clearasil?”
“Oh, plenty, but not for a gift for your soulmate.” She seemed slightly annoyed I hadn’t thought of anything yet.
Up ahead of us I could see Remo standing in front of a glass window display. As we got closer I could see it was a jewelry store.
“You better not be planning a repeat of the last time you pulled a Christmas jewelry surprise,” I said in a low voice as I stood next to him.
“Oh goodness no,” he said with a shake of his head. “Melissa and I are still married, you know. No, I–” He broke off as his eyes were drawn back to something in the case.
There was a bracelet there, gold, with a charm on it lined with diamonds. The charm had a silhouette shape so the bracelet ran right through it instead of being attached.
It was the shape of a dove.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I asked.
“For Claire? Don’t you think she’d like it?”
Remo didn’t know the story of what happened the time I gave Claire a dove bracelet. I’d never told him. And–shit–now I was going to have to. “I tried to give her one for Christmas. The year after you left Jersey. It… didn’t end well.”
“What are you talking about?” He turned toward me, frowning with concern.
“I’d overheard her telling a friend on the phone how she missed her dove bracelet, like she’d lost it or something. So I bought her one, thinking it would make her happy. It didn’t. She–” I had to pause to swallow the lump in my throat. “Came down hard on me. Like I’d done it to insult her. Like listening to her talk on the phone was a violation of her privacy and I was some kind of lowlife.”
“Jeezus,” Remo said.
Courtney huddled in. “Is that what that was about? I kind of missed her opening it and I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I remember her telling Mrs. Norwood about the bracelet, though. She was just yakking away on the kitchen phone and you and I were in the living room supposedly doing homework. You were supervising me doing mine. I remember this.”
“You remember it better than I do,” I said.
“I know why she was so upset,” Remo said. “After it came out that she’d slept with me, after she and Digger had a knock-down, drag-out about it, he forced her to go down to the pawn shop and sell it because I’d given it to her. He made her tell the pawn broker why she was selling it, made her humiliate herself, and then he took the money.”
“Let me guess,” Court said, “and promptly blew it on hookers and booze.”
“More like a lap dance and booze. It wasn’t that expensive a bracelet. I wasn’t in the best financial situation in those days.” He let out a breath, shaking his head, and I could almost see him wishing he’d decked Digger all the way back then.
“And you stayed friends with him after that?” Court asked.
“It… seemed like a fitting punishment at the time,” Remo said. “I didn’t know the details. All he’d told me was he got the money from the sale. I didn’t know about him making her do it.”
Something clicked in my head. “Wait. And so your punishment was you had to go with Digger while he spent your money on strippers?”
“Yeah.” Remo looked to me like he wanted to slap himself now. “And never speak to her again, supposedly. But she started calling me again a few months later. And I had to be the one to tell her no, we’re not doing this. And cut her off.”
“Even though you were still in love with her,” Court said.
“Yeah.” Remo’s voice was rough. “But I kind of knew it was for the best, too. Cheating is no way to live. But trying to reason with her?”
“Yeah, we know,” Court and I said.
“No wonder she couldn’t stand you playing guitar in the house,” Court said to me. “The guitar reminded her of Remo, and Remo chose his friendship with Digger over his love affair with her.”
“And no wonder she went ballistic when she saw that bracelet,” I said to both of them. “She probably thought one of you, Digger or you, put me up to it.”
“What doesn’t make sense to me, though,” Court said, “is if she hated Remo so much, why did she let you spend so much time at his house?”
“I’m not sure ‘let’ is the right word,” I said. “Digger used to take me over there all the time when I was a kid. And then when I got big enough to go over there on my own, I just started doing it. I never asked anyone’s permission.”
“She knew you were safe with me,” Remo said.
That seemed like a ludicrous statement to me. I was convinced still that Claire didn’t care where I was. After all, there were the times when I didn’t go to Remo’s right from school, where I got on the train to the city alone, or hopped a ride to the Shore with some burnouts, or got high in the back seat of a car parked outside the Garden State Arts Center. Although now that I think about it, most of those times came after Remo had moved away.
“Look,” I said. “All this reminiscing has been great.” (Not.) “But let’s stay on task here.”
“You think I should get her the bracelet?”
I put a hand on his shoulder. “I think it’ll seem a lot different coming from you than from teenaged me.”
“All right, then.” He squared his shoulders and marched into the jewelry store.
Court turned to me. “Okay, now, back to Ziggy.”
“You know, jewelry isn’t a bad idea for him either,” I said. “Except I kind of feel like nothing can top the jewelry I already gave him this year.”
“Yeah, save it for your anniversary,” she said. “You do know you’re going to need to plan anniversary gifts, right? Of course you do.”
(The DGC meetup is this Wednesday in Berkeley! Looks like we’ll be a pretty intimate group. Last chance to RSVP! -ctan)