In retrospect, I should have said no to the celebratory free glass of champagne that the steakhouse offered me. I was too surprised by it to refuse. I guess that’s how you know it was a “classy” place.
The alcohol loosened me up and it turned out Claire wasn’t the only one in the family who could be the life of the party while loosened up. What the heck, it was my birthday, I guess I decided to be okay with being the center of attention for a little while.
Claire for her part was feeling less than her best, which meant she got her steak in a doggy bag and–as predicted–ate mostly creamed spinach and chocolate mousse. (And red wine.) Maybe part of my gregarious act was also filling the silence she left.
I rolled with it. I told stories of things that happened on the road, some of which Flip was around for and he prompted me to tell, others he’d only heard about. Chief wanted the lowdown on the gerb accident and I barreled right on through the story including them putting cocaine in my eye and me and Ziggy autographing a CD for an ER nurse. He was satisfyingly outraged.
The funny thing was the champagne led to wine but I didn’t actually drink a lot–not like I might have if we’d been out with Nomad a year or two ago. Chief was our designated driver, so he quit drinking halfway through, and so did I. But somehow I was feeling high even after I stopped. I couldn’t fathom how it could possibly be that if I was depressed, and alcohol had a downer effect, how it could be that I felt so chipper and energetic.
I knew I was at my least inhibited when I ended up telling about the time Remo had been upset at people not being able to hold their liquor when it turned out that everyone in the entourage was coming down with the stomach flu.
I’d forgotten I was avoiding the subject of Remo. I’m not sure if it was the mention of him or vomiting that caused Claire to excuse herself. When she didn’t come back right away, I suddenly began to miss Ziggy, who had been the one to retrieve her the last time she’d gone into the ladies room and hadn’t come out.
Thinking about Ziggy started the downward spiral. About why he wasn’t there and my failure to be a conscientious partner, and about Claire’s machinations to keep us apart. I was down on myself and down on her, and by the time we left the restaurant I had clammed up.
On the ride home Claire decided she couldn’t abide the silence after all. But she wasn’t in a charming mood. I could hear the edge in her tone the a snake rattling its tail before striking, as she made some complaints about me. Stuff like I should have been more charming to our server because then we could have gotten a whole bottle of champagne. And harping on the thing about my hair being why they didn’t trust us at the pharmacy.
I tried not to engage, just giving a few “uh huh”s and “okay, Claire”s. I considered pretending to fall asleep.
Flip tried to change the subject. “There’s a surprise for you back at the house, by the way.”
“Oh jeez, Flip, you didn’t have to get me anything. You’re already doing me such a favor–”
“Is that what I am now? A favor?” Claire said.
“Oh, Ms Silver, it’s my pleasure to be here and help you out, honestly.” Flip sounded pretty convincing. Or at least sincere.
The car ride was about forty-five minutes long but it felt like hours. Eventually we made it back to the bungalow, though. Claire went straight to bed. Chief retired to the RV as well. Flip came in to refill his water bottle. I brushed my teeth while I thought about detoxing and how that was probably a good idea.
Flip said goodnight as he paused in the doorway.
“Hey, I thought you said there was a surprise for me?” I asked him.
“Check your room,” he said with a wink, and then headed out to the RV and his own bed.
The doors to both my bedroom and Claire’s were closed. I wondered what I was going to find. I hoped it wouldn’t be a new pile of drugs.
I had a sudden chill run through my veins as I wondered if it could be a guitar. That felt more like dread than excitement. I hadn’t touched one in months and apparently I still wasn’t ready to. With the distance of time and hindsight it felt completely cuckoo that I’d even tried to play in South America. That I’d actually managed it didn’t make it any less nuts.
I stood there outside my own bedroom door, feeling dread. That’s not how birthday gifts are supposed to work, you know?
Well, I had the choice of sleep on the couch near the electric piano I was avoiding or find out what was waiting for me in my room.
I turned the knob slowly to keep it silent so I wouldn’t wake Claire, and then eased the door open.
The nightlight was small and dim but I could make out a shape on the bed, under the covers, as large as a person.
It was a person.
In the meager light, when he opened his eyes I could see he’d gone to bed with his eyeliner on.
“Surprise,” he whispered, and reached toward me, beckoning me.
I was too surprised to move.
(Thought I’d pick this song for you guys today. The band’s kind of obscure. They hit the charts around this time but never made it big before their singer, after being in and out of jail, was in a tragic motorcycle accident. The main reason I remember them is they’re another band whose name has a number that doesn’t match the number of guys in the band. -daron)