The only light in the apartment came from the streelights and the bluish glow of the numbers on the VCR. I could see no colors at all.
A few feet away, Ziggy slept in the grand centerpiece bed, under a snow white duvet, his closed, lined eyes and tousled dark hair like slashes of urgent calligraphy.
I didn’t want to wake him. But I knew I shouldn’t just stand there at the window having a downward spiral, either.
Think about it, I told myself. The last time he felt like this and didn’t come to you? Look what happened. Don’t let that happen again.
But I didn’t want to wake him. There was so much on his shoulders already. And I knew, now that I had been lying there thinking it over, that he had been covering for me. A lot. No wonder Linn thought I was bullying him or whatever. No wonder Mickey hadn’t said anything to me before that day. Ziggy had been keeping them–and who knew who else–off my back.
Not good. Not not not good.
Mickey had kept it real that day, looking for a concrete solution to the concrete problem that we were running out of time to perfect everything. But in the dark of that night, with the ambient roar of the city sounding like a river of ghosts waiting to drown us, I had lost my grip on concrete things. Somehow, it was all crumbling under my hands.
My hands that were shaking. Well, to be specific, my injured hand was shaking, and so I held it in the other one as I forced myself to the side of the bed. I knelt down to whisper his name.
And then I realized I was kneeling beside the bed with my hands clasped and if that isn’t a fucking sign I don’t know what is.
Dear God. Give me the courage to get through this. Please. Because I’m scared. And I don’t even know why. Maybe that’s why it’s scary. If I knew why I felt like this, maybe I wouldn’t. But I know, I should be asking a therapist that and not you, really, because you are going to wait until I figure it out. Come to think of it, that was the strategy my therapist used so what the fuck, maybe I should’ve just been praying this whole time. I guess the difference is I trusted my therapist and I don’t really trust you, which I guess is me admitting I don’t have faith. But I’m praying anyway. Just in case. Is that okay? I hope so.
“Ziggy,” I whispered.
He didn’t move. I was so deep in negative thoughts I wondered for a second if he was breathing.
So maybe I sounded a bit more urgent when I said it again. “Ziggy!”
“What!” he sat bolt upright with a panicky grab toward my empty pillow, then realized I was on the other side of the bed. “Why are you on the floor?”
Simple, concrete question. “Um.” Come on, Daron. Answer. “I was praying.” Which is true.
He blinked. I think he wasn’t quite awake but he was trying to be. “For what?”
For everything to be perfect. I thought it, but I couldn’t say it. Because if I did I might burst into tears.
Ziggy has good senses, even when he’s half asleep. His palm was on my cheek, his thumb swiping in the near-dark. Feeling for tears. “Daron. What’s going on with you.”
“What if I can’t?”
He lay on his stomach across the bed, so our faces were close and he could fold my knotted hands into his own. “Can’t.” His voice was gentle as he asked. “What?”
He kissed me on the forehead. “Okay.” This time apparently he understood what I meant. He crawled off the bed and then went walking around the apartment as if looking for something. He found it on the far side of the sitting area in the main window, tucked between the bookshelf and the wall. My “spare” guitar.
“Sit.” He set it on the window seat with room for me next to it.
It was easier to do what he said than to argue. While I took the guitar out of the case and tuned it, he pulled on a silk bathrobe and went into the kitchen. I heard the microwave humming.
He pulled one of his kitchen counter stools over to face me and then brought two mugs. He handed me one and sipped at the other.
“What’s this?” I asked. It smelled sweet.
“Mine’s throat tea,” he said. “Yours is throat tea with a splash of Grand Marnier, because that’s the only alcohol I have in the house.”
I tried to put the mug down. “I don’t think I should.”
“There’s not even a tablespoon in there. Daron, trust me, I’m the last person who wants you to drink more. But have a sip, okay?”
I had a sip. It tasted like orange peels and licorice. My eyes watered. But maybe he was right. I felt a tiny bit calmer. Though maybe that was from tuning the guitar. Whatever.
He took a few more sips of his tea and then set it down on the bookshelf.
I looked at the pick in my fingers to make sure I was playing with the corner of it I intended to. “What are we playing?”
“You fucking well know what we’re playing,” he said tiredly. “Come on. Think about how you played it one day in a hotel room in California.”
I knew which time he was talking about and what song. Our touchstone song. I hesitated, though.
He dragged it back to concrete reality one more time. “We can at least work on the harmonies. We’re both singing, right?”
I wasn’t going to argue. “Right.”
He just started to sing then, started with the chorus, quiet and sweet like he was singing a lullaby. Second time he came around with it, I joined in with the guitar and we fell into synch.
I didn’t even have to think hard about when we were going to do the verses, it just felt natural to do it when he took a deep breath, and I couldn’t tell you which one of us cued the change, him or me. I played it nice and clear, not completely clean, but so what, it was the middle of the night and I hadn’t rehearsed it in a long time.
We’d have to work on harmony another time, I thought. Unison was all I could manage, but Ziggy changed things up and took the low part while I carried the melody to the top of my range, my voice breaking just a little.
It’s not a long song. About four minutes. When we got to the end he took the guitar pick out of my fingers, set it next to his tea mug, lay the guitar into the case gently, and then came back to take me by the hands. “Now you tell me if we slayed the dragon or if I just made it worse.”
“That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
“You and your ‘generic’ voice.” He clucked his tongue. “Fucking beautiful.”
I suppose I could grudgingly admit that my middle-of-the-night, half-ready-to-cry, one-sip-of-hot-herbal-tea voice had some character to it. I shrug-nodded.
And then fatigue hit me hard.
Ziggy pulled me toward the bed. “Now can we get some sleep?”
Yes. Yes, we could.