The band had agreed on two weeks off after the Jingle Bell shindig, and given what our spring was going to look like, I suppose it was a good idea. Digger had promised Mills we’d do both the video and finish the new album by the end of March, which was the absolute latest I wanted to hit the road, so this was our chance to have some down time.
Bart flew to Saint Maarten where his family and Michelle were waiting. Christian’s family was spread over the North Shore and Brockton, so he slept at home some nights and drove out to visit different relatives on different days. Ziggy went to New York, to visit whom he didn’t say.
Digger had to fly on Christmas Day (when flights were cheap, he said) to Los Angeles for something and insisted we go out for a fancy dinner the night before. “Why don’t you bring your girlfriend,” he had suggested on the phone and I took a moment to figure out who he meant. I probably would have asked Carynne to come along anyway, to save me from the awkward silences I was afraid would fall.
That’s how the three of us ended up dining together at one of Boston’s fancier places on Christmas eve. I even dressed up for the occasion. I borrowed a silk shirt from Lars’ closet and put on new black jeans. I dug my short black boots out and polished them with tap water and a dish towel. When I asked Carynne if she thought I looked okay, she curled her lip and said “Hey, you’re a rock star, you can wear whatever you want.”
We met him at the restaurant which was not too far from his hotel. As we circled the block looking for parking in Carynne’s car, she asked me if she should play up the girlfriend part. I suggested the role of “potential” girlfriend as safer for both of us and, although she agreed, she laughed at how we were plotting. When we walked up to the table, I pulled her chair out for her which impressed her (and me) greatly and earned a wink from the old man.
“So glad that you could make it,” Digger said as he waved for the wine steward. He had already had a glass of something red. He ordered something sparkling and I amused myself with the elaborately engraved (but brief) menu until the wine came, feeling at that moment much like I did when we’d make a late night diner stop after a Nomad show, before sneaking back into the house. Once the poker buddies were left behind or the band had made their way home, what did he and I really have to say to each other?
He took the bottle from the waiter and poured three glasses himself. He held his aloft and opened his mouth as if to toast, then frowned. “What the hell,” he said, “Let the first toast be, Merry Christmas.”
Carynne and I chimed in, clinked glasses and drank.
Digger exhaled happily. “Ah, Martini & Rossi can kiss my ass. This is some good stuff.” Carynne giggled, all bright-eyed festivity. We ordered.
And Carynne did her best to save me from the silence. “Oh, Daron, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to get you anything.”
“That’s okay, I didn’t get you anything either,” I answered, which was the truth.
“Write me a song.”
“That’s what I want for Christmas. Write me a song.” She drained her glass of bubbly and held it out to Digger for more. He filled it while watching our exchange with a little smile on his face.
“No, silly, whenever you do that sort of thing.”
“Okay, sure.” I sat back a bit, some part of my mind already riffling through the notecards of my mental inventory.
“Now you tell me what you want for Christmas.”
I had been half-there and suddenly snapped back, surprised. “What I want?”
“Do you always answer everything with a question? Come on, what do you want.”
I didn’t have to think long. “I want something only you can give me.”
She put a hand to her chest–moi?–though her eyes said she was surprised I was pushing the flirting thing that far.
“Yeah. Book me a tour. I don’t care how small the venues are, I don’t care what kind of support we get. I want to be rolling as soon as the video and recording are done.”
She pursed her lips. “That doesn’t give us much time.”
“So I did, so I did. Okay, boss, I’ll see what I can do.” She sipped and fell silent as she thought about it.
That left me to carry the conversation for a moment. “Hey,” I said to Digger, “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything either.”
He waved his hand in that magnanimous emperor sort of way. “It sounds corny to say it, but, your company is gift enough.” He did sound like he was quoting some old Christmas TV special or something. “I didn’t get you anything either. I mean, you’re a little old for the toy trains and shit like that, and hey! who’s paying for dinner?”
“Hey, ” I said suddenly, “I am.”
Carynne cocked an eyebrow at me.
“No, I mean it. I’m paying for dinner. When you think about it, if you pay for it, and I’m paying you… Mister Manager.” I spread my hands. The champagne must have been getting to me. “It’s kind of like we’re both paying for it,” I finished, a little lame.
If he took offense it showed only in the crinkle of his eyes. “Merry Christmas, kiddo,” he said, tipping his glass again.
“Merry Christmas, old man.”
Now he tipped his chin down a bit. “Old man?”
“Hey, if you can call me ‘kiddo’ I can call you ‘old man.'”
“Ah shit,” he said. “I’m never gonna kick that habit. I guess I’ll have to live with it. Could you try to keep it down around the lovely ladies, though, kiddo?”
“Maybe,” I allowed, catching Carynne’s eye and silently asking her How’m I doin’? “Maybe.”
The rest of the meal was uneventful, meaning neither of us got too drunk, and I told myself again that hey, maybe Digger wasn’t so bad. Now that he actually was our manager, I had every reason to want to rationalize it, and I knew it–still, he hadn’t been that bad.
Carynne and I left Digger at his hotel and walked toward her car, chicken-feather size flakes of snow falling out of the sky.
“He’s a funny old guy,” she said as she blinked snow from her eyelashes. “I mean, one minute he’s totally vulgar and the next he’s…”
“Still totally vulgar?” I supplied. “No, I get what you mean. This is a guy who always drank Budweiser when I was a kid, and here he is in a five star restaurant.”
She steered me under a row of awnings. “He wasn’t too bad tonight, though,” she said, echoing my thought. “He seemed really happy.”
I shrugged. “Maybe it’s Christmas. Maybe he really is a better person without my mother to drive him crazy.”
She brushed the snow from my trenchcoat’s shoulders as we walked and I was reminded again that she was taller than me, especially in the thick-heeled boots she wore.
“Hey, listen to that.” We stopped under an awning.
“To what?” she asked but stood listening with me.
We were catty-corner from a brownstone church, its stained glass alight from within. People were walking up the steps where the many narrow doors were propped open. The wind shifted, bringing snow and music under the awning, the church organ playing Christmas carols.
“It’s midnight mass,” Carynne said. “It’s ‘God Rest Ye Merrye Gentlemen.'”
“It’s your song,” I said, my eyes no longer on the people or the steps or the window but on the blur of snow swirling behind my eyelids. I could almost feel the wood of the Miller under my fingers. “It’s your song.”
Carynne took me straight home and gave me a peck on the cheek goodnight. I told her she was welcome to stay until the snow let up. She could even stay in Colin’s room as he was away for the holiday, too. But I think she knew my mind was half-submerged in something else and she was considerate to leave me to it.
I didn’t realize until I was finished with the song (no words, but a lot of music) that my thumb didn’t ache, twinge, or weaken once.