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Timeless

A draft work of fiction in progress, by Cheryl Ives

Shared for entertainment purposes only. Unless you want to do more, in which case, get in touch!

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Tonight (prelude)

 

Performing, Trix becomes divine. I mean it literally. She is the god and goddess, timeless, encompassing the sexiness of both sexes and the beauty of all races. Her body can do anything. She wields herself in unexpected, breathtaking and compelling ways. She moves like water.

When Trix sings, ideas enter our consciousness while we marvel at the artistry of her crisp and sultry voice. She captivates a crowd, captures and embodies the music, and I radiate in her glow from behind my guitar. When my voice joins with hers, I express and soar as I rarely can on my own. With her, I am a performer, not just a guitarist who happens to be on stage with the band. I am part of her show, and that is powerful.

When she’s not performing? Well, I’m not sure even she has seen that. It’s not a distinction she would make.

I remember when I first saw her, watching me from across a crowded room. Was it only a week ago?

 

Last Friday Night

I felt a pang when I wasn’t ID’d at the door. I was turning 25 in a week, and somehow finding myself at this mid-point ate at me. I was with my boyfriend Chris, a researcher at the university. Things were pretty fresh and raw between us – we’d wanted to be together for awhile, but had only recently admitted it. I had left another man for him, and that alone made things uncomfortable. Worse, I had arrived in the city just three days before to share his small apartment, and we hadn’t even dated yet. From fantasy to serious in a few quick moves made on instinct and romance (and, yes, lust) without any nods to the reality and scariness of joining our lives.

He’d suggested this chic club, when maybe I’d have rathered stay in or go somewhere else, or maybe I just felt like this was his life and I was a tag-along. Regardless, I was in the mood to secretly disdain his choice. It was the kind of pulsing, noisy place where artists, ruffians and musicians hang with rich kids and other wannabes, and everyone feels very cool and cultured. Right away, Chris melted into conversation with friends on stuff I didn’t feel like understanding, and if I wanted to dance, I was on my own.

So I danced with the music itself. I closed my eyes and pretended I was alone, the bass line pounding through me and my arms and torso flowing with the melody. Typical club fare was just fine with me, steady and upbeat, no thought or analysis required. I let my body be with time and space and sound in the moment.

Lost in movement, I suddenly started back to myself. I opened my eyes and there she was, watching me from a table about 30 feet away, her expression unreadable.

Even sitting, Trix was taller than anyone around her. Regal, like a feline queen. Short-cropped, serrated black hair accentuated her high cheekbones and long face, culminating in a wide, full-lipped mouth. Her noble nose rested between large, intense dark eyes, slightly too wide apart. Each feature on its own was exaggerated – together, they settled into place on an exceptionally striking face.

Everyone at the table had situated themselves around her and she took it as her due. People pawed for her attention, but she kept her eyes on me. I felt suddenly self-conscious and I couldn’t dance any more, so I wandered back to Chris. He put his arm around my waist and pulled me to him, but made little effort to direct any of his conversation my way.

Then she was there, in front of us, her eyes unwavering from my face as she spoke to Chris.

“Well, Chris, you’ve brought us a new mouse to play with?”

I thought maybe she had a barely-detectable accent that I couldn’t place. Her words felt just slightly elongated with the vaguest drawl, then clipped off at the last second. I noticed the look of distaste on Chris’ face. He couldn’t help scrunching up his nose at what smelled to him of pretense.

“How’re tricks, Trix?” he asked, which from someone else might have sounded lame, but I thought he pulled it off. She didn’t even glance at him. She reached over and took my hand in hers. Her fingers felt long, like a man’s, and bony-strong; soft and firm at the same time. Her thumb lightly traced the calluses on my fingertips.

“Come sit with us,” she said, and the words were for me. She lifted my arm to lace our entwined hands over Chris’ head, which stretched me onto tiptoes. She grabbed his hand firmly in her other, and dragged us both behind her like small children. Chris rolled his eyes, but he didn’t resist. Trix deposited us in chairs, backs to the dance floor, and crouched by my side so our faces were level.

“Perhaps she has a name?” She still did not let go of my hand. She leaned in close to my ear, and her whisper sent a thrill down my neck, “Tell me your secret name.”

I couldn’t respond. I felt her words sinking into my chest, speeding my heartbeat then seeping through my stomach and lower, spreading a sweet, achy trail. Trix spoke directly to my body. I felt almost paralyzed. I wondered briefly if I’d been drugged.

Chris broke my moment with a nudge, drawing my attention to a stunning woman across the table, watching me through narrowed eyes. I gathered she had been speaking to me, and I’d been caught out in reverie.

“I’m Trace,” the woman pronounced with a hint of expectation that the name should mean something to me.

Trace was exactly the kind of woman to intimidate me. Beautiful and self-assured, she sat askew in her chair, her legs draped over the side so her feet rested against the man beside her. Dancer or gymnast? I wondered as she flexed her toes and I caught sight of taut calf muscles under paisley tights. Her thick hair was pulled back, allowing the full force of her lovely features to shine without obstruction. Her skin was clear, her pout ironic, her breasts largish and round, and her confidence fully justified by appearance. She was the popular rich girl who never needed to ingratiate herself or even consider how others might feel. At least, I put all that on her in the ten seconds we’d been in eye contact.

While Trace and I regarded each other, Trix used a single fluid movement to grab a chair from another table and sit, chin propped on her hand, gazing at me as though nothing could interest her more. It was disconcerting, so I tried to pretend she wasn’t making me uncomfortable. On my other side, Chris leaned in conspiratorially, but he spoke at full volume,

“Trace performs with Trix. They have a little act.”

Irritation flashed across Trix’s face before she smoothed it into a smile. Trace looked away.

“We have a band. Trix and Traces, maybe you’ve heard of us? Bash plays bass.” She indicated the dark, serious man acting as Trace’s footrest. He lifted his hand in a friendly wave, his raised eyebrow substituting for a smile.

These people were too cool for school, and I was starting to feel like I’d had enough. I turned to Chris for help, but his eyes sparkled with interest. I realized he enjoyed seeing me squirm a little – it told him more about me, I guess, to see how I acted in unknown territory. Instead of help, he decided to stir the pot.

“Christine plays guitar,” Chris offered mischievously. I glared at him, incredulous. Was he really going to put me into this conversation?

“Chris and Christine?” Trix asked me, her right eyebrow raised like a mime miming surprise. “Cute.” Her tone made it clear that this accidental cuteness undermined our entire relationship and made us somehow pitiable. I couldn’t tell her teasing from scorn, and I felt on guard.

“So you play,” Trix asked, but she’d already known.  (note from author: all bands and song names/lyrics that appear in this work are subject to change at any time, largely through crowd-sourcing techniques. Your suggestions welcome! And now back to our program…)

“Since I was small,” I admitted. “I just finished 2 years with the University orchestra back home while I was doing my degree.” Did I sound like I was bragging, or just lame? She continued watching me, waiting for something else.

“And, I’ve been in a couple of bands?” I offered shyly.

“Covers or originals?”

“Mostly covers.”

“Rock?

“Um, basically…”

“Pop?”

“Not really. Sort of?”

“Country?”

“No.”

She regarded me sceptically. She smiled, deciding to play.

“Punk.” She tossed it out expecting an easy no, but she didn’t know me.

“A little.” She tilted her head with interest.

“Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Rise Against…” These she dismissed with her hand, and I wasn’t surprised. I could tell she was a purist.

“So, no Minor Threat I’m guessing.” I shook my head. Had I even heard of that band?

“Metal?”

I hesitated. Did she want a yes or a no? I knew I shouldn’t care, but I wanted her approval.

“Maybe a bit?” She smiled to herself like she’d hit on something.

“Metallica?” I shook my head. “Guns and Roses?” she guessed.

“Once.”

She chuckled, as though she’d seen three moves ahead in chess.

“Sweet Child.” she drawled, knowing she’d score a hit.

“On the classical acoustic, alone,” I retorted a little defiantly, to cover my embarrassment at being caught in sentiment.

She narrowed her eyes, but she was willing to give a little credit. “Could work. Well then. (modern but technically difficult)?”

She sounded almost bored.

“(heavier or more extreme in same genre).” Her eyes widened. I guessed she’d been expecting (lighter fare) or something stupid.

“What kind of audience are you playing for, Mouse, that would put up with that?”

“Um, eclectic?”

She snorted a laugh out her nostrils. “Clearly. So you likely eschew (popular rock that gets overplayed)?”

“I’ve played it under protest.”

“Clapton?”

“Of course.” I sounded a little insulted that she had to ask, because I was.

“(Heavy alternative)?” Her chin thrust forward just slightly in challenge.

“(Aggressive/high-risk lyrics, esp. revolutionary).” That surprised her. Her lip curled in reluctant appreciation.

“(respectable hair metal)?”

“Not yet.” I earned a muted guffaw.

“(rap metal infusion, heavy artillery message)?”

“No, but I’d like to.” She regarded me like I was a different creature than I’d been five minutes ago. She sat back like she was ready to listen, pressing her fingers together reflectively.

“Who else?”

“(90’s alt/rock/pop)?” She shrugged. Didn’t know, or didn’t care. I tried the more recognizable. “Pixies? Bowie. Stone Temple Pilots.”

“Hmm.” She nodded once to herself. “I see. You’ll do, Mouse.”

I felt that I’d narrowly passed a test I didn’t quite deserve to pass, but I’d had fun rising to the challenge. I could play almost any style, but she was doing me the honour of trying to guess my musical heart. I thought maybe she’d stopped short, but at least she had decided to take me seriously.

“Ozzy or Dio?” The test was clearly over – this was just for fun.

“Ozzy, but it’s apples and bananas.” She raised her left eyebrow appreciatively, and I realized she was giving me credit for an accidental double entendre.

“Zeppelin or Floyd?”

“It’s Sophie’s Choice.”

Trix laughed out loud and I felt like I’d won a prize. She clapped her hands together.

“Good. Bash, Trace – a guitarist! We were just looking, and now we’ve found her.”

Bash eyebrow-raised and half-waved again. Trace looked incredulous. She opened her mouth. She closed it again. Then slowly, gracefully, she unwound her legs to stand, and simply walked away from the table. Trix didn’t look up. Chris silently chuckled beside me. He leaned in close and whispered, “I could use some popcorn for this show.”

Then, almost like a light switched, Trix seemed to lose interest. She stood and reached for Bash’s hand as he came around the table to join her. Without another word, they strode to the dance floor. Trix stroked the top of my head as she walked by.

“Let’s dance,” Chris whispered against my neck, his arm slinking around my waist as he stood. We melted into the music and each other. Chris was a good dancer. He liked to be in the moment so his creative intensity made up for any lack of technical skill. We could really work each other up on a dance floor, sliding together and apart, appreciating each others’ bodies and physical control. He was wearing a green-sheened black t-shirt, fitted to his muscled chest and cutting his biceps at a nice angle. I enjoyed the lights dancing on his clean head, and the intensity that gripped his face. I relished looking up at him, always a little taller than I expected. He looked like someone who can contend with this world. A contender.

So I was hardly thinking about Trix while we danced, except when she distracted the corner of my eye. And she wasn’t exactly on my mind as Chris and I tugged and tore at each others’ clothes before we’d even gotten through the apartment door. Our kisses fervent, our fingers clumsy, we had sex leaned over the telephone table by the front door. When he not-quite-gently yanked back on my hair, I could see his face in the mirror, screwed up a little tighter every time he thrust. The power there took my breath away.

Afterward, Chris cooked and I yawned into my hands at the kitchen table. It was past 3:00am, so pancakes seemed like the thing to do, though maybe sleep was winning out. That was when my mind wandered back to Trix, and I realized that her whisper still lingered in my skin.

Her advances had felt contrived, and there was no question in my mind they were sexual in nature. I’d been with a couple of girls before, lots of sweet kisses and exploring fingers, but no one like her. Ethan hadn’t minded me experimenting with girls. In fact, he was pretty lenient about flirting in general, though I suppose it didn’t serve him in the end.

That made me wonder suddenly what stance Chris would have on such dalliance in our relationship. He was not the kind of guy to bode competition – he felt the pride of my full allegiance. Of course, based on tonight’s evidence, Chris might find it amusing to watch me flirt with girls. I decided I should ask him.

He could read my mind.

“So you have a fan,” he said, and though he seemed to intent on the pancakes, I caught him sneaking a look at my face.

“How do you know her?” I asked.

“Bashir was my office mate, and we T.A.’d a class together before my secondment. I was at the wedding.”

He was a little too nonchalant for the grin tugging the left corner of his mouth. I decided to fish a little, let him have his fun.

“Who’s wedding? Don’t tell me Bash and Trace are married?”

His face broke into a grin as he abandoned the straight face.

“No, Bash and Trix!” He couldn’t hold back that loud bark of a laugh I love, the one that comes bursting out like he’s overcome the world again.

It took a second to process. Really? Surely they were both gay. I could usually tell a hag-fag from a boyfriend. And Trix – there was no way I’d misread that. I’d felt her hot breath on my neck as a mating call, and it looked like something was up with Trace beyond a professional relationship.

Chris watched and waited expectantly for me to speak. I hated to let him down. Sometimes I really just didn’t know what to say. It flashed across my mind that he took my silence for wisdom or deep thought, when really, I was just floundering around to keep up. I vaguely worried that he would discover that there was nothing behind my reticence but frantic thought processing, and re-evaluate me.

He finally shrugged. “It got his parents off his back about marrying a nice girl from the community. Interesting, though?”

“Yes, especially since she was all over me. How did you feel about that?”

“Maybe she was just trying to make Trace jealous.”

“Gee, thanks. And yes, clearly. But I mean, how do you feel about her coming on to me? How would you want me to respond to that?”

He looked surprised.  This wasn’t the direction he’d expected the conversation to go, and I wondered if he was disappointed. As he moved around me with the stacked plate, I grabbed a pancake before it hit the table.

“Ow!” I yelled, dropping it on my lap. He scooped the offending dough onto my plate.

“Well, yes, they’re HOT!” he laughed. He lifted my fingers and blew on them softly. It touched me, the gentle breeze of his breath, the strangely tender shape of his mouth, his shyly downcast eyes. I felt a surge of love. He kissed the tip of my tallest finger, then turned to deposit a bottle on the table with a flourish.

“Only real maple syrup in our home,” he proclaimed. He was thoughtful in the details.

Those pancakes were beyond good. I was so hungry, and there was nothing in the world that I would have preferred in that moment. I let my attention sink into them, my nose filled with aroma, my mouth warm with golden flavour. I lost track of the conversation.

 

Saturday Morning

 

I woke up groggy, messy and grumpy. I could see Chris across the room at the computer, slightly blurry, his back to me. We really shared only one room, for all intents and purposes. The kitchen was partitioned with a half-wall and cupboards, and the bathroom did have a door, so by city standards it qualified as a “three room” apartment. Still, there wasn’t much scope for privacy.

“You’ve got email,” called Chris, and I felt a burst of righteous anger.

“What are you doing in my inbox?” I asked, my tone edged with a slight screech.

“Calm down,” he said, already exasperated with me. “It’s in MY inbox, for you. Come read it. I won’t look over your shoulder.”

I felt ashamed, and irritated with him for letting me stay ashamed instead of helping me laugh it off or giving me a hug. He went into the bathroom and shut the door. Already off on the wrong foot for the day.

I read the message on the screen:

Chris,

Tell your Christine to come to Timeless, 1pm this afternoon & bring her guitar XXOO

-Trix

@TrixnTraces

 

How presumptuous.

I really wanted to go, though. I wanted to see what her music was about. She was interesting, and the way she moved her body compelled me. I wanted to see more of it.

I stood outside the bathroom door.

“What’s Timeless? Should I go?” I called. I heard the water turn off.

“Hold on.”

Chris opened the door and I was struck by his white, muscular chest, like a statue of a lovely man. A couple of water droplets beckoned from in the tiny patch of black hair right at the centre, and I felt magnetically drawn to lick them away. He put his arms around me and we held each other a long time.

“Sorry I was a grump,” I whispered into his damp, curly armpit hair. He didn’t say anything, but gripped me a bit tighter and kissed my shoulder. We separated slowly.

“Timeless is an old art-house theatre. It’s where Trix and Traces plays, mostly.” As he spoke, he moved to pick up the clothes I’d left on the floor the night before, depositing them in a hamper. From his dresser drawer, he took the top t-shirt, shook it three times, and slid it over his head.

“They gutted most of the chairs to make a dance floor, and opened up the lobby for lounging and gaping. It’s a pretty cool place. Though in the afternoon, I imagine you’ve been summoned to band practice. You should be honoured.”

He walked to the kitchen, looking fresh and ready to face the day. I dragged my bedraggled self behind him.

“Should I go?”

I expected a joke, or a tease, but he looked down at me seriously.

“Do you want to go?” he asked.

I didn’t reply right away. I debated different ways to say it and settled on,

“Yes.”

His eyes squinted a little as he looked in mine. I wondered what he was looking for.

“Okay,” he said, taking in a breath, “Here’s the thing. Trix is all drama. She makes drama in the air around her, like a tornado. Maybe you need some more drama, I don’t know. Me, I found the last few months dramatic enough, and I’d like to just settle in here and figure this out together. But I get why you might want to check it out. It’s interesting. And…well, maybe you’re looking for one more chance to show Ethan he was wrong?”

I was surprised to find that’s what he thought this was about, and I felt a prick of irritation that he brought it up.

“I’m not joining the band. I’m just going to see what I can see. You know I can’t even bring my guitar.”

In fact, I couldn’t bring any of my three guitars. Two of them – the Les Paul knockoff and classical acoustic – were being held hostage in my old apartment. The Gretsch had been damaged in the breakup; actually, Ethan had thrown it down a flight of stairs behind me. I still had the bruises.

Chris tilted his head to the side. He was perplexed. I wished I could give him more to go on, but I didn’t know what he wanted to know. He seemed to come to a conclusion, because he sighed, ruffled my hair, kissed the top of my head, and started washing dishes. He didn’t offer to come with me.

 

Saturday Afternoon

 

I had a hard time finding Timeless. I got flustered at the transfer and took the wrong bus. I ended up getting off and walking pretty far, so it was later afternoon by the time I got there. I was sweating and puffing and wondering why I had bothered.

The door to Timeless didn’t budge. Frustrated, I walked to the edge of the building. Down an ally, I saw a teenage boy sitting on the ground, leaning against a propped-open door. He didn’t acknowledge my approach, and I became suddenly overwhelmed by the effort it would take to speak to him, ask about getting in. Drained, about ready to call it quits and go home, I surprised us both by sinking to the ground beside him, the bricks solid at my back. For one brief moment, his eyes lit with curiosity, like I was an unexpected and interesting spectacle. But before that even registered, he was staring at his lap again.

“Are you here for a reason?” he asked, without turning his head.

“Trix told me to come.”

He laughed and glanced at me briefly. His eyes were the colour of milk chocolate.

“Oh, she TOLD you. No asking for Trix!”

I couldn’t figure out from his tone if he meant to be admiring or critical. His laugh held no mirth – I had a sudden sense that Trix had recently hurt his feelings. I was always getting flashes like that from the way people said things, a certain turn of the mouth, hunch of the shoulders. I had no way to know if I was right.

I found something vaguely, disturbingly familiar about this boy, like when you can’t place a face but maybe it was a missing kid or a wanted criminal you saw on the back of a bus, or someone’s cousin you met at a wedding. The thick black spike through his freckled nose made him seem young and vulnerable to my eyes. He evoked a tenderness in me that I couldn’t explain.

“I’m Christine,” I said.

“Jamie,” he replied, hauling himself to his feet. He held out a hand, callused and dirty finger nails, and I was proud that I only hesitated a second before taking it. He pulled me up with surprising strength, the sinews standing out on his mottled arms.

Standing, Jamie only measured maybe four inches higher than me, though his frame held the gangliness of a taller teen. He was skinny just short of gaunt, his cheeks telling the gravely story of past eruptions. Tracks scarring his arms looked old, but I wasn’t sure if that meant he wasn’t using or he’d moved on to other body parts. He didn’t seem high.

As Jamie turned, I noticed a burn scar along his lower left check and the top of his neck. He noticed mine at the same time.

“Hey,” he said, “we’re like twins.”

“More like mirrors,” I replied.

My own burn isn’t something I think about much any more. An accident with hot grease when I was nine left a reddish, puckered sweep from my jawbone down the right side of my neck. It’s the kind of thing people might not notice, depending what I’m wearing, or suddenly notice the second or third time we meet.

I followed Jamie into the building. Right away, we needed to go up or down some pretty steep stairs or risk toppling – the landing was barely big enough for the two of us as he reached behind me to slam the door shut. He gave it a rattle to be certain and I thought we would both lose our balance when his hip bumped against me. He looked down at my body in such close proximity, and a sly grin crossed his face before he turned and bounded down the stairs like a puppy.

The stairs ended in a tunnel, which led to a fork, and Jamie was already halfway down the hall to the right. I followed. The hallway twisted suddenly left into a large, open, low-ceilinged area that was probably under the stage. I found myself in a semi-chaotic workshop. There was a military-tucked cot in one corner, but otherwise it seemed every inch of space held something. Tools, paint, material, lights, instrument parts, open circuit boards, lumber…I couldn’t take it all in. Several intense, abstract panels of colour lined one wall, so big I wasn’t sure how they would get out the door. A full-sized sheet hung from the ceiling so that it touched the floor, an intricate design of muted phosphorescent colours still wet on its surface.

I was startled by something large and heavy falling on the ceiling almost directly over my head. I heard fast, heavy footfalls above, and a muffled, heated conversation.

“This is where I live,” said Jamie, his back to me. He turned shyly. “I do production. Like, stage, lights, some sound? I work with the mentors and the kids?” His voice rose at the end of his sentences, like I was a teacher come to inspect the premises. I felt a little sad that I couldn’t reach across the gap to him. We were so different.

I gestured toward the freshly-painted tapestry. “This is your work, then? Is it a backdrop?”

Excitedly, he scampered to the sheet.

“Big show on Friday! Trix wants something spectacular. I got these paints leftover from a production at the Royal. Guy I know there let me take them. Doesn’t look like much now, but when the light hits it, POW!”

He slammed his fist into his hand and did a little jig, one knee and the other, then remembered himself and looked down shyly. I laughed out loud – I couldn’t help myself. He peeked up from under his eyebrows like a child who knows he’s pre-forgiven for whatever mischief he might conjure. The smile we shared made his pock-marked face dazzling.

Jamie suddenly crumpled. “But maybe it’s not that good,” he said, looking down. He was almost talking to himself. “I don’t think she likes it. She…” He broke off, biting his lip. Abruptly, he bent and started cleaning up the newspapers and brushes he’d left on the floor. I crouched down to help. He didn’t look up at me.

“I think you probably want Trix – she’s on the stage.” He pointed up.

It seemed to me that he had reached his capacity for interaction at the moment, but I still felt a little pang at being dismissed so summarily. I moved to the door.

“Hey,” he called. The way the light and shadow cut his upturned face, he looked about six years old. “Good luck!”

“Um, thanks,” I laughed. It seemed an odd parting thought.

I headed back into the hall. Half-closed doors revealed small rooms for makeup, closets bursting with costumes. I was peeking instead of watching where I was going, when I stumbled forward through an open doorway into the theatre. I stood directly in front of the stage.

Trix perched on the fourth rung of a ladder downstage left. She wore garish lime and black striped tights and from below her legs looked impossibly long. A worn-thin AC/DC t-shirt was a little too short as she reached, so her belly-button peeked out. From my angle, I saw more than that. It was the kind of outfit that either says I’m too cool to care what I look like, or I’m too lame to know better – it all depended on personality.

Her eyes were drawn by my staring. When she saw me, her face leaped into a wide, happy grin and she sprang, cat-like, to the stage floor, landing in a crouch to look down at me.

“You’re here!” she exclaimed, her voice full of excitement. “You’re late,” she said, standing, with a bite of command. “Where’s your guitar?”

“I’m between guitars at the moment.”

She didn’t like that. She took a second look at me, re-evaluating.

“And you’re okay with that? A little break from playing, maybe?”

I didn’t like the scrutiny. It hadn’t been that long – my fingers weren’t soft. I felt myself disengaging from the conversation. She felt it too, and switched tacks.

“But you’re here! So use the one over there, for now, and let’s play.”

She headed back towards centre stage, calling out, “Back at it, people!” A wave of her hand brought two boys running to remove the ladder she’d been climbing.

I stepped back to take a good look around. The building was old, a theatre converted for movies and back again, with a massive stage behind the retracted screen. A large 2/3-pie dance floor fronted the stage, its crust formed by seven remnant rows of original theatre seating. Two spacious aisles sliced through the seating at ten and two o’clock, slanting upward to wide, arched doorways beyond which I noted an erstwhile snack counter, a liquor bar, and a big, sparkly chandelier. The ceiling was incredibly high in the theatre, but strangely low in the lounge.

I turned around to face the stage, and walked backwards until I bumped into the chairs. I used my bum to lower a seat and sat in the front row, acutely aware that I was not doing as I was told.

The stage could have been the set of a play, or maybe a performance of Cirque. For one thing, there were a lot more people than I’d expected. I saw at least a dozen at first count. There were some skinny kids running around with pieces of set, and it looked like seven or eight musicians were picking up instruments. This band had a least two guitarists already.

I noticed that everyone moved to a corner of the stage, leaving the centre quite open. At a walking pace, Trix turned herself around and around with her arms spread wide, as though testing the space. She stopped at perfect centre downstage, and looked directly at me. She squinted like she was trying to see me better, and then her face was a mask.

“Alright, ONE TWO THREE” she yelled, and the music started.

It took me about thirty seconds to wrap my head around what I was hearing. Bash’s bass line carried me along a heavy cross-rhythm, with occasional curves like the ends of a moustachio. One bare chested percussionist produced a deceptively subtle, intricate electronic beat, offsetting the drummer’s heavier hand. Keyboard filled in and punctuated without over-synthesizing the sound. Trix stood looking out at me, not engaging with the music.

I could imagine how this music would carry an audience, especially with the right lighting and atmosphere. I felt myself moving with it, carried forward in my seat. I closed my eyes. After a minute or so, I started noticing that something felt off in the guitar. The lead guy was definitely experienced, his beat-up vintage Stratocaster intoning what could have been a companion piece to the rest of the band. It was interesting, evocative; it almost worked, but seemed to want to take over the song and no one was going there with him. Beside him a younger guy, maybe sixteen, just couldn’t keep up. I felt strangely satisfied by his lack of skill.

After another minute, Trix signaled a stop. I opened my eyes to see her pivot slowly and deliberately towards Mr. Strat.

“What song are we playing?” she asked him, almost mildly.

“Universe Now,” he answered. His demeanour didn’t shift at all. He was older than I’d originally thought – probably over forty.

“You are playing Universe Yesterday. Or possibly Universe An Hour from Now? It’s not working. Try something else.”

He didn’t acknowledge the reprimand, and Trix turned on her heel. She was like a parody of a drill sergeant but she seemed to mean it.

“Alright, little girl,” she called to me. “You didn’t pay admission for this show. Get up here and play with us. Are you a musician?”

The challenge wasn’t quite the right tone for me, but I did feel like playing. I had been semi-consciously imagining myself playing the whole time I listened, which was why the guitar started jarring me in the first place. I itched for it in spite of myself. Walking towards that stage felt a little unnerving, and also comfortable, like home. Maybe like going home when you’re not sure who lives there anymore.

I climbed up to the stage.

The teenage boy looked at me uncertainly, making as if to hand me his guitar while watching Trix for instruction. His face looked like it knew how to laugh, but right now appeared a bit crestfallen.

Trix shook her head once to the side in an irritated way. “No, she can use that one.” She indicated a guitar, plugged and ready, lying on a stool. The boys eyes widened visibly, and his mouth rounded into an unconscious oh. He looked like a comic book character who just can’t believe it.

It was a nice guitar. More than nice. A cherry Gibson SG, well loved. I stroked the wood gently, as one strokes a horse’s muzzle to say, hello. I thought I heard a collective intake of breath, and it felt like every eye in the place was on me and that guitar.

“Oh, you can all relax. It’s mine. They think I’m a bit possessive.” Trix turned around in a wide circle, her arms spread in supplication. “See? See! I don’t even know her and what’s mine is hers.” She leaned in my direction and said in a stage whisper, “But I do know you, don’t I?” I rolled my eyes at her. I saw Trace and Bash exchange a glance.

I felt self conscious, even though people were at least pretending they weren’t watching. My face warmed as I picked up the guitar. It’s weight felt strange to me, the neck just a little too long, but despite that I felt my hands were more alive for holding it. I picked a little at the chords, getting the feel. (minimal technical details as appropriate)

Absently, I strummed out the first bars of my favourite song (

”Rainbow Connection was written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher and originally performed by Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) in The Muppet Movie in 1979. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Connection (if this work gets wildly popular, I’ll have to figure out who owns the rights and how much money they want for this use, or more likely, write/find something else. For now, I’ll settle for giving proper credit.

To my surprise, Mr. Strat repeated the response back to me. I caught his eye, and we smiled at each other. We played the refrain together; he sang, his voice gravely but pretty too,

Why are there so many
Songs about Rainbows
And what’s on the other side
Rainbows are visions
And only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
.

I joined him at the same time as Trix, who had stepped lightly behind me where I couldn’t see her face. Her lovely deep voice made me a bit ashamed of my own, but I’d started and I continued.

So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrongWait and see
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
.

Bash had joined unobtrusively with his bass, filling out the sound, adding something a little sharper-edged to the longing ache this song already held for me. Several voices that came in at the chorus stayed to hum when they lost the words.

Who said that every wish
Would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of it
And someone believed it
Look what it’s done so far
.
What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
What do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
.

So many voices joined now that I couldn’t see where they were all coming from

All of us under its spell
We know that it’s probably MA-GIC….
.

Then suddenly just me. I almost stumbled, but I kept going. I closed my eyes.

Have you been half asleepAnd have you heard voices?
Yes, I’ve heard them calling my name
Is this the sweet sound
That calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
a
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that I’m supposed to be
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
.

And a chorus once more for “daaa da-da dee da-da-da, da da-dee da da-dee da OOOOOOOOH…” to finish it off, with some laughter as most of us went off key.

There was clapping and hollering, a couple of whistles. I hadn’t realized how many people were there, working in the wings, hanging things in the rafters. I felt embarrassed. I felt welcomed.

It could have been a contrived scene from a movie, but I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I was home for the first time. These people knew my secret favourite song well enough to play it, sing it, hum the tune. That sing-along is one of the happiest memories of my life. I put it in an impenetrable bubble in my heart where none of the rest of what happened can touch it.

Trix waved everyone back to work distractedly, caught in thought before abruptly snapping to.

“Are you ready?” she called, and anyone who wasn’t at their instrument scrambled.

“Universe Now – one, two, THREE!”

The band started playing. I stood there like an idiot. It was the same song as before, but it sounded different on the stage. Guitar limp in my hands, I closed my eyes to listen.

Universe Now was a pounding, heavy song, intricately woven in lower tones and thrusting beats. I still hadn’t heard Trix sing, and I was worried she was watching me. Still, I didn’t open my eyes.

Trix started a low, keening sound. The music tugged at her voice, drawing it open to increasing volume and fullness. I felt enlisted, a gravitational pull to play into the tornado in which her voice rose and rose, until it filled the theatre and there was nothing left but to finally break in anguish that became desperate mirth as she laughed a deep, elongated and finally distorted laugh. We dropped fast into a strong, repetitive grindy beat.

And I was in.

Though I wasn’t familiar with the music, I’ve always loved jamming with other musicians and seeing what comes out. (minimal technical details as appropriate). I listened for where they were going, especially Mr. Strat and the drums. I blended in my own unique colours, and fed off the others to add to the experience. I was shy to meet their eyes, but pleased that they were looking for me.

As she started singing lyrics, I could hear that Trix’s acidy vocals and Mr. Strat’s slight whine were not blending very well. He definitely had his own, strong style, and he played a little more bluesy, a little less edgy than she was singing. I felt the tension between them, each wanting to lead the direction. It was the same feeling I had when my parents fought over what was best for me. Without my really noticing, my own playing began drawing in elements of each. I felt like I was holding a balancing pole with them at either end. It was exhausting, but I triumphed in the accomplishment.

I missed a few cues but no one minded (or a technical stumble as appropriate). Not having responsibility for the core elements of the song felt freeing. I was left to become part of the music, enveloped with the band in a way I had not expected. When I heard someone throw in a playful few notes, or turn down an unexpected track, I felt deep appreciation for the essence they infused into our shared space. I felt like I was feeding into and from an unfamiliar energy flow, finding its rhythm.

As we neared the end of the bridge, I leaned heavily on distortion and vibrated slowly down the scale behind the music, stopping just short of a full complement to pause at the natural pause, then filled that void with the guitar’s low but rising groan, grind, wail, screech, scream, pitching higher until it disappeared and there was silence. A guitar impersonation of Trix’s opening wail.

Trix’s deep laugh broke the silence just as drums and bass crashed into that space together like a tidal wave. As I jumped in the current I opened my eyes to see Trix actually surfing the wave in perfect parody, her face tight with concentration as she executed impressive spins and jumps. I could almost see a surfboard beneath her feet. Our eyes locked and I was playing only for her, playing to keep her moving. Finally, she rode into shore as we eased ourselves to an end.

My hands tingled as if the guitar were shorting out, and my fingers were tender. My heart raced. I deliberately slowed my breathing, and almost immediately remembered to feel a little shocked with myself. That wailing stunt could have been really cool or really, really stupid, and I hadn’t even weighed the chances before launching in. I felt my colour rise as I considered my narrowly-missed embarrassment, even while I relished the pleasant rush of unexpected daring.

I watched Trix grab a towel and sponge off her forehead and arm pits without modesty. With no further delay, she counted us into the next song. This piece was slower and simpler, which gave me less room to play, and I was tempted to sit it out. I felt more self conscious than I had a few minutes before, but I stayed put and played in a simple background loop. A kid joined the stage on trumpet, punctuating the early stanzas with a sad, elongated sound, then breaking out into a compelling solo. I would have bet against a trumpet working, but this one had style.

We were joined by a young rapper who strode boldly onto the stage and began talking fast over Trix’s relaxed song. Their vocals blended and separated over the lyrics and his improvisations, his spoken word and her slow, languid croon. As the verse closed, Trix skipped back and gave over the stage, letting him show his stuff. Each instrument stopped in turn until only a single drum beat at the windup. Throughout the theatre, people clapped and hooted – the boy had fans.

We all looked up at once as a small girl with a pleased smile made her way down the aisle, pushing a large but unsteady cart that creaked suspiciously under its pile of food. Everyone dropped what they were doing and ran toward her while she laughed a tinkling sound, delighted to be so popular.

Trix came over and gently removed the guitar from my hands, placing it carefully on a stool; I had been gripping it possessively the whole time. She motioned to the commotion.

“Feeding time at the zoo, Mouse,” she said.

I scrunched up my nose at her, disgusted at the nickname, but realized that probably made me look even more like a mouse. She had leaped from the stage without noticing my reaction. I clamoured down behind her.

There were sandwich wraps, vegetarian without being bland or boring. Warm, full of sprouts and shredded carrots with a gentle, insistently spicy sauce. I savoured the sour, salty bite even as the sauce dripped onto my jeans.

I saw at least twenty people sitting throughout the theatre, eating intently with few words between them. Looking more closely in the dim light, I thought most of them appeared to be teenage boys, or not much older. The few girls among them were almost indistinguishable in look and dress. Trace and Bash sat on the stairs off-side from the stage with one of the drummers and Mr. Strat. I wondered where Trace had been during the session. What exactly was her role in the band?

Trix was walking the room, talking with those in her path. As my eyes followed her, they caught on Jamie at the centre of the theatre. He was with a kid at the sound controls, his compact body exuding competence and gentle authority. He looked somehow older next to someone who was probably his age. I watched him place an almost fatherly hand on the boy’s shoulder before taking his leave, and continued watching as he retrieved a sandwich and took a seat on the outside edge of the front row. I walked deliberately over to sit beside him, and he flashed me a quick smile.

“You nailed it,” he said, his face in profile. “I bet she has you in the show.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Most of the kids who sub for guitar kinda suck lately. Next to them, you’re a rock star. Plus Trix’ll like how sexy you look with her big Axe in your fast little hands.” He looked me up and down boldly with no attempt to hide his assessment, then ducked his head shyly.

I was tempted to whack him, but restrained myself – I had to remember that I’d only met Jamie a couple of hours ago. He felt like a kid brother, if I’d had one. But it seemed to me that random violence, no matter how fun-intended, might not go over so well.

“So is that what this was? An audition?”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked, but it was clear from his tone that this was no great surprise.

“Trix likes to keep the sound fluid, you know? So she subs in musicians like, all the time. Some kids wait months to get a spot at practice to show their stuff – and then you… well, here you are. It’s cool – the songs change so much as new musicians get into them. She keeps people around as long as it’s working, then subs in someone else. There are a few regulars that come back a lot, especially from the Performing Arts school? But the only ones who are always here are Trix, Trace and Bash.”

“What about Mr. Strat?”

“John? He’s amazing, huh? But he and Trix don’t like to share the sandbox. He’s kind of…in and out. He’s Trace’s uncle, so he keeps coming back? And things go better when he’s here, he kinda keeps the calm in the bunkers.”

“The bunkers?”

But Jamie nudged me to be quiet. Trix had stood up, and all the little satellite conversations dropped off suddenly as people turned their faces her way.

“We had some great subs today. Thoughts?”

She looked around the room. The boy at the sound equipment called out “Al Roy!” and punched at the sky. There was mumbled assent and the rap artist raised his fist in thanks for solidarity.

“Yes, that almost worked. We’ll have to practice a few numbers this week and see what takes. Could be interesting for Friday.” The boy didn’t jump up and down, but I could tell he was pleased.

Jamie leaned in and whispered, “No one thought Trix would go for it. Hardly anyone gets a show first time out, and rap? He probably just won a hundred bucks off his friends.” I felt happy for him.

Jamie raised his hand like a kid in school. Trix flashed him a bright, proud smile – he was a clearly a favourite. She played along, adopting an officious tone.

“Yes, Jamie, please share your thoughts on this weeks’ subs.”

“Christine here lit up your sorry stage.” This time I really did almost whack him.

Trix grinned appreciatively. “Indeed. And she can play, too. Of course we’re keeping you, Mouse. You’ll join us Friday night.” It wasn’t a question.

Discussion continued. The boy who couldn’t keep up on guitar needed more practice with a band before he could try again. The trumpet was to come to rehearsals, but no promises, and if he made a nuisance of himself in every song he was out. Someone wanted to know if he played saxophone, which interested Trix for about five seconds until he admitted he didn’t. There was a lot of laughter and light-hearted banter. Conversation moved over various aspects of the performance, suggestions and thoughts about the sound and lighting. No one seemed to take criticism too seriously, and since I’d escaped unscathed, it was easy to join in the general mood.

It had gotten later than I’d planned to be there, and I didn’t know what time the bus came by, or even when the last bus was. I quietly made my way to the front, looking for the exit.

 

Saturday Evening

 

The front lobby was dark except for a string of lights over the snack counter. I didn’t see Trace standing in the shadows until she moved so those lights caught her champagne hair, sleek white jeans, glint of teeth. Her smile said we were old friends, but I didn’t buy it.

“I was hoping I’d catch you, Mouse.” She drawled the nickname gently with a wry humour that knew it got under my skin and thought I should get over it.

Trace rolled her body a little to lean against the counter, regarding me sideways. She was a cat flirting with the furniture. I noticed her barely imperfect upper lip and very slightly down turned nose, these minute imperfections only enhancing her loveliness by flourishing her smile. She totally possessed the words beauty and grace as I imagined them. I worked to quench my quick burn of envy.

“You never should have hit that stage without seeing me first. I need to take care of you.” Her tone was coy. She made me nervous.

“Take care of me?”

She straightened her posture, and assumed a more business-like air.

“There’s paperwork, forms to sign. Step this way, please, miss.”

She glided beside me and dropped her hand casually on my shoulder to guide us towards a windowless, unmarked thick steel door just behind the snack counter. Using a key, she opened the door and slid a guitar pick into the hinge to prop it open – I was surprised that worked. Before we left the lobby, she pointed over to a large sign I’d failed to see, but which could not have been missed by anyone coming in the front doors. A rough piece of wood, about 4’x6′, was painted neon orange to blindingly backdrop a hand-painted purple inscription:

These premises monitored
by video surveillance
AT ALL TIMES!
The world is watching.
Be warned.
.

I loved the extreme messaging – it sounded just like Trix. Beneath the sign, someone had graffitied ornate lettering that looked like they’d misspelled sex: sXe. I wondered if Trix had painted the sign herself, and whether the graffiti was vandalism or an intentional touch.

“That’s the first thing,” Trace tossed over her shoulder as I followed her down the dark, narrow hallway. “I assume she told you we livestream those practices to the website? You’ll have to sign off on that, and other publicity stuff. If, of course, you’re going to play?”

Stepping over the threshold into the only lit office, she spun around to catch my reaction. I skittered reflexively away from her gaze before forcing myself to lift my eyes from the shadows and meet her laser-blues. That accomplished, I felt a little cocky.

“Well, I just played. Did that get broadcast on your livestream?”

“Yes.”

“So if I don’t sign, you guys are in breach already, right?”

She pursed her lips, then deliberately rearranged her features into a sweet smile.

“I suppose.” Her hand waved to dismiss that thought as she leaned in with a secret to tell me, my new best friend in the treehouse.

“Christine, I ask because I really hope you will play with us. You’re obviously talented, quite…pretty, just what we need to round out the show. Please, say you will.” She lilted her tone, tilted her head, just like a baby doll. She was too sweet on purpose, almost over the top. She could have been more convincing but she was letting me see her maneuver, almost daring me to call her out as a fake or believe her hook, line and sinker. I had no idea how to respond to this, and my awkward came out gruff.

“Why don’t you give me the stuff you want signed?”

She moved slowly across the room, in no rush, landing softly behind the desk. From a prepared folder, she slid me pre-filled release forms for media, safety and general liability, all convoluted language in 7pt courier. A personnel form required my Social Insurance Number. The volunteer agreement wanted permission for a police background check. There was even a form to verify that I had read and understood all the forms.

“You people want me to sign my life away.”

“Just any liability we might have for it. You take responsibility for yourself in these walls, and you let us use what we record. That’s what this jargon means. Are you in?”

I honestly couldn’t see any reason why not. I didn’t love the idea of band practices broadcast online, but I could see why it might help build a local following.

“I don’t know if I’m, uh, in, exactly. But if I don’t sign all these, I can’t play again, right?”

“Right.” I picked up the pen, and she signed witness after me on each sheet. When they were stacked neatly back into the folder, she sat looking at me like if she waited long enough I would reveal something that puzzled her. I wasn’t expecting her next question.

“You live with Chris? Bashir’s old office mate?” Why would she ask that? I felt like she really wanted something else. I decided to stick with simple answers.

“Yes.”

“He’s a nicely-proportioned man, your Chris, quite attractive. I miss seeing him around here. For awhile, he was here all the time. Now, not at all.”

“Really?” I wished this was not news to me. My mind ran over conversations with Chris for any clue that he was involved with Timeless. I was sure he’d never mentioned this. I was sure Trace had guessed that.

“Bash really misses him, but I don’t think Chris was ever coming here to see Bash.” I sat back as my suspicion gave way to certainty. Trace was leading me down a garden path. I itched to tell her to just get on with it. She looked thoughtful.

“Really, I don’t think we’ve seen him since Luca left.”

There it was. Now a simple question on my part to get her to the point. I almost couldn’t choke it out, but I managed.

“Who’s Luca?” She nodded her satisfaction as I spoke my line in the play she’d written.

“Luca was our sound technician. She and Chris seemed close…but then, she left, and now, you’re here, so, mystery solved! Maybe we’ll see him again, if you’re going to be around.” Trace smiled brightly, as though I’d cleared things up for her, knowing full well she’d just muddied my waters.

“Off you go, then. Be sure to read the materials. Welcome to Timeless.” She raised her eyebrows, prettily acknowledging the irony of her welcome even while her tone felt warm and genuine. I wondered how she could pull that off.

“Thanks.” What else was there to say?

I felt as though I’d just been bested at a game I didn’t know had started, with rules I’d never learned. I replayed the conversation as I made my way down the dark hallway and out the front door without seeing anyone else. I hesitated on the sidewalk, then decided to head back the way I’d come that afternoon, hoping to find a closer bus stop along the walk. This was not the best neighbourhood for a nighttime stroll, and I was feeling nervous. I heard footsteps behind me, faster than I liked. I sped my pace as Trix knocked my heart into my throat by loping up beside me.

“Hey, Mouse, what did you think?” she asked, as though she hadn’t just given me a heart attack. I didn’t respond right away.

“You don’t like me calling you Mouse?” she asked, direct. “What would you have your nickname be?”

“I don’t want a nickname.”

She stopped, so I stopped out of politeness. She took my shoulders in her big hands, turned me to her, and bent down fast, bringing us face-to-face. Her eyes were dark, her pupils large, and I felt a little mesmerized. I couldn’t look away. She spoke low, her voice deep and barely above a coaxing whisper, “Tell me your secret name.”

“Sun,” I answered immediately. I didn’t know why. Our eyes held contact as she laughed a slow, deep, good-natured chuckle. She took my chin between her fingers and thumb, and her mouth softened into a sisterly smile. “Yes, little one, you’re giant in there somewhere,” she said. She turned my face to the left, regarding my scar without trying to hide it. “How to let it out without the burn, hmm?”

I moved away. We resumed our walk.

“Why Mouse?” I asked, already feeling resigned that there was nothing I could do about it once Trix decided.

“Small as a…cute as a…” she laughed, reaching over to tickle my tummy like I was a toddler. I giggled in surprise. Then pouted.

“More like, quiet as a…or mousey…”

She looked amused. “I don’t think anyone would take it that way,” she said. “Well, maybe as an irony. No one could describe you as mousey, Christine. You’re quite lovely.” She turned and swept her hand under my cheek so I was looking up at her. I thought for a second she would kiss me, but her expression was quizzical, curious. “Surely you know that?”

I couldn’t keep looking at her disappointment in my lack of self-admiration. I shrugged away and we walked quietly for a minute. The truth was, I was feeling a little resentful at her intruding so far into my own space. It wasn’t only the constant touching. It was her presumption, to just call out things that I didn’t even talk about to myself, like she knew them already. Who was she to expect me to share these things openly? How was it her business to know where I fell short on my personal development path? I was afraid of looking foolish to her, but also defensive of my right to be just as I was – the combination made me petulant.

“Well, I know YOU think I’m hot. What was THAT the other night? I don’t even know you, and you’re coming on to me in front of my boyfriend?”

“That?” She seemed both amused and a little annoyed, almost mocking by elongating my “that.”

“That’s who I need to be at a nightclub, and you got my attention, little girl. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I just am who I need to be for that. It’s a trick you could learn, you know. You might be happier. Anyway, Chris is a big boy, he can handle it. And surely it didn’t hurt your pride, either?”

I found myself smiling at her shyly. I didn’t really like to admit how much I enjoyed being the object of an interesting person’s attention. Not just sexually – being singled out, held in a special position, given shows of preference.

“So you’ll play, for sure, on Friday? Right?” her sincerity felt disarming.

“I don’t know the music.”

She tossed me a cd from her jacket, as if that solved the problem.

“How can I practice? I don’t have a guitar.”

“You don’t need a guitar to practice. Listen. Ready yourself.”

“What are you, Yoda?”

She laughed, a genuine peel of enjoyment.

“You can use my guitar when you’re here until you get one, but I think you could try my way. Listen to the music. Imagine yourself in it. Your body can follow that with what it knows so well.”

“You’re too tall to be Yoda.”

“So you will come? I need to know.”

Something in her earnest plea made me want to come through for her.

“I’ll come.”

She rewarded me with a huge smile – I thought her eyes would bug out of her face, she seemed so happy.

“Good. Practice is every day at 1pm.” Her giddiness infested what she meant to be a bossy tone. She hadn’t been as sure of me as she seemed. But I had to disappoint her.

“Every day? All afternoon? Trix, I can’t. I have to look for a job.”

“What? Waiting tables at the Hard Rock Café?”

“Yes, or something. In the short term. Then maybe I can look around for…I don’t know. Movie background music? Maybe teach?”

She looked incredulous.

“And that is the extent of your aspirations?”

I felt irritated. Where did she get off? Aspirations. A steady income would do. It should have been clear to me far sooner that the heights of excellence were not for me. I was skilled – technically exceptional, actually – but I always missed the solo opportunities, got passed over for lead. When the budget got tight at the University, it was me who was cut. I saw myself as one of those Olympic skaters who come in 32nd. They are far more talented than your average figure skater, among best in country, but they will never rank.

Trix had heard me play all of one time. Of course I played well. People are always impressed at the beginning. But over time, they notice that something small is missing. If I knew what it was, I would have changed it, but I couldn’t figure it out. For years I had practiced and practiced, thinking I just needed to get better. It was only recently that I had accepted the truth – in fact, it had been during the last fight with Ethan. And he was right for once, damn him.

Trix stopped again. I was getting a bit tense about missing the bus, so this time I kept going, She skipped sideways along the sidewalk until she was ahead of me, surprisingly light and quick like a daddy-longlegs spider, but hard as rock to bump into. Which I did, and knocked myself down. We both found this incredibly funny, especially as the bus roared by and eased my tension, with missing now a certainty. She helped me to my feet and, still laughing, I stood.

Trix kept my hand, and swung our arms leisurely as we walked the remaining blocks to the bus stop. I felt calmer once I could stop and look around.

“Look,” she said. Her hands were on either side of my arms just below the shoulder, firm in a yielding way. Normally I would feel pinned, but instead I felt secure for the first time in a long time. I was still marveling over this and almost missed what she said next.

“…and I know you’re still behind that wall,” (what wall?) “but you mustn’t give up. I can see your potential.”

Did she say what I thought she said? Did she just name my deepest, darkest secret fear and I missed the metaphor? Relief pored through me. She knew I was flawed. She believed in me.

But wait a second. Being who I need her to be. In one session, she had seen my weakness and my strength, and now she was going for the easy win, playing on my fear, feeding me hope. Why? She watched my face with what looked like real concern.

“Christine?” she said, gently, carefully. “This is no big deal for you. One night on a stage to try it out, feel what that’s like. Why wouldn’t you do it? I don’t understand you at all.”

She did appear genuinely puzzled.

“I said I’ll come,” I said.

She sighed, and leaned forward to press her forehead against mine. We looked into each others’ too-close, bleary eyes.

“Don’t let me down” she whispered.

It seemed minutes passed. Finally, she raised her head and looked around.

“Um, Mouse, why are we standing at a bus stop?”

“So I can go home?”

She laughed. “I’ll take you home,” she said.

I had never ridden a motorcycle before, and this weather-worn Indian didn’t inspire confidence.

“Oh, quit making faces! She’s a classic. Would you rather take the bus?” she asked. I debated telling the truth. She threw me a helmet that felt huge and awkward, crouching nimbly at my feet to fasten the band under my chin. I felt like I did when they put a hockey helmet on me to ride my tricycle – ridiculous.

“It’s big for you, but it’s the smallest I have. It’s Trace’s.” I’m not sure why she thought that particular piece of information might endear the helmet to my heart.

She had to try a few times to start the bike, and did so with a bouncing vigour of certainty that the next one would take. Putter to roar, it jumped a little under her, like a living animal. She flashed me a wide smile. “Hop on!”

I clamoured up behind her, my arms flopping uncertainly. She reached around behind and grabbed my hands, wrapping them securely around her waist. With no further preamble, we spurted off into the night.

As we rounded a corner, I felt her tight abs contracting under my fingers, even through the jacket. “You’re tickling me!” she shouted back in the wind.

Weaving around and between two cars, she called, “It would really help if you leaned with me.”

“What?”

“Lean with me! When I lean, lean the way I’m leaning!”

It felt like dancing with my uncle on a terrifying roller coaster, but soon I began to get the flow. We moved as one through harrowingly close traffic. Trix didn’t slow down at all unless she had to – she liked to keep to a gear.

 

That’s 40, my friend!

 

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