The apartment remains silent up until Thanksgiving break. Min has barely said a word to me, and I don’t push her for one. When she leaves for home Sunday night, I wish her a safe trip. She forces a smile on her face, but it quickly drops, and she leaves. I finish the song but keep it to myself – knowing that I’ll change some lyrics in a few days when I’m not feeling as sad as I am. I put too much of myself into the song, and anyone will be able to tell it was me in those lyrics.
I’m sitting at Rustic’s Café the night before Thanksgiving, happy with how empty it is, when I watch Jay walk in. He has his black coat zipped up, hands in his pockets, and his nose is red from the cold as he enters. Jay glances across the café, eyes quickly meeting mine. He smiles in greeting and I do the same then go back to my computer. I’ve been working on a melody that I hope Jay will agree with, but I don’t want to show him until I’m certain he can’t say no. “Mind if I sit?” I look up to see Jay standing beside me, holding a steamy mug.
“No, go ahead.” He scoots into the booth across from me, bringing the mug up to his lips and taking a sip.
“You didn’t go home for Thanksgiving?”
“Can you call a place home when you’ve barely lived there in four years?”
“Wouldn’t your mom want you home? I thought you enjoyed the holidays?” I glance over the top of my laptop at him, seeing his eyes intently on me.
“I did.” I say, looking back down at my screen. “When I was in North Isles. My mother doesn’t celebrate the holidays, and I didn’t have anyone in England to celebrate with. So, they’re just another day now.”
“You didn’t have a single person to hang out with in England?”
“No. I actively kept away from people.”
“You have experienced firsthand how shitty I treat people. I didn’t need that list to expand into England.”
“You don’t treat people shitty. You make choices and don’t let them have a say in the matter.”
“I don’t have an argument for that.”
“Because I’m right.” I catch him grinning, but I don’t let my eyes linger.
“What about you? Are you not going to Micah’s?”
“Yeah, I’m driving down tomorrow. I like to take advantage of the empty house.”
“Really? I figured you would like having people around after living alone for so long.”
“I like both. And lately, the house has been filled with people more times than none, so I need a break.” I sit up and stretch from my hunched position. I have been sitting here entirely too long. “What is your favorite song I’ve produced?” He leans back, thinking this over seriously.
“Really? Out of all the songs, you pick that one?”
“What’s wrong with that one?”
“It’s the one I wrote when I decided to come back. I wanted the listener to feel the anticipation.”
“But it ends very melancholily. Why?”
“I imagined coming back, tracking you all down, and seeing that you were living your best lives. I could finally walk away and move on. At least that was the intention.”
“But you wouldn’t be happy moving on?”
“How do you move on from the people who gave meaning to your life? Who opened your eyes to a world that you never realized existed? When I was in North Isles, I felt loved for the first time in my life. I felt like I meant something. I can never move on from that.”
“You speak as if you’ll never have that again.”
“My mom will inevitably try to ruin my life again and I’ll do as she says because I love you all too much to let your lives be destroyed because of me.”
“You can be so blind and selfish sometimes.”
“How is wanting to protect you blind and selfish?”
“Do you ever think about how hard it is for someone to disappear from your life without saying a word? That kind of ruin is worse than anything your mom could do.” My cheeks heat from embarrassment – at remembering how I left. A coward in the night. “I didn’t mean to make you feel bad…”
“When I was waiting for Brian to come pick me up… I almost came back. I always wonder what would have happened if I had gone back.”
“As much as I hate to say it, I think the course of our lives happened exactly how they should have. We were young and living together, and I think that we would have held each other back in some way. I think resentment would arise and we may have broken up. Of course, it could have gone a different way, but we’re not the same people were back then Alia. I know I’ve done a lot of maturing and growing up and although you may not feel like you’ve changed, you have. You’re producing music and you have been defying your mom by doing so. You have become brave and I just hope you realize that standing up to your mom will not be the end of the world.”
“I’m glad I came back… Even if things didn’t happen how I envisioned them.”
“I’m glad too… So I was thinking, would you want to rent some movies with me? I enjoy being alone, but I am super bored.”
“Yeah, unless you have plans?”
“No, I don’t have plans. Your house or mine?”
“Either or. I drove here.”
“I walked, so I guess we’re taking your car.”
“I really wish you would stop walking everywhere, especially when it’s dark.”
“Oh, come on, don’t you miss it?” I say as I power down my laptop.
“Of all the things, that’s what you took away from North Isles?”
“It was my favorite. Especially when we would walk home for work.”
“Yeah, because you spent the entire time looking at the sky and I had to make sure you didn’t run into anything.”
“And you never failed me.” I smile, remembering all the times he diverted me from a pole or a parked car. I shut my laptop and slide it into my backpack. “I say we go get something for dinner, get some movies, and go back to my place. Otherwise, you’d have to take me home tomorrow.”
“Sounds good to me.” He finishes his coffee, then we both leave the booth. Despite the pictures still sitting in my mind, I can’t help the butterflies that swarm in my stomach at the night alone I’ll get with Jay. I tell myself to enjoy it. I’m not going to think about those pictures. We get some hamburgers from a restaurant we both like then rent two movies; an action and a thriller and finally go back to the apartment. Jay is getting the movie started while I go down to my room to change into my pj’s and grab some blankets and pillows for us. When I come back, Jay is eyeballing me. “What?” I ask as I dump the contents in my arms down on the couch.
“I don’t get pj’s.”
“I’m sure Vance has some sweats or something he leaves over here. Want me to look?”
“Yes, please.” I can’t help the dumb smile that rises on my face. This is the side of Jay I miss the most. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No, just remembering.” I go into Min’s room, finding a pair of clean sweatpants in her drawer. “Here you go.” I throw them at Jay, who stares at them intently.
“I’m going to kill him.”
“They’re mine! I asked him last week if he’d seen them and he lied to my face.” Jay pulls out his phone and takes a picture of them. “Asshole.” I laugh at this, happy to see that things haven’t changed at all. Jay takes the pants down the hall to my bathroom to change while I place a pillow and blanket onto the recliner he opted to sit in. Then I get wrapped in my own blanket and begin to eat. “You couldn’t wait for me?”
“You took too long.” I say as I shove a french fry into my mouth. He shakes his head, but there’s a smile. “Plus, I have one hand, it allows me to do what I want.”
“How are you feeling, by the way?”
“It’s irritating. I have this constant itch and I want nothing more than to tear off this cast and scratch it.”
“I won’t but I’m definitely going to lose my mind before this is all over.”
“Before we start this movie, I have to ask about the song. We don’t have much longer…”
“I know. Give me one more day? I’ll send you everything tomorrow.”
“I have a melody picked out, but I don’t want you to say no.”
“And the lyrics?”
“They need some tweaking.”
“Can I see them?”
“Because they’re in a vulnerable state right now.”
“I know you don’t think we know, but we all sense it. That something’s wrong. Ever since you went to your mom's.”
“She’s just a little scary. That’s all.”
“I’m sorry…” I look over at him, seeing the sincerity on his face.
“What are you sorry for?”
“That you had to deal with someone so awful like her. After you and Letty reunited, she ripped us a new one.” I go still, worried that she told them what happened. I never asked her not to, but it’s something I would like to stay silenced. “She said you told her what happened when you were isolated with your mom. She didn’t tell us what that all was. But she said that your mom was evil and cold. That she made my parents look like angels.”
“Your parents are just as bad.”
“Maybe.” They are. I still remember the conversation I had with them vividly. How they spoke about Jay. The awful things they said about him. They’re just as bad as my mother, but at least they gave Jay his freedom. “From what I know about your mom already, I can’t imagine that it was easy.” He continues. “I know asking you to stand up to her is easier said than done. But you still have us, Alia. Let us fight with you.” I look away from him, not wanting him to see my eyes tearing up. I hate this. I hate feeling like this. There is no hope for me to ever stay here. Not free from my mother. Without saying another word, Jay thankfully presses play on the movie. I sit back into the couch, my food on my lap, and stare at the screen. Before the movie gets anywhere, my phone lights up with a text. I see Min’s name on the screen and my heart drops.
Min: So Jay’s there?
Me: He is.
Me: And what?
I smile as I watch the typing bubbles on the screen. It’s the most she has talked to me since I told her what I was planning.
Min: So?? Is he like trying to hit on you or anything?
Me: I told you why that would be impossible.
Min: I talked to Vance (I didn’t tell him about our conversation) but I asked if he thought Jay was dating anyone. He said no. Jay literally has been working on the music or going to his classes. He hardly leaves to do anything social unless it’s with us.
Me: Vance can’t possibly know everything Jay’s up to.
Min: A, I’m serious. Maybe Jay met up with her, but nothing happened.
Me: You saw the photo.
Min: He could have pushed her away.
Me: It didn’t look like he wanted to push her away.
Min: You’re unbelievable…. I’m still upset with you, but I don’t want us to keep on like we have been. It’s exhausting. I miss you.
Me: I miss you too.
Min: You promise you’ll fly me out to England?
Me: As many times as you want.
Min: And Vance?
Me: Even Vance. Might as well waste my mother’s money if she wants to control my life so much.
Min: You could always buy me a car.
Me: That’s not a bad idea.
Min: I was only JOKING! Enjoy your night with Jay. Don’t close up completely. There’s always hope.
I lay my phone back down and continue watching the movie. Feeling better now that Min is talking to me again. My heart and mind cannot agree on want to do. I want to stay here no matter what, but another side of me just wants to be gone. To have never existed in their lives. But I don’t dwell on it long as the movie continues.
After we finished the second movie, both Jay and I are yawning and fighting sleep. “I want to hear the melody.” He says.
“You’ll hate it.”
“Look, if we both work on it tonight, we can show the band first thing next week, and then we’re done.”
“Okay, but if you don’t like the melody, I’m done. You’re going to have to come up with something.”
“Deal.” We both rise from our positions and walk down the hall to my studio room. He wastes no time getting comfortable on the chaise lounge as I pull up my programs. I find the file I’ve been working on and press play. Jay and I couldn’t agree on a tempo, so I caved and scrapped everything I had been working on to start anew. The tempo is more of what Jay wanted, but I didn’t have to sacrifice the overall feel of the song that I wanted. It begins slowly, as will his vocals. Giving the audience an itching for more – waiting for an explosion. But it won’t come. Not until nearly the end of the song. As soon as that part plays, Jay sits up. “You can’t be serious?”
“I don’t think my vocal range can hit that kind of note.”
“I didn’t make it believing you couldn’t.”
“I’ve never tried.”
“You have come close, many times. You’re holding yourself back.”
“Alia, this is a gamble.”
“I have faith in you. If we make this the first song you play, they’ll be sold. It won’t matter what we play afterward because they’ll still have goosebumps.”
“How can you have so much faith that I can make that note?”
“Because I’ve heard it before. All those years ago on that rooftop. You were just messing around, but you hit it. You were so happy you were doing a happy dance.” The tips of his ears turn red with embarrassment and I laugh. “You forget I heard you first.”
“I never forgot. But you never told me how much of my singing you actually heard.”
“I heard you a lot. When you get back from Micah’s, let’s go to the auditorium and practice hitting that note. You just need to warm up.”
“This is a gamble, Alia. Especially if it’s our first song.”
“I’m not afraid to gamble. Not on this. Not on you. Are you in or not?”
“I’ll need to see the lyrics first.” I look at my notebook contemplating showing him. Before I can decide he moves quickly from the lounge and swipes up my notebook.
“Hey!” I reach out for it, but he pulls it out of range. He finds the page, marked by a pen left inside, and begins to read. I don’t fight him on it. After I saw the pictures, I put my soul into finalizing the lyrics. I changed quite a few things to make the song fit the story I was telling. “‘I only wanted you’. That’s the note I have to hit?”
“This song is significantly different from what I last looked at.”
“I had a bout of inspiration. Is it okay?”
“I think it works well with our other two songs. It’s the perfect one to start off with.”
“I’m glad you like it.” Jay closes the notebook and places it back down on my desk.
“Why don’t you come for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, I don’t want to intrude. I’m fine with being here. I have an entire day filled with binging my new favorite show.”
“Micah would really like for you to be there. I know he didn’t say anything because we all assumed you were going home. But tomorrow, eleven a.m. Be there if you can? I’ll send you the address.”
“You won’t be intruding. Come.” The smile on his face is warm and inviting. My heart sinks, wishing I could see that smile every day. Wishing the days we have left together wasn't coming to an end so soon.
“I’ll think about it.”