Jay, 7 years earlier
“Mummy, is lunch ready?”
Silently, I watched as the girl with the brown hair jumped into her mother’s arms. The woman smiled. She had an apron wrapped around her waist to protect her clothes from stains while she was cooking. I watched her hug her daughter and give her a peck on the top of her head, just like I had seen in movies before. Like it had always made me wonder how it must feel like.
I had never gotten the chance to call someone ‘mummy’ and I had never been able to come back home to a properly cooked dinner. All of this seemed really strange to me and at the same time, I felt this craving inside of me. I wanted this, too. A mummy that would hug me when I came home from school.
“Not yet, Sweetheart,” the woman told my new friend, Lizzy, then she turned towards me with the same friendly smile on her face. “And who are you?”
“Hello July, I’m Melanie. I didn’t know you were coming over, where’s your mum?”
“I don’t have one. Lizzy asked if I wanted to come with her.” I answered her and took a step into the kitchen without being invited in. I could see Melanie’s eyebrows pulling together in discontent before she looked back at her daughter.
“I told you before that I want you to ask me before you’re bringing friends over, Elizabeth,” I heard her telling Lizzy with a voice that didn’t sound friendly anymore. A voice I only knew from my nannies. My dad never spoke to me like that. Neither did uncle Brad or uncle Jason. Only my nannies. Now I don’t have one anymore, though. Now, it’s only Dad and me.
“Does your daddy know where you are then, love?” The woman turned back to me and now she was smiling again. I only shook my head as an answer. My dad never asked where I was or how long I stayed out. As long as I came back before it was dark outside, I could do whatever and go wherever I wanted.
“How about you give me his number so I can inform him, then? You two can wait in Lizzy’s room until dinner is ready.”
When Melanie handed me a piece of paper and a pen, I wrote down the phone number I had learned. My dad had me repeat it to him three times this morning. ‘In case you get lost,’ he had said. I wasn’t lost, but I didn’t know how to get home, either, so I thought it was okay to give Melanie the number and have her call my dad. While she took the paper and went to an old-looking phone in the corner, I followed Lucy out of the kitchen and up a weird staircase. Everything about this house was weird.
It was small. There were carpets everywhere, even on the staircase! It was also dark. The house dad and I moved into here in England was dark as well, but not as dark as this one. Still, I missed the house we had sometimes lived in back in California. Everything there had been white and bright and spacious. Sun had always illuminated the rooms through gigantic windows.
Now we had a house with dark wood inside, with carpets instead of tiles and little windows through which I always saw the grey, rainy sky instead of a bright blue one. But what I missed most was our garden in Los Angeles. It had been big, so big that I had never even met my neighbours. And it had a pool. Our garden in England wasn’t as big anymore, and it was surrounded by a tall hedge that made it as dark as everything else here. We didn’t have a pool, either, only grass. But the worst part about it were our neighbours. An old woman who didn’t do anything but nag in her strange accent that made it impossible for me to understand what she was nagging about at all.
Lizzy had that accent as well, so did Melanie and every kid I had met at school today. Kids that all looked the same. The same as me!
My dad had made me wear this skirt today. A black skirt and a green blouse. Just like every girl I saw today. Having to dress the same every other kid did, made me hate my uniform even more. And this country with its darkness and unison and carpets everywhere.
Even Lizzy’s room had carpets. It was neatly organised, every doll and toy and teddy seemed to have a designated spot. My own room was never clean nor organised, but Dad and I loved the mess. He said it reminded him of touring.
We had always been on tour. When we weren’t in our house in Los Angeles, we had lived in hotels or on a bus and there had always been magazines and CDs, broken strings and guitar picks, drums sticks and empty bottles lying around in every corner. Sometimes people, too. Some women I had never met before, but were friends with uncle Brad or someone else.
We had never been alone. On tour, we had always had our family with us and when we had been at home, like on Christmas, Uncle Brad used to come over every second day to invite me to dinner or to get ice cream. I had loved everything the way it had been and when Dad had told me two months ago that he wanted to bring me back to England, where he had grown up, I didn’t like the idea at all. He had said he wanted me to have a real home, to find friends and to go to school like every other nine-year-old. But even though I had never had a friend like Lizzy, I never felt like I was missing anything. I had been happy with my family, with Dad and Uncle Brad, Jason and everyone else. There had always been people. And now there were none.
“Do you want to play school?” Lizzy asked, her blue eyes lighting up with excitement while I was trying to figure out what she was talking about. Play school? How do you ‘play’ school? Sit around and do nothing for hours? We were at school all day and that was bad enough.
“That sounds boring,” I answered her honestly as I went over to one of her dolls to have a look at it. Without a warning, the doll opened its eyes and started screaming like a baby and I quickly dropped it again and stepped away. I had never had toys like this and I didn’t feel like I had been missing out on anything. I had guitars. And pianos. And drums. I was more comfortable when it was me making the noise, not my toy.
“Why? You can be the teacher,” Lizzy said, so I turned back around to her. I still didn’t know what she was talking about, though. She only got more confusing.
“I can’t be a teacher, I’m too young!” I disagreed with her. Before today, all my teachers used to be there for me only, none of them worked at a real school. And none of them ever scolded me for speaking my mind. But all the teachers I used to have on tour with me and in England now had one thing in common. They were adults!
My answer must have surprised Lizzy because, for a moment, she only stared at me. Then she opened her mouth again, but before she could say anything, a door slamming shut next to us interrupted her.
“Hey!” I heard Melanie yell from downstairs, then a lot of nagging followed that reminded me a lot of the awful Misses O’Connor, our neighbour here. But instead of her dachshund joining in with his annoying barking, Melanie’s yelling got overshadowed by something else. A guitar!
Someone was playing a guitar! Here, in this house! In this country! Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to the sound. I had to know who was creating this beautiful melody, gentle and calm, yet heart-wrenchingly painful all the same. Without a look back at my new friend, I walked out of the room, my ears leading me to where the music was coming from. Back down the hallway to the room right beside the staircase. Without a thought, I opened the door that had been slammed shut a few moments ago and entered.
A boy was sitting on his bed, his hair brown as Lizzy’s, only darker and messed up as if he had just woken up. His eyes were closed, a thin line showing up between his eyebrows while his fingers slid over the neck of his guitar. He was lost in his music, so far gone, that he didn’t notice me coming in at all.
′When you play, you don’t only play, Songbird! You have to become the melody, you have to feel the music. That’s what sets a good artist apart from a truly great one. Making music isn’t a science, it’s heart and soul. It’s not about the right technique, it’s about the right emotion. When you ever find someone, who doesn’t play with his body and brain but with his heart and soul, then you know you have discovered true talent!′
My father’s words, words I had heard him say to me so often, shot through my head as I stood there and watched the boy play. This was exactly what he had been talking about, this boy didn’t just play the music, he felt it.
He made me feel it as well. I could tell that he must have had a bad day. The song was set in a minor key, diminished chords making my heart feel all heavy. He was sad. Maybe for real, maybe for the song. But I could feel it. I felt what he was feeling because he was capable of telling me through his song. I had to tell my dad!
“Do you want to ask my brother if he wants to play with us?” Lizzy’s words disturbed the song without a warning and ruined everything the boy had managed to create. I wanted to continue listening to him, sink deeper into his world, feel more of what he was willing to show me, but he had already stopped. Caramel-brown eyes shot up to me, curiously travelling over me from head to toe as he sat a little straighter.
“Who are you?” He asked me, carefully laying his guitar down on his bed. It was an old one, dark brown wood which looked exactly the same colour as his hair. I didn’t know the brand, but I liked the look of the instrument right away, it wasn’t polished like my dad’s guitars, it was abrasive. Special. Like that boy who played it.
“I’m July. Lizzy’s friend,” I told him, my feet moving on their own and bringing me closer to the instrument on his bed. It was beautiful. And I loved the sound it had.
“Do you play?” The boy asked me another question and I responded with a nod as I sat down on his bed beside him. My fingers reached for the guitar, slowly gliding over the wood that felt raspy under my skin. So unlike any other guitar I ever touched. “Do you want to try it?” Another question, another nod from me as an answer. I wanted to try it. Really bad.
The boy lifted the guitar up before he held it up to me and as my eyes met his again, I crossed my legs on his bed and took it to place it on my lap. My left hand slid up its neck before I placed my fingers on the strings. The wood of its corpus felt soft and warm under my right arm and I knew right away how good it would sound.
I’ve been playing the guitar since I was old enough to pull the strings, I couldn’t even remember ever having not made music in my life. I didn’t have to think twice about what I could play, the melody came to me like the words I spoke. The world that boy had created was still alive in my heart and even though I had no idea what key exactly he had used, I tried to develop it further.
My fingers moved over the strings like they always did, pressing down and tugging at the right moments and spots and as I looked up again, I could see the boy watching me with wide eyes. The grin on my face appeared out of nowhere as I stopped playing again to give the guitar back to him.
“Holy shit, where did you learn to play like that?” He asked me, his choice of words making me grin even more. He said ‘shit’. Aside from my dad, I hadn’t heard anyone use a curse word since we moved here and it made me feel strangely at home. ‘Shit’ hadn’t even been considered a bad word where I had grown up, but everyone here always seemed awfully offended when I said it.
“Dad taught me to play the guitar and my uncle Brad taught me how to play the piano and how to sing,” I told him and again, I could see how impressed he was.
“You play the guitar, piano and you sing? Are you some sort of genius kid?” His question made me laugh. I hadn’t even mentioned that Uncle Jason had also started giving me lessons on the drums before we had left.
“No, I was just bored a lot of the time,” I answered him. “I love the piano the most. And singing. I also like drumming, but I’m better with the guitar and piano. I like melodies more.”
“Shit. How old are you?”
“I’m nine. And you?”
“I’ll turn twelve in December. Who...” He started, but his question was interrupted by his mother’s voice calling us to come to lunch. I followed my new friends downstairs, sitting down beside Lizzy and across from the boy.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach your dad, Sweetie, but I’ll drive you home after lunch,” Melanie told me and I gave her a nod as she handed me a plate with spaghetti. It tasted really good, sweet and spicy and fruity all the same. Much better than the food my dad made.
“Did your dad teach you to play the guitar too?” I mumbled at the boy with a full mouth because I couldn’t wait to find out more about him.
“No, I learned it on my own. No one taught me,” he answered me and this time, it was my eyes that widened as I stared at him. He was good. Really good. I couldn’t believe that no one had taught him how to play!
“Wow!” I gasped. “You play exactly like Dad says only the most talented people play. Maybe he will teach you as well.”
“I want to be a singer one day.” A little smile showed on his face as he looked down at the table.
“My dad sings as well, sometimes. Maybe he can teach you how to sing too! Or maybe Uncle Brad can help you when he comes to visit for Christmas. He always comes to visit me at Christmas. Then we go and have ice cream. He says we have to have some fun together because Christmas makes my dad really sad.”
“Ice cream for Christmas?” Lizzy gasped and when I looked back at her, her eyes were widened as if it was a crazy idea. But I didn’t know why. Ice cream tasted the same all through the year. Great!
“Why is your dad sad at Christmas, dear?” Melanie asked me another question but I didn’t know what to answer her. All I knew was what uncle Brad had told me.
“Uncle Brad said he misses my mum, but I think he misses playing concerts. He was happier when we were still touring. Now he never wants to tour again and is sad all of the time.”
“Oh my God!” The boy’s gasp made me look back at him. His large, brown eyes were staring at me once again. “Don’t tell me your father is fucking Jim D!”
“Nathaniel Mason Fox, if I hear a word like that from you ever again, I will wash your tongue with soap!” Melanie scolded the boy’s language as well. Nathaniel. That was his name.
“I’m sorry, Mum,” Nathaniel muttered before he looked back at me. “I love your dad, he is the best guitarist ever! Do you think he would actually give me guitar lessons? And... I’m Nate. Just Nate,” he told me and as he gave me a little smile, I returned it with an even bigger one. I think the chances of my dad giving him lessons were good. And my chances of seeing - and hearing - a lot more from him in the future were even better!