Home > Fall (VIP #3)(7)

Fall (VIP #3)(7)
Author: Kristen Callihan

Sure, if you like being exposed. Nothing here grounds me. “The acoustics are good,” I mutter, because I know he’s waiting for some praise.

“They’re great,” he adds. “Try playing the Gretch. You won’t be disappointed.”

I snort, half smiling. I can play my guitars all hours of the day. It won’t matter if I can’t come up with new material. Like the Beatles, Kill John has two front men, Killian and me. We both sing, we both play guitar. Some songs, Killian takes the lead. Some songs, I do. But we write them together.

Whip and Rye usually come up with beats and the overall rhythm, but Kills and I are the cornerstones of the process. Since the Incident, as everyone calls it, Killian has been taking the brunt of the job, writing songs with his wife, Libby. And that’s fine, but it isn’t our sound.

I need to man up. Two years is more than a dry spell; it’s an empty well.

“Maybe I’ll play tonight,” I tell Killian, and open the fridge again. “Go back to whatever you were doing.”

“Who I was doing,” he corrects. “And I was doing my wife—ow, Libs. What’s with the pinching?”

I hear Libby squawking in the background, and I laugh. “Maybe not put her business out there, brother.”

“Yeah,” he mutters. “Got that loud and clear.”

Smiling, I pull out a pot of stew I made yesterday. “I’m really fucking disappointed in you if that’s what you were doing when you answered the phone.”

“Hey,” he protests, “I was being a good friend.”

My smile disappears. He’s babysitting me again. What’s worse? That I felt the need to call him in the first place? I suppress a sigh. “Be a good husband and entertain your wife. I’m going now.”

Hanging up, I stare at my stew. I can’t stay here. Outside, the blizzard blows harder. I’m alone, but I have food. A lot of it. And it’s good. Some others aren’t likely to be as lucky.

Jogging into the laundry room, I grab a small hamper and then put the stew and other supplies into it. I carry it down two flights and knock on the door.

Maddy answers and breaks into a wide smile. “Well, hello, handsome.”

“Maddy, looking gorgeous as ever.”

She laughs, and it comes out a bit wheezy. “Sweet talker. What are you doing here?”

“Wanted to know if you’d like to have dinner with me. Might I interest you in some beef stew?”

She beams as though I’ve made her week. Putting that look on her face makes me happy, but there’s also a sense of discomfort. All I’m doing is sharing my food—hardly heroic stuff here.

“I would love to have dinner with you, Jax. Come on in.” She turns and heads back into her apartment.

I slow my pace to match hers. Maddy’s place is smaller, the ceilings lower. It’s tastefully done, filled with antiques and fine furniture. In many ways, it’s like an English home plunked down in the middle of Manhattan. I don’t need a therapist to tell me it reminds me of my childhood, even if Maddy is pure New Yorker sass.

I met her when I moved in a few months ago. At the time, she was trying to haul a cart of books up the front stoop. The woman is five feet and probably weighs a hundred pounds soaking wet, but still she wouldn’t give up her struggle until I took the cart from her.

I’d soon learned that Maddy had been a stockbroker, one of the only women making it in the field during the 1960s and ’70s. I’m fairly certain she could buy the building but she seems content to live in her small one-bedroom.

I follow her into her kitchen, and she pulls out a big pot to heat up the stew. “What else do you have in that basket, Little Red?”

“Cute,” I say, setting down my hamper. “I have some salad and a nice baguette.”

Maddy leans against the counter and pulls an electronic cigarette from a drawer. “Young man, you make it entirely too easy to tease.”

Shaking my head, I prepare the stew. “And you have a dirty mind, Mrs. Goldman.”

“It’s Mrs. Goldman now, eh?” She draws on the electronic cigarette and peers at me through ridiculously long false eyelashes.

“I’m trying to be a gentleman.”

Maddy takes the bread and starts to cut it. “Honey, I’m seventy-four. I don’t have time for gentlemen.”

I laugh. “Noted.”

We eat dinner at the kitchen table that’s tucked in the corner by the window. It’s one of those old ’40s-style Formica-and-chrome sets better suited in a diner. The snow falls in thick, blowing waves.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the company, kid, but I would have expected you to be far out of town by now,” Maddy says between bites of stew.

She knows who I am. She recognized me as soon as I’d offered to help her with her bags that long-ago day. Apparently, she’s a Kill John fan.

“I guess I should be.” I grab a chunk of bread. “Couldn’t really think of anywhere I wanted to go.”

And that’s the plain truth. Killian and Scottie are both married now. Third-wheeling, it does not appeal. Rye and Whip are off at a health retreat. Not to get healthy, but to score women, which sounds kind of desperate, if you ask me. I could have hung out with Brenna, but we’d just start bickering eventually, given that she thinks I should settle down; I think she should mind her own business. And hanging with people who aren’t close friends is no different for me than being alone.

Maddy’s stare penetrates my thoughts. “You need to find yourself a woman. Someone to keep you company on cold nights.”

Not her too. I swear to God, you hit thirty and everyone tries to see you married off. It’s a fucking epidemic.

“I have a woman to keep me company on cold nights. I’m here with you.” I wink at her.

She chuckles, shaking her head. “Shameless flirt. And if I were forty years younger, you wouldn’t know what hit you.”

I believe that. There are photos of Maddy and her late husband Jerry all over the apartment. She was a total Lauren Bacall. She’s beautiful now, frankly.

“You ever think about finding someone yourself?” I ask her.

Maddy sets her hands in her lap and looks out the window. In profile, the lines of her life’s experience are stronger, deeper. My world is dominated by youth. Even gray-haired rock legends with artificial hips try to look as though they’re still in their thirties. But old age is something I aspire to. Eventually, I’ll buy a house with a porch and wave my cane at foul-mouthed youths who dare walk too close to my lawn.

Maddy sighs and it rattles in her chest. When she looks back at me, her expression is composed but her eyes are sad. “When you find your person, and live forty-seven years with them, moving on feels more like biding your time. I have my children, grandchildren, and friends. I suppose I could find a man. Maybe one day I will. But I had the one I wanted for a long time. Whoever comes along would have to be something special.”

Slowly, I nod in understanding. But it’s a lie. The idea of giving that much power to another person is unfathomable. Life is hard enough as it is without worrying about someone else in the process. Sure, I see Killian and Scottie happy now. But I’ve also seen them sink lower than dirt, sick with heartache. And all because they’d been on the outs with their women. What’s to say that won’t happen again? What happens if someone dies?

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