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Category Archives: Angst

“Butterflies and Hurricanes”

I don’t know that I can say that Declan “thrived” (throve?) after Raven left, but I might say that he blossomed. I could even say “hatched”. He broke out of the cocoon he’d woven for himself with his girlfriend those first couple years in college.

“We should start a band,” he said to his friend Jeffrey. Jeffrey had been in a band in high school, too, overseas in Brussels, of all places. “Anus de Manus” was the band’s name and they were, as he put it after watching Declan’s videos, “even more terrible than your Fear-band.”

“Angst,” Declan corrected him.

“Angst is Dutch for fear,” Jeffrey pointed out. And now, building on that, he added, “I think maybe it’s time you moved past that Fear.”

Jeffrey had an “actual classical education” in guitar, whcih was an unexpectedly huge adjustment for Declan.

“Why are you holding your guitar like that?” Declan asked.

Jeffrey had it propped on his right leg, which looked super awkward and put the guitar at an almost vertical angle, more like a cello. “It’s so I can reach further,” Jeffrey explained. “Or at least, that’s what my instructor used to tell me when she jabbed my thumb with a pencil.”

“You’re supposed to have your thumb there, though.”

“Not where I’m from.”

It was a weird adjustment, too, when it came to sound. “I want to add some violin,” Jeffrey said out of the blue. They weren’t even recording yet. “Guitar is too… There are too many memories for me.”

When school started up again—their junior year in college—they actually picked up a couple of freshmen.

“Don’t you think we need a name now?” asked Martin J. Quindlen.

“Butterflies and Hurricanes,” said Talthybius Jones.

“Sounds more like a name for an album,” said Jeffrey.

The name they decided on, ultimately, was Gorgasm and the Astral Vices.

“Why?” asked almost every girl Declan found himself sleeping with that semester.

“Well, our lead singer, Rachel, has a beautiful voice, so it was gonna be Astral Voices, ‘cause we’re going for something really, like, cosmic and ethereal, but then we got into this thing, the rest of us, about Greek mythology, and went waitaminutewaitaminute, and I can’t remember how, but we went from ‘Gorgon’ to ‘Gorgasm’ and decided that ‘Vices’ was more appropriate than ‘Voices’ then. I don’t know. We’re kinda metal? We’re kinda weird?”

Jeffrey didn’t make it the whole year with them. He was majoring in Physics and it became too much of a time commitment, but he did help set them up with a guy who ended up being their agent: Magnus Murgatroyd.

“That’s the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard,” said Talthybius Jones.

“I gotta say, guys,” said Magnus upon meeting them, “your stuff, I really found it quite uh… quite moving.”

“Thanks,” said Martin J. Quindlen. “We do practice a lot.” Then Tally hit him. “Ow?”

“You kids got plans for the summer?”

Who needed Acid Monsoon, anyway? Who needed established platform and fanbase?

“Now,” Magnus told them, told Declan personally, closer to crunch time, “there are one or two things…”

There needed to be something in Declan’s look, you see. “We gotta kinda rough you up, audiences expect something kinda, I don’t know, a little bit rougher, a little bit gruffer, you know what I’m saying?”

“No,” Declan said. “It seems to me the audience wants a voice. My voice—or at least, my lyrics, my songs, my playing. They’ll want to know who this person is who’s making this music. Not the plastic thing the agents and record companies mold.”

“Listen, kid—“ He tries to make it sound conspiratorial when he says it, but he’s still kind of a dick. His message here was how people want things, people are predictable, and he was the one with all the answers.

Is that who I want to be? he finds himself asking.

Then he gets a text from Raven.

It’s been a while. Raven doesn’t feel a whole lot of need to come back. Not like she has family here. Not really. Just Declan and he doesn’t count because they broke up.

Does he regret that? Of course he regrets it. You know he does, because theirs is the big love story, the epic showdown. They’re the ones here who bleed for each other. He loves her. He would be in love with her, too, if they hadn’t kicked each other out.

“Playing in Trinity,” she says. “You should come. I’ll comp you.”

Did she not know that he wasn’t going to be in Trin’s Field that week?”

“I’ll be in Alabama,” he texts back.

“Alabama?”

“Yeah, didn’t you know?” He explains his new situation.

“Oh, wow,” she texts back. Thirty seconds pass. “Congratulations!”

“Thanks.”

How could he not have told her? How could they be so out of touch?

The next summer, they end up at a festival together. “You should totally open for us!” she says, then catches herself. “Unless that would be weird?”

“I’m sure the guys’d be thrilled,” he says, wondering if he is.

He assumes that she’s sleeping with at least one of her bandmates.

Not that he hasn’t slept with Rachel a time or two… He wonders why that feels different, reminds himself that wondering isn’t going to make the feeling go away. He needs to just be okay with it. He takes a cold shower, forces himself to think about it, to normalize it. She’s moved on.

“Hey, man.”

By now, Declan is out of the shower and wrapped in a towel. He wasn’t expecting to see Caspar June right there, his ex’s boss and whatever else, but he shouldn’t be as bewildered as he is. It’s not as if they haven’t met before.

“Do you feel awkward around me?” Caspar asks, and of course Declan does—especially after that question. “Can I ask you—is it because of the fame thing, or is it because of Raven?”

Declan doesn’t even need to answer. He knows it. Caspar knows it.

“Listen, I like you,” Caspar says. “I like your music. I think you’ve come really far. I’d like to see you go further. But there’s something that you gotta understand about the Game.”

Somehow, thinking of marketing and imagery as a game with an opponent was not somethign that had ever occurred to Declan. It helped. It reminded him of the campaign he’d run back in high school to get into Raven’s good graces.

“You don’t have to be that person,” Caspar said, “You don’t have to war the mask or the hat 24/7, even out in public. But you gotta treat the camera like a stage, certain people, especially journalists and producers, but even your own agent, they aren’t people and they are not your friends. They are your audience. Your audience wants a character. And a character is the opposite of a person.”

That was the most useful information anyone had ever given him about being an artist.

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“Parallel Universe”

I’m in trouble.

I fucked up this time.

Bigtime.

Is that one word or two? I guess if it’s one word, it can be an adjective, but two? “Big time?”

Fuck me.

“Big time.”

I’m pregnant.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I know that it’s not supposed to happen because I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen anything like it. In fact, I’m pretty sure just with a cursory glance into the stuff that I know is going to happen to me in the next couple of years, that this completely contradicts everything I know about how my life’s supposed to be.

And I mean, come on, even beyond that, come on now, you know me. By now you must know who I am. Is this my story? Is this who I am? Who I…

I mean, I did… do this. I consented. I had sex. This wasn’t something that was done to me, it was a mistake I made, I was complicit. I had sex. With one of my best friends. We haven’t really talked since, not about… I don’t know if it was bad, if I… Maybe that’s…

Or maybe I was right about Trevor.

“I’m pregnant.”

I practice saying it in the mirror—a lot—before I finally work up the courage. It stops him dead in his tracks. He looks like he’s never going to smile again. Like there are too many other emotions he has to sort through first before he can get back to happiness.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, after I tell him. “You don’t have to do anything, I just—“

“How can you say that?”

“I’m taking care of it.”

He is genuinely confused and I realize too late there are too many ways that sentence can be read. Which way is he reading it? Which way does he want it to be read?

It doesn’t matter, I remind myself. He’s not the one who’s pregnant.

“Are you gay?” I ask him. Because maybe that’s a factor. I don’t know why it would be—no, that’s a lie. I can think up a million reasons, only half of them silly and a quarter more stupid, but that still doesn’t make the rest relevant. Not to me. Not here. Not now.

He looks at me and I can see him going through so much. I can see rejection, how he’s offended that I’d even think that—again/still—after what we’d done. But then underneath that, I can see… I don’t even know. It’s too complicated and I’m not a gay man—or any kind of man—myself. I can’t really fathom, psychic or not, what he’d be feeling now if he is gay. Or, for that matter, if he isn’t. But what I think I see is like a fear of what I’ll think of him and then underneath that, some sense of relief that he maybe just doesn’t have to hide it anymore.

“It’s okay,” I told him. “It’s okay if you are, and if you aren’t…”

He lunges forward. He kisses me.

It should be raining right now. Scenes like this belong in the rain.

I don’t even want to tell my mom. I mean, seriously, think about it. I’d be her third child to go through this. The hat trick. The fucking hat.

But Trevor doesn’t want me to have the abortion.

“You don’t have to come with me,” I tell him.

“Why did you have to tell me?” he asks. “I mean, if you knew that—that this was what…”

“Did it ever occur to you I needed someone to talk to? Who else is there? Lucy? Isabella? I only had you.”

But Trevor and I have very different ideas about how our life would be, how our kid’s life would be. To him, it’s so clear, it’s like a golden path, so shiny he doesn’t notice the mists at the edges. But I have seen the future. Almost a third of my life, I have lived there. It isn’t a path, it’s a maze and there are so many ways to get lost in it.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to have a child someday, to make all those mistakes, but I’m not ready. I’m not there. And I don’t think she is, either. I don’t know that it’s a she, of course. I can see her, like I said. It’s just easier to think of her, of the person she’d be, as me. Who would I be? How would my life go?

She could kill me. She’s not even a person yet, but already she’s a threat. They don’t teach you to think of reproduction as an extreme sport, but god fucking dammit. I know. I’ve seen it. I was in the fucking room and I’m not ready. I’m not ready for something that I can’t see.

He’s cold on the drive back. I think someday he might forgive me. I think so. Or get over it, at least. Or at least move on. I think. I hope. But I don’t know.

Was this supposed to happen? Was any of it supposed to happen? Did I make a mistake? Is everything… is everything going to change now?

Was any of it ever actually fucking real?


“Anything but Ordinary”

No one wanted to admit that Jasper dating Lucy while she was in high school was a fucking problem.

“I don’t see what the big fucking deal is,” Lucy insisted to me. “I mean, age is just a number, right?”

“Tell me that you’re not having sex with him,” I challenged her, already knowing the answer because of who I am as a (psychic) person.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” she said. “Besides, why don’t you tell me you’re not sleeping with Trevor?”

Because I had only slept with Trevor once, but I didn’t want to talk about that.

“Look, I know this is weird for you—“

“This is weird, period,” I cut her off.

Mom wasn’t any more supportive of my heebies. “She’s a sweet girl and I think she’s good for him.”

“She’s barely sixteen. She started dating him before she turned sixteen.”

“She’s very mature for her age, Kassandra.”

“Oh my God, Mother, no, she’s not!”

“Will you stop being so dramatic?”

“Mom, he could go to jail for statutory.”

“Only if someone presses charges. And her parents won’t.”

Which was true. He had their blessing, too.

“Do you think I’m being overdramatic?” I asked Trevor.

“Almost always,” he said.

I glared.

But the problem wasn’t just the legal thing. We had two kids in the house under the age of five. Even before Lucy and Jasper actually got going, we had Lucy over a couple of times to babysit. I don’t want to say it was a disaster, but… It’s not that Lucy doesn’t like kids. It’s not. She just doesn’t really…

I don’t know. Maybe I’m still overreacting. Why should it bother me, right? My best friend—for lack of a better candidate—sleeping with my brother. And not just sleeping with him, either. Dating him. Insinuating herself, fashioning herself into Ellie’s sixteen-year-old stepmom. OK, seventeen, fine. Whatever.

What in the hell does she think that she’s doing? Is this really the life that she wants for herself?

But is it really Ellie that I’m concerned about, either? It’s not that Ellie doesn’t get good role models. Well, OK, “good” is a matter of, like, yeah, but I mean… She has lots of them. Am I concerned for Lucy? For Jasper? For her?

Or is it just that I can’t imagine ever really being happy with that kind of life for myself?

Isn’t this what ordinary people want? Isn’t this how people live their lives? We live, we grow, we fall in love at the wrong time. We stay, we love, we grow together. We work. We’re parents too young. Is there anything wrong with that? It’s really just a matter of logistics. Isn’t it? Normal people don’t travel all the way across the country to go to college, to pioneer, to find themselves and lose their homes, to invent or to break new ground. That’s not what normal people do. If it was…

I know what my path is. Not the specifics. But I know… I know what I want, I guess. My destiny, even if it isn’t my fate. I know where I’m going. Maybe realizing that could help me get away from the feeling that what Lucy wants for herself is wrong.

Even if it does remain… well… creepy.


“Faster”

They’re coming faster now. When they first started, it could be weeks between them. When they’d come, they’d come all in a row, but I’d have some reprieve. I’d get a break now and then.

Now I’m just broken.

My junior year, they’ll start coming for a while so close togetherr it’ll keep me home from school.

“Honey, are you all right?” asks my mother. Do we need to take you to a doctor? She’s waited a few days to ask, ‘cause I’m such a good kid.

“It’s okay,” I lie to my mother. “It’s just migraines, it’ll go away.”

The irony of having blinding visions of the future is, they don’t always tell you when they’re going to stop. The information is selective.

At least I know that I’ll graduate. Someday.

at first, the real problem is the future. I wake up one day and find my niece in her high-chair. It hits me—why is my niece in her high chair? She’s four!

Except she isn’t four yet, is she?

One day, I’m twenty-seven. Did I say twenty-seven? I meant twenty-five. How did I get back home? I find myself thinking. I’m supposed to be at the… at the… 

The vision does not extend to all locations.

I say the wrong thing to my mother. “Don’t you have that thing to get to?”

“What thing?”

The meeting that I’m thinking of won’t happen for another four months, hasn’t even been scheduled yet.

At first, the problem is the future, but before long, the problem is the past. I’ve had so many disorienting and almost lucid visions, it’s getting harder to tell the difference between future and past, between past and present. I overcompensate.

“Did Jasper get that promotion yet?”

“Jasper was promoted months ago!” my mother reminds me. “We talked about this!”

“Oh, right.” That much I can pass off as just my brother’s detachment from the rest of us.

But then I forget whether Trevor has come out yet. He starts talking about his love-life. Frustration that he hasn’t had sex. I get confused. Has he come out to me? Or was that just a vision that hasn’t happened yet? If I mention he needs to get a boyfriend, I might be outing him too soon. But if he has come out to me and I mention him needing a girlfriend, that might be worse off for our friendship.

This is stupid. We’ve always known Trevor was gay. Right? 

Wasn’t he?

Finally, he uses the world girlfriend and I notice that he’s looking right at me when he says it. He does that thing with his eyes where they flick down and then back up again and I realize… But that isn’t possible, is it? What does he want from me? To grow him a beard? How does Trevor come out to me? I have had a vision of this, haven’t I?

“What do you mean, ‘girlfriend’?” I ask.

He flushes. I’ve embarrassed him. But how, why?

“Trevor—“

“Look, forget it, it’s… I don’t know.”

That day, in the library, he leaves without saying another word and I am completely unprepared.

“Trevor is gay, though, isn’t he?” I ask Lucy.

“Is he?” she says. “I don’t know. I just always thought of him as, I don’t know, non-sexual? Maybe he just never did it for me.”

“So he hasn’t come out to you?”

The question troubles her deeply. “No… Why would he?”

Have we just been having this conversation? Or am I imagining having had it in the future?

Not all of my visions are crystal clear and not all of them stay with me. Sometimes I’m left with an impression, straight knowledge of a situation. Was that what happened with Trevor? Sometimes my memories of my visions of the future as as treacherous as memories of the past, have they deceived me?

“Are you gay?” I finally work up the courage to ask him.

The question hits him like a slap in the face. “No!” he insists.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” And there’s a kind of desperation in his voice. It makes me realize things, makes me feel things I’d never even really suspected…

It isn’t my first time. My first time, I’d let visions guide me to a bad part of town where there was a tagger and no cops around. I brought the condom and showed it to him. Sometimes I like to imagine my blood is still there on the wall, part of his artistic expression. I don’t want to go back there, in case I’m wrong and it’s been covered up.

With Trevor, though, it’s different. It isn’t something I’ve planned. It’s spontaneous. It makes me wonder, is this one of those soft spots in the future where I’m allowed to be free, or am I breaking all the rules?

Am I allowed to break the rules if they broke me first?

But for now, just a brief ecstatic moment, I allow myself to think maybe this is just my imagination. Maybe nothing is set in stone.

And then I stop thinking at all.


“Nobody’s Wife”

Aly kind of disappeared after high school, too. She didn’t go off to college, though. Not right away. If you’ve been paying attention—if any of us had been paying attention—it should have been obvious where she would go, what she would do with all her free time.

She needed to find her mother.

I never thought of Aly as my half-sister. I mean, we grew up together, there was really no need. But I think we all did think of Nancy—our mom—as her stepmom. I’m sure on some level, Nancy always thought that, too. I mean, there are baby pictures of mom holding Aly when she was like, I don’t know, six months old? But she isn’t holding her like a mother. She’s holding her like you hold someone else’s child, especially when you don’t have kids or haven’t been around them much: entranced by the cuteness, but just a little bit freaked out.

We always knew so little about Aly’s real mom, and honestly, we didn’t know what to do with that. We figured Dad would’ve told us if there was anything, really, to know. But we weren’t really thinking about how Aly felt about it. Because, I don’t know, we were stupid? And then Dad left, our collective worlds were shattered, the past became a landmine, maybe, but I guess not exactly the same way for Aly.

Our dad had always been the sometimes-absent glue holding our family together. He was a nice guy, or seemed to be, and we all trusted he had our best interests at heart. I guess Aly must’ve trusted him that way, too, until she didn’t. And once she didn’t trust him anymore, she wondered about all the things he might have been lying about.

What she found was disappointing, but hardly a surprise.

Jessica Kelley. That was the name on Aly’s birth certificate, and she wasn’t easy to track down, but she managed eventually. Tracked her to a trailer park in Kansas. When she got there, she found a guy only a little older than her hanging out on what passed for a front porch, tuning a fiddle while rocking in a rocking chair. “What you want?” asked Carter Mitchell. (His name she would find out soon enough.)

She thought he might look a little familiar, but shook the feeling off. She told him who she was looking for.

“What you want her for?”

“I’m her daughter.”

Carter Mitchell stopped rocking in his rocking chair. “Say what?”

Her mom was his mom, too.

“I always thought I sort of remembered mom having another kid out there,” Carter told her inside. He decided to make her some bacon, ‘cause he had it and he could. “I don’t know. We never talked about you, but I know how she got real sad sometimes.

“We got any other brothers and sisters? I mean, from mom’s side?”

“I got some halvsies on my dad’s. But nah, momma never did settle down, not after… well, not after you, I guess.”

It made Aly feel that much more sad, knowing her mom had been restless, maybe never gotten over the loss.

She didn’t stay sad long.

Soon enough, Jessica got back from work.

“Carter, what the hell you doing bringing your girlfriends around here without telling me first?”

“She ain’t my girlfriend, momma. She’s my sister.”

A momentary beat, trying to catch up. “Now you tell your daddy I don’t wanna have nothing to do with—“

“His daddy ain’t mine,” said Aly, looking at her mother for the first time.

The woman who’d given birth to her was in her mid-forties now. She would never have recognized her—in fact, she suspected she’d actually seen her earlier, in the diner she’d stopped at on the way, and hadn’t had a clue.

Jessica wanted to know an awful lot of things about her dad. She asked about her growing up, things she did, mistakes that might have been—but after a while, Aly realized none of the questions were really about her.

“I always knew your daddy’d fuck up some day,” said Jessica. “I just wish I’da been there when he did.

Aly didn’t feel any closer to her mother when she left that day. If anything, she felt more alienated. And, ironically, perhaps a little closer to her father.

“Hey, don’t mind her, what she said,” said Carter Mitchell. “I know she comes off like a heartless bitch, but she means well, you know? It’s not like she don’t… you know.”

All in all, Carter ended up being a better friend to her after that than her mom ever would be. Which is sad, I guess. But also kind of beautiful. She even brought him home to meet us. It ended up being kind of awkward, but not by that much, I guess.


“Crawling”

Raven didn’t just drop out of school. Not right away, at least. She actually enjoyed some of the classes she was taking that semester, and Acid Monsoon needed to ride out the contract they had with Lucrezia Romanov.

“But then you’re leaving?” Declan asked.

“Wouldn’t you?” she countered.

“No. Actually, I wouldn’t. I would stay in college, get my degree and then—“

“College can wait. You know it can. I mean, come on, how many twenty-five-year-olds have you had class with since you got here? I can always come back, but you know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity thing.”

The worst part was, he did know it. This was Acid Monsoon. The bigtime. And they wanted his girlfriend. It would catapult her to fame. And then? Then she could take him with her.

But no, he’d remind himself. That’s not how these things work. She’s going to run off to fame and fortune and leave me pining here in the dust.

“Baby, no,” she’d reassure him. “How could I leave you? You’re the one who found me. You were the first person to really, you know, understand me.”

He knew now, though, that that just wasn’t true. He didn’t understand her nearly as well as he thought—as she thought—that he did.

And that really freaked him out.

But what freaked him out even more was the jealousy. He was in love with this woman, but rather than being jealous of all those men she’d be hanging around, who’d be hanging aorund her, it was her he was jealous of.

“Of course you are,” said his new friend Jeffrey from college. Jeffrey was kind of a smart-ass, calculating and detached. “She is getting what you want, what you’ve always wanted. What she wouldn’t have wanted, if it wasn’t for you.”

“Are we going to break up?“ It was a question that he didn’t want to ask her; he felt weak asking it of her, like he’d lost something, like he was giving up on the relationship.

But he felt even worse when she answered so casually that yes, of course she would stay with him—they would make long distance work because they loved each other.

It made him feel worse because it made him realize he didn’t trust their relationship, he didn’t have faith in it the way she did. Why did he think that? Did he not trust her, or did he not trust himself? Either way, what did that say about him?

“I’m sure a long-distance relationship could work out,” said Jeffrey when he confided in him again.

“Have you tried it?”

“I’ve never really had occasion.”

“It just makes me feel…” That was really all he had to say, yet he felt like saying more.

“I know,” Jeffrey consoled him.

“Why does it have to be this way?” was Raven’s question to him. “I mean, why does this even…”

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you why, because I’m not even really sure myself, but I don’t feel comfortable with this. I don’t feel comfortable and goddammit, it is… it’s tearing me apart. I feel weak and I feel… ashamed.”

This, by the way, was around about the time that Declan wrote what would become the #1 hit “Tears on Weekdays”.

“Listen to me,” Raven told her boyfriend. “I am not goign to cheat on you out there. OK? I love you. I have always loved you. Distance? All that gets in the way of is sex. I can handle that, I can handle… not having sex for a while. Can you?”

He couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t (or thought it, anyway) but still he smiled at her and kissed her and agreed. Better to lie now and risk fucking up later than to just give up, right?

To be fair, it took three months for Declan to break down and sleep with this girl Michelle they went to school with. That was five days longer than it took Raven to throw herself at Caspar June—not that the one had to do with the other. They were both young and bad at communicating, so they both felt awful afterwards.

But they both recovered and moved on.


“The Battle Rages On”

Thomas Murphy went to war. He didn’t like being called “Tommy” after that. Truth be told, he never really liked being called “Tommy”, especially since “Tommy Murphy” sounds kinda lame, but he tolerated “Tom”. Tom Murphy.

Well, he didn’t die. I know you’ve been holding your breath for that one, so I’ll take pity on you. He survived, he even came back all in one piece. Physically, at least. But he’d seen things.

Even before his brother went off to college, when he’d get furloughed and get to come back, when he’d get leave, Declan could tell that he was different. More serious. More chiseled. Didn’t take the nonsense.

“Hello?” he would answer the phone, instead of his usual “Hey, man.”

“Hey, man,” Mickey answered, “What’s up? It’s Mickey, don’t know if you remember or if you recognized my voice.”

“What’s up, Mickey?” “What’s up?” Not “‘Sup?” or even “Hey, man.”

“Hey, man, I just wanted to talk to you. You wanna maybe come over and hang?”

“Well, I’m busy right now.”

“Yeah, no, it’s cool, just let me know.”

Truth be told, the new no-nonsense Tommy scared Mickey out of his mind.

“You ever hear from Kyle?” Declan asked him.

“I don’t talk to Kyle,” said Thomas Murphy.

“Is it ‘cause of what happened?”

“I just don’t talk to him. You know? I got better things to do now than listen to him go on about… I don’t know. All his college bullshit.”

That was while he was in, though, while Corporal Murphy was in the army and Kyle Niedermeyer was off “doing his own thing” in college, turning himself into a molder of young minds.

But now they were both back.

“Tommy,” Kyle said when his old friend showed up at his door one day. He was wearing a shirt, in case the unexpected visitor happened to be a student or something, but it wasn’t much of one.

Corporal Murphy didn’t correct his friend’s pronunciation. “Hello, Kyle.” The “Sir” was silent.

“How you been, man? Jeez, it musta been, like…”

“Lotta years.”

“Yeah.”

“Four? I guess.”

“Since graduation.”

There were only so many words in the English language.

“You wanna come inside?”

“No, I can’t stay,” Tommy lied.

“OK.”

“Have you heard anything from Aly?”

Kyle frowned, scratched his head. “I don’t know, not in a while, I guess. Why? You try talking to Jasper, maybe? He probably knows how to get hold of her.”

“No, no, that’s all right.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come inside?”

Corporal Murphy was fidgeting. It was making Kyle nervous. A little.

“Do you still play?” asked the soldier.

“A bit,” said Kyle. “Not like I used to.”

“You ever think about…”

“What? About getting the band back together?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know if the world can handle more of the Elk, man.”

For the first time since he got here, Tommy cracks a smile, almost like he’s himself again, but no.

“Listen, man, if you wanna talk to her—“

“I wanna talk to you.”

“OK.”

Pause. “I just don’t know how.”

“You think maybe you could start by coming inside?”

A hesitation.

“Hey. Tommy.”

“It’s Tom.”

“Tom. If you’ve got something to say…”

“No, forget it, man. Just forget it.”

But there are some things you just don’t forget.