I could hear Thom’s guitar even before Ian opened the door.
“Hey,” Thom said without looking up. Sitting on the sofa, he did not seem to notice me at first while he continued to play a few different chords on his acoustic. He stopped and scowled at some words written on a piece of butcher paper spread across the table. When he did look up, he did not appear surprised. “Hi, Maryjane.”
“Hey,” I said, feeling the need to add, “Ian invited me over.” I hoped I smelled better since my shower. Looking around, I wondered if they knew how lucky they were to have such a space. Claire had a well-paying job and our place was hilariously small. Their large front room even had a partial wall cornering the kitchen, as opposed to our line of linoleum marking the transition. Three people could actually breathe in a flat like this. Four, even.
“How’s your shirt?” Thom said, then covered his mouth for a yawn.
“Sent into retirement, I'm afraid. I’ve had it ages though, so I’ll live.”
“I’m going to clean up,” Ian said. “Thom, see if you can find Maryjane something to eat. We haven’t had breakfast.”
Thom rolled his eyes, but he put down his guitar. Ian walked into the bedroom on the right, the one with the window, and returned a moment later with clean clothes on his arm. He flashed a quick grin and disappeared into the bath. Thom started to walk back into the kitchen. “We still have some bread left for toast, if you like.”
I followed him. “If you’d rather, I can get it myself. Sorry, you don’t have to wait on me.”
Thom shook his head and sighed, but he did not look annoyed. “No, it’s all right. I needed a break anyway. I’ve been up all night working on a couple of songs and it’s really . . . not going well. I could use some food.”
“Well, thank you. The coffee I had earlier is trying to eat through my stomach, I think.” In my unfocused memory of the previous evening, I could not fully tell yet if Thom liked me. Or was I just some girl his brother brought round, stealing the remainder of the bread?
“Too much fun last night?” He took four slices and plopped them in the toaster.
“I may have overextended myself, yes.” My gut made a hollow noise. “I wasn’t in top form this morning, but your brother was very nice to me.”
Thom nodded, and again, I wondered what he thought. We stood there in silence — Him staring at the toaster, me staring at him — and we waited for breakfast. He appeared to have changed clothes from the night prior, but I couldn’t be sure. His long fingers tapped the counter a couple of times before he pulled a jar of strawberry jam from the refrigerator and ripped two paper towels from the roll attached beneath the cupboard. Everything was so tidy.
“We’re out of butter, sorry,” he said.
“Oh, jam’s fine.” Ah, hungover small talk. “Hey, Ian invited me along to your rehearsal this afternoon, if that’s all right with you.”
The toast shot up with such a pronounced ding, I flinched. Thom picked up the four slices and laid two on each paper towel. “Oh . . . eh . . . it’s not very interesting, but it’s fine with me if you want to come.”
“I wanted to meet everyone.” Why I felt the need to clear it with him, I didn’t know. He took a clean knife from the dish rack and smeared each slice with the jam. He really did not have to wait on me. How long had Ian been in the shower?
“Mia will be by Dex’s later when she’s off work.” Thom motioned to the toast, waiting for me to pick.
I took the two slices closest to me. “Thanks.”
He placed his with one jam side atop the other, held them sandwiched and walked back to the sofa. “Sit where ever you want.”
I chose the worn green chair that faced him. Motioning towards the brown paper he had spread on the table between us, I asked, “Why butcher paper?”
“Simon works the meat counter at a Sainsbury’s. He nicked me an entire roll last Christmas.” A faint smile crossed his lips, and I pretended to know who Simon was. “Don’t think his boss was too happy about it, but they couldn’t pin it on him.”
Taking a bite of my toast, I continued to study the room. The walls were painted a surprisingly sunny shade of yellow, though the wall by the kitchen had nothing but white shelves packed with records. There had to be hundreds, pushed up against each other just so, each shelf flanked by pewter bookends. From a distance, the coloured spines formed a tall rectangle, an art piece for the room. Thom noticed me looking at them. “They’re mostly mine,” he said.
“Do you mind if I take a peek?” I noticed the jam sticking to my fingers. “Promise I won’t touch.”
“Go ahead.” Thom took a large bite and ate half a slice at once. He set aside the other half, turned back over on the second slice, and picked up his pen. The same frown at the paper returned, his obligation of breakfast fulfilled. I stood, still chewing, and thought I had better stop trying to make small talk until Ian finished showering.
The record collection appeared to have no particular order to it, other than having albums by the same artist grouped together. Certainly they did not follow the alphabet because Small Faces sat ahead of John Mayall, and it was not chronological because Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac came well before a Billie Holiday album. I saw the usual suspects — albums issued to anyone in the past twenty-five years, as a requirement for human existence — Let It Be, Revolver, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin I, II and III (two copies of that one, for some reason), Who’s Next, Exile on Main Street. The Jam made several appearances, as did probably every album from David Bowie and The Smiths. For all the easily recognizable names though, I did not know them all and I wondered when I’d get the chance to examine each faded sleeve. The last record on the bottom shelf was Concert For Bangladesh, sitting to the right of a battered copy of Blood on the Tracks .
Ian came out of the shower right as Thom tossed his pen across the table and sighed again. I swallowed my last bit of toast. “Feel better?” I said.
He nodded and stood behind the sofa. “Hey, did you sleep at all?”
Thom shook his head. “Mia did half past midnight, and I sort of lost track until she got up again after four.” He picked up the piece of butcher paper, folded it into quarters and set it in his guitar case that lay open on the wood floor. Then, he looked past his brother and made full eye contact with me for the first time. “I fixed Maryjane breakfast.”
I smiled. “And it was very, very tasty. Thank you.” I held up my crumpled paper towel as evidence. All cleaned up, Ian looked great, his wet hair combed away from his face and beared trimmed a bit. He wore glasses — rectangular metal frames that made him look older — and an England rugby jacket over a black T-shirt and jeans. When he went into the kitchen, I went with him, still wondering if I had anything interesting to say.
He made his own toast with the remaining heel of the bread, then tossed the empty wrapper into the bin and started water for tea. “Thom will need it,” he said in a way his brother might not hear. “He does this a lot. Awake for a few days, then asleep for all of one.”
Before long, we started walking and tried to beat the rain to Dex’s house. Ian explained that Dex’s lawyer wife, Judith, found other things to do when they overran the place, if she wasn’t working already. She and Dex had only married a year prior, and as long as she didn’t “stand in the doorway making faces,” he said, “she’s all right enough.” His hand kept brushing up against mine, but he seemed hesitant to grab hold of it again.
Thom just smoked, carried his guitar and didn’t say much. But then, Ian did enough talking for everyone and told me a bit about the bandmates I would meet. I learned that the bassist, Andrew, worked in a cafe, which was why by comparison the rest of them were so crap at making coffee. He brought a big thermos of it anytime they wanted it, whenever they needed a break from the alcohol. “I didn’t think your coffee was that bad, but maybe I wasn’t awake enough to notice,” I said. Ian laughed and his fingers grazed mine again.
“No, it’s horrible,” Thom said, “but he can’t botch boiling water, at least.”
Dex opened the door as the first drops of rain hit our heads. He motioned us inside, his eyes trying to decide if he should recognize me. His home looked like it had once been a storehouse of some sort, the space large and rectangular, with a loft-style room up a set of stairs. Some break, marrying a lawyer. I wondered how the other two did. Someone had to have the circumstances of the standard unsigned musician.
“Hey!” a voice called from above. We followed Dex upstairs, and I matched Simon and Andrew’s names to the faces I remembered.
“Everyone, this is Maryjane Cascade. We met her last night at Sam’s, but she saw us play there and loved it,” Ian said, surprising me by putting his hand to my back and moving me ahead of Thom and Dex to stand with him. “Maryjane, meet Simon Yates, our drummer. Andrew Smith there, of course on bass. And our host here, Dex Nelson.”
I gave a little wave and said to Dex, “Your house is lovely.”
“Thanks. My wife found it.” Dex smiled and held out his hand. He reminded me of a history teacher I’d once had, a quiet and reedy man called Mr. James, though Dex couldn’t have been any older than me. From what Ian had told me, I gathered that I might be closer to Dex and Thom’s age than his.
The two men sitting on the sofa stood and shook my hand as well. Simon offered a beer, but with my stomach only just settled, I declined. He had tied back the long hair I’d seen flying over his kit, and now I could get a good look at his face. He looked the exact opposite of boyish Andrew — all muscle, a strong nose and large mouth. The swirling block of tattooed ink extended past his shirt sleeves even before he held out his arm, three shades more tan than anyone else in the room. Andrew, skinny as ever, looked pale enough to see through.
“I hope you don’t mind me hanging around this afternoon,” I said.
“Ah, what’s one more body in this space?” Dex said.
Choosing the puffy chair closest to the stairs, I wanted to stay out of their way. Simon had set up his drums in the opposite corner, closest to the horizontal half-wall of the loft. Andrew’s bass laid nearby, and with the rest of the furniture and their gear, I could see why it did not occur to them to move more during gigs. Dex’s wife probably didn’t want a kit taking up space in the front room. Thom put his guitar case on the table. “I’ll take that can,” he said to Simon.
“So,” Andrew said to me, cracking open another, “you’re a fan, then?”
“I’ve only seen the one gig, but yeah. I had such . . . luck running into Ian and Thom last night. Mia too.” I wanted say how heart-stopping the music was. I wanted say how I did not know new music could do that to me anymore, and even though I’d only seen part of one gig — because I’d only seen part — nothing would make me happier than if they’d finish drinking and get playing.
Instead, Thom said, “And she agrees with me that the name Little Storm is shit.” He lit a cigarette. “I like her already.”
(subject to change, of course. I'd have my usual disclaimer of "This is very first draft," but it is in fact very third draft, and I keep poking at it. Not sure what came over me to post this, but there you go. Enjoy?)