Friday, May 15, 2009

Only My Heart Calling

This is the prequel to Fiction Friday's Summer Girl.

Rob stared at the photo in his hand, dogged eared and soft with age. He remembered the day they got together infront of the brick wall. Their friend Gordie with his camera and the black and white film they'd all chipped in for.

Four faces staring back at him. Four faces in various guises of cool, detached, brooding and goofing off. That was the four of them then. Before it all fell apart. Back in the days when they were going to be rich, famous, in the top 40 and together forever.

He shoved it into his back pocket and knocked on the door. When no one answered he knocked again. Behind the sage green door he could hear the mumble of Julia’s voice. He assumed it was Julia's voice. “Julia, it’s me Rob. I know you’re in there.”
He waited a few minutes and tried again.
“C’mon Julez, open up … please.”

The guitar felt like a lead weight in his hand. Coming down the hallway didn’t seem as good an idea as it did half an hour ago.
“Go away!”

His knocking became more urgent. “Don’t be like that Julez.
The door opened a crack. Instead of looking at him, she looked down on the floor and frowned when she saw the guitar.
“I’m not up for a sing along. Go to bed.”

Rob forced his foot between the door and the jamb.
“Get your foot out or I’ll go and call security.”
“Can’t I come in for a few minutes and talk.”
“There’s plenty of time to talk tomorrow. You’re drunk. Go to bed.”
"You think I'd have to be drunk to do this?"

Rob threw his weight against the door catching Julia off guard and took a couple of steps into her room. The first thing he saw was the bottle of gin.
“You brought gin with you?” Rob glared at her.
“It’s not what you think.”

Her face was red but her eyes sad. The flash of anger gone leaving a wash of melancholy in it’s wake.

Rob leant the guitar against the wall and snatched up the bottle of gin, screwing the lid off as he strode to the bathroom and poured it down the shiny stainless steel plug hole. He thought about the first time he’d done it to Julia – her screaming like a banshee, lashing out at him with her finger nails and biting him. He knew she was an alcoholic even back then. He thought she would have got herself sorted out by now.

This time she leant against the door frame watching him, resigned and tired – a once graceful yacht with the wind taken from its sails. Rob held the empty bottle over the sink longer than necessary, rescrewed the metal lid on and handed it back to her.

“As I said, it’s not what you think.” She dropped it in the bin and folded her arms. “I’ve been on the wagon for ten years now. I was on the phone to my sponsor Marty while we were banging on the door to get in. It was a dumb thing to buy coming in through customs. I just thought … So you got in.” She smiled at him, the first smile he’d seen in an eternity. “What do you want to talk about at midnight?”

Rob was silent. He didn’t really want to talk. He wanted to stare at her face – look for the familiar contours and quirks – the face he once knew like the back of his hand – which like the back of his hand was now older, wrinkled. The youthful glow gone and a hard determination left in its place.

He had sat in his room a few doors up and remember what it had been like once to hold her in his arms, their naked bodies pressed together. His finger winding the russet strands of her hair. Remembering the way she would look at him when she pulled her sunglasses down on her nose, eyes twinkling. The way she looked in his PJ top, her long legs gorgeous beneath the striped flannelette. But he couldn’t tell her that.

“You brought your guitar. You planning on serenading me?”
“I never serenaded you. It was more like you caught me in the allure of your voice. Like a siren.”
“Poetic Rob.”
“What do you think a song writer is …. Jim Morrison was a poet first and foremost in his mind.”
“And dead now.”
“He was dead when you worshipped him.”
“You grow up. You live and learn.”

The room was chilly. Even though it was June, Julia had the air conditioning cranked, pumping out frigid air.

They stood staring at each other, Rob trying to work out where the hell the girl he had once loved had gone. Julia trying to fight the old pull towards him. She understood now why she had exiled herself on the other side of the world. Desire. Guilt. Regret.

She shouldn’t have come. But she didn't have a choice.

“I’m sorry for being snarky.” She unfolded her arms and walked across to where the guitar hung out by the door – like a groupie, watching and waiting. “Play me a song. You could always put me in the right mood with your guitar.”

Rob took it reluctantly now, and sat in the door way of the bathroom, his back braced against the frame. He remembered the moods he could get Julia into with his guitar, but he hadn’t bashed down her door to seduce her.

She sat across from him, sitting as she had always done, kneeling with her feet neatly tucked under the bum. He picked at the strings. He knew what he wanted to play, what he wanted to hear her sing. But now sitting with her across from him, her face unreadable he wasn’t sure he had the guts. It seemed stupid, petty - so long ago.

Twenty years ago, after she’d slept with Zac she had just disappeared from his life. Cleaning out the meagre savings she had, boarding a plane to London. No note, no good-byes. No nothing. Then a message a month ago from Jason saying UQ were holding the 20 year anniversary of their Battle of the Bands – wouldn’t it be fun to all get back together a play again.

Maybe for Jason, thought Rob who had always just wanted to be up on stage with legions of nubile girls adoring him and inviting him back to their place. After the band busted up Jason had tried stand up comedy – he’d gone to his first couple of open mics but couldn’t bear any more. Jason had no sense of keeping face and Rob could only cringe so much on his behalf. Then he’d tried acting – unsuccessfully so and finally gave in, after dropping out of uni, tried carpentry and ended up as an agent. He's seen his name occassionally. It would be impossible not to be owning the biggest digital indie music house. The Australian music industry wasn't that big.

It wasn’t Jason’s harebrained enthusiasm for the band’s reunion – but Jason’s assurance that Julia was flying back home from London to play with them again. And Zac.

As Rob’s mind wandered, his fingers picked out the tune they had come to play and when he looked up, he could see the tears, cold and wet on Julia’s face. He pushed the guitar aside and crawled across, taking her in his arms.

“I’m sorry Julia. I …”
She cried and Rob held her tightly until the shudders died down and all that was left was his damp shirt and a few sniffs. She looked up at him through her puffy eyes and asked, “I never understood why the fascination with Margaret Urlich. Seems so – so Un-Cureish.”

Rob laughed and squeezed her tight.
“It’s not Urlich – it’s the song. It was the first thing I ever heard you singing. Up on the stage in the refect. You must have been a first year.”
“Seems a million years ago but somehow appropriate now." She wiped a finger under her nose. "My heart’s been calling to you for twenty years but I’ve never been brave enough to come back and face you. That night with Zac…”
“That night with Zac was twenty years ago. Let’s just be happy in the here and now.”

“Twenty years in London seems like penance enough.”

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