Author's Note: This is by far my favorite chapter that I've written. I've been wanting to write it for a while. Credit to Elliott Smith for the beautiful song
"Say Yes." I highly recommend listening to it, as it was the inspiration for half this story.
"What was that all about?" Lucas asked as we climbed down the stairs to the ground floor.
I shook my head. "Just…an ex who has a hard time letting go," I lied. "Look, I'd really appreciate it if we could pretend that never happened?"
Lucas looked at me, perplexed. His arm was still around my shoulder, and I found the weight of it irritating. "Sure," he said finally. "Whatever."
We walked in silence out of my building.
"So," I said finally, just to break the silence. "Where are we going tonight?"
Lucas's hand squeezed my bare shoulder. "A place I think you'll really like. It's a club called the Serium. You ever been there?"
I looked at him, wondering if he was joking. "We met there," I reminded him at last.
"Oh yeah!" He laughed. "I totally forgot. Well anyway, tonight is an Open Mic night. Usually the acts are pretty shitty, you know, posers trying to be artistic or whatever, but sometimes there's some good stuff in there. And anyway, we can always make fun of the shitty ones." He grinned at me, but I felt nauseated.
The chances of Garth being there to do Open Mic night were probably pretty slim. Probably. But nevertheless, I could feel that creeping sense of anxiety as Lucas led me closer and closer to the Serium. By the time we got there, I was nearly hyperventilating. Not that Lucas seemed to notice.
Or perhaps he noticed that something was a little off, because he immediately bought me a strong drink (Long Island Ice Tea, of course) and sat me down at a table near the stage. Either he was concerned, or he just wanted to get me drunk. I honestly didn't care, and downed the drink easily.
The first few people up were the same pretentious trying-to-be-artsy types I had seen on my first visit to the Serium. There was one guy who did an ironic non-ironic reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a girl who sang a pretty good rendition of Cat Power's "The Greatest," and a duo act of musical comedians. On another night, it would have been enough to keep me entertained and in a good mood, but tonight I was plagued by thoughts about Garth.
Lucas asked me a couple of times how I was doing and what I thought of the talent up there, but I only managed short, non-committal replies. Eventually he seemed to get rather fed up with me and stopped asking all together. I guess he realized we would not be having sex.
"I'm gonna go get another drink," he said. "Want one?"
"I'm okay," I said, though that was so far from the truth.
Lucas disappeared through the crowd toward the bar and I sat alone, hands folded on the table in front of me, listening to some girl play the ukulele and sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.
"Put your hands together for Talia," the emcee said as the girl left the stage. "And please welcome Garth!"
My head shot up, my sight zeroing in on Garth who was on stage, getting situated on the stool and rearranging his guitar in his hands. The emcee asked him something and Garth responded. He hadn't looked out to the audience yet. Hadn't seen me. I could still escape.
But I was transfixed. The longing I had felt for Garth these past three weeks increased as I watched him readjust the microphone to suit his height. Then he looked out at the audience.
"This is a song," he said, leaning into the microphone. "Written by the great Elliot Smith."
He cleared his throat and strummed the first few chords. As he leaned down into the mic to sing the first lines, my breath caught in my throat.
"I'm in love with the world through the eyes of a girl
Who's still around the morning after
We broke up a month ago and I grew up I didn't know
I'd be around the morning after."
I felt Garth's eyes on me as he sang—to me, for me. I was suddenly taken back to that night in Garth's room, when he had stopped us from going too far, from spinning out of control. If only we had known then.
"It's always been wait and see
A happy day and then you pay
And feel like shit the morning after
But now I feel changed around and instead falling down
I'm standing up the morning after."
Tears came, unbidden, to me eyes as I listened to his voice glide smoothly over the lyrics of the song. The song that now, in this context, meant so much to me, to us.
"Situations get fucked up and turned around sooner or later
And I could be another fool or an exception to the rule
You tell me the morning after
Crooked spin can't come to rest
I'm damaged bad at best
She'll decide what she wants
I'll probably be the last to know
No one says until it shows and you see how it is
They want you or they don't
I got up. It was too hard. I couldn't hear the rest. This song—this fucking song taunted me, Garth's voice a jarring reminder of what I wanted desperately but couldn't have.
"Woah, where are you going?" Lucas's voice washed over me, a stark contrast to the music.
"I'm—" I took a breath. "Let's get out of here. Now. Please."
Lucas looked bewildered—a theme tonight—but he complied. I could tell he thought he still had a chance of getting lucky. I didn't care. I was leaving this place, with or without him. I could always ditch him later. The important thing was to get out of there before the song finished and the world came crashing down on me.
I hurried Lucas to the exit, weaving through throngs of hipsters and indie kids, until finally I saw the door. I pulled Lucas through, but not before I heard the last chords of the song.
"I'm in love with the world through the eyes of a girl
Who's still around the morning after."
It had been a long night. After leaving the Serium, Lucas had picked up on how freaked I seemed and insisted I come back to his apartment with him. I refused, vehemently, and he then suggested we get coffee.
I acquiesced, if only because I had a pounding headache and coffee sounded like as good a cure as any. We stopped off at a local café (Starbucks being too mainstream for Lucas) and I ordered a huge mug of coffee. Lucas chattered on and on about various, obscure bands and some book which was apparently comprised entirely of footnotes with no main text. Finally I managed to extricate myself from the conversation and walk myself home. Lucas protested, asserting his manly duty to protect me in the face of nightwalkers. Personally, I thought I had a better chance of taking on a rowdy hobo than Lucas, but I let him walk me home if only because I was too tired to argue with him.
"This is me," I said as we reached my building.
Lucas stood there, staring at me expectantly like I was supposed to invite him up or something.
"I had fun," I said shortly. "See you around."
I didn't even attempt an awkward post-date hug, choosing instead to turn around swiftly and leave him there as I climbed the three flights of stairs to my room with Garth's song still ringing in my ears. Say Yes.
I finally reached my door and stumbled inside. The first thing I noticed was that someone was in there, and it wasn't Evan.
"What are you doing here?" I blurted, as Garth got up off my desk chair. He looked like he had been dozing there.
"Meredith," he said bracingly.
I kept my hand on the doorknob, twisting it anxiously. "Why are you here?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he asked, his voice tired.
"Garth." I was in no mood for games.
"I played that song for you," he said.
"You know that. You know it was for you."
"Please just…don't, Garth," I said.
"What do you want me to do? I told you, I tried leaving you alone Meredith, I really did, but I've been going crazy these past few weeks. I needed to see you," he said.
"Bullshit, Garth," I said furiously. "You didn't need to see me, you just wanted to fuck me again."
Garth looked at me as though I'd slapped him. It wouldn't be the first time.
"All of this—showing up here before my date, playing that fucking song, coming back—it's just a stupid game to you Garth. Well I'm not playing," I said. "I mean—God! Even telling me that you went to your father's grave, that was just a way to get me to fall back into bed with you. I told you, I'm done. Find some other girl to torment, okay?"
"That's not what this is," Garth insisted. "I swear. I wouldn't do that to you, Meredith. This means something to me—you mean something to me."
"I don't believe you."
"Then how can I convince you?" he said desperately.
"You can't," I said. "Give up, okay? Just give up."
"I can't do that."
"Yes," I said forcefully. "You can."
Garth took two determined steps toward me, and I felt my resolve weaken. But then he brushed past me and made to go out the door.
"You know, I've never done this before," he said, his back to me as he faced out the hall.
"Had my heart broken."
Before I knew what was happening, I was slamming the door on him. But he caught it easily and turned around to face me.
"That's not fair, Garth," I said, tears streaking down my cheeks. "You broke mine first."
Garth grimaced, his eyes shot with pain. There was a tenderness there I hadn't seen before. "Let me fix it," he said at last. "Let me unbreak it. Give me another chance."
I shook my head. I was crying too hard to answer.
He drew closer, hovering above me. "That night meant something to me. That's why I sang that song tonight. Meredith. It meant something. And I was stupid, I ran but…I never went anywhere. Not really." He drew closer. "And I'm not going anywhere."
I looked at him. He wasn't giving up, and I only had one card left to play. One thing that, I hoped, would end this stupid charade. "I love you."
I expected him to flinch. To break eye contact. To run—again, away from me and my complicated feelings. He didn't.
"Didn't you listen to the song?" he asked, tracing a strand of my hair down my cheek with his finger. "I'm damaged, a fool, but goddamnit Meredith—I love you too."
I looked up at him, trembling. I wiped my eyes, for what little good it did me. I don't know what happened but something—something changed between us. I saw everything he had said for what it was—the truth. I'd been so unwilling to see it before.
"So…what do we do?" I asked, keeping my eyes on his.
He smiled—the first I'd seen in weeks. "We say yes."
And then he was kissing me—or I was kissing him, it was hard to tell, in retrospect, who had moved first. All that mattered was us. Tangled, clumsy, laughing, intense, we made love. That's what it was. Love.
I fell asleep beside him, his arms around me, his breath in my hair. And when I woke up, he was still there.
End Note: I will probably be posting an as of yet unwritten final chapter in the near future. Stay tuned my lovely readers! And review!