Broken things and when not to fix them
Fourteen hours after his brother left, Nate stepped under the stairs to the second floor and growled into the phone, "Where the hell are you? Is the car okay?"
It was cooler in the corner, stone walls blocking some of the late summer heat and the stairwell chimney itself pulling hot air up into the second floor where it sat down and waited to suffocate whoever went up there. Nate struck back by cranking the air conditioner until the old house shook, so now everyone came wearing sweaters and bitching about it. He tried to have it both ways - freeze the place then open the windows on the north channel to let the temp settle into normal. Sometimes it worked. Tonight seemed hopeful.
The connection faltered. "Eric!" he shouted. "What's going on?"
Something metallic clunked on something else. A car engine sputtered, ground, sputtered out. A woman yelled "I have to go to the bathroom". Nate thought he heard harbor noise on top of all that.
"I'm putting gas in the car," his brother yelled back at him. "I'm in South Beach at the gas station right outside the harbor. The car's fine. There had better be beer when I get back."
Calmer since the car was okay and that was the big thing, Nate relaxed his death grip on the phone. Eric was in South Beach. South Beach was not on any kind of direct route back from Sandy Point. Eric should not be in South Beach. "What're you doing in South Beach?"
"Delivering our sister to her boyfriend." The car door slammed. It was quieter. Eric must have put up the roof which meant it was hot as hell there, too. "Beer. No people, just beer. Clear out all the people okay?"
If he'd been driving Rayne around all day in the heat he would probably want to sit in a dark room by himself and drink beer, too. He started to say goodbye and all right when he realized Eric had hung on up him. Eric did that sometimes which was fine. It was the list of things that didn't bother him.
Nate drew a breath, uneasy, checked his cell once more, then closed it and took a step out of the dim stairwell and into the house.
Devlin had been lurking at a discrete distance, waiting until Nate finished the call. "You know this was supposed to be helpful - I even checked with my dad to see if he knew anybody we skipped. I think he mentioned it to Mom too. It's going to be Woody so there's not much point in going through the list. If you want us to clear out, just say the word."
Dev's parents had spent almost a year living in a flat with Cooper Stanfield but it wasn't his dad that his mother had been sleeping with. That whole deal came apart and when it came back together again, Dev's parents were a pair and his father had moved on. The three legged relationship between his father and Dev's mother and his own mother had been good at first. They remained good with his dad and Dev's mom. Not so much with his mother, and she was the one in the right. Nate tried very hard to keep everything separate, not let Dev know what he knew, not hurt his mother any more than she'd already been hurt, keep a lid on the gossip, and any time the parental situation came up, he jumped a little mentally.
He did now. The whole 'stray drummer' puzzle had gotten out of hand though, and Dev's parents weren't involved, so he put his unease aside.
Nate briefly clapped Dev on the shoulder and motioned toward the table. "No it's okay man, it's okay. I'll kick everyone out in an hour and it'll be good."
"Don't get your hopes up. It won't take an hour. Eva put everybody she could come up in a spreadsheet but there's not anything worth talking about. I still think either Eric or your Dad was putting you on. It's the guy from Brew."
He supposed Eva was now in the pre-girlfriend stage even though she'd been on campus only about a week. He didn't know anything about her except she was really really blonde. "My dad should have said what he meant instead of playing games but that's my dad. Give me a sec."
He might need more than one because Miranda.
"That was Eric? Did he say anything about Rayne?"
Randi hadn't been able to get through to Rayne, not today, not yesterday, and the day before that his sister said she was tired or something. She'd been over here off and on all day trying to find out what was going on. He could understand that but he didn't know what was going on. Until now he didn't have anything at all to tell her. Now he did. Sorta.
"Rayne's fine. Eric had to make sure she got back to, you know, Duff's place, where she's staying. But she's fine. The car's fine too. They're all fine."
"Why did Eric drive back with her to South Beach? That wasn't in the plan. He didn't say why?"
"I don't know. Maybe there's something wrong with her car."
She was quiet for a few seconds. She looked pretty - well she always looked pretty - but tired. "I'm going to come back when Eric gets here and ask him. Something has to be wrong for Rayne to ask Eric to drive that far out of his way. She wouldn't do that."
Exasperated, Nate shook his head. "No Randi, let him alone tonight okay? Rayne's all right. You can ask him tomorrow."
She didn't press it. Nate thought she could have gone either way - insisting she'd come back tonight or dropping it. She liked Eric more than she liked him. She wouldn't bug Eric.
Alice was moving between beer and coke, drinking both of them, eating the chicken fried rice and what was left of the spring rolls. Dev and Eva laughed about something they were watching then tabbed away from it and pulled up the mystery drummer data.
She had a whole spreadsheet with every drummer available dead or alive or zombified on the face of the earth and all the planets in the visible - make that also the invisible - universe. She had them all mixed up. She didn't know one damned thing about music or drummers.
His attention wandered. He wondered if it was even worth the trouble looking for a drummer since as soon as he found one, someone else would probably quit.
"He moved away last week," Alice pointed out, "that one, Aaron. They have a new baby. Cross him off. I don't think that leaves more than a handful of even remote possibles."
Dev leaned back, finished his Heineken, and added, "Nate can go through them later. I've been out of that whole business for a couple of years now, don't know who anybody is anymore."
Eva tapped the keyboard gently. "Well I guess that leaves Woody at the top of the list like we said when we started. I do have one more I think. Stevie Holloway. Is she still around? I never heard of her but she came up on a list I found. It's funny because of the name. I was going to mention it to you Dev but didn't have time before we got here."
It was like an evil curse thrown by a witch with a mean sense of humor. Get more than three people in a room and talk about bands and up comes one of Cooper Stanfield's girlfriends.
He'd been 15 when he saw his dad and Stevie Holloway together in the men's room at that photo shoot. It was one of those things you see that you know you're never going to unsee no matter what kind of mental bleach you use. At the time he just froze. At the time he would have thrown any bleach he had at hand at his father anyway.
He put one hand on the table, steadied himself and demanded, "What's the matter with you? Don't you know who Stevie is?"
The three of them stopped and stared at him. Eva didn't move.
"I said don't you know who she is?! It's bad enough that fucking Woody is at the top of the list, but there's no way Stevie should be on it at all."
Dev, looking stunned and then angry, glared at him then turned his attention to his girlfriend. "Nate means that Stevie Holloway is my mother. She might help out with a benefit but she's not going to join Nate's band." He glanced up at Nate and then back at Eva. "Nate's COLLEGE band."
Eva pulled back from the computer and glanced around nervously. "Oh. I didn't know she was your mother. I didn't know Stevie was that old so I didn't make the connection. I should have asked I'm sorry."
Nate tightened his grip on the table's edge, shaken. Cut it out, he told himself. Don't start something by acting weird. Let it go. "Yeah okay no big deal. You know what, I think we're done. I'm going to have to kick everyone out early tonight - Eric wants space to decompress."
They got up and pushed the chairs around. Eva silently pocketed her flash drive. Dev confronted him - he was pissed and Nate couldn't really blame him since he'd jumped all over his girlfriend for what looked like no good reason. It wasn't a good reason; he'd hurt her feelings and probably scared her because she mentioned one of his dad's women. "Okay," Dev told him in a short, flat voice. "You can figure it out yourself from here. There's no mystery. Your dad was yanking your chain."
Nate stood aside. "Yeah you're probably right. Thanks anyway. And Eva, I really appreciate the time you took, and there's some possibilities in there, not just Woody. Sorry I kinda yelled, I'm having a bad day I guess."
Eva smiled again and slid her arm around Dev's waist as he clasped hers. "That's okay. It was fun to do so don't worry about it."
Dev didn't give him that much. "Later."
He'd seriously messed that up without meaning to and after everybody here had taken the whole day to try to help him. Maybe he could make it up to both of them somehow, tomorrow, or the next day, when he had time.
"Yeah I was out of line, Allie. I didn't mean to scare her. Just a lot of family shit going on, that's all."
She searched his face. "Nate, you want me to stay tonight? You're wound really tight. Is it about your sister?"
Some of his dad's old history with Stevie Holloway served as a useful warning: get involved with someone in your band, you'll end up without the girl or the band. Alice was good for him, quiet in a calm sort of way and not as quick as most people to whack him when he made a mistake, not as quick as Linnet. Nate was reluctant to risk losing her or the band if she left or both of them. He was probably going to lose the band anyway, so he paused, tempted. No, bad idea, not with Eric tearing back from a day with Rayne.
He leaned forward, almost touching her forehead with his. "No, not tonight. I need to deal with Eric. I'll call you tomorrow okay? You'll wait for me right?"
She smiled. "I will."
Easing his cell out of his pocket in case Eric called again, Nate set it down carefully on the steps next to him. He ran his fingers across the cracked screen to make sure it hadn't cracked even more. He always broke things. Keyboards. Guitars. Stuff in the kitchen. He'd started trying to watch himself around fragile stuff but somehow a lot of things still broke. Clumsy or careless, he wasn't sure and it probably didn't matter which since either way, he broke things. He was breaking his band, too.
And there, finally, was his brother.
"Everybody gone?" he asked. "No party inside?"
His brother stood up, stretched his shoulders and walked away from the car. "I'm good, just wiped. and I'm tired, just want to crash."
That was it? "So what happened? Why'd you escort Rayne back to South Beach?
"I need a beer before I get into it but she ran off to Jimmy's house and had her expected breakdown. Get this though, Gemma Wilson was there and Rayne got into some kind of fight with her."
They headed toward the front door, climbing the steps side by side the way they'd done since they were little kids who matched footsteps on the stairs at home. It became a habit.
It was kind of a weird coincidence, two of his father's girlfriends coming up the same night, but Gemma wasn't Stevie. Whatever went down between Cooper and Gemma didn't seem to last long and somebody else was the father of her kid. As suspicious as he was, Nate didn't believe there was anything between them now, if there ever had been. "Why? What were they arguing about?"
"I don't know. Maybe Jimmy, maybe Dad, maybe they just don't like each other. Rayne wouldn't say."
The door swung shut behind them and Eric went to the fridge, grabbed a beer and popped it open immediately. "So what happened about the drummer? It's still Woody, isn't it?
"It's a funeral thing Nate. Go and bring some flowers. Maybe somebody will yell pick me pick me and there's your drummer. I don't know what to tell you."
He wondered if he should mention Stevie and decided there was no reason not to. Eric was the only person he'd ever told but he had told him, and right now he wanted to tell someone if only to help get it out of his head. "Dev's girlfriend suggested Stevie, if you can believe it."
Eric pulled out a beer and slammed the fridge door. "I think they've been dating about a week, Nate, and she's a biologist. She didn't know." He paused and asked,"You didn't yell at Eva did you?"
"I guess I kinda did. I apologized but Dev was pissed."
"Uh huh. I'd stay away from him for a while if I were you."
They sat down in the corner by the window and the tv. Eric drank his beer. Nate shifted on the couch, edgy and uneasy. "That's all that happened? Rayne went to Jimmy's place and got upset and then had an argument with Gemma? You had to follow her back because of that?"
Eric drew a long breath, looked out the window, then shook his head and said, "You don't get it, Nate. She was crying. She could barely stand. I wasn't sure she was going to be able to drive back." He paused and added quietly, "Jimmy's sister Remy was there and she was able to calm her down. Remy came a long way and she's got a lot to deal with, it's too bad she had to walk into Rayne's meltdown."
All right, that clarified pretty much nothing but it fit his sister's general reaction to everything. Cry over it or annihilate it. Or get drunk and contemplate one of the above. Even if it was about Gemma and their father, at this point it didn't matter and he didn't care. The Stevie thing shouldn't have hit him so hard since it wasn't new either - maybe it was just the surprise.
Eric took another long gulp of Guinness and leaned back and very calmly and without looking at him said, "I'm going to take a break. I''m going to Jimmy's funeral on Saturday then I'll find a place to stay. If you want to know more about why Rayne got sideways with Gemma, you'll have to ask her yourself. I'm not going to be in the middle of this anymore."
Cautiously, wondering if something much worse than Eric was telling him had actually happened, or if he'd done something bad enough this time to chase him away, Nate asked, "You mean take time off like a vacation? The semester's just starting, the first classes start next week."
Eric set the empty beer can down on the table and shook his head. "I'm dropping out. I don't want to do this right now, none of it, not the classes or the family or anything related to them. I want to get away from all of it, everything. There's no problem, we're okay, I want to do something else, that's all."
Eric got up, walked across the room and started on up the stairs, taking them two at a time now, looking like that was it, he'd explained it all and there wasn't anything more. "So okay, you're going to take a break, not for any particular reason, just a break. Not related to this trip with Rayne and the Gemma woman, just out of the blue."
"That's right. It'll be all okay Nate. I don't know where I'm going or when I'm coming back but it'll be all right. If I need help, you'll be the one I'll call."
Stunned, confused, struggling with guilt - he'd been an ass, he'd always bullied Eric, he'd ruined his twin's life when he jabbed that stick in his ear when they were six years old, he shouldn't have pressured him to do that paper on art - Nate watched him go up and scratched around in what was left of his brain, probably cracked like everything else, and came up with the only motivation he really understood. "Is this about a girl?"
"You would come up with that." Eric glanced down then kept on going. "No, not yet."
The guitar case he'd propped against the wall was cracked down the back and the hinges were barely hanging in there. He felt like shit. He could call Alice, go on over, spend one great night doing something other than try to keep the band from cracking up too.
It wasn't worth it. It was a lot easier to find a woman than it was to find a bass player.
He had to look for the number. It rang and rang and he was ready to give up on that too until somebody picked it up. It wasn't going to do any good but it wasn't like he was in a hurry to go somewhere tonight. "Hey Shooter, don't know if you remember me from that time last summer when I was over in Millwood at my grandparents place, Nate Stanfield...yeah, okay, my dad, sure you would...Look, about that concert for Jimmy, can I ask you something?"