This fall I wrote intertwined short stories Leaving (Chapter One and Chapter Two) and Absence (Chapter One and Chapter Two) that stand alone but together tell a fuller, richer story of an unraveling relationship. I followed up with an epilogue entitled Home, that was a Christmas gift of sorts for Felicia Denise, who felt that the stories needed some sort of resolution.
Rae and Jake were really got under my skin and their story inspired several of poems including After, Moment of Truth, The Affair, Rae’s Song, Remember ? and You. Ironically, what I originally set out to write was their back story but the more I fell into their world, the more I struggled with the back story. It was almost as if they were leaning over my shoulder saying, “No, that’s not quite how it happened.” Let’s hope I finally got the story right.
It had been a long day. Usually, she didn’t have nine clients scheduled on Fridays but there had been two reschedules and one request for an emergency appointment before a DHS status hearing on Tuesday morning that she just couldn’t say no to. It was already much later than she had meant to leave but she had just—finally– finished her last case note of the week. She glanced at the time on her desktop computer—already almost 8:30 pm and she was supposed to have been at Toni and Ivan’s almost 90 minutes ago. As the Uber driver was due in five minutes, she quickly turned off her computer, gathered up her stuff and headed to the front entrance after a quick stop in the record room to drop off the client charts that had piled up on her desk during the day. The Uber was pulling up just as she made it to the front door. She dashed out into the dark, rainy night and slipped quickly into the car.
It hadn’t just been a long day, it had been a long week. What she really wanted to do was head back to her apartment, shower, change into sweats, eat a bagel and spend the rest of her night alone in her room working on the song that had been kicking around in her head all week. But she had promised Toni that she would come tonight for moral support, so here she was paying for the Uber to Toni and Ivan’s place, in the same clothes she had had on since 6:30 this morning, probably looking as tired as she felt. She had promised to help out at the party Toni and Ivan had been persuaded to host tonight to introduce rising singer-songwriter Jonathan Ryan to some of the movers and shakers in the Philadelphia music scene.
She had heard some of Jonathan Ryan’s music and was suitably impressed but still couldn’t quite figure out how it ended up falling to Toni and Ivan to host this party. Toni was an emerging fashion designer who had actually won last season’s Project Runway competition and Ivan’s day job was as a researcher at Penn. He was also a professional musician and she had a vague sense that Jonathan Ryan was a friend of a friend of Ivan’s.
It was after 9:00 pm when she finally arrived at Toni and Ivan’s brightly lit rowhome. She paid the driver and used her spare key to let herself in through the back door so she could quietly leave her belongings in the guest room before joining the party. She quickly ditched her stuff and made her way through the kitchen—which looked like a battle had been waged in it between the pots, pans and various sauces with no clear winner declared- before stopping in the doorway into the dining room to survey the scene. The party was certainly hopping. She didn’t see anyone she recognized in the dining room where small groups were deep in conversation. It looked like the majority of the guests and the action was happening in the living room and downstairs in the music room.
She was starving. She made her way to the food on the dining room table and was cautiously contemplating her options when Toni popped up next to her elbow. “Rae, you’re finally here! I was worried that you weren’t going to come. It is a madhouse in here! Let me throw some food on your plate.”
Toni took the plate out of her hand and confidently started to load it up with the item’s Toni knew were vegetarian. Toni returned the plate to her friend. “I should get back in there. I hid a piece of cake for you in the fridge. Let me flag down Viv and Javier— they were just looking for you. Before Rae could respond, Toni was in the archway into the living room frantically waving her arm. Toni was barely 5 feet tall and had to jump up and down a few times before Rae saw Vivian and Javier making their way to her. She hugged and kissed both of them while carefully trying not to spill her plate of food and the three of them found a mostly unoccupied corner of the dining room to stand and catch up while Rae gratefully ate dinner.
Javier and Viv caught her up on who was in attendance and some of the conversations they had gotten into with the other guests. Javier was a professional musician and Viv a promising photographer and they had both been very excited about the opportunity to network tonight. Viv and Javier- a strikingly attractive couple- had fielded the usual offers for modeling gigs as well as offers of a more carnal nature, but it sounded like overall it had been a productive evening professionally for both of them. Once she had eaten enough that she was no longer ravenous, Rae asked what they had thought of the guest of honor, whom she had not yet spotted in the crowd.
“He seems nice enough. Told us that his friends call him Jake, not Jonathan,” Viv said shrugging her shoulders. “Good looking. Shorter than I expected. Excellent British accent. Very, very pale and pretty damn quiet for a guest of honor.”
Javier chimed in, “I overheard him telling someone—Bob Dorsey I think– that he was very tired and feeling a bit under the weather.” Vivian went on to tell her about a very funny encounter she and Javier had had themselves with Bob Dorsey and the topic of Jonathan Ryan was dropped.
After she was done eating, Javier and Viv dragged Rae into the very crowded living room to mix and mingle. For the most part, the other guests glazed over as soon as they were introduced to Rae as they realized that she was not important enough to talk to. Rae was shocked when she was introduced to Gavin Arch and he actually knew who she was and proceeded to tell that he had hoped he would get a chance to talk to her tonight. It turned out that Gavin was friends with Earl White, the security guard who worked at the same children’s service agency that Rae did and had tagged along one evening when Earl went to see Rae perform at an open mic night. It was a little known fact at the agency that Earl was a long-time blues musician who had performed with some of the greats and still jammed on a regular basis with a band in the local club scene.
Earl was the only person Rae worked with who knew that she was an aspiring musician. He had become curious when she had asked if she could lock her guitar in the security office while she saw clients a couple of times because there was no safe place to store it in the outpatient clinic. She and Earl had gradually struck up a friendship based on their shared love of music, talking after hours at the security desk about what the Philly music scene at been like in the 80’s and 90’s and eventually going out to listen to each other perform. Rae considered Earl good people as well as a generous mentor and friend to Rae despite their almost 30 year age difference.
It turned out that Gavin had been really struck by Rae’s performance at the open mic night and had continued to ruminate over whether they might have the right musical chemistry and synergy to consider a formal partnership. Earl had offered to introduce them but Gavin heard a rumor that she might be here tonight and had impulsively decided to come along with a friend who was on the VIP guest list. Rae was flattered and intrigued. Gavin had a good reputation locally as a talented, hardworking professional and overall nice guy. He had been playing with a band that had released a critically acclaimed album on a major label but the band, and their record deal, had imploded when the lead singer ended up in rehab for the second time after a string of tabloid headlines. Gavin was starting over and looking for something different. They ended up exchanging cell numbers and email addresses and made tentative plans to meet the following week at Earl’s with their guitars to see if Gavin’s instincts about this had been good.
Rae had lost track of her friends by the time Gavin excused himself and it was now close to midnight. She could hear exuberant live music coming from the basement music room. She decided to start picking up the abandoned plates, eating utensils, wine glasses and beer bottles that were littering the living room. She made a couple of trips back and forth before deciding that she should get serious about starting the dishes so that she, Toni and Ivan didn’t need to wake up to a complete disaster.
Filling up the dishpan with hot, sudsy water convinced her that she should dart quickly into the bathroom before getting to work. She quickly used the tiny half-bathroom off the kitchen. Just as she starting to let herself out of the bathroom, a man with bright red hair pushed his way into the bathroom, inadvertently knocking her backwards. He had clearly been trying to make it to the toilet before getting violently ill all over himself, the bathroom floor and Rae in the cramped space. She was trapped in the corner and couldn’t even get out of the way before the young man was struck with another bout of nausea and was ill a second time all over the both of them. The man, now on his knees on the floor, looked up at her apologetically and mumbled “So sorry” before successfully dragging himself over to the toilet bowl to be sick for a third time.
It took a moment for Rae to process that guest of honor Jonathan “Jake” Ryan had just been sick all over her brand new Doc Martens and her best black work pants. Her first thought was that he had had too much to drink but his pallor and sweaty skin made her suspect illness. She sighed internally and wondered at her karma that the closest she had gotten all night to one of the hottest new talents in music was to have him be violently and copiously sick all over her.