not much of a rewrite here – I must have been more coherent while cranking out the first draft. takes us a little further into Paul’s makeup – hopefully makes him more ‘real’ to the reader…
5 ~ The Price of a Song ~
It took a few more weeks before Saturdays at the club became a natural part of my week. I looked forward to the time with Jared, but it was the work out and swim time that truly began the trek toward ‘normality’ for me. My best friend had a sense of humor that shone like a beacon through the fog of my life, lifting my spirits and guiding me to safe harbor through the shoals of isolation I had surrounded myself with. So when the phone rang one Friday evening in late April, I figured he was simply he was checking in before our normal Saturday morning meet. Instead, he through a curve ball I was not expecting.
“Hey man, what are you up to?”
“Not much, kicking back. This week has been hell. But I’ll be ready in the morning.”
“Great, but I was thinking more of tonight.”
“Jazz program at the club. Harris is in town.”
Michael Harris was an incredible jazz trumpet player. He also happened to be a winger on our rugby team back in college. The man had incredible speed and it only took one connection during practice for me to be thankful I didn’t have to oppose him on the field. Like a locomotive brick wall, if Michael ended up with the ball you could be sure it would be moving a good distance across the field. All that and a gift with the horn that could still give me goosebumps.
“It would be good to see Mike again…” I started.
“Then you’ll come. Don’t say ‘no’”.
“I don’t know. I’m not really into social gatherings. Even when Annie was alive. You know that.”
“Paul, I do know that. But we’re going to go listen to a good friend blow some heat then chill and chat later.”
“You have to come. I already left word for him we’d be there.”
“I can pick you up at seven. He won’t start playing until eight-ish.”
“Fine. Except I’ll meet you there. If it gets to be too much, I’ll come home early.” There was silence on the other end of the line. “Jared?”
“Ok. Be there by seven-thirty so we can get a good table.”
“Alright. See you then.”
“Thanks, man. You won’t be sorry. Later.”
I hung up the phone slowly. What did I just do? Why can’t I ever tell that man ‘no’? I chuckled softly to myself. Jared had a way of getting under my skin and moving me out of myself. I couldn’t really complain. If it hadn’t been for him, my college life would have been pretty dull. For that matter, I probably wouldn’t have met Annie. So it wasn’t really a bad thing. I hoped.
It turned out to be a great evening. Michael was as hot as ever, and, with it being a jazz program, the crowd was small and intimate. I hadn’t been in the main hall of the club for years. There were always different events in play; Annie and I had learned swing dancing there. Took some lessons in two-step as well. When I wasn’t tripping us or stepping on her toes, we actually had a lot of fun.
The room was quite large with dark oak floors throughout the room. Great acoustics, which accounted for some great live concerts. Mike’s program was certainly no exception. Jared had secured us a table in front, off to the right so we weren’t ‘in the line of fire’ but were able to sit back and enjoy. Our vantage point gave us full view of the stage, yet being off to the side there was no one behind us so we didn’t have to worry about blocking anyone’s view.
Near the end of the program, Mike gave me the shock for the evening when he requested I join him on stage. I shot him a look of consternation but stood and walked up on the platform as he introduced me to the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Paul Veroll, a good friend and an outstanding pianist.” He looked at me. “Paul, how about joining me for a number?”
“I’m more than a little rusty,” I stammered.
“It’ll come back.” He pointed at the piano. “Sit.”
I shot him another look as I moved to the keyboard. His band member stood and shook my hand as I approached, then moved offstage as I sat on the bench. I rolled my shoulders and looked over at Michael. “E flat?” I queried.
“Go for it,” was all he said.
I took a deep breath, held it, then let it out slowly. I closed my eyes and began to play. Slowly at first, open chording just to get a feel for the instrument. The drum player kicked in almost immediately, followed by their bass. I smiled as Mike released the first note and we were in it. Like riding a bike, the feeling and flow came back – being in the mix with such seasoned musicians was a major help. We played for five or six minutes before winding down. I stood to a loud response and bowed my head to the crowd, shook Mike’s hand, and made my way back to the table where Jared stood, applauding.
I looked at my friend with a grin. “I should shoot you for this.”
“Hey, it wasn’t my idea. Michael did that on his own.”
“Truth, man. You can ask him after his last set.”
After the program, and waiting for Michael to shake a few dozen hands, the three of us were sitting at the table reminiscing when Cheryl and a few friends walked up. She kissed Mike’s cheek.
“It is so good to have you in town, Michael,” she said. “I’m glad you played for us.”
“The folks would skin me alive if I hit town and didn’t,” He replied. “You’re looking good.”
“Thanks. And Paul. I’ve forgotten how well you play. You sounded great up there.”
“Thanks, Cheryl. It was fun.” I turned to Michael. “Unexpected, but fun.”
“Had to do it,” he replied. “We’ve always jammed well. I just … I just wish Annie could have been here. I’m sorry I couldn’t get here for her service.”
“Thanks.” I paused. “I understand.” I looked around the room. “I don’t see Tara. She didn’t come?” Tara was his wife of twenty-three years.
“Sore throat,” he answered. “She’ll be sorry she didn’t come when I tell her you played.”
“So Michael,” Cheryl interjected. “How long are you in town?”
“Only a couple more nights, then were headed down to Minneapolis and across. Going to land in Chicago for a couple of weeks, then swing south.”
“The life of a performer,” she laughed. “I wish I could stay, but my friends want to go out for a late bite before we call it a night.” She walked over and bent down to kiss my cheek. “Call me, Paul.”
“Ok,” I answered, more than a bit uncertain. “Maybe we could go out for dinner next week some time?”
“Perfect,” she purred. “Talk to you then. Ta, everyone.” And with that she was gone.
Michael, Jared and I sat and talked old times until the place closed down at two in the morning. I hugged them both, promised Michael to stay in touch, then left.
Before I left the parking lot I scrounged through the car and found a CD I had made years back for when Annie and I traveled. We loved the old songs – I slid it into the box and turned it up, humming with the music as I drove. I was almost home when Helen Reddy’s voice broke through with “You And Me Against The World”. The song had been a mainstay for Annie and I – starting with the time Sara was caught with two friends stealing a car. Thirteen years old and the child was driving when they stopped her. The county had stepped in then and our uphill battle with our second child became a major effort. The song just seemed to fit at the time.
I pulled into the drive as the song was ending. After I shut everything down I sat there, tears flowing as the memories marched through at a furious pace. The trials of raising children, the years when I fought for work, the major hell dealing with the Health And Services – and then Annie’s untimely death. My body shook with sobs as the emotions surged. Eventually I calmed and left the vehicle, walking slowly into the empty house.
I stripped down and headed to bed, stopping at our wedding picture that hung faithfully on the wall outside our bedroom. I raised a shaking hand to lightly stroke her face. My voice cracked as I spoke to the greatest love I had ever known.
“Damn, I miss you girl.”