Another short chapter. Sure wish I could get this chapter length thing right. Or consistent at least?
13 ~ All Good Things ~
‘Time flies when you’re having fun,’ or so the saying goes. For my life I don’t know that it has always been true, but the time in Chicago sure followed form. Before I was aware or ready, it was our fourth weekend and I was having to make plans for heading home. The question most on my mind was whether I would be leaving my current employment and going full-time into playing piano for Mike.
Evidently it was on Mike’s mind as well; he hit me up the minute I walked into ‘Spradler’s on Main’ for the final performance in Chicago.
“You’re going home.” It almost sounded like an accusation.
“I could only arrange for a month off,” I countered.
“Have you thought about my offer to make this full-time?”
“That’s about all I have thought about the past four weeks.”
“And I don’t know. I love playing, you know that. There’s no way to accurately express how much fun this has been.”
“But I also love my career. And I have ties back home. Not to mention questions on what to do with the house. Or whether or not I want all the travel.”
“Sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”
“No, not really.” I sighed. “I’m sorry, Mike, but I just do not know yet.”
“Well, do this for me. Tonight just give me your heart like always – let the music fill you. To quote Jared, let your soul leak all over the keys. Don’t sweat your answer, let your heart work it out.”
He hugged me. “I’m doing my best to be patient. I just can’t wait for long.”
“I know.” I ordered a fresh beer then headed for the piano.
. . . . .
The evening went flawlessly. And, for the most part, effortlessly. We took a couple breaks as usual, and chatted with customers. I had noticed one man watching us very closely during our last couple of sets. Thinly built, but appeared in fair shape. The kind of hair you want to lose your fingers in. And deep set eyes that pierced through your armor and grabbed your attention if you looked long enough.
Before our last number, Mike took time to thank the crowd for coming and said a few words for the owner Christine’s allowing us to play. Then he shocked me by going off-track and pulling a full open number, meaning each of us got our own adlib solo. Whether it was the amount of alcohol in my system or just being fully into the music, I surprised even myself. My fingers just knew where to go, I didn’t have to think it out, just let it happen. Possibly one of my best performances. I was elated.
At the end of the night we sat at our usual table, sipping our drinks and ‘talking shop’. Our mystery fan was walking up to the table when Cal and Perry stood and offered me handshakes.
“Been good playin’ with ya,” Cal said.
“Hope you decide to stick around,” Perry added. “You may not be Mac, but you’re hot on the eighty-eight.”
I shook their hands and was thanking them when the unknown customer spoke up.
“You’re not a regular group? I figured the way you guys played you were solid. Your sound sure is tight.”
I turned and smiled at him. For a moment the world faded and I found myself getting lost in those eyes. I could spend hours just looking… I mentally shook myself out of reverie and responded to him.
“The usual piano player is going through some medical things, I’m kinda just filling in.”
“Really?” he asked. “Never would have guessed you as a temp. You from around here, then?”
“Chicago? No. Just a working tourist.”
“Ah. Well then, was good having you in town. Have a safe trip back to wherever home is.”
I held out my hand but he turned and walked out. I stood there a moment before sitting back down. Jared had his impish grin plastered on his face. I just rolled my eyes at him and downed the last of the whiskey I had ordered after we finished playing.
“You still haven’t decided.” Mike was clearly displeased. What his tone didn’t convey, the look on his face did.
“Actually…” I paused, not wanting to finish but knowing it needed done. “I’m going to pass on the offer, Mike. I love you like a brother and playing with you is undeniably magic, but I’m not ready to make that big of a change to my life.”
Mike hung his head a moment then looked up and forced a smile. “Thanks for letting me know. Guess my work is laid out now. I have two weeks to find a replacement. Have a couple of people in mind – hopefully it won’t take long. Though replacing you after having to replace Mac sure ain’t something I had hoped for.”
He stood and offered his hand. I stood and shook my head, instead pulling him into a bear hug. “Thank you for the offer and for the chance to test the waters. You are an awesome friend, but more – you are a world-class musician. I’m sure it won’t take long to find someone willing to fall into place.”
We broke the hug and he looked me in the eye. “I just hope I can find someone that will ‘fall into place’ and not have to be whipped into shape.”
Jared, true to form, picked this moment to enter the conversation. “Whip me, beat me, make me…”
“Jared,” I interrupted.
“I know, I know,” he retorted. “Shut up.”
Mike laughed and shook his head. He shook hands with Jared, then with me, then walked out looking only slightly dejected. Jared and I waved goodnight to Christine, then headed to our rental car. He waited until I was buckling in before he turned to me.
“You’re running away.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Life. You’re running away again. Why did you turn Mike down?”
“Because I don’t want a life on the road, Jer. Things have been too inconsistent and unstable. I want ‘normal’. I need ‘normal’.”
“Yeah, sure,” was all he said before starting the car and heading back to the hotel.
I leaned my head against the door and closed my eyes.
I am not running away. This is the right decision for me. The right one.