Winter’s Heart (3)

Lars shut the door to his room and took a deep breath.

There it was—the best tool he knew to chase dark thoughts away. In the corner by his bed, right where he had left it.

The Washburn D-25S was a middle-of-the-road workhorse acoustic guitar, nothing fancy, but it was the newest version and totally reliable. Unlike…

Lars turned sideways towards the mirror and played a few of the chords he had been thinking about all day.

It was a melody about the damn dark thoughts all right, but Lars knew from experience that if he could put his feelings into a song, he owned them. They didn’t own him.

Except he couldn’t make this one work. Was it a love song or a hate song? Lars felt blocked like somebody had cut the strings.

How could he trust what girls said if they only said it to hang out with him—or more—because the band had gotten such a boost these last six months?

Megan had told him he had nice eyes, but he couldn’t see anything special about them in the mirror. Just dark and brown.

Anyway, Megan had been lying about a lot of things, so why wouldn’t she lie about that, too? About what she liked about him?

Heck, if he had had his driver’s license last year when they were going steady, she would probably have told him his parents’ old Dodge was like a million bucks and that she felt like a famous movie star when riding in it.

Like she told him all kinds of things about how The Children of the Night, his band, for sure was going to hit the charts.

But Megan had been a fake, too, and he had been stupid enough to fall for her talk and her advances.

He had been stupid and needy. He had waited for so long for a girl who he thought would mean something before he had allowed it to get serious.

But Megan had—again—been the kind of girl who would tell a guy anything to get what she wanted and this time he had seen through it too late. And so he went into the relationship thinking it was what he wanted.

Things quickly deteriorated, though. The final crack came when she found out just how sloppy he was at school and how bad his grades were. That he was this close to getting expelled.

Megan was a grade-A girl who had always had everything. Always been able to do everything. Perfect.

She could not accept that there was a choice between how good you were at music and how good you were at schoolwork. And so she dumped him hard. 

Three weeks. That was it. Had they even been a couple? They had had sex a couple of times, sure, but somehow that didn’t seem to count now.

At the time, Lars had been pretty high about it, since the big dirty secret was that Megan had been his first. Now he felt like he had been making out with flypaper.

But it sure looked like something else, to begin with. Megan was one of the smartest and coolest girls at school. 

That she had taken an interest in him had blown his mind. She had to be for real. But now that it had been some months since it happened, soberness had set in. 

He had tried to figure out what happened but without much success.

Megan had some rather demanding parents, he knew. Her father did something for NASA or another outfit of that caliber.

And she seemed to strive for the stars as well. He liked girls with ambitions and high standards. 

But he had discovered Megan had little room for forgiveness if someone could not live up to those standards.

Lars stopped trying to play and then threw the guitar on the bed. He killed the idea of trying to compose anything. But what to do instead? Certainly not homework!

Which was a problem. His dad would be home any moment and Lars didn’t want him to ask about what Lars was spending his time on. 

Mom wouldn’t be home until morning, after a night shift at the hospital and she would be too bombed to ask about anything. He only had to keep up the front for his dad. 

But what to do? Maybe just… go out again? 

Even if the weather was shitty. It would be a long, cold winter afternoon. But at least, in a few hours, he would be with his mates in the band—Derek, Ian, and Flincher.

Best damn bandmates you could ever want. They would give him the energy to get through this evening.

He decided to go down into the living room and watch TV to kill time until he could meet the guys and rehearse. 

And after five minutes Alan called and dropped the bomb.

*

“You can’t practice here tonight.”

Lars almost threw the phone away. “Fuck—no! Why?!”

“You can’t borrow the garage. The weather…” Alan started, but Lars broke him off.

“The weather is going to be fine. It’s going to thaw this evening. First time in a bloody week.”

“That’s the problem. My dad doesn’t want the car out when it’s like that. Says it’s still too wet for the new paint job or some shit like that.”

“That’s a fucking lame excuse.”

“I know, but what do I know about cars and paint jobs?” Alan said, sounding aloof to the whole thing. “I think you can come tomorrow. I’ll have to check it, though.”

Lars took a very deep breath. He had to stay calm now or lose it. “Have you called the others?”

“Sure.” Alan sounded like he had been doing Lars a great favor.

“Well, fuck it.” Lars leaned back in the living room chair beside the phone and pointed the remote at the TV like a weapon. “I wasn’t in the mood for practicing anyway. I’m not going to play anything tonight.”

“Not even that song?” There was a whiff of mockery in his tone. With Alan, though, you could never tell if it was that or just good-natured banter.

“None of your business.”

“Look,” Alan said, “I know it sucks, but why don’t you come over? I have an idea I want to talk about.”

“What idea?”

“About our game. I want to get some… fresh blood into the group.”

They had played Dungeons & Dragons for a while now but only with three players, and Lars was one of them. But Alan kept raving about how three wasn’t the ‘ideal number.’

Whatever that meant. Lars usually tuned out when Alan began his weird rants about perfect combinations in roleplaying.

No, Lars was a musician first and foremost, but playing D&D with Alan, Mickey, and Marlene made him relax. There were no demands. He could escape into a fantasy world he controlled. Well, almost.

“New blood might be… okay.” Lars tried hard to sound enthusiastic but felt like glue inside.

“Look,” Alan said, “I was thinking about this new girl. Adeline Kouris.”

“Yeah, Lin…” said Lars, thinking about that crazy party at her house in December. It had been monstrous. He hadn’t even seen Lin there.

Alan went on. “She is writing a real novel, I hear. And she even wrote some scenarios for that convention last year.”

“Wow.” Lars stopped zapping channels.

“Thing is,” Alan continued, “I’ve tried to talk to Lin and she doesn’t seem interested. Probably because of that thing with her dad.”

“Right, that was some bad shit,” Lars said. He could hear his own dad’s car in the driveway now.

“I think she could use a break,” Alan said like this was another simple math problem and only other people’s recalcitrance prevented them from seeing the solution and accepting it.

“So… that’s it, then?” Lars asked, beginning to think about the song again. It was hard. Alan’s long speech about Lin and the constant noise from the TV took him out of it every five seconds…

“I was thinking we could…” There was a pause at Alan’s end. Lars held his breath while somebody drove a car over a cliff on the TV screen. He could also hear his father calling from the hallway. “You home, Lars?”

“I was thinking about that Scottish girl,” Alan finally said.

“Carrie.”

“Yeah, you must have seen her. You moved to her neighborhood.”

Lars grunted. “You bet. She almost glued herself to me today at the bus stop when she saw me.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but heck—sometimes you had to show Alan he wasn’t the center of the world.

“She did, huh?” An edge had come out in Alan’s voice and Lars wasn’t quite sure why.

“Well,” Alan continued, “Lin seems to be the only girl talking to Carrie these days. So why don’t you talk to Carrie and see if you can figure out how we can get Lin interested? That’ll also give you something else to think about.”

“Shut up, man,” Lars blurted while waving at his dad who had come into the kitchen next door and begun warming up the coffee machine.

“What?” Lars’ dad called through the doorway to the living room. “Did you say something, son?”

Lars shook his head and pointed at the phone. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said to Alan. He then hung up like he was throwing away dynamite. Lars decided to go back to his room and find the guitar again. He needed to do some serious mind-cleaning. On his way out of the living room, he almost bumped into his dad who was already setting a course for his favorite chair, coffee in hand.

“So when do we drive over to Alan’s?” Lars’ father asked cheerily.

“It’s canceled tonight,” Lars said, shrugging.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.”

His father cleared his throat. “Oh, by the way… Mika called today during my lunch break. She told me to say hello.”

Lars swallowed. “She can still use the phone?”

“They have a new speakerphone for all the patients. The nurses can help her adjust the sound and so on.”

“That’s great.” Lars felt like he couldn’t breathe properly. “Will she call again this evening?”

Mr. Anestad took off his glasses and wiped them in his sleeve. “The new medicine makes her very tired and they can’t change the dosage times. So we have to talk to her at midday. I was thinking maybe on the weekend we could all—”

“Yes, let’s do … that.” Lars went up the stairs before his father could say anything more.

He clamped the handrail tight.

*

Cover Photo by Ben Collins on Unsplash


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