Falling into You Read online

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  Okay would only ever be skin deep, though.

  The note was under my pillow. I unfolded it, gazed at it.

  …And now we’re learning how to fall in love together. I don’t care what any one else says. I love you. I’ll always love you, no matter what happens with us in the future. I love you now and forever.

  I saw the splotch where my tear had fallen, staining the blue pen-strokes black in a sudden Rorschach pattern. Another wet drop splatted on the paper, just beneath the writing this time. I let it sink in and stain. The slanting downstroke of the ‘Y’ in his scrawled signatures blurred and became blotted.

  Eventually the slow leak stopped and I fell asleep. I dreamed of brown eyes and blue, of a ghost beside me, loving me, and of a flesh and blood man sitting on a dock, drinking whiskey, playing guitar, and remembering an illicit kiss. In the dream, he wondered what it meant. In the dream, he stole into my room and kissed me again. I woke from that dream sweating and shaking and nauseous with guilt.

  Part Two

  The Present


  Chapter 6: Old Man Jack

  Two years later

  I’m sitting on a park bench on the edge of Central Park, busking. I’ve got my case on the ground next at my feet, a few bucks as seed money bright green against the maroon velvet. I haven’t busked in months. The shop has been too busy, too many orders, too many rebuilds and custom jobs. But this, the open air and the lack of expectations, this is where I live. Where my soul flies. Like my weekly gig at Kelly’s bar, it’s not about the money, although I usually make a decent chunk of change.

  It’s about letting the music flow out of my blood and into the guitar, letting it seep through my vocal chords.

  I’m adjusting a string, tweaking the tuning for my next song. My head is down, tilted to the side, listening for the perfect pitch. I get it, bob my head in approval.

  I start in on “I and Love and You” by the Avett Brothers. This is a song that always draws a crowd. It’s the song more than me, really. It’s such brilliant piece of music. So much meaning stuffed into the lyrics. I look up after the first verse and scan the sidewalk in front of me. An older man in a business suit, a phone against his ear, another clipped to his expensive leather belt; A young woman with bottle blond hair in a messy bun, a sticky-faced boy-child gripping her hand, both stopped and listening; a g*y couple, young men holding hands, flamboyant, bouffant hair and colorful scarves; three teen girls, giggling, whispering to each other behind cupped hands, thinking I’m cute.

  And her.


  I could write a song, and her name would be the music. I could sing, strum a guitar, and her body would be the melody. She’s standing behind the rest of the crowd, partially obscured, leaning against a parking meter, a patchwork-fabric purse slung over one shoulder, pale green dress brushing her knees and hugging her curves, strawberry blond hair twisted into a casual braid and hanging over one shoulder. Pale skin like ivory, flawless and begging to be caressed, kissed.

  I’m no saint. I’ve hooked up with other girls since then, but they’ve never been enough. Never been right. They’ve never stuck around long.

  Now, here she is. Why? I tried so hard to forget her, but still her face, her lips, her body, glimpsed beneath a wet black dress…she haunts me.

  She’s biting her lip, worrying it between her teeth, gray-green eyes pinning me to the bench. Shit. For some reason I can’t fathom, that habit, the biting her lip…I can’t take it. I want to throw down the guitar and go over to her and take that perfect plump lower lip into my mouth and not let go.

  I almost falter at that first meeting of our eyes, but I don’t. I meet her gaze, continue the song.

  I’m singing it to her, as I reach the final chorus. “I…and love…and you. ”

  She knows. She sees it in my eyes. It’s utter madness to sing this song to her, but I can’t stop now. I watch her lips move, mouthing the words along with mine. Her eyes are pained, haunted.

  The person standing in front of her moves, and I see a guitar case resting against her thigh, the round bottom planted on the sidewalk, her palm stabilizing the narrow top. I didn’t know she played.

  The song ends and the crowd moves away, a few people tossing in ones and fives. The businessman—still on the phone—tosses in a fifty and a business card announcing himself as a record label producer. I nod at him, and he makes the universal “call me” gesture with his free hand. I might call him. I might not. Music is expression, not business.

  She approaches, bending at the knees and lifting her guitar case, slides onto the bench next to me. Her eyes never leave mine as she sits, zips open her case, withdraws a beautiful Taylor classical acoustic. She bites her lip again, then plucks a few strings, strums, begins “Barton Hollow”.

  I laugh softly, and see that the pain has never left her. She’s carried it all this time. I weave my part in around hers, and then I’m singing. The words fall from my lips easily, but I’m barely hearing myself. She plays easily and well, but it’s clear she hasn’t been playing too long. She still glances at her fingers on the fretboard as she switches chords, and she gets a few notes wrong. But her voice…it’s pure magic, dulcet and silver and crystalline and so sweet.

  We draw a crazy crowd together. Dozens of people. The street beyond is blocked from view by the bodies, and I can tell she’s uncomfortable with the attention. She crosses her leg over her knee, bounces with the rhythm, ducks her head as if wishing her hair was loose so she could hide behind it. She slips up a chord, loses the rhythm. I twist on the bench to meet her eyes, lock gazes and nod at her, slow down and accentuate the strumming rhythm. She breathes deep, swelling her br**sts behind her Taylor, and finds the rhythm with me.

  The song ends, eventually, all too soon. I half-expect her to rise and put away the guitar and float away again, without a word exchanged, just gone again as mysteriously as she appeared. She doesn’t, though. Thank god for that. She glances around at the crowd, chews her lip, glances at me. I wait, palm flat on the strings.

  She takes a deep breath, plucks a few strings, idly, as if deciding, then nods to herself, a quick bob of the head as if to say, “yeah, I’m gonna do it. ” Then she begins to strum a tune I know I know, but can’t place. Then she sings. And again, her admittedly mediocre guitar playing fades away, replaced by the shocking beauty of her voice. She’s singing “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele. The original is simple and powerful, just the piano and Adele’s unique voice. When Nell sings it, she takes it and twists it, makes it haunting and sad and almost country-sounding. She sings it low in her register, almost whispering the words.

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  And she sings it to me.

  Which makes no sense whatsoever. But still, she watches me as she sings, and I can see the years of pain and guilt in her gaze.

  She still blames herself. I always knew she did, and hoped time would cure her of that, but I can see, without having even spoken to her, that she still carries the weight. There’s darkness in this girl, now. I almost don’t want to get involved. She’ll hurt me. I know this. I can see it, feel it coming. She’s got so much pain, so many cracks and shards and jags in her soul, and I’m going to get cut by her if I’m not careful.

  I can’t fix her. I know this too. I’m not going to try. I’ve had too many goody-goody girls hook up with me, thinking they can fix me.

  I also know I’m not going to stay away. I’m going to grab onto her and let myself get cut. I’m good at pain. I’m good at bleeding, emotionally and physically.

  I let her sing. I don’t join in, I just give her the moment, let her own it. The crowd whistles and claps and tosses dollars into her open guitar case.

  Now she waits, watches. My turn. I know I have to choose my song carefully. We’re establishing a dialogue, here. We’re having a conversation in music, a discussion in guitar chords an