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Authors: David Pandolfe

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BOOK: Streetlights Like Fireworks
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“Then, no deal.” Another moment passes before she says,
“Okay, maybe we can negotiate that point,” her voice soft as she drifts back
into sleep.

~~~

It feels like seconds later when Trevor knocks on the door
and tells us it’s time to get up. The room remains dark, the shades drawn and I
totally don’t want to get out of that bed. Especially since Lauren curled up
next to me during the night.

“Feel free to take showers!” Trevor calls out as he walks
away. “Time to roll!”

We meet downstairs where Trevor pours us coffee. He sets
out milk and bowls and boxes of cereal. So far, he’s a serious contender for
the title of World’s Most Accommodating Host to Total Strangers.

Once he’s sure we have what we need, Trevor sits across
from us and pours some Honey-Nut Cheerios into his bowl. “You guys sleep okay?”

“Slept great,” I say.

Lauren nods in my direction. “You get used to the
snoring. Kind of like white noise after a while.”

Trevor chuckles. After a moment, he says, “You know, it’s
strange. I had a dream about John Gavuzzi last night. I guess it must have been
you guys showing up here with Jessica’s guitar.”

Whoever John Gavuzzi is, I have no idea. Lauren’s
expression shows she doesn’t know either.

Trevor picks up on the two of us looking back and forth
and says, “Right, sorry. I don’t know why I thought you’d know. John was our
manager. He was with us from the start. Hang on, I dug out an old picture when
I got up. It’s on the counter.”

He gets up from the table and comes back with a photo. He
hands it to me. “John was a cool guy,” he says, then goes back to eating his
breakfast.

Trevor doesn’t notice my eyes widen as I look at the
picture of John Gavuzzi. Long hair to his shoulders, probably in his late
twenties, rings on most of his fingers. In the photo, he’s smiling, confident
and happy like the future will open many doors. I haven’t seen the smile before
but I have no doubt where I’ve seen him. I lock my eyes on Lauren’s and pass
her the photo.

Trevor looks up from his cereal a moment later. “John
died in a plane crash just before the band broke up. Most people don’t know
about that. They don’t really focus on band managers all that much unless maybe
your band is super famous.”

I’m still seeing the photo inside my mind. I don’t
imagine I’ll forget it anytime soon.

Trevor runs his hand through thinning hair. “John was an
awesome guy. Sorry, kind of morbid for breakfast conversation.” He must notice
our reaction to the photo because he adds, “Hey, are you guys okay?”

It takes us a moment but we both nod without saying
anything. It just doesn’t make sense trying to explain.

“Okay, cool. Like I said, didn’t mean to get all
depressing on you.”

Half an hour later, I’m still feeling shell-shocked
walking out the door. While last night we’d felt reconciled to having reached
what seemed likely the final dead-end, now it seems beyond unfair. Like the
biggest clue of all just dropped on us but we have no way of knowing what to do
with it.

Lauren doesn’t say anything as we open the back of the
van and toss our bags inside. She climbs behind the wheel, I get in next to her
and she starts the engine. Time to head back. Lauren doesn’t have to say it and
neither do I as she shifts into reverse.

We’re just backing out of the driveway when the front
door opens and Trevor puts his hand up. We wave back at him but then he shakes
his head and trots down the driveway. He comes around to my side and I roll the
window down.

“Look, I’ve been thinking,” he says. “What I said last
night was totally true. I have no idea where Jessica went or what she’s about
these days. That was her choice and I decided long ago to respect that.”

“Yeah, that’s cool. We completely understand,” I say,
hoping he hasn’t stopped us just because he feels bad about not knowing.

Trevor takes a breath, still winded from his trot down
the driveway. He really needs to drop a few pounds. “And, to be honest, we weren’t
all that close to begin with. They needed a bass player and I was just a bass
player who happened to be around at the time. All that, you know?”

“Sure,” I say, a sinking feeling already sucking away my
hopefulness. He really did just want us to know he hadn’t been holding out on
us.

“What I was getting at is this.” Trevor hands me a sticky
note through the window, on which he’s scrawled something. It’s hard to read,
like he’d been in a hurry, but it’s definitely a name and address. My heart
starts beating faster.

Trevor points at the note in my hand. “Michelle lives in
Colorado these days. She doesn’t let on either but it’s possible, you know?
They were pretty close, is all I’m saying. Up to you.”

With that, Trevor walks toward his Lexus and I sit next
to Lauren holding the address for Michelle Carter, Purge’s lead guitar player,
who’d at one time co-written the bands’ songs with Jessica Malcom.

 
14

All Her Pretty
Horses

 

Trevor drives off to work and we remain parked in front of
his house. “Holy shit,” Lauren says.

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“Total game changer. But first things first, just so I’m
sure. Was that the same guy you saw? He was the ghost, right?”

“You mean the guy in the photo?”

“No, I mean that old man walking his dog over there.
Yeah, of course, I mean the photo. You saw the same guy, right?”

I actually look to see, like it even matters if an old
guy is walking his dog. Which, of course, is the case. I turn to Lauren again.
“No doubt about it. That was definitely him. What’s up with
that
?”

“First of all, it means your ghost has a name.”

“I know. John Gavuzzi.” Even as I say it, a chill runs up
my spine. I don’t know why I haven’t imagined the ghost having been a real
person before. I wonder if maybe that way I’ve been trying to make him less real
overall. “Hang on. Why would the ghost of Purge’s band manager have any
interest in me?”

Lauren taps on the steering wheel as she thinks. “Well,
you did find Jessica’s guitar.”

“True, but why would he care? I mean, wouldn’t he have
better things to do in the afterlife?”

“Interesting point,” Lauren says, “but, evidently not.
Which kind of suggests it’s important that she gets it back.”

“But
why
?”

Lauren pretends to consider, pursing her lips and
frowning. “You know, that question never occurred to me before.”

I can’t help laugh. “Right, I know. That is the question,
after all.”

“Exactly, amigo. That is the question. Let me see what
Trevor wrote on the note.”

Wait,
amigo
? Did she just miss an opportunity to
call me Pajama Boy? Maybe it was an oversight, but still.

Lauren unfolds the note. “Shit.”

Not what I expect at all. “What’s wrong?”

“He didn’t leave her phone number. That would have been
good.”

“I kind of got the feeling that was totally a last minute
decision,” I say.

“Yeah, no doubt. Well, I guess we’ll just have to drop in
on her. That’s sort of how we roll these days anyway. Okay, Boulder. Pretty
sure that’s near Denver.” Lauren laughs and adds, “It’s in Colorado,
definitely. Of that, I feel confident. I think we can do this.”

Boulder? Denver? Either way, it has to be like a million
miles. But that part never seems to bother Lauren. Also, I have no idea how far
we might be from either Boulder, Denver or even Colorado.

My mind shoots back to our conversation with Trevor last
night.
So, people know where you are, right?
A very reasonable question.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying not to screw things up with Lauren (after
all, she’s been hanging out with me for days now). Or maybe because I’ve kept
telling myself that it really isn’t my business. I’ve been trying not to push
it, definitely, since each time I’ve gone there Lauren has found a way to
change the subject. Still, I’ve been wondering the whole time. So, this time I
ask her directly.

“Have you told your mother where you are?”

Other than that first night when she left the motel room
to call her “boyfriend” and the other time when she texted Tohru, I haven’t
seen Lauren use her phone.

Lauren stares straight ahead. “Don’t do this, okay?”

“Do what?”

She shakes her head and still doesn’t look at me.

“Don’t you want her to know you’re okay?”

Lauren sighs. “Remember what I keep saying about being
more observant?”

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but I
say, “Sure, of course.”

“Then, what do your observations tell you about my
relationship with my mother?”

Then it’s my turn to stare straight ahead and have
nothing to say. Only a fool could have missed it. She’s been gone for days. She
took her father’s old VW bus and disappeared. And the fact is, no one seems
worried about it. Unlike me, she hasn’t turned off her phone or stopped
charging it. Still, no one has been calling. I’ve imagined it in reverse, as
Lauren being the one who doesn’t care. I keep staring out the window, my face
burning.

~~~

Soon, we’re driving again. Which still feels right, even if
we’re totally screwing up. I watch as the miles pass, thinking how this is
always what I’ve imagined life being about—being next to someone I truly like
as things keep changing and getting more interesting. Sometimes, I’ve feared
the future might hold some sort of dead end where I’ll end up like my parents,
repeating the same steps each day just to make it to the next. Maybe some small
perk on the weekend—a dinner with friends, a movie, a game of tennis or
golf—but nothing you haven’t done a million times before. In this moment,
though, the future seems vast, limitless and unpredictable. I can’t imagine any
way it won’t keep bestowing magic.

It seems okay not to talk for a while. I tune in music
and Lauren keeps her eyes on the road. A team, used to working together. I
guess we both feel the same way since we stop just once for gas and food, then
keep driving. As long as there’s another string leading us forward, what choice
do we have but to follow it?

~~~

We left Kansas City so early that it’s just past rush hour
as we drive through Denver. I’ve always imagined it being some sort of mellow
mountain town but it’s bigger than I thought and people drive like maniacs for
some reason. I can tell Lauren isn’t exactly loving it but thankfully it isn’t
too long before we’re outside the city again. Forty minutes later, we cruise
past countryside, mountains visible in the distance. We leave the highway and
soon there are tree-lined streets with houses set far back from the road. All
we can see are mailboxes and fences, basically.

Finally, we turn into a driveway marked by a white sign
with black lettering. Reardon Ranch. The property is massive, the driveway
almost a road itself that leads toward a huge white house with columns
suspending a wrap-around porch. Behind the house, stables stand in the
distance. Horses graze in green fields.

“I suspect she’ll see us coming,” Lauren says, as dust
swirls in the air behind the bus. As soon as we pull up and park in the
circular driveway, the front door opens.

“Yeah, she saw us coming,” I say. “Maybe we should have
called first.”

Lauren nods. “That probably would have been good. Remind
me to give Trevor some shit about it later.”

From the doorway, a woman stares back at us, crisply
dressed in black slacks and a maroon shirt, dark hair cut to her jawline. If I
didn’t know otherwise, I never would have guessed. She could be any one of a
thousand affluent, suburban mothers I see every day in Edmonds. But when she
walks toward the van and I roll down my window, I recognize Michelle Carter,
despite only seeing her before in photos with half her head shaved, wearing
torn, faded jeans and black tank-tops. I wonder if she still has the tattoos on
her arms.

“Hi, sorry to bother you,” I say. “We’re—”

“I know,” she says. “Go ahead and turn the car off.”

Michelle waits while we get out of the van. I go to the
back, slide the guitar case out, then we approach her.

“I guess you must be Jack and Lauren,” she says, looking
us up and down. I’ve never heard our names paired together that way, like we’re
an actual couple. But I don’t have time to think past that. “Trevor called,
just in case you decided to come here. Haven’t heard from the guy in like ten
years and then the phone rings and he tells me two kids are driving across the county
with Jessica’s guitar.” She glances at the case weighing my arm down. “I guess
that must be it.”

I nod and a moment passes before she says, “ I suppose I
should invite the two of you in.”

She turns and starts toward the front door. Lauren and I
exchange glances, both of us communicating the same thing:
She totally
doesn’t want us here.

Inside, the house is every bit the palace you’d expect
from the outside. Polished wood floors, ornate rugs, winding staircase and a
grand piano in the living room where it doesn’t seem particularly large given
the space around it. Framed photos hang on the walls, too far off to make out
clearly but definitely family shots—Michelle alongside a man and two boys in
many of them.

Michelle doesn’t invite us to take a seat in the living
room. “Why don’t we go into the kitchen,” she says.

The kitchen is expansive as well, with granite counters,
a massive stove and steel appliances. We take a seat at the table and Michelle
sits across from us.

“So, you two think you have Jessica’s guitar,” she says.

“We’re basically sure at this point.” I wait for her to
ask me to open the case but she doesn’t.

Michelle’s eyes narrow. “And, what? You were thinking you
could sell it back to her or something?”

“No, it’s not like that at all,” I say. “We’re just
trying to return it to her.”

Michelle stares first at me, then at Lauren, then at me
again. “Why?”

It’s like all the air gets sucked out of the room. After
all, it’s a very good question. Sure, I’ve had a number of unusual experiences
that have compelled us to keep pushing forward. Strange, interesting,
mysterious, all that. But, still. Why? Michelle is obviously wondering what’s
in it for us.

“Well, she must want it back,” I say. “I mean, it’s her
guitar. From when you guys were in Purge together.”

Michelle nods. “I see. Why do you think she’d care after
all this time?”

I strongly suspect there’s no way Michelle Carter is
going to understand. One look at her, with her designer clothes and million
dollar house, tells me this is not the kind of woman to believe in psychic
events or ghosts. Maybe the Michelle Carter of long ago, but not the one
sitting across from us now.

“We just feel strongly about it,” Lauren says.

“Really strongly,” I add.

Our words don’t exactly have the intended effect since
Michelle bursts out laughing. “Well isn’t that nice. You both have strong
feelings about someone you’ve never met and know nothing about.”

My face grows warm. “But we do know—”

“I know what you know,” Michelle says. “I get that part.
You know she was in some sort of legendary punk band before you were born. You
might even have her songs in your iPods and maybe even watch old videos some
assholes keep putting out there as if they’re still relevant after all this
time.”

She says all of it as if she’s talking about a band she
had nothing to do with, people she never knew.

“And, of course, you know Jessica disappeared somehow.
Just went and vanished. So, wouldn’t it be cool if you could dig her up and win
some sort of treasure hunt trophy? Let me guess, you could blog about it! You’d
be famous, right? Ooh, wouldn’t that be cool!”

“That’s really not what this is about,” I say.

Michelle arches her eyebrows. “No? Okay, then, why are
you doing it?”

I can’t answer her question in any way that will change
how she feels because I don’t know. I’m just trusting that there has to be some
meaning to my flashes and other experiences. Lauren can’t answer either—and I
know this even though she hasn’t said it to me yet—because there’s something
she’s searching for too. But, for now, she’s not telling anyone what that is.

Michelle has waited long enough for us to answer. “Well,
whatever it is doesn’t matter. How about this? Leave the guitar with me and
I’ll get it back to Jessica. How does that sound?”

I know she doesn’t trust us but I’m not about to ignore
the feeling that I need to see this through. That
we
need to see this
through. I also seriously doubt Michelle will get the Telecaster back to
Jessica. Something tells me she’ll shove it into a closet and forget all about
it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that she isn’t exactly in love with
her past. After all, she’s completely erased it.

“We want to take it to Jessica ourselves,” I say.

“That’s what I figured,” Michelle says. “So, I guess our
little visit is over. I’ll see you to the door.”

The way she says it, I get the distinct feeling she wants
to be sure we don’t steal anything on the way out. No more words are spoken as
we walk down the hall, although Michelle steps outside with us and waits as we
get into the bus. Not seeing us off, just making sure we go away.

Lauren takes another look around the property as we drive
back toward the street. “At least the horses are nice,” she says.

Which is true. The horses are pretty to look at. A good thing,
since we drove over two-thousand miles to see them.

 

 

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