Chapter 3. Impulsive
Harry was washing the previous day's dishes when he heard the noises suggesting that his brother was struggling back to life. It was a bit earlier than Harry might have expected, though sounds from the loo suggested that Lee's awakening was not of the chipper, 'rise and shine' variety.
Feeling merciful, Harry took a minute to assemble a tall glass of water, a mug of some luke-warm coffee, and a plate bearing a dry slice of ungarnished toast.
"Mother o' two month old jelly on the telly..." Lee entered, squeezing his temples.
Harry gestured at the peasant's fare on the table.
Lee grunted something vaguely thankful, and drained both vessels. His throat suddenly clenched; he suppressed a momentary urge to wretch, then groaned. He slouched down in the rickety old chair, and descended face down onto the table.
Glazed eyes stared down, for a long moment, at a dim, shaded nothing...
Then he burst upright, grinning. "Holy snack crackers, bro!"
"What?" Harry gaze his a brother bemused glance.
"Last night's show! Smokin'! Have I ever told you how much I bloody bloody love you?"
"Er yeah." Harry raised an eyebrow. "Most recently around 2:30 a.m. You bounced off my bed for half a bleeding hour last night after you got back."
"I, uh, oops?" Lee's hung-over grin did not show proper contrition. "But cor! The Nevster raved and raved, and even Gyorgy was drooling over the take. I wager we'll merit mention in Select!"
"Brilliant." Harry flashed a smile as he dried his hands and poured more coffee. "So, did you hear anything more on the mysterious 'promoter'?"
"Yeh." Lee half-nodded. "Didn't meet the chap myself, but Nev said he went away happy. Supposedly dug your 'Grey Veil', but y'know, so did bloody everyone! What came over you, man? I-I've never heard you sound quite so, er, well... It was... it was..."
Distracted by the emergence of a refilled mug, Lee lost his train of thought, and frowned. "Hey bro, why did you bugger off so early? There was a flock of birdies who'd have loved to, erm, make your acquaintance, eh?"
Harry shook his head. "I was dead-starved and knackered. My heart wasn't in it." He poured himself some tea.
"Eh right. I hear ye." Lee looked at him a moment, then stirred milk into his coffee, staring at the swirls. "The Smith girl didn't stick around either."
"Smith girl?" Harry's brow knotted slightly as he took a seat opposite his brother. "New bird on the wing, Lee? Did you and Angie split?
"Nah, nah." Lee shook his head. "Angie and I are still okay. Errr... sort of okay. Dammit bro, it right messes with my skull, her being in France and all, but... well, she'll be here next month to visit, yeah?"
"Yeah. Be strong — you can wait that long." Harry gave him a sympathetic smile. "So, who's the 'Smith girl', then?"
"Ah right." Lee nodded. "She's the little sister of a childhood mate. I'd invited her to the gig, and rumour has it she did show up with a friend. Nevi cadged some backstage passes for them and tried to flag 'em down after the show, but they'd already scarpered out of shouting range. Sweet little pair of Cinderellas, I reckon. So, I never got to rightly meet the little lady, but maybe, well... I..." He trailed off, his eyes going distant.
Harry took a quiet sip of tea, waiting for Lee to resume, or change the subject. Which, of course, he did rather frequently when he was hung over.
"Harry, mate... What d'you recall of the old days?
"Old days? Like, Oakley Square? Camden Council Home?"
"Nah, before that." Lee massaged his jaw, his eyes slightly perplexed. "My memory's rubbish. I've got only the rare odd scrap from the early years. Damn-near nothing, really. You?"
"Well, I wouldn't quite say 'nothing'..." Harry eyed his brother thoughtfully, wondering how best to respond. Indeed, there were two ways to answer... but one of those ways involved trying to get his own head around details that he hadn't fully sorted yet.
In particular, Harry had not yet explained to anyone (and barely even himself) his growing conviction that the 'Grey Veil' song was a lot more than some trite poem about having loved and lost. The lyrics that had so recently poured from his mind (just yesterday morning) were mysterious, compelling, and somehow deeply, personally important to him. There was something vital in those words -- something real; something skirting the edge of his faded memories; it felt like it had always there, but never before had it crept quite this close to conscious reach.
Harry pursed his lips, deciding that he couldn't hope to explain any of that to a pin-shaky brother at this hour of a dead-dog Saturday morning. So, he shrugged and opted for the easy road. "Yeah, not quite nothing. But no, I don't remember much."
Lee went silent for a while. His moment of soulful perplexity faded to blandness and, finally, he found the strength of will to gnaw a corner of his toast while Harry dug into a fuller breakfast. Finally, with Harry beginning to clear the dishes, Lee rose to make his way back to the loo, then stopped. "Hey bro?"
"Don't forget to call Langley before you head for work, yeah?"
Lee took a half step, then teetered back into place, his hand on the door frame. "You know something, Harry?"
"You do realise..." Lee looked his brother over with slightly troubled eyes. "You realise that a lot of folks have, like, whole childhoods' worth of memories? They remember... 'stuff'?"
That Saturday morning had been unusually productive for Mione. Assignments completed, more than a week ahead on all course readings, the afterglow of all this progress had carried her through a quiet lunch at the Union. Sipping tea, munching on a salad, she had idly pondered her mostly fond recollections from a night out with Ginny. She also revisited one less-than-fond memory.
It was partly the latter that clinched Mione's decision to then do something a bit unusual. After lunch she returned to the library. For the entire afternoon.
These days, this was a distinct departure from the usual Saturday fare. Normally, Mione would be looking forward to a weekend afternoon set aside for getting out and doing different, fun or aimless things with her room mate. It had become a tradition that both girls generally enjoyed... but today was going to be an unfortunate break in the routine, and the fault actually did not lie with Mione's work ethic.
To the contrary, today was a day when Mione would have had no regrets at all about a carefree escape of some sort, considering how much she had accomplished that morning, and tired she was now. But the key motivation to go off and be frivolous and sociable was lacking, since there was nobody available to go off and be frivolous and sociable with.
Because Mione was alone.
Mione was alone because Ginny was, almost certainly, still in bed. Still in bed, even now... (Mione glanced at her watch)... at half past three in the afternoon.
Mione sighed — a combination of sympathy for her friend, a bit of personal loneliness, and a feeling of slight oppression from the library's pondersome weekend quiet.
Yes, however sacrilegious it might sound, she was actually finding the library too quiet today. Of course, she remembered well enough that, not long ago, she'd likely have declared that silence was golden, but today quietness equated to loneliness, because Mione had come to equate weekend library time with weekend library time being pestered by Ginny.
At least able to appreciate some good irony, Mione rolled her eyes at the wonderfully corrupting nature of friendship; at the fact that things had reached a point in her life when she would have willingly traded away 60% of the morning's brilliant productivity for the (dubious?) privilege of having a certain red-headed sprite pop into her carrel a couple of times every hour to chitchat.
After years of being a loner, Mione was almost prepared to admit that she was growing to enjoy not only the notion of 'company', but perhaps even the 'distraction'. She wasn't yet perfectly settled on that last bit, but one thing truly was certain — friendship had come to mean quite something different to Mione now than it ever had before. By enduring the early weekend rising discipline and subsequent library tedium, Ginny had clearly established her cred in the loyal, obstinate friendship department. In return, by tolerating the delightful little pest, Mione had embraced the value of reciprocating.
And perhaps that was far more 'golden' than silence would ever be.
Unfortunately, this morning, silence had won out over friendship. No amount of discipline nor obstinacy nor reciprocity would have coaxed Ginny out of her locked and darkened cocoon. And Ginny had not even volunteered an explanation — a fact that worried Mione.
Mione was pretty certain that the issue was not a hangover. She knew from experience that Ginny could handle those several pints she'd had, and their eventual bedtime (a bit before 11 p.m.) was hardly scandalous for a Saturday. Perhaps the girl had come down with a virus of some sort, but Mione knew just enough about another affliction to suspect a very different culprit.
A minor in psychology didn't give Mione especially deep grounding in a subject that Ginny herself was honouring in, but Mione's rudimentary course work had taught the differences between normal ups and downs versus the more debilitating burdens that some people could succumb to. And the deep fugues that Ginny occasionally suffered really did sound burdensome.
From what Mione had seen over the past months, Ginny's episodes did not happen often. However, in the time since the pair had become friends, the girl had abruptly and completely folded in around herself a few times, temporarily receding from virtually everything in her life — classes, the outdoors, meals, and even Mione.
The first time it had happened, over a year ago now, the abrupt retreat had pretty nearly freaked Mione... but Ginny's fairly quick recovery (in little more than a day) had kept Mione from going into a full blown panic. Subsequent subtle monitoring had further calmed the older girl (there were never any mentions of suicide; no evidence of self-harm; no particularly odd compulsions or delusions), so urgent intervention seemed uncalled for. Still, Mione had never lost the desire to find some way to help her friend.
Mione had tried to gently ask what went on during those long hours when Ginny was locked away in her room. Was it melancholic? Paralytic? Was it frightening? Painful?
Unfortunately, Ginny's vague reply ("Umm, it's more like 'Purple Fog Side' than 'Purple Haze'") had seemed spectacularly unhelpful. Not only was it diagnostically useless, but Mione didn't even have the faintest clue what the girl was talking about. Mione began to wonder if, perhaps, Ginny preferred it that way; would rather that others not understand (or pity!) the problem. So Mione had mostly backed off.
Well, this is to say that Mione understood the value of a strategic retreat, but was preternaturally incapable of surrender. Thus, she kept the peace with Ginny by no longer mentioning the problem, let alone openly fussing over it, but she had not stopped quietly pondering the matter.
Discretion had definitely put the brakes on any suggestion of medications or professional counseling. Mione was also not about to bring up any of the various self help remedies that had been rumoured to have helped famously depressive celebrities. That was more than Mione's discretion talking; that was Mione's core sense of what might be legitimately useful, versus what was, well, tabloidish crap.
Instead, Mione's final hope (and her refusal to give in) rested in eventually finding a bit of time to do a bit of careful research — perhaps enough to give her a better understanding of what might cause the affliction; what triggers to avoid; some possible friendly support tactics to ease the suffering.
A bit of discreet, well-intended digging like that, well, that's what friends were for, right? And mightn't that be a fine use for a lonely, unencumbered (otherwise at the risk of getting bored) Saturday afternoon?
So this is what had kept Mione browsing the stacks, hours longer than would have led a fainter heart to curl up on a couch to take a nap.
However, even Mione had her limits. With frustration setting in, she finally set herself a final break-point — she would push through to a consensus on this one final hypothesis then, regardless of success or failure, she would call it a day.
Pencil in hand, she tapped her notebook thoughtfully.
A long stretch of lively fun at the pub. Ginny's near-rapturous immersion into the music. Then... BANG. Lights out. As if the girl had simply, abruptly, pulled her own switch.
Might that fit with... Bipolar Disorder?
Pulling over the bulky "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" reference manual, Mione's finger raced through the index, paged expertly to the entry and...
Bipolar depressive phases could set in with little warning or apparent trigger, and there were other superficial similarities to the symptom patterns, but rather few of the key diagnostic correlators (in particular, the duration and sequence of episodes) lined up, so Mione was left to determine that such a diagnosis was pretty sketchy at best. Shelving the book, she threw up her hands.
Agh! No more.
Mione would never regard time spent reading, thinking and learning as 'wasted' but, well... Fooey! She returned the psychology texts to their proper places, and glanced at her watch.
Hmmm. Another twenty minutes, then head home for tea.
Making her way to the stairwell, she referred briefly to the library map and set off to wander a section of the building that she had never before considered.
Mione knew next to nothing about music. Her orthodonist parents have never encouraged her to join a choir or learn an instrument, and reading always seemed more important than vacuous listening, so a gapingly large spectrum of the human condition had been left as a bit of a personal blind spot.
Music had always seemed fairly irrelevant to her life. Until last night.
Last night. The concert. It had been interesting.
Perhaps even inspiring?
To Mione, it was still not the passive 'listening' that intrigued her. The songs had been fun, indeed catchy, but it was the composite experience had been most fascinating. As the show had progressed, she had found herself increasingly curious about the dynamics — how the different sounds shifted and blended; how the visual experience complemented the auditory.
She was also fascinated by the apparent relationship between band and crowd — how a concert could become almost a dialogue, with musicians seeming to takes cues from the audience, to the point where the cheers and dizzying crowd motion actually seemed to become part of the perfomance.
By the time Mione entered the Fine Arts wing, the frustrations of minutes ago had faded, and a smile had returned to her face. Yesterday would she ever have guessed that, in admitting that she could stand to absorb a bit of local modern culture, she might acquire completely new curiosities? That Ginny would have been right? That Mione would enjoy the concert and emerge with wide eyes and sensitised ears?
Mione was definitely thankful to Ginny for the prompting and, of course, she was also not about to forget this Lee Jordan fellow for his generosity in having sent free tickets.
Humming to herself (her spirits finer than her pitch), Mione browsed the shelves. Her finger skimmed, eye level, across the spines and landed on one pleasant-looking brown volume. 'Mark Harrison. Contemporary Music Theory - Level One: A Complete Harmony and Theory Method for the Pop and Jazz Musician.' She took a quick glance at the preface, flipped through a few pages... then shrugged agreeably and added it to her pile.
Heading for the main desk, she detoured around a book cart where some young chap was sorting the afternoon's returned volumes. Placing her books on the counter, she queued up, and glanced at the assembled periodicals. Zeroing in on the morning paper, she skimmed its headline.
Frowning, she pulled the article closer and began to scan rapidly for detail. Behind her, the chap at the cart rose from his knees and straightened up. He apparently must have glimpsed the article, as he emitted an audible groan. "Filthy tossers! I wish they'd just give peace a chance."
Equally aggravated by the topic, Mione nodded sharply, squinting at the fine print. "So-called 'Real IRA' — piffle. Real donkeys, perhaps. After they went so stone silent through the autumn, I'd truly come to hope they'd finally come to their senses."
"Me too. But I suppose they may have just pulled back long enough to learn some new tactics, eh? The recent explosives don't seem to match any..." The young man's voice trailed off, distracted. "Hey? You're reading Harrison's Contemporary? I love that book!"
Mione blinked as something in the voice registered. She lowered the paper... and gaped. "Oh my!"
"Oh." Harry took an awkward step back. "Sorry miss. How very rude of me to-"
"You're Harry Jordan!" Mione's hand popped over her mouth before it could produce unseemly squawks. "I-I was at your concert last night!"
"Oh. Heh." Harry coughed, going slightly red. He gave a worried glance over at the nearby administrator's office. "Emm, I was just about to go on break. Maybe you'd care to join me for a quick mocha across the way?" He pointed through the tall glass windows to a small shop visible across the street.
"Sure!" Mione took a sharp breath and smiled. "Let me just get my..." She gestured at her stack of books, just now being signed out by a student assistant (struggling not to smirk) behind the desk.
"Right." Harry smiled in reply. "Let me just finish my..." He pointed at a few more volumes that still needed to be arranged onto the cart.
In a couple of minutes, they walked together out of the building into a vaguely pleasant (i.e., not-raining) afternoon.
"So, Harrison's?" Harry paused to check for traffic before crossing. "A bit of a music buff then? Do you play? Or sing?"
"Oh no, nothing like that." Mione smiled sheepishly as Harry held the shop's patio gate open for her. "My room mate is a huge music fan, but I've never before really cared for modern genres. Until last night, perhaps? I loved your show; I'm so grateful your brother sent us tickets!"
"Brother? Sent...?" Harry blinked. "Wait, wait! You couldn't be...? Ginny Smith??"
"Of course I couldn't be!" Mione burst out laughing. "She's my room mate. My name is Mione Granger." She extended her hand.
"Mione Granger. Very pleased to meet you." He shook her hand. "Harry Jordan."
"Uh, yes, I'd somehow gathered that." Mione's eyes twinkled. "E.s.p., maybe?"
Harry laughed, then shook his head wonderingly. "Mione Granger; Ginny Smith's room mate. Of all the people to run into! Imagine Lee's face when he hears about th..." He trailed off, a slightly concerned look on his face. "Er, please don't take shade from this but, emmm, my brother was a bit disappointed to not have met you and Ginny last night. Our agent came looking for you right as the show was ending. He had backstage passes."
"Oh dear!" Mione wrung her hands. "I'm terribly sorry. But Ginny had a... bit of a spell just before then and, well, we felt we'd best clear out before the rush."
"Oi." Harry's brow knotted. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Is she okay?"
"Uh..." Mione bit her lip, uncertain of how much to say. "Well, I think she'll be fine yes. She's spending the day resting. She, uhh..." Mione found a perfectly simple evasion and smiled. "She truly adored the performance, you know?"
"I, errr..." Harry's expression shifted into that of a half-melted something or other. He ran a hand through his hair, gazing off toward the hazy sky for a moment, before turning again to catch Mione's eye. "Hey listen. I realise you don't know me, and I don't mean to get personal, but perhaps you might humour me on something? Can we do a little association game, where you say one or two nice things about your friend Ginny?"
"Nice things? About Ginny?"
"Right." Harry nodded. "A few simple words or a phrase to tell me what she's like."
"Er, okay..." Mione tapped her chin for a moment. "She's rather shy... But, no, you said 'nice' things, so let's go with... 'kind'. She's very kind, and... and loyal! Is that the sort of thing you had in mind?"
"Brill!" Harry swept the moisture off one of the outdoor cafe chairs, and took a seat, whipping out pencil and pad. He raised his eyes skyward for long moment... then began scribbling. After another while he began humming a bit; moody notes that (though Mione would not have recognised) were a distinct B-minor progression.
After several minutes, oblivious to Mione's watchful curious gaze, he sat back, added a sentence, then smiled and tore out the page to hand to her. It read:
Dear Miss Smith,
With the gracious assistance of your friend Mione, I am *part-way* along in composing a song that I would like to dedicate to you. It begins as follows —
~ ~ ~
beneath shabby phosphor light
at a lonely whistle stop
she was the last one, first and only one
to get him through that night
in the pain of irony
in a day of cold returns
when she had no need to give
he needed her to be
she was last one
last and first
first and only
she was the last one, first one, only one
to hold him through the night
~ ~ ~
I promise to finish writing it tomorrow. Then, perhaps next weekend, Lee and I will have a chance to work on the instrumental arrangement.
Sincerely hoping your tomorrow is lighter than today; that every next day rises to you in all the brightness you have earned.
Mione stared at the page, struggling to process how something like this could have materialised before her eyes in mere minutes. It took a gentle tap on her arm to realise (a bit to her regret) that the poor fellow's break was over. Having foregone his coffee (and his break) to offer a bit of cheer to a fan he had never even met, this unusual young musician needed to return to work.
Lee grabbed a towel off the wall, grinning as he made his way into a dressing room that was already far more festive than one would expect of a room intended primarily, well, for people to change clothes. Dean and Shay were sprawled out over a sofa, surrounded by excited young women. A photographer from 'Kerrang!' was making the rounds, taking a candids. And... ah yes! Over in a far corner, Langley was talking to Harry; they beckoned Lee over.
"Another fine show, Lee!" Langley was beaming.
"Cheers, mate!" Lee fist-bumped the agent. "A slight jog down from the last one, but I guess we can't go thermonuclear every night, yeah?"
"Absolutely!" Langley nodded agreeably. "Fine with me if you save the fireworks for when the big shooters are gunning." He turned back to the vocalist. "Anyway Harry, great job mate."
"Thanks." Harry gave a polite smile.
"You're welcome! So, I found your voice to be..." Langley tapped his lip. "... very technically proficient."
"Is that to say, boring?" Harry laughed.
"No no no." Langley shook his head. "It's always a trade-off, right? Sure, last night was electric — all the adrenaline; the raw, pure emotion. But tonight, all the technical details — pitch, timing, and such — that was all was bang on. Pretty close to studio vocals, in fact, which I'd say is quite impressive in a big, loud place like this. You'll get good reviews."
"Thanks." Harry nodded with the same tepid politeness. He didn't want to be an ingrate, but he had no illusions about the difference between 'technical' and 'electric'.
"So Harry, we've got Lee here with us now..." Langley bumped Harry's older brother's shoulder. "I know you didn't want to make any commitments without his opinion, so let me ask again. What are your thoughts on the Foi-Black offer?
"Oh right." Harry's voice was rather crisp. "Please tell them no."
"You sure, Harry? It's quite a spot of quid?"
"I'm sure." Harry nodded.
"Oi?" Lee took a half-step forward. "What kind of quid are you turning down, bro? And, what's a 'Foi-Black'? Sounds like bloody goose liver."
Langley laughed. "Foi-Black, Ltd, mate. They're an Advertising and PR firm. One of their blokes got ahold of a Mysti Stags demo tape over the holidays, and now they're trying to recruit Harry to, I dunno, maybe record a few jingles? Front his pretty face for a few clients?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Hardly need the distraction right now, thanks."
"Distraction?" Langley raised an eyebow. "I'd hardly call it that. I'll wager it'd actually be pretty easy. Less time and effort than this new library job of yours. And quite a bit higher pay."
"Harry..." Lee frowned. "Be sure you're thinking things through, eh? On one hand, you know damn well there's not a day goes by I don't think, 'Oi. Mysti Stags would be zero without my little bro.' But you, man, are your own man. When the right big break comes your way, you be ready to take it, yeah? That inheritance stipend of yours may not last forever, right?"
"Thanks Lee." Harry quirked a half-smile. "And thank you, Mr. Langley. But I've made my decision."
Langley studied him. "So, I tell them no?"
Harry nodded with finality.
"Good on you, then." Langley slapped Harry on the back. "Wasn't certain I'd have trusted the bastards either."
"Someone ought to box Mackay about the ears!" Mione scowled at the telly as she forced a too-large handful of popcorn into her mouth and hoisted her too-fluffy slippers back onto the tuffet.
"He'll get his." Ginny gave a vague glance and yawned. She turned away and buried herself back into a blanket in the corner of their chesterfield, ignoring the old 'Porridge' re-run. She closed her eyes for a moment. Then she re-opened them and sent her hand off on a blind mission to the end table, once again tracking down a loose sheet of note paper.
Securely ensconsed behind the note, she skimmed the words again, dwelt a while on a few phrases here and there, then smiled. She inhaled. After straightening her face back to a bland dispassion that would not invite scrutiny, she nudged her roomie. "He is rather impulsive, isn't he?"
"Huh? Oh, you mean Harry?"
Ginny nodded seriously.
"Hmmm. He's... he's..." Stretching out an arm, Mione set a hand to rest on Ginny's wrist, steering the note into shared view for a moment. "Well, Harry is a bit eccentric. He's courteous. Empathetic. I rather think you'd fancy him as a person, Ginny. He's remarkably gifted, and yet he seems quite ordinary in all of the right ways."
Ginny nodded again. Somewhere beneath the blanket, her hand unconsciously sought her neckline, finding the replacement chain about which the gold ring now hung.
Mione edged a bit closer. "You know, Ginny... You know what I appreciated most about him?"
"Mmmm?" Curious, Ginny's eyes left the page, settling on her best mate.
"I liked that he didn't ask awkward questions." Mione closed her eyes for a moment, recalling the chat. "No prying or fussing. He gathered there was a problem, but he didn't need to know anything more — he just acted. It was impulsive, sure, but what he chose to do was beautifully harmless, and really quite sweet."
"Mmm hmm..." Ginny shifted, and nestled her shoulder into Mione's side. "Lot of people ask awkward crap, don't they?"
"That's true, isn't it" Mione shrugged, then nodded absently. "But not Harry."
"Mmmm." Ginny's head nodded its way deep into a fold of the blanket. "Not Harry."