Chapter 7. Questions
"Aeroplane and lipstick stain,
Saying bye to you again,
Life is such a bloody pain,
Next week we'll do it all again..."
She laughed because Harry truly had woven her solemn little tune into the prelude. She laughed because the song was as silly as she thought it might be, and because this was the first time she'd heard Harry sing something so frivolous. She laughed because nobody in the Half Moon cared if she was silly enough to sing right along with it... and because Mione had surrendered to the urge, and was actually up there with her, singing (badly) and dancing, in a room full of strangers.
But, more than anything, Ginny laughed because she was happy.
There were a number of reasons to be happy, beginning with an afterglow that had set in from earlier this evening.
To begin with, there was a bit of residual heart-flutter. She was aware of (and not the least bit worried about) that little symptom of happiness that began when a certain vocalist had greeted her by taking her hand. And holding it for at least three seconds. Then, more tangibly, she had really enjoyed a relaxed meal with Harry, Lee and Mione. Most encouraging was a real satisfaction in having banished the awkwardness between Harry and hersel. Finally given a chance to act casually, their jitters had gone down about as fast, and easily, as those first couple of beers they had shared.
There had also been a subtle relief when that odd, long-haired stranger had departed, but for the time being Ginny had pushed that episode from her mind, replacing it with thoughts of what a fun time she was having.
Ginny couldn't recall all that many 'fun times' in her life. It's not as though she had any bias against letting loose and enjoying herself, but she'd have to admit that she rarely succeeded. Luckily, tonight it all seemed so easy. And she decided there to be a good lesson in there, somewhere. As in, perhaps, having fun was a great way to find yourself happy, which was a recipe for laughter, which turned out to be a surprising amount of fun, which...
Rather than waste 'fun'-time getting tied up in circular logic, Ginny decided she'd just laugh again. Which made her happy. Even if Mione was looking at her as if she was a certified loon.
Meanwhile, on stage, Lee revved up one last drum crescendo, and Harry wound down the mock-grousing vocals with one final, mock-weary "Saying bye to you, again."
With the lights dimming, his two guitar-playing band-mates backed off their staged harrassment and receded into the shadows. All fell dark, but for a single stool over to the side, bathed in a low, lonely spotlight.
Retrieving his guitar from the stand, Harry approached the seat and settled onto it. Absently, he picked several notes above the twelfth fret then reached over to adjust the microphone. Straightening up, he gazed diffusely beneath the stage-lights, toward the audience.
"Everyone feels a little down, sometimes," he said.
Silence fell, but for a few hasty coughs and whispers. Ginny slid an arm around Mione. Her friend reciprocated and they nestled into each other in the way that good roomies do.
The slightest smile flickered at the corners of Harry's mouth, then he raised his eyes higher, more focused. "When you're feeling down, it makes you feel alone. And chances are, when you're all alone, it makes you feel down. That's called being in a rut, yeah? But, hey, you know what?"
He paused for a moment guessing, accurately, that he had the audience too mesmerised to get any reply. His face brightened, this time into a full smile that made his eyes crinkle a bit. "Everyone... everyone... no matter how sad and downtrodden truly does have someone."
Harry waited another theatric moment, before plucking a low F.
"Yes, well this is a song for all the 'someones' out there — the ones who are waiting somewhere, waiting for you perhaps, just like you're waiting for them. This is a song about finding that someone... and letting that someone find you."
He strummed three notes.
Ginny and Mione both pulled sharp breaths.
"Isn't that...?!" Ginny's hand closed over her mouth. "That sounds like... D'you suppose...?"
Harry's smile flickered one last time, then he closed his eyes. His fingers tripped lightly over the strings for an entire measure before leaning forward to the mic.
"In the pain of irony,
in a day of cold returns,
he'd almost given up,
surrendered to the fears."
From somewhere in the darkness, Lee, Dean and Shay joined in with a lilting harmony as Harry rose to his feet, shifted to 12/8 time, and elaborated the bluesy melody.
had nowhere left to go, but ride the rails.
Maybe his race was run.
Underneath a shabby phosphor light,
He'd learn, she was the one..."
Ginny pulled Mione close, so close, then released. As she gazed stagewards, swaying with the music, a tear tried to escape her eye. No witnesses can attest whether any moisture was, in fact, set free. But, any tear at that moment would have rolled softly down her cheek to grace an expression that was somehow both sadder, and happier, than any grin.
Ginny's lips moved. To begin with, they softly sang along with the verses that she knew, but after a time her lips reverted to words that were enshrined in her heart.
Thank you Harry.
I will never, ever, forget this song.
It's so very nearly... almost... magic.
These words did not actually rise above the volume of the music. Nobody heard them; not even the singer to whom the words were nominally addressed. But that didn't matter because the right words will always be, in their own way, magic.
Drumming can be hard work.
Beyond the sheer physicality of it, there is the taxing mental challenge of directing the whole band from the rear — guiding everyone's rhythmic pace in every number of every set; always ready to jump in with improvisations whenever anyone else goes a bit loose and creative. Lee figured it could have made for an olympic sport a fair sight more demanding than curling. Fortunately, he kept his body and mind fit (and demanded the same of his band-mates) to the point where some nights — the ones when everything purred like a well-oiled machine — he could settle in and have a cracking good time.
Tonight was definitely one of those nights!
Everything was rocking so grandly that Lee had played the last half hour with a permanent grin on his face. The crowd was jazzed and responsive in all the right ways. The sound system was great, and the Stags were working it well. Dean and Shay kicked around with lots of energy, making cool noise and having fun.
Well, when it came to performances, Lee rarely used the terms 'Harry' and 'fun' in the same sentence (the word always seemed too simple, whereas his bro was way-deep and complicated) but there was one thing the elder Jordan was utterly convinced of at the moment — the Mysti Stags' lead vocalist was... on his game!
it had been nearly a month since the phenomenal break-out performance at the Camden Palace. Those weeks, unfortunately, had contained an unbroken string of non-phenomenal performances, and Lee had felt a steady, low-level, concern for his brother's... Brother's what?
It surely wasn't apathy, but what was it? Just as Lee had never figured out quite what had sparked at the Palace back in January, he wasn't sure what Harry had been lacking ever since.
Without understanding the problem, Lee had no good advice to offer, so he did what he did best. This was to shut up, and wait for the problem to work itself out; hoping that somehow Harry would sort things through on his own. And so, Lee had never lost faith. He always assumed that, soon enough, his bro would find a way to recapture the passion and musical magic he'd proven himself capable of.
And, tonight was stunning proof of that! If ever an older brother needed a reason to grin, this was it. Each number, the music lit up with a flame every time Harry took the mic. His voice was like an expensive Christmas candle; the music wasn't tearing out of him like the angsty dramatic exposition in Camden, but it was rich, full and steady, and it was making connections with the audience that Lee knew only rare, gifted singers could achieve.
So, every time Lee heard a really awesome verse, he'd sneak the tiniest little peek away from the frenzy of his drumming; out past his grooving mates, curious whether he could spot a half-way sensible reason for why the world was all so right tonight with their lead vocalist.
What was different? What was sparking the spark?
Being incredibly sharp — acute enough to cut through the stage lights), Lee's eyes, would glance past Harry and trace out along the direction the singer was facing. And, time and time again, Lee couldn't help noting that this direction kept pointing toward a certain audience member.
A certain petite redhead.
And then Lee would hone his ears on his brother's voice. And he began to wonder...?
And then his grin spread just a little wider.
The crowd at the Half Moon had clamoured loudly for an encore, and the Mysti Stags had obliged. Ginny was curious whether Harry would try out his 'Grey Veil' solo again, but she wasn't sure if she wanted him to. The song was wonderful, but it awakened... emotions... in her; powerful sentiments that she knew, in her heart, that she eventually ought to explore. But not tonight. Some nights might be meant for soul searching, but tonight was meant for, well, tonight.
As it was, the Stags trotted out a cover single from the Scottish band 'Dawn of the Replicants', then closed with a spirited reprise of 'Three Feather Sunset' that brought the house down.
As the lights came up, Mione was checking her watch to gauge how much time there was before they would need to dash for a bus, when Langley appeared. He grinned and glanced at the girls' footwear. "Glass slippers haven't fallen off yet, eh? Might there be any persuading you mademoiselles to stick around for a while?"
Ginny looked hopeful, but Mione sighed. "We'd best not, Ginny. The transit is already running thin now, and I really don't fancy walking the streets on a Saturday night."
"Tut, Miss Granger." Langley shook his head. "NLTA guests needn't walk. We have a private driver who can bring you home whenever you wish." He gestured toward a unifomed woman standing alone in a corner.
"Private driver?" Mione blinked. "I... I suppose, yeah?"
"We can stay for a little while." Ginny smiled. "Provided you're certain she won't mind?"
"Dora? Mind?" Langley laughed. "Nah, she's brill and chill, with wits to kill. Let me introduce you to her now, so she knows you for later. Then we'll all go in to see how the 'Stags' party is progressing."
"Oi mate!" Shay clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Since when d'ye learn to sing, uh?"
"Yeah, Harry." Dean gave him an odd look. "You were really hitting the notes tonight. You been taking professional lessons?"
Harry shrugged, kicking off his shoes. "Reckon I'm just figuring it out as I go, yeah?"
"Orrrrriiiiight! Forget Elvis Costello!" Lee came in, fist pumping. "U2-who? Strolling Drones? Bag 'em all, mates, 'cause Mysti Stags just owned the Moon!"
"Half of it, anyway," Dean quipped. Harry rolled his eyes, but couldn't help smirking a bit.
"Eh, what do you expect? Stags rule." Shay yawned, tossing his shirt in the hamper and pulling a fresh tee from his duffel. "So's it time tae invite our little flock o' birdies in tae meet the 'Owners' yet?"
"Soon, I reckon." Lee nodded. "I've no biz updates for you that can't wait til tomorrow's practice. But it was bloody hot out there. So shower first; then we'll party. Nuff said, yeh?"
Before making his way to the showers, Lee reached for a bottle of beer, downed half of it and roped his brother into a sweaty half-hug.
True to his word, Lee said nothing. He didn't need to. One exultant grin, and Harry's in reply; among two brothers, that pretty well said it all.
"... Lor' luv a duck! Yer know it's a rare an' fine night when Harry invites someone back. He's a sweetie, but that's jes not 'is style. Yer two mus' be verr-ry special!"
Ginny grinned, stretching up toward Mione's ear. "Something tells me, I may find myself liking this woman."
Dora laughed. Approaching the dressing room door, she paused for a moment to listen. Then she pushed through abruptly. Standing there, hands on hips, she offered a disapproving look at the clothed band members inside. "Blimey, blokes! All showered an' dressed already? 'At'll teach me not to chit 'n' chat, eh?"
"Oi, Tanner!" Shay stepped back from a circle of girls clustered around him. "There's nothing done 'at can't be undone, eh?" He tugged suggestively at his shirt.
"Keep it on, Finnegan!" Dora held up her hand. "Ye're in the presence of proper ladies for once in yer bleedin' life, so straighten up."
Dean's tall frame began to emerge from around a pillar. "Proper ladies? Now, why the hell would proper ladies...?" The snark died on Dean's lips the moment he saw Mione and Ginny. "Oh."
A half dozen groupies raised sour brows as the guitarist maneuvered away from them. Dean adjusted his tank top slightly, and extended his hand to first Mione then Ginny. "Hi! I'm Dean Thomas. I don't believe I've seen you before."
"We're friends of Harry and Lee." Ginny's smile strained when she realised her hand was not being immediately released. "Are they in here? I'd really like to-"
"Lee Jordan at your service!" Lee emerged; his hair still damp from the shower. "Well, if it isn't the enchanting Miss Smith! Did our show meet your exacting standards, milady?"
"It was brilliant!" Escaping Dean, Ginny opened her arms, unsubtly soliciting Lee's hug. "I almost got... okay, more than almost, got misty-eyed from Harry's new slow number. I was wondering if I, er..."
"Looking for Harry?" Lee pulled back; a sparkle in his eyes. "He's right around the corner." He gestured back and to the right. "Feel free to join him, but approach quietly, so's not to mess up his post-gig zen thing. Don't let it stop you, though, as I know for sure he'll be glad to see you."
Lee gave her a cheery wink, then turned to welcome Mione in with a proper embrace.
Thus liberated, Ginny drifted back in the direction Lee had indicated. With every step, she found herself feeling more and more dissociated from the exhilaration unfolding around her. Discovering a wood-paneled side corridor that seemed to lead to the showers, she turned to follow it back, and spotted a darkened alcove part way down. Barely visible therein was the slight fringe of a Persian carpet whose purpose she immediately guessed.
Perhaps it was a trick of configuration or rooms and corridor, but the place back here seemed remarkably quiet. To Ginny, the setting felt distinctly solemn; even more placidly remote from to the festivities taking place not forty feet away.
Curious and almost light-headed, an odd sense of heightened awareness tingled in Ginny as she approached. Blended with her anticipation of seeing Harry was a hint of reluctance or uncertainty — a vestigial twinge of the old 'forbidden' . Something about walking slowly back that dim corridor made her wonder if, despite having managed to topple a daunting barrier in her mind, the progress had left bits of scattered psychological rubble around which she, perhaps, was still fated to gingerly clamber around.
Rubble she could handle. She paused, took a breath, then began her cautious final approach.
She found him cross-legged on the floor, sketched in the coppery incandescence of a single, low-watt bulb. Still engrossed in travels on some far-off tranquil plane, Harry did not move. Nothing in his bearing seemed, yet, to acknowledge her presence.
A part of Ginny wanted to turn away; to give him peace in what was surely a very private experience. But Lee's admonition was fresh in her mind, so she willed herself carefully forward, stood a long moment in front of him, then folded her legs to sit face-to-face.
A long moment hung in the air. The ebbs and surges of distant background voices blended to a mist.
Then, eyes still closed, he leaned forward a fraction of an inch and parted his lips. "Ginny?"
He smiled slightly for a second, then words emerged, bearing an almost featureless calm.
"Have you ever gotten the feeling...?"
Ginny held her breath, waiting for him to resume.
"Do you ever get the feeling that a part of you is hidden away? That that there were many things that you may once have known or experienced, but the memories have fallen away somewhere you can't find them?"
Ginny gazed at his moist hair; at his lips; at his cheeks, still flushed from exertion and shower.
Sensing that his aim lay more in the pondering than the answering, she replayed the words in her mind. The outer meaning of the sentence was a very simple question, but she couldn't help note how the phrasing seemed almost to strain to avoid the words 'forgot' or 'forgotten'.
Either way, the answer to her was obvious. She did have many gaps in her past, and those gaps did not feel as though they were forgotten. Forgetfulness implies 'negligence', and she knew too well she had never been a 'negligent' person.
To the contrary, Ginny had always been quiet and watchful. She spent much of her time quietly noticing things; grasping details that others missed; seeing connections that most would overlook, and storing that information for future use. She saw no reason why her past memory should be so shoddy, when her present mind placed so much value on observation...
Yet, negligent or not, the clear response to his question was 'yes'. She supposed she should eventually tell him that, yet she partly also wondered if, without speaking, she had somehow already done so. She studied him again — his face the picture of equanimity; his hair still with that same post-shower glisten; cheeks ever so slightly rosey; eyes closed; his lips still peaceful.
Slowly, she nodded.
Harry sat placidly for another few seconds, before his calm, low voice issued again.
"Do you ever feel like you and I are actually meeting again? As though, once upon a time, we knew each other? Even, perhaps, were friends?"
Exhaling, she inclined her head onto her shoulder, weighing the words.
In truth, she had no clear answer. Oddly enough, at times she had already wondered the same thing, and that had to count for something. To wonder is not quite the same as 'to feel', yet, it did occur to her that even so much as acknowledging the riddle could already be an important step toward knowing the truth.
Ginny turned her thoughts back to Harry's phrase, '... the memories have fallen away somewhere you can't find them...'
She decided at that moment that the answers were surely still there, and that one day she would have the will and strength to find them. Unfortunately, she had grown very accustomed to the truths being shrouded by complex clutter that usually seemed to rise up in odd internal agitation whenever she tried to delve too deeply into deep questions...
Questions such as these. Questions about her past.
Those questions were usually off-limits, but at this moment a few doors had been left slightly ajar. She felt as though, for once, her mind was not completely repelling her, and she was curious why.
Is it just that I'm content? Happy? Is Harry's calmness infecting me?
Is there some aura of peace settled about this little alcove?
She had already wondered about the odd acoustics that screened out much of the raucous party noise, and suddenly wondered if something similar was even filtering some of the chaos within?
Is this meditation another form of 'power'? Like summoning the ring?
Since it had already dawned on her that she and Harry both had unusual 'powers', she began to wonder if they might also share similar afflictions — deep fugues and internal conflict? Was it perhaps also true, then, that Harry had progressed a fair bit further than she had in conquering the debilitating ailments?
Perhaps, right here and now, with all of the noises and stresses pushed into a faint background hum; with nothing before her eyes but the low-lit face of a placid companion, she too was meditating?
Whatever the truth in all of this, an odd moment in a dimly-lit basement corridor with a wonderfully unusual young man had, for the first time in ages, made Ginny think that she might be glimpsing a path toward finally overcoming the tyranny of not only the 'forbidden', but perhaps even of the purple fog. And that thought filled her with a great swell of semi-conscious gratitude. Of its own accord, Ginny's hand must have acted on that feeling, for she discovered that, at some point, it reached over to find one of his and, for some unknown amount of time, she and he had been sitting there in silence, holding hands.
And Harry had opened his eyes.
"So many questions, yeah?" He took a deep breath and smiled. "We'd best get up and join the rest for a while."
In a single, fluid motion, he rose to his feet and helped her up. A bit dazed, she stood there, unmoving; hand still clasping his.
Harry regarded her for a long moment, then pulled closer. For a tantalising instant Ginny thought that he was about to... give her a kiss? A hug? Something like that? But he veered a bit to the side, his lips stopping a couple of inches shy of her ear. "I, uh, wanted to ask you...?" He trailed off.
Ginny blinked. "Er, yes? Ask me?"
"This coming Thursday, Lee and I may be having a little get-together." He pulled back, a shy smile hinting on his face. "No details have been set, so please don't tell anyone yet, except obviously Mione, but... well, I thought I'd tip you off in case you thought you might be interested in coming."
"Thursday?" It seemed to Ginny an odd choice of weekday, but there was no way in hell she was saying no. "Sure." She smiled. "When you have more information, perhaps you could...?"
"Pop by your carrel, or leave you a note?" Harry's eyes sparkled.
"Right!" Grinning, Ginny looked into his sparkling eyes.
She was dearly tempted to hold them deeply and meaningfully; she very nearly initiated any of perhaps six somewhat bold gestures, several of which were things that would be considered a step or two beyond friendship. But she couldn't quite summon the nerve. Instead she pulled him into a two second hug, then let go, so that they could join the others in a spirited round of post-gig carousing.
With Mione fallen asleep on her shoulder, Ginny's attention was divided fairly evenly. In part, she was merely gazing at the passing lights as the Rover 827 made its way through the sparse late traffic on the A501. The other half was occupied with making the occasional suitable response as Dora pointed out her favourite night clubs, pubs and restaurants along the route back to Clerkenwell. The latest, indicated roughly along the direction of Dora's pointing finger, was 'The Albany' — a venue where the Mysti Stags had apparently played last summer.
In the midst of the 'Dora Tanner audio tour of London nightlife', something abruptly occurred to Ginny.
"St. Valentines Day!"
"Eh? Wot's saying?" Dora adjusted the rear-view mirror. "Oh, yer meaning the Emo Valentine's Party at Visigoth's? Bligh! Wouldn't be caught dead with... Emmm... but that's not what yer meaning, p'raps?"
"Er sorry, no." Ginny shook her head. "It just occurred to me that this coming Thursday is Valentines day."
"Aye, GinSmith! Rightly so. An' oi! Three years ago, I recollect a wicked Valentines day knees-up at Carpenters, which is actually just up here and ter the right. Carpy's has the best bitters, but I'll advise you t' first get yer grub at Franco Manca's, which be just kitty-corner along that way..."
Ginny's heart was suddenly beating wildly enough that she completely missed a series of detailed menu recommendations.
Is the get-together at the Jordans' a Valentine's party?
She had never been invited to one before.
No, that was not true. Ginny had suffered through countless bloody tedious primary-school celebrations with pink cut-out cards and pasty-glazed biscuits in which all the boys would cluster around a few flirty four-foot-floozies with French dresses and real silk ribbons in their hair, but piff!
Not one of the flirty little primary school floozies had ever been invited to a Valentine's party... by Harry Jordan.