“Do you think your brother’s social flaws have damaged your success as a duo?”
“First, thank you for the question. Second, that’s a fucked-up question,” Alex remarked, making me smile a little. “Oliver is the true talent of this duo. Yeah, maybe he’s quieter, and he stays a bit behind the curtain of success and fame, but that’s because that shit doesn’t matter to him. To him, the main importance is always the music. So, yeah. People see me as more lively, more engaging, more quote unquote ‘normal,’ but they are missing out on the truth.”
“And what’s that truth?”
“I’d be nothing without my brother. Oliver has more depth in the tip of his pinky than most people have in their whole body. He cares about others more than he cares about himself. He pours everything he has into our music, into the lyrics, into the songs that everyone loves. Maybe I do better in certain situations than he does, but it goes both ways. He has more heart than me. He feels deeper than me, he understands people more than I do, even though he’d never admit it. I might be the hype man of Alex & Oliver, but Oliver is truly the mastermind. He is the magic behind us. The true wizard behind the curtain, and it pisses me off that you people don’t see it. The truth of the matter is, without Ollie, there is no music. He’s my better half, and I’d give my life for that guy without a moment’s hesitation, because I know he’d do the same for me. He’s the light to my shadows. He’s my best friend, end of story.” Alex flicked off the ashes from his burning cigarette and sat back in his chair. He gave the interviewer an award-winning smile and said, “Next question.”
The clip ended, and Abigail shut the computer down. Alex’s words kept moving through my head as she continued the conversation. “There are dozens and dozens of interviews like that online. Have you watched any of those ones since he passed away?”
“But you’ve watched and read the negative commentary?”
“And you’ve done the same with the commentary surrounding the situation with Cam, correct?”
“Why is that? Why do you turn to the negative opinions of others rather than the positive ones?”
I shrugged and clasped my hands together. “I don’t know.”
“You do,” she disagreed. “You just don’t want to admit it. You turn to the negative because that’s what you’ve spent so much of your life believing. So these individuals, these naysayers, are somewhat enforcing a flawed thought process that’s been on repeat probably since you were a child. Probably leading back to the first time you felt that you didn’t fit in. That led you to navigate through life dealing with people and situations that then pushed that anchor of self-doubt deeper into the ground of your soul. You were just following the narrative that your brain was creating. But you know the cool thing about this narrative? It’s never too late to change it. If you hear a song on the radio that you hate, do you just continue to let it play? No. You change the station. So, go ahead, Oliver. Change the station.”
“By shutting off the outside noise for a while—the good and the bad—and creating your own original song for your mixtape. You get to decide the good and the bad, and you get to now start surrounding yourself with things that make you feel good about yourself rather than bad. Luckily, I believe you’ve already begun to do this.”
Abigail smiled. “That’s for you to decide. It’s not about the songs you’ve played in the past to yourself. It’s about the songs you want to play from this point out. So, what song are you going to play?”
“I missed your morning song this morning,” Emery said as she chopped some vegetables two days after my therapy appointment. I’d been working through so much of the homework Abigail had assigned me, which meant trying to change the narrative of my normally negative mindset, and that shit was hard to do.
But, I wanted to do it, because I wanted to feel better.
Each day it helped that I was able to see Emery and be around her good light.
“Yeah, I wanted to play it to you in person. There’s a bit of backstory to it.”
“Oh?” She placed the knife down and gave me her full attention.
“Yeah. I don’t know how to start this, so I’m just going to say it. I like you, Emery. I like you so fucking much. I like the way you care for others. I like the way you don’t judge. I like how when you’re happy with the meals you cook, you do a little jig. I like how you listen. I like how you love your daughter. I like how you stay around when I’m at my lows. I like how you laugh. How you smile. How you exist. I. Like. You.”
Her eyes were wide and filled with wonderment as she walked over to stand in front of me. She looked down at her hands before locking her stare with mine. “You like me?”
“I like you,” I swore.
“Good,” she breathed out as she linked our fingers together and held my hands against her chest. “Because I like you too. I like how you interact with Reese. I like how you love your parents. I like how you look after Kelly. I like how you didn’t give up on your music. I like when you’re deep in thought and your forehead wrinkles. I like how you burn bacon. I like how your smile feels like a secret prize that you share with so few. I like how you smile toward me. I like your laugh. Your good days. Your bad ones too. I. Like. You.”
We were close together, her body heat falling against mine. I couldn’t stop staring at her face. Her eyes, her nose, her cheeks, her lips.
I rested my forehead against hers. “I’m a mess,” I confessed. “Even with Abigail, I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to work through my troubles. I fall apart and struggle through normal activities. I am the complete opposite of what normal is. Some days I struggle to get out of bed, and others I struggle to breathe. But you make it easier. You make it better, even without doing anything. Before you, I didn’t want to try. Some days, I still don’t want to, but I’m going to keep trying because I want to be good enough for you. I want to be someone whole so you don’t have to deal with my broken pieces.”
“Oliver,” she sighed as she placed a palm against my face. “Don’t you get it? So much of your beauty comes from those broken pieces. In those cracks is where you shine.”
I swallowed hard and closed my eyes for a moment. “Can I play the song for you now?”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, where the song was already set up. I hit play and placed the phone on the countertop.
“Can I Kiss You?” by Dahl.
Emery’s eyes flashed with emotion as I took my place back in front of her. My hand wrapped around her waist as I pulled her in closer to me. Her hips pressed against mine. Her body melted into my hold. I couldn’t stop staring at her, at her lips, wondering how it was that she tasted. Was it her body that shivered or was it mine? Was it her nerves or mine that were skyrocketing through the space? I didn’t know where her fears began or where mine ended. I hadn’t a clue what her thoughts were, and truthfully, I was working my damn ass off to not believe the negative ones rolling through my head.
It was easy to sound them out when she placed her hands against my chest. My heartbeats flooded her fingertips as she felt what she’d done to me. She’d made my heart beat after months of being inactive.
The song lyrics kept playing, about a man asking permission to have that first kiss, the first moment when their lips crashed into one another. The first time they’d become something new.
And then, she smiled, and said yes.
I didn’t hesitate. My lips crashed against hers, tasting every inch of her being against my mouth. She kissed me back, falling into me just as passionately as I fell into her. She tasted like strawberry ChapStick and new beginnings.
Her arms wrapped around my neck as our kiss deepened. I could have kissed her forever. Her lips were soft; her kisses were full. I liked how she kissed me as if she were searching for every single piece of me. The whole pieces and the shattered corners of my soul.
I kissed her back, searching for the same thing.
Each day, I had to work on changing the dial on the station of my mind to better-feeling thoughts. It wasn’t always an easy thing to do, but that day? In that very moment? I loved the song that was playing.
“Thank you again for passing Abigail’s name on to me,” I told Emery one afternoon as we drove to the grocery store in town. Normally, I hated shopping due to the paparazzi, but any chance I got to spend with Emery, I took.
As far as the weather went, it was a perfect California dream. The sun beamed overhead, the sky clear of clouds and a nice shade of blue. It was days like today that made me happy to live in California.