The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people's diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.
Cheryl Strayed, excerpt from Tiny Beautiful Things
There are days when I wish I would've gone to college. Days that I wish I was sitting in an English class and living in a dorm with a stranger and finding a real future.
Instead, I took all the money I'd saved from working at the Diner and put a deposit on a room in a shitty house in a shitty part of Seattle while I tried to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life.
Today is one of those wish-I'd-gone-to-college days as the wind whips around my face and I've got half a piece of dry toast hanging out of my mouth. The bus should've been here eight minutes ago and my stomach growls, angry at having only been subsisting on bread and coffee the last few days because I was late on my part of the rent and Emmett had to cover the rest and I've been giving him every dime I can find. But it's fine, I've got a private lessons gig with some rich Amazombie's ten-year-old over in South Lake Union after I get off work tonight and I'll finally be able to get some groceries.
I glance at my watch for the millionth time and fidget with my hair under my beanie. I'd had to pull it into a low bun, not having time to tame the wild, matted curls because I'm running my usual five minutes late.
I haven't even thought about getting my haircut over the last few months, too busy with work and writing to bother. Now, though, I'm very aware of how heavy and ratty it's getting. Maybe Alice can do something with it this weekend. Maybe I'll just shave it all off.
The wind blows, cold air whooshing into me again as the bus pulls up to the stop, that familiar smell of public transportation hitting me when the doors open.
The truth is, I love the bus, even though it drives me fucking crazy with its irregular schedule. It might just be my shitty neighborhood though because I've never had a late bus when I'm downtown. As I take my seat, I put my headphones on, these terribly big ones that my dad gave me years ago. They were his when he was growing up in the 70s but they sound the best. A little hazy but I like it that way.
My ride to Ballard is uneventful, everyone is on their way somewhere and not bothering much with each other. I listen to a couple of demos Mike and I had recorded last year, and I'm irritated by the way his tempo is just a little bit off. He was never much of a drummer, more interested in making out and getting high than he was about the music.
Maybe that's what my problem was, the reason he felt the need to move 3,000 miles away two months ago, our relationship ending with a screaming match in front of the airport and a "go fuck yourself" instead of a kiss goodbye.
I sigh, switching to some angry punk music to get him out of my head. Looking out the window, the city calms me down, the skyscrapers making me feel small. I love Seattle, I really do, but over the last few years houses have been torn down in favor of these ugly apartment and condo towers. People that have lived in neighborhoods like Ballard since the 50's are being forced out, unable to keep up with the rising cost that gentrification is creating.
It's depressing. I'd spent years idolizing this city from my small town, fawning over the music scene while I learned how to play as many instruments as I could.
But since I've been here—since the summer after my high school graduation—I've been struggling to find that magic I'd built up so much in my mind.
One shining beacon of light is Ballard Music, the shop I've been working at for the last couple of years. It's my heart and soul—I can't stop my smile every time I reach its storefront. The wooden window frames are painted a bright yellow and there are Christmas lights strung up year-round. Through the windows, you can see the rows of used CDs and records and instruments cover every inch of wall space. Vintage guitars, brand new trumpets, slightly used violins, you name it. Stepping inside, music's playing a little too loudly over the tinny speakers—today it seems that Shelly, the owner, is on an Etta James kick.
"You're late," a voice says from somewhere behind the sticker-covered counter. I sigh as I make my way over, finding Shelly sitting on the tile floor, sorting receipts.
"Alice could do that, you know," I tell her, a little concerned. Shelly's got a bad knee. And a bad hip. She glances up at me, rolling her eyes.
"I don't trust Alice with these. She's too up in the air. Too many drugs probably," Shelly mutters and I can't help but laugh.
"Says the lady who spent the 60's in San Francisco." She still dresses like it too, long flowing skirts, rings on every finger. Another eye roll.
"I don't pay you to harass an old woman, do I?"
"I do that for free," I say, grinning and Shelly clucks her tongue and ducks her head, but I see her smile. Shelly and I have a good rapport, and though she'll never admit it, I'm her favorite employee.
"Will you go make sure Alice hasn't fallen into a box or something? She's been in the back room for a while," Shelly calls as I'm already heading in that direction, shaking my head. Alice has thankfully not fallen into a box, but is successfully hidden behind a shelf of violins.
"What are you doing?" I ask and Alice jumps ten feet in the air, her hand flying to her heart.
"What the fuck?" she breathes, the curse word comical in her high, tinkling voice.
"You better get out there before Shelly brings in the drug dogs," I tell her with a grin. Alice throws her hands up dramatically.
Drama is Alice Brandon's middle name.
"Jesus Christ that woman has done more drugs than I can even name. She's paranoid. She's projecting her own faults onto me! You know I don't do drugs. Jasper's stoned most of the time and she doesn't say a single word to him."
"It's his Southern charm," I add. "It's distracting. She's sorting receipts, by the way."
"I told her I would do it! I just needed like, a five-minute break from her nagging. Jesus Christ almighty," Alice mutters, frustrated, as she stomps her way through the door, back to the store.
"Love your outfit by the way," I call after her and without missing a beat, Alice throws a smile over her shoulder before continuing on her way. Alice is the epitome stylish in a way that says she doesn't overthink it. I've gone thrifting with her before and it's honestly incredible to watch. While I stick to my ever present oversized sweater, shirt, and overalls/jeans/sweats/anything that matches, Alice seems to go for anything at all if it catches her eye. Today she's got on what looks like a waitress' dress and bright purple tights, her small feet in ruby slippers that probably belonged to a child's Halloween costume. Her short, jet-black hair is in two buns on top of her head and her lips are painted to match her shoes.
I look down at my beat up Docs and torn jeans. It doesn't matter that I literally jumped out of bed into the first clothes I could find—this is my standard outfit, which is fine by me. I'm thankful I put on my favorite, wooly cardigan before I left- there's always a draft in the back of the shop during the colder months.
The bell above the door rings and I check my watch—my first lesson of the day must be here. I step into view of the front, spotting Paul and his mom, whose name I can never fucking remember.
"Hey, come on back," I call and head to my little booth across the way, sighing at the smudges on the glass windows that make up the front of it. Viola lesson last night, little sister drooled all over it while she watched her brother struggle through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Inside, I hang my backpack up in the far corner and flip on my amp. Paul's an electric guitar lesson. Twelve years old and loves learning Nickelback songs.
It's an hour of pure hell for me every Saturday morning.
Unpacking my guitar from where I'd left it the night before, I bump into the wall, effectively ripping the corner of one of my posters with my shoulder.
"Dammit," I mutter. It was one of my favorites—Taking Back Sunday from a gig they played in town a few years ago.
I don't get a chance to mourn it though because Paul is already sitting down, stiffly holding his beginner guitar in his lap.
"Let's see, where did we leave off last week?"
Alice is sorting a new shipment of sheet music when I walk Paul to the door. As soon as he and his mom are gone, my shoulders slump and I drag myself over to her.
"What do you want?" she asks, not looking up from the Beethoven she's straightening.
"I just wanted to come say hi, jeez."
"Hi liar, what do you want?" I give her my best puppy dog eyes.
"Could I borrow a couple of bucks to go get a coffee? I'll pay you back tomorrow. Before you say no, keep in mind I just had to listen to Chad Kroeger sing about how you remind him of how he really is over and over and over and—"
"Please shut up and take my card. I want a scone and an iced mocha." Alice holds out her Visa and I take it gratefully.
"I love you, you're my world," I call as I back up towards the door, watching her shake her head.
Remember that gentrification thing I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it's happening across the street. Well, it has happened, or at least started to. Margot's had the best creampuffs and cheap coffee but as of two weeks ago, it's officially a Starbucks.
I've been trying to put off going in as much as possible but I've got a Nickelback/caffeine headache and there's no way I'll make it through the day without something.
So here I am, standing in line to order some shitty, too bitter coffee for far too much money in this weirdly sterile looking environment. The girl making lattes looks far too happy to be here and I'm relieved to see that the guy taking my order looks as miserable as I feel.
Miserable as he may be, he's hot no doubt. Strong jaw, high cheekbones, long eye lashes.
"What can I get for you?" he asks and though it's slightly monotone, his voice is nice. Deep. I wonder if he can sing. There's this song that I've been working on that would really do well with a harmony—someone on a lower register and—
A throat clears and my face turns red.
"Sorry, um, can I get a venti iced mocha, a chocolate chip scone and the biggest black coffee you have?"
He nods as I speak, his head bobbing with each item I list. I watch his hands, his long fingers. He'd have potential as a pianist. I hand over Alice's card but I'm too distracted and I end up practically flinging it to the floor behind him. He stares at me for a long moment while I stutter out another apology and then he finally swipes it and gives it back.
I want to bury myself under the floor but instead I walk away, pretending to be extremely interested in whatever's on my phone. I go on Facebook, just looking for something to do, to distract myself from the hot barista. I'm scrolling past statuses posted by people I went to high school with, talking about their midterms! and their super busy schedules! And how great! college is!
I'm about to just put my phone away and twiddle my thumbs or something but a new post pops up. A photo.
Of Mike with his arms around some blond girl, her mouth pressed to his face.
My stomach is sick and there's some jealousy burning in my chest. I dated him for like five years and he's already letting other girls kiss his cheek?
I click on her name. Jessica Stanley. Ugh, what a boring name. Let's see, from New Haven, Connecticut, has super fake blond hair and studies Chemistry at…Harvard?
"What the fuck?" I say out loud without meaning too. Hot Barista looks up, as does everyone around me. "Sorry," I tell them, stuffing my phone in my pocket, grabbing the drink tray and paper bag that Happy Latte Girl is sliding towards me.
I pretty much run back to the shop, Alice looking alarmed when the door flies open.
"He's dating some girl. Who goes to Harvard," I breathe and her eyes get wide.
"What the fuck?"
"That's what I said!"
She's thoughtful for a moment.
"Okay," she's got a game plan, I love when Alice has a plan. "You—drink your coffee and stay cool, you've got five more lessons today and that gig in South Lake. I will assess the situation and we will go home later and get hammered and burn every photo you have of him."
I take a gulp of my coffee, not caring that it burns the hell out of my tongue.
I'm out of it the entire rest of the day, missing strumming patterns during my lessons at the shop and then horrifically distracted through my whole lesson with Ava, the violinist in South Lake and I almost miss my ride back, just zoning out at the bus stop. I barely remember to go to the bank to deposit the money so I can write Emmett a check.
By the time I get home, I feel like a strung-out pile of garbage. Which of course means that Alice and Emmett and Jasper are already in the living room, playing Kings and screaming at the TV, Jeopardy blaring.
Once they hear the front door close, all eyes are on me.
"Bella needs shots," Emmett yells, getting to his feet and disappearing into the kitchen.
"I have a check for you," I call after him, collapsing onto the couch, laying my head on Alice's shoulder.
"You okay?" she asks softly. I don't get a chance to answer her because Emmett is coming back into the room, a bottle of Fireball in his hand.
"That guy was a dick and you know it, B. I've never supported that relationship," he says to Jasper, who nods, having heard this spiel a lot over the last few years.
He pushes the bottle into my hand.
"We don't have any shot glasses, I think we broke the rest of them on New Year's so you're just gonna have to chug."
It doesn't take much convincing, I've had such a shit day I want to be trashed and feeling nothing. It doesn't take long and Jasper's ordering a pizza so I don't puke my brains out in the morning from drinking on an empty stomach.
"You deserve so much better than that shitsack, B," Emmett slurs earnestly. I roll my eyes.
"He's got a point," Jasper says. "He's going nowhere in life, dude. He would've held you back."
I feel tears well up in my eyes because, I mean, I'm not going anywhere either. I was supposed to take a year off, a year to see if I could do something with this stupid music obsession and then I'd look at school. But a year turned into three and a half and I haven't done anything but write songs and give music lessons and practically starve every month. I look around at my friends and feel so small. Emmett's been my best friend since the fourth grade and he's got a job that gives him health insurance and he still lets me live with him even though I can never afford the rent. Alice is at hair school when she's not being a financial wizard for Shelly and Jasper's got a fucking master's degree in history and chooses to just dick around.
But I guess that's what I'm doing, too. Dicking around.
I take another gulp of whiskey.
Alice is on her phone, laying on the floor with her chin tucked to her chest and Jasper's tapping absently on the old drum kit in the corner of the room.
"He's grown an awful beard," Alice says to no one in particular but holds her phone towards me. She's right, it's patchy. His ugly facial hair helps a little.
"God, this girl wears the same sweatshirt in every picture. We get it, you go to Harvard, you're awesome," Alice continues sarcastically, and I let out a pained laugh.
"Fuck her ivy league sweater," Emmett calls out. "I bet she's boring."
Alice chimes in, "he's just dating her so he can brag that he's getting his dick sucked by a genius while he's working construction or something."
We all laugh, but my mind is looping what Emmett said over and over.
"Fuck her ivy league sweater," I repeat quietly. "Fuck your ivy league sweater."
"You're so much better," Jasper says, tap tap tapping away on the drums, just a simple beat but it gets my mind going.
"Uh oh," Emmett laughs. "She's got that look in her eye. Someone hand her a pen."
One appears next to me, I take it without seeing who had it and I'm already scribbling on an old China Garden menu.
"A song?" Jasper asks, and I hear Emmett and Alice answer in unison like this is some fucking Disney movie.
Ack okay, I only have like 4 chapters of this written but a bunch of it outlined, it's kind of a just a go-as-it-flows kind of deal so far, so I can't promise set update times but im hoping at least once a week. Thank you for reading xoxo