by Rollie Tom
A little sunshine, a little rain
The weather that summer was its predictably brutal, blistering self but it had no effect on Gabriel and Amy’s ecstatic state of mind. Reunited, they were soon able to move past all doubts and fears about their future together and they fell head over heels in love all over again. Gabriel in particular was sitting on top of the world, overjoyed to be back in Phoenix with the love of his life and far away from the intense L.A. madness. Amy felt complete and secure once more since she could now slumber peacefully in Gabriel’s arms every night. His being there solved all the problems she had imagined were sprouting up between them. Josh had taken a break and gone to visit his folks back east so the two lovebirds were left to get reacquainted at their own pace. They were inseparable, going out together with their many friends and spending several weekends away on camping trips into the mountains. It was as if the angels were allowing them to relive the first magical months they’d known each other. Their rekindled love and devotion was obvious to all. People could see it and feel it flowing freely between their souls. They were, as before, the ideal couple.
After about four weeks of rest Josh returned and he and Gabriel went back to playing at the pub. But this time it was for only three nights a week instead of five and that made a huge difference, especially in Amy and Gabriel’s relationship. The pub’s owner, Tom, didn’t cotton to the new arrangement but they were adamant about not letting the gig get to be a chore. This also gave the duo a chance to work on new songs together on their off days. Their near-legion of local followers could tell that they were stronger and more confident since cutting the album. The crowds were now consistently standing room only and even more enthusiastic than before.
In September they received word that the album’s release was being delayed until early December. Chris also told them to prepare a solid, tight set to take out on a promotional tour along a 12-state college circuit right after the first of the year. Gabriel was reticent about informing Amy of the plan but she took the news better than he expected. Things had been so wonderful for the two of them since he’d been back that she was able to put the memories of the lonely nights she’d struggled through behind her. She rationalized that it would always be hard when he was away but she felt more certain about his loyalty and, therefore, she was more confident about the overall strength of their bond. Besides, as Gabriel had pointed out, lots of couples had to deal with logistic dilemmas. What if he was a scientist doing research in the field or she was a sales representative who had to go on extended trips for her job? Other committed couples who found themselves in that situation were able to maintain a stable home life so why couldn’t she and Gabriel? They’d even seriously entertained the idea of getting married someday and starting a family so what more could she want from him?
Once again the prospect of Amy joining him on the road was broached. But this time they were more realistic and they decided that her coming out on selected weekends would be a sensible pressure-relieving tactic that would benefit them both. Gabriel said he’d gladly starve himself if that’s what it took for him to be able to buy her a round-trip plane ticket. She agreed to give it a try and promised to stay upbeat and cheerful on the phone when he called. They both knew it would take a lot more effort on both ends to keep their love alive and resilient while they were apart.
“Josh and Gabe” hit the record racks on December 5th. The no-frills, grainy black and white photograph of them that graced the cover portrayed them as affable yet serious artists with something to say while the back side featured a pair of stately cacti standing erect in the middle of a desert at noon. They both joked that the packaging implied that they were a couple of “pricks.” A boisterous record release party was held at the People’s Pub that even the local television newscasts took note of and covered. In the middle of January they began to appear on occasion as one of the opening acts for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, mostly in small campus auditoriums, and also as co-headliners with other folkish acts in tiny, university-run student union coffee houses throughout the western states. It was still just the two of them and on some nights it was difficult for their music to be heard over the audience’s animated chattering.
As the weeks turned into months it became obvious that the LP was anything but a smash hit. Their initial single, “Linda,” spurred some interest on a few independent radio stations but it wasn’t getting much airplay anywhere on a regular basis. The audiences were polite and, in some places, fairly responsive but they never became as enthralled with them as their fan base in Phoenix had.
Money was tight and they found they were now earning substantially less than they were at the People’s Pub. Amy flew out to a couple of stops on the tour during the first few months and that proved very therapeutic. But eventually she had to curtail her trips due to lack of funds and the unpredictable scheduling of their concert dates. By early March she had fallen back into a melancholy mood, suffering through recurring bouts of self-pity and loneliness. Amy thought she had prepared herself for those battles with depression and anxiety but they swept in like emotional thunderstorms and drenched her to the bone. By spring she and Gabriel had seen each other only three times in over two months and his absence was beginning to take another toll on her faith in him. Sometimes he’d call her in the early hours of the morning just so he could hear her voice only to hear the phone ring and ring without an answer. She would tell him later that she’d become frightened by herself and spent the night at her sister’s house or that she’d unplugged the phone due to receiving repeated obscene calls. Gabriel had no reason to doubt her. He trusted her without condition. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something vital was draining out of their relationship and that nothing he said or did seemed to be stemming the slow, steady drip.
In early May the touring finally ended. Josh and Gabriel flew to Phoenix from Portland on the first plane out. Even though they loved their time on the stage, playing and introducing their music to thousands of new listeners, they were weary and exhausted after spending four straight months on the road. B.W. picked them up at the airport and dropped them off at their respective abodes in the late afternoon. Amy had told Gabriel that, unfortunately, she couldn’t leave the office early any more because of people taking advantage of her boss’s generosity and, as the manager, she had to set an example.
Just the sight of the outside of their apartment complex was a relief to Gabriel. But as soon as he entered their living room and set down his bags he sensed that something was different. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was so he slowly walked from room to room, trying to figure out what seemed so odd. Nothing was missing, it wasn’t that the furniture had been rearranged or that the carpet color or the wallpaper had changed, it was something intangible hanging in the air. Almost as if an intruder had been there. A cold shiver ran down his spine. He eventually chuckled aloud at his paranoia, though, blaming it on his jet lag and crazy imagination. He knew that within minutes Amy would come bursting through the door and all would be right again. He glanced at the clock. It was 5:20.
Three hours later he was still waiting for her to show up. He’d phoned the office every twenty minutes but got no answer. He couldn’t help but recall that not all that long ago Amy would’ve put nothing ahead of arriving home ahead of time and getting dressed in a slinky nightie to delight his eyes with when he walked through the door. He would’ve been showered with love and affection. This time there was no note, no call and absolutely no clue he could find to inform him of her whereabouts. He became more and more worried for her safety.
He was just about to call and ask B.W. to come pick him up and help him search for her when he finally heard a key turning in the lock. Amy stumbled in with a self-amused smirk on her face. He ran over and put his arms around her but she was unresponsive and her welcome home kiss was not anything akin to that of an anxious lover.
She plopped down on the couch. “’Scuse me, babe. We threw a going-away party after we closed the office. It was for one of the girls at work who’s getting married and we went through a few bottles of champagne and I’m a little bit tipsy, you know? Oh, and you’re all mad now. Why you looking at me like that?”
“A party? You told me you couldn’t pick me up at the airport because they’d gotten strict about people leaving work early but a drunken throw-down is hunky dory? If that’s what was going on why didn’t somebody answer the stupid phone since everyone was there? I’ve been calling over and over like crazy!”
“Didn’t hear it. We had the music playing loud and we were all dancing around and cutting up. Relax, I was able to drive home okay. You’re just overreacting. As usual.”
Gabriel could barely control his anger. “You should’ve left me a note or something, Amy. I was worried sick! I can’t believe you’d rather hang around the place where you spend over forty hours a week than to be here to welcome your man when he comes in from a long road trip! What the hell’s going on with you?”
She glared up at him. “Oh, I guess you expect me to sit at home like some old hag, waiting for you to grace me with your presence for a few weeks when it’s convenient and then turn around and split again. Well, you’re wrong, buster. Dead wrong. I want to have my fun, too!”
Gabriel began to pace the floor and run his fingers through his hair. “I don’t understand what I’m hearing right now. This isn’t like you at all. I’ve been living for this moment for as long as we’ve been apart and here you come staggering in, late and soused and not anything like my sweet Amy.”
“Well, your majesty, maybe sweet little old Amy is finally getting smart. I gotta have more than a part-time lover, baby. I have needs. I get too lonely and insecure and depressed all by myself. And I don’t have to be alone, you know!”
Her stabbing words plunged deep inside of Gabriel’s heart. Especially that last statement. He remembered the strange feeling he got when he walked into the apartment earlier. He pointed his finger at her.
“You’ve been going out on me. Is that it?”
Amy shrugged. “To a movie or a concert or out dancing here and there. Nothing serious. Just trying to have a good time. Anything wrong with that?”
“Yes,” he shouted. “Plenty!”
His outburst startled Amy a little. Perhaps she’d said too much. “Well, that’s just too damned bad,” she stammered. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
She rose unsteadily and went into the bathroom.
Gabriel sat down on the couch in a huff and lit a cigarette. He thought about the countless nights on the road when he chose to voluntarily sequester himself inside his motel room, turning down the inviting offers to party into the early hours in the company of musicians and the ever-present groupies. He’d been determined to stay true to Amy no matter what and had steadfastly refused to let himself be tempted into infidelity. Now he was feeling like a fool.
Amy came out of the bathroom looking pale and slurred something along the lines that she didn’t feel well. She then went into the bedroom and shut the door behind her. Gabriel remained on the couch, staring at the floor. He couldn’t fathom what was happening. The single most important person in his world was acting like someone he didn’t know. His fear that she might be slipping away from him was all too real at the moment. About an hour, three beers and many cigarettes later he walked into the bedroom and went to sleep on the bed beside Amy. He didn’t try to hold her.
Maybe this was all just a bad dream.
Things were a lot better the following morning. A very humbled and grossly hung-over Amy apologized profusely for what she had said and how she had acted, blaming it on frustration, her “time of the month” and way too much bubbly. She confessed that she was acutely ashamed of herself and assured him that she’d make it up to him in the days to come. She immediately went back to behaving like the Amy that he’d fallen in love with and Gabriel was vastly relieved.
They started going on walks to their special spot in the park and went over to B.W. and Michelle’s house a couple of times a week to play Spades. Since Josh and Gabe only performed on Saturday nights now, they sometimes hung out at the pub with old friends and, for the most part, enjoyed being together again. Yet this time around they intentionally avoided discussing the future since it was still very uncertain. The next leg of the tour wouldn’t start for a while but it loomed on the horizon like an approaching hurricane and that specter started to affect their day-to-day relations in little ways here and there. Minor complaints and spats over insignificant things arose seemingly without provocation, creating a wispy atmosphere of tension that had never existed before. Sometimes several days would pass by without them making love due to hurt feelings.
Gabriel knew that he and Amy would have to come to some kind of a mutually agreed-upon understanding about a lot of things before he left again. He couldn’t stand the thought of losing her and he knew that there were a hundred guys out there who’d give anything to have a chance with Amy. He felt he had a right to expect her to remain faithful to him but he couldn’t chain her to a chair, either. He really didn’t know what to do. Somehow he just had to make it work because she was all the family he had. His parents had no idea where he was and he intended for that to never change. With Amy he was hoping to start his own family.
Josh and Gabriel were sitting on cushions on the floor of the sparsely-furnished living room in Josh’s new and larger apartment. The golden sun streamed in the large front window, competing with the rattling air conditioner for supremacy. A ceiling fan helped to even the playing field but the heat was winning by a nose.
Ever since coming back from the coast they’d found that the process of writing new songs and finishing older ones was going a lot easier than ever before. The two of them held different and often strongly-defended opinions on many worldly subjects but when it came to composing tunes they had no egos whatsoever. Ideas were tossed in and out without argument as if each of them had the very same mindset. They knew what they were looking for and their sole aim was to create the best music they could. Period. They instinctively recognized a great lyric line for what it was the second it appeared no matter which one of them thought of it and Gabriel in particular was quickly developing a knack for coming up with intriguing countermelodies that added unexpected dimensions and possibilities. The result was that their more recently-written songs were better by far than the ones on their debut disc and their ability to collaborate so effortlessly excited them both.
However, on this bright morning their normally-reliable muse was evidently sleeping in and they were stuck at an impasse. They’d been stubbornly hacking away at one song for a solid hour without any breakthrough moments happening. Josh repeatedly strummed two chords aimlessly, lost in thought. Gabriel stared up at Josh’s poster of Farrah Fawcett in her tight swimsuit on the wall but he wasn’t really looking at it.
Finally Josh broke the silence.
“I’d like to make our next album sound completely different from the first one. A lot different, in fact. I think this coffee house genre we’ve been pigeon-holed into is petering out and we need to evolve with the times. No one wants mellow country-folk music nowadays. Vietnam is over, thank God. Everybody’s ready to get up and dance a little. I hope Chris can swing a deal to finance a band to back us up. Of course, that’s if we get to cut another record at all,” Josh said.
He looked up and noticed that Gabriel wasn’t listening.
“Hello! Earth to Gabe. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?”
Gabriel snapped out of whatever dimension he’d gone to.
“What’s the matter with you? Trouble on the home front? Again?”
“What home front? You mean Amy’s house? It doesn’t feel much like home to me anymore. I feel like I’m walking on egg shells over there.”
“That bad, huh? I feel for you, man. I went through the exact same thing with that girl in Denver. Things went progressively downhill and then one day she said ‘It’s me or music, take your pick.’”
“So what did you do?”
Josh gestured. “You don’t see her around anywhere, do you?”
“No, I guess not. But Amy hasn’t given me any ultimatums like that. Yet. It just seems like she’s stopped trying to make it work. She’s always going on about the people she’s hanging around with every day at her office, the super vacations they go on and how much money they make. The expensive clothes they wear. The fancy cars they drive. Possessions, possessions, possessions. I feel sorry for those people, myself, but I think she envies them. She didn’t used to be like that.”
“Why do you feel sorry for them?”
“They’ve convinced themselves that they have to compete in the world of material things and the almighty dollar because they lack the guts to strike out on their own and try to accomplish something creative or unique. So they end up being jealous of musicians and artists in general because of the freedom we have and they do everything they can to convince themselves and everyone around them that their world is the real world. And anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a loser by default. They make guys like us out to be bums. Maybe Amy doesn’t have any faith left that I can be successful or even productive at what I’m doing.”
Josh lit a cigarette. “It’s not a question of her having faith in you at all. She just feels left out of your life and she wants to do something for herself. You’re doing something that fulfills you. She’s not. But that urge to find fulfillment is strong, man, so she’s starting to consider alternatives. People change, Gabe. And sometimes we get in their way. I just hope you’re prepared if the worst happens and you two split up. I’ve seen a lot of talent go to waste over a heartache.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m in this to the finish. I can only promise her my love and loyalty and if that’s not enough then…”
Gabriel flippantly waved his hand, then grabbed his guitar.
“Let’s change the subject. Tell me what Chris said again.”
“We’ll know something by three today. He said it’s a decision between us and a countrified rock group out of Nebraska. One gets to cut another album and the other one goes wee, wee, wee all the way home. It’ll probably come down to the flip of a coin.”
Gabriel shook his head. “Crap. It’s not enough to be talented, you have to be lucky, too. Play those chords for the verse again. I’m starting to hear a melody line in my head.”
Summer was just starting to show signs of finally winding down. Josh and Gabriel were back in L.A., doing preliminary work for the recording of their sophomore LP. Globe Records had placed their bets on the duo from Phoenix. They’d only been gone for a week but no matter how hard she tried to put it all into perspective, her man’s absence still left Amy all alone and sad about how things were going between her and Gabriel.
She was at her desk, catching up on her filing and wondering what Gabriel was doing at that very moment when Kenny came in the door. It was almost noon and he insisted that she take a break and join him for lunch. She knew from experience that if she wasn’t paying attention she’d work straight through without grabbing a bite and end up with a splitting headache around three o’clock. She took him up on his offer.
Fifteen minutes later they were sitting across from each other in a crowded café. Kenny quizzed her about Gabriel all the time now. He’d finally broken up with his long-time girlfriend the month before and he was all done talking about her. He was ready to move on.
“So tell me, how long is this man of yours going to be gone this time?
“Who knows? Globe Records picked up the option so they’re starting work on the new album. I guess they’ll be in California doing that till they get it done. It’ll probably take three or four months, at least. Then they’ll go back out on the road to promote it. I can’t stand it. I’m an emotional mess, Kenny. I feel so confused all the time. One day he’s worth the wait and the next he’s not. I just want a normal relationship. Is that so much to ask? Sometimes I wish he’d never met Josh at all.”
“You sound bitter.”
“Do I? I don’t want to be that way. I really am happy for Gabriel. He found what he was looking for.”
“Yeah, but there will come a day when he’ll have to stop the fantasy and realize that he has to work for a living like the rest of us bozos. Playing music is just that. Playing. And playing is what children do, not grown men. And he’s also got to wake up and see that being in the music business is a horrible investment of a man’s time and energy. If he has half a brain at all he’ll notice that the odds of him making anything substantial are heavily stacked against him. He’d be better off spending his time sitting at a Blackjack table in Vegas.”
“Oh, but he says he’s not in it for the money at all. He just wants to express his artistic self. Wealth and security don’t mean anything to Gabriel.”
“Now you’re being sarcastic and, frankly my dear, it doesn’t become you. Amy, what are you doing wasting your time with a guy like that? Look at me and listen. You’re an attractive, intelligent woman. You can have anything you want right now. What you need is a man who knows what makes the planet spin, honey. A man who knows what a lady of your caliber needs and deserves. A man of vision and potential. Poor Gabriel’s living in the sixties. Life isn’t like that anymore.”
“What can I say? I think you may be right as rain but something inside me tells me to see it through. There’s still something very special about Gabriel and how he makes me feel. He’s my first experience with real love and he is a wonderful man. I love him to pieces, it’s just that I don’t know what kind of love it is anymore. Having said that, I’m not sure if I can ever leave him.”
“Listen up. I know first hand how hard it can be to walk away from someone you love but it’s time for you to start looking out for number one. He is! Selfishness is not a bad word anymore, Amy. The bottom line is this. No one’s going to hand happiness and prosperity to you, you’ve got to reach out and grab it for yourself. If Gabriel wants to be a starving, carefree troubadour traipsing about the country singing about flowers and rainbows then let him be one. But you don’t have to starve with him or walk through this life alone while he chases a pipe dream. Amy, you were made to enjoy so much more.”
“So you think he’s holding me back?”
“But I get so scared, Kenny. I remember how empty my life was before he came into it. I used to tell everyone I was happy and content to live on my own but that was a lie. I put up a good front but on the inside I was hollow. That’s no way to live. I know that if we split up Gabriel will land on his feet and go on. He’s a survivor. But who’s going to take care of me?”
Kenny smiled reassuringly and reached out over the table, taking her hand in his.
Amy looked into his eyes for a moment, then the waiter came to the table with their food. They ate in silence as Amy wrestled with her thoughts and emotions. She was becoming more and more conflicted with every passing day. She no longer knew who was who anymore. Who was she? Who was Gabriel? And who was Kenny? How could she go on living in a constant state of inner turmoil hour after hour? What was right and what was wrong? She had no answers.
Miles away on the west coast Gabriel could sense that Amy was going through a rough stretch and he wished he could do more to comfort and reassure her. Their attempts to talk things out over the phone had, as of late, always ended in an uneasy stalemate where neither of them was satisfied. He’d learned not to make promises he couldn’t keep because she always turned them around to where he looked like a habitual liar. She’d bring up their meager finances and complain that they were living on next to nothing. He knew that even the most successful artists had had to pay their dues on their way up but he couldn’t explain it to her. She would counter with the fact that the overwhelming majority that dutifully paid their dues still didn’t make it. He encouraged her to count her blessings by focusing on what they had in each other, not what they didn’t have. She would respond by informing him that when he said things like that it made her feel like a selfish ingrate.
The only thing he knew for sure was that, for the first time in his life, he felt like he was doing what he was born to do. He was being creative, expressing his experiences and innermost thoughts through music and lyrics and sharing them with thousands of people. Josh’s guidance and instruction had opened up vast new territories in his mind that he never knew were there and it was exhilarating to be a part of something that was bigger than him alone. He wanted to challenge himself. He wanted to see if he could make a difference. Amy said that she understood all of that but openly wondered what was in it for her. She had no idea what she should be doing while he pursued his destiny and she knew she wasn’t getting any younger.
They could see each other’s point of view to some extent but the lingering questions still left them without any definitive answers. Gabriel firmly believed that love could overcome any hurdle. Amy didn’t know what to believe in. They finally agreed one night over the phone to allow each other the freedom to cautiously venture outside their relationship to experience other people and avenues. Both of them openly expressed serious reservations about taking that risky step but they, especially Amy, had to know who and what was out there in the great big world. They had to discover for themselves that the grass wasn’t any greener on the other side of the fence. Only then would they know for sure that they were made for each other.
On a coffee and smoke break from the afternoon session Josh and Gabriel were sitting alone in the control room of “The Next Studio” located just off of the Sunset Strip. Gabriel had been unusually quiet all day.
“What’s bugging you this time?” Josh asked.
“Oh, what do you think? Woman problems. Same old crap.”
“So much for the perfect relationship, huh? At the risk of sounding like a skipping record, I’ve seen this kind of thing happen so many times it makes me wonder if it works for anyone anymore. I figured if any two people could make a relationship work, though, it was you and Amy. Sorry it’s hit a snag, man.”
“But it was so good for so long. Why can’t she just trust me and be patient? We’re both still young so what’s the damned hurry? I haven’t done anything wrong and you know it. Somebody’s filling her head with lies.”
“Probably so. I just hope you’re strong enough to get through whatever calamity goes down between you two. It can be excruciating. And destructive.”
“Don’t you be worried about my mental health. I’m committed to the one thing in my life that is working. Josh and Gabe, incorporated. I just know this album is going to be the one that breaks through for us. So I won’t let Amy’s insecurity distract me from my goals. I can’t promise her anything but my unending love and fidelity and if that’s not enough then I guess I’ll just have to learn to live without her.” Gabriel sighed. “Just saying that scares the crap out of me, though. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love Amy.”
“Where’s it all stand right now?”
“I made one final offer to her. If she’d quit her job and come be with me out here in L.A. and then later on the road I’ll support both of us by hook or crook. She’s got enough secretarial experience and enough smarts about her to be able to find employment at any point in the future but this opportunity for me to be successful in music won’t come around again. For me and you it’s now or never. The fair deal I’m putting out there is that if she’ll take the same risk that I’m taking we’ll be together and that alone will fix a lot of our difficulties. I also told her that somewhere along the way we’d get married and make it official. To that she said she wants time to think it over without pressure and, oh yeah, now she also wants to be able to see other people so she’ll have no doubt that I’m the one for her.”
“Uh, oh. That’s never good.”
Just then the control room door opened and the studio’s scrawny engineer immediately came in, sat down and got right back to work, playing back what they’d recorded earlier. Josh and Gabriel instantly switched gears. Time was money and there was no allowance in the budget for idle chit-chat.
(Download the music of Josh & Gabe on "Two Old Friends" by Davis-Anderson Project at Amazon and ITunes)