I can’t wait for you to meet Sarah, her best friend Melody, and our hero Michael and his band mates Aidan and Conor.
Too bad Conor from the story wasn’t here to do a drum roll… because I’d like to share the prologue and first chapter!
Eugene, Oregon, USA
“God, Sarah, I just wish you’d think about someone else for once.”
Ian’s words burned into me. Sliced into me. Filled me with rage – an emotion so sudden and new that I had no idea what to say. I clenched my fists in my lap and glared out the passenger window, not seeing the people milling around downtown Eugene in the mist. Sunshine broke through for a second and I saw myself reflected back in the window, outrage in my dark eyes. The silence inside the car rang loud and long.
Think about someone else? That’s all I’ve done!
I’ve spent the last three years thinking of him, taking care of him, putting my life on hold for him. Could I ever make up for my horrible mistake three years ago and make things right again? No, I knew better than that. But I only wanted to take a girl’s trip with my best friend Melody. Was that so selfish?
He drummed his fingers on the wheel, fast, irritated. He had cracked his window, even though he knew it bothered my ears, and even the tires rolling on wet pavement sounded passive aggressive.
I worked so hard to erase his pain, to make things right in his life, but they never got better. Really, things were getting worse. Maybe I had finally reached my breaking point.
“Time shouldn’t matter,” he added in a low voice, and the cold anger startled me. “Everyone thinks I should get over it, but what do they know? What do you know, Sarah?” He said my name like it was a dirty word.
A tiny whisper somewhere in my head asked, what about me? Do I ever get to move on? Hadn’t I paid enough?
A feeling had been growing inside me, something restless and wild, and it was reaching a critical point. I wanted more—more what, I wasn’t sure. More life? More adventure? More direction? More connection with other people? I wanted to live a life and not just take care of Ian, alone all of the time.
Maybe it was selfish but the desire was growing more each day.
I worked my jaw side to side to loosen the tension. “I never once said you should just move on. You know that. You know I’ve been there for you.”
Like, every… single… day.
I couldn’t remember how to think about myself anymore. I just wanted a few days to breathe, to think. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I needed to think about, but I just needed to step back from my life to see it. Right now, it all felt like a fog that I couldn’t escape, where I couldn’t really see anything clearly.
In the last few weeks, the trees started budding for spring. The earth was renewing; starting over. Some days, it felt as if everything else on this planet got a fresh start but I wasn’t allowed one.
Some other faint thought followed that one, but I couldn’t grab onto it. A memory? An echo of a dream? Maybe it was a song – I could almost hear a man singing.
If you want to fly, I’ll let you fly away…
I know you were tired of running… I’ll let you fly
The music was just out of reach. It felt like I was trying to remember something urgently important, something that would change everything. I wanted to pull it out of the mist and convince myself I wasn’t going insane.
“I can’t move on,” Ian said so low it took a few seconds for the words to register.
Half of me wanted to turn toward him and reassure him, but what could I say? ‘It’s alright, you don’t have to move on. We’ll stay in our apartment together, just us, and wallow in the pain.’
No. Maybe I didn’t deserve to move on, but I needed to. Wanted to. I wanted to go back to work and see people and live again. Instead of saying any of that, I continued to glare out my window, feeling my heart beating too hard.
We’d driven through downtown to the other side where the intersections were wider. Soon we’d hit the split and turn to go up Coburg. He stopped at a light for a split second before stomping on the gas. I looked forward and gasped.
“Ian, it’s red.”
He slammed on the breaks. The car screeched to a halt right in the middle of the intersection, nothing in front of us.
“What are you doing? Don’t stop! You have to go.”
He gripped the wheel in both hands, staring forward. Horns blared at us. A car flew by from the right, inches from the front of ours. I looked in that direction. A giant silver truck barreled toward us. Our car still didn’t move.
“Ian! It’s not stopping! You have to move!”
Why wouldn’t he move—
Lauren pulled a long sip from her drink before reaching over and hitting “record”.
Her reflection stared back at her, with her sky blue eyes and strawberry blond hair looking washed out. An odd feeling overcame her, like she was looking at someone else. She dropped her gaze. It was her, not the video quality that was fading.
It took a second for her shaky fingers to find their place on the guitar strings. Then she strummed, closing her eyes, pulling the intro out like taffy. She wanted to feel the music, really feel it like she used to—in her heart and soul.
Music made her. It saved her. But not anymore.
That could be a line in another song but those songs were for someone else to sing, not her.
Lauren brought her attention back to this song, the one that had been weaving itself inside her for weeks.
As she strummed, she talked.
“I’m not sure what this is titled. I’m calling it ‘Carry me Home’. It’s more about carrying my music for me. I wanted to share it and say… I wanted to say I love you all. And… and rock on.”
She started to sing.
A bird in a tree, singing
Does the world hear?
A bird in a tree, singing,
Does the world care?
It’s my song
Maybe your song
something we all need to hear
A cry from the deep, secrets meant to keep
Except the bird is singing
So much hurt, everything so weighted
All the time I wasted, all the things I hated
Hope had a home but I couldn’t see
Music was my phone, my way home
Now it will find you for me
Sing, keep the music alive
Take wings and find a home
Take my words and roam
Don’t waste away like me
Find somebody, find somebody
Let the world see
Let the world hear
A bird in a tree
… is singing for me –
Red Rock Beach by Dublin, Ireland
Who are we now? Is Mystic Mist done?
The spike of anger surprised me. It was new, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be angry at Lauren—that was how her dad reacted to everything. I was her safe place. Or had been.
Lauren was gone. Really gone.
And I was thinking about the band? Honestly?
We trudged up the hill like we had an appointment, a destination besides the cliff. Once there, we stood in silence, Conor and Aidan on either side of me. As lead guitarist, I was often looked at as the leader of the band. I wasn’t leading anyone these days. I tossed the handful of sandy dirt over the cliff, watching the wind scatter it into oblivion, off into the Atlantic Ocean.
I had found her in her room this morning, her face so at peace that I couldn’t make myself understand that she was gone. Where had she gone? How could she be here last night and gone today? My brain didn’t bother with answers that my heart couldn’t comprehend.
After all the emergency people left, we’d been sitting around the band house in shock. Aidan decided we were coming here, to say goodbye I guess. Or maybe to have some quiet to gather ourselves. He chose here because this was a place that brought her peace.
Are ya at peace, Lauren?
Conor shook his head, drawing my attention. “She didn’t have to do it.”
The wind almost hid his hoarse voice but then we realized what he said. Both Aidan and I snapped in his direction.
“Conor,” Aidan started in a warning tone, his jaw tight. I clenched my fists but couldn’t contain everything. I threw my hands up, twisting and rushing away from them. Instantly, Aidan and Conor ran around in front of me. Both put a hand on my shoulder.
When I semi collected myself, I said, “We don’t know.”
We didn’t know. All her medical issues, the drugs, the booze… We just couldn’t say what happened yet.
“Yeah, we don’t know it was on purpose,” Aidan said, directed toward his cousin Conor. To me, it didn’t matter, but I wondered why there wasn’t a note or any kind of goodbye. Unless, maybe there was a note somewhere and I missed it? I would look later.
We turned toward the ocean again but didn’t walk back to the cliff. That would be too dangerous, too close to the edge. We were on the edge emotionally already. The daylight was fading away. I didn’t want this day to end this way, without her. But I couldn’t make the minutes stop. Waves roared far below, their briny scent rising up. Staring straight out into the blue endless sky, I picked out the faint shape of the moon. Maybe it was that faint because it was showing from the other side – where she was. Maybe she could see it too.
“Should we say something?” Aidan asked. But no one did. No one could. Especially after Conor’s comment—it was too fresh to even process yet. We couldn’t talk about how wonderful she’d been or how the world would be darker without her. She’d been like dynamite blowing through everything. Her fire went into our lyrics. Her passion and anger in her voice drew crowds at our gigs. She’d been consuming. But, without doubt, we all loved Lauren.
Thinking her name shot a stab of pain through my heart and I looked heavenward, fighting the tears. It wasn’t fair. She was hardly given a chance in life. I had tried so hard to make it better for her and carry some of her pain. I’d been her best friend, listening ear, sometimes her man. It’d been complicated but I had always been whatever she needed.
We started out as neighbors turned friends over a shared love of music. It didn’t take long for me, even as a boy, to know something was off in her home. We were ten the first time I heard fighting. We were playing a board game on the floor in the living room while music videos blared on the TV. She moved her piece on the board and went back to head banging. It took a minute to register the yelling from another room.
I watched the sparkle disappear from her eyes. The front door slammed, and her dad’s current girlfriend continued yelling from the front yard as she left.
Lauren shrugged and turned the music up. “It’s your turn!” she yelled, jabbing a hand at the game. I thought it was okay for a second, but even as a kid I noticed how stiffly she sat and the way she glanced behind me every few seconds.
We heard her father stomp up the stairs and slam another door.
“He’ll be fine after he drinks,” Lauren said as if that were normal. That was her typical reaction, at least the first few years. Then she started down her own path of drinking, drugs, and self harm. It spiraled out of control when her health took a dive—thanks to sickle cell disease running in her family, along with alcoholism and some schizophrenia. Talk about getting the shitty end of the stick in about every instance.
Some days, she was full of fire. Other days she just wanted to hide from all the pain, both emotionally and physically. And through all the days, we had music. Starting a band in my garage happened so naturally that I couldn’t remember who thought of it. We could escape the violence in her home and the entire outside world to get lost into our own.
I choked on a sob, trying to push the past away. Conor and Aidan both wrapped an arm around me.
Conor had been my friend since we could push toy trucks around. He joined the band to play the drums. We’d been lucky to know someone with natural talent, plus Conor’s parents had paid for private lessons from a young age. Conor took only one thing in life seriously, and that was drumming. In all other aspects, he had a ‘live and let live’ attitude.
Conor brought Aidan in to play bass—they were cousins but opposites in some ways. Conor was a ginger with light reddish blond hair. Aidan had dark hair like me, but with deep brown eyes. Their personalities were like night and day as well.
From a young age, Aidan was obsessed with bass players from all over the music world, Duff McKagan, Flea, Cliff Burton, Getty Lee, despite so many Irish bands not including the bass. He was the guy you could go to when you needed advice. He kept the peace when needed. It made sense that he thought of coming here to remember Lauren.
What did that make me? I wasn’t sure. I actually didn’t know my role in life besides making music, keeping the band on track, and keeping Lauren alive. Except I hadn’t.
“Is this the end?” I asked out loud, not thinking.
“What the hell?” Conor nudged my arm. He leaned forward to share a look with Aidan on the other side of me.
“What do you mean?” Aidan asked, “The end of what?”
“The band. Us,” I said. A long pause followed.
“We’re still here,” Aidan finally said quietly. “She didn’t want us to fall apart.”
But we would. I hated that thought, but wasn’t that how it worked? What if I didn’t want us to go on without her?
Conor shook his head. Cleared his throat. He was gearing up to say something important, which wasn’t his style. After some feet shuffling, he said, “People need us.”
I looked at him for a long moment, wanting to believe that but not sure I could. We weren’t that famous. Did our band mean anything to other people, or just to us?
It had been something that kept Lauren going, until it didn’t anymore. Why did this have to happen? Everything felt wrong now. Why couldn’t I have just kept her alive?
It was more than a thought or feeling, so much more, yet it stayed at the edge of my perception, ever so quietly and slowly coming my way. I wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t coming for me, just to me. Peace settled into my chest, like morning sunshine and music at the same time. Chords on a guitar played a soft song. Notes came in from another guitar, both acoustic. A man’s voice seemed to rise out of the song followed by a woman’s, singing in perfect harmony.
I’ll let you fly away . . .
Was this the memory that had tickled my mind? It didn’t matter. This felt so sweet, feeling the music flow through me.
This is what it feels like, I realized, to not be full of guilt.
Then the peaceful feeling evaporated, replaced by darkness and a question: why would I feel guilty? That brought it all back: the argument about the girl’s trip, the intersection, the red light, the truck barreling toward my window as I sat still, helpless. No.
Ian, why didn’t you move?
“Sarah?” The voice was unfamiliar but when I pried my eyelids open, Melody’s face swam in front of me with tears pooling in her greenish-hazel eyes. Her cascading brown ringlets were swept over one shoulder as she leaned toward me.
Why was she so worried?
“Melody?” I tried to reach for her and she took my hand. My mind felt torn between a story it was weaving and reality, but each breath took me farther away from the fragmented thoughts I’d been chasing.
Melody wiped at her eyes, trying for a wobbly smile.
“You really do have crazy long eyelashes,” I said, my voice airy like I hadn’t talked in a long time.
She gave a gurgled laugh. “Sarah, you okay in there?”
“Hello, there.” The voice came from behind Melody. A young woman doctor waited for me to focus on her. Her brown eyes reached out, caring. “Can you tell me your name?”
“Sarah Austin. Melody didn’t tell you?”
The doctor smiled. “You weren’t so sure last time. This is progress.”
Melody took a shaky breath. Her hand tightened around mine. “Sarah, welcome back.”
This was a hospital—this was like before, yet, it wasn’t. This was new.
“Sarah, I’m Dr. Sharma. Are you in any pain?”
After a second’s thought, I said, “No, not that I can tell right now.” I almost shook my head but it felt weird. Maybe something was wrong.
“That’s good to hear.”
“Am I okay?”
“You have a concussion and contusions from the seat belt—that just means bruising. Those will probably get worse over the next few days but I can prescribe a pain killer. You’ve been in and out since arriving here, so I ordered a brain scan. No swelling or bleeding.”
I looked at Melody, confused. Hadn’t I just woken up? How long have I been here? The words didn’t come out.
The doctor had me track a light with my eyes while asking a series of simple questions to check my memory. When she turned to speak to the nurse, a long sheath of straight black hair swept down her back, swishing with her movement. She came back to me and said they were going to monitor me at least until the next day. “I’ll be around in another couple of hours, okay? If you need anything, call for your nurse.”
This all felt routine, but something felt very wrong. Once we were alone, I asked Mel, “What about . . . Ian? He’s gone?”
She nodded and I sucked in a breath.
“He left with his mother.”
My breath rushed out as stars sparkled in my vision from relief. Melody started gushing, “No, no, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean he died. He just left, and I haven’t seen him.”
“What do you mean, just left? Did he at least check on me first?”
Her gaze dropped as she gave a small shake. It didn’t make any sense that he would take off and leave me alone, like he didn’t care. Maybe my brain was rattled and I was missing something, or maybe his overly controlling mother forced him to leave. Still, he couldn’t stand up to her and stay for me?
“So he didn’t get injured, if he left? Do you know if he’s okay?”
When she didn’t have an answer, I asked for my phone. My things were in a bag and my phone still had a charge, so I called him.
It rang for a long minute, and just when I expected voicemail, he answered.
“Hello.” It was his mother’s chilly voice.
“Oh, hi Lucinda, is Ian alright? Where is he?”
“My son wants nothing to do with you. Leave him alone.” She hung up.
I stared at my phone and then looked at Mel, utterly confused and hurt. Melody must have known something was going on because she was quiet, just sitting beside me and holding my hand.
Just then I caught sight of blue uniforms lingering in my doorway. My heartbeat halted, my chest constricting.
“Sarah Austin?” The taller officer asked as he stepped into the room. “Can we ask you a few questions?”
Melody jumped in. “She’s confused right now—the doctor said she has a concussion. Ian was driving.”
“We talked to the doctor, got an update,” the officer said, catching my attention. He was slim and had a very pretty face, making him look like a catwalk model and not a cop at all. The shorter, stocky officer remained by the door.
“What happened?” I asked, wondering if it was all wrong in my head.
“We’re here to ask you that. Do you remember what happened?”
At first, music filled my head, but I pushed past that. My mind didn’t want to go back to the accident, but I remembered the panic, the oncoming traffic, the scene playing out silently for some reason. Oddly, I didn’t remember a crunch or the sound of screaming. Just getting flung sideways.
“Ian ran a red light, then slammed on the breaks. I yelled for him to move, but he wouldn’t. He just hung onto the wheel. Then I saw a truck coming at us, at me. It was coming so fast.”
“I heard she was texting,” Melody said quickly, again sticking up for me, but it made me wonder if I looked guilty. Was I in trouble? The tall office started to glance at his partner but simply nodded instead.
“She didn’t look up in time.” He explained the oncoming truck hit the back end of our car, spinning it. Then traffic coming from the other direction hit the driver side, where most of the damage occurred.
For a second, I could visualize the car, crumpled in on all sides. I suddenly felt very lucky that I wasn’t seriously hurt. How did Ian walk away? But he must be okay if he left the hospital. I shivered, thinking of his mother, Lucinda Warrant, who loved to blame me for everything wrong with the world.
“Do you remember what happened before that?” he asked. Did the police want to find out what I did to cause the accident? Did they know about the other accident?
If I lied, they would find out. Lucinda would tell them, and Ian was possibly using me as a scapegoat for this accident. Lying would only make this worse, and I couldn’t think fast enough to lie anyway.
“We were arguing, I guess. Not like yelling, but he was mad. I wanted to go on a trip without him and Ian didn’t like that. He has trouble being alone, ever since…”
The first officer finished for me: “Since his accident three years ago?”
“Accidents happen,” the shorter cop said by the door, his tone light, as if those two words could explain it all away. “You don’t remember what happened?”
I didn’t want to remember this accident or the one three years ago. I closed my eyes for a second. The second stretched out and I heard Melody tell them about my concussion and how I needed to rest.
If accidents just happened, why did they happen to me so often? Why did I cause so many?