How One Attempts To Chase Gravity
The feeling rolling around in Courtney’s stomach as she read the letter for the third time could not decide if it was angry, nostalgic, or really, really sad.
I know how you feel about handwritten letters, so I hope this one is legible. Anyway, I wanted you to get something other than bills or junk in your mailbox when you first moved in. I wanted to cheer you up from the last time we talked. Thinking about you being as sad as I am makes me feel even sadder. Sorry I didn’t try to use a synonym, sad was all I could think of.
I know we both said we would try not to make this harder on each other, so that’s all I will say. I hope you have all of your pens organized and that you and Vanessa are having fun. Tell her I said hi.
Know you can call, Court.
Well…there’s that. Not making things harder at all. A vision of Ben’s easy smile floated into her mind, and the guilt sank like a rock from her chest to her stomach, when the actual scene set before her was a newly organized desk with Train tickets for that weekend sitting prominently on top. She slid the letter and the tickets into a drawer in order to make the solid adult decision to, well, ignore it, for the time being.
♫ “Magic’s In The Makeup” – No Doubt
After the literal fourteenth outfit she put on, Courtney was near tears and giving up ever walking out the door. Vanessa stormed in moments later after pretend knocking.
“What happened in here?” V asked in disbelief at the state of the room.
“This is the product of the universe knowing it is a terrible idea for me to go to this concert.” She took a deep breath, fully understanding that she was being ridiculous.
“To go to the concert or to go backstage and hook up with Fisher in some rock star’s dressing room?”
“Does that even exist? Like, dressing rooms backstage? That seems fictional… But completely beside the point- I’m not hooking up with him, I’ve informed you of my stance on this.”
“Yeah, you sound all sure of yourself in our kitchen. When he’s not there.”
“Whatever,” she retorted, refusing to admit her friend’s point. She went back to the closet for yet another try, and picked out a cream-colored lace sundress with a sweetheart neckline. While it was fancier than something she’d typically wear to a concert, it made her feel a little bit like a fairy, so it was deemed a winner. She and Vanessa were in the car fifteen minutes later.
“This dress is too much isn’t it?”
“Oh. My. God. If you say one more thing about the dress, I am going to freaking lose it. You look fierce. Maybe if you’d just admit that you are having some sort of mental breakdown about seeing Fisher, all of your craziness would die down just a little. So try that.”
Courtney exhaled. “Ok. I am having an absolutely freaking meltdown about seeing him.” She didn’t think it was helping. She felt even crazier than before, like she was introducing herself at an AA meeting.
“Because I don’t know what will happen. I like knowing what’s going to happen.”
“That’s boring. Can’t you just embrace it? I love not knowing what’s going to happen. Reason three on the list of why I broke up with Luke. Too predictable.”
“You think Luke is predictable?”
“No, just our relationship was predictable. I want something exciting. And so should you. You’re not attached anymore, Ben is in California, for Christ’s sake. Ethan is… well, you know I hate to admit it, but he’s beautiful. So just chill. Hook up, don’t hook up, do whatever you gotta do, but for the love of all that is holy, will you just. Calm. Down?”
“I’ll try,” Courtney mumbled, knowing that was a near impossibility. The parking situation only increased her stress. Living and driving in a city she hadn’t resided in for six years was nerve-wracking. They finally made it to their seats and the energy from the crowd helped to improve her mood. You’re going to freaking see Train, she reminded herself, and she was going to be able to do it backstage if she wanted. They were there early, and her mind couldn’t help but wander to Ethan and how he was faring, knowing he was about to perform.
♫ “Lover of the Light” – Mumford and Sons
“For Me, It’s You” – Train
“We’ll Pick Up Where We Left Off” – OAR
“Learning to Love Again” – Mat Kearney
His shoes squeaked on the sealed cement floor of Crawford’s apartment while he paced. They were set to leave in less than thirty minutes, and his mind was racing. They were opening for Train. At the Riverbend Music Center. In front of a lot of freaking people. It would be great exposure for them, and he and Brian had been working tirelessly at designing a banner and getting t-shirts and other promos ready to go for weeks. The radio station was taking care of their merch sales as part of the contest win, and the thought of having his music out there for that many new people in one night was making him antsy. In a good way.
“Okay, man, I like you and all, but if you don’t stop creating that sound, I am going to chuck your shoes out the window.”
Ethan squeaked them loudly once more, but agreed to sit down afterward. “Sorry. Just ready.” He knew that opening bands had the difficult task of warming up a crowd with songs they didn’t really show up to hear; they were going to have to convince them to listen. The short set list had taken what seemed like ages to iron out, and they tried to showcase the range of what they could do. Southbound was on first, followed by The Fray- not his most favorite band, but he had respect for anyone touring and making money doing what they did. He had driven by the venue a few days before and taken a fairly embarrassing amount of photos of the band’s name on the marquee. Everyone started loading equipment, and he was relieved with having something to do.
When they arrived at the RMC, he was surprised with how structured and organized everything was. The venue manager clearly had her shit together. They made it through sound check without issue, and Ethan was twirling one of his silver rings around his pointer finger while he listened to the rush of the pre-show around him. He checked his phone and lit up, seeing his messages.
C: I tried not to text you, but I wanted to say I’m excited for you guys. You’ll be great, and we will see you later with these fancy backstage passes :).
E: I’m glad you didn’t try too hard ;). Knowing you’ll be here makes the crowd seem smaller. Thanks for the vote of confidence- you can message me any time.
C: I’ll keep that in mind.
He was feeling like he could conquer the world right about then. There was another text from his mom saying that she and Tay would be in their seats soon, and that made him feel better as well; he didn’t really care if that was lame. He checked his appearance last minute- gray-washed jeans and a tight black t-shirt, and maybe more than his usual amount of jewelry. He liked his hair a bit longer, being that he could push it behind his ears when he inevitably had sweat dripping down his face.
“Fisher, we all know you’re the fairest in the land, now can we go do what we came here to do?” Crawford teased him. His stomach dropped the way it did at the top of a roller coaster. He took a breath and nodded. Hearing their name announced made his heart pound in rhythm with some scattered applause throughout the arena. Most people were still milling around and securing their beers at this point in the show. Here it goes then, he thought, and wished for a moment that the spots weren’t so bright and he’d be able to see Courtney or his mom in the audience. His mind cleared when the drums sounded behind him and he played the opening riff. The difference in the sound system of the RMC and their usual haunts was like comparing a Sentra to a Maserati because they were both street legal. The applause got louder after each song, and his energy was through the roof for their closing. They ended with a song he’d written with Courtney in mind, and he hoped she got that it was for her.
“Thank you all so much, we appreciate it more than we can say. Have a great night!” Crawford finished for the crowd, and they made their way back from where they’d come. All of Ethan’s nerves seemed to crash once they were off stage, and his hands were shaking.
“That was amazing- the best we’ve ever sounded, like ever,” Brian relayed to the group.
Ethan breathed slowly, coming to terms with the fact that he’d just played the set of his life, several songs of his own creation, for a real audience. “Hell yeah it was,” his cockiness returning as he grabbed a bottle of water.
The venue manager walked by on a mission, her headset pressed to her ear behind her short blond hair, but she stopped to tell them congratulations. “Great set guys, honestly. You’re free to hang out here for the rest of the show, or the radio station has a suite, Number two twenty-seven, if you wanna head up there with your passes- totally up to you.” She walked away, her heels clicking on the floor.
“Yeah, I’m going up to the suite- I’m pretty sure this is the life I was meant for,” Brian joked. Chase and Jeremy went with him, but Ethan and Crawford stayed behind. Being backstage with a tour like this one wasn’t likely something he’d be able to repeat in the near future. They listened to The Fray and scarfed down some sandwiches.
“I think I should probably thank you,” Ethan said to his friend.
“Why?” Crawford questioned.
“I never would have gotten here if you hadn’t called that day. Like I’m one-hundred percent sure of that. I mean, I would have kept playing, but nothing of this magnitude. It was a pipe dream, playing on a stage like this.”
“If we’re handing out some honest gratitude? We wouldn’t have gotten here either.”
“Nah, you guys were great before me.”
“We were good. Now we’re better, so at least appreciate that. Your songs killed out there, enjoy it.” Crawford got up to talk to some of the label guys who were wandering around- the guy never quit. Ethan elected to relax instead.
“So, I’m pretty sure I’ve been missing out my whole life by not having all-access passes to everything. The treatment is amazing- like, I want VIP access to the grocery store now. This whole experience has corrupted me, I hope you know.” A grin spread across Ethan’s face before he turned around, knowing Vanessa was behind the semi-compliment. She stood there, looking entitled in four-inch heels and painted-on jeans, a royal blue top baring her midriff.
“Hi to you too, V. It’s been a while.” He stood up to greet her and held his arms out for a hug.
“Yeah, you’re like really sweaty, so I’m going to just stay right here.” He rolled his eyes, but started to lose his excitement when he looked around for Courtney. “Stop with the puppy-dog face, she’s here. She went to find water. You’re so obvious,” She looked at him pointedly. “A word of advice though? Don’t overstep tonight- she’s in super-anxiety mode.” He nodded his understanding as he saw her come around the corner, water in hand. Vanessa made herself scarce, and he sent her a silent wave of appreciation.
She looked…beautiful. She had ditched her usual jeans and a tank top for a cream-colored strapless number and heels. Before she saw him, her hands worked at repositioning the beaded headband across her forehead, her eyes unsure. “Hey, sprin… Courtney.” He tried to recover awkwardly. He didn’t know how she would feel about his former term of endearment. She covered a laugh at his expense.
“Hey there, rock star. Do you want me to tell you how amazing you were out there?” she asked, fluffing her short curls. His nerves were already overworked from being on stage, but they rose to the occasion when he thought about kissing her exposed neck.
“Of course I do, have you met me?”
She smiled. “Well, you were. Honestly- you guys were incredible. Very different than the last time I saw you play. This… well, it suits you better.”
“Agreed. I’m a lot happier… I get to play a lot of my own stuff, and the guys are amazing. I’ll introduce you to Crawford in a minute, he’s around here somewhere. The rest of the guys are up in the radio station suite. You’ll like them though, really.”
“Well, look at you living the high life. I’m proud of you, you seem… steady.” If only you knew how long it took me to get here, he thought, knowing she would not be as proud if she could have seen him six months earlier.
“Do you wanna hang out for a bit? Or we could go up to the suite…” He was trying so hard not to “overstep” as Vanessa had put it.
“Yeah, I’m down to hang out backstage at a Train concert, you know, no big deal.” She grinned, showing her excitement. She practically skipped out of the lounge area so they could get an actual view of the stage. She seemed nervous, though she was playing it pretty cool. He caught glimpses of her glancing at him from under her lashes and biting her lip when she thought he wasn’t looking. He wanted to fix it- the awkwardness of them not knowing how to act towards each other. They had never been just friends, not really, and he couldn’t take the space between them. When Train took the stage and opened with one of her absolute favorite songs, he couldn’t overthink his actions anymore.
Leaning over, he pressed his lips to her ear. “Dance with me,” he told her, hoping she wasn’t going to shut him down.
“Ethan…” she replied warily, looking up at him.
Ignoring her hesitation, he held out his hand. She took it slowly and he twirled her around before bringing her in closer. She laughed softly, and god, how he had missed that sound. Her hair smelled the same, and when her fingers traveled up the back of his neck, he could have been right back at the river, falling in love with her the first time. She ran her nails along his shoulder blades lightly, and he tried to keep his hands at a respectable position on her back.
“Have I told you I like your hair this way?”