The '80s was the decade of my teen years, so I can't help but chuckle when I watch the following footage* of my fellow teeny-boppers (is that still a term?) dancing to Wham. I mean, look at all those shiny, happy faces! How can you watch this and not smile? Music especially has a way of transporting us back to the simpler, joyous times of our past. Back to times when you hopefully had no inkling of what kinds of challenges, worries, or sorrows life may hold.
Hindsight being 20/20, I've learned that such latent yearnings can prompt uncharacteristic or even ridiculous decisions. Of course we're not at all self-aware when we find ourselves in the midst of some life crisis that may be the catalyst for such choices, but surely I'm not the only one who can relate to this kind of thing.
Anna and Luke were best friends in high school, college sweethearts, and eventually a young married couple with children -- before Luke came to terms with his homosexuality. Many years after their divorce they are still close, each of them in a committed relationship.
I hope the following teaser with the two of them will intrigue you enough to pick up a copy of Harmony to Heartburn to discover how Luke may be suffering a similar longing for a simpler time of "blissful ignorance", which eventually drives him to an impulsive decision that turns things upside down. If you do decide to read it, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon to share your thoughts about the story and/or characters. The poor book has been stuck at seven reviews for quite some time! LOL. (By the way, the first book in the series is free!)
Okay, enough of the shameless plugging and on to the excerpt. ;)
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Luke asks.
“If you’re thinking we’re frickin’ dinosaurs, then yes, I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”
He laughs and sets his drink in the cup holder beside him. “If it’s any consolation, you don’t look anywhere near as old as most of the people here.”
“Aww, thanks, friend. Neither do you.”
“When would you say we last saw Depeche Mode in concert? At the MGM, remember?” Luke’s voice is mellow and smooth, being on his fourth or fifth mixed drink this evening. If I wasn’t driving and didn’t have such unpredictable results from alcohol these days, I’d be right there with him.
“I’m not sure. Was that the same year we saw Duran Duran the second time? I’d guess ’94… ’95.”
Luke nods slowly in agreement. “That sounds about right. How many times have we seen Duran Duran anyway?”
“Let’s see. The first time was at Thomas and Mack when we were in high school.” I begin keeping track on my fingers. “Then that time we went to L.A. to see them at Dodger Stadium. Then didn’t we see them at the Aladdin before it became Planet Hollywood?”
“That’s right, we did.”
“And the last time was right here at House of Blues.”
“Agh!” He tips his head back. “I remember that night. Simon was off his game in the worst way.”
“That he was.”
Luke slides down in his seat and closes his eyes. “This is nice, reminiscing about old times. We’ve had a lot of fun memories together, haven’t we?”
“And tonight will be one more we can add to the list.”
I give him a friendly pat on the leg, but when I go to draw my hand away, he covers it with his and holds it there. He opens his eyes with an innocent grin before squeezing my fingers and releasing them.
Returning his smile, I take a sip of my drink.
“You were heavy into Depeche Mode for a while. I remember,” he says.
I was. I loved their broody, often sensual sound. However, a couple of songs on my cassettes I wouldn’t listen to because they creeped me out a little. “Yeah, I went through a phase where I had some serious fantasies about Dave Gahan.”
“You and me both.”
I smack him in the arm. “You did not… Wait, did you?”
“I’m kidding! I wasn’t even out to myself at that point.”
“Oh yeah. Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you did. That voice. And those eyes! Even though he was such a string bean.”
“Kind of a contrast from your Michael Jackson infatuation, but then you’ve always had pretty eclectic taste in music. Didn’t you say you were into Judy Garland as a kid?”
“Loved Judy Garland! There was this one radio station that played forties music in the evenings, and I used to call to request her songs. Remember the days before Spotify and YouTube, when you had to call in a request to hear a song you liked?”
Luke swallows the last of his drink before responding. “And you’d wait and wait with your cheap ass tape recorder so you could have your own copy, but it never failed. The DJ would talk through the entire opening of the song, and wouldn’t shut up until a split second before the first lyric. And then he’d do the same thing at the end. Sometimes the end was the best part, and they’d ruin it with all their yammering.”
I laugh at the accuracy of his account. “I know!” Realizing I haven’t turned the ringer off on my phone yet, I take a second to do so.
Luke notices a cocktail waitress nearby and hails her. “You want something else to drink before it starts?”
“I’ll have a water.”
He presses his lips together. “You sure? We’re gonna be here at least a couple more hours.”
I tap two fingers to my forehead, reminding him of my proneness to headaches when I drink, and the waitress leaves with our order.
“You poor baby.” He wraps an arm around me gives me a couple of warmhearted shakes. “Getting older has really sucked the fun out of one of life’s pleasures for you, huh?”
Suddenly the lights dim and the sound of skidding tires echoes throughout the place, signaling the opening of “I Feel You.” The intro music follows, colored lights flash, and the crowd cheers, however, there’s no sign of anyone on stage. The music continues for a really long time, building and building, with no hint of a band member in sight, until this den of mid-lifers is at a fever pitch that could rival a Justin Bieber concert.
Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but the excitement is contagious nonetheless.
Finally, we hear Dave Gahan’s voice and the crowd goes even crazier. The audience’s enthusiasm has definitely taken me by surprise and it’s easy to get caught up in it; Luke and I howl along with everyone else.
The first few numbers are energized. Everyone is out of their seats and we serenade one another during each song, carefree and a little ridiculous. From time to time the couple in front of us gets carried away with the public displays of affection. Their unsure footing makes it obvious they’re completely loaded, and at one point the man grabs the woman’s ass and they commence with some serious grinding while shoving their tongues down each other’s throats. Turning my back on them to face Luke, I fake a dry heave. He responds by rolling his tongue all over the place like he’s making out with an invisible partner.
“You’re disgusting!” I say.
He laughs and grabs my hips, rubbing up against me in a most intentionally awkward and unattractive way.
“Get off me, ya perv!” Good God, he has had way too much to drink!
My appalled yet amused reaction makes him laugh even more.
A half hour into the concert, the atmosphere is far more sedate as the band descends into some of its more contemplative and cheerless material not heard on the pop charts. Now we’re getting into the stuff that drew me to them so many years ago. Don’t ask me why it was so appealing. I wasn’t exactly what you would call an angsty youth, nor what is often referred to as “emo” these days, but oh how I loved their doleful sound.
Unfortunately this plaintive mood—coupled with the awareness that so many of these songs were popular during the time Luke and I were beginning our romantic relationship—sparks a wistful pull in my chest. After all these years, I still catch myself mourning for that young woman who’d thought she and Luke were on the road to a happily ever after together, and it makes no sense. I’m living a happily ever after with Kiran that’s far better than I could have ever imagined.
Maybe it’s because Luke is still so much a part of my life that I will never forget that pain, even though I stopped being in love with him a lifetime ago.
Without taking his eyes from the stage, Luke reaches for my hand again and holds it to his stomach. He and I have always shared small expressions of affection, whether it’s a hug or a quick kiss on the lips, but tonight he’s been uncharacteristically physical.
He’s absorbed in the performance, gazing straight ahead, and his skin bunches around his eyes. He almost appears anguished. Not wanting to stare, I turn my attention back to the stage but have trouble focusing on the act. For some strange reason I’m self-conscious, hesitant to even let my fingers twitch in his hand.
I must have heard this song a million times in the past, but tonight I attempt to listen to the words with Luke’s ears instead of my own. He squeezes my hand—hard, and it feels as if I’m a conduit for his discomfort, like when Carly got her ears pierced as a little girl and I held her hand.
He’s someplace else.
I have no idea why this number seems to have thrown him into an obvious funk. Something to do with him and Richard?
Leaning into him, I use my free hand to squeeze his upper arm. “Sweetie, are you okay?”
“Yes.” He looks at me briefly before returning his eyes to the stage. “Why?”
My absence of a reply goes unnoticed.
If I’m right and this song is a reflection of his relationship with Richard, that reflection is not good, despite his vaguely positive responses while we were in the lounge this evening.