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Chapter VI. Part II
Cade blinks hard. “Once, in junior high, the mom of one of my friends gave me a hug, and there was something so incredibly familiar about her perfume. It sounds crazy, but I swear I could smell my mother in that moment.”
I feel a twinge inside, remembering when Grandma let me try on some of my mom’s old dresses. The way I felt, it was like an excavator had come through my heart and dredged up memories I didn’t even know I had.
“I feel that way all the time,” I say. “It’s like déjà vu, but more intense.”
Cade nods. “My dad never got over Mom’s death.”
“How did he pass?”
“Suicide,” he says. “Exhaust in the garage. Late at night. The next morning I was looking for my lunch box, but I found his body. I was in second grade.”
“Wow,” I say. “You must have been terrified.”
He shrugs. “So after that, I lived with my aunt Fay, my mom’s sister.”
“Was she good to you?”
“Very,” he says. “She bought me my first record player when I turned ten and lent me and my best friend, James, fifteen thousand dollars to start Element Records. We both left college a year early to launch the business. Even though we really had no idea what we were doing, Fay believed in us. And because she did, we turned that little dream into a company that’s sold more than twenty million records and employs seventeen people.”
“That’s incredible,” I say.
“Yeah, I guess,” he says. “The fulfillment of a dream, for sure. But it hasn’t always been easy.”
“So working with your best friend has had its challenges?”
Cade exhales deeply. “It’s the sad truth, yes. We went to high school together. He played guitar. I played bass. We were a couple of nerdy band guys the cheerleaders wouldn’t talk to.” He places his hand on his heart. “But, boy, did I ever have a crush on Stacy Rios.”
“So, yeah, we started the label, and things were great for a while. Insane but great. I was on a plane every week, to New York, L.A., Miami — wherever there were new bands to see, I’d be there.”
“And James, too?”
“Yes and no,” he says. “At first we traveled a lot together, but we realized that it made sense for him to hold down the fort at the Seattle office, so we divided and conquered that way.”
“How did you come up with the name Element Records?”
“After one too many drinks,” he says, grinning. “But there’s meaning in it, at least for me.”
“It’s the way I look at music,” he says. “When I’m in the presence of a band I know is destined for greatness, there’s a feeling that comes with that. Senses are heightened. The music moves you in a way you can feel. Just like when I stopped on a corner in Nashville and listened to a street performer; just a guy with this dog, singing and playing his guitar. People were throwing money in his case. I offered him a record contract and he’s now a platinum artist.”
“Wow,” I say.
“That’s what I call being in the element.” He grins. “James wanted to name the label Bonsai Records.”
I scrunch my nose. “Bonsai?”
Cade shrugs. “We really have different ideas about how to run the company, and at times that can be difficult. If I said the success of the label hasn’t hurt our friendship, I’d be lying.”
He takes a long sip of his drink and his face appears strained and suddenly serious. I can tell that the subject of James pains him more than he’s letting on.
“How about this,” he says, quick to change the subject. “It’s a nice night. Why don’t we have another drink, order a few snacks, and take a walk? Remind me, how long have you been living in Seattle?”
“About a year,” I say.
“Then you need a proper tour,” he replies with a grin. “I’ll show you my Seattle. All the places that mean something to me. What do you say?”
My eyes are wide. I love his confidence. “Yes,” I reply. And he reaches for my hand.
A couple of men in expensive-looking suits pass us as we walk out of the restaurant to the sidewalk. One of them is talking about the NASDAQ.
“I could never be like them,” Cade says a moment later.
My eyes meet his. “What do you mean?”
“The suits, the daily eight-to-five grind. Endless meetings about company profits and losses, bottom lines. Working for the Man.”
I nod. “You’re a born entrepreneur, I see that.”
Together we walk down the block.
“Magic hour,” Cade says, gazing up to the sky. The sun has just set, and an orange glow lingers on the horizon. It’s not yet night and no longer day, but some whimsical in-between, which I suppose is where Cade and I are. Suspended between two places.
The flutter in my stomach that I felt when we first met returns, and I smile when he pretends to be holding a microphone.
“I’d like to thank you, ma’am, for coming out for this exclusive tour of Seattle.” He clears his throat in a very official manner. “Allow me to introduce myself, your tour guide, Cade McAllister.” I can’t help but laugh. “Here on our left, we’re coming upon one of Seattle’s best-kept secrets: Zig Zag. For years, the bartenders of this establishment have been shaking cocktails for Seattle’s music elite.” He lowers his voice to a hush. “And if you’d like to get a proper look at Duff ‘Rose’ McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, come by on a Thursday, just after eight o’clock. He sits on the right side of the bar.”
“I’ll tell Tracy,” I say. “She’d kill me if she knew I told you this, but as a kid she was actually in a Guns N’ Roses fan club.”
He stops suddenly. “And what about you? What singer would you flip out over seeing?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, playing coy.
“Come on,” he says. “Don’t hold back on me.”
“Well,” I say a little shyly. “It might be a weird response.”
“I love learning about people’s eclectic musical tastes, and I’m especially interested in yours.”
“Okay,” I say cautiously. “So, as a kid, I gravitated to a lot of the music my parents loved, before they died. While my girlfriends were rocking out to the eighties hits, I loved the Mamas and the Papas; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Neil Young, that kind of sound.”
He grins. “And the singer you’d go nuts over seeing?”
“You know that song ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles?”
“I do,” he says.
“The lead singer is Howard Kaylan,” I continue. “My mom loved that song. She had the record, and we used to sing along together. It’s one of my few memories of her. Of course, he’s probably a bearded old washed-up hippie now, but his voice, that song, well, it’s like it’s been sewn into my heart, right there where my mother resides. Someday I’d like to meet him and tell him that story.”
“That would be a beautiful moment,” Cade says.
“Is this the end of the tour?” I ask.
Cade shakes his head. “Next stop is the scene of an embarrassing first date with a radio DJ whose name shall go unmentioned.” He points to a pay phone. “I really liked her, at least I wanted to, but our date coincided with the closing on a huge new deal with a band that James wanted me to sign. I promised her I’d only be five minutes, and unfortunately, the call ran a half hour. By the time I returned she was gone, though she had ordered a drink for everyone at the bar and left me with the tab.”
I cringe on his behalf. “So rude!”
“Well, I did leave her there. Let’s just say, I never heard from her after that night, and I definitely learned my lesson.”
He produces the imaginary microphone again, and I can’t wait to hear what he’s going to say next. I slide my hand up his forearm, bending my elbow into his. Grins plastered on each of our faces, we step in sync as we round the next block.
“Next up, the first office of Element Records, right here on the left,” he says, pointing to a door with gray peeling paint beside a Chinese restaurant. “Never mind the rat problem, and the fact that not one employee will ever again be able to stomach chicken chow mein, we did put out several platinum records from this little hole in the wall.”
I peer into the window and imagine Cade beginning his business inside. I know at once that I am in the presence of a very rare soul. Creative, perhaps ingeniously so, and confident, but with an unexplainable vulnerability. He’s standing close to me, and yet I have the desire to be even closer.
“See that streetlamp right there,” he continues, “the one that’s flickering a little?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“That’s where Pearl Jam began.”
I shake my head. “Right there?”
“Right there,” he says. “Everybody thinks Eddie Vedder sent the guitarist Mike McCready a demo tape. And he did. Mike passed on it. But then Eddie moved to Seattle, and Mike heard him singing under that lamppost.” He pauses and points ahead. “He was drunker than the devil, but he sang like an angel. The rest is history.”
It’s darker now, and I inch closer to Cade as a homeless man approaches. His clothes hang from him like rags, and he exudes a pungent smell of urine and grit.
“Spare some change?” he mutters, eyeing me. I instinctively shake my head and take a step back.
“Sure, man,” Cade says, suddenly reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a few ones and a handful of loose coins. “Here you go.”
“Thank you very much,” the man mutters. “God bless you.”
“Take care of yourself,” Cade says as we walk on.
“What you did back there,” I say a moment later, “it was nice.”
He shrugs. “What, give some spare change to a homeless guy?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Most people don’t.”
“Well, more people should.”
I nod. “But don’t most of them spend the money on drugs?”
“Maybe,” he says. “But they’re people just like us. And for whatever reason, life didn’t turn out the way they planned. Maybe because they screwed up. Maybe because someone else screwed up. Who knows. But I think homelessness is less of an individual problem and more of a collective problem. More people should help when they can.”
“I like that,” I say.
We walk in silence for the next few blocks. For so long, I have felt lost, like a balloon floating aimlessly. And then this man reached up and plucked me down, tying the string around his wrist.
“The Element Records office is right up there,” he says, pointing to a handsome-looking brick building. We own it now, James and I. I just put a pool table on the top floor.”
“A boss who prioritizes fun,” I say. “I love that.”
He stops suddenly. “What time will you turn into a pumpkin tonight?” he asks with a slow smile.
I glance at my watch. It’s not quite ten. “I guess I could stay out a bit later.”
“Good,” he says. “Because I think we should have another drink.” He pauses for a moment. “My apartment is just around the block.”
“I don’t know,” I say, hesitating. Are you supposed to go to a guy’s house on the first date? Probably not.
“Just one drink,” he says. “No shenanigans.”
“Okay,” I say, after a pause. “Just one more.”
We walk ahead to an ivy-covered brick building and stop in front of a door right off the sidewalk. Cade slips in his key, and I follow him inside.
“Home sweet home,” he says, walking to the record player on a side table. “Do you know the Breeders?”
“No,” I say.
He nods and pulls a record from its sleeve, setting it on the turntable with master precision, then catching my eye again. “You’ll love them.”
I lean against the wall and listen as a catchy bass line seeps through the speakers.
“Kim was in the Pixies,” he says. “This was only supposed to be an experiment, a side project. But they ended up creating one of the most raw and unpredictable sounds in rock, at least from my humble perspective.”
“I like them,” I say.
He smiles. “There’s so much music I want to share with you.”
His words make me feel fluttery inside, and just as he wants to teach me, I want to learn.
“Do you hear that?” he asks, taking my hand and tapping it against the side table to the drumbeat.
“Right there,” he says, closing his eyes, continuing the repetition with his hand on mine.
“Yeah,” I say. I’m grateful the lights are dim, because I feel my cheeks reddening.
“That’s some solid drum work,” he says, letting go of my hand and turning to the kitchen. “Can I make you a drink?”
“Sure,” I say.
I nod as I let my eyes wander his condo. It has an open, loftlike floor plan, with exposed brick and one of those cool, quirky wrought-iron spiral staircases, which leads to the bedroom, above.
“Shoot,” he says. “I’m out of vodka. Do you want to walk over to the liquor store with me?”
“Sure,” I say as he grabs his keys.
He locks the door behind us as I slowly walk ahead.
“It’s just around the corner,” he says. “I think it should still be open.”
I nod, looking up at the building beside Cade’s, which must be under construction; it’s surrounded by scaffolding, part of which extends over the sidewalk.
“Oh, is this the site of the new homeless shelter?” I ask, remembering some of the discussions among reporters in the newsroom. A nonprofit organization’s generous donation to build the shelter had been met with disdain from property developers who had hoped to turn the lot into a high-rise.