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Chapter II. Part I
APRIL 19, 1996
“Do you believe in soulmates?” Tracy asks, book in hand, looking up from the futon in the Seattle apartment we share. With its one wall of exposed brick and floor-to-ceiling windows, we instantly fell in love with the space, even if it was smaller than my childhood bedroom. Two people should not inhabit a 380-foot shoebox of a studio, but recent college graduates who want to live in the coolest building on First Avenue, with a view overlooking Elliott Bay, have to make concessions. Thankfully Tracy doesn’t snore.
“No,” I say to Tracy, observing the deft flick of her wrist as she rubber-bands her long dark hair into a loose ponytail. Effortlessly beautiful, she has the kind of high cheekbones, lithe frame, and inherent style that would make her a lot of money as a model, except she’d rather gouge her eyes out than pose for a camera.
We were college roommates in Chicago, and after graduation we both took a good long look at a map of the U.S. and pointed to Seattle. A week later, we packed all of our belongings into the back of her dad’s old Subaru with the broken stereo and drove across the country (singing for hours on the long stretches, terribly out of key) to the rainiest city in America. That month, I got a job as a junior reporter for the Seattle Herald; Tracy spent her days studying for the MCAT exam. We were living our fledgling dreams.
“Staying home every night is not how you do it, my dear,” Tracy says, setting her book down and pushing her glasses higher on her nose.
I pour a cup from the Mr. Coffee machine that Grandma bought me at Target on that shopping trip the week before I left for college and plop down in the threadbare red egg-shaped IKEA chair by the window. We’re an advertisement for IKEA, the two of us.
“Have you read your horoscope?” Tracy asks.
“Trace, you know I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“Well,” she says, “I’ll read it for you, then.” She picks up the newspaper from the coffee table, turns a few pages, then reads in silence for a minute. “Aha,” she finally says. “New love is in your future.” She nods. “But it says, ‘You have to open yourself up to it. Instead of staying home, do something spontaneous and unexpected. You never know who you might meet.’”
I roll my eyes.
“Come out with us tonight!” Tracy exclaims.
She’s dating a guy named Mark who’s doing his surgical residency at the University of Washington. He’s tall, with thinning hair and a loud laugh. Whenever they have a free night together, which is rare, he takes her to concerts or plays, or on walks around Green Lake. Sometimes I think I need a Mark in my life. Sometimes I think I’d like someone to take me to the theater or the farmers market or a symphony. “Mark got tickets to Mazzy Star at the Crocodile.”
“By agreeing to this,” I say, raising my left eyebrow, “am I walking into a blind date?”
“Well,” Tracy says mischievously, “his friend Eric is coming.”
“I don’t know,” I say, watching the slow path of a ferry leaving the bay.
“Just come,” Tracy says, “if only because you love Mazzy Star.”
“I do love Mazzy Star,” I say with a grin.
She nods. “Good. All settled.”
It’s just begun to rain, and Tracy, Mark, and I huddle under an awning in front of the club, where a tattooed woman with short bangs and a nose ring takes our tickets. It’s dark inside, and some moody music I don’t recognize seeps through the overhead speakers. The air is smoky, and every third person around us sports a pair of weathered Doc Martens. I love Seattle.
“Eric will be here in a few,” Mark says. “Can I get you girls something to drink?”
“I’ll have a vodka soda,” Tracy says.
“The same,” I add as Mark dutifully approaches the bar.
Tracy elbows me. “Mark says that Eric is one of the top surgical residents at the hospital.”
Tracy smiles. “Just have fun. Who knows, you may really like him. Besides—”
I take a step back when someone bumps into me. He’s holding a camera with a huge lens, and after the flash goes off, he lowers it to his side. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he says, smiling. “I didn’t see you standing there.” He’s a little older than me, with dark hair and a trace of stubble around his chin. His boots and faded plaid shirt hint at his association with the music scene, and yet there’s something entirely unique about him. I can’t tell by the way he smiles if he’s confident or cocky. Or both.
“How great does the stage look under these lights?” He lifts the camera to his eye again, and flashes go off in rapid succession. “Hope has one of the most haunting voices,” he says. “But she’s humble, you know? She’s not one of those diva singers who believes she’s God’s gift to music.”
My eyes narrow. “You talk as if you know her.”
“I do,” he says, smiling only at me.
“I signed her to my label five years ago,” he says. “Just a solo album, but I like to think that it gave her some traction.”
He winks. “I’m in the music biz.”
“You should have heard her demo tape,” he continues. “Pure magic.” He taps his chest lightly. “The kind you can feel.”
“What do you mean?” I ask cautiously, intrigued.
He takes a step closer to me. “Good music moves you. It changes you, even.” He reaches for my hand and presses it against my chest as the skin on my arms erupts with goosebumps. “Right there. A gifted artist can create music that hits the heart.” He lets go of my hand, but I keep it pressed against my chest. “Anyway, that is the type of artist I’m always searching for.”
Mark returns with the drinks, and I return my arm to my side.
“I’m Cade,” he says, eyes fixed on mine. When he extends his hand, I feel like we’re the only two people in the club.
I take it limply. “Kailey Crain.”
“KC,” he says, grinning.
Mark clears his throat, and I notice that there’s a tallish guy with curly brown hair standing beside him. He’s wearing a dress shirt tucked into his jeans, which are about an inch too short. “Kailey, this is Eric.”
“Well,” Cade says with a smile and a quick false bow, “it’s been a pleasure. Enjoy the show.”
I feel Eric’s eyes on me. “So… Mark tells me you’re a writer,” he says eagerly.
“Yeah,” I say, taking a sip of my drink. It’s stiff and smells like rubbing alcohol; I shudder a little as it goes down. “I report for the Herald, but food is my favorite topic.”
Involuntarily my gaze wanders across the room to where Cade now has his hand on the shoulder of an attractive blonde. “How about you?” I say, willing my eyes back to Eric’s face. “What’s your surgical specialty?”
“Feet,” he says.
I begin to laugh, then immediately stop when I notice that his expression remains unchanged, not even the hint of a smile.
“Oh, you mean you’re not joking? You’re really specializing in” — I pause to collect myself — “feet?”
“Yes,” he says, straight-faced. “I may be biased, but I think that toes, ankles, heels are, well, some of the most amazing parts of the body. Don’t you agree?”
“Well,” I say, trying very hard not to laugh, “I guess I really haven’t put much thought into, er… feet. But I suppose they’re… pretty great? They do take us where we need to go.”
He glances down at my feet just as the opening band walks onstage and begins playing a song I don’t recognize. The crowd erupts in applause. After two songs, the foot doctor leans in closer to me. “This may sound a little forward,” he says with a smile, “but I bet you have really beautiful feet.” He raises an eyebrow. “I’d love to see them sometime.”
I nearly choke on my drink. “You know,” I say, edging to the left, “I think I need another cocktail.”
“Let me get you one,” the foot doctor says.
“No, no,” I say quickly. “There’s a huge line. I’ll… just… go.”
He nods and takes a swig of the beer he’s been nursing, then turns to say something to Mark, who I want to murder at this very moment. Tracy too. I make my way to the bar and order another vodka soda, this time a double.
“I’ll have the same,” Cade says, appearing out of nowhere beside me.
I give him a nervous smile and turn my gaze to the stage.
“So how’s your date going?”
“I’m not on a date,” I protest.
“Oh c’mon, you two have first date written all over you,” he says with an amused smile.
“Well,” I concede, “if you must know, it’s a very unfortunate setup that I did not agree to.”
“So you escaped to the bar.”
“What does the dude do?”
“He’s a doctor who specializes in”— I pause and grin — “feet.”
“Way,” I say. “He asked to see mine!”
The bartender returns with two vodka sodas, and before I can protest, Cade tells him to put it on his tab.
“Hey,” he says, taking a sip. “I have an idea.”
“What?” I ask curiously.
“Why don’t you let me sabotage your date?”
I raise an eyebrow.
“I mean, your nondate.” He smiles. “Want to escape backstage?”
“Yeah,” he says. “You can watch the rest of the show from the best seats in the house and avoid more banter with Dr. Short Pants.”
“His pants were short, weren’t they?”
“Seriously. They’re probably illegal in some countries,” he adds.
“Come on, what do you say?”
I give him a cautious smile. “Why not,” I finally say.
He reaches for my hand and leads me through the crowd to a dark door that blends in with the black walls. We walk down a long hall and find a seat on a couch at the side of the stage.
“Not bad, huh?” After a few more songs, Mazzy Star takes the stage and begins the opening to “Fade into You.”
“I love this song,” I say.
“Me too,” Cade says.
He moves his hands together to the beat of the music, as if he’s holding an imaginary instrument. “The tambourine,” he continues. “That was a brilliant addition.”
“I can hardly imagine Mazzy Star without it,” I say. “It’s their sound.”