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“He thinks we should sign Flying Limbs. The lead singer thinks he’s God’s gift to music, even though he has a criminal record, and he’s demanding an enormous signing bonus. I mean, they have a huge following, but”—he shakes his head—“I’m just not sure they’re the type of people we want to work with.”
“And James is?”
He nods. “Not only that, but he’s taking matters into his own hands. The other day he took the band out for dinner without me. In the past, we’ve always taken talent out as a team.” Cade shrugs.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “So the leader’s an ex-convict?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I don’t know the whole story, but he apparently assaulted a girl when he was a minor.”
“Yikes,” I say.
“I know.” He shakes his head. “It’s like James is going rogue. Last week he was talking about signing a string of one-hit radio wonders. You can only languish in the land of the Spice Girls so long before you want to gouge your eyes out.”
Cade rolls his eyes. “They’re a girl group that is blowing up in the U.K. Expect them to be on every major radio station in America by next summer, and prepare for some serious airwave pollution. Churning out commercial hits was never why I got into this business. To me it’s all about the music. Good music.”
I nod. “I get it. Can you two find common ground?”
“Eventually, but it’s a constant battle,” he says. “And sometimes it wears on me.” He pulls out his wallet to pay the driver. A tall man matching James’s description stands under a blue awning beside a woman with dark, curly hair. He extinguishes a cigarette on the sidewalk, which now has a light dusting of snow. “Oh,” Cade says in a hushed voice. “I forgot to tell you that Alexis will be here.”
“His assistant, right?” Cade has mentioned Alexis only a few times.
“Yes,” Cade replies. “She’s a whiz with the books. We hardly need to hire an accountant these days.” He clears his throat. “Oh, and she and James are dating.”
“Oh wow,” I say.
Cade cracks his knuckles. “It’s a little strange, I know. And I’m not sure Alexis is even that into him. But I’d rather stay out of it, if you know what I mean.”
As he steps out of the cab, the driver turns around. “Excuse me,” he says. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Are you Cade McAllister from Element Records?”
“In the flesh,” he says.
“Wow,” the driver says. “I’m Rod. I’m a big fan. I, uh, I’ve got a band. I play drums and a little guitar. We have a demo tape—uh, you might like to hear it.”
“Rod, so good to meet you,” Cade says warmly. “I’m just heading out to dinner now, but you’re most welcome to send that demo tape along to the office and we’ll have a listen. How does that sound?”
“Great,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “I’ll do that.”
“I’ll bet that happens all the time,” I whisper to him on the sidewalk.
“If I had a dollar for every time it did…” His words trail off as James and his assistant approach.
He’s wearing a button-down shirt and blue jeans. His look is more preppy than hipster music executive, but it works for him. Alexis is petite, and under her unbuttoned black wool coat she wears a boxy black baby-doll dress, tights, and black Doc Martens with yellow laces. She’s pretty, but not in a striking way, with her green eyes and dark hair. She reminds me of one of those girls in college who traded in their preppy Gap attire for hip Value Village vintage finds—and a nose ring. She smiles at us sweetly.
“Hey, man,” James says to Cade, then grins at me. “So this is the lady.” Cade was right, he oozes charm.
“Hi,” I say, extending my hand. “I’m Kailey.”
“It’s really nice to meet you, Kailey,” James says. “This is Alexis, my assistant.”
“Nice to meet you, Alexis,” I say.
“We’ve heard so many wonderful things about you,” she says, smiling at me before fixing her eyes on Cade. James touches her back tenderly, the way one does in a relationship.
“It’s great we finally got a dinner on the calendar,” James adds. “Shall we go in and get our table? The sushi here is out of this world.”
“They don’t call Fremont the center of the universe for nothing,” I say with a wink as we walk through the door.
Inside, James orders several plates of sushi for the table and an expensive bottle of sake, which arrives instantly and is poured into a small stone decanter and then into tiny stone cups.
“To new friends and good music,” James says, holding up his cup.
“Cheers,” I say, clinking cups. I catch Alexis’s eye as I do, and she quickly looks back at James.
“Did Cade tell you we signed Ethan White today?”
I shake my head. “As in, Ethan White of that boy band on the radio?”
“Yes, the”—he makes air quotes with his fingers—“ ‘boy band’ that went platinum last year.”
I remember laughing with Tracy at their music video for the song “All the Way.” We decided that men really shouldn’t wear all white. A T-shirt is one thing, but a T-shirt, pants, shoes, and hat? Well, it was bad.
“He’s doing a solo album with us,” James says. “And it’s going to be huge.”
Cade shifts in his seat and guzzles his sake, as if the very idea of this is about to make him break out in hives.
“A commercial success, maybe,” he says. “But, James, you and I both know that this dude is musically bankrupt.”
“Signing Ethan White is an enormous deal for Element,” James counters, exhaling deeply.
Cade refills his sake glass. “I told you I still want to think this over,” he says, a bit agitated. I’ve never seen this side of him, and it immediately puts me on edge.
James throws up his arms. “What’s to think over? We have a Grammy Award–winning platinum artist who wants to make music with us.”
“But it’s not our kind of music, James, and you know that,” Cade says, his voice a bit louder now.
James flashes a gentlemanly glance my way. “Guess you’re getting the real view of a day in the life of Element Records.”
Cade stands up. “I don’t want to talk about this here, man,” he says. “Let’s step out for a bit.”
James raises his eyebrows. “Whatever you want, dude.” He turns to us with a smile. “Ladies, excuse us.”
Alexis and I watch awkwardly as the two men walk outside to the sidewalk. She looks mildly grief-stricken, and I wonder if this is a scene she’s witnessed often over the years. A moment later, through the window, we watch as they sort out their differences with animated gestures.
“They fight like brothers sometimes,” Alexis says knowingly. She leans in as if she’s about to let me in on a little secret. “But they love each other. They always work it out.” She waves to a waiter and orders us another round of drinks. “Have another,” she whispers with a laugh. “It’s on the company’s dime.”
Ten minutes later they return, with their argument seemingly sorted out. We finish our sushi, chat about benign topics over another bottle of sake, then find our way to the door.
“Kailey, it was so good to meet you,” Alexis says, squeezing my hand. She stumbles a little as she does, and I suspect that the sake has gone to her head, as it has gone to mine. My cheeks feel warm as I watch her turn to Cade and plant a kiss on his cheek. If this bothers James, he gives no indication.
“What time will you be in the office on Monday?” she asks Cade as James reaches for her hand.
He looks at me. “Hopefully not until well past eleven.”
“Okay,” she says, a little annoyed. “I have contracts for you to sign.”
Cade nods and waves goodbye. We make our exit to the street and jump into a cab. I peer through the window as the car peels off. James and Alexis are a blur in the snowy night.
Cade seems exhausted and distracted when we get back to his place. He opens the fridge and stares inside absently. Outside the window, the snow falls heavier now. And despite the uncomfortable time at dinner, I love this night because I am with him. I plug in the strand of lights we have hung on the little Charlie Brown Christmas tree we picked up at the market in Queen Anne last weekend.
“You okay?” I ask, wrapping my arms around his waist. “You seem a little tense.”
“Sorry,” he says. “James has a way of getting under my skin. He always has.”
“I can see why,” I say. “I mean, he’s nice and all, but there’s…some intensity, for sure.”
“Exactly,” Cade says. “When we were first starting out, the excitement of our early success made it easy to ignore all of that. But now?” He shakes his head. “It’s like he’s turned into a complete egomaniac.”
I nod. “Sorry.”
Cade sighs. “What did you think of Alexis?”
My eyes meet his. “I thought she was nice, I guess.”
Cade nods. “She’s great—one of our first interns. I hired her right out of college. I asked her what her desert island music choices would be and she didn’t hesitate. Nirvana. U2. The Beach Boys.”
“Wow,” I say. I’m surprised that he’d remember her interview question in such detail.
He pauses, then flashes me a knowing look. “You’re doing it,” he says with a grin.
“The walls-up eye flutter.”
I shake my head. “The walls-up what?”
“You flutter your eyelashes when you’re upset or unsettled by something.”
I smile nervously. “No one’s ever told me that.”
“It’s endearing,” he says.
I pull him closer to me. “Would you have hired me?”
“In a heartbeat.”
I smile, but Cade’s eyes are distant. “What are you thinking about?”
He sighs, sinking into the couch. “Just that the business feels different these days.”
“That’s nagging at you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he says. “And I’m not sure I can ever get it back to what it once was.” He exhales deeply.
“I’m sorry,” I say, pausing for a moment. I want to encourage him not to back down, to stand for all he believes. I want to tell him that in my mind and perhaps everyone else’s, he is the reason for Element Records’ success, the heart of the business. Instead I bite my lip and just rest my head on his shoulder for a long moment.
“You know what?” he says.
“We’ve been in love for a few months now, but we never really talk about it. For me, it means that I feel at peace when I’m in your presence,” he continues. “And…I miss you when you’re not around.”
I swallow hard.
“Sometimes it helps to channel my feelings through lyrics. You know that U2 song ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’?”
I look into his eyes, and hum until I sing, “It was warm in the night.”
“I was cold as a stone,” he answers, completing the pair of lines at the end of the fourth verse.
He rises and pulls me onto my feet. There’s no music playing, but our bodies sway together as if there is.
“I was cold,” he says. “Cold and alone. I don’t think we know what we’re looking for until we find it,” he continues. “And then I…found you.”
I feel tears sting my eyes, but I blink them back. “And I found you.”
“I was looking for you the whole time, Kailey,” he says. “I just didn’t know it.” He takes my cheeks in both hands and swallows hard. “I love you more every day,” he whispers.
I want to respond, but all I seem to be able to do is soak up his beautiful heartfelt words. I reach for his hand, but he’s already turned and walked to the window.
“It’s really coming down out there,” he says, walking back to the couch, where he picks up the wool throw draped over the arm. “I’m just going to take this out to Ivan.”
When he opens the door a stream of winter air hits my skin like light from a cold star, but it doesn’t elicit even the tiniest shiver. I am warm from the inside out.
Chapter 13. Part 1
NOVEMBER 19, 2008
I open my eyes to the sound of the coffee grinder in the kitchen.
“Sorry,” Ryan says when he notices me sitting up.
I yawn and rub my eyes. “It’s okay,” I mutter groggily.
“Why didn’t you come to bed last night?” he asks.
“I got in late,” I say. The events of yesterday are coming into view now. The edges, blurred from a night’s sleep, are taking on their sharp corners again. I shudder at the thought of Cade’s wounds. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
He walks to the couch and sinks in beside me. “Next time,” he says, pressing his nose against mine, “wake me, okay?”
I nod with a smile. “Okay.”
The rain splatters the windows outside, and I’m struck with the desire to hole up here for the day, or maybe forever. Light a fire in the fireplace, pray for a blizzard so we can be snowed in and I can fall into Ryan’s arms, and try not to think of the emaciated man on the fifth floor of Harborview Medical Center.
“We should get a Christmas tree this year,” I say.
“Really?” Ryan asks, flipping through a stack of mail. “Just seems like a bunch of mess and hassle, to be honest.”
“Oh,” I say, stung.
He looks up. “I mean, of course, if you want to get one, honey, we absolutely can.”
“No,” I say, “you’re right. They’re more hassle than they’re worth.”
I feel his strong arm around my waist. “I’m sorry,” he says. “That was insensitive of me. I know how much you love this time of the year. Let’s go get a tree. Maybe next week.”
I smile and nod as he kisses my forehead lightly.
“Oh,” he says, changing the subject as he gets up and goes back to the kitchen to check on the coffee, “I forgot to tell you that my parents called last night. They’re flying in today.”
He comes back and joins me on the couch, handing me a steaming cup of coffee with just the right amount of half-and-half.
I frown. “I thought they weren’t coming until this weekend.”
“I know,” he continues. “I did, too. But apparently Dad scheduled a meeting earlier, and Mom decided to come with him. I can have them stay at the Fairmont if you’d rather. It’s—”
“No,” I say. No matter how stressed I may feel, these are Ryan’s parents. And while they sometimes rub me the wrong way, I haven’t lived a lifetime without parents to finally get them and then banish them to a hotel. “They’re family. They stay here.”
He smiles. “They’ll be here about nine. I thought we could have dinner with them tomorrow. I made a reservation at Earl’s on Fifth. Seven o’clock okay?”
“Yeah, I, uh, I think so,” I say, moving to top off my coffee. An enormous box of our “save the date” cards for our July wedding sits on the kitchen table. They need to be stuffed, addressed, and stamped. I pause to pick one up, remembering how I agonized over the exact shade of white for the envelopes, finally settling on “linen.” How I long to return to the time when I was stressed about stationery.