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By Keiko Kirin

Copyright 2019 Keiko Kirin

Smashwords Edition

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Safety Net

Extra Points
The Provinces of Touch

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

A thousand thanks to everyone who helped me and most especially to my editors, D, J and K, who kept me on the right path when I started to get lost.

Infinite thanks to my readers. I treasure your encouragement, always.

This book is entirely a work of fiction.

Cover by Cooper/Davis/KT

ISBN: 978-0-9916383-5-2

©2019 Keiko Kirin

All Rights Reserved

Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

Kirin, Keiko, author.
Encore worth the wait / Keiko Kirin.
ISBN: 978-0-9916383-5-2 (ePub)
1. Alternative rock musicians—Scotland—Fiction. 2. Bisexual men—Fiction. 3. Gay men—Fiction. 4. Fathers and daughters—Fiction. 5. Brittany (France)—Fiction. 6. Scotland—Fiction. 7. Love stories. I. Title.
PS3611.I748 E53 2019

Table of Contents

Part One: Matt and Rob

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Part Two: Poor Forbes

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Part Three: Rob and Jamie
Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five


About the Author

Part One: Matt and Rob

Chapter One

The chord was wrong. Again. Of course.

Rob winced. “You said you knew all the songs.”

The kid -- his name was Ian or Ben or something -- nodded briskly. “I do, I swear. I’ve played them all dozens of times. Honest.”

Dozens. As if that was a lot. On the other hand, for a lad his age it probably was. Rob avoided sighing by inviting the kid to start over from the top while he made tea.

Once he was in the kitchen and out of earshot he rang Mel, who answered wearily, “I suppose it’s too much to hope that you’re calling me as a cousin, not as your manager.”

“I need someone else. This lad’ll never do. He doesn’t know the songs.”

He does know the songs. He played loads of them for me before I sent him to you. Just like all the others you’ve rejected. I warned you, remember? Matt is the last one. There is no one else.”

Matt. That was his name. And there was someone else, as Mel very well knew, but it was pointless to go down that road.

What about the lass who did those sessions with us during Solace? I liked her well enough.”

I believe her words were ‘never in this life or the next one,’” Mel replied with a vicious enjoyment Rob considered unseemly from a family member. “And I still say,” Mel continued, “does it really matter if he can play all the old tunes when the goal is to create new ones?”

I need to know he gets our sound, that it’s gonna sound like Poor Forbes.” Rob had explained this a dozen times.

He knows the sound,” Mel said firmly. “So what if he can’t play ‘Foundations Fail’ exactly like Jamie? You said you wanted to move ahead. This is moving ahead.”

I lied.

To Mel, Rob said, “There’s got to be someone else. Please.”

He heard Mel take a deep breath and release it slowly. “Robbie. Listen to me. There is no one else. No one else whose dream is to play for Poor Forbes. No one else who’s too young, too inexperienced, or too clueless to know what a bastard you are to work with, or who just doesn’t fucking care. No one else willing to trek into the highlands to hole up with you in that bleedin’ igloo you call a studio and freeze to death while you make them play the same four bars over and over again because you dreamed the perfect melody but can’t remember it yet. In a word: No.One.Else.”

Ah fuck, so Jamie had told Mel about that after all. The little shit.

“That’s fucking loads more than ‘a word,’ Mel,” Rob grouched and hung up.

The kettle had switched off by now, so he made a pot of strong black tea and poured it into two mismatched mugs. From the sitting room came pedestrian strains of “Cold Fire Alley.” He gave the kid a bonus mark for reaching deep into the back catalogue and picking an obscure album track, but it still didn’t sound right.

It didn’t sound like Jamie. No one else could.

With Mel’s dire assessment of the situation ringing in his ears, he kept Matt playing well into the evening and, aware that the studio got chilly when the sun went down, he turned on the heater. Matt strummed the last of “A Time for Cages” and looked up expectantly, tired but waiting for the next test.

That’s all for today,” Rob took pity on him. “Do you have to drive all the way back to Edinburgh tonight?”

The Edinburgh in Matt’s voice was another grating not-Jamie-ism but early on in the audition process Rob had accepted Mel’s exasperated argument that insisting on a Glaswegian was wilful and unrealistic.

No, I’m staying at a B&B down the road. In case… well,” Matt busied himself putting his guitar away and not meeting Rob’s gaze. “… in case it got late.”

He meant: in case he got the gig, but Rob appreciated that Matt wasn’t making any assumptions.

It did go longer than I thought it would,” Rob said neutrally. “You can come later tomorrow, about one in the afternoon. I’m not much use before noon anyway.”

Matt brightened at that. “Yes, I will. Does that mean…?”

“I haven’t decided yet.” It was only the truth.

The brightness faded. “Oh. Okay. I’ll see you then. Good night.”

Rob walked him to the door so he could lock up and watched Matt’s little hatchback wind down the road into the blue starless night. Now it was quiet and he was alone. It felt comfortable at first. Cosy like the flannel blanket on the sofa. He turned off the heater and the lights and climbed the narrow stone steps to the upstairs hallway with three closed doors. By the time he’d washed and changed for bed the solitude wasn’t cosy anymore; it was strict and cruel.

He lay in bed for a while, tired but awake, his mind tumbling through Matt’s audition and Mel’s harshness and trying very hard not to dwell on memories and not to hear Jamie’s guitar. Finally he gave up and went downstairs and into the studio space, flicking on the overhead lights so the room blazed in brightness. The computers hummed faintly as they booted up. He made a cup of tea, optimistically caffeine-free, sat down in front of the monitors and opened some unfinished projects, hoping for inspiration. When none came, he went online to check the day’s scores, a bit of news and a bit of vanity social media searching on the painfully slow but mostly reliable internet service. He dozed off waiting for a streaming video of football highlights to buffer.

He woke blearily, slumped in the desk chair, cold and disoriented by the brightness overhead and the dark computer monitors. He shuffled into the sitting room, unhappily surprised to see a hint of lightening sky through the window, and curled up on the sofa under the blanket. He expected to remain awake, mind tumbling again and stumbling into Jamie memories because he was too tired to fight them, but he fell asleep almost instantly and didn’t wake until late morning sun streamed through the kitchen window.

Age fifty-two and sleeping on the sofa did not mix well. The only part of his body that didn’t ache was his face. Climbing the stairs to shower and get dressed was almost too ambitious before coffee, but needs must. By the time he was what he considered awake it was a little past noon. He refilled his cup of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table and rang Sandra.

Hello?” she answered tentatively.

Hi, Sandra. It’s Rob.”

“Oh. I was afraid it was. Why are you calling?”

With that attitude there was no reason not to get straight to the point. “Where’s Jamie?”

If I knew I wouldn’t tell you. But I don’t know. God’s own truth. I have no idea.”

Rob knew her well enough to know she wasn’t lying. That was concerning. “When did you last hear from him?” he asked.

After a brief pause she said, “He rang on Mum’s birthday. We did a video chat with all of us, even Pam joined in from Australia. It was mad. Mum loved it.”

Your mum’s birthday was over a month ago.” Rob frowned and set his coffee aside. “You haven’t heard from him since then? Not even a text?”

No, but that’s hardly unusual. Even if you’re still stuck in some kind of arrested adolescence, everyone around you grew up. Including Jamie.”

Rob ignored the insult. “But you’re so close. I thought you two talked more often than that.” He wasn’t trying to be manipulative; it was true. Of Jamie’s four older sisters, Sandra was always “sis,” despite the five-year age difference and despite Claire, the youngest sister positioned between them.

There was another pause. “We do, although… Damn you, Robbie. I wasn’t at all worried and now look what you’ve done.”

I wanted to know he’s all right. I thought you would know.” Now that was being manipulative but Rob felt no shame. “You really don’t know where he is?” he asked, pressing the advantage.

No.” Sandra sounded frustrated. “He’s not with Mum, not with any of us. If he’d gone to Pam’s she would’ve told us. Oh, damn you, Robbie. Look. I’ll ring you back in a few minutes.”

“You will, though? Don’t leave me hanging like this.”

“I will,” she muttered. “And may Jamie forgive me.”

It was longer than a few minutes. She didn’t call back until after Matt arrived and Rob showed him the studio and set him up in the booth to get better acoustics. Matt was warming up with “Foundations Fail” when the phone rang. Rob ducked into the kitchen to answer it.

“Did you find out?”

This is what you’ve reduced me to. I’m spying on my own brother. At my age. At his age!” She sighed. “I’m at his place. I’m looking through the mail… Nothing.” He heard her rustling papers and walking about, heard the antique clock on Jamie’s mantelpiece strike the half hour.

After a minute or so Rob asked, “Did you check his computer?”

Sandra made a sound of disgust but he heard the boot-up chord loud and clear. “He’s turned off the password to log in? Our mum has more security on her computer and she only uses it to play mah-jongg games. He should know better. Ah, here we are. There’s an e-mail confirmation. A flight to Paris. Hmmm. Hmmm.” She hmmmed as she clicked through e-mails. “That’s all I found, so he could be in Paris. Unless he went somewhere after that, but there aren’t any more receipts in his e-mail. Which-- Oh. He has been reading e-mail since he left, though not for the last couple of days. We know he’s alive and that’s it. I’m done spying. This is ridiculous.”

You could be a detective,” Rob teased.

With the lack of security on his computer anyone could’ve found this out. He gets what he deserves. And if he complains to me about it I’m blaming you because it’s all your fault.”

“I’ll accept my penance. Thanks, Sandra.”

After the call ended he returned to the studio and put Matt through some more paces, but his mind was tumbling again. Not Paris, he was sure. Brittany. It had to be Brittany. Ah, Jamie, you really did it, didn’t you?

He let Matt go early with a promise to let him know by the end of the week and added Matt’s number to his mobile. Matt didn’t seem overly optimistic about his chances and Rob couldn’t reassure him because if things went his way he wouldn’t need Matt after all. The best Rob could offer was, “It was really good today and I’ll let you know as soon as I can. Are you staying at the B&B?”

No, I think I’ll drive back to Edinburgh tonight.” Matt loaded his gear into the back of his little hatchback.

Aye, it’s not too late today,” Rob said, standing in the driveway and looking out across the hills at warm late sunshine breaking through the clouds.

As Matt drove away down the winding road Rob went inside, picked up his phone and booked a flight to Paris.

Chapter Two

Rob didn’t enjoy driving. That had always been Jamie’s pleasure: getting in the car on a whim, taking a long drive just to see the road. Rob liked travelling but what he liked were the destinations, not the act of getting there. When it was just the two of them Jamie drove, Rob played navigator, and whether they got to the right place or got lost it somehow always worked out. That’s how they had found the farmhouse in Brittany.

They had wrapped up a small European tour in Paris and decided to spend a week or two relaxing. Jamie wanted to drive. Rob bought a few maps -- GPS drove them mental, especially back in those days when it was spotty and slow to update. They headed west and explored Brittany and eventually ended up in a welcoming gîte in a rural village. Next door was an old stone farmhouse falling into disrepair.

They both loved it at first sight. They stayed for two weeks, walking through fields and along unpaved paths, finding dolmens in the middle of family farms, eating well at the only restaurant in the nearest town fifteen kilometres away. At night the peace was vast and comforting. They drank wine and local cider and wrote half of the next album. Several songs were directly inspired by the farmhouse: its lost unknown stories, its secrets, its beauty, its longevity. The album became Solace, released independently to favourable reviews and disappointing sales.

When they were packing to leave and return home Jamie had joked that he’d spend the royalties from the album to buy the farmhouse, that it was the least he could do after everything it had done for them. Rob hadn’t thought about Brittany or the farmhouse in years but he knew with absolute certainty Jamie had finally kept his word, made the joke a reality.

As Rob negotiated one roundabout after another while getting used to driving on the opposite side, he had momentary doubts. This was a little crazy. Making a mental leap from a plane ticket to Paris to buying a farmhouse neither of them had seen in nearly a decade. Literally following that line of thought so that he would arrive, unexpected and unannounced and wholly confident he’d guessed right.

Then he got lost. Well, it had been nine years ago. He gave up for the night, got back on the expressway and found a town with a basic little hotel attached to a superb restaurant. He had a delicious meal, drank more wine than he should’ve, and stayed up until two in the morning in fascinating conversation with the hotel owner who spoke accented but excellent English.

He slept late and booked the room for another night. It occurred to him that if Jamie had just recently bought the farmhouse it was probably not in liveable condition. Its state of decay had seemed timeless but the additional years could not have been kind to it.

On the road by three, he miraculously found the village, the gîte and the farmhouse a little after four in the afternoon. The village was much the same, but the gîte had expanded: there was an additional small house in the back and a rather surprising swimming pool. Kids’ toys were strewn about the garden.

He parked across the road from the farmhouse, pulling up behind a weathered workman’s truck. He got out of the car and stood there, staring. The farmhouse had a new roof and looked so different that Rob blinked away sudden tears. He hadn’t expected to see it changed.

He collected himself. What, he’d expected Jamie to buy it and keep it the way it was? Preserve it as a wreck forever? To seal up their memories of that place and that time as if in amber.

And he called Jamie the sentimental one.

He crossed the road, still staring, and as he reached the entrance Jamie opened the door and stepped outside, smiling ruefully.

He looked fit and handsome in faded jeans and a plain black tee shirt that hugged his broad shoulders and muscled chest. He rested his hands on his hips, his long strong guitarist’s fingers splayed. If anything, he looked younger than the last time Rob had seen him.

“Claire?” Jamie asked.


“Since when are you and Sandra on speaking terms?”

Since you buggered off to France and didn’t tell anyone. She went to your place. I told her to check your computer.”

Jamie shook his head. “I should’ve called her. It’s been busy here.”

Rob took a step back and looked up at the roof. “So I see.”

Jamie joined him, shading his eyes as he gazed up. “That was the easy part,” he said. “Now it’s all the hard stuff.” He paused. “I’m surprised you remembered this place.”

Rob glanced at him. “Of course. Solace.”

“Mm,” Jamie said in non-committal agreement. “It’s been years, though.”

I got lost last night trying to find it,” Rob admitted. “Found a fantastic restaurant, though, at a little hotel up the road.”

That’ll be Marc’s place. The owner speaks good English?”

Rob nodded. “Aye. You know him?”

Jamie flashed him a grin, a quick hint of teeth, the same damn grin he’d been flashing at him since they were both seven years old, and Rob felt a rush of both pure soothing nostalgia and frightening uncertainty. “It’s the only real hotel between here and Rennes, with an owner who speaks English, and it has the best food. Where else was I going to stay while the roof was going up?”

The gîte’s still here,” Rob said, eyeing it with interest.

Jamie waved it off. “It’s mostly booked up. Families. Besides.” He didn’t finish the thought but Rob knew what he meant. Jamie was in control of the farmhouse’s changes but the gîte was a different matter. All those nights they’d spent drinking, writing, singing, telling each other the stories that would become Solace.

Someone needs to rediscover that album,” Rob said firmly. “Give it its due.”

In time,” Jamie chuckled. He looked Rob over and patted his shoulder. “I should be telling you to piss off and leave me be but it’s too damn good to see you.”

Rob returned the pat. “You too.”

How are the auditions going? Before I left Mel made sure to rant at me about how difficult you were going to make his life.”

“The auditions… I don’t know. There’s a kid. He’s okay. It’s not the same.” Rob looked at him until Jamie met his gaze.

It won’t be the same,” Jamie said simply. “That’s what change is. You’ll adjust. Maybe it’ll be even better.”

Better? There was no better.

“Jamie,” Rob said, starting to get angry.

Before he could say more, a sweaty shirtless handsome Frenchman emerged from the open doorway, wiping his knuckles on a threadbare hand towel, and walked up to Jamie. They conferred together in low tones until Jamie glanced Rob’s way, smiled slightly, and broke off to introduce them, “This is Philippe. This is Robbie.”

Philippe was not interested in Rob. He nodded shortly, murmured something to Jamie and walked away, crossing the road to the old truck Rob had parked behind. Jamie waved at him as Philippe drove off. He gave Rob another long look and smiled again.

Philippe’s retiling the kitchen.” There was a peculiar emphasis to his explanation. “Come inside, I’ll show you round.”

The inside was a mess, with tools and boards and buckets everywhere. The kitchen floor was indeed in the midst of being retiled. Rob noticed a stained white tee shirt, presumably Philippe’s, draped over a wooden stool. Jamie gingerly stepped over gaps in the tiling to the sink and turned the taps. “Running water,” he announced proudly. “This month’s accomplishment.”

“You’re actually staying here?” Rob asked.

“I’ll show you.”

Jamie led him through what Rob supposed would be a living room, though now it was a cluttered, dusty work site. Through an open doorway on the opposite end was a short hallway. On one side was the bathroom in a similar state of semi-repair as the kitchen. Jamie gestured at the room on the other side and Rob went in.

It was a large room with a tall narrow window and what looked to be a door to the outside. Some large shipping boxes labelled for a French homewares store were pushed against the wall and in the centre of the room was a plain futon sofa bed. A couple of suitcases flanked the bed and on the far end was Jamie’s gear: three guitar cases, a mandolin case, a violin case, amps, wires, a music stand, and a keyboard stand. The keyboard was in its case on the floor and Jamie’s laptop was on top of it.

Rob stared at the gear like he was reuniting with family after being imprisoned for months. He had to force himself to stand still and not go touch the guitar cases.

“You’re living in here,” he said as neutrally as he could.

Aye. It’s enough for now.” Jamie rested his hands on his hips and nodded in satisfaction. “We’ll do this room last. It needs the least amount of work compared to the rest. We started with the electrical, all the wiring. I have some real horror stories about French electricians.”

“‘We’?” Rob asked. He stared at the futon and had a sudden unpleasant mental image of shirtless Philippe sprawled over it while Jamie sat at the foot and plucked a tune on his acoustic guitar.

“Me and the workmen.”

“So there’s more than just Philippe?” Rob asked, catching Jamie’s gaze.

Of course. He’s just the tile bloke. Tile and plumbing. He’s funny. You’d like him.”

Rob thoroughly doubted that. He looked about again. “Well, there’s certainly a lot to do. What are you doing for meals?”

Jamie led him back through the living room. “I’m on the bread, cheese and wine diet,” he laughed. “There’s a bistro in the village now. Quite good but it’s only open Tuesday through Saturday. When I get bored with the restaurant up the road -- it’s the same place, after all these years -- I eat there. There are worse ways of roughing it than having to survive on French food.”

They went outside where the sun was lowering and casting long shadows. The air smelled of fresh grass, weeds, ripening fruit, and hay. From the gîte Rob heard an indistinct French argument between parents and a child.

Come to dinner with me tonight. At Marc’s. You know how good the food is. It’ll be a nice break, won’t it?”

“I did eat there for a month straight,” Jamie pointed out. Rob waited, willing him to change his mind.

“Okay,” Jamie said. “You’re right. Marc’s is the best. Let me lock up.”

“This place has locks?”

Jamie gave him a little ankle kick, the one they’d been exchanging since they were seven.

The meal was delicious, the wine was perfect. Rob tried to pace himself and savour it but it was simply too good. When his cheeks warmed he slowed down. Marc joined them for a while as they ended the meal with a plate of local cheeses. He greeted Jamie as a dear friend and talked with emphatic French wit until he was called away. The place was busy, packed with people, but too small to become overly noisy.

Rob ran his thumb over the curve of the wine glass. “I can’t believe the old farmhouse was still there, that no one else had snapped it up or torn it down.”

Jamie smeared the last of the soft goat’s milk cheese over a plain cracker and bit into it. Between bites he said, “I never stopped thinking about it. I got in contact with some people here, hired a bloke who could do the negotiating, make offers, take care of the paperwork. I’ve owned the property for three years, just never had the time to spend on it. Until now.”

Rob blinked. Three years? He’d had no idea. Jamie never mentioned buying the place except as a wistful joke.

Jamie finished the cheese and cracker. “I bought it from the family who owns the gîte. When we were here their uncle owned it. When he died they inherited it and hadn’t decided whether to renovate it or tear it down when I made my offer. It was good timing.”

“Ah, that explains the pool,” Rob smiled.

Jamie chuckled and shook his head. “Aye. When I saw that pool I thought, fuck me, I’ve paid them too much.”

A true Scotsman would have had them paying him to take the place off their hands. You’re going soft in your old age.”

Jamie smiled at him. “Probably.”

They sipped the wine and Rob watched him, thinking how unfair getting old was. He’d fallen victim to the family curse of male pattern baldness in his thirties and now kept his hair to a short salt-and-pepper buzz that more or less made the bald patch blend in. Since he’d quit smoking his belly had rounded and the extra weight seemed immune to any amount of activity he threw at it.

And here was Jamie with his head of gorgeous thick hair, strands of white mixing artistically with the black. His face was fuller, but unchanged were those damned chiselled cheekbones to keep everything in place, his long straight nose, and his brilliant green eyes which had always expressed more than his careful, measured words.

Jamie had gained his weight in his twenties, going from a scrawny lad to a brawny man during their first flush of success and had stayed the same size ever since. Looking at him now, Rob suspected he could still wear their old clothes: the baggy trousers with sharp pleats, the button-up dress shirts, the brocade vests they’d worn hanging open. They’d shared clothes back then, Jamie’s shirts billowing loosely on Rob.

Bloody unfair. To break out of his thoughts Rob said, “Are you going to add on to the place? Put in a studio? A guest room?”

Jamie sat back and took a deep sip of the wine. “I don’t know if I can survive building another studio.” He met Rob’s eyes. “Could you do that again?”

Rob gazed at him. The same memories danced between them. He pulled out of the spell and shrugged. “I don’t have to. Our wee little studio is good enough for me.”

Jamie sat forward and set his glass on the table, toying with the base of it. “The guest room will be upstairs. The roof’s tall enough. Just needs stairs. Right now there’s only a ladder and a hole in the floor. There’s space enough for two rooms, but I haven’t decided what I want yet. And you didn’t see, but we put in two skylights on the back, facing southwest. Adds a grand amount of light upstairs.” He paused and grinned. “I’m becoming a DIY bore.”

We both were, doing the studio,” Rob said. “I think some of the catalogues are still in a drawer somewhere.” He took a slow sip of wine. “I didn’t think you’d brought all your gear. Are you writing?”

Jamie sat back again and looked down at his hands on the table. “A few bits and pieces. Nothing complete. The place makes me want to write but by the end of the day when all the workmen have left I’m too knackered.”

Rob longed to hear the “few bits and pieces” but asking now would be a mistake. He had to tread carefully.

“Speaking of knackered, we should get the bill.” He glanced across the room and caught Marc’s attention. “When I drove us here I didn’t think we’d stay so late.”

Jamie smiled a little. “Marc can drive me back. Or he may have a room.”

There’s plenty of space in mine,” Rob offered hopefully. “Big bed. Room enough for two. We’ve slept on worse.”

But then Marc appeared, happily settling the bill and even happier to have a room for Jamie -- désolé, not “his” room, but a nice one that would do for a night. For vague undefined reasons Rob waited while Jamie checked in at the desk and collected his key. They went upstairs together and Jamie paused at the door to Rob’s room.

“Oh,” Rob laughed. “This was your room?”

Jamie flashed a grin. “Aye. She’s a good little room. Treat her nicely.”

“I’ll give her your respects.”

Jamie tipped an imaginary hat at the door and walked to the far end of the hallway to another room.

Inside Rob looked the room over with new interest, knowing Jamie had lived here for a month. Of course there were no signs of it, how could there be? Even so, in a way they shared this space. He slept well that night on the bed Jamie had slept in a few weeks ago.

When he woke in the morning he stayed in bed for a while, thinking. His mind was no longer tumbling and cluttered. He thought through his options until there came a knocking on the door. It was Jamie in yesterday’s clothes yet somehow looking perfectly put together, damn him. Rob pawed through his hastily packed carry-on and started getting dressed.

“Marc’s lad can drive me back if you’ve got to get going,” Jamie said.

I can take you. It’s no bother.”

They had coffee downstairs in the much quieter and emptier restaurant. In the car Rob said slowly, “I came to ask you to come back.”

“I know.”

Rob looked ahead at the road. It was a glorious sunny morning lighting up the fields and dappling through spring green leaves. “I didn’t know you’d brought your gear,” he added then paused. “I don’t know if I can do it without you.”

You can,” Jamie said with gentle certainty.

“Can I?” Rob glanced at him. “I don’t know.”

Rob.” Jamie exhaled a deep breath. “You can do it or you can’t. I think you can. But I’m not coming back.”

Expecting the answer and hearing it were two different experiences. Rob blinked slowly but there were no tears. As soon as he’d seen the gear he’d known. Jamie had raised anchor and sailed off on his own.

Can I ask, then,” he said, “if you finish those pieces what will you do with them?”

Jamie laughed softly. “I’ve not thought that far. But okay. If I finish any of them I’ll let you have a listen. If you want them they’re yours. Credit to me,” he added prudently.

Credit to you,” Rob agreed. “But if you’re not playing them could I even use them?”

“That will be for you to decide.”

The workmen, including Philippe, were at the farmhouse when they arrived. Rob got out of the car and gave Jamie a quick hard hug. “I wish I could change your mind.”

“I know.” Jamie returned the hug. “Take care of yourself.”

Without you, that’s easier said than done, Rob thought but didn’t say.

Chapter Three

He ended up driving back to Paris, cancelling his flight and taking the slow way back on the train through the Chunnel. His mind tumbled again, this time with words and notes. He sat scrunched against the train window writing in his notebook until St. Pancras. He rang Rose from London and spent the night in her flat even though she was off in Italy with some friends. He was no longer dad enough to ask which friends; she sounded well and happy. He couldn’t really ask for more.

The next day another train, an intercity to Glasgow. More writing in the notebook. Mel met him at the station with a look of piercing curiosity.

Have you rung Matt yet?”

“Och, I forgot. Aye, call him.” Rob was distracted, notebook in hand. “He’ll have to do.”

Mel drove him round to the house and stayed long enough to phone Matt. Rob emptied his carry-on of clothes, pulled out the big suitcase and packed more. Mel walked in and watched.

“For the studio?” he asked, a note of hope in his voice.

Rob nodded, busy checking items off his mental list.

Mel followed him outside as Rob loaded up the car. “I’ll take care of everything here,” Mel said. “Matt said he’ll be at the B&B by five tonight, if you want to get started immediately.”

Rob closed the boot. “I’ll probably leave it for tomorrow. It’s a long drive. I’ll ring him when I get there, see how I feel.”

Mel patted him on the back. “I think it’s going to be good. He’s a good lad.”

“We’ll see,” Rob said, not feeling half as hopeful but restless to get started anyway.

Mel opened the driver side door for him. “Sandra told me where you went.”

Rob looked at him. “Sandra’s no more innocent in this than I am.”

Oh yes she is. She didn’t go begging after him.”

Rob wanted to deny it, put a different interpretation on it, but Mel would see through the lie. He slid into the driver’s seat. “He’s doing well. Renovating a farmhouse. He looked really good. I mean, really fucking good. Healthy and all that.” Rob put the key in the ignition and paused. “He’s taken all his gear with him. Everything.”

Mel took a breath. “Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that.”

Rob nodded and started the engine. Mel shut the door with a last reminder: “Ring Matt tonight.”

Road construction made the drive even longer and Rob didn’t reach the studio until a quarter of six. He dutifully rang Matt and told him to come over the next morning. He unpacked groceries and hefted the suitcases upstairs, made tea, and spent the evening in the studio, transferring his notes into new projects. He was exhausted but restless, slept deeply and woke with the fiercest craving for a smoke he’d had since he quit. By the time he’d hunted through the studio, living room and kitchen for a mythical long-forgotten pack, the craving subsided. He quashed it with strong coffee and greeted Matt with energy the lad might’ve mistaken for enthusiasm.

Matt was certainly eager enough but after a warm-up session of “Foundations Fail” he relaxed a little, became more focussed. Rob opened the new projects and handed Matt his notebook.

You wrote all this yesterday?” Matt asked, turning a page, reading, scanning.

And the day before. On trains.” Rob tinkered with project settings, squinting at the monitor. “‘The Best Lean Years’ was written on trains, going from Paris to Brussels to Munich. We finished it in Berlin. West Berlin, as it was.”

Matt nodded, reading. “You can tell. The underlying rhythm. It’s like an intercity.”

That was Ray, God rest his soul. That mad bass line. We never thought of it as a dance track. Surprised as fuck we were when it charted as dance.”

The remix…?” Matt prompted curiously.

Label’s idea. We said no. They found a deejay to do it so we said yes and did it ourselves. Better than some bloody deejay. We killed that thing. Now that was a dance track.”

From the corner of his eye he caught Matt’s admiring smile. Och, no, lad, Rob thought, don’t take me down memory lane and put my poster on your wall again.

Matt’s smile faded as he continued reading the notebook, completely intent. Rob watched him for a while, imagining him as a wee lad, head of unruly brown curls, wearing a school uniform and pasting a Poor Forbes poster from Smash Hits on his bedroom wall. On second sobering thought, he was far too young for their heyday of Smash Hits posters. Born then, more like.

Wow,” Matt said softly, sitting back and lowering the notebook. “This is…” He thought before he finished with, “emotional. Can I say it’s beautiful?” He looked at Rob. “Is that over the top?”

Rob both loved and loathed praise, had always been this way. Over time he’d learned how to respond. “It’s your opinion, fairly expressed. That’s not over the top.” He turned back to the project. “‘Emotional’ is an interesting word for it. I’ve not often been accused of being emotional in my music,” he said with a bitter chuckle.

Music doesn’t have to be what critics label ‘emotional’ to make someone feel something,” Matt said scornfully. “I always felt people who said Poor Forbes were emotionless were missing the point. But this. It’s… wow.” He set the notebook on the desk and scooted his chair closer to see the monitors. “It’s a love song, but more than that. A heartbroken love song, but there could be hope. Or not. Ambiguous. That makes it more emotional, in my opinion.”

Rob’s hand paused on the mouse. He wouldn’t have called it a love song. It was about Jamie. Everything he’d written in the past two days, in some way or another, was about Jamie. They weren’t love songs.

Or maybe they were, he thought bleakly.

Rob swivelled the chair to face Matt. “You played all the songs well. You did. It’s not the same, but I believe you get our sound, know our music.” Even as he was saying this, he wondered why he used ‘our’. Matt could think the ‘our’ included him and get the wrong idea. But calling it ‘my’ was impossible. Rob could never claim Poor Forbes in the singular.

“Now I want you to play something else,” he continued. “Anything.”

Matt sat up and looked surprised, eager again. “Anything. Sure.” He waited for instructions.

No, lad,” Rob said. “I want you to play anything you want for me. Do you have anything of your own?”

I do…” Matt said slowly. “But--”

“Good. Play that. Whatever you’ve got.”

Matt reached for his guitar. “It’s… different,” Matt warned. “I was in a band in school, I wrote our stuff…”

“I don’t care, I just need to hear it. Play.”

Matt played, and it was very different. It was raw with a touch of punk and grunge. Reminded Rob of when he and Jamie were eighteen and trying to find a sound.

Very raw. But not bad. Some good things there, good unshaped material to work with. It was definitely going to be a change.

They worked all day with scattered breaks to eat or go outside and take a few breaths of highland air. Rob noticed a pack of cigarettes in Matt’s car and was glad the craving from the morning was over.

You haven’t taken any smoking breaks?” he asked, nodding toward the car.

Matt grimaced. “I’m trying to give it up. My da wants me to quit.”

My advice, if you want to quit, you have to quit. Cold turkey. It’s hell. Sheer bloody awful hell. Took me a year before I stopped reaching for my morning fag.”

Yeah.” Matt wrapped his arms over his chest. “I read the interview where you talked about quitting. That’s why I haven’t asked for any breaks. I thought it would be… rude? Insensitive?”

Rob laughed and looked at him. “I’m a musician. There’s smokes round me all the time. You need a break, take a break. I’ll live.”

Matt glanced over and smiled sheepishly. “Okay, ta. But like I said, I’m trying to quit.” He looked out across the hills. “Up here the air’s so clear, it makes me kind of not want to do it.”

Oh yeah, it’s easier up here. When we were deep at it, twenty-four-seven, trying to put an album to bed, Jamie and I would come out here and kick the ball about.” Rob looked past Matt. “Used to have a net set up over there. I took it down during the wind storms.”

He realised this was the first time he’d mentioned Jamie’s name to Matt. He’d been expertly talking round Jamie up to that point, as if Jamie were a black sheep relative. Or a god.

You still have the ball?” Matt asked, not quite daring.

“Aye. Can you kick for shit?”

Matt grinned -- a pleasant young mannish grin with a residual hint of polite reserve. “I was first team at school.”

Oh ho,” Rob laughed. “A challenge. Be kind to your elders.” He fetched the ball from the garden shed used exclusively for random storage. The ball was in good shape considering how long it’d been since it was used. He tossed it toward Matt, who promptly dropped it, kicked and sent it slicing past the house.

Rob slowly jogged after it, caught it with his foot and tapped it back. “It’s just a breather, lad. Not the bleedin’ European Cup.”

Sorry.” Matt looked genuinely embarrassed. Rob gave the ball a swift kick, it flew past Matt and the shed, heading downhill. Matt scrambled after it and a few moments later came puffing uphill with it in his hands. “I see how it is,” he said with a smile.

Rematch tomorrow. Let’s get some work done.”

They hashed out most of a first draft tune, the bare bones of one, before exhaustion set in. Matt looked like he could keep going to the morning -- ah, youth! -- but Rob switched off the monitors. “Everything’s better after sleep,” he said. “At my age, any road.”

Matt stood and stretched. “I won’t argue,” he said with a yawn. He was tall and skinny and the joints in his long fingers popped alarmingly when he cracked his knuckles. Guitarist’s fingers.

You can stay here tonight, if you want,” Rob offered. “There’s an extra room upstairs.”

Matt gave him a long look. “Oh. Yes, thanks. I don’t think I can face that drive tonight.”

Rob led him from the studio and up the stairs. “This is going well so far. Tomorrow get your stuff from the B&B and set up here. It’ll save time, be easier.”

If you’re sure,” Matt said hesitantly. There was a bright interest in his eyes Rob figured was the anticipation of artistic creation; he almost felt sorry that he would be the one to break the youthful illusion once the real hard work began.

“Aye, it’s no bother,” Rob said, and he was sure, although as he opened the door to Jamie’s room he was momentarily less sure.

The room was tidy, clean and utterly unlived-in. Jamie had left the sheets and blankets neatly folded on the bed; Rob remembered Claire had been here, helping pack up his gear, and had done all the laundry. Rob paced through the room a few times as if checking that everything was suitable for a guest. There was no trace of Jamie. Not even a lost guitar pick.

It’s all yours,” he said to Matt, spreading his arms wide. “Enjoy.”

Matt left in the morning to get his stuff from the B&B. He brought takeaway curry with him when he returned and after lunch they got to work. Rob had made some changes to the first track in Matt’s absence; Matt approved, and they moved on to another song to let the first one simmer for a while.

Slowly, Rob saw Matt’s reserve and star-struck shyness peel away. Rob wasn’t trying to be difficult but he wasn’t going to lower his expectations. When he didn’t like Matt’s input, he said so. When Matt went off on the wrong direction, he interrupted him and brought him back. By the end of the night, whether from exhaustion or frustration, all Rob got from Matt was a curt, “Good night.” He wondered if Matt would still be here when he got up in the morning and wondered how he’d feel if Matt weren’t.

Matt stayed. He made coffee, not as strong as Rob preferred but he liked not having to make it himself. Matt slipped outside for a smoke while Rob showered and dressed; Rob smelled it through the bathroom window. Matt came inside when it started to rain and they holed up in the studio for the rest of the day and long into the night.

Three (or, realistically, two-and-a-half) tracks in, Rob called a time out. He and Matt had been working non-stop for a week. Matt’s stuff littered the house, the driveway was collecting his cigarette butts. They were working well but as strangers and Rob realised with a shocking ache: he had never written with a stranger before. He’d known Jamie since they were seven, known him inside and out before they ever locked themselves in Rob’s bedroom with a couple of second-hand guitars and decided they were musicians.

Rob’s guitar playing was indifferent. Jamie loved it, dove in head-first, practised constantly and became, in Rob’s not unbiased opinion, one of the best. The best for their sound. Jamie made their sound. When they became a real band, added Ray (God rest his soul) and Jonathan and crazy Ian from down the street, Jamie’s sound kept it all together. Through the core years when stable Andy took over from crazy Ian. After Ray and Jonathan. Through a revolving door of talent, through the thick and lean years, through Rob’s marriage, daughter, divorce. Jamie’s sound was the beginning and the existence. Constant and intimate. And Rob was trying to replace it, writing with a stranger.

He entered the studio one morning and told Matt, “We need a break. I need a break. Let’s go somewhere.”

Matt agreed easily. “Glasgow? It’s not too far.”

Rob could not enter Glasgow without telling anyone, without telling Mel. He was a dinosaur but he was one of Glasgow’s dinosaurs; people still recognised him there. And it would be awkward to be there without Jamie and with Matt, like he was taking a new beau to meet the parents.

How about Edinburgh? You could pick up more of your stuff if you need to.”

Matt practically ran for the car. Rob hadn’t seen him this enthusiastic since their first day of work.

Has it been so bad, then?” he asked when they were down the hill and on the road through town.

It’s been… intense.” Matt glanced at him then focussed on the road. “I don’t mind it, really. I think it’ll be worth it, don’t you?”

I hope so,” Rob said, watching the town disappear from the passenger side window. “It’s definitely a different experience than I’m used to. If I’m being a right bloody bastard, that could be part of it.”

Hm,” Matt said, and seemed to be weighing whether to say anything else.

Rob pressed. “What?” He waited. “Mel warned you.”

Matt released a breath. “Yeah. He did. When he rang to tell me you wanted me to come back. He told me to brace myself and not let you get away with any shit.”

Fucking Mel.

Have I got away with any shit?”

Matt smiled a little. “Not that I’ve seen, no. I’m not even sure what he meant by that. It’s your music, you have a right to get what you want.”

It wasn’t his music, Rob wanted to say, it’s our music. But there wasn’t an ‘our’. Not yet. Maybe there would be if Matt would stop being a stranger.

What was the first song you ever fell in love with? Not the first Poor Forbes song,” Rob clarified. “First song, period.”

Oh.” Matt hesitated. “I think it was a Backstreet Boys song.” He laughed, embarrassed. “I was five.”

No judgements from me. When I was five I was still listening to my mum’s records. Ballroom stuff.” Rob hummed and gestured like he was dancing with his mum. “My taste didn’t improve until I was seven.”

“That’s when you met Jamie?”

Aye. It’s because he had all those older sisters. Pam’s the oldest, she was seventeen. So she had her music, rock and psychedelic stuff. Then there was Penny. She was fifteen and liked the pop. Sandra was twelve and loved female singers, especially American, Motown and all that. Then Claire, who was nine and liked everything. She was taking piano lessons, learning the classical basics. I went round to Jamie’s everyday and we soaked it all up. My own family wasn’t interested in music. My dad thought it was a waste of time. Still does.”

Matt steered through a roundabout and glanced at him. “Really? But it comes to you naturally. At least that’s how it seems to me.”

I think it does,” Rob agreed. “First time I picked up a guitar and tried to write something I was hooked. I knew this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I’m a shit guitar player. That didn’t come naturally. Composing did, somehow. It came easier on a keyboard, though I’m a shit piano player, too.”

But you sing,” Matt said, sounding envious. “I can’t sing to save my life.”

That came hardest of all, if I’m honest. I can sing but I had to be convinced to do it.” Rob watched the hills racing by, saw the landscape changing. “In our first band I was -- if you can believe it -- the rhythm guitar backing up Jamie and we got our mate Terry to sing.” He chuckled, remembering. “It was awful. We were terrible. I loved every minute of it.”

Matt looked at him. “I’ve never heard about that at all. Never read anything about it.”

Rob shook his head. “We never talked about it. And after Poor Forbes came about… we were all mates, Terry never told anybody. The kids we played for used to talk about it but it stayed in Glasgow, never got out of there I guess. Glasgow likes keeping its own stories to itself.”

He paused for a while, deep in memories. “Any road. That didn’t last long, as you can imagine. Jamie and I couldn’t stop writing songs, though. So one day… we must’ve been seventeen… Jamie says to me, let’s start another band and do it right this time. And I say, sure but who’s gonna sing? And he says, you are. And it took him a few weeks but he convinced me, and he was right. I could sing.

It didn’t come as naturally as writing. But I worked at it, even took some lessons from a mate of Penny’s because I needed to control my breathing. I was chain-smoking by then and my stamina was shit.” He glanced over at Matt. “Quitting is hell but smoking treats you like shit, too, just so you know.”

Matt groaned, “You sound like my da.”

Rob smiled at the kid and, wanting to climb out of his own history, said, “Can I meet them? Your parents? We’ll be in Edinburgh anyway.”

For some reason he’d expected Matt to be reluctant but Matt nodded without hesitation. “Sure. I think they’d love to meet you.” He flicked a glance at Rob. “It might be a little embarrassing.”

“For you or for me?”

Matt laughed, the first unreserved, open laugh Rob had heard from him. He liked it.

They stopped at Matt’s flat first, a cramped students’ cave near the university. While Matt packed a suitcase, Rob exchanged small talk with Matt’s flatmate who clearly had no clue who Rob was and seemed to be assuming he was an uncle. Rob didn’t correct the assumption.

Next they went to Matt’s parents’ semi-detached in an unremarkable neighbourhood. They were happy and surprised to meet Rob.

I was a fan,” Matt’s father said, shaking Rob’s hand. “Back in the day. ‘The Best Lean Years.’ Brilliant.”

Now Rob knew where Matt’s curls came from. His father had an impressive head of them in a bright Scottish red to match his fair complexion. If he were wearing a kilt he could be on a biscuit tin.

Matt’s mother was more vague about Poor Forbes but was keen to meet the man who had hired her son for his guitar playing, something which, Rob gathered, had been unthinkable to her. She spoke oddly loudly with a heavy West Indian accent -- Jamaican, perhaps -- and wanted to feed them.

My mum’s a good cook,” Matt murmured reassuringly. “Da, too.”

While his parents worked in the kitchen, sending the occasional tantalising aroma of something delicious, Rob and Matt sat in the lounge and watched television. There was no television at the studio. Neither Rob nor Jamie had seen a need for one, especially not after the internet had finally crawled up their hill. It was strangely comforting to watch one now in a house full of family, something Rob hadn’t experienced in a long time. He thought of Rose and wondered if she was still in Italy.

The meal was good: sausages and chicken over spicy Jamaican rice. Matt’s mum talked proudly of her son’s determination to be a musician. His dad asked about the old days, about other bands, wanting behind-the-scenes gossip. Rob knew his type and had some stock replies he could share but regretted this turn in the conversation.

After the meal Matt went outside to have a smoke in the yard. His father shook his head in disapproval. Rob tutted in sympathy and while the parents were washing up he snooped in the lounge and found their CD collection. Not one Poor Forbes to be found, confirming Rob’s suspicion that Matt’s dad had liked a hit single or two but hadn’t quite been a fan.

He turned away from the media shelves and noticed Matt pacing outside, talking on the phone. When he came in he asked haltingly, “Would you like to come out and meet some of my friends? When I told them what my gig was they got a little excited, invited us out.” He paused. “Or should we head back? I guess it’s getting kind of late for that drive.”

Matt’s mum came out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a tea towel. “He can stay with us tonight if you’re staying here.”

Matt shot Rob a nervous look.

Rob said smoothly, “Sure, we can meet your friends for a bit. It won’t be too late if we stay an hour or so. You’re driving, so it’s up to you.”

Matt smiled in relief. “Great.”

After quick goodbyes to Matt’s parents they returned to the university area and met Matt’s friends in a narrow busy wine bar. There were six friends, introduced in a rush of uni student names like Tristan and Sophie. One of the Sophies moved aside to give Rob pride of place in the centre of their standing table. A Tristan waited until Matt was distracted by a bunch of questions to sheepishly ask Rob for his autograph. Rob hadn’t been asked for an autograph in years and signed the wine bar’s paper serviette. He wondered if this autograph was for Tristan or his mum.

Rob ordered an excellent and untrendy French Merlot and served his purpose as proof of Matt’s success on exhibit. When the conversation veered into uni gossip Rob extricated himself from his imaginary vitrine and went to the bar for another glass of the Merlot. A man at the bar, older than the Tristans and Sophies but not of Rob’s generation, looked at him twice and said slowly, “Poor Forbes? Is it… Ray? Nae. Rob?”

Rob took a sip of wine and extended a hand. “Rob it is.”

The man shook his hand with ego-soothing star-struckness. “I can’t believe this. The wife’ll never believe it. She was supposed to come out tonight, got called back into work. Nurse, you know,” he said, as if Rob knew these people. The man stared some more. “Poor Forbes. I can’t believe it.”

Rob smiled reassuringly. “I took a break from work, came to Edinburgh for the day.”

“Wait’ll I tell the wife,” the man said. He leaned closer. “One of your songs was our wedding song. It’s the truth. We were both mad on it and the wife insisted.”

“Which song?”

“‘A Tomorrow a Day.’” The man sounded proud. “Loved that song. Still do, with all the memories it brings back.”

Years ago when Rob was young and successful and arrogant, he would not have hesitated to tell the man “A Tomorrow a Day” was a song about an obsessed couple’s suicide pact he’d read about in the newspaper. Tempting as it was, he resisted now. He’d learned that arrogance was just another name for cruelty. Besides, whenever he complained about fans not understanding his lyrics, Jamie teased him with, “Sing the words more clearly next time and maybe they will.”

Rob smiled blandly and took a longer sip of wine. In the awkward pause the man remembered his phone and pulled it out to snap a photo of Rob “for the wife.” Then a selfie with both of them. They shook hands again and Rob wove his way back to Matt and signalled it was time to hit the road.

When they were free of Tristans and Sophies and walking to Matt’s car, Matt said, “Sorry about that. I guess it was a bit much. They just couldn’t believe I got the gig.”

It was all right. Good wine. And I met a fan.” Rob thought about the man and his unfortunate choice of wedding song.

“Oh, yeah. That was David. I knew he’d ask for an autograph, the twat.”

Rob had forgotten about the kid with the autograph. “It was really for him? Not his mum?”

Matt looked surprised. “Sure, it was for him. He loves Poor Forbes. He’s the one got me onto your music. Changed my tastes completely.”

Rob felt obscurely grateful to David and regretted not talking to him more. Maybe next time if they came to Edinburgh for another break.

It was getting dark by the time they reached the motorway. It was a long drive but Matt was young and hadn’t drunk anything at the wine bar. Rob relaxed in the passenger seat and watched the night grow darker as they drove away from city lights. After a while he said, “I have a question for you and this is not a test, I promise.”

Okay,” Matt said warily.

How would you describe our song ‘A Tomorrow a Day’? Its meaning, its vibe. What would you say?”

Oh.” Matt thought about it. “Huh. Okay, I have to admit that song is not one of my favourites. It’s a good song, of course, but… It’s so dark. There’s this edge to it that’s always made me uncomfortable. It’s like, it sounds sweet and lovely at first but the more you listen to it, you start to feel like someone’s screaming underneath it. And the lyrics are about a crazy obsession. Really dark, that one. A good song, but.”

Rob grinned and clapped Matt’s shoulder. “Good lad,” he said. “You were definitely the right choice.”

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