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Living by Ear

Living by Ear

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Living by Ear

Length:
395 pages
6 hours
Released:
Nov 4, 2019
ISBN:
9781622535811
Format:
Book

Description

"A quick-tempo novel that will strike a chord with women's fiction fans... fresh, poignant and funny." ~ Kirkus Reviews

Singer-songwriter Christine Daley hit the streets of Boston and became a minor celebrity—with a local radio hit—in the 90s, but a "brief" career break to marry and start a family changed all that. Now, sixteen years later, she's a frustrated suburban housewife, struggling to reestablish her sense of identity.

After filing for divorce, forty-six-year-old Chris quickly learns that the challenges she faces are even greater than anticipated. Her two teenage children suddenly seem to need their mom more than ever, and neither of them is thrilled about her getting back on the music scene. Meanwhile, her soon-to-be-ex-husband is throwing every possible obstacle in her way.

Adding to the stress is technological progress, which has radically changed both the music industry and the dating world. Is there room in this new mix for Chris?

"Mary Rowen has written one of the truest novels ever about Boston's indie rock world. Full of sharp details and vivid characters... It beautifully explores the question of what drives an artist and how that can or can't be reconciled with the straight world." ~ Brett Milano, Boston Rock Journalist

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a newly revised and edited second edition of a critically-acclaimed literary/women's fiction piece sure to capture your imagination. [DRM-Free]

Books by Mary Rowen:

  • "Leaving the Beach"
  • "Living by Ear" 
  • "It Doesn't Have To Be That Way"

More Great Women's Fiction from Evolved Publishing:

  • "Participant" by Carmen Kemp
  • "All the Tomorrows" by Nillu Nasser
  • The "Borderline" Series by Taya DeVere
  • "Yours to Keep or Throw Aside" by E.D. Martin
  • "White Chalk" by P.K. Tyler
  • "Cassia" by Lanette Kauten

 

 

Released:
Nov 4, 2019
ISBN:
9781622535811
Format:
Book

About the author

I’m drawn to stories about women facing and overcoming challenges at various stages of life, so I love reading and writing women’s fiction. Music, musicians, and music fans tend to find their way into my work too. Other interests include feminism, body image issues, parenting, and current events. I blog about that stuff and more whenever I can. My essays have been featured on numerous sites and blogs, including Mutha Magazine, Feminine Collective, and Huffington Post. A graduate of Providence College, I was raised in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley, and live in the Boston area with my family and pets.


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Living by Ear - Mary Rowen

Copyright

www.EvolvedPub.com

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LIVING BY EAR

Second Edition

Copyright © 2019 Mary Rowen

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ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622535812

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-581-1

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Editor: Jessica West

Cover Artist: Kabir Shah

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond

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PUBLISHER’S NOTE:

At the end of this novel of approximately 89,818 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY by Mary Rowen, her third novel, and; 2) YOURS TO KEEP OR THROW ASIDE by E.D. Martin, another women’s fiction piece we think you’ll enjoy. We provide these as a FREE extra service, and you should in no way consider it a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.

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eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold 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, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

~~~

Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

Books by Mary Rowen

1. Leaving the Beach

2. Living by Ear

3. It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way (Coming Winter 2019/2020)

~~~

www.MaryRowen.com

What Others Are Saying About LIVING BY EAR:

~~~

Novelist Rowen reinvigorates familiar elements... short chapters rife with references to the music scene and pop culture... A quick-tempo novel that will strike a chord with women’s fiction fans... fresh, poignant and funny.

~ Kirkus Reviews

~~~

Mary Rowen has written one of the truest novels ever about Boston’s indie rock world. Full of sharp details and vivid characters, the story finds its heroine Chris at a personal crossroads, recovering from a failed marriage and returning to her first love, music. It beautifully explores the question of what drives an artist and how that can or can’t be reconciled with the straight world.

~ Brett Milano, Boston rock journalist

~~~

"The tempos of Living by Ear match the moods of the narrative... an honest page-turner about the life we dream and the life we live."

~ IndieReader

BONUS CONTENT

We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.

~~~

In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of Mary Rowen’s third novel, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY. This new book is releasing in the winter of 2019/2020.

~~~

~~~

FOR UPDATES ON THIS BOOK,

PLEASE STAY TUNED TO OUR WEBSITE HERE:

MARY ROWEN’S BOOKS at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of the literary/women’s fiction YOURS TO KEEP OR THROW ASIDE by E.D. Martin.

~~~

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

YOU’LL FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

E.D. MARTIN’S Books at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents

Copyright

Books by Mary Rowen

What Others Are Saying

BONUS CONTENT

Table of Contents

Dedication

LIVING BY EAR

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Book Club Guide

Special Sneak Preview: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY by Mary Rowen

Acknowledgements

About the Author

More from Mary Rowen

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: YOURS TO KEEP OR THROW ASIDE by E.D. Martin

Dedication

For Mike, with all my love.

Chapter 1

September 2010

I should’ve stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the drive into town. Back in the late 80s, when I worked these sidewalks, caffeine ruled. Diners and coffee shops united this industrial neighborhood the way a great chorus unites the verses of a rambling ballad. But today, research labs and office buildings dominate this stretch of real estate.

An autumn gust swoops beneath my silk wrap dress, sending the front flap flying, while my sunburned summer feet decry the injustice of high heels and new leather slingbacks. What was I thinking, wearing shoes like this when I knew the parking lot was half a mile from the courthouse? Maybe fifteen years in the suburbs have done more damage than I thought. And why am I so disoriented? I guess I should’ve skipped that third glass of Merlot last night. Being too numb to cry has its advantages, but at the moment, I could use a little more edge.

Screechmere. That’s what my busker friends and I dubbed this Lechmere section of Cambridge. In those days, Lechmere was an informal training ground for Boston street musicians, and the air was often abuzz with badly tuned guitars, scratchy fiddles, squawking saxophones, and, of course, screechers.

Everyone starts out screeching. Not literally, of course; a screecher is simply an inexperienced performer. Green. No chops. Singing too loudly or softly, forgetting the words, dancing awkwardly or standing like a stiff. But you learn. Or you quit.

The first time I brought my guitar down here, I warmed up with a shaky version of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice. I hummed most of the words—but a woman walked by and dropped a quarter in my case anyway. Okay, I thought. Okay. Wiping my palms on my jeans, I launched into Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, a bit startled to find a voice in my mouth. A guy in a suit tossed me a dollar, and some students with backpacks stopped to watch. My body felt like it was inflating; my eyes couldn’t focus. But at the end, people clapped. Total strangers wanted more from me and I had more to give. It was time to try out my experimental song.

For weeks, I’d been practicing it on the couch where I’d been crashing: a reggae version of John Lennon’s Imagine. I closed my eyes and began to sing in my best Bob Marley voice.

But when I got to the line about imagining no hell below us, a rough hand gripped my arm. My eyes flew open, and I gasped at the sight of a large, veiny nose, just inches from my face. Quit shittin’ on the sacred, lady, the guy hissed, a drop of saliva landing on my lower lip. Then he stomped away: a hacker-type dude in dirty corduroys, shaking his head and muttering to himself.

Talk about buzzkill. Immediately, I packed up my things and headed straight back to my friend’s apartment. But later that evening, after a couple of Budweisers and some microwave nachos, I decided to try writing a few songs of my own. That way, I figured, I could be creative without trashing the classics.

I’m glad I did. Playing covers remained my primary source of income—people love hearing songs they know—but writing original material made me original. It also attracted the attention of people like Jon. Jon, who really did love me for a while. And I loved him too. But if I could’ve foreseen how sad and twisted our marriage would end up, I never would’ve vowed to stay with him for better or for worse. Jon provided financial stability—I’ll never deny that—and our two kids are the best parts of my life, but I sacrificed far too much for that man. If only I’d known how many ways the word worse can play out.

And now, here I am, back here in Screechmere to divorce him. Funny how life works out, huh? And once this legal crap’s over, I’m gonna give music one last shot. I don’t have a plan yet, but I’ve got some ideas.

First, though, I need coffee. Each step down another windy block takes me farther from the courthouse where I’m due in fifteen minutes. The straps of the shoes are chewing into my heels; they already feel raw and sticky. I paid almost five hundred dollars for these Ferragamos, but I’d gladly trade them right now for the rubber flip-flops I was wearing yesterday at Danni’s pool. It’ll be worth it if I could just get some coffee.

A man leaning against the doorway of a company across the street briefly glances in my direction then continues texting.

Excuse me! I hobble in his direction, doing my best to control the lightweight dress with my purse. Where’s the the nearest coffee shop?

The man has long, dark eyelashes, and his soft voice is tinged with a French accent. Starbuck’s, he says, pointing his cell phone in the direction of some colorful banners three or four blocks away. You see the Galleria Mall? He’s about ten years younger than me—probably thirty-five or thirty-six—and his thinning hair doesn’t detract a bit from his continental appeal.

Oh no. There’s no way I can make it to the Galleria in these shoes. I wiggle my toes in an attempt to stretch the leather as a white sports car drives by, blaring a Hydrangea song. How perfect. As if this day weren’t bad enough already, now I need to be reminded of Hydrangea, the epitome of everything reprehensible about today’s pop music: lack of talent, hypersexual behavior, Auto-Tune. Of course, my tween daughter and her friends adore it all.

Isn’t there something closer? I ask the Euro guy, swallowing hard against the bitter Merlot remnants finding their way back up my esophagus. I remember a little café with lots of teas and pastries....

No. Not anymore. But wait. He tilts his head to one side. You. You are a singer. Correct? Musician? With his right hand, he strums a folk air guitar.

I can’t believe he recognizes me. My colored braids have been gone for years, and I feel so much older these days. Um... well, yes.

I knew it! My girlfriend loved your record. But... I don’t see you now. You are... retired?

Oh no, I answer. Definitely not. No. No, I took a break, but I’ve been writing new songs, and... yeah. I’m actually planning to record a new CD next year. Things’re going pretty well.

The guy falls for it, and for a second, I think I do too. I mean, it’s not a complete lie. Sure, the break has lasted sixteen years, and although I haven’t written any new songs yet, I plan to write some soon. And I won’t have Jon to hold me back anymore. So yeah. Yeah. Maybe I will make a new CD next year.

He nods. Excellent. That’s fantastic. But then his eyes drop to my feet and widen in alarm. I follow his gaze to the bloody liquid running down my heels. Ma’am, he says, taking a step back. Wait here. I get bandages. One moment.

But I don’t have time for bandages. I need coffee, and fast. No, I say, bending over and unbuckling the shoes. Thank you, but I’m fine. I’m just gonna jog down to Starbucks.

Ma’am. You can’t go like... that.

I stand up straight, holding the shoes by their bloodstained straps like a pair of freshly caught mackerel. Yes, I can. I’m fine.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone barefoot in the city, but the cement feels cool and familiar under my feet. When a pebble gets stuck between my toes, I shake it out and keep running.

Chapter 2

September 1992

The JFK, Jr. look-alike in my morning rush hour audience is impossible to ignore. That firm chin, those square shoulders, that dark, combed-back hair. And every time I glance in his direction, he’s looking straight at me with eyes the exact same shade of blue as his Brooks Brothers shirt. Not my type, but holy shit, he’s cute.

If Gina were here, she’d tell me to wink. According to Gina, winking’s a busker’s secret weapon; she says a good wink can convert the dollar bill a yuppie was planning to drop into your guitar case into a five, or even a ten. She claims it startles them, and makes them feel guilty about their wealth. But I’ve never winked, because I don’t want yuppie guilt paying my rent. I’m a better musician than that.

So with both eyes wide open, I finish my song. It’s a work in progress, a ballad about someone whose true love has moved away, and when it’s done, people clap enthusiastically before scattering. They always respond best to the autobiographical tunes.

I thank them and adjust the tuning of my high E string, wondering if the JFK, Jr. dude will toss in a buck or two. But when I look back at the spot where he’d been standing, he’s gone. Damn. Maybe I should’ve winked, or at least smiled.

A couple of teenage girls in ripped jeans hang out patiently as I take a sip of Diet Coke and gaze across the Common, considering what to play next. The sun gleams off the golden roof of the State House, and it’s supposed to stay warm and dry all day.

Hey there.

Startled, I glance over my shoulder and encounter those blue eyes again. Up close, he looks less like a Kennedy, but he’s still very handsome.

Oh. Um, hi.

He must be a religious recruiter. People in my profession get invited to churches all the time. He’s wearing a small gold signet ring, and his fingernails are super clean. Too clean.

You’re better than this street corner, he says. "You belong on the radio, and MTV. And you need to make a record."

Hmm. So maybe not a religious recruiter. Perhaps a music executive? But I’m not interested in going commercial. I mean, I’ve considered it, but every time I hear Gina’s poem, Busk, I remember my true calling.

Busk because you’re feral.

Squeal. Shriek. Moan.

Your currency is joy, and you buy and spend freely.

Wide-winged, you’re hungry but free.

Earth is infected with criminals and caged animals,

but you’re peaceful, wild, and immune.

I’m all set, I tell the guy with what I hope is a cynical smile. But thanks.

He raises his eyebrows. You could make so much more money. Have a better lifestyle.

I hate the way he’s assessing the sparse collection of quarters and crinkled dollar bills strewn against the purple lining of my guitar case, because they don’t paint an accurate picture. Sure, mornings can be rough, but later in the day—after lunch or a few cocktails—people will dig deeper into their pockets. Besides, I adore my lifestyle. I wish I could explain to him how I wear these old hippie bellbottoms from the Goodwill because they’re cool, not because I’m poor. And that MTV’s nothing but a giant, money-grubbing corporation that pigeonholes artists and sucks the creativity out of our music. But this guy wouldn’t understand that.

My life’s great the way it is, I say.

Admittedly, busking’s not the world’s easiest job. And I did almost quit in February of ‘89, after breaking up with a bad boyfriend and spending a couple of weeks crashing on the carpet at Logan Airport. But then I met Gina in Harvard Square, and everything got better. Way better. She offered me a room in her house in Somerville for two hundred bucks a month, and I couldn’t say no.

And Gina’s house is no ordinary triple-decker either; it’s more like a dormitory for Boston street performers. Yes, it’s crowded—I share a room with a depressed violinist named Trish—but moving into it opened my eyes to an amazing, supportive community that I never would’ve known existed. In addition to Trish and Gina, there’s Bobby the juggler, Raúl and Lori who play keyboards outside the Coop, Leon the break-dancer, Darren a.k.a. Chilly the jazz guitarist, and an assortment of others who come and go.

I met Curt through Gina too. Curt never actually lived at Gina’s place, but he came to one of her winter solstice parties, and the first time we played together, I knew I’d never been around a talent like his before. So many guitarists share his technical proficiency, but it’s the little pockets of time he finds—both in his original material, and in the verses and measures of even the best-known classics—that make him truly exceptional. And beautiful. He and I were pretty much a couple for a year and a half, but then he left for San Francisco in June, and I haven’t heard from him in two months. Which is cool, I guess—I mean, it’s not like we ever set any strict relationship rules—but I can’t believe he hasn’t been in touch at all.

The JFK, Jr. guy nods, maintaining full eye contact. Fair enough, but if you made a record, more people would have an opportunity to hear you. You’re obviously quite gifted.

I let out a snort. People listen to me ‘cause they don’t wanna go to work. But I’m just being modest. In fact, my biggest audiences tend to gather during the five o’clock rush hour, when folks are heading home for dinner or whatever. I’ve seen countless commuters miss their evening trains to hear me finish a song.

Taking a step closer, he lowers his voice. That’s not true. Look at those kids. He swings his blue eyes in the direction of the teenage girls waiting for me to play again. That last song you sang? They were hanging on every word. The guy smells expensive, like fancy lemon soap, and his face is almost touching mine.

My insides turn squishy, and I toss a few purple and green braids over my shoulder. The rainbow colors can be tricky to maintain, but they’re sort of my trademark. I do it myself too. I’ve learned how to bleach out the natural brown color; then I dye individual strips of red, green, blue and purple, and braid it in crazy ways. Well that’s good. I work hard on my lyrics.

Listen, he says, I’d love to buy you dinner tonight.

I’m familiar with propositions like this too. All buskers get them. The fact that we’re not on an actual stage makes us extra approachable and vulnerable. But most strangers who offer me food and drinks aren’t in this guy’s league. They tend to fall into two basic categories: misunderstood young men and geezers. The young ones favor baggy pants and Converse All-Stars, and the geezers—who’re often drunk—usually assume I’m desperate, stupid, or soliciting sex. But regardless of the circumstances, I decline all meals with strangers, because they’re too dangerous. I mean, it’s not like I have a boss who checks to make sure I’m at my desk in the morning. And my housemates don’t panic if I stay out all night. They expect me to be able to take care of myself.

Thanks, I tell the guy in my most professional tone, but really, I’m good. Still, I can’t help noticing his lips, which look incredibly soft and strong. I wonder if he does a lot of kissing. Meanwhile, the teenage girls are starting to fidget. A couple of guys in construction hats come strolling along, and one drops a dollar bill into my case. I wave and they wave back. These guys stop by every morning to request Jim Croce songs, and they always donate a buck or two. It’s time to get back to work.

Oh c’mon, says JFK, Jr. I can get us a last-minute reservation at Biba. I know the hostess. I’d love to talk to you when you’re not so busy.

Biba? Yeah, right. People like me don’t eat at Biba. I’m not even sure they’d let me in with my weird hair and little silver nose ring. Sometimes Andi and I make fun of the yuppies lined up in front of that place on weekend nights; she says they think they can buy interesting personalities by frequenting hip restaurants, and I can’t argue with that.

Not my scene, I tell him. Besides, I’ve got nothing to wear. I signal to the construction workers that I’ll start playing again in a second.

But Mr. Kennedy’s not giving up. Don’t worry about clothes. What you’re wearing right now’s perfect. You look bohemian.

Uh huh. And Biba’s no coffeehouse. But I feel something inside me start to slip. This guy’s so persistent, and he smells so good. He doesn’t seem shifty, either, and I’m not picking up any weird vibes. I position the fingers of my left hand on the guitar strings, but my right hand hangs limp over the body of the instrument.

He closes his eyes for a second, like he’s summoning inner strength. Please, he says, touching his chest, most women would love to look as good as you do in those jeans. I’d be honored if you’d join me for dinner.

Oh lord. Why? Aren’t any of the models in his Rolodex available tonight? Shouldn’t he be calling someone who looks like Daryl Hannah, the actress who dates the real JFK, Jr.? Plenty of guys have called me beautiful over the years, but I don’t see it. All I see in the mirror is a scrappy, scrawny woman with crazy hair. Do you work in the record business? I ask.

No. But I appreciate good music. And I do have some connections in the industry.

Well, it couldn’t hurt to eat one meal with this dude. Because the truth is, I wouldn’t mind a little more financial success. But just a little. All right, I say, tossing the braids over my shoulder again. Dinner it is. In these clothes. But don’t blame me if people stare.

Let ‘em stare, he says, extending his hand. My name’s Jon Wendt, by the way.

I shake his hand and check him out one last time, noting that he even shares a first name with Mr. Kennedy. I’m Chris. That’s all he needs to know about me for now.

Nice to meet you, Chris, he says, his grip on my hand as warm and firm as I’d hoped. I’ll see you back here around seven. Then he turns and saunters off toward Back Bay. I take a gulp of Diet Coke and let out a major sigh.

You okay, honey? It’s one of the construction workers.

Oh yeah. Fine.

That fellow wasn’t harassin’ you, was he?

No. I laugh as my face heats up, and I start playing Time in a Bottle. But I’m not in the song the way I usually am. I may be singing the words and strumming the chords, but my mind’s on Jon’s blue eyes. Why did I agree to eat with that guy? Am I selling out? And what would Gina say if she knew?

***

In the bar at Biba, the noise unhinges me even more. It’s not the volume, but the incessant din. I can’t make out the words people are saying, but their voices are shrill and rhythmic, rising and falling like waves. And why do I feel so buzzed after half a glass of wine? Alcohol doesn’t normally affect me so quickly, but then again, I skipped lunch in order to make up for the playing time I knew I’d lose tonight. And people are smoking cigars, which is weird. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Boston bars, but never one that allowed cigar smoking.

The place is jammed with glamorous people too, leaving Jon and me no choice but to stand toe to toe. A few other women are wearing jeans—but not faded bellbottoms—and no one else has a nose ring. I’m so glad I stopped by Andi’s apartment after work to shower.

A waitress passes behind me with a tray of drinks, and Jon pulls me against him to make room for her, his lips unintentionally brushing my forehead. There’s something incredibly elegant about him, and his spicy citrus cologne makes me think of guys like Cary Grant and Clark Gable. My knees buckle, and Jon catches me just in time. Hey! You okay?

Yeah. Yeah. I just got dizzy for a second. I think I’m hungry.

The tanned waitress is still struggling to get through the crowd, and Jon taps her on the shoulder. Excuse me? Arielle?

She turns sharply, her voice stressed but polite. Another vodka martini, Jon?

No, thank you. It’s my friend. She’s feeling lightheaded. I know you’re busy tonight, but she needs to sit down and eat something right away. It’s an emergency.

Jon, I’m okay, I protest, but he shakes his head and asks Arielle to talk to the hostess. I smile and stand straighter, doing my best to convince him I’m all right. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I’m not comfortable here. I want to get back to my world.

Andi’s probably out on the Public Garden right now, selling her tie-dyed T-shirts and capitalizing on the beautiful September weather. If I leave this place in an hour, I can meet up with her and we’ll both benefit. Alone, we pull in decent money, but as a team, we kick butt. Especially when I play Grateful Dead songs and Andi accompanies me on her tambourine.

The porcelain-skinned hostess signals for Jon and me to follow her. Jon, seriously, I’m way better now.

But he takes my arm and ushers me out of the crowded bar area.

I’m glad. But we need to fatten you up a little. You look pale. I can’t have my date fainting on me.

His date? No, we’re not on a date. I don’t date. My friends and I chill and hang out and occasionally hook up, but I haven’t gone on a date since my second—and final—year of college.

Jon seems like a decent guy, though, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Sure, he’s totally whitebread and nothing like Curt, but where’s Curt these days? Certainly not buying me dinner or worrying about my health.

Not that Jon and I stand a hope in hell of ever becoming a couple. On the walk from the Common to the restaurant, he told me he went to Yale then Harvard Law School. Now he works at a Back Bay law firm called Buckner something. He also said he wants to run for the US Senate someday. And hey, who knows? Maybe he’ll win. Then I can tell people I once ate dinner with a Senator.

The hostess leads us upstairs to a small table in the back corner of the restaurant. It’s much quieter here; not at all like the bar. Excuse me a moment, I say. I’ve gotta use the restroom. But once I’m safely behind the heavy door, I just breathe a sigh of relief and dab cold water on my neck with a paper towel.

When I return to the table, a basket of bread, some olives, and a bottle of red wine are already waiting. Jon stands and smiles, then sits down and gives me some time to peruse the menu, which includes a lot of weird stuff, like cow brains and veal hearts. All at criminally high prices. Half of me is highly amused—I can’t wait to give Andi a full report—while the other half worries about accidentally eating something repulsive.

I can order for you if you’d like, says Jon. Lots of people find the choices here intimidating.

Um, well, I was thinking of maybe getting a salad.

He nods. Whatever you like, but I eat here at least once a week, so I know what’s good. And don’t worry—I avoid all organ meats. That stuff isn’t to my taste at all.

Never in my life has anyone ordered a meal for me, but this menu is totally freaky. Not to mention that some of the words are in Italian and French, so I’m not sure what the stuff is. Like a hot broth of steeped almonds with chicken and foie gras. What? Well, okay. I mean, if you don’t mind. I just like basic food. Nothing too fancy.

Our waitress is named Lee Ann, and based on the way she keeps smiling and batting her lashes as she recites the evening specials, I’d guess she has a pretty serious crush on Jon. Which shouldn’t bother me, but I’m also relieved when she finally leaves us alone.

Jon seems glad too. Immediately, he switches gears and starts asking about my music. I’d expected him to talk more about himself and his privileged life, but as we sip wine and chow on appetizers of scallion pancakes and raw tuna, he keeps tossing out suggestions for my future career. He’s not being a jerk or anything; he just seems like a guy with lots of ideas. And I can’t help feeling flattered.

Then the entrees arrive—brick-oven lobster pizza and some kind of black squid pasta—accompanied by another bottle of wine. Since both meals look awesome, we decide to share them, and Jon goes on talking. He says his secretary dates a guy who books bands for a Cambridge nightclub, and offers to give her one of my tapes. Then he mentions a friend from his hometown who owns a recording studio, and says he can introduce me to him. And that reminds him of some work his law firm did for WBCN—Boston’s biggest and most powerful rock & roll radio station—and he asks if I’d be interested in getting my music played on their local music show, Nocturnal Emissions.

Now, I listen to Nocturnal Emissions every Sunday night—it’s a great program, and I love it when my friends get played on it—but hearing Jon say those words makes me squirm. Then his face flushes, and he pours us both a little more wine in silence.

I wouldn’t want you to go out of your way for me, I say, helping myself to one last bite of lobster. I guess the food has served its purpose, because I no longer feel dizzy.

It’s no problem. A few phone calls. Lots of people owe me favors. It can’t hurt to try, right?

Well....

Chris, he says, "let’s

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