THREE MONTHS AGO.
There was so much that should’ve been going through Ella’s mind at this moment, but only one word consumed her thoughts as she sat, legs crossed at the ankles, covered by the leggings that she’d deemed necessary for this February day in New York, and that word was quiet.
It was so freaking quiet in here.
She wasn’t considering the fact that she’d just been given In Stereo’s biggest story of the year. She wasn’t celebrating the fact that he had turned down Rolling Stone, Time, and Newsweek, but rather insisted that Ella was the only journalist… from any magazine, that he’d let on the tour bus.
No. The lack of noise inside the four walls of this office, that’s what was occupying Ella Copeland’s mind in this moment.
It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the bullpen, or the open office concept of the loft that In Stereo magazine occupied. After awhile, the continual buzz of cell phones and half heard conversations and the clicks of laptop keyboards and Ping-Pong paddles just seems normal. But in here, on the other side of the glass wall, where the title outside the door read EDITOR IN CHIEF, it was silent. The bullpen was still bustling with writers and editors and designers, the Friday afternoon deadline still looming, but no noise could be heard in here. It was as if the executives were completely sheltered from the storm of busyness and stress that wrecked the rest of the building. And for some reason, that was the thing that had Ella staring blankly across the desk at her boss.
“Ella, do you understand what I’m saying?”
Dominic Graham was the founder and Editor-in-Chief of In Stereo magazine, and one of the few from the 1990’s New York City music scene that had successfully transitioned out of punk rock and into writing… well, writing things that weren’t biographies completely sold on the perceived relationship that the artist had to Kurt Cobain.
No, Dominic had started a zine the moment he realized that Lab City, the band he fronted, had no future. Once the technology allowed, that zine turned into an email newsletter that Dominic sent to his friends. With a large amount of traction and an entrepreneurial spirit, he’d turned In Stereo into one of the largest music magazines in the world, with a staff of 30 who were responsible to create the 88 pages of content every two weeks, all year round.
On this day, he stood with his palms flat on his cocobolo desk, his Patek Phillippe 5004P designer watch hanging at the bottom of his gangly arms. His white dress shirt was cuffed at the elbow, and his khaki-colored suspenders that held up his black Levi 510s perfectly matched the rimmed glasses that sat on his clean-shaven face.
“Ella, did you hear me?”
He leaned forward and widened his eyes, hoping to capture her attention.
“Yeah,” she finally answered. “You want me to spend ten weeks on tour with Riley Martin, writing the story that every music journalist has been trying to get for the last decade.”
“Yes,” Dominic’s tone revealed his bewilderment. Ella Copeland was his star writer, and she’d always jumped at the chance to take on the story that nobody else could get. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t even been in the industry for half a decade. “Is that a problem?”
“Of course not.” Ella’s monotone reply was not what Dominic was expecting, and his expression didn’t hide it. He stood tall, folded his arms across his chest, his right arm hiding the watch that sat on his left, and heaved an obnoxiously deep breath.
“You leave on Friday. You’ll be on the bus with Riley’s crew. We’ll fly you back for deadlines between legs of the tour. Also, let’s keep up the blog on this one. Think about the online ad revenue for a story this size. Gawd,” he looked out the window at the falling snow, “imagine how big this is going to be.”
Ella realized that with this last sentence, Dominic was now talking to no one in particular.
He got this way at times; dreaming about the future of the magazine or the zeros that a certain move could add to his salary. The writers of the magazine often talked about the Dominic of 1997, and how he would beat the crap out of the man who now shared the same name, but not much else.
He sighed again, asked her if she had any questions about the assignment, and dismissed her from the office.
The moment that Ella opened the brushed nickel of the knob of Dominic’s door, the rush of the sound of the bullpen filled her ears. The grinding of coffee beans, the voices of persuasive salesmen, and the typical office BS that filled every floor of this Upper East Side building.
Before she’d even shut the door that cut her boss off from the rest of the world, she closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, relieved to be back in the company of her people.
“What are you doing?”
Ella’s eyes shot open, startled by the voice that she could feel burning through her. It was Kristina, staring at her and clicking a USB drive in and out of its casing with her thumb and forefinger.
“Oh, um, I got the Riley Martin story.” The words came out almost as a question, as if Ella hadn’t yet convinced herself of the nature of this news.
“What the…” Kristina’s voice became louder with each word. “Are you freakin’ serious?”
The clicking stopped and Kristina wrapped her arms around her friend, garnering the attention of at least half the room.
Ella stared blankly over Kristina’s shoulder as she was embraced, the expression on her face letting the rest of the office know that she still was either in shock or unhappy with whatever decision just came from Dominic’s office.
Long after the sun disappeared behind the Hudson, Ella’s fingers found the front door of her 22nd floor apartment, and then the little white button that summoned the light bulbs that hung from the 14 foot ceilings, illuminating the white marble countertops of a seemingly unused kitchen.
The ad she’d found for this place promised 1,100 square feet of furnished, clean, chic modernity, and that was quite the understatement. The white Beachwood floors matched the marble, which matched the whitest walls that Ella had ever seen. If that wasn’t enough, the white sofa and armchair sealed the deal.
But this luxury apartment wasn’t just clean in look, it was also just… clean. Six days a week, Ella was out its door before daybreak, and not back until the Manhattan street lights had been on for hours. These 1,100 square feet were so rarely used that the rooms could’ve been used as a model for prospective tenants. Had this space been reduced to a bed, a shower, and a microwave for leftovers, Ella might not have even notice.
But on this night, she found herself on the apartment’s balcony, where she could hear the buzz of Times Square just a few blocks away. She stood just beyond the outdoor furniture that she’d so frequently occupied in her first year in the city, but rarely used since.
This had been quite an eventful day. Since her meeting in the silent office of her Editor in Chief early that afternoon, she’d turned in her feature story for next month’s issue, she’d had celebratory drinks at the demand of Kristina, and she’d met Greg for a late dinner on the streets of Tribeca.
“You’re quiet tonight,” Greg had said as he dipped a sliver of calamari into the orange sauce that sat between them. “How was work today?”
“It was alright. You?”
Normally, Ella was quick to share the stories she’d been assigned. More often than not, she’d begin by telling him the name of the band or festival she’d be covering, and then spend the next ten minutes explaining to him how big a deal it would be to write an article about a band that famous or a festival that legendary.
Greg hadn’t spent his college weekends in clubs and at concerts like Ella. No, his days and nights at Princeton were consumed with getting here, to Wall Street, an MBA from an Ivy League school attached to his name.
“Oh, you didn’t see?” After Ella would inform him of the accolades of the artists she was interviewing, he would tell her what every CNN viewer already knew of the day’s market movement. “The aircraft industry is in trouble again. The bosses were yelling all afternoon, saying that we should’ve seen it coming on the floor…”
He went on and on, while Ella just sat on the other side of the table without speaking. This was the first story that he’d fully understand… everyone knew Riley Martin, and yet she kept the entirety of her end of the conversation to those four simple words. “It was alright. You?”
It isn’t often that a five-year-old conversation that you’d all but forgotten takes over and occupies the whole of your thoughts. But that’s all Ella Jayne Copeland thought about as she put the finishing touches on next month’s story. And that’s all that was going through her mind at drinks with Kristina. And that’s why she refrained from speaking during her meal with Greg.
Now, on her almost entirely unused 22nd floor apartment balcony, Ella stared south and sighed deeply. Though she hadn’t thought about it in ages, the memory was so vivid that she could almost feel the warmth of that summer night, despite the snow that was falling around her.
“You’re here too late,” Dominic had said to her matter-of-factly, throwing the strap of his Tom Ford double zip briefcase over his shoulder. “Let’s go get a drink.”
“I just need to get this column out of my system,” Ella replied, the clicks of her laptop keyboard the only sound resonating from the bullpen. “I’ll only be a few hours.”
“Come on,” Dominic replied, walking toward the door. “Deadline isn’t ‘til next week. And I have a friend I’d like you to meet.”
Ella didn’t know it yet, but anytime that Dominic invited you for drinks or dinner or a show, it was your job to say yes. Not only would the founder of In Stereo magazine not take “no” for an answer, but he also was an entertainer at his core; every meal and time together another opportunity to impress.
“Where are we headed?” Ella asked as the two exited the building and stepped underneath the large logo that told passersby that they’d likely read what was written inside this building while they waited in line at the grocery store.
“You’ll see,” Dominic replied with a smirk.
Through Midtown and past the Empire State Building, which she hadn’t taken for granted just yet, Ella’s feet throbbed with every subway station they passed. But Dominic just kept walking, as if this were the most natural way of getting around.
As they reached the intersection of 2nd & St. Marks, he must’ve noticed that she wasn’t accustomed to two and a half mile walks through the city. “Almost there,” he reassured her.
Sure enough, another block and there they were, outside of a brick building that sported a large, cartoonish hot dog that read “eat me” in mustard.
Ella tried to hide her disappointment with the finish line. She was all for a great hole-in-the-wall, but she’d suspected, hoped maybe, that her boss’s tastes would’ve been a tad more upscale than the CRIF DOGS that they were stepping in to.
But when Ella followed Dominic down the stairs and inside, it wasn’t the underwhelming interior of the East Village hot dog joint that caught her eye and instantly excited her. It wasn’t the old arcade games on the right or the graffiti on the left. Had she paid any attention to the place, she might’ve thought that this restaurant belonged in Portland. But she wasn’t paying any attention to the room.
She’d forgotten that Dominic had said he had a friend he wanted her to meet. In the ridiculousness of the almost hour walk and exterior of this building, her mind had assumed that she’d simply be enjoying a dog and cheap beer with her boss. So Ella was completely caught off guard when Simon Monaghan stood from the picnic table style booth and began walking toward them.
“Hey Dominic,” Mr. Monaghan said as he embraced the man that Ella had been working for for the last 40 days.
Simon this is Ella. Ella, this is…”
“Simon Monaghan,” she cut him off and shook his hand, harder than she meant to. “I know who you are. You started Boundary magazine, and then brought ID out of the grave and back on the front of newsstands. You wrote the Clinton piece back in ‘98. You were the mastermind behind the special edition surrounding The Cure’s Disintegration record.”
She paused to breathe, and the man let out a chuckle. “You know almost as much about me as I do.”
“I heard you speak a few years ago at the University of Oregon,” she continued. “It was brilliant. Honestly, that night is one of the main reasons I went into journalism.”
“I thought you went to Portland State,” Dominic butted in. Ella didn’t know him well enough to tell if this was his way of letting her know to back off, but she didn’t care.
“I did. The U of O talk was while I was still in high school. I convinced my dad to drive me down so I could hear Mr. Monaghan talk.”
“Please,” Mr. Monaghan extended his palm to stop her. “Call me Simon.”
“Oh wow,” Ella replied, obviously honored to be on a first name basis with one of her heroes. “Thank you… Simon.”
Ella was far too star struck to decipher whether the silence that followed was awkward.
“Well,” Dominic clasped his hands together, obviously coherent enough to tell that it was getting awkward. “Shall we?”
With that, Simon led the way into the old phone booth that oddly felt right at home in the hot dog eatery.
“What are we…” Ella stopped talking when Simon picked up the orange old timey phone that sat almost ironically on the wall of the booth.
A small sheet of paper was attached to the wall, the Sharpie-written calligraphy another throwback.
Welcome. This phone is our doorbell. Please dial 1 (once!) and we will be right with you. Thanks!
“Where are we?” Ella wondered aloud, but before either man could answer, the wall opposite the entrance of the phone booth moved, the hidden door causing Ella to jump.
The next thing Ella knew, the three of them were inside a modern-day speakeasy, completely hidden to the outside world.
And it was in that room, over drinks with her boss and one of her heroes, that Ella had the conversation she was now replaying on the balcony of her Manhattan apartment.
“All you really have to do in this industry,” Simon said to Ella, sipping his second Paddington, the drink that had been named after the stuffed bear that stood, teeth bared, in the bar. “All you gotta do is get a couple of monster stories and deliver. Two or three of those in the next decade, and you’re an executive before you hit 40.”
“But don’t over deliver,” Dominic cut in, laughing. “Or I’ll never let you out of the bullpen.”
Simon tipped his glass toward Dominic. “Indeed. One of the biggest mistakes the best writers make is being too good.”
At the time, Ella felt honored that Dominic Graham and Simon Monaghan had felt comfortable enough around her to get tipsy and give her some unfiltered advice. Despite her brand new, exciting role at In Stereo, she took the advice to heart, guessing that 40 year-old Ella would be ready for the corner office and prestigious role.
But here she was, not even 30 yet, the monster story coming far quicker than she’d anticipated. She hadn’t known it yesterday, but the silence of Dominic’s office scared the crap out of her. There wasn’t an ounce of Ella Copeland that wanted anything other than the bullpen, the excitement of the story, the pressure of the deadline.
“This seals it.” She spoke to the snowy February night. “I’ve gotta kill it. I have to over-deliver.”
And with that, she exhaled, walked back inside, and began packing for Riley Martin’s tour.
// TAKE A BREAK HERE //
This day had been like so many others these past few weeks…
Drifting in and out of sleep…
Checking the position of the sun through the sliver in the corner of the window…
Staring at a face he barely recognized in the mirror…
The walk from Elliot Avenue to Hawthorne to SE 20th to Burnside…
The Johnny Cash song repeating in his ears…
Another single origin Americano…
Another coffee counter conversation with Haleigh…
Another afternoon staring at a blank piece of paper, hoping to find the song that finally felt sung…
The lignin and chemicals and bleach of this paper, were in fact different than the other days. Jake was passing Stark St. when he realized that his Moleskin journal hadn’t been sitting next to his sunglasses and ear buds back at the house, so he stopped at the little shop next to Heart and grabbed a yellow-covered, all weather notebook.
He scribbled a handful of notes onto the thick paper, as he’d done most other days, and then he walked back to the house on Ladd.
The sun was falling behind the trees across the street, and he opened the half empty bottle of Burnside Bourbon, as he’d done most every other night this month. He retrieved a few cubes of ice from the freezer, and was pouring what would likely be the first of many when he saw a movement outside the kitchen window.
It was Ella, the neighbor, and she was walking through her yard and toward his porch. Leaving the freshly poured drink on the counter, Jake walked through the living room and opened the front door.
Ella was still walking up the stairs of his porch when he came out, and it took her a moment to notice that he was there. It was in that moment that Jake really looked at her for the first time. If he’d been asked before now about his new neighbor, he might’ve been able to recall the color of her hair, but that would be about it.
He definitely couldn’t have told you what he saw now… the smile that was brighter than the sun that was falling behind her, the eyes that simply belonged with that smile, the way everything about her just fit with everything else about her.
“Hey.” The word came out slowly, and Jake couldn’t decipher the emotion behind it. “I realized,” she continued, “that I ran off last night without figuring out dinner.”
Dinner! How had Jake forgotten that just yesterday she’d come over to introduce herself and invite him over to her parents’ house?
“Oh,” he said, acting like he had to think about it. “Well, I’m wide open, so just let me know when to be there.”
There was that smile again…
“Ok,” her body swayed ever so slightly as she spoke, the light behind her coming into focus as she tilted her head toward her shoulder.
“How about now?”
Jake turned back inside to grab a jacket, and as he walked, he found himself at the window, watching Ella as she took a seat on the top step of the porch. She ran her forefinger over the spot on the railing where she’d inscribed her name well over a decade ago, just as she’d done yesterday.
Had Jake been plugged in to social media, he likely would’ve pulled the phone from his pocket and snapped a photo, the light and the porch and the window and the girl all too perfect a combination to not chronicle. But he hadn’t touched social media since long before coming to the Pacific Northwest, and his phone wasn’t in his pocket.
He’d been so reliant on, and even addicted to his phone, for most of his adult life. But now, that same phone sat on the nightstand all day, unless it was sending Johnny Cash through the little white cable and into his ears. Oh, how life had changed.
Jake walked back onto the porch, putting his jacket on as he shut the dense door that Ella had knocked on 24 hours before. She stood, brushed her jeans, and exhaled, as if bringing herself back from a previous memory of life on this porch.
He followed her down the stairs and across the lawn. As they walked, Jake realized that he knew so little about the girl he was about to spend the evening with. He racked his brain for a conversation starter, but she beat him to it.
“Have you been in Portland long?”
“Less than a month,” he replied, glad that she had begun to break the ice. “You?”
“I’ve lived in this house,” Ella opened her palms as if to present the house whose yard they were now standing in, “my entire life. I’ve been on the East Coast for the past six years, and I just got back this week.”
“So are you “back” back, or just visiting?”
She crossed her arms and looked down at the ground, watching her bare feet as they rubbed against the fresh cut grass. After a pause, she looked intently at Jake.
“I don’t know yet.”
Jake wasn’t sure if it was the words, or the way she said the words, or the way she looked at him as she said the words, but her answer was definitely deliberate.
“What about you? Are you “here” here, or just visiting?”
“I think…” His answer was interrupted by the creak of the screen door. Jake and Ella both shot their eyes toward the porch where the woman who Jake assumed was Ella’s mother was holding the door open with her foot.
“Mom,” Ella began, motioning for Jake to follow her up the steps, “this is Jake.”
“Hi,” she said, the warmth of her smile a more seasoned version of her daughter’s. “I’m Caroline.”
Jake thought he could hear a slight southern accent buried in her tone.
And with that, Jake followed Ella and Caroline into the house as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The dining room was empty, the indentations in the rug the only clue that a table and chairs ever sat here.
Once in the kitchen, Ella started the hot water while Caroline began rummaging through the pantry.
“He’ll be here soon.” Caroline continued speaking without removing her head from the cabinet. “So Jake, what do you do for a living?”
“Well,” he rubbed his beard as he spoke, “I’m actually between jobs right now.”
“I see,” she said without emotion. “Well, I hope you’re able to find something quickly."
Jake wondered if he should clarify that he wasn’t actually looking for work, that he hadn’t even considered updating his resume or trying to find a job here in Portland.
“You want coffee?” Ella held up a white bag that contained that little black and white logo that Jake recognized from the shop on Burnside.
As Ella turned back toward the counter to pour the beans on the scale, Jake couldn’t help but notice the similarity in the movements of the mother and daughter in front of him. He thought back to the tiny kitchen on the south side of Dallas, Kira and their toddler, memories of watching them bake cookies together. In the chaos of life with a small child, it became so easy to not see this as simply a stage. He’d never thought of his little girl as an adult, and the mother/daughter time that came along with it.
“Daddy, try one,” he could still see her face as she held a cookie out for him, her hands covered in chocolate and god knows what else. Oh, how he missed those days under the same roof with both of his girls.
The aroma of dinner was filling the house by the time Aaron arrived and introduced himself to Jake.
Ella had been right, Jake and Aaron hit it off right away. Between Aaron’s library and record collection, they had no problem filling the evening with conversation.
“What should we listen to?” Aaron was shelling a pistachio while Jake flipped through the mint condition records.
“Your collection is really impressive.” Jake wanted to say that he was surprised that a man pushing 60 listened to so many current artists, and not just those from his heyday, but he didn’t know how to say it without calling his new neighbor old.
“How about this one?”
He pulled out the record between Sherwood and Cat Stephens, the one that contained the almost silhouette of a man holding his cowboy hat on his head.
“Ah,” Aaron popped a pistachio into his mouth, “one of my new favorites.”
“Yeah,” Jake handed the large rectangle to Aaron, and then followed him toward the front porch. “I saw him in Dallas last year. Great show.”
“Oh man, I’d love to see him live.”
Again, Jake wanted to comment about how refreshing it was to see a man like Aaron so into good music. But again, he refrained. He simply sipped his coffee as Aaron pulled the 2nd LP from the case and set it on the old Admiral.
The sun was completely gone now, and the string lights that hung from the edge of the porch were sufficiently lighting the yard. The acoustic guitar and harmonica sounded so warm coming from the vinyl, the song the perfect soundtrack to the night breeze.
Maybe it was the atmosphere, the mixture of twilight and the porch and the dinner cooking and being with a family, but as Chris Stapleton began singing, the lyrics hit Jake in a way that they hadn’t before.
Daddy doesn’t pray anymore
I guess he’s finished talking to the Lord
He used to fold his hands and bow his head down to the floor
But daddy doesn’t pray anymore
I remember even when the times were bad
He thanked Jesus for everything he had
For a good wife and three children
And the food upon our plates
Yeah, everything was right when he said grace
As the song continued, Jake walked to the edge of the porch and spread his hands out on the rail, trying to will away the thoughts that began racing through his mind.
Daddy doesn’t pray anymore.
“Who’s ready to eat?”
Thinking back, Jake couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten a home cooked meal. He’d seen Aaron and Caroline on this porch multiple times over the past few weeks, but this was far more enjoyable than it looked from a distance. The music, the food, the company; this was easily the most fun that Jake had had in ages.
It turns out that Aaron was quite the beer connoisseur, and it also turns out that Portland is a really good city to live in if you’re a beer connoisseur. Each time Jake would find himself with an empty bottle, Aaron had four or five options waiting for him in the refrigerator.
“Alright, so this one is brewed right over here on Powell,” he pointed to the south as he handed Jake another beer. Jake studied the red can, Mt. Hood and the promise of sustainability and certified organic.
“Wow, that’s really good.”
The four of them sat at the table long after the food had been finished, sharing stories and listening to records and getting to know each other. The drinks and hours together had removed the barriers of awkwardness, and they were spending time like old friends.
“Jake,” Ella pointed the bottle in her hand toward her father. “My dad plays a little bit of guitar, too.”
“Ah, you play?” Aaron had a way of deflecting the attention from himself onto those around him.
“I do,” Jake said to slowly, before turning and looking at Ella. “How’d you know that? Oh,” he said before she could answer, “you saw the guitar in my living room when you came by yesterday.”
“Yes,” Ella smirked as she said it, “but confession… I heard you singing outside a few nights ago.”
“Oh wow,” Jake looked embarrassed, but almost in a playful way. “Sorry about that.”
“No,” Ella reached across the table and put her hand on his arm. “Don’t be sorry. Not at all. It was… amazing.”
In the midst of their conversation, Jake and Ella hadn’t even realized that Aaron had gone inside and returned with a guitar case. He pulled out a sunburst Gibson J-45, and began plucking while the others around the table continued talking.
“For real, you have a great voice.”
“Oh,” he rubbed his beard, and Caroline noticed that he did that when he didn’t know what to say. “Thank you.”
“Let me get this cleaned up,” Caroline stood and began grabbing the plates from the table where they were sitting.
Ella scooted her chair back and grabbed all the silverware within reach.
Aaron continued to pluck at the old Gibson while Jake leaned back in his chair and took it all in. This was what peace felt like. He looked at his neighbor, lost in some song that Jake had never heard. His round-framed glasses sat in front of his closed eyelids, below his balding head and above his gray 5 o’clock shadow. Jake studied his face, and he saw it… a song that was sung.
Jake turned and considered the empty chairs, where this man’s wife and daughter sat every night over dinner, and he had a horrifying realization: maybe that’s what makes the song sung. Maybe it’s not the song at all, but the people around you while you sing it.
“Hey,” Jake turned to Aaron, who was now looking at him. “Why don’t you grab that guitar of yours? Let’s play a bit.”
Normally, Jake would’ve declined. He hated jamming with other people. If there wasn’t a specific goal in mind; a song to be written or something to prepare for, he wasn’t interested.
But perhaps Jake had the hope that playing along with a man whose song was sung would somehow magically make his song sung as well, and so he stood, walked across the yard, grabbed his Martin auditorium, and walked back.
Aaron continued his sung song while Jake strummed along, listening to the familiar notes and the words he’d never heard. After awhile, Caroline and Ella resumed their place at the table, listening to the song of their husband and father. So the four of them sat, the sound of crickets and guitars accompanying the perfect May evening.
“Hey… Jake,” Aaron spoke as his final chord rung out into the night. “Why don’t you play us something?”
“Oh,” Jake looked down, taking his hands off his guitar. “No thanks.”
“You look like a man who’s written a song or two,” Aaron pressed. “Surely you have something…”
“Yeah.” It was Ella who spoke. Jake looked at her, her legs tucked underneath her on the chair, her fingers invisible underneath the sweatshirt she must’ve put on when she went inside. “Play the song you were playing on your porch the other night.”
“Um…” Jake felt as if they wouldn’t give up until he gave in, but there was no way that he was going to play any song that he’d written since moving to the house next door. They were simply too personal and too vulnerable and too fresh and too real to be sharing with people he just met, regardless of how many beers he’d had. “Alright. Um, not that one, but I’ll play you one I wrote a few months ago.”
And with that, he closed his eyes, played a B minor, and began to sing.
INSERT SONG HERE
The four of them sat on the porch for another 20 minutes after the song. Aaron played an old song that he’d sung to Ella as a child, and she sang along joyfully and without shame. They exchanged conversation, simply sitting and enjoying each other’s presence and the weather that had seemingly remained perfect just for them.
“Well,” Aaron said, standing and placing his guitar in its case, “I think I’m going to call it a night.”
“Me, too,” Caroline followed suit.
“Jake, it was a pleasure to meet you.” Jake stood and shook Aaron’s hand. “I look forward to doing this again soon.”
“As do I.”
After Ella’s parents had gone inside, she sat, sipping her beer and watching Jake as he sat his guitar against the rail.
“I’m really glad you said yes,” she said to him. “I’m glad we did this tonight.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
There was a moment of silence, but it wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. The crickets and the friendship that had been built provided more than enough support for the lack of speaking.
“Hey,” Jake said, putting his hands on the back of the chair. “You wouldn’t want to go grab some coffee, would you?”
“Yeah. Why not?”
The moment he said it, he remembered where they were; that Portland was the land of coffee, and the land of coffee that closed at six.
“Oh,” he answered before she could. “I guess everything is closed.”
He watched as Ella leaned back in her chair and stared through the screen door and into the house.
“Actually,” she said, “there’s a spot just down the street that’s open ‘til 11. We have time.”
And with that, Jake and Ella walked down the steps and onto the sidewalk.
Still, the crickets and camaraderie seemed enough to fill the space between them.
The streetlights were completely dependent on the branches of the trees to be effective, and the two walked from the dark to the light and back to the dark again.
They had just passed Palm Street when Ella finally spoke up.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” he replied, as if they’d been friends for years.
“What did you do?”
“When she left… your song… I think I’d lose my way… I mean, did you?”
There was another silence, but this time neither of them felt that there was enough to comfortably fill it. They reached the loop, and began walking around the roundabout, the streetlights fully functional and bicycles whizzing by them, even though it was after 10pm.
“Yeah,” Jake finally replied. “I think I did.”
He stopped speaking and looked at her, both of them still moving around the loop while yet another bicycle passed them on the road.
“But I think I’m as close to finding it as I ever have been.”
The coffee shop was subtle and unassuming, and one might miss it or mistake it for a house if they didn’t know it was there.
Jake followed Ella inside, and they were greeted by the soft sounds of studying and hushed conversation. They found a small table by the bookcases that made the place look like a library.
“I haven’t been here in so long,” Ella said, sipping her coffee and looking around the shop. “I used to come here all the time to do homework. I’ve written so many papers and stories and articles here…”
“Is that what you do for work?” Jake interrupted.
In the ease of the conversation of the evening, Ella had forgotten that she hadn’t told him anything about the life she lived outside of SE Portland.
“Yeah,” she nodded confidently. “I’ve been a writer at In Stereo magazine for the past six years.”
“Whoa,” Jake said slowly, slightly leaning back in his chair. “The In Stereo magazine?”
“Wow. Is that based here in Portland?”
“Nope. New York.”
“Ok, gotcha. So… earlier, when you said that you weren’t sure if you were gonna be in Portland long term, does that mean that you’re not sure if you’re going to be at the magazine long term?”
“No. I, I’m done at In Stereo.”
With everyone else, even her own parents, she’d wanted to keep the story from them. She’d worried that Aaron and Caroline, and even Adeline, had found out about what she’d done. Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the near perfect evening, but Ella felt so comfortable in this moment with Jake that she had no reservation about the words that were falling out of her mouth.
“I got fired last week.”
“Oh my god,” Jake looked deep into her eyes, meaning the words that were coming from his lips. “I’m so sorry.”
There was a pause while the two of them sipped their coffee and contemplated their next words. The shop was thinning, most of the studiers and couples making their way back onto the loop.
“Is it ok if I ask what happened?”
Ella sat her mug down and returned Jake’s stare.
“Well… have you heard of Riley Martin?"