Raymond’s partner Tina will sometimes tease Raymond by saying he loves his guitar Susie more than he loves her, which Raymond doesn’t think is true, though he does love his guitar. He’s been playing since he was ten, and now he’s thirty-three, a superb guitarist, and he can’t imagine life without a guitar. He also can’t imagine life without Tina, and he knows she only teases him about loving Susie more than he loves her when she wants him to pay more attention to her, which is something he’s always happy to do.
A wearer of brown khaki pants, red high-top tennies, and colorful T-shirts, Raymond Chance is a sturdy five-foot-nine with short brown hair and brilliant green eyes, the brilliance somewhat muted by his wire-framed glasses, the lenses tinted light gray. The youngest of two children, his sister five years older than he, Raymond was born in Burlingame, California, his mother a first-generation Irish American, his father descended from pioneers who reached California in wagon trains a decade before the Gold Rush of 1849. From his mother, a high school music teacher, Raymond got his love of music and storytelling, and from his father, a plumber, he learned basic carpentry skills, an appreciation for baseball, and how to barbecue chicken.
A wearer of skirts, sandals, and embroidered Mexican blouses, Tina Ramirez is thirty-two, five-foot-three, with big brown eyes and long brown hair. The middle child of five siblings, Tina was born in San Jose, California, her mother Cuban, her father Mexican. A gymnast from the age of six until she was sixteen, Tina was an excellent student and received a full scholarship to San Jose State. From her mother, a seamstress, Tina learned to cook and make clothes and dance the Rumba and Mambo. From her father, a construction worker, Tina learned to work hard, how to grow tomatoes and chili peppers, and how to make killer guacamole.
Tina and Raymond have been friends for eleven years, lovers for nine, housemates for eight, and they both say they want to get married, but they haven’t set a date, nor do they talk much about marriage. They are both ambivalent about having children, not because they don’t love children, they do, but because they barely make enough money to cover their expenses, despite having an old car and sharing the three-bedroom house they rent in Oakland with four other people.
Raymond is a teacher’s aide in a private pre-school in Berkeley, his hours seven in the morning until three in the afternoon, though he often stays an extra hour until the last child has gone home. He loves his job, though it pays poorly, and he frequently searches the Want Ads for another job. He plays the guitar for at least two hours every day and has written hundreds of songs, seventy-four of which he thinks are really good.
Tina is a substitute teacher, mostly middle school, and makes twice what Raymond makes per hour, but she hates subbing and is taking online courses to improve her computer skills and enhance her chances of landing an Internet Technology job. Both she and Raymond have degrees in English from San Jose State where they met in a Creative Writing class. Tina hasn’t written anything since graduating from college, and Raymond mostly writes songs these days, though occasionally he’ll write a short story and share it with the household.
Raymond and Tina have a band called Pepperoni. Raymond is the lead singer and rhythm guitarist and writer of all the songs, Tina plays electric bass and sings harmony, and Derek, Raymond’s friend since childhood, plays lead guitar. They’ve had one regular gig for the last five months, every Sunday late morning to early afternoon at Calm Coffee, a popular café in Emeryville. Raymond has tried to get more gigs for the band, but the three songs on the Pepperoni demo CD they made in their living room reveal more of the group’s flaws than virtues. Raymond is a masterful guitarist with a pleasing voice, but Tina is frequently out of synch with Raymond when singing harmony and playing bass, and Derek is a sloppy player who uses the same seven-note blues riff over and over again.
Now and then, usually when he hasn’t had enough sleep, Raymond admits to himself that Tina and Derek are musical liabilities, but Tina loves playing bass and singing with Raymond, and Derek and Raymond started playing guitars together in Fifth Grade and Raymond thinks Derek would be devastated if he couldn’t be in the band.
Raymond landed the Calm Coffee gig by playing and singing solo for the manager of the café, Fiona Marconi, in her office adjacent to the café kitchen. Fiona, a professional dancer with expressive hands and short black hair, loved Raymond’s singing and playing, and she was more than a little peeved when he showed up with Tina and Derek for the gig; but she has such an enormous crush on Raymond, she can’t bring herself to fire Pepperoni.
One rainy Sunday in April, Tina wakes with a debilitating headache and Derek calls from Burlingame where he still lives with his parents to say he has the flu, so Raymond goes to play the Calm Coffee gig by himself.
When Raymond tells Fiona he’ll be playing solo today, Fiona wants to throw her arms around him and kiss him, but she resists those impulses and effuses, “Truth be told, you’re so good by yourself, I really don’t think you need those other two.”
Raymond nods his thanks to Fiona for her compliment, tunes Susie, plugs into the café sound system, and sits on a high stool rather than standing as he usually does when he performs with Tina and Derek.
He starts his first set with a swinging love song full of delightful chord changes and enchanting lyrics, and many of the customers stop talking to listen. At song’s end, the applause is boisterous, something that never happens when Tina and Derek play with Raymond.
The interesting thing to Raymond is, though he knows he sounds much better playing and singing alone, he misses Tina and Derek playing with him. And on this Sunday, for the first time in his life, he realizes he has chosen mediocrity over excellence because he is uncomfortable playing in public by himself. But why do I have to play with such lousy musicians?
By the end of Raymond’s third set, Calm Coffee is jammed with people listening to him; and when he finishes his last tune, the applause goes on for so long he is moved to play an encore, after which dozens of people put money in his tip jar and thank him for playing.
Fiona pays Raymond twenty dollars more than the usual fifty, gives him a big bag of muffins and cookies, and goes on and on about what a wonderful solo performer he is, but she stops short of asking him to henceforth play the Calm Coffee gig solo.
In his car, before heading home, Raymond counts his tips and can’t believe the total. So he counts the money again, looks around to confirm he is still on planet Earth, and whispers, “Two hundred and forty-seven dollars? Impossible.”
The following Sunday morning at ten, Fiona is gravely disappointed when Derek, a heavyset guy with long dank blond hair, and Tina arrive at Calm Coffee with Raymond. But despite her disappointment, Fiona decides not to tell Raymond about the dozens of phone calls she received during the week from people asking if Raymond would be playing by himself again this week.
The truth is, Fiona has only kept Pepperoni on the bill for as long as she has because she keeps hoping Raymond will either break up with Tina or wake up to his genius and start gigging solo, or both. But because Fiona did not call Raymond in the days leading up to this Sunday’s gig and tell him about those phone calls from people who love him but can’t stand the full ensemble, she decides to let today’s drama unfold however it will and hope her customers won’t boo the band, though if they do boo, she won’t be surprised.
As it happens, the customers don’t boo, either because they don’t stay to listen or they stay and don’t listen, the café din all but drowning out the music; and Raymond feels terrible as Tina keeps losing the beat and playing the wrong notes and coming in late with her harmonies, and Derek keeps bending the same handful of notes exactly as he’s been bending them since he was thirteen.
Only a few people put change in the tip jar, and when the last song is sung, Fiona asks Raymond to come to her office where she pays him and says, “I’m sorry, Raymond, but we’re going to go with somebody else on Sundays from now on. It was great getting to know you. I love your songs. Good luck.”
“I appreciate you keeping us on here for as long as you did,” says Raymond, smiling at her. “Meant a lot to us. Thanks.”
Fiona takes a deep breath and says, “If you ever want to play solo, let me know. Okay? I’d love to have you gig here and I know I could get you gigs other places, too. But not with Tina and Derek. They’re just not in your league, Raymond. You know that, don’t you?”
“I hear you,” he says, waving goodbye. “Thanks again, Fiona.”
At the table in Calm Coffee where Derek and Tina and Raymond are having their customary after-gig coffee and bagels, Raymond is trying to work up the courage to tell Tina and Derek about the termination of their run at Calm Coffee, when a man approaches their table. He’s tall and good-looking with longish gray hair, wearing a black corduroy jacket over a green T-shirt tucked into black corduroy trousers.
He nods politely to Tina and Derek, smiles at Raymond and says, “Sorry to barge in, but I heard you playing solo last week and came back to hear you again today.” He hands Raymond a business card. “I’m very interested in your music. I have a recording studio just around the corner here, and I’m working with a couple of artists who would love to record some of your songs. If that’s of any interest to you, please give me a call and we’ll set something up.”
“Okay,” says Raymond, pocketing the card without looking at it. “Thanks.”
The man walks away, and now Raymond doesn’t have the heart to tell Tina and Derek about the end of their Calm Coffee gig, just as he didn’t have the heart to tell them about the two hundred and forty-seven dollars in tips and the extra twenty he made last week.
That night, as they are settling down to sleep, Tina says to Raymond, “I felt pretty good about my playing today. I think I’m finally getting the knack of playing bass and singing at the same time. Don’t you think?”
Raymond clears his throat. “Yeah. You were fine.”
“Fine?” she says, with a touch of anger. “What do you mean fine?”
“I mean you were good,” says Raymond, unconvincingly.
“That guy who gave you his card certainly thought we were good,” she says, petulantly. “Why else would he be interested in our songs?”
“Honey, they’re not our songs, they’re my songs.”
“What?” she says, sitting up and turning on the light. “Your songs? Since when are they your songs and not Pepperoni’s songs?”
“Are you serious?” says Raymond, frowning at her. “I wrote them. I play them. I sing them and you guys play along. You didn’t write them. I did.”
Tina gets out of bed and glares at Raymond. “So does this mean you’re gonna go see that guy without me and Derek? Your songs are… they’re skeletal without us.”
“Skeletal?” says Raymond, sitting up and laughing. “Are you out of your mind?”
Tina folds her arms. “So this is what I get for playing with you for five years? This is how you treat Derek after he played with you for twenty years? You dump us the minute some guy with a recording studio gives you his card?”
“The guy is interested in my songs,” says Raymond, flabbergasted. “Not in our band. He wants the songs, maybe, for some people he’s recording. I’m a songwriter. You’re not, and neither is Derek. Can we please discuss this rationally? I am not dumping you. If I go see this guy, and I may not, I will play him my songs and if he wants some of them, we’ll figure something out. Do you hear what I’m saying? This is not about the band. It’s about the songs.”
“Yeah, but he liked the songs because of the way we played them,” she says, angrily. “Will you at least admit that?”
“No,” says Raymond, shaking his head. “What I’ll admit is last Sunday I played at Calm Coffee without you and Derek, and I made two hundred and forty-seven dollars in tips, and Fiona paid me an extra twenty dollars over the usual fifty. And today she told me she doesn’t want Pepperoni playing there anymore.”
Tina glares at Raymond. “I know why you’re doing this. Because you resent that I make more money than you, and you resent that I’m going to get a tech job and make serious money while you barely make minimum wage.”
“Tina,” he says quietly. “I’m happy you make good money subbing, and I’ll be happy when you get a job you like and make even more money. I work at the pre-school because I love the job and I love the kids, but my real job, the job I care most about, is my music. And I really don’t understand why you would begrudge me a little success with what I’ve dedicated my whole life to. I don’t get it.”
She sits on the edge of the bed and says, “I begrudge you because I’m jealous of you. As if you didn’t know. I was gonna be a writer. Remember? And you were gonna be a writer. But we ended up being what we are, and I don’t do anything creative except play bass and sing with you, and I know I’m not very good, but I love it because it’s something creative, something not just about getting money and surviving. It’s what we wanted to be. Artists. And you work at being an artist and I don’t. I could write. I could write stories and post them online. But I don’t because I’m not passionate about writing anymore. I don’t see the point. And I’m tired of just scraping by. You don’t seem to care that you don’t make very much money because you’ve got your music. But I don’t have music except when I play along with you. And now I can’t even do that.”
Raymond crawls across the bed and puts his arms around her. “Maybe we should move somewhere where it doesn’t cost so much to live. We don’t have to live in the most expensive place in the world. Do we?”
“No,” she says, relaxing in his arms. “I’m sorry I got mad at you. I’m glad that guy likes your songs. They’re great songs.” She kisses him. “Did you really make two hundred and forty-seven dollars, plus the fifty, plus twenty more?”
“I did,” says Raymond, excitedly. “Wanna see?”
Suite Chariot is the name of Zack Mathias’s recording company, Zack Mathias the man who gave Raymond his card at Calm Coffee. Raymond researched Zack Mathias on the Internet and learned that Zack, who hails from New York, has produced several albums for well-known singers and played bass on dozens of albums, some of them hugely successful.
Which is why, on the Saturday after Pepperoni performed at Calm Coffee for the last time, Raymond hesitates to press the brass doorbell button on the wall next to the large red door on the ground floor of a two-story white stucco warehouse, the sign above the door—magenta letters on a field of turquoise—identifying this as the entrance to Suite Chariot.
Indeed, Raymond is so intimidated by the thought of meeting Zack, he is on the verge of not pressing the doorbell, and returning home and sending an apologetic email to Zack retracting his offer to meet with him, when a woman runs by with a large menacing dog on a leash, and Raymond is startled into pressing the button.
And before his fear of meeting Zack can take over again, the red door opens and here is a striking African American woman with black hair captured in dozens of long slender braids. She is wearing a turquoise sweatshirt, purple sweatpants, and gold basketball shoes, her lips painted cherry red.
“Welcome Raymond,” she says, giving Raymond a wide-eyed smile, her voice deep and warm. “I’m Maru. Zack’s running a little late. Come in. We’ll get you set up in the studio. He’ll be here soon.”
Raymond follows Maru down a long narrow hallway to a small waiting room appointed with a plush sofa and armchair, one wall of the little room dominated by a large oil painting of Jimi Hendrix wearing the long curly brown-haired wig and sumptuous clothing of Louis XIV while holding an electric lute plugged into a classic Fender Reverb amp.
From the waiting room, they enter a large performance room with a big window in one of the walls looking into a control room where an African American man with short gray hair is sitting in a comfortable-looking chair at the recording console. He is wearing a white short-sleeved dress shirt, a red bowtie, and black slacks. He waves to Raymond, and Raymond waves back.
“Um,” says Raymond, looking around the performance room and seeing five microphones on stands, a trap set, and a large reddish-brown standup bass in a beautiful wooden box stand, “I didn’t think I was going to be recording anything today. I thought we were just going to… I was just gonna play some tunes for Zack and…”
“That’s right,” says Maru, moving one of the microphones, “but Zack likes to record everything because we never know when lightning might strike.”
“That’s true,” says Raymond, taking of his jacket. “We never know, do we?”
“Nope,” says Maru, taking Raymond’s jacket from him. “People call you Raymond or Ray?”
“Raymond,” he says, laughing nervously. “But that’s only because nobody’s ever called me Ray. I don’t know why, but no one ever has.”
“Raymond feels a little formal to me,” she says, pursing her lips. “Be okay if I call you Ray?”
“Yeah, I like it when you say Ray,” he says, blushing.
“How about when I say Ray?” says the fellow in the control room, his gravelly voice coming through a speaker on the wall above the window.
“Yeah, I like that, too,” says Raymond, smiling at the man. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Jerry,” he says, his eyes sparkling. “But everybody calls me Tap.”
“Tap’s a most excellent drummer,” says Maru, coming close to Raymond. “You like to stand or sit when you play?”
“Either,” says Raymond, feeling like he’s about to fall off a cliff. “Whatever you think is best.”
“Your choice,” says Maru, nodding.
“Well, I play a little better sitting down,” says Raymond, looking around for something to sit on, “but I sing better standing.” He shrugs. “I guess I’ll sit.”
“Chair, stool, or piano bench?” asks Tap, getting up from his chair in the control room. “I’m thinkin’ piano bench.”
“Yeah, that would be perfect,” says Raymond, getting Susie out of her case. “I’ve never been in a recording studio before.”
“Seriously?” says Maru, frowning at him. “You play like you were born in one, Ray.”
“Where… “ Raymond clears his throat. “Where did you hear me play?”
“At Calm Coffee,” she says, nodding. “Two weeks ago. Zack called and told us to get over there as soon as we could. And I’m so glad we did.” She looks into the control room. “Here’s Zack.”
“Hey Raymond,” says Zack, standing at the control console. “Sorry I’m late. Got stuck in traffic on the bridge. Madhouse out there.”
“You live in San Francisco?” asks Raymond, watching Tap wheel in a big brown piano bench on a yellow dolly.
“No, I live here when I’m in town,” says Zack, taking off his jacket, his T-shirt red today. “Upstairs. Couple bedrooms, kitchen, dance floor. I stayed in a hotel in the city last night. Stayed up way too late listening to a couple singer songwriters.” He sits down at the console. “And the whole time I was listening to them, I kept thinking about your songs, especially that one about the guy who goes next door to complain about the loud music and ends up falling in love. That’s a hit, Raymond.”
“Oh, thanks,” says Raymond, unconsciously fingering the first few chords of the song. “Glad you like it. That one’s called ‘Too Much Noise.’”
“Great song,” says Zack, nodding. “Would you play that one first?”
“Sure,” says Raymond, sitting on the piano bench and tuning Susie as Maru positions three microphones around him, one for his voice, one aimed at Susie’s sound hole, one aimed at Susie’s neck.
“You want headphones?” asks Maru, smiling sweetly at Raymond.
“For what?” he asks, innocently.
“To hear yourself playing and singing.” She laughs in delight. “You really are a studio virgin, aren’t you?”
“Let’s go without headphones,” says Zack, with quiet authority. “They can take some getting used to.”
Maru and Tap join Zack in the control room, and Zack says, “Any time you’re ready, Mr. Chance.”
Raymond closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and improvises a lovely opening for his sweet little rocker “Too Much Noise”.
In the unsullied quiet of the performance room, Raymond hears his voice and guitar more clearly than he has ever heard them, and he loves how he sounds.
When he finishes the tune, he opens his eyes and sees Maru and Tap and Zack applauding in the control room; and in the next moment they are with him—Tap sitting down at the trap set, Zack standing with his big bass, and Maru sitting on a high stool.
“Play that one again, Raymond,” says Zack, nodding. “That was fantastic.”
So Raymond starts the song again, this time with a different opening, and Zack adds a few quiet bass notes right on the beat, and Tap swirls his brushes on the snare drum; and Zack’s subtle playing and Tap’s tender drumming carry Raymond into the body of his song.
And as he plays and sings, Raymond knows he has never heard anything as beautiful as Zack and Tap playing with him, supporting him; and when Maru joins him on the chorus, her astounding voice locked in perfect harmony with his, Raymond is changed forever.
Too much noise, the walls were shaking
Too much noise, my heart was breaking
Too much noise, I just couldn’t take it,
So I went next door and fell in love.
Raymond plays three more of his songs, Zack and Tap and Maru join him on reiterations of each, and after an hour of musical bliss, Maru whips out her phone and orders Chinese food, and the four of them go upstairs to await delivery of lunch.
Zack gives Raymond a tour of his digs, and during the tour tells Raymond he has two other set-ups like this, one in Austin, one in London.
“The only actual house I own is in Hawaii, on Kauai,” he says, leading Raymond back to the kitchen. “I like to be warm in the winter.”
Tap comes up the stairs with the Chinese food, and when everyone has a full plate, Zack raises his cup of green tea and says, “To our great good fortune in finding you, Raymond. May this be the beginning of a marvelous collaboration.”
Glasses are clinked, tea is drunk, food is enjoyed, and Zack says, “So… Raymond. If you haven’t guessed already, I want to produce your first album. And your second and third and fourth, God willing.”
“My album?” says Raymond, freezing. “I thought you were just interested in my songs for other people to record.”
“Oh other people are definitely gonna record your songs,” says Tap, nodding emphatically. “But you have to make a record, Ray. You have to.”
“I… I… well, of course I want to, but…”
A silence falls, Zack and Tap and Maru waiting for Raymond to explain his reticence.
“As I told you, Zack,” says Raymond, clearing his throat, “I have a fulltime job at a pre-school. I’m a teacher’s aide. And… I suppose I could do some recording at night and on weekends, but…”
“You keep saying but,” says Maru, frowning at him. “What’s up with that, Ray?”
“I’m… well…” He laughs anxiously. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before so I’m just… I’m not sure how to do this.”
“May I propose something?” says Zack, smiling hopefully at Raymond.
“Please,” says Raymond, nodding humbly.
“I will sign you to a six-month recording deal with me as the producer of your album, and I’ll pay you a monthly salary equal to or greater than what you make in your current job. We’ll make an album, the four of us along with some other people we’ll bring in, and then I’ll try to make a deal with a label. I think Blue Note will go crazy over you.”
“Crazy,” says Maru, nodding in agreement.
“And if they don’t go crazy, somebody else will,” says Tap, pointing at Raymond. “I’d bet serious dollars on that.”
Raymond takes Tina out for supper that night to an Indian restaurant, and after they place their order, Tina says, “The suspense is killing me. How did it go today with Zack Mathias the famous bass player?”
“Went well,” says Raymond, nodding. “Went… um… really well. He wants to produce an album with me.”
“He wants some of your songs?” she asks hopefully.
“All the songs on the album would be mine,” says Raymond, finding it hard to breathe. “And I would be playing them and singing them with Zack playing bass and a guy named Tap playing drums and a woman named Maru singing with me, and other people, too, would play and sing on the album.”
Tina frowns. “I thought he just wanted some of your songs. Isn’t that what he said at Calm Coffee?”
“Yes, that’s what he said at the café, but after I played him a few songs, he got this other idea.” Raymond smiles, trying not to cry. “He’s a very nice guy, Tina, and he’s a fantastic musician and… and he really likes my music. So…”
“Wow,” says Tina, her eyes filling with tears. “So are you gonna do it?”
“Yes,” says Raymond, looking at her. “I think so. I want to go over the contract with you and…”
“You’re signing a contract?” says Tina, frowning. “Is he paying you?”
“Well… if I sign the contract, yes. He’ll pay me four thousand dollars a month for six months and cover all the costs of the recording and the other musicians and… I’ll be taking a break from working at the pre-school to just focus on the music.”
“Oh my God, Raymond,” she says, getting up and going to him. “It’s incredible. Hurray for you.”
“Hurray for us,” he says, rising to embrace her—their outburst inspiring several diners to clap because they think Raymond just proposed to Tina and she’s saying Yes.
They hold each other, crying and laughing, and Raymond says, “Thank you, honey. Thank you for loving me.”
“I love you so much,” she says, looking into his eyes. “But how are you ever gonna tell Derek?”
Raymond signs the contract with Zack the next day, and the day after that he gives two-weeks notice at the pre-school, and the following Saturday he takes BART from Oakland to Burlingame to have lunch with Derek.
For the entire hour-long train journey, Raymond is consumed with guilt, not about pursuing his musical career without Derek, but for allowing Derek to believe he was Raymond’s musical peer for the last twenty years, when in fact Derek reached his musical zenith in junior high.
For many years, Raymond assumed Derek was aware of the difference in their guitar-playing abilities, but one weekend during Raymond’s third year at San Jose State, Derek visited Raymond at the house Raymond was renting with four other college guys, and something happened during Derek’s visit that made Raymond rethink his assumption about how Derek perceived things.
One of Raymond’s housemates, Gino, was a good guitarist, and Raymond and Gino had worked out some fairly complicated duets of three Django Reinhardt tunes. The Saturday night when Derek was visiting, Gino and Raymond performed the duets at their house party attended by about forty young men and women, and the response to their playing was so enthusiastic they were compelled to perform their duets a second time.
Afterwards, Derek, who was very stoned, joined a group of people heaping praise on Gino and Raymond, and proclaimed loudly, “Yeah, they were good, but you should hear me and Raymond play. We’re amazing together.”
Several people responded to Derek’s boast by asking to hear Raymond and Derek play. Gino handed his guitar to Derek, Raymond took up his guitar, and Derek said, “Play that blues thing we always do.”
So Raymond improvised a pleasing progression of jazzy blues chords and Derek played the same seven-note riff over and over again, not quite in synch with Raymond, and when Raymond ended the song, a few people clapped, and that was that.
The next morning, before Derek headed back to Burlingame, he said to Raymond, “We should start a band. We were incredible last night. People were blown away.”
Ten minutes from Burlingame, recalling that moment in San Jose twelve years ago, Raymond thinks That’s when I should have told him. But I couldn’t because he didn’t have anything else in his life and I thought he would kill himself if I told him the truth.
After Raymond graduated from college and moved to Oakland, Derek would come visit for a day and a night every week, and in the evenings during those visits, Raymond and Derek would play guitars and Derek would play the same blues riff over and over again.
Raymond thought of these sessions as his gift to Derek for being such a loyal friend and because he didn’t have the will to tell Derek not to come visit, though he and Tina came to dread Derek coming because he seemed so lost and sad and he still lived at home with his parents and had never had a girlfriend and didn’t seem to have anything in his life except television and video games and his job delivering newspapers.
Derek and Raymond have lunch in a pizza parlor where Derek goes every day, his home away from home, where everyone who works there knows him by name.
“I think I could get us a gig here,” says Derek, looking around the pizza parlor. “They don’t have live music here, but I’ll bet I could talk them into it.” He nods confidently. “They love me here.”
“This is good pizza,” says Raymond, lying; and his lie irks him, and he blurts, “You know that guy who gave me his card at Calm Coffee?”
“Yeah,” says Derek, nodding enthusiastically. “He had a great belt. Did you notice his belt? It was like this amazing shiny dark burgundy leather. And very thin. And the belt buckle was silver and like a piece of modern art. I went online looking for a belt like that, but I couldn’t find one. I’ll bet it’s Italian. Looked very expensive. What about him?”
“His name is Zack Mathias and he turns out to be quite a well-known record producer and bass player.” Raymond looks away from Derek. “I’m gonna be making an album with him.”
“Really?” says Derek, amazed. “When?”
“Starting now and working for the next few months and then… he’s gonna try to sell the album to a record company.” Raymond forces himself to look at Derek. “He really likes my songs and my singing and… my playing.”
“Well he should,” says Derek, grinning at Raymond. “So will you be like… touring?”
“I don’t know,” says Raymond, his heart breaking. “Maybe.”
“Wow,” says Derek, beckoning to a passing waitress. “Hey Leslie, this is my best friend Raymond. He’s making an album with a big time record producer.”
“Congratulations,” says Leslie, with little enthusiasm.
“Thank you,” says Raymond, his eyes full of tears.
“So you gonna be his roadie, Derek?” asks Leslie, arching her eyebrow.
“No, he won’t need a roadie,” says Derek, gazing fondly at Raymond. “He’s great all by himself.”