X Factor Blues Cover
Dedication : For my bestie Lesley Smith. Thanks for your support through all these years. We’re still growing strong.
     I don’t see them.
     Folks climbing off the trains and hurrying by.
     It’s just my guitar and me leaning against mosaic pillars on cold platforms. I don’t hear the clink of coins falling into my open, brown-leather guitar case. All I hear are bells jingling. Incesantly. Conflicting with every belief I have. I once believed in the goodwill that Christmas brings. Believed in the cause of Claus, the reality of Christmas. Wrapped gifts for Christmas Eve’s you wish could last forever. Kids laughing and fighting over their carefully bowed gifts. Xmas stockings. Hell, Christmas was once a time of joy. Now, I don’t see. I don’t hear.
     I sing. 
     It’s what I do best. To hell with Xmas.
     It’s been three years since my breakup with Andrew and I’m not ashamed to say that every song I’ve written since the breakup has been about him and our last few moments together. He couldn’t wait for the New Year to tell me. No, the fucking miserable mutt decided unilaterally to break up with me on Christmas Eve. Christmas fucking Eve.
     In his eyes, I was impulsive. Not responsible. Selfish. Demanding. A damaged cause unto myself. A little crazy. Ditsy, he called it.
     “Ditsy?” I watched him from the window of our minimalist New York apartment while outside thunder pounded and lightning cracked the sky and I’m thinking of all those idiotic disaster movies sweeping away Miss Liberty and her torch. Or ice cracking the walls of the New York Museum of Man.
     “You walk out on a perfectly good job,” he’s talking really fast and I imagine his heart pounding in his chest from the adrenaline.  “You can’t pay your way and I can’t keep you. When you’re older, you’ll wish for time to turn around. God help you, David. God help the man you’re with. All you ever do is fucking strum that godamn guitar of yours and sing meaningless harmonies like some moron busking in Park Station, and I can’t take it a minute longer, not even tonight. It’s so irritating I didn’t even buy you a gift. Take note our aparetment isn’t even decorated and I love Christmas.”
     “All I want is to sing, Andy. You know this is my dream. We spoke about it and you said I have your support. Why this about face? If anyone should be angry, it’s me. I thought we had an agreement.”
     Lightening streaked across the grey storm clouds. “Close the curtains. For God’s sake all I need is for a streak of lightening to strike me down on Chrtistmas eve. It’s obvious you don’t know me well. Love can be right or wrong, and we are wrong. I can’t support you anymore, David. There is no money left.”
     I close the curtains. Not gently. More like a jerk from each side. “I really thought we could make it, Andy. So, you pick an argument with me. Calling me every negative adjective under the sun because there’s no money left? Money is everything to you, isn’t it?”
     “What are you doing about work? Have you found a gig? Are you bringing in bucks to pay your way? It’s fucking Christmas. We should be out there enjoying it with our friends and family. Instead, here we are, staring at the four blank walls together because there isn’t enough fucking money to do anything!”
     Of course, the answer to those questions is a big fat NO. I had yet to find a gig. Yet to to bring in one blue penny. As for spending time with friends and family, it was all his family.  His friends. They disliked me anyway. And it wasn’t through a lack of trying that I didn’t have a gig. I had tried. Went to several auditions.
     Gabby at Mindset Bar promised me a weekend gig and a few days later had a heart attack. He’s still in hospital. Calvin at Girls and Boys nightclub downtown promised me three days a week. Girls and Boys closed down a week ago. No bouquets there.
     No money.
     No bread.
     Andy didn’t look at me, the coward; he turned to face the closed, black chintz curtain. “I love you, David. But this risk that we took a few months back when you moved in, isn’t working.”
     “I can’t see your face, Andy. You’re not here. If you love me as you say, I need to see it written on your face.”
     He said nothing, didn’t see my river of tears or the crack in my voice.  It seemed forever, but when he spoke next, his words tore me apart and right there and then I wanted to turn invisible.
     “You need to leave, David. Today. Tonight!”
     That’s right. The 24th December. The day Christmas crushed me.
     For a few moments I contemplated the demons inside. I sucked in a pillow of air and held it in the pit of my stomach. It dawned on me that I would never see him again and I promised myself that I would never celebrate Christmas from here on in. I was determined never to experience the same heartache I felt lugging my backpack and guitar around the city of New York. I walked out of Andy’s apartment into the darkness of an overcast, rainy Christmas Eve. Without a roof over my head, a light in the ceiling, a slice of bread, my head hurt and my heart screamed out in pain.
     I had nowhere to go.
     I found some old newspapers in a trash bin and covered myself in a bus shelter. In the morning I strolled into a bakery and asked to use their phone.  Christ I didn’t even have a cell phone.
     Sherry. Such a good friend. She answered almost at once. She would put me up, but not for long, she said, and I would have to sleep on the couch.
     That was three years ago.
     Now, my life is a busk. I became the “moronic” busker that Andy disliked intensely.
     With each last train and the last passengers for the night, busking pays the rent. I look around the platform and there’s no one about. At the end of every night, I collect the coins, put them into a plastic bag, and stuff the bag into my backpack.
     But, tonight, there’s a note inside the case. 
     No one leaves me a note. A handwritten one to top it all. Beautiful, curly handwriting.
     I read in silence.
I want to do this right. You have a beautiful voice. I hope I’m not wrong. I desperately want to be right.
     I want to do this right?
     What the hell does that even mean?
     Glancing around, expecting to see the writer of the note standing close, I realize I’m alone on a platform in the main Union LA train station and it cuts like a fucking knife.  Man! All I have is a note that, when translated, says this person sees and hears me. So what! Everyone on the platform sees and hears me.  No big deal there. A door opens and my heart skips a beat hoping it’s the writer of the note. Three uniformed men help each other with the cleaning machines. Station staff. The clank and clutter of their huge machine echoes down the platform.
     My beauty sleep waits.
     Sherry Kristedes waits up for me every night like I’m more than her bestie. She’s a Greek wonder woman. Petite nose, slightly upturned, small eyes, with tender hands always doing something like cooking or sewing. There’s a plate of food for me in the microwave. She says she waits up to make sure I’m safe.
“You know X-Factor is in town?” She quietly brings my food to me. In her other hand is a typed up document.
     The X-Factor is in town?
     “I’ve heard it’s a mission to sign up.”
     “Not really. Do you remember when you came to my birthday party last year when I called you into the study to record a song I wanted to send to my Mama in Greece?”
     “You asked me to play Celine Dion’s version of I surrender.”
     “We sent the video to Mama, of course. But we also sent the video to the X-Factor online.”
     “You what?”
     “They sent this via email three weeks ago.”
     She hands me the note. 
     My mouth turns dry as I read what they had to say. They like my video and I should be available on the 22nd March for the audition. Time 09.00.
The 22nd is in three days.
     “I decided to tell you only now because I know you work best under pressure.”
     Sherry – what have you done? “I don’t know if I’m ready for X-Factor.”
     “I feel you are ready and seeing you swear by your talent I’m guessing you believe you have something. The first step to success is believing in yourself.”
     “There’ll be someone better than me. I’ve always been the first loser, the proverbial runner-up in life. I don’t know if I can show myself to millions of people.”
     “You can’t let this opportunity slip out of your hands, not now, David. They’ve cleared the song and like your version. You have a small window to decide. Sleep on couches, busk on station platforms, keep your thin existence, or aim for the sky,” she says, taking my empty plate.
     The next day is overcast with thunder in the distance. I pay an uber service to take me to a potential gig downtown. John, the owner of an intimate nightclub called “Gigi”, is impressed but he’ll call me. There are another three musicians he needs to interview.
     “I don’t have a cell phone or an email account. Could I possibly phone you, maybe first thing tomorrow morning?”
     “Sure.” He hands me a business card.
     It’s so damned hard. If I were that good, they would hire me immediately. I need to keep looking. I can never give up. Giving up is for the weak. I’m not weak. Back to the station.
     The rush on the platform is tangible. I have a soft cushion in my backpack because station security won’t allow me to sit on the benches during breaks. I buy a soft cheese sandwich for lunch. The rest of the time I’m on my feet, playing the songs I love, some I’ve written over the years. No one knows the difference.
     You have a beautiful smile. Your voice is extraordinary. The more I see you the more I know I’m right. Chad
     Another note. And a name. Perfect. We’re getting somewhere.
     Right? About what?
     So many people milling about waiting for the next train, Chad could be anybody. Even a woman. I’m hoping it’s a guy. No one has ever popped me notes like this and I’m nervous. I contemplate switching platforms but that will be bad for business. Whoever Chad is, I wish they’d stop. Come over. Talk to me. Maybe I’ll never meet Chad. Maybe these notes are meant to unhinge me and I’m easily unhinged, especially now when I don’t have anything except a few items of clothing, my guitar and a cushion.
     A face would be easier to relate.
     A voice surprises me from behind. “Can you play a song called, Somewhere Over The Rainbow?” The oldish guy is wearing a green scarf and leans on his walking stick. “You’re Chad?”
     “Chad? No. My name’s Garner. My wife loved that song. She’s not with us anymore. Today’s her birthday.” 
     He stands next to me while I play my version of that great Judy Garland hit. I feel a hand of destiny swiping over my body, sharing the second chance that the song talks about in a place where I won’t get into any trouble. I’ve seen the movie a dozen times. I know each line virtually off pat. Just before Judy sings the song she turns to Toto and says, “It’s some place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rainbow…”
     The old man’s hand shakes. His eyes close as he listens to the words and a tear falls down his ragged face. I imagine the memories overflowing in his mind right now. The places they visited. Their shared friends. Children all grown up and God knows where now. At the end of the song he passes a twenty-dollar note into my hand. “Thank you, young man. You should be in a recording studio. You’ve made my day.” Slowly he walks off towards the stairs. I’ll probably never see him again.
     Time flies by when I sing.  Sometimes I strum my guitar quietly, especially during the quiet moments on the platform. Day turns into night. The golden concourse quietens. People disappear into thin air. I gather my cushion and collect my takings.
     There’s another note. How the hell do I miss this? Why does he hide? I’ve been singing most songs with my eyes open today. Of-course the writer of these notes won’t show up when my eyes are wide open. It’s Mister Murphy playing with my mind. 
     I know I’m not wrong. You played Somewhere Over The Rainbow for that old guy with the walking stick, and I cried. I listen to your voice. I listen to your hurt. I see the sorrow in your beautiful voice.
     What is this Chad doing to me? I spin around hoping to catch him standing behind me, but he’s not here, nor there, he’s nowhere. “Show yourself, Chad! Talk to me! Why don’t you show yourself?”
     My voice echoes down the empty platform and smashes against a wall of lonely night air. Chad is driving me nuts. The cleaners arrive. Time for me to go. 
     At home Sherry asks if I’ve made a decision about the X-Factor.
     “Nope. I think I’ll die if the judges criticize.”
     “You only need three judges on your side,” she says.
     Three judges. Only? Okay. I have to win over three judges to fulfil my destiny. It’s a shitstorm. and it’s never going to end.
     “It’s the day after tomorrow. Davy. You’d best make a decision and quickly.”
     Next morning I use Sherry’s cell phone to make the call to findo out if John at Gigi has made a decision to hire me.
     He’s flustered on the other side. “I didn’t expect you to call back.”
     “I said I would.”
     “I’m sorry, Davey.”
     Davey? Now we’re using terms of endearmentI know what he’s about to say and he says it all too quickly. “We offered the job to another artist. I’ll keep your details and contact you if I need someone.”
     “And?” Sherry asks.
     “I’m so tired Sherry. My body feels exhausted and incapable of doing more interviews. There’s something wrong with me. I know there is. My voice is ugly. I’m ugly. My heart is pursuing an unlikely dream and I can’t do this anymore. I feel like ending it all.”
     She steps forward and backhands me across the face. Shit, that hurt.   “Don’t you ever say that again in front of me, David Ross. Never again.” Her finger almost up my nose as I nurse the slap. “If Mama was here she would have beat you with her wheelchair. You’re lucky it was only a slap. Better still, maybe you should follow me to the kitchen. I could always kill you myself with a kitchen knife.”
A request. I haven’t heard you sing this song. In The Air Tonight. I’d love to hear that beautiful voice sing this. I’ll be listening.  I’m closer than you think. You’re full of hurt, David. Talk to me through song. Chad.
     There’s something wrong with Chad. This Chad who seems to make my heart pound with joy in every note I sing.  How the fuck does he know my name?  Hundreds of people, or so it seems, around me. I can’t find anyone looking suspicious, or staring at me. He says he’s close. Where the fuck are you, Chad?
     I sing his request, my eyes darting all around the platform. Eventually I give up with the looking and glaring and put every ounce of emotion into the song. My voice quivers and crumbles, folds in and opens up. Softens and hardens. It’s a sad song, filled with anger, despair and frustration. I finish and take a swig of water. I look up to check the reactions of people. A few clap and a pretty woman throws me a kiss. Then I sing a song by Matt Alber, The End of The world with a line that alludes to giving love to a stranger.
     Is my stranger.
     His anonymity is fucking with my sexual desires. His notes are like dickfodder, and my dick loves to feed.  I‘m sure he sees me looking around for him. Come to me, Chad. I need to see you. It’s all so unfair. He sees me and I don’t even know what he looks like. Be mine. At the end of the day, winding down on a dead concourse, I’m exhausted. I need sleep. I haven’t decided about the X-Factor. I know one thing; I have no choice.
I’m reaching for my takings when footsteps shuffle up close behind me.
“You have a beautiful voice.”
The voice is husky and masculine. There’s a thick rasp inside his throat. It can only be the voice I have been yearning to hear these last few days.
I don’t want to turn. Suddenly I want him to remain anonymous. Revealing himself will be my undoing, I just know this, and yet, like a curious child I swing around and hitch my backpack across my shoulder.
     Jesus Christ! He’s dressed in a long, black overcoat. A five-day shadow comforts a lean, strong face with two dimples. One on each cheek. Dark hair cut short. Emerald green eyes like the first leaves of summer. What else? I’m instantly turned on. Calm down, David. Andy was right when he said you’re ditsy crazy.
     What else? I’m only human. If I’m wrong I’ll take the consequences.  
     “Your voice,” he continues, “is scratchy and filled with humility. I’ve listened to you every day for the past week,” he says, falling in beside me.
     “David.” His smile is like reaching the unreachable.  His handshake is strong, the very essence of masculinity.
     “You know my name?”
     “It’s on your guitar case. David Ross.”
     Of course. Where else would it be?
     “You listen to me every day?”
     “You don’t see. You don’t look. See that window up there. I’m the owner of that coffee bar. I’m a barista. I stand there whenever I have the opportunity and listen to you and it moves me.”
     Oh my God! That’s what he meant when he said he was close. I totally missed that window.
     “I close at nine every night. That first day I saw you I passed by and your eyes were closed, but that voice of yours, man, it’s alive.”
     “You humble me.”
     “Are you…?”
     I wait for the rest of the sentence, thinking the last word will be “gay”. Eventually he says it. “Homeless?”
     “I don’t have an address if that’s what you mean. I live with my bestie.  She’s an awesome woman.”
     “Everything is temporary,” he says, turning to face me. I notice the dimple on his chin. He just gets better looking with every glance.
     “I go this way.” I pointed to the south exit of the station.
     “Dare I ask, would you like a quick drink?”
     “I’m sorry, Chad. Sherry waits up for me.”
     “I’m sorry. I’m jumping the gun.”
     “Thanks, anyway. I appreciate it.”
     “Maybe tomorrow?”
     “I won’t be here tomorrow.”
     His face changes from joy to disappointment instantly.
     “I’m doing an X-Factor audition.”
     “I’ll roast a cup of the finest blend if you promise to pass by the coffee bar when you’re done with the audition.” He walks away and an empty feeling, so separated from his beauty, washes over me. I can’t let him down. Better yet, I can’t waste this opportunity. It’s a no brainer.
     “Chad!” I call out his name and it sounds absolutely beautiful.
     He stops just before turning into a corner.
     “About that drink…”
     He stares at me for a long time, then, as if in slow motion, approaches me and extends an open palm. His confidence overwhelms me. Jesus, Ross, get a grip. Get rid of the hard-on. I take his hand and we exit the station together.
     “I’ll need to contact Sherry. Tell her I’ll be late tonight. May I use your phone?”
     “Of course.”
     An uber taxi waits for us. Chad opens the door.
     “Hi Chad,” the driver smiles and it’s clear she’s known him a long time.
     “Your friend?” she asks, turning her head to face us as we climb into the back seat.
     “This is a first,” she says, staring at us in the rear view mirror. “You going home?”
     “Nope. First stop is Connections. You know it?” 
     “Indeed I do.”
     A first? That makes me feel special, like I’m number one. For the first time not the runner-up.  
     After two drinks and getting to know each other we head over to his place on the South side. His body is more than I could ever imagine. At first I’m scared to touch for fear of contaminating it. Huge pecs covered by the softest carpet of hair you want to walk on gently. Abs so deep the valleys dip at ninety-degree angles. Biceps made for licking. And then he touches me, finds all the right spots, leaves me in a frenzy of goose bumps.
     “When I saw you the first time,” he says, hands wiping down the inside of my thighs. “My heart flipped over. Every little brain cell charged me up.” He comes up and his lips meet mine in a kiss that explodes in my mouth. I won’t let him go. Our lips and tongues are locked.
     Sweet Jesus.
     Both of us need to breathe.
     He pulls away, looks into my eyes. “Would you mind if we don’t do this tonight. I want to see you clearly and I’m afraid if we act too quickly something will change.  I don’t want that.”
     I’m home. In danger of falling. Right now I’m at my weakest and I don’t care.
     “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
     He wakes up at six. I’m already awake, staring at him. His breathing is soft and airy like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He opens his eyes and reaches for me. “I had this amazing dream.” His hands search for my naked butt and he draws me into him.  “I dreamed you’re a fisherman on the beach. The sea is blue like the sky. The sand is the finest golden I’ve ever walked. Waves crashing. A red to golden morning sun on the horizon. I feel warm. Not cold anymore. You’re out to catch the biggest fish ever.”
     My fingers wipe his thick lips.
     “And do I catch that big fish?”
     “The biggest fish you’ve ever seen.”
     “What is it?”
     The morning inside his mouth tastes unbelievably clean as we kiss like we’ll never let each other go. He is everything I have wished for and more and I twist my head to capture his tongue in my mouth. His hands hold me securely. A perfect man. Too perfect. I know I’m in love already. 
     “Christ! The time!” I leap from the bed and dash across the room to the bathroom. I need to get to this audition. I have enough money for an Uber. But that’s about it. I won’t let myself, or Sherry down.
     “What time you headed out to the X-Factor audition centre?” he asks while dressing.
     Without hesitation he WhatsApps Uber and twenty minutes later we’re on our way. I want to see him again. Need to. I refrain from asking him, thinking it won’t be polite. If he wants to see me again, he’ll start the conversation. The taxi drops him off at the station, he climbs out as I roll down the window and leans in without smiling. “I had a great time last night, David.”
     “Me too.”
     “It was real.”
     He turns and walks off onto the concourse.
    It was real. Real?
    What the fuck?
     Sherry said she’d be here. I can’t see her. There’s a box on the floor backstage and I take a seat. Everyone’s flustered around me. The auditions begin and one by one the contestants are sent packing even though some of them are fantastic. Crew members call out numbers and they stand in a queue ready to go on. My number is never called. By two thirty I’m sweating and nervous and hungry as shit. Approaching a crew member I build up the courage to give him my number.
     He checks the list on his clipboard. “Sir, you’re the last number on the board for the day.”
     “The last number?”
     “Yes, sir.”
     “Are you serious?”
     He double checks. “Yes, sir. You worried about something? Have somewhere to be?”
     “No. No. I’m fine. Thank you.”
     “You can spend the rest of the afternoon practising, sir. The last spot of the day is usually reserved for the very best.”
     The very best.
     Jesus. Sherry, why?
     One by one contestants fall. Only the best go through to the second round. I haven’t got enough money for food and I’m starving. I don’t know if I can do this on an empty stomach. I want to pack it in. I don’t have the balls. I’m not a brave man. I’m not ambitious. Andy was right all along.
     A crew member approaches me and hands me a note. “David Ross, this is for you.”
     The paper is the same Chad uses. My hands tremble. Fuck, he doesn’t want to see me again. 
     I’d like to tell you that I think of you and smile. I’ve never felt this way about anyone. Please God I hope I’m not wrong. A feeling this good can only be right.
     I read the note over and over again. I just smile.
     “Hey, sexy man.”
     I spin around and there he is, holding a brown paper packet in his hand. I want to burst into tears and cover my mouth with my hands.
     “Did you miss me?” he asks, smiling that dimpled smile he uses as a key for charm. I can’t speak. My voice is caught in a flurry of emotion. He embraces me and whispers either carefully rehearsed words, or words from the heart.
     “I missed you so much. Caught myself watching out for you from that window. Hoping you’d come by.”
     “I’m so glad you’re here.”
     His lips brush mine and again, instant hard on.
     Get real, David!
     “Oh, this is for you. I thought you’d be hungry. It’s just a burger, chips and coke.”
     “How did you know? I’m starving.”
     He watches me eat. It’s like I haven’t seen food for weeks. Within minutes it’s all gone.
     “Feel better?”
     “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
     “Number 4917. David Ross. You’re next!”
     This is it.
     I walk nervously onto the main stage. The audience is intimidating. I dare not look back into the wings – I might just run off.  They told me earlier to stand on the X. Firmly.
     “Hello, there.” The female judge asks. She’s a famous singer and I love her music. I want to collapse just hearing her address me.
     “Hey,” I say weakly.
     “What’s your name?” she asks.
     “David Ross. I’m from Westwood.”
     A male judge asks me why I’m here. He’s also famous. Too famous. I want to cry.
     “The opportunity…the opportunity to showcase my talent and hopefully impress you.”
     “What do you do, David?” she asks.
     “I’m busking at Union station.”
     “I see you have your guitar all ready.”
     “It’s my life.”
     “If I told you I want you to sing Capella, would you do that?”
     “Yes. Yes. Anything.”
     He’s playing me. Trying to make me more nervous than I already am.
     “Relax, I’m not going to ask you to do that. What do you have for us today?”
     “I’ll be singing my own composition. It’s called, A Stranger Calls.”
     “That’s not on this list you sent us.”
     “Sherry sent the list.” I hear myself say, and giggle.
     “Sherry, who is Sherry?”
     “My best friend.”
     “Is she here with you?”
     “Are you alone?”
     “No. My boyfriend is with me.”
     The female judge raises her eyebrows. “Lucky guy,” she says. “You are hot.”
     “Thank you.”
     “Take it away, David Ross.”
     My biggest fear is that one of them will raise their hand in the middle of the song, ask me to do another. I sing a slow song I wrote three days ago after Chad left me that first note.
I want to know how the story goes.
I want to know where the river flows.
I need to see your face to believe
It’s the only thing to stop the grief
     Andy still lives in my mind, since leaving him I’ve been a mess. A stranger begins to leave notes in my guitar case and with each note I yearn to see the heart of a man I don’t know. It invokes a passion to come to terms with the mysterious.
Come to me.
Show me your eyes.
I need to see.
To get rid of my lies.
     The greatest lie in my life was Andrew. Is Andrew. I need to see the stranger’s eyes. Chad’s eyes. It’s the only thing that will make me feel at ease. When I finally looked into them I knew Chad was the only guy for me and I wouldn’t have to cruise bars and nightclubs and hold hands in the dark with some stranger I might never see again. My voice hits a crescendo and lingers because I believe, with all my heart, this stranger, Chad, is everything I’ve been looking for. I so want him to be that guy.
I want to stay with you
Give me a sign
Show me your light,
I need your love.
Stranger in the night.
     I’m in falsetto and hit the high notes. The judges stand even before I finish. I’m at a loss for words. I take a bow and thank everyone through genuine tears of joy.  “David! David! Why are you crying?” 
     I can’t answer immediately. I swallow hard. “It’s…it’s been really really hard for me these last few years.” I finally say.
     “Oh, David. That is a beautiful song. You had my skin creeping all over. And I think you brought us all to tears. Just beautiful.”
     Another judge, unable to sit, says, “As you can see I am in awe of your voice, David. You have everything we’re looking for. I think your hard times are over. I think we’ve discovered a star. Time for us to take a vote.”
     Chad rushes into my arms and I drop my guitar. “You were fucking awesome! They loved you. You’re going to be big, Dave.”
I cover my mouth with my hands and mumble. “You mean that?”
     “Your voice. I mean you heard them.  You’re the complete package, and Mister David Ross, it will be a great pleasure to be your boyfriend. Don’t say anything.”
     A subtle, nervous smile when his lips touch mine. I can’t say anything. I have this lump in my throat and about to burst into tears. So different from the tears that Christmas three years ago when Andy told me to leave.
     “Coffee, at my place?”
     “I’ll have to phone Sherry first.”
     “No need to.” Her voice comes from behind us and she’s crying her little heart out.
     “You’re the Sherry?” Chad asks, smiling broadly.
     “One and the same. And you’re the Chad. I’m so proud of my bestie. He deserves the best. His soul is pure. His heart is gold. Stubborn. But still my bestie.” She says, hugging us all. I turn to face him and I swear, he’s crying and sniffing. Tears of joy.
     “I don’t…don’t cry often. Sorry. I think we all need some coffee, or something stronger,” he says, taking us all by the hand, leading us to the exit. He can’t take his eyes off me.
     “What?” I’m laughing.
     “I knew I was right,” he says, leaping so high I thought he’d take off. “I just knew it.”