The saxophone leaned at an angle. Shards of glass glinted around it in the early morning sun. Sam looked up at the window, high above him. All was quiet now. He traced the trajectory the sax must have taken: out of the window before gravity took charge and dropped it straight through the windscreen of his car. He wondered if this would be covered by his insurance.
It occurred to Sam that he hadn’t really enjoyed himself properly since the band split up. From the moment Jamie told him he was quitting and disappeared, he’d been carrying round the weight of disappointment and broken dreams in the pit of his stomach. But tonight he realised it had gone; he felt lighter and his future seemed open and alive with possibilities, not the blank brick wall he’d felt it was before.
“I think you’ve achieved what our American cousins call ‘closure’,” Ben said as he served up the chilli, while Carly sat stroking her swollen belly and smiling contentedly to herself.
“You reckon?” Sam asked. “How so?”
“Well, since Jamie’s little vanishing act you’ve been wandering round with a face like a smacked arse. Now though you’ve accepted that your hopes of being a rock star are well and truly deceased and tomorrow you put on your little grey suit and go get yourself a job as an accountant or something equally mundane,” Ben explained helpfully.
“I think the suit’s charcoal, actually,” Sam retorted. “And I’m not going to be an accountant, I’m going to be an office administrator. If they give me the job. And I’m only going to be that until I work out what I really want to be.”
“You can be whatever you want to be, my son,” Ben intoned sincerely, receiving a smile and an obscene gesture in return.
“How you feeling about impending fatherhood, then Benny-boy?” Sam said, changing the subject.
Ben paused, suddenly serious, and stared at his pregnant wife who smiled serenely back at him. “I just hope I’m good enough,” he said.
“You’ll be fantastic,” she told him, taking his hand and squeezing it reassuringly. “Now, let’s eat!”
As they ate, drank and reminisced, Sam mused on how quickly things could change. Less than nine months ago they were all on stage at the Roundhouse, supporting Elbow and buzzing with the news that the record company wanted to put their single out. His memories of that night played like a film. As he picked out the rhythm on his bass, Jamie at the drums, shirt off, sweat glistening and flying in the lights as his sticks rose and fell in a furious blur. Ben, all in black, his guitar slung low as he paced around, playing effortlessly and staring moodily into the crowd. And Carly, lifting her sax high in the air, lost in her own world, oblivious to the lascivious stares of the men gawping at her in her tight black dress.
They were on their way, Sam had believed. Everything was falling into place. Until everything suddenly fell apart.
The first thing Sam remembered about that day was feeling very pleased with life. Having just bought a new leather jacket with money he anticipated making from the single, he popped into the Bean and Cup for a cappuccino and to see if the attractive redhead was working and if he could find out her name and maybe even her number.
She wasn’t there. But Carly and Jamie were, sitting on a sofa at the back, deep in conversation. When he went over they looked surprised and he had the strong feeling he’d interrupted something. Carly’s eyes were red as if she’d been crying. He asked what was going on. Jamie stared at him, while Carly looked down at the table. Neither of them answered.
Sam asked again. What was going on?
Jamie told him. “I’m leaving the band.” Carly looked up and stared at him.
“What?” Sam asked, stunned.
“I’m leaving,” Jamie repeated flatly. He looked into Carly’s face. “I’m sorry,” he said. He grabbed his coat and left without saying another word.
Carly stared after him. Sam stared at her. “What the hell is going on?” he said again.
Carly looked at him as if she’d forgotten he was there. She seemed about to speak but then changed her mind and started gathering her things together. “I’m sorry, Sam,” she said. “I’ve got to go,” and she left, leaving Sam staring after her in disbelief.
Ben made coffee while Carly took Sam to look at the newly decorated nursery. She proudly showed him the mural she’d painted on the wall behind the cot. A saxophone and an electric guitar, replicas of hers and Ben’s, six feet high, complete with musical notes dancing around them. “This kid’s going to be musical,” she said. “He has to be really with these parents!”
“It’s really good,” Sam said. “You’re quite the artist. What’s all this stuff here?” He poked around on the chest of drawers by the cot.
“Well, there’s a thermometer here,” Carly explained, pointing at a curious egg-shaped device, “and it’s a night light too, so baby doesn’t get scared in the dark. And this here is the monitor. We could have got one that filmed baby and monitored his heartbeat, but Ben convinced me that was a bit over the top.”
Sam laughed. “You’re going to be the best mum, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know,” she said cockily. “Check out the Winnie the Pooh mobile that Ben’s dad got us.” She set it going and a tinny version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ filled the room while Tigger, Piglet and Pooh circled slowly round a honeypot. Carly danced slowly round the room cradling her bump.
Sam looked at the mural and felt a fleeting sadness. The music stopped and the mobile became still.
“We could have made it, couldn’t we? The band.”
“Yeah,” Carly nodded, “we could have.”
“What made Jamie go off like that, Carly? You know, don’t you?”
“He had his reasons,” she said, not looking at him.
“Yes, but what were they?”
“Just leave it, Sam,” she whispered, with a catch in her voice.
Sam just stared at her. He remembered how they looked together in the coffee shop. “It was you. You were the reason. You and Jamie?”
“Please leave it, Sam,” she begged.
“Oh my god, it is Ben’s, isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes. Well, almost certain. Look, just forget it. It’s history. Let’s go and have the coffee.”
They went back into the living room and found Ben standing with the cafetière of coffee in his hand, staring at them. “Almost certain? Almost?”
Carly gasped and put her hand to her mouth. Ben brought a small white plastic box from behind his back. The monitor. His voice was dangerously calm. “Why are you not one hundred per cent certain?”
Carly didn’t answer and he took a step towards her. Sam felt his stomach tighten. Ben looked down at her bump. His face screwed up as if in sudden pain then he turned and threw the cafetière against the wall. Black liquid and granules flew everywhere and dripped down the white wall in streaks. Ben took a deep breath and then asked Sam to leave. He didn’t meet his eye. Sam looked at Carly. She nodded, tears already flowing down her cheeks.
Sam slipped out quietly; half relieved, half worried he should stay. He paused outside their door but all was quiet. He walked quickly down one flight of stairs and into his own flat. He got undressed and got into bed, listening all the while. Nothing.
“How could you do it with Jamie, of all people!” Ben’s voice roared out.
“Oh, don’t act so high and fucking mighty! What about you and that stupid little girl at the Cambridge gig. Don’t tell me nothing happened with her!”
“Jesus Christ, that was nothing! We’re having a baby for Chrissake! If the kid’s mine of course!”
“It is yours, I keep telling you.”
“How do I know that?”
It went on all night. Sam resorted to hiding under the duvet with his iPod on, a flashback to his teenage years when he would drown out his parents’ fights with David Bowie and the Doors on his Walkman. Every time he took the headphones off, the noise permeated through to him. First Ben shouting, then Carly screaming, then Carly crying.
At six, he took the headphones off and all was silent. It was too late to try and sleep now so he got up, showered and put on his suit. He grabbed his car keys and headed for the door.
Sam raised his eyes from the wreckage of his windscreen up to the window. Still all quiet. Maybe they’d be able to sort it out after all. They’d had rows in the past and always managed to patch things up. Admittedly, they’d never thrown any instruments out of windows before.
He checked his watch. He needed to get a move on if he was going to make the interview. Not that he had much enthusiasm for it now. He heard a noise and looked up in time to see Ben’s guitar sail smoothly out of the window and loop towards him. He took an instinctive step back but need not have worried as the guitar dived through the remains of the windscreen and bounced off the dashboard before settling into the driver’s seat. It balanced upright for a moment then slid sideways to lean against the door.
Sam sighed, put his car keys in his pocket and headed for the bus stop.