the first meeting
Two years ago, today.

The days have gotten longer and the nights have become more unnerving for Theo. During the day he has work to occupy his mind and it is something he has thrown himself into without hesitation. He’s gotten two promotions in the past two years because of it. They tell him slow down, take a break, you ought to take some time. The thing is, when he has time that’s when his mind starts working. That’s when the thoughts start making him feel like he’s being thrown into a space with no escape. That’s when he feels like he can’t breathe. That’s what nights are for. That’s why he barely sleeps anymore. There’s nothing to distract his mind at night, there’s nothing but the bare bones truth. She’s gone. She’s gone and she’s never coming back. Some nights he wakes up shivering only to realize that outside the summer heat is still blistering. Some nights he wakes up to notice that his arm is extended to her side of the bed. Some nights he takes out the papers with their vows on it and he holds them close to his chest. Some nights it just doesn’t feel worth it, nothing feels worth it.

He feels like he’s going through the motions of his every day life, like he’s living in an existential state where things are happening around him but he is numb to it. Nothing feels like before, he’s just a shadow of the man he once was. He knows he’s supposed to be having a good time but the good times just feel mediocre with the knowledge that she is no longer there to experience life with him. He wonders if he will ever be truly happy again, if it’s possible to feel that state of pure bliss knowing he will never be able to wrap his arms around her. He can’t kiss her. He can’t hear that laugh again. God, that laugh. She was pure happiness, she was his happiness.

To reminisce - torment himself - he goes to drink at the pub where they met. He doesn’t expect anything but a drunken evening filled with self-inflicted torturous memories. The pub is still limited in resources, the people are still wildly eccentric drunks and the alcohol always tastes a bit off and yet it is still the charming place he met the woman he loved, before the disease took her.

He’s focused on the drink in hand, this is only number three now, and that’s when a young man takes the stage. He doesn’t even glance up but when the musician starts singing he finds himself nodding along. He finally looks up once more of the words start registering.

I sing and write my own tune and I write my own verse.
Hell, don't need another word-smith to make my tune sell.
Call yourself a singer-writer - you’re just bluffing.
Your name’s on the credits and you didn’t write nothing

He laughs, the third real laugh he’s experienced since she has passed. They come so rare these days, he knows where and when each of them happened. First: looking through old photos with his brother. Second: the birth of his goddaughter. Third: This very moment. Here is this kid singing his heart out to a song that he has written which is essentially a fuck you to the industry he’s trying to be part of and that, to Theo, is absolutely fucking genius.

An older man next to him nods in solidarity, lifting a drink up to him. “Guy onstage is a fucking mess, innit? Everyone whose got a guitar thinks they can be the next big thing. Assholes, the lot of ‘em.”

Theo gives him a knowing shrug and gets back to his drink. After Alex’s set is over, he makes his way through the bar to go over to him and exchange a few words.

“You’re good up there, mate.”

“Yeah? Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.”

“You with a label or something?”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m at this pub with ten people watching me, three of whom are tanked because they’ve been here all day.” Said with a grin, there was no hard feelings about the matter.

“Name’s Theo. I’m with a management company, I —“ He could tell the boy seemed disheartened the moment he mentioned a label, and immediately his attention was turned elsewhere.

“Yeah, thank you. I’m really glad you enjoyed the set I’m just not interested in any of that. I can manage myself for a little while.”

“Really?” Theo motioned to the lifeless crowd, one of the rowdy drunks from earlier being escorted out as one of the lights has just been blown out.

“Every gig is something, right?” The boy responded back. This kid seems ready to be done with the conversation, giving a nod in his direction. His ringtone started up then, Down On The Corner by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fuck, he has to take this. He motions that he'd need a second and steps away, going through a quick exchange of yes’s and no's before hanging up. When he turns around, much to his surprise, the boy is there.

“That’s a good song.”
“One of the best.”
"John did all the singing on that, too."
"Also carried a notebook..."
"...Notebook filled with phrases that he turned into the songs. Yeah, may have liked that we both do that."
The conversation evolves from the simple dissection of a band they both loved, to bands in general, to mutual acquaintances in the Grime scene, to the state of music in the industry today, to the clear indication that they have different working styles that could potentially compliment each other extremely well.
“Alright, let me see that swanky card of yours. Oh, wow. There it is. Wait, nevermind. I take back the swanky part.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What’s wrong with the card?”
“No, it’s alright. It’s very...fresh.”
Alex! Come on, we’ve gotta get out of here or else we’re going to be stuck all night.
“One sec, Owen.”
“You give me a call, okay? No bullshit, just music.”
“Alright, I will. No bullshit, just music."
"Cheers to that."

He can't even pronounce the name of where they are. Somewhere in England, so that was a start. After the catastrophe that was his old management, he just wants to deal with music in its truest and unedited form. Raw, passionate, emotional music that he has created. A stage setup with nothing but his guitar and loop pedal. He doesn't want producers shoving unwanted bass lines to an acoustic song so that it would “pop.” He doesn't want a group of fame-obsessed backstabbing friends who were all trying to outdo each other in destructive ways. He doesn't want a label that makes him feel like he has to lose control of all parts of himself before gaining any kind of recognition. He wants to break through to America, sure, but at what cost? He has already torn out his soul and handed it over with the first album, wasn’t that enough? Apparently not. There’s always something more. Enough was enough. He needed to step away from the people that were trying to meddle their way into his mind and change who he was in favor of who they thought he should be.

With one of his best friends who had recently quit his 9-5 in exchange for being dubbed tour media consultant, he was off on a small self-set tour in the UK. The following came from the single, playing impromptu shows and the connections he has made with fellow UK musicians. All of that allows him to get some gigs in while he's currently in this state of musical limbo. The night before he and Owen find themselves an empty parking lot and sleep in the car, only to be woken up at 5 AM with a loud tap on the window with security exclaiming that they had to leave the premise or else there would be consequences. A few hours later, and here they were. At a dingy bar in a sketchy area, but hey, there was free popcorn and each performer got one free drink.

When it comes down to Alex’s turn, he knows time is precious so he makes sure not to waste it. “How’s everyone doing tonight? My name’s Alex, I’m going to be playing some songs for you, hopefully you enjoy. If you do, that’s cool. Owen is in the back over there selling CD’s. Say hi, Owen.” Owen waved. "If you don’t, well, I get three songs tonight anyway so you’re going to have to endure me for the time being. So, yeah. Enough of that, let’s get on with it.” He plays two songs and finally goes to his last, which was You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. A song that has been reworked over the years until the final edit makes the album, three years later. “This is for all the assholes who try and bring you down. Fuck ‘em.”

He gets lost in the music, paying attention to the loop cues but also keeping himself completely in touch with the moment as it goes on. He doesn’t notice the people who, quite honestly, were not really paying attention to him. Most of them are too drunk to care but there are the two girls who start whistling and clapping along, the bartender who nods his head while making drinks and the older woman who sways. The only time his concentration breaks, for just a second, is when someone laughs loudly. The space was small enough so he could see who it was, some fucker with a pint, but he soon closes his eyes to get back in the moment until his time is up. He thanks the crowd and gets offstage to go claim his free drink.

That’s when the asshole who laughed comes up to him and initially he just doesn't want to have any part of the conversation. He's really in the mood for some heckler to tell him that his routine is too boring, too slow, too acoustic. He's heard it all before. Oh, wait. Now he's getting a name. He's part of a management company. Just the idea of it all is enough to make him take a step back and reaffirm his stance on doing this whole thing by himself for a little while. He's doing alright, he enjoys these small tours playing in random gigs all over the area. He doesn’t need some hotshot know-it-all representing him when he could very well represent himself.

Wait, this guy knows his stuff.
Wait, he’s a music lover.
Wait, maybe this could work.
No bullshit, just music.
He likes the sound of that.