Authors: J.E. Warren
Lines We Forget
Lines We Forget
Copyright © 2015 by J.E. Warren.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: March 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To all those who have ever admired someone special from a far and had the courage to cross over,
This one’s for you.
Table of Contents
Hitting the high note at the end of another classic, just one of many from his stunning yet predictable repertoire, Charlie hears the familiar sound of coins fall at his feet.
On a piece of tatty fabric in his guitar case, two bronze coins nestle between their silver counterparts, with the promise that he can at least cash in and get a pint at the end of the evening rush. That the last two hours spent singing his heart out haven’t been completely for nothing.
Charlie particularly likes to stand outside the city’s busiest Tube station during what is known as ‘the rush hour crush’, when all the commuters file up the stairs out into the cold. Thursdays are best, of course, with the weekend finally in sight. The young professionals weary from their desks after the long hours seek out the many bars and pubs along the main high street. A few vodkas later, they’ll stumble out and throw in their loose change. Some will even make requests and dance, so long as they haven’t drunk away the ability to balance.
Often Charlie, glad in an old tweed blazer and woolly hat, will throw in a few crowd-pleasing favourites at no extra charge. He’s lost track of how many times drunk girls have begged for him to play something by a Top Forty Pop Princess, tottering up close in their heels to ask for a picture or two, because apparently he looks cute or hot, like someone vaguely famous, the word
often slipping from their lips.
He’s collected a surprising amount of girl’s numbers amongst all the coins, scrawled in eyeliner onto napkins and Rizla papers. Unfortunately the vodka and expensive city cocktails have a way of erasing or missing out the important digits, making them essentially useless.
Those that aren’t get stuffed into the zip pocket of his case, left to gather dust. Occasional reminders of what-ifs and what could have possibly been. And it’s not that Charlie doesn’t find them flattering, it’s just that those handing them over are way out of his league and almost always tipsy or spurred on by giggling friends to do something daring.
Still, even when admirers aren’t in supply he’ll carry on. Leaving the cramped flat he shares with a crazy bearded Brazilian Barista and his equally fiery girlfriend, who can’t stand his guitar playing and who has tried to get him kicked out more times than he can count. It’s part of the reason why he likes to get away, escape the drama that living with a couple brings, and practice his craft without being told to be quiet or keep the noise down.
However, on windy evenings or when the rain continuously pours, as it so often does, it is difficult to maintain enthusiasm while busking out in the streets. There are only so many soggy trodden-in newspapers and wheel arch soakings Charlie can take until it’s time to move on to a new spot or grab a cheap sandwich and head home.
Just like the Thursday where he almost caves into the cold, bitter chill to call it a day. Between the suited, booted bankers and fashionable elite from the PR and marketing worlds, Charlie gets caught in another downpour, enduring the coffee spilt over him and in his guitar case. He thinks it might be a sign that it’s time to move on from the rush hour crush and wet misery.
That’s until he sees her—a girl, standing outside the swanky bar known for its VIP clientele: city boys and their friends, the entrepreneurs and trust fund kids with double-barrel surnames.
He notices her scarf first, adorned in colourful polka dots that cover most of her shoulders, and then the chain store-branded coffee cup she clutches tight in her hands. Even from across the road he can see the glow of her rosy cheeks and how she grits her teeth as the wind barrels down the high street, shaking all the hanging shop signs in quick succession.
By the way she’s shifting on her feet and pulling up the sleeve of her bright red duffel coat to check the time, Charlie gathers she’s waiting for someone. In the spare glances he’s able to steal, as the crowds intensify with the arrival of another Tube and the bus stops start to fill, he can sense she’s growing impatient. Her eyes wander back to the panel glass entrance of the bar, which becomes rowdier and busier with each city slicker that passes through.
She looks a lot like them
, he thinks, with her seemingly expensive leather boots and blow-dried hair. She’s even carrying over her shoulder the bright yellow bags from the famous department store he’s become accustomed to seeing every day.
Yet there’s something different about her, and not in the way Charlie usually justifies falling for girls who were completely unattainable. This time
really does mean something entirely, well, different.
It isn’t just because her fringe looks like it’s cut a little wonky or that she’s wearing thick patterned tights that are definitely not a part of the young professionals standard uniform. It isn’t any of that.
And even when he spots the shiny studs on the back of her boots and the streaks of baby pink through the ends of her long hair, Charlie knows that neither is the reason why she’s caught his attention, made him mess up the chorus of a song he’s been playing since forever.
The difference is in her eyes.
Sure, they’re watery from the wind and rain, but they’re also sad looking. Big and bold and dark like they’re contemplating being anywhere else than on the high street, surrounded by the blinding noise and traffic lights. Charlie knows such a look because he’s felt like that more times the he cares to remember.
Other girls who usually go by in their long winter coats and high-heeled office boots, no matter how windswept or cold, don’t have the same look in their eyes as she does, and it makes him stand up straighter and take notice.
It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that she’s the girl of his dreams come to life. Not that he hasn’t thought that before, it’s just that this time he’s certain of it. Mainly because his usually confident, husky voice starts to waver and his strumming falls out of sync. For a seasoned pro like Charlie, this is definitely not something to ignore or simply brush off because the girl with the choppy fringe and sturdy boots has kick-started a sudden stage fright unlike anything else he’s experienced.
And so he stops playing, tucks his plectrum between his teeth, and thinks about how to catch her attention. Because to play any of his usual crowd-gathering favourites will surely be lost on a girl so grand.
Taking inspiration from her lost, despairing eyes, he tightens up the tuning on a guitar that’s won over many hearts before (just not the ones he’s been wishing for) and slowly, he starts to strum.
He’s aware he needs to be bold in his choice. The hum of the bus engines can easily drown him out and he knows that he’ll never make it over to the opposite side of the street in time to make any introductions. If the chaos of city life has taught him anything, it’s that people can disappear just as quickly as they appear. That, and the traffic signals rarely favour the pedestrians waiting to cross, so it takes a lifetime just to reach the middle bollards on a good day.
With newfound determination, he keeps strumming until he’s sure everyone can hear. Changing up the tempo by adding in a few extra notes, a little rhythmic tap against the wood grain body of the guitar for added effect, and with a low vocal, he’s finally ready.
Five songs in, however, and the girl of his dreams is still there. She’s just not looking in his direction.
His up-tempo rendition of “Redemption Song” fails to sway her attention over to his side of the tracks. Even his raw and deep tone, and the way he’s pulled his blond hair so it sticks out of the woolly hat at an angle he’s aware girls quite like, don’t garner a first glance.
So far nothing has pulled her eyes over to his, and Charlie begins to worry that time’s running out.
He thinks it’s time for Plan B, which he’s not even sure will work but figures it’s worth a try because his dream girl looks about two seconds away from turning in the other direction, to walk out of his life forever.
It’s also no coincidence that Plan B stands for a song he’s always refused to play out on the streets because it felt too sickly sweet and contrived, a cheesy old school anthem that if he heard any other busker play he’d likely strangle.
Still, he begins to pluck out the infamous intro before he warms up the courage to sing the first verse, then the next until he’s about to hit the all-encompassing line that describes not only the title but also why the song came to mind in the first place.
Out on the cold and miserable street, Charlie strums and sings the happiest and most upbeat song to ever pass his lips.
He plays “Brown Eyed Girl” like his life and future love depend on it, even if he is nervously forgetting some of the lines, hoping it’s just enough to steal her attention and close the gap of vast concrete road that separates them.
And in between the roaring taxicabs and bright red buses, Charlie finds her big, brown eyes look up and just for a moment he’s caught her.
Waiting outside the brightly lit cocktail bar during what her colleagues refer to as “the rush hour crush” isn’t really how Anna wants to spend her Thursday evening. It’s just as pretentious as she thought it would be, with garish lighting and gold trim windows. She’d much rather be tucked up at home with a bottle of wine to drink alone than be expected to pay through the nose for half a glass. Not that she can afford much of anything after her earlier shopping spree.
With the ridiculously expensive and garish polka dot scarf she’s bought on the way, along with the cup of now lukewarm coffee, Anna wishes she’d turned down the invitation for a second date with Mark, the cocky banker.
He is, she thinks, every other girl’s dream, just not her own. Not because Mark with his slick black hair and sharp tailored suits is un-dateable, rather the way he talks about his family’s wealth and vast connections make her want to punch him in the face.
When her housemate Jaz had arranged their date, she’d made her feelings towards him quite clear, but it was no use. Because if she’s learnt anything from living in the two-storey mews house with bleach blonde Jazmine it’s that she always knows best and it is utterly pointless to argue against her.
Sometimes Anna will rebel, throw in her two cents, and ride along on a wave of adrenaline for doing such a thing. Taking on board her parents’ advice to always voice her opinion and not take crap from anyone, not least the city dwelling know-it-all’s. However, she’s lost count of how many times she’s waved the white flag during battle with her feisty housemate.
It’s part of the reason why she’s left to wait outside in the cold and rain, with the wind biting at her cheeks. Why she’s dodging the waves of street water that splash up every time a bus rolls by. Losing against Jaz is also why Anna’s got stupid yellow bags slung over her arm, even though Mark bragged during their first, awkward, and dull dinner date that he never shopped there anymore because he found it too diluted with tourists.
Still, today she felt like it might be a nice idea to get her hair done during her lunch break. In hindsight it wasn’t the best snap decision, because once they’d blow-dried her locks to within an inch of their life she got slapped with a hefty bill twice that of her weekly rent. The pushy receptionist insisted on adding in a couple of styling products she’ll likely never use, only adding to the cost.
And even after all the fuss it doesn’t look any different.
Anna knows she isn’t like the girls Mark and his ilk usually go for. There’s no airs and graces, no family connections to brag about. She’s essentially just another tourist, not born or bred in the city. Not prone to over-pronounce her words or mince about the time she
spend her gap year on a tiny island in an effort to become culturally aware.
Anna finds it’s confusing to both
want to fit into their mainstream, and she knows that at some point she’ll be caught out and deemed a fraud in a cheap coat.
Not that Mark will notice, because as she checks the time on a newly acquired watch that’s a bit too bulky for her small wrist, she realises he’s running late.
Five red buses later, and he’s still a no show.
She waits patiently to see his thick, uneven sideburns appear through the mass of tourists but they don’t and so she braces her back against the bar’s window to keep away from the cold. Contemplates whether to bail and jump on the next bus that threatens to splash her way, rinse her hands of casual dating for good.
That is until she hears it—a song so unexpected she almost drops the stale coffee down onto her new studded boots. For a moment Anna’s sure it’s just her imagination running wild. Maybe it’s just the swanky bar having a laugh by playing an old school classic, to be ironic. But as she listens it becomes obvious that the lyrics sound far too raw and real to be a recording. Even if she hasn’t heard it in years, she’s certain it’s a different version to the one her dad played and sung to her when she was a little girl.