PART A (The Psychologist) — 3

Revy peered at the full-length mirror hanging tall within his open closet door across the room.

Light seemed to outline his reflection as he watched himself strum and pluck his old guitar, the first gift he remembered ever receiving from his father.

He looked pretty cool, his lean and angular profile bobbing gently as he jumbled along the rougher edges of a piece.

He listened as his voice began to stretch its way up in search of a good entry point.

The rise felt familiar, though somehow weirdly wrong.

And he knew the lyrics he was about to sing were trash.

Why had he wanted to call the song Fantastic?

But it was hardly an idea for a song.

He huffed and shook his head, recognizing at once his most familiar trap to avoid.

Memories of days and weeks spent fiddling around like this at the edge of his bed . . . just noodling through the same old sets of chords over and over . . . rang out like a warning bell in his mind.

In lieu of missing parts he somehow never failed to expect would magically present themselves to tie his work together, he shifted his gaze ahead, peeled his left shirt sleeve up over his watch, and dug the tip of his thumb into a tiny button on the side.

A telltale chirp meant the watch’s timer had been sprung into motion, set to sound four hours later.

Immediately all Revy could hear were noises he never would have noticed if it hadn’t just become his official practice time: the build and fade of cars nearby, bursts of whistling birds, a few hoots from children far away…

He also heard Jodie’s voice booming through the wall.

She must be pretending to interview some celebrity or something again.

He could all but see her hands swooping to catch up with the bubbly, unrelenting words.

Two words in particular jumped out from all her lines, yanking his attention back each time: “And, uh…”

He smiled, picturing the sudden redness and scowl that would overtake her stern face like a storm if he were to ever point out anything about her speaking skills or style.

Yet she seemed to have more than just freedom to question and chide any choices he made in his art.

And there went three minutes.

After brushing fingers hard through his hair, Revy slipped up his sleeve again and dug deep into two buttons to restart the timer.

He reached to grab a spiral notebook from an open shoebox just under the edge of his bed.

PRACTISE was scrawled uneven across the book’s cover in thick green ink.

Inside, he bypassed pages of instructions to himself . . . mostly advice gleaned from rock star heroes in interviews.

It was actually from something said in one such interview that he had decided on his “4-for-4” plan in the first place . . . to practice four hours a day for four years.

Aware of the timer still snapping out fresh seconds, he rifled to a section marked SCALES.

Letters and symbols for notes in each key littered the pages he landed at like a preschooler’s homework.

Labeling the notes had been an awkward notion.

But he’d known this would be an important language to internalize if he ever hoped to play well with more educated musicians and not feel like an idiot ever struggling to catch up by ear alone.

He found the first note, C, and slowly climbed his way up the scale, not quite muttering letters to himself in hopes of memorizing each note’s name.

C, D, E . . . F . . . G . . .

No wait, that’s a G?

That doesn’t sound right.

Oh…

After a few minutes spent clumsily mapping the same tones to different spots on his instrument’s neck, he slid absentmindedly back to strumming out one of his old, comfortable, unproductive pieces again.

But the seconds still ticking silently away on his arm began to scream at him like a drill sergeant.

Then he huffed a couple more times, ground more fingers through his hair, and returned to jerking his way up and down the fretboard like a sloppy robot.

He cursed Jodie as she continued to spout her “And, uh…” banter from next-door.

She too was practicing her instrument, he knew.

Though she seemed to be making far more headway.

Doesn’t she know I have to do this?

I guess she doesn’t care.

He glanced sideways to glimpse his profile again in the mirror.

At least he could pull off the look of a passionately aloof rock god . . . perhaps prepping to amaze some intimate VIP crowd at a secret venue with a light acoustic set.

As Revy stared, whatever scale he’d been tinkering with went right out the window just beyond the mirror.

His fingers fell to perhaps their most common, easiest place, strumming the chorus to one of the first songs he’d ever written with…

His eyes darted away from the mirror, the window, and every other distance.

His mind reeled back from far, far away.

And for a split second, seated in the swivel chair by his never-used desk, he saw Dale.

For that was where Dale had always sat whenever the two would spend hours messing around on their guitars in Revy’s room.

The chair was empty, of course.

A bitter sting of tears touched just beneath and behind Revy’s eyes.

He slammed the fingers of his left hand hard against strings to cut short the folksy sound.

He couldn’t bear to hear what might have rung out like a beacon back to simpler times.

The temporal space left on his watch continued to shrink in its precise and unheard ticks.

With shaky hands, Revy fingered through his notebook to a place marked COVERS.

This is where he would spend the remainder of his appointed time, trying to figure out the secret marriage of music and melody as mastered by others.

But every now and then, he wouldn’t quite notice himself slipping back into Fantastic or another unfinished number.

Then more fingers would machete through hair, and he’d glumly wrench his attention back to scaling the walls of others’ art until at last he was relieved by artificial bleeps emanating from near the end of his arm.

Jodie, too, was silent.

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