Gavin was jazzed about the performance. By the time he left to return to South Beach, he and his cousins and the grandmas had put together a rehearsal schedule for August, and Erica had given him a series of breathing and vocal exercises he could practice in order to get his voice ready.
When he got back home that night, his roommates were already in the apartment. “I have the coolest news,” he said. “I’m going to be singing on stage at a concert in the Wisconsin Dells.” He explained how the opportunity had come up. “My grandma and her sisters won’t do it unless my cousins and I join them.”
“Hashtag awesome,” Manny said, sitting in the other chair. “You should totally get someone to record it, put it up on the web. Then we could see it too.”
“Yeah, it could go viral,” Larry said. “Like those cats on skateboards.”
“I’m not getting my grandma and her sisters on skateboards,” Gavin said. “They could break their hips or something.”
But he did like the idea of his performance being online. It could open a lot of doors for him. He could set up his own website, with his modeling portfolio and the video clips, a way for people to book him for gigs… He kept thinking about that idea, practicing his scales obsessively until he could trill up and down with ease. The next day, he was on the register when Music Dude walked in, and Gavin sang, “Jumbo Joe with extra foam,
” trying to hit the notes in order.
Music Dude nodded and said, “Sounding good.” He handed Gavin his credit card, and Gavin stole a look. The dude’s name was Miles Goodwin, which sounded somehow familiar. As Gavin returned the card after sliding it, Music Dude held out a piece of paper. “Here are some other vocal exercises you can do besides scales to strengthen your lower register.”
Gavin smiled as he traded the credit card for the printout from some website. That was pretty sweet of the guy, and maybe flirtatious too. “This’ll be really helpful,” he said. “I’ve got to get my voice in order ASAP. I’ve got a singing job Labor Day weekend.”
“Whereabouts?” Music Dude asked.
“Wisconsin,” Gavin said. “It’s kind of a family thing.”
Music Dude nodded. “Can’t have you sounding bad for your family,” he said.
“I’m not singing for them; I’m singing with them,” Gavin said. “It’s this concert at the Wisconsin Dells.”
“Not Yesterday’s Music, Today’s Sound?” Goodwin asked. “I’m going to that concert. I really dig that kind of music.”
Gavin could see one of the Realtor women tapping her high heel behind Miles, like if she didn’t place her order immediately, she was going to lose a million-dollar deal. “I have a break coming up in fifteen. You think you could hang around?”
Gavin kept alternating glances at the clock, willing it to spin around more quickly, and checking to make sure that Music Dude, who he had to remember to call Miles, was still there. The café was buzzing with bearded Rasta dudes and skinny-chic models. An Orthodox guy came in with his daughter, and while they waited for his coffee, the little girl tugged on the fringes coming out from beneath his white shirt and shook them like the reins of a pony.
Finally Gavin was able to pull off his apron and get out from behind the counter. He slipped into the seat across from Miles and stuck out his hand. “Gavin Kaczmarek,” he said.
“Miles Goodwin. My parents doomed me to a music career by naming me after Miles Davis.”
“I knew your name sounded kind of familiar. Was he a president or something? Or, like, a Civil War general?”
Miles laughed. “Jazz musician. My parents were addicted to his music, and I was raised all around it. How about you?”
“Not named after anybody I know,” Gavin said. “And the music I grew up with was what my grandma and her sisters sang. They were the Singing Sweethearts.”
“‘Apple Cider Time’?” Miles asked. “I love that song.”
“Really? I didn’t think anyone under sixty knew it besides my family.”
“I’m into those vocal harmonies,” Miles said. “I did my master’s thesis on chord construction and the change in counterpoint and polyphony from the Andrews Sisters to the Beach Boys.” He looked embarrassed. “Sorry, don’t mean to go all music-geek on you.”
Gavin almost laughed; it was as if the guy knew his nickname. But he restrained himself. “So you know all the technical stuff about music?” he asked.
“I know a lot.”
“’Cause I never studied music in college,” Gavin said. He leaned in close. “I can’t even read it. I just know how my grandma’s songs are supposed to sound.”
“Seems like you could use some tutoring between now and Labor Day,” Miles said. “You want to come by my studio sometime?”
Inside, Gavin was jumping with glee, and he struggled to hold it together. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”
“Nah, it could be fun,” Miles said. “Especially since I like the music so much. What time do you get off here?”
“Two,” Gavin said.
Miles pulled a card out of his wallet. “Here’s my address. Why don’t you come over when you get done?”
“Gavin!” Careful’s voice rang out in the modern space.
“That would be awesome.” Gavin took the card and stood up. “Gotta get back to work.”
At the register he clocked in again, conscious of Careful staring at him. “What?” he asked.
Careful shook his head, his dreads swaying like curtains in a gentle breeze. “I tell you, bwoi. No fooling around with the customers. Bad for business.”
“We weren’t fooling around,” Gavin protested, though he was sure that Miles was gay and that there could be some fooling around in the future. “Just talking about music. He gave me this list of vocal exercises, and he’s going to help me practice for my concert.”
He showed the paper to Careful, who scanned it. “Coo-coo-ah-ooh-oh,” he said. “Sounds pretty cuckoo to me.”
“You just don’t understand what it is to be an artist,” Gavin said, snatching the paper back from him.
Careful laughed. “Your turn on the coffee bar. Go make your art there.”
Miles left a few minutes later, and Gavin stole a glance at his card. His office, or studio, or whatever, was in a tall building on the east side of Lincoln Road. He probably stopped by Java Joe’s on his way to work.
Gavin worked steadily for the next half hour, but then things slowed down and he looked at the sheet of vocal exercises. The first instruction read, Blow air through a small stirring straw while phonating glides up and down through your range.
He was baffled. He got the part about blowing air through a stirring straw; there were plenty of those at Java Joe’s. But he had no idea what “phonating glides” meant. He skipped ahead to number two. Gently blow air through closed lips, keeping them relaxed, and sing an uh vowel underneath. Your lips should start to trill.
That he could manage, though it felt silly to do it as he moved over to cleanup duty, sweeping the tile floor, refilling the napkin dispensers, and emptying the trash. By the time his shift ended, he’d mastered that and moved on to making an “ng” sound, which was supposed to make the transition between his head voice and his chest voice easier.
Once again, he didn’t know what that meant. Was this what Erica had studied in school? He’d have to e-mail her that night. It could be that Miles was just blowing smoke, and Gavin didn’t want to waste time on something that might not be worthwhile.
He had a couple of minutes to chill in the back room before his shift was over, and he used his phone to find a definition of “phonating glides.” He got the phonating part just fine; it meant to speak. Well, why couldn’t they just say that? The gliding part was harder, and he had to wait for Miles to explain that.
He stuck to the shady side of Lincoln Road, dodging small dogs and moms with strollers that cost as much as a small car. It was brutally hot, and he was excited about getting back to the cooler summer in Wisconsin. The address on Miles’s card was a drab stone building with a bank in the lobby, and he rode the elevator up to the fourth floor, then walked down a long hallway.
He knocked on the door but got no answer. So he tried the knob, and it opened.
Miles sat behind a massive instrument panel, headphones on, intent on what he was doing. A picture window to the right looked onto a small room with a standing mike in the center.
Gavin closed the door quietly behind him and leaned against the wall, watching Miles. With his head bent, the bright green strips on the top of his glasses gave him a cool, funky vibe. Yeah, he was losing his hair, but it wasn’t like he was trying to cover it up. He had a tiny scar at the edge of his hairline and a diamond stud in his left ear.
Miles looked up, saw Gavin, and pulled his headphones off. “Hey, sorry. Didn’t hear you come in.”
“I didn’t want to disturb you. You looked totally into what you were doing.”
“Nothing that great. A track for a computer game.” He leaned back in his chair and motioned Gavin to one across from him. “You get a chance to look at those exercises?”
Gavin nodded. “But some of them read like Greek. Like I said, I never studied music.”
Miles wheeled his chair out from behind the board and slid next to Gavin. “Let me see.”
Gavin pulled the sheet of paper from his jeans, liking the feel of Miles so close to him. “I don’t understand this,” Gavin said, pointing to the line about phonating glides.
Miles made a quick sound, starting low and letting his voice rise to a higher note. “Now you try it.”
Gavin tried, though it sounded a lot worse than what Miles had sung. They worked through a bunch of the exercises, first Miles demonstrating, then Gavin trying. Miles put his fingers on Gavin’s throat, just below his Adam’s apple, and said, “Feel it here.”
Gavin loved the touch of Miles’s fingers against his skin. Without even thinking about it, he took hold of Miles’s fingers and put them in his mouth.
Miles pulled back as if scalded. “Look, if you’re not serious about this, I’m not wasting my time with you.” He scooted his chair back to his board.
“My bad,” Gavin said. “Please. Forgive me. I really do want to learn.”
Miles picked up his headphones. “Then practice those exercises for a couple of days. When you come back, I want to hear you sing.”
He slipped the headphones back on and flipped a couple of switches on his board. Gavin stood up, waved good-bye, and walked back out to the long corridor.
Man, he had fucked up. Was the dude straight after all? Or just not into Gavin? He had seemed interested enough. Not just by being nice and smiling. Gavin was pretty sure he’d seen a hard-on in Miles’s shorts.
But maybe he was just actually serious about his music. Gavin thought he could do with a dose of that seriousness himself.
And yet, the feel of Miles’s hand against his throat had certainly been hashtag awesome.