The phone call stops us at the top of a hill. I watch sheets of lowering light push through the clouds as Tyler answers, the sunset lacing the edge of his back in a glow that he can’t quite brush off. Neither of us has spoken for a while. When he starts to talk I open my mouth too, spitting into the boggy moss.
Tyler puts the phone away. “Sorry about that. They want me to play at the hotel. In an hour.” He looks off in the direction of the car. “We have to go back. Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” I shiver suddenly. “That sunset is so beautiful.” As soon as I talk I regret it, feeling the quiet dignity I’ve started to build disappear.
Tyler blinks at me. “You must have sunsets at home.”
I almost laugh. “Yeah, but not like that.”
He turns away and we’re silent again, only smiling quickly when I fall down on the way to the road. We slam the car doors and Tyler jolts the car forward. I press my arm against the window, watching the place—covered with stark grass and laced with a comforting directness— that over two weeks has started to grow into my own. After a few minutes, Tyler points at the sky, now curled in layers of tan. “There’s your sunset.”
I shake my head. He smirks and quietly, almost in apology, pushes in a CD. The car roars with a song I know and I start singing to it almost before I realize I recognize it. Tyler licks his lips, starts tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, and on the first notes of the chorus he sings along with me. I look at him and get louder, daring him to follow me. He does and by the time we get back to his house we’ve forgiven each other.
Once Tyler gets his fiddle we go to pick up his friend Jerry. I can see his shadow stretching by the window as he picks up his guitar and comes out to meet us. There’s something about how genuine his “hello” is that makes me like him instantly, and it almost distracts me from how strange it is to hear Tyler having a conversation in the car.
It’s completely dark by the time we get to the hotel, and I huddle inside my coat as we walk to the back door. They’re both taller than me. Jerry carries his height as if he doesn’t realize he has it, but Tyler uses it as something to stare out from. I look for Tyler’s nervousness as I hold the door open for them. Once I see it tracing his face I look away, pretending I don’t. We let him lead us past the manager, who’s relieved to see them, and over to the bar.
The bartender is barely older than Jerry. His thin hair bends along the sides of his face, too stiff to curve properly, and it shadows his forehead as he smiles at us. He starts talking to Tyler and Jerry and I stand behind them, trying to feel included as they roll their eyes at the people standing in the lobby. I laugh with them, hoping they’ve forgotten that I’m a visitor too.
We get sodas and sit down, pulling up three flowered armchairs around a table near the front of the lobby. The hotel is strangely indistinct- it’s not built from the island, but from its visitors, who could be from anywhere. All the guests in the lobby are from the same conference. They look at us as Tyler and Jerry tune, and I look back, trying to make them notice that I’m not a guest here.
Jerry strums his guitar and puts his pick in his mouth. “What should we play?”
“Dunno.” Tyler drops his pile of music on the table and flips through until he finds something easy enough. “This?”
Jerry shrugs, plaid falling over his bony shoulders as he peers at the music. “Yeah, that looks good.”
Tyler looks over at me for a second, and before I can come up with an opinion he looks away and starts playing. His eyes are closed. He grimaces when he slips, but nothing else about him changes. Even when he stops he doesn’t look embarrassed, because that’s what the stopping means.
I get up and move to the window as they start something else, a song one of the women asked for that Tyler seemed surprised about. The town is still lit, and the glare from the lights throws my face over the harbor. Tyler’s music seems tiny when I’m not sitting next to it—people talk over the playing and even I feel louder as I start to notice myself again, watching from the window. My eyes look like they’re sinking into the murk of the water, and when I blink I realize that I’m exhausted.
Tyler’s still playing when I sit down again—Jerry’s up getting a real drink. It’s not the music that’s loud. There’s an absence of feeling that floats above Tyler, something that covers me too and misses Jerry as he laughs at the bar. The two of us are clenching a silence within ourselves. I don’t know what’s inside of Tyler’s but I see him holding it, trembling across from mine as he smashes music from his fiddle.