“33 and 1/3” — A Short Story
If you’ve read “19 (Modern Love)”, you’ve probably been introduced to Eric Thornton. Time to rewind a bit, and see what the fuss was about.
The gauze wrapped around my right arm itched. A lot. I wished I could take it off, but it was gonna be another four to five days until I’d be able to get my stitches removed. Until then, I had to deal with jutting pain and stinging. Better this than the bitterness of getting past a cold ex.
“Damn you, Grace Porter,” I muttered. I’d always have the remaining scar to remind me of her. Definitely not something I was looking forward too.
I tried to shake the pain off and settle into the parade of vinyls and milk crates laid out in front of me. My fingers flipped through Zeppelin, the Stones and Strokes, some Lennon and a little bit of Creedence. It was like a studio session above my ears as the owner played some Corinne Bailey Rae, with the crispest version of The Sea playing through the speakers. For an old record store, the acoustics were so good. The owner and my dad had known each other in a past life, back when the store was a performance space on weekends, and my dad would chill out with his Jamaican friends and riff away.
I shifted over to a different section and found some Isaac Hayes and Sam Cooke. Already knew all their hits. My ears were restless for something that I hadn’t heard in a while. I think it was a reflection of my disposition; I needed different.
After a few passes through and a weird bout of indecision, I came across David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. I was instantly taken back to childhood, not with that album but with Space Oddity. My first time hearing Bowie was sitting shotgun in my dad’s wood-paneled station wagon. The car was my rocketship and I was Major Tom, looking for a distant planet to land my tin can. Obviously, I was too young to understand my hero’s fate back then, but the thought was nice, and the song was epic.
“I have that one already.” The voice led my eyes to a woman at a stack of LPs across from me. I hadn’t seen someone so dressed for the season before: charcoal peacoat, beanie hanging over horn-rimmed glasses. A scarf hung loosely around her neck, and the lips that spoke to me were a cranberry midnight against honey brown skin. She looked at me with a depth that had me wondering whether to approach or retreat.
“Oh?” I stood my ground. I couldn’t care for her opinion, but it felt as if she said I could do better than Bowie.
“Yeah, I have most of his shit. That’s definitely one of his better albums. Couldn’t bear to listen to anything of his past the 90s.”
I could feel my upper lip curl out of impression. “Part of me feels like Bowie shouldn’t have switched it up so much.”
“Hush,” she smiled slyly, “the last thing you should do is talk blasphemy when holding a Bowie album.”
“Valid.” I took a step forward. “Any other advice for me?”
Her face got pensive real quickly, then a playful glare: “Can’t think of one right now. Hopefully, you’ll get another gem before I bounce.”
“Alright.” I laughed. You know how some people ooze confidence until it drips and becomes unattractive? It wasn’t too much with her: more like a splash of a favorite fragrance. Safe to say I was drawn in. “This question is probably overused on first encounters, but do you come here often?”
“Yeah, my bed’s actually in the basement, right next to the broken crates and unloved 8-tracks.”
“Wow.” I hoped it was a joke, so I laughed. “That must be brutal.”
She giggled, and turned her head away a bit. “It is. Especially for my ears. Surrounding yourself with trash music is a no-no.”
“Surrounding yourself with bad anything is a no-no.” She nodded in agreement and I reached my hand out. “Eric Thornton.”
“Allison Ashford.” She shook my hand firmly. “You’re probably gonna say something–”
“Shit, your hands. Why are they so soft?” And smooth. Very smooth.
“—like that,” she laughed really hard, keeping the handshake going for a bit longer than I thought. “It’s a pleasure, Eric.” She finally let go, only to take out a felt-tipped pen from her quilted tote bag. She wrote her number on my cast, then gave me a quizzical look. “You’re not washing this any time soon, right?”
“Nah,” I winked, “no point now.” I pointed to the fuzzily-written digits on my forearm.
“Eww,” she laughed hard. “Fucking dirty!” She reached back into her tote, this time pulling out a business card. “I’m kidding, but here. Just in case you do wash that, you’ll have no excuse to remember how kind I was to give you my card.”
I looked at the card, impressed. “Guess you can get away with being cocky when you work at a place like this.”
“Or when you’re just the shit.” She took the vinyl out of my hand, then placed it next to her LP of Houses of the Holy. “I’ll have both of these.” I pulled out my wallet, but she stopped me, firmly, eyes on my hand, then directly on my eyes. I felt a chill, but there was no AC. The cashier eyed, then took her cash.
“You probably don’t need my approval, but there’s a couple of nice deep cuts on that. Although ‘The Ocean’s my personal favorite.”
She handed me my vinyl. “I’ll see if I can find them. And… you’re welcome.”
The chill spread from my spine to my neck to my fingers, but there was something about looking in her eyes that vaporized my jitters. It resulted in a blush that I had more than enough melanin to hide externally, but not enough to hold back a sheepish grin. “Thank you, Allison.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna have to call me Allie.” She shuddered as she walked to the exit. “I thought I was heading back into fucking detention just now.” With a laugh, she pushed the door open, then hesitated like she dropped something important. “It was nice meeting you, Eric. Hope to hear from you soon?”
She got a slow, reverent nod from me, then slipped into the late summer crowd.
“Dude, you good?” That was Fletch. And this was me: scratching at my cast while trying the Hell or High Watermelon at L’asso. I couldn’t shake that record store moment out of my head.
I tried to lie. “Yeah, man. Just tired.”
“Mmhmm. Where’d that phone number come from then?” He looked over my shoulder and saw how hard I tried to avoid messing up the digits. “You met someone.”
I gave a nod, almost embarrassed. Fletched reached for my arm and yanked me so that I swiveled on my stool and he could see the full number. “She cute?”
“You look pained.”
“She’s gorgeous. And a fucking smart-ass.”
“So what’s wrong?”
I didn’t want to answer; my eyes were trained on the manager in the back messing around with a brand-new record player. He looked frustrated and was asking his employees for help.
“Hey,” I called out to him. “Need help?”
“Yeah, why the hell do these things have three different speeds on them?”
“Just stick to 33 and a third for most vinyls and you should be good.” I handed him my Bowie album to try.
Scratchy guitar riff. Percussion. Synth keyboard. That voice, damn. That and the sax had the patrons and manager smiling and bopping along in an otherwise chill venue. He gave me a thumbs-up and offered up a free round of drinks.
Fletcher nudged me. “So what’s wrong?”
I pointed to the big old bandage on my forearm. “Am I really ready to talk to someone new?”
“Talking isn’t dating. Also, anyone is better than Grace at this point. It’s really been over a year since you two ended anyway. That,” he nudged the gauze matter-of-factly, “is more her not getting over you than the other way around. Just look at it as a cautionary tale.”
“China Girl” growled through the speakers in the restaurant. I sighed. “Alright, Chris. If this fails, you owe me drinks for wack-ass advice.”
He chuckled. “If only we weren’t just promised free beers here.”
“True.” I couldn’t read the number through the fabric, so I pulled out her card and examined it. The faintest smell of perfume, her perfume, settled in my nostrils. “Here we go.”
Let’s Dance is banging right now, I texted her. The restaurant I’m at approves.
A few minutes later: Lighting up to D’yer Mak’er and The Crunge lol. You’re alright, Thornton.
She followed up with a smiley face.
Maybe this’d just might be different.