“I wrote a new song for the LP! One of my favorites yet,” Joanie texted me. It was always exciting to hear Joanie’s new stuff, but since she rarely boasted about her own songwriting, I knew this one must be special. She called it “Off Script” and posited that it could be a lead single, should Republic agree. “It’s about things not going to plan, trusting your gut when the wind changes. Kind of aligns with my outlook these days, since all this seems to have happened out of nowhere, whereas I used to try and plot everything to the last detail,” she added. “I recorded a lil demo, too. Remind me to send it to you.” Then, the next morning, another text: “Dixon was fired from Glassnote. 😦 “

The speculation was true: Dixon had been in hot water at Glassnote, and he wasn’t generating enough new business to justify staying around. A lot had been riding on him securing Saturant for their roster, which of course fell through after Omar and Republic came in with a much more impressive offer. Dixon’s boss had been as brash to say “If you can’t even land your own girlfriend, then I think it’s time for us to part ways.” Now he was grabbing at air, emailing every reliable music contact he had in this town. He even emailed Omar, who in turn promised to cast a net, to try and help. “It’s the least I can do, right?” Omar texted. (He was still away for business, further delaying my ultimatum proposition.) “I kind of feel like we broke the camel’s back here. I’ll see what I can do.”

Peter was still looking for work, too. Bart was able to give him some bartending shifts during concerts—and paid him in cash, to avoid compromising any unemployment benefits—but the career search was coming up dry. “I feel like I have asked everyone for help already, without seeming too desperate,” Peter said. “Yet I’m definitely desperate. The big problem is that I’d probably say ‘yes’ to the first half-decent offer anyone gives me, and in any industry. It’s all just as well, isn’t it, when you don’t care what it is you do, so long as you stay afloat and preserve all the happy parts of your life? I actually kind of envy Dixon’s position right now; he’s forcing himself to look within the music industry, needing to justify the foundation he’s built. And maybe that’s an easier existence. I certainly feel opposite about a life in publishing. I hate that having a secure and linear future feels so dictated by a career decision I made in my early 20s.”

I woke up on April 15 to texts from all my best friends: “Happy Jackie Robinson Joins the Majors Day!” said Bart. “Happy 103rd Anniversary of the Titanic Sinking!” said Peter. Then Talia: “Sad 150th Anniversary of Lincoln Dying. Womp womp.” And Joanie’s turn: “Happy Birthday Emmas Watson and Thompson!!” I sat up in bed, laughing at them all. It was my 30th birthday, and for some odd reason this had become their tradition each year—to wish me a happy day without ever saying “Happy Birthday.” I chuckled again as I re-read each one, wondering how the hell I ended up here, in this Prospect Heights garden studio, with this as my reality, self-employed and with the best friends I had ever known. Nothing at 30 was what I imagined it would be during those first 29 years. Yet here I was: Confident. Evolved. Happy when I allowed myself. A few minutes later, I got a call from Dad: “I always knew you’d turn out OK, Eric. All part of your mom’s and my plan. Happy birthday, Bub.”

Omar was acting dodgy and I sensed our demise was imminent. However, that charmer Simon ventured to Prospect Heights so we could eat at my favorite restaurant for my birthday. We retired to my apartment, which I realized was the first time we had ever done so in our eight months of whatever-this-was. That alone got him the dessert he wanted, and it also meant I got to take him out for bagels the next morning. He departed for the city thereafter, and I worked only half the day. I wondered what was holding me from committing myself to Simon, when here I was spending so much time wasting energy and emotion on Omar, my Jack 2.0. The more I thought about it, Simon was my idea of a Man: intentional, vocal, transparent. What I saw was what I got, and I couldn’t find that in anyone my age. I had a lot of my own maturing to do, but Simon was the definite standard, and perhaps the best gift I got in my 30th year of life.

I was walking through Greenwich Village on Saturday and remembered that I hadn’t yet heard Joanie’s new song. I texted her: “Send me a demo of ‘Off Script,’ already. The suspense is killing me!” Then my phone rang—Joanie was calling. She wanted to meet up, so she came into the city since I was going to Tyler and Bart’s apartment soon. We met in Washington Square Park, and she looked ethereal with her slicked-back hair and leather jacket as she walked towards my bench. She was quick with her news: Dixon had been hired at Red Light Management—thanks to an introduction and endorsement Omar provided—and would be taking on new clients as a manager. With her agent Taryn’s encouragement, Joanie would be leaving me and joining Dixon’s roster. I said nothing. I couldn’t even look at her. I imagine she looked just as celestial as she disappeared into the concrete framework, taking with her all the color from my world.

An hour must have passed before my brain and body reconnected. I just sat there, frozen on the bench as the sun crept west toward New Jersey. I canceled my plans with Tyler and Bart, walking instead to the subway station at 8th Street. The R train came first, which had been my hope; I wanted a long, rickety ride back home. I checked my email before the train came to a stop, and there was a response from Joanie, sent before we had met—and she attached the demo of her newest song. Although I knew better than to salt my wounds, I put in my earbuds and listened. Then, in her sultry low register, my lifelong friend sang to me: “This wasn’t what we planned // For our life together // I’m going off script // I’m breaking your heart // I’m going off script // I’m tearing our future apart.”

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