Washed out image of a paper bag in a hotel hallway, filled with garbage: two empty wine bottles, a beer bottle, som random containers and a used paper coffee cup with the Pinejay Roasters logo on it. Indicative of how we felt that morning. Like last night's trash.

Chapter Eight: The Fallout

October 19, 2014

Oslo, Norway

Wet. I’m wet, lying face-down, cheek pressed against damp linen. Steeped in a pool of saliva and stale liquor, its rancid residue lingering on my tongue. The light creeps in at the corners of my eyelid and brings consciousness along with it. Grasp as I may at wisps of slumber, they float off into the ether all the same, chased off by a sound that splits my skull at each suture.

Riiiing

There’s a body tucked under my arm. A leg tangled in my own.

Riiiing

I lift my head from the pillow so I can witness with my good eye what I already sense.

Riiiing…

Yep.

Riiiing

We’re in the same bed, Kåre and I.

Riiiing

I let my head drop onto the pillow again. 

Riiiing

This was a mistake. A colossal mistake.

Finally, the phone stops ringing. When I close my eyes, fragments of the night before emerge bit by bit, fuzzy around the edges at first, then coming into sharper focus and each segment more mortifying than the last. I try to link them all together, searching for any clue how we got here and what we did after, but — there are clearly crucial pieces missing. Eventually, I give up trying to make sense of it all, open my eyes once more and turn over, slipping Kåre from my limp grasp.

Had Kåre’s body not been giving off warmth against mine, I might be concerned about his corpse-like, ashen pallor. Mouth hanging slightly ajar, a thin, whitish crust of spit lingering at its edges… even the unrepentant ex-goth can’t pull off this look.

About the time I consider casually feeling for a pulse, he begins showing signs that he indeed remains among the living. He breathes in deeply through his nose, chest rising in an exaggerated manner. Then, he smacks his lips, pursing them together and wrinkles his nose as if he’s just tasted something long gone sour.

A faint moan follows. He opens his eyes and squints in the faint light that spills in through the half-drawn curtains. Upon realizing it’s me lying there beside him, he winces and rubs his face as if he’s doing his best to wipe away the sight, but only succeeds in smearing kohl eyeliner across his palms. The horror that is me remains. He falls onto his back and stares listlessly at the ceiling.

“Good morning,” I whisper.

He blinks. And blinks. And right when the stillness borders on unbearable, he murmurs, “What happened?” His mouth is barely moving. “What did we do?”

“Hell if–” An acidic taste rises up mid-sentence, but I swallow and suppress it. “Hell if I know.”

“Where the fuck are my pants?” He lifts his head and peers down at his half-clad form, as if to confirm their absence, before flopping flat onto the mattress again in defeat.

“Don’t ask me. I don’t even remember how we got here.”

 As for myself, I’m still wearing my boxer shorts. So is he. We have our shirts on. In fact, my jeans are languishing at my ankles like makeshift shackles. Besides, we can’t have possibly succeeded in whatever we were trying to pull off prior to passing out. I, for one, was much too drunk.

Kåre rolls away from me, curling up like a wilted leaf. “You remember nothing.”

This was mortifying; I absolutely was not ready for him to know me that intimately. I was desperate to know how much he had seen, how far we had gotten, but the last thing I could remember was Axel puking all over the floor of the glass elevator the moment he peered outside on our way up. Not his finest moment.

I roll onto my stomach and bury my face in the damp pillow, speaking into it: “I don’t remember anything after the park.”

“Good,” he mutters. “I guess that’s good. For once.”

Before I get the chance to ask him what he means by that, the banging begins.

A washed out image of the hotel room door from the interior. A wardrobe and the bathroom can be seen to the left.

Bambambam!

Bam. Bam. Bam.

Instantly animated by the noise, I flinch on reflex and recoil from Kåre, attempting to flee to the other bed. In doing so, I stand up far too quickly, tripping over my bound feet and falling to my knees beside it. A series of explosive throbs set off a sensation not unlike shards of glass slicing through my brain, like so much shrapnel. In a flash, rationality is eviscerated, replaced by a panicked repentance for any multitude of imagined sins. I lay my head down on the edge of the mattress and press the sides of my cranium together with my palms to prevent its shattered contents ricocheting against the walls.

Bambambam!

“Hey fuckers! Come to breakfast!”

Those words return me to reality and I recognize the infernal pounding for what it is. The voice belongs to an entirely different vengeful percussionist. A percussionist with one remaining good fist and a clear death wish, drumming up an auditory assault on his hungover bandmates. Not a precursor to any form of punishment, merely a human battering ram positioned directly outside our hotel room door.

“Fuck off, Tor!” I pull myself up from the floor and collapse on the bed, clawing at the duvet and imagining his bearded face in its place. He’s utterly unaware of how that banging sounds torments me.

Bambambambambam!

Kåre somehow makes it to the door before I have any chance of doing so, and the distressing drumming ceases.

“Rise and shine!” Tor sings, a truly meanspirited mockingbird. He peeks his head around the door. “You guys look great!” I flip him a whole other kind of bird, but that only makes him smile. “The breakfast bar is closing in an hour. I tried to call, but unsurprisingly, nobody answered.”

 “Give us a few minutes,” Kåre croaks, using the door frame to prop himself up.

“Seems you need a few days!” Tor laughs.

“We’ll be down. Soon.” Back against the door, he shuts it in Tor’s face, with the force of his own slight body weight. Chest heaving, he closes his eyes and stands there, as if he hasn’t the energy to budge. That is until he suddenly bolts into the bathroom. The water runs in the sink. Probably to cover up the retching that follows.

There has to be a blister pack of ibuprofen somewhere in my bag. I roll out of bed and run my fingers along the bottom of it in desperation. The thin layer of dust and crushed eyeliner serves as a reminder of how long it’s been since I cleaned this thing. When I finally find what I’m looking for, I wrestle with it until I finally free some pills and wash them down with a swig of stale minibar beer from a can on the nightstand. I make a face. It tastes dreadful.

Upon returning, Kåre sits down on the bed, facing the wall and rocking slightly as he tries to regain his equilibrium. After a second or two, he says, “Come on, we better get moving.” He reaches down, wrests his missing pants from their hiding place under the bed and slowly places his feet into them.

“Why the heck did you even tell him we’d come down? Are you a masochist?”

He stands, tugs up his skin-tight jeans, and fumbles with his belt buckle as he speaks. “We’re gonna have to get up, anyway. What time was checkout? Eleven?” He pauses and takes a deep breath, releasing it through puckered lips. “Probably the best thing for us is to… grab some food…” He vanishes. The water runs. The retching recommences. No way is that guy eating breakfast.

With Kåre preoccupied, the opportunity emerges to raid the minibar and down whatever looks like hangover helper before he can catch me in the act and chastise me. It’s his own damn fault for committing me to move at this hour. I slap a stick of gum into my mouth to cover my crime, and, spying the subtle splash of vomit adorning the thighs of last night’s jeans, slide into my only other pair, along with an old, neon-green t-shirt that once belonged to Micke. It actually fits me. It used to hang on his lanky frame, but he liked it that way. That was his style. Or lack thereof. Everything that guy wore was an eyesore. But it’s soft; worn thin by wear and tattered at the edges, and it’s the closest I can get to a hug from him.

Once some time passes, I hear the bathroom door open and, taking it as a sign that Kåre’s no longer stooped over the porcelain bowl, make my way to the sink to freshen up alongside him. A quick run of the hand down my jawline tells me the stubble isn’t bad enough to bother with. I’m about to start to brushing my teeth when suddenly it occurs to me that Kåre knows absolutely everything. Perhaps he’s seen everything too, for that matter. There are no secrets between us anymore. My private hell was pretty much on parade for the entire world to see.

If I could, I’d take it all back; I would have taken that ride from Ola and spared myself the humiliation of it all. But then… then I wouldn’t have shared that kiss with Kåre under the chandelier.

I place the palm of my hand on the ledge and lean hard against it, staring down into the drain as the sweat breaks out across my brow. My hair falls around my face and I notice the crumbled remnants of dead leaves tangled in its sleep-snarled strands.

There’s an acrid sensation that bubbles up beneath my breast as the fear sets in. I’m terrified. Terrified of Kåre. Not only of what he thinks of me now in the aftermath of a nuclear-grade meltdown, but of what he might do given what he knows. Or rather, what he may attempt to prevent me from doing. I guess in that unguarded moment I had desperately wanted someone to know, wanted someone to stop me, wanted to live. Unfortunately for me, that moment was fleeting and all I can do at this point is hope he doesn’t remember it. But that’s unlikely.

“Should I leave?” His voice is muffled as he pulls a black military sweater over his t-shirt.

“No.” I sniff and take in a few measured breaths. Once I’ve regained my composure, I say, “I’m really sorry about last night.”

“Don’t be.” He fixes the twisted collar on his sweater, runs his fingers through his hair, and leans in toward the mirror to sweep an eyelash from under his cheek with his index finger.

“No no no, wait!” I intervene the very second before he unthinkingly flicks it aside.

Halting in his tracks, he releases an airy chuckle as he recalls the routine. He glances down at the lash, then at me, head cocked slightly to the side, still balancing it on the tip of his finger. “You want me to make a wish.”

“Don’t waste it.”

He groans. “You Americans and your weird rituals.” Although he rolls his eyes, he’s clearly finding it hard to mask his amusement, however mild.

I’d remind him how Swedes hop like frogs around a phallic pole at Midsummer, but I hardly reckon he’s in much of a mood to be mocked. Instead, I hold my tongue and observe him obliging me. Eyes closed, he pauses as he considers what he wants to wish for, lifts his finger to his lips and ceremoniously blows the tiny black lash away with a strong puff of air.

“What’d you wish for?” I ask softly.

“I can’t tell you, or it won’t come true,” he admonishes me. He wags a tiny vial of makeup remover from his little black bag at me for emphasis. “You yourself told me that.”

I can tell you now what it was. I wished he wouldn't kill himself. At that point, I wanted so badly to believe that an eyelash could make a difference. And in my brain, one thought bounced around like the ball in a game of Pong: Please don't do it. Please don't do it. Please don't do it.

Except the stakes were much higher: If I missed one hit, I would lose him.

Please don't do it. Please don't do it. Please don't do it...

“I know.” It’s only another part of the ritual. Next, I’ll dismiss the entire act. “I don’t really believe in that stuff, anyway.”

“Me neither.” Kåre frees a cotton pad from its plastic sleeve and carefully moistens it. “Right now, I kinda wish I did.”

“I hope that wasn’t what you wished for,” I smirk. “Because if it was, you just blew it.”

He shakes his head. “You told me not to waste it, so I didn’t.”

I’m thankful for the diversion. It allows me enough distance from my thoughts to relax and get a move on. I pluck up the travel-size toothpaste tube from the counter as well as my toothbrush from where it stands in the cup next to it and, fiddling with the tube, slide my thumb over its rough plastic cap. The momentum is short-lived. I feel small. Like I could wear it as a hat.

I catch Kåre’s eye in the reflection just as he’s swiping along its underside, rubbing away what remains of his melted eyeliner. “Are we still… okay?”

He finishes up and examines his work, tossing the smudged cotton pad into the trash. “We’re fine, Axel.”

As I’m hovering over the basin with the toothbrush in my mouth, Kåre reaches out to free the tiny, brittle fragments of dried leaves from my hair one by one. Something about how he does it is so tender, so sweet, that a tidal wave of wistful remorse sweeps over me. Remorse, not only for what I have done, but for what I will do and for how it will hurt him. Which was not a thing I had considered at all previously.

We are not fine. Not okay. What we are now is complicated. And I don’t know what to do.

A washed out, dark image of a dark hotel hallway with the light for a window brightening the darkness at the end of the hall. The floor number on the wall reads 4. Click image to go somewhere else.

“Oh, well, well! Look who made it!” Lisa exclaims when we eventually arrive at the hotel restaurant.

Tor is still looking exceptionally smug. “I’d ask what you two got up to after the show, but on sight, I’m guessing it involved being dragged for ten kilometers behind a tractor?”

Lisa snorts her orange juice out her nose, which only makes her laugh harder. She dabs at her face with a napkin and nods gleefully into it.

“You both look positively chipper,” Kåre remarks in a dry monotone, releasing his phone from his hand and letting it tumble onto the table in an unusually careless way before shuffling over to the breakfast buffet.

“The kids typically have us up long before this hour, so–this was a luxury lie-in for us!” Tor gloats. “Besides, I didn’t drink last night. I was on the good stuff.”

“They gave him painkillers at the E.R.” Lisa explains.

Tor aims the tines of his fork at me. Painkillers don’t make you feel like shit in the morning.”

“Then you’re using them wrong.”

I hang my jean jacket on the back of my chair and head off to fill a plate with food that I will not eat. The hotel staff are already tidying up, signaling that the breakfast bar is about to close, and none of what little remains looks remotely appealing. I grab a couple slices of bread, nearly gag as I slather them with butter, ladle up the very last of clumps of scrambled eggs and fill a cup with black coffee.

From the corner of my eye, I note that Kåre has a meager slice of thinly buttered bread and a hard-boiled egg on his plate. I sure hope that was worth the trip. Before I can comment, a renegade jab to the brain all but sends me reeling and I stumble back to my seat. Once there, I pull my hoodie over my head and sit with the flat of my hand pressed against my forehead like a makeshift visor, to block out as much light as possible.

The moment I’m settled, Tor slides his iPad across the table at me, infiltrating my protective shield. The first browser tab is open to Twitter, to a thread by a music journalist who’s never liked me much to begin with. The same guy who called Under the Surface “Roughly 45 minutes of relentless aural suffering, not only for Lundén, but for the listener”. Now, he re-tweets a video of the precise moment at which I committed career suicide, accompanied by the equally kind commentary:

A quote retweet from journalist Christian Paalson, who retweets a post by a woman named Nora with a video from the last gig tranlated to English from Swedish: Now I'm really crying. Paalson's tweet translated from Swedish to English reads: Lundén quits? In Norway? Thanks so much for the consideration, sincerely, the Swedish fanbase.

And it appears that’s the thread the most furious among my fanbase are flocking to for expressing their outrage. In droves, by the looks of it:

Tweet from Elinor Espelund, translated from English: Couldn't even give the Swedish fans a final show? What an asshole. Her profile image shows a young woman with blonde hair.
Tweet from Daniel Bjoerk translated from Swedish to English: The guy is a joke. I stopped following him a hundred years ago. His profile image shows a man in his 30s with brown curly hair, beard and mustache, smiling.
Tweet by user Sjoeberg translated to English from Swedish: He's as fucked up as his husband was (literal translation deep in the shit). Profile image shows a young man with short brown hair.
Twitter message from Mika Lind, translated from Swedish to English: He was a nice guy until Micke dragged him down with him. Sad. Her profile image is of a girl with shoulder length brown hair smiling.
Tweet from Astrid Adell in Swedish, translated to English: Hardly strange considering how he left Nauru. Her icon shows a girl in a red wig.

Those are only the highlights. But out of the blue, the frontman of Micke’s band leaps into the fray. An unlikely defender if ever there was one, but I’ll take it.

Quote retween from Jon Ammon of Attax quoting the Christian Pålsson text which reads translated Lundén quits? In Norway? thanks so much for the consideration, sincerely the swedish fanbase and responding, translated from Swedish: Thanks so fucking much for the consideration - sincerely, everyone who was with him in hell when Micke died.

Glad to see that his usual prosaic style translates well to Twitter.

A Tweet from Jon Ammon, singer of Attax, which translated reads: You fucking idiots never knew Micke + #axel_lunden owes you nothing.

“Why are you showing me this?” I shove the iPad away, but Tor pushes it right back under my nose.

“Reality check. I think you need one. You have a sympathizer here!” He switches to the next tab, which directs me to a brief review of the gig on some Norwegian music website I don’t recognize, titled “Lundén’s Last Stand: Ex-Nauru singer stuns fans by calling it quits mid-show.”

An image of Axel onstage, still wearing his jean jacket with a blue dress shirt underneath. He holds the microphone in his hand and looks out over the crowd as he makes his announcement. His long blonde hair obscures most of his face. The text underneath says in Norwegian: Lunden's last stand. In the middle of a concert, former Nauru vocalist shocks fans and reveals he's ending his music career.

I skim through the contents, which are relatively positive by comparison to those tweets, at least until I reach the last paragraph:

In recent years his personal life has been awash in scandal and tragedy, which seems to have taken a toll on his standing in the Swedish indie scene. Having been the focus of considerable gossip rag coverage, I feel that quite enough focus has been placed on that, so I won't perpetuate the trend here. Instead, I choose to focus on the man's music. Although Lundén’s record sales have tapered off, the numbers are an affront to the high quality of the output he somehow has managed to maintain. His new album Under the Surface is perhaps the most overlooked release of this year. Fans at last night’s show, however, demonstrated their solid appreciation with a raucous sing-along. In laying down his guitar, Sweden loses one of its best contemporary songwriters.

I give a dismissive snort. “What is this? An intervention?”

The final tab he forces upon me is my professional Facebook page, which has already accumulated roughly twenty-five posts, all of them begging me to reconsider. And asking if this means I’m canceling my upcoming tour dates.

“Ah shit, the other shows,” I whisper.

“Yeah, you forgot we have shows booked.” Tor pulls a sneer as he tugs his iPad away and folds his arms over his chest. “You didn’t think this out very well, did you?”

“I didn’t think it out at all, to be honest,” I confess between sips of coffee, massaging my temple with the tips of my fingers. “I decided on the train.”

“And you didn’t feel that maybe this was a good time to have a little huddle with your manager, or even your bandmates? Maybe get a sanity check?” He shakes his head. “Or at least have the courtesy to cue us in so that we don’t stand there stunned on stage?”

“That was pretty awkward,” Kåre mumbles, covering his mouth with one hand so we don’t have to witness the processing of his breakfast.

I stab at my eggs, shifting them back and forth on my plate. When I dare take a bite, they’re cold, and the slimy consistency forces me to focus on chewing and swallowing, lest I gag again.

As soon as the threat has passed, I break the uncomfortable silence by abruptly shifting gears and asking Tor: “Have you ever bungee jumped?”

He smirks at the whiplash-inducing detour. “Um, yeeeah.” The smirk quickly folds into a frown, followed by a caustic chuckle.

“So you’ve seen what the actual bungee cord looks like, right?”

“Sure, it’s a bundle of little rubber bands all bound into a big one,” he shrugs and gets to work peeling open a single-serve packet of strawberry jam. “What’s that have to do with anything?”

“Quite a bit, actually. You see, this whole endeavor here was my solo project. It’s mine. We’re not a band in the traditional sense, it’s right there in your contract. And yes, in retrospect, giving you two a head’s up would have been a lot less harsh. But I call the shots, not my manager, not my bandmates. And I didn’t want to be talked out of it.” I shut my eyes momentarily to stave off a fresh bout of nausea before continuing. “So what I didn’t want was a bunch of tiny threads coming together to catapult me back out. I didn’t want a way out, and I didn’t want a safety net, either. I wanted to jump in peace. Without interference.”

Kåre slams down his egg to crack it a bit too forcefully, and I startle. “Sorry,” he says in a flat tone, seemingly to the egg, and begins peeling away the shell, glowering at it all the while.

Tor ignores the brief interruption, shrugs, and picks up his knife to smear the jam onto his bread. “Well, hey. As you said, you’re the boss, Axel. Do your thing.” He takes a bite and chews it slowly. As he does, his eyes steadily narrow, the tension building. The second he swallows, he snaps. “No, you know what? Your attitude stinks. And I want you to understand that it really sucked to learn this mid-show. And — now that the shock has worn off, I’m just… angry.” He bites his lip, exhaling audibly on the release. “I could have booked another gig. Do you realize that I actually turned down another tour to play with you?”

“No, I didn’t know. You never said.” Cradling my head in my hand again, I stare down at my plate. The sight of food makes me sick, and I push it aside. “And I’m sorry, but…”

“No, no no no no, stop there. I don’t want to hear it,” he breaks in, waving his hand sharply at me for emphasis. “You’re always full of empty apologies, so now it’s my turn. Since you can’t fire me, I can finally speak my mind. So please - let me apologize to you.”

I heave a sigh, keep my head down, and brace myself for whatever he’s about to say.

I’m sorry that I had to be the one to replace Micke on drums, but two years on, you still don’t treat me like a full-fledged band member. Sometimes you barely even treat me like a human being. So, next time, if there ever is a next time, do us both a favor and enlist the help of a drum machine. Because I’m not gonna continue being treated like one.”

I don’t even know how to respond to that, so I take out my phone and fiddle with it, just to have something to do. But it’s obvious that I’m only mindlessly swiping through apps. Which only irritates him all the more.

“Do you even care? About anything?”

I don’t.

He’s hit it on the head. I lack the ability to care about much at all. Even on a good day, I’m numb. Most of the time I’m empty, a zombie. In fact, today I’m literally a dead man walking.

“Tor, that’s enough.” Lisa cuts in. “You’ve made your point.” When I lift my gaze, however briefly, I see how she’s looking at me, a deep crevice etched into her forehead, her hazel eyes hyper-focused. As if those eyes are equipped with black lights and she sees what Tor cannot. “What’s going on, Axel?” Her tone is soft, but firm. Like a concerned mother. Sometimes I forget she’s a mother. "Didn't you see how crazy that crowd was? They adore you. So what? This one album flopped. You’ve had an amazing career. Things ebb and flow in this industry, you know that… It makes zero sense for you to quit like this.” She’s showing me a side of herself that I’ve never seen before. Suddenly Lisa’s so unlike Lisa that it’s jarring. “I don’t get it.” She bites into her toast and, with her mouth full, continues speaking as she shakes her head: “Something here doesn’t add up.”

“I’m just tired, Lisa,” I say in a quiet voice. “That’s all.”

I’m not sure what more I can say without giving myself away, so I keep trying to appear busy, checking my messages. There are a series of manic texts from my manager:

A blue text message in Swedish from Lars Arvidsson reading "What in the hell is going on? Journalists are calling me right and left." Time stamp 9:10 A M.

And:

Blue text message in Swedish reading: What should I say to them? We never talked about this, Axel. Timestamp 9:20 A M.
Blue text message in Swedish, reading "You have to call me." Time stamp 9:22 AM.

And then:

Blue text message in Swedish from Lars Arvidsson reading "You know what? I quit. You can find a new manager." Timestamp 9:28 A M.
Blue text message in Swedish reading: Or wait. You don't need one anymore, do you? Lucky for you, I guess. Timestamp 9:33 A M.

Next, a chat message pops up from my mother:

Messaging app message from Axel's mother which says in English: Are you okay? Your father and I are worried. We love you.

Why on earth did I teach her to set a Google alert on her son’s name?

“Axel…” Lisa refuses to relent, however unresponsive I may be. She reaches out and places her hand over mine, giving it a soft squeeze. “Are you okay? Are you in some kind of trouble?” She leans in and tries to get me to meet her gaze by lowering her own to meet mine. “I know things haven’t been easy. I mean, if there’s anything you need, Tor and I…”

“Pfft!” I shake her hand away, all the while keeping my eyes glued to my screen. “I’m fine. I don’t need your money, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I’m not only talking about money, Axel.” An exasperated sigh slips out, and she taps her eggplant-painted fingernails on the surface of the table, thinking. Suddenly, she slaps it with the palm of her hand. “But speaking of that, I have the merch money.” In my peripheral vision, I see her go for her purse to retrieve it.

“Keep it.” I wave her off without glancing up. “I don’t need it.”

“Well, of course. Nobody who needs money blows off well-paying gigs,” Tor grumbles under his breath, and Lisa delivers a brisk smack to his forearm, paired with a dirty look. “What? He’s obviously super fucking busy on his phone,” Tor responds sharply. “Don’t waste your breath.”

Shut. Up!” she hisses through clenched teeth and starts typing hastily on her phone.

Four missed calls. I have four missed calls. Manager, mother, manager, mother…

When I at last muster up the energy to look Tor directly in the face, he’s distracted, focused on whatever Lisa is holding up for him to read on her screen. Likely whatever it was she was just typing. He raises his eyebrows and rubs the bridge of his nose with his fingers as he exhales on one whispered word: “Shit.” He stares down at his bandaged hand where it rests on the counter. Then, he glances furtively at Lisa and breathes, “I didn’t consider that.”

I glance over at Kåre, curious if he might have texted Lisa what I divulged to him in confidence. He’s clutching his coffee cup with both hands before his bowed head like a bulwark, but who’s to say what he was doing when I wasn’t watching. It may not seem like a very Kåre thing to do, but paranoia convinces me he most definitely did. However, I guess we’ve already established that I don’t much care about anything, including his alleged betrayal. Not enough to raise the issue. Besides, there’s something I need to say to Tor, something I owe to him, and my window on paying restitution is steadily closing.

So yeah, I betrayed him. I don't regret it one bit. While Axel was distracted, I mouthed the word "självmord" at her. And when she didn't catch it, I texted it to her. I needed her to make Tor stop giving him more reasons to die.

“Tor…” I begin, pausing just long enough to ensure that I have his ear. “…as you pointed out, my apologies aren’t much of a commodity these days, but I do wish to offer you my sincerest apology for being unable…” The words catch and I have to clear my throat. “… unable to properly show you how much I appreciated you. Forget what I said earlier. You weren’t only a band member, you were family. And I don’t want to end this with you mad at me.”

He stares slack-jawed at me at first, the crease in the middle of his brow becoming more pronounced. “Axel, I don’t understand what’s going on, but…”

“No, I think you do.” I cut him off. “And you know what? Take the merch money. Sell my keyboard, too. And my Les Paul. All the gear you transported here, take it and sell it.”

“Wait, what?” Lisa immediately objects. By the way she juts out her chin, brows knit and eyes flashing with disbelief, I’d say she seems deeply disturbed by the offer. “We are not selling your instruments, Axel. No fucking way.”

“Yeah, absolutely not,” Tor concurs, shaking his head.

“I’ll also pay you both what you would have made on the canceled gigs. In fact, I’ll take care of it first thing,” I assure them. Then, not liking how they’re both still gawking at me, I turn my attention to Kåre. Now he’s staring into his cup, as if it were a black mirror, lips pressed so tightly together that they nearly disappear. “That goes for you, too, Kåre. You’ll be paid up; I’ll take care of you.” In actuality, Kåre’s going to be fine when I’m gone. I made sure of that months ago.

My phone vibrates. This time it’s Micke’s mother and I can’t bear it anymore. I slam the phone face-down on the table and hide my face in my palms. It buzzes, and it buzzes until it finally goes to voicemail.

A washed out image of Axel's phone with a crack spread across the upper left portion of the screen distorting it. Alerts read: 4 missed calls from Lars Arvidsson, Mom, Helena, Jens Backlund. An email alert from Lars with the title 'Formell avgång', Message app message from 'Other Mom' says in Swedish 'I hope you're okay'

This is one hell of a hangover.

I hear Kåre set down his cup. He gently taps me on the arm. “Do you… do you have a plan?” From his tone of voice alone, it’s clear he’s actually asking me about suicide.

I nod into my hands, inhaling deeply, listening to the sound of my breath against my palms. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

My heart sank right through the floor.

Following a minute that feels like an eternity, I lift my head to meet his troubled gaze. “For now, my plan is to go up to the room and take a shower. And, after we check out, I’d really like to take you to one of my favorite places in all of Oslo.” I feel so drained, I sound so flat, so devoid of any emotion, that it comes off as a pretty lackluster proposal. “If you’re still with me.”

“Of course I’m still with you.” He polishes off his coffee, rises from his seat, and rests his hand on my shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go.”

As I round up my things and stand to leave, Tor speaks up. “Hey, Axel.”

“Yeah.”

He licks his lips and sighs. “I forgive you, okay?” Then, tossing his copper hair from his face, he looks me dead in the eyes and says, “And I’m still here if you, um… change your mind.”

“You can still change your mind, Axel,” Lisa reiterates.

I nod and follow Kåre out.

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