Steve Perry walked into the darkened bedroom. Sue-Lynn was already asleep, her long blonde hair splayed across both of their pillows. He knelt beside her and leaned in to plant a soft kiss on the back of her neck. Sue-Lynn moaned softly and rolled over. She opened her eyes and smiled. Wordlessly, she lifted herself up from the bed and kissed Steve, her lips dry but soft against Steve’s own.
After a moment, she lay back down on the pillow, looking up at him with those big blue eyes that had first drawn Steve to her. “How was the show?” she asked groggily.
“It was great,” Steve replied, grinning. It had been pretty kickass, actually. He was the drummer for Alien Project, and that night a bigshot manager had come to the show. Herbie Herbert managed a band called Journey, and he’d liked what he heard enough to invite Steve to send in a demo tape.
“That’s terrific, Stevie,” Sue-Lynn said when Steve told her about what had happened. “See? It’s like I told you, you’re gonna make it to the big time someday.”
Steve laughed and hugged Sue-Lynn tightly. “Sure, baby,” he said, “and when I do, you’re coming with me.”
He pulled away from her then. “Shit, I almost forgot,” he said, and pulled the arm of his t-shirt up over his shoulder. “Check out my new tattoo. I got it done this afternoon before the show.”
Sue-Lynn sat up and brushed a finger along his shoulder, where the new tattoo gleamed. “Roses!” she exclaimed. “Roses are my favorite flower!”
“I know,” Steve said. “Every time I look at it, I’ll think of you. These are better than real roses, Sue-Lynn — they never fade.” He kissed her then, and later, as they made love, she whispered in his ear.
“Roses never fade….”
Steve awoke with a start, Sue-Lynn’s name still on his lips. He instinctively felt around himself on the bed. He was alone.
He sighed deeply and reached for the bottle of Perrier on the bedstand. He had dreamed about her again.
Steve flicked on a light and glanced around at his luxuriously, if anonymously, appointed hotel suite. It was always the same room, it seemed; the same hotel. The cities changed but the hotels never did. Looking at the beige walls, he felt a twinge of intense loneliness twist through his stomach.
Should he head downstairs? There would be groupies waiting in the lobby, even at this late hour, hoping for a glimpse of their idol — or more than a glimpse.
No…not tonight. Steve stood up and stretched his limbs, still a bit achy from the previous night’s show. He padded to the window, his feet sinking into the deep plush carpeting, and looked out at the night skyline of Los Angeles.
Lemoore was only a few hours’ drive from here, Steve thought. He wondered if Sue-Lynn still lived there. A couple of years ago he’d run into a mutual friend, who’d told him she was still in Lemoore, living with her mother.
Broken hearts can always mend, he had told her, the day he had dropped the bomb. But did they? He wasn’t so sure anymore. His own heart was still ticking away, to be sure, but it hadn’t been the same since Sue-Lynn.
Roses never fade…
Steve turned from the window and went to the bedstand. He picked up the phone and called for his car.
Four hours later, as the sun rose above the coastal mountains, he found himself driving past Lemoore’s city limits.
Lemoore hadn’t changed much since his last visit, years ago. Towns like Lemoore never changed much. A Target or Starbucks might find its way into what passed for Lemoore’s downtown district, but things mostly stayed the same. Without being quite aware of it, Steve drove down the main drag, toward the apartment he’d shared with Sue-Lynn.
He’d ridden out of town in a rusted-out Harley, and was driving back in a silver Porsche. Things in Lemoore may not change much, Steve mused, but things from Lemoore sure changed a lot once they left.
Steve looked up at his old apartment building, a two-story that had been crumbling even when he’d lived in it. He knew Sue-Lynn wouldn’t be there, but he wanted to see it anyway.
Around the corner from the apartment was the Lemoore Cafe, where he and Sue-Lynn had gone on weekends, if one of them had been working and had some extra cash. Steve wondered if it was still there.
It was, but it had closed down along with all the other shops on the block, quite a while ago it seemed, judging from the advanced state of decay. He wondered if he and Sue-Lynn had been the cafe’s last customers, the day he’d left town.
“Come with me,” he said.
“You know I can’t do that,” Sue-Lynn replied, sipping her coffee and then setting it down with a sharp clatter on the saucer. “I’ve gotta stay with my mom, she’s still really sick.”
“All right, then,” Steve said. “I’ll go on ahead to L.A. and see how this gig turns out. If they still want me after a few weeks, I’ll come back and get you. Both of you.”
Sue-Lynn smiled; it was the saddest thing Steve had ever seen. “Whatever you say, Stevie,” she said finally, but there was neither hope nor expectation in her voice.
Steve walked up the street from the cafe. It was funny how the old neighborhood hadn’t changed, yet it still felt unfamiliar to him. He couldn’t remember now how to get to the post office or the grocery store, though if he’d been blindfolded he could probably find his way there by instinct alone.
He passed by a flower shop and thought of roses. He ducked inside. The owner turned out to be a girl he’d gone to high school with, Katey Hamilton. She of course recognized him at once, and they greeted each other warmly.
After a few minutes of catching up, Steve asked if Katey knew where Sue-Lynn was. He hoped he had done so with enough nonchalance.
Katey’s eyebrow lifted enigmatically. “Why?” she asked. “Are you thinking of looking her up?”
“Should I not?” Steve said.
Katey was silent for a moment. Then she said, “Sue-Lynn’s married now, did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yeah. She ended up with Kyle Morrison, if you can believe that. Remember old Kyle?”
He did remember Kyle. Kyle had been a jock in high school, a football player. He and Steve hadn’t had much to do with each other, since Steve had no interest in sports and wasn’t runty or nerdy enough to become a receptacle for excess jock aggression. He’d figured Kyle would have gotten out of Lemoore on a scholarship or something.
“Well…that’s great,” he said lamely.
“Yeah, I guess,” Katey said.
“Hey,” Steve said abruptly, “is Sue-Lynn okay? I mean, is she happy?”
Katey smiled, her expression unreadable. “Yeah, Steve,” she said, “she’s doing fine.”
They stood at the door of the Lemoore Cafe and kissed their farewells. Her tears rolled down onto Steve’s cheeks and left pink marks where they’d touched his skin.
He pulled away from her then, feeling like he was being stretched into a dozen different directions at once. He’d had no idea it would be so difficult.
“Okay baby,” he said, touching her face. “I’ll call you when I get to L.A.”
“No,” Steve said. “I don’t want to say goodbye. I’ll just…see you later, okay?”
Sue-Lynn smiled again, and the sight of it broke his heart. “Okay, Stevie, whatever you say. See you later.”
He swung onto his motorcycle and rode away, feeling her gaze piercing his back all the way to Los Angeles.
“You okay, Steve?”
Katey’s voice brought him out of his reverie. He smiled at her, or hoped he did. “Yeah….I’m okay.”
Steve pulled his wallet out of his hip pocket. “Listen, Katey,” he said, “I want to order some roses.”
“Give her the best in the shop, okay?” Steve said.
“You know I will. Do you want to include a card?”
Steve hesitated a moment, thinking. “No,” he said finally. “Just…send her my love, okay?”
As Steve drove out of Lemoore, back to Los Angeles, his fingers sought out the place on his shoulder where his tattoo still lay.
Roses never fade….
He was just over the hills into the L.A. basin when the tears finally dried from his cheeks.