When he described it later, Elijah said that that first month was a little like drinking from the wrong side of the glass, but every day that he tasted seawater like a weight on the back of his tongue was a day that he was a little less interested in ever going home.
It started maybe when Dom snapped his cell shut and told them, "Party's over, children. Stuart's mouthpiece just pulled the plug. Leather Pants has officially buggered off and we're to clear out of here by eleven tomorrow or stay on, but the label won't be footing the bill."
"Ah," said Billy. There was a pause.
"Well I guess, we, uh," Elijah said, "I guess we should."
"Right," Dom said. He looked oddly delighted. "I think tomorrow we should go surfing."
There was never really any discussion of splitting up. They rented a cabin across the sandy strip of asphalt that separated one ramshackle end of Wellington from the beach, like a slightly frayed cuff trailing into the water. There was a fence of driftwood and a drainpipe with footholds that led to the roof. Dom nicknamed it the Shanty House and bought a wooden pipe in a junk shop and tried to smoke a joint with it. Elijah's feet were black with tar by the second day, like he'd dipped his feet in a giant inkwell.
Dom and Billy took the bedroom and Elijah took the pull-out in the living room. The water in the shower tasted of salt and every morning someone came and sat on his legs with coffee, blowing and sipping (Billy) or slurping and hissing (Dom) until he woke up and kicked them. The mirror in the bathroom smiled stupidly back at Elijah and he hummed through toothpaste, You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. He'd read somewhere that the Maori words for "happy" and "helpless" were the same. He had no idea if it was true. There were three wetsuits in the shower; someone had tied a sock around the leaky pipe under the sink. And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here? When the sky was clear they slept up on the roof, on the cheap tar paper and the complaining beams.
He accidentally on purpose lost his cell and when he found it wedged into the toe of Billy's sneaker, chirping, Mitch was on his voicemail promising a chance to do some mastering in L.A. Just a couple tracks, three weeks, tops, but the band was excited and Mitch was excited and it was all very exciting and after that Elijah could go back and do whatever it was exactly that he was doing down there in New Zealand, since Leather Pants and his label were no longer putting up any cash.
Elijah said yes and then accidentally on purpose left one of his suitcases by the front door of the cabin. He wanted something to tie him down, a practical reason to come back, however obvious and stupid. His plane circled LAX, drawling loops in the sky, and before they'd even touched down he was missing the moss that grew out of the drainpipes, the wet-sock smell of the bathroom.
It started for real when Dom called, five days after Elijah had left and said, "I think you should come back, man. Something's, I dunno, starting, maybe."
It started in a different way as soon as Elijah came back to Wellington when Viggo pulled a tall man over to their table at the pub and pushed him down into a seat and declared, "This is Sean, he welds," which was greeted with a celebratory roar and the sloshing of drinks all around. That night Bean drank everyone under the table and Viggo just sat and grinned like a mad dog. He was still grinning the next day when Bean drove up to Viggo's house with his kit in the back and a bag of sandwiches.
At rehearsal Bean and Viggo conferenced on some folding chairs across the room for almost an hour before anyone got down to anything more serious than watching Dom's Noel Gallagher impression, which sounded so flat Elijah's toes curled in his shoes.
"What are they talking about?" Dom asked finally, when no one would let him sing "Champagne Supernova" again.
Across the room, Bean smoked implacably while Viggo talked, nodding occasionally.
Orlando shrugged, leaned back onto his elbows on the floor. He bent one knee and crossed it over the other. "Alimony, free trade, tobacco," he recited, circling his ankle in three neat turns. "No clue."
Elijah liked Orlando, if just for the simple reason that he'd never met anyone who'd fallen off a roof and become an accidental adrenaline junkie because of it. Orlando liked Viggo, apparently, and even that made a kind of sense, Elijah figured. Orlando spent his free time throwing himself into space off of high places and Viggo spent his digging in the dirt, rolling and spreading and spattering and studying the earth's gravitational pull in the downward drip of paint and ink. Elijah didn't know what they got up to together, but the longer he went without knowing what day of the week or month it was, the more he understood why some people got off on vertigo.
"I think we need an anchor," Elijah said. Vertigo sort of ceased to exist in a zero-gravity environment, and sometimes he wondered if that's where they were all headed.
Studying his foot, Orlando said automatically, "Viggo's the anchor."
"Just because he's anchoring you six ways from Sunday doesn't mean he is," Dom pointed out, and Orlando made a liquidly reminiscent noise. "Viggo's the balloon. He's the fucking kite."
Orlando just laughed. There were paint stains on his bare feet and Elijah felt like he was looking in through a bedroom window.
"What about that one?" Billy nodded in Bean's direction.
"We don't even know if he's any good," Dom protested, starting up again with another sledgehammer of an Oasis chord. Elijah leapt forward to grab the neck of his guitar to stop him. Billy was regarding Bean with his head tipped to the side.
"It's him," Billy decided then. Across the room Bean and Viggo got up and started to make their way over. "Wait and see," Billy said.
Elijah felt himself grin and that was how it started.
* * *
They each took a swig out of the perpetual bottle of unspeakable moonshine that Viggo always seemed to have floating around before they set off for the party, and the minute they walked in, Billy handed Orlando a beer and now moisture was sweating off the bottle into his hand and making it a little bit slippery and Orlando was well on his way to being quite a bit drunk.
He'd like to pay his respects to the host, but nobody was standing around waving a mandolin, saying, "I'm Karl Urban, noted Kiwi musician!" So he saddled up against a particularly comfortable spot of wall, keeping one eye peeled for someone who looked the type to play the mandolin, maybe sort of tall and thin and a bit weedy.
Not that he would know what a mandolin player would look like, anyway. It was funny, really, that he'd ended up in the band when he didn't know hardly anything about music. He'd told Viggo right after they first met that he liked all sorts of things, mostly he just liked to listen to the radio and Viggo had looked like he'd eaten a bad shrimp, but then he'd recovered and said, "Well, you'll have to come to the record store with us on Monday."
The record store might have had a name at one point, but the storefront was so mummified with posters and pamphlets and half-dissolved adverts that nobody knew, it was just "the record store" and Dom, Billy, Elijah and Viggo made a pilgrimage there every Monday afternoon because it was, apparently, the only place in Wellington they could get decent imports.
This past Monday, Viggo had plucked up a new release with a blonde woman on the cover making faces and added it to his stack of Peruvian pipe music and Sufi spoken word and whatever else Viggo was on about this week. The girl behind the counter, familiar with them at this point but still unamused, had said, "They're having a release party on Friday, there's flyers over there."
Viggo had grabbed one and at the time Orlando had thought he was doing it to be polite, but then he'd woken Orlando up at five in the morning and said, "I have to tell you something."
Orlando had made a noise that probably sounded a lot like "nuh," but Viggo had been undeterred, in his freaky Viggo way that was sexy but also possibly insane.
"This music," Viggo had said. "It's like nothing that's ever existed before in the history of ever. Karl Urban is the future of mandolin playing. We have to get him in the band."
Orlando had opened one eye and said, "Can we do it in the morning?" and Viggo had sort of patted him on the head and told him to go back to sleep. Orlando had done just that, hoping that it would all turn out to be a very strange dream.
When Orlando had woken up, it hadn't been a dream. Viggo had been insistent, and had conscripted Dom and Billy for mojo. And that was how they'd ended up at this party.
Orlando lost track of Viggo early on, but he spied Dom and Billy across the room, Dom waltzing with a lamp and shade or possibly a tall woman, Orlando wasn't entirely sure. Orlando wondered if he should try and break them up, or possibly find Viggo, but Dom and Billy would just remind him that classless party crashing was a proven way to meet future band mates and the last time Orlando saw Viggo, he was being chatted up by a blonde woman type person who claimed that she not only knew what a guitorgan was, she'd even learned to play one a bit when she was in school. She looked oddly, blurrily familiar, but Orlando let the thought slip away when his vision started to go a bit fish-eyed.
Across the room, Dom had stopped molesting the lamp or the woman or whatever she was, and was currently attempting to slap a tall, glowering looking man on the back and saying, "Great party, eh? Too bad the liquor's for shite."
Sometimes when Orlando was drunk, he thought he could see things happening in slow motion. And so it seemed for a second or six that Dom was still laughing and grinning and the other bloke was already pulling a face and beginning to say, "It's my party, mate, and who the fuck are you?"
Billy was admirably brave, Orlando thought, especially for someone so small, and stepped out behind Dom to say, "We're your new band mates!"
"Exactly!" Dom said. "Yes, yes indeed. I'm Bom and this is Dilly and, uh, Viggo's around here somewhere and we fucking love your music, mate, you have to be in our band, see, because--"
Orlando thought there might be carnage, but then things got immeasurably worse when Viggo and the blonde guitorgan-enthusing woman appeared from out of nowhere, the woman rather conspicuously tugging her blouse back into place and Viggo waving when he saw the lot of them, saying, unflappably, "Hey, is this Karl?"
Karl turned his attention away from Dom and Billy, who he'd seemed to be regarding as though they were a pair of rather sloshed flies, and at first Orlando thought Karl was looking over at Viggo, but then Karl said, "Cate," in a sort of short and icy way.
Cate, still buttoning her blouse with one hand, raised one eyebrow and said, "Karl."
Orlando was glad that no one was paying attention to him, because he had to put his hand over his mouth to keep from giggling, particularly when Viggo stayed completely at ease between them and said, "Hey, you know each other? Cate was telling me that she sings, really, you should both be in the band. Really, it's, uh, the more the merrier."
"Band, eh," Karl said, with immense distaste. He looked back at Dom, who was grinning like a drunk dog and also, from Orlando's position, possibly drooling into Billy's collar.
"Come over after four-ish," Viggo carried on, unruffled. "We usually get started around then."
"I'll be there," Cate put in smoothly, and took a drag off her cigarette. She narrowed her eyes at Karl through the smoke.
Karl made a huffing noise through his nose. "If you'll be there, I'll be there."
Cate blew a little smoke in his direction. "Excellent."
"Fine," Karl gritted out.
"Okay," hummed Viggo, drumming his fingers against his thigh. "Good, that's good."
Orlando shoved off from the wall and took a moment to just sway and get his bearings before deciding that he could approach them without fear of bloodshed. Cate looked pleased, Karl looked steely, and Viggo looked earnest in the way that he often did, and Orlando could never be sure if it was genuine, or if it merely served Viggo's purposes. Dom and Billy looked pretty much how they always looked.
Viggo touched Cate's elbow and Karl sighed loudly while Cate smiled sharply at Viggo. Orlando decided that it'd be easiest to just stumble home with Bom and Dilly and kip it in the Shanty tonight. First, though, he thought he might do with another drink. Maybe. Just one more.