Steve Perry sighed again, telling himself the rain didn't actually bother him, not as much as he was feigning, at any rate. It made a good cover, with himself and his present company. The wind had picked up again, splattering the rain against the picture window they were sitting in front of. It was dreary and gray as hell, and cold for that matter. Anyone who lived here in Seattle year round was always trying to snow him by telling him it wasn't always like this, that the bluest skies you've ever seen are in Seattle. They were lying. They had obviously never lived in California and had no idea what they hell they were talking about. Why, last year we didn't even have winter, he mocked inwardly. Bullshit. It was all winter, all the time. It was forty degrees and he didn't see anyone but the other transplanted Californians wearing coats. He'd seen one nutcase in shorts. He was surprised someone hadn't started building an ark.
It was the same thing every year, a jigsaw puzzle. This time it was a covered bridge. He hated jigsaw puzzles, and he never touched one except for one day a year. Coffee and a jigsaw and some quiet sanity in a public place, just to prove he could do it. This year it was the Wintergarden in downtown Bellevue, by the Hyatt. If he never saw Bellevue again in his life, that would be fine. The girls had wanted to visit home and shop, and it had been his bright idea to do it over his birthday. When the helmet-haired joker on the local news had cracked that it was the worst traffic in the United States, he hadn't paid attention. Los Angeles was a stroll in the park in comparison. People here didn't know how to drive and had no hope of learning. He knew what the main problem was, though.
"Too many Californians," he said aloud.
Al Pacino, who was still sitting across the low ornate table from him, sighed. "You have been in the worst mood I've ever seen you for the last week. Melissa is going to leave you for Andy Garcia if you don't pull out of this, you schmuck."
"No she won't," Steve said. "Forever actually means something to her. Was that your way of trying to cheer me up?"
"It's your birthday," Al said. "Fifty is nothing, paisan. Trust me. This is not old. I'm going for more coffee. When I come back, you're going to be in a better mood or I'm going to pitch you out this window. You remember Beverly Hills Cop? The first one, before it went downhill even further."
Steve began to smile despite himself. "But Melissa would kick your ass."
Al raised his eyebrows. "That's right. So save me some unnecessary pain, huh? Jules won't be happy either." He walked away.
Steve looked back down at the puzzle, at the several inches of river they'd managed to construct. When had this started? This thing with puzzles in the lobby of a hotel, and not bothering to see if anyone recognized him. Someone would, sooner or later, and then they would move on. No one in their right mind believed that Steve Perry and Al Pacino would be slumming in the lobby of a hotel like regular bums with nothing else to do. That was probably the point of the whole venture. It had begun just after that next to last Journey album had been released and the tour had ended. Wanting to be left alone on his birthday eleven years earlier, he had wandered without even telling anyone where he was going, and ended up in a small roadside bed and breakfast. The proprietor had left a jigsaw in the lobby, and the quaintness and solitude had been a comfort. That was before Melissa.
They'd met by accident when the car his grandfather had given him had caught fire at an LA intersection just after that first birthday alone. She'd kept him from trying to save the car; it could have blown up if the fire had gotten to the fuel tank. He'd been trying to get the small hand held fire extinguisher out of the trunk when a redhead had dragged him out of the road. Actually, when he thought about it, there wasn't a damn thing romantic about it. She'd called him an idiot. They'd stood on the side of the road, subject to countless gawkers while the car burned in the background and they argued about whether the car should be saved. One wild weekend later they'd agreed to lie about how they'd met. He'd never been alone since. They hadn't gotten around to getting married, but it was an arbitrary detail as far as he was concerned. She'd saved him from more than a burning car.
Now, Al and Jules--there was a romantic story. He'd been filming on site somewhere--Steve couldn't remember where, or what film. He'd never been one for details. Whatever it was that movie stars did. Movie stars and rock stars didn't talk about their jobs to each other. Steve had been fascinated at first, being a Pacino fan from way back and a closet thespian besides. Al had humored him for awhile, then had summed the whole thing up by saying, "'Who speaks of triumph? To endure is everything'". He said that quite often. The point was, she'd been on vacation and had gone purposely to catch a glimpse of him. Steve still didn't believe it, that old locking of the eyes from a distance thing. More likely he fell off the curb and she caught him or something. They were sticking to their story. He didn't care. It had turned out Jules and Melissa were friends, and the strangest family Steve could ever have imagined had come into being. The four of them did everything together. They lived in the same neighborhood, they vacationed together, they took care of each other. He was as confused as he was amazed.
Al came back with coffee. "You back with the living, brat?"
That was another thing. They were only nine years apart, but Al Pacino, of all people, tended to be paternal. Hell, he wasn't Andy. The 'my boy' thing got old after a minute. But he'd chew glass before he'd admit he kind of liked it. Especially when he'd offered to have the rest of Journey whacked. They'd had a good laugh over it. He was relatively certain Al had been kidding. Relatively certain.
"Yes. When did the girls say they were coming back?"
"What, you're not happy with a little quality time with your Uncle Al?"
"At least you finally cut your damn hair. And when are you going to get a decent job?"
"All right, all right, you're funny. Thank you for the coffee."
Al sat back down across from him and said, "They'll be back in a little while. They just wanted to give you some room to pay homage or practice catharsis or whatever this is. They love you, I love you, everybody loves you. Except those damn hippies in that little fairy band you used to be in."
"Al," Steve warned.
"So it rains, sometimes. How the hell you gonna know the sun is even shining if it doesn't rain occasionally?"
"I get the point."
Al made a sound to accompany a hand gesture that ran somewhere between disgust and dismissal. "It's like the end of a marriage. Mourn for awhile, be glad the bitch is gone and get over it. Be happy with you. We are."
Steve stared at him as if he was going to say something, expression unreadable.
"Well? You going to cry?"
Steve stared a moment longer, then laughed. Al went back to the puzzle.
"I can't stand these damned things. What, what is this? A barn?"
"It's a covered bridge."
"Did you pick this out? Next year, I'm picking the puzzle."
"It'll be next year before we do this again, so put some thought into it," Jules said. Both men looked up, and Al smiled in a lopsided way he reserved only for her. He stood, holding out a hand for her and grinning at Melissa, who winked at him.
"We know what kind of puzzles you like, Al," she said, grinning.
"Yeah, the kind with knobs," Steve said.
Al laughed, putting an arm around Jules. Melissa ran her fingers through Steve's hair and said, "Did you boys get all your male bonding time in?"
"Enough," Steve replied, using one more syllable than he was usually capable of when Melissa was running her fingers through his hair.
"Then let's go to lunch. Duke's is still here somewhere...although it may take awhile to find it, again."
"I've been saving my quarters for the jukebox," Al said. "Of course, nothing that starts with J is allowed. If we want to hear the kid sing, he can belt it out for us in person."
Steve groaned. "Gee, and I was really in the mood for some Jethro Tull," he said sarcastically.
"We promise not to tell the staff it's your birthday...right away," Jules told him. "We don't want them setting the fire alarm off with your candles until we're almost ready to go."
Steve grinned, hauling himself out of his chair. "Right. How long do we have?"
"Our flight back to LA isn't until seven," Jules said. "We have plenty of time to torture you."
"Good." With a last look at the quarter-finished puzzle, they walked away, back out into the rain, not minding a moment of it.