I first met Cole Hargrove in the last year of the twentieth century. That’s 1999, if you’re paying attention. That summer, shortly after my eighteenth birthday, my mother, my sister Eileen and I had taken a week long vacation to New York City. The purpose of the trip had been two-fold, firstly, so that my mother could meet gallery owners and try to get some of her paintings shown there. Second, because I had turned eighteen, Eileen had turned twenty-one, and my mother would turn fifty, we wanted to celebrate.
I’d been to New York once, but it had been ten years at that point. I remember thinking then that while the city was exciting, I preferred the peace and quiet of home. Humans weren’t meant to live in cities, and that was something I firmly believed.
That summer, I remember being at a crossroads, thinking about who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I love my parents, but they’d always raised us with the philosophy to live in the moment, to be one with the earth. Back in Minnesota, we lived in a cottage by a lake. In the summers, we had a vibrant flower garden and grew all sorts of vegetables and fruit. On holidays we displayed our handmade decorations, and year round we displayed signs indicating our support for various social causes. We didn’t have a television. I supposed that some might call us hippies.
In many ways, it was a great childhood. But I’d spent so often living in the moment and being one with the earth that I realized, by the time I turned eighteen that I had no sense of what I wanted to do with my life.
I’d graduated from high school without committing to college. I was going to take a gap year, that was certain. I did a little bit of everything. Drawing and painting, mostly. I wrote poetry and had done some acting in school and at our local community theater. That summer, I was just beginning to learn how to sew. I knew I wanted more practice, and eventually got to the point where I could source fabrics and make my own clothes. I knew the arts made me feel safe, but I didn’t feel particularly called in one direction.
I wasn’t even sure that I wanted a career, even though I knew I would have to get one sooner or later. But all I knew is that I wanted to do the things that made me happy. I suppose you could say I was drifting.
Maybe that’s what drew me to Cole to begin with, knowing he was so sure, so driven.
The day we met was a Saturday, towards the end of our trip. I wish I didn’t remember the exact date, but I still do, and I know I always will.
It was June 12th, 1999. We had tickets to Death of A Salesman in the evening. My mother would be in meetings all day so Eileen and I were left to our own devices until we met her at the theater for the show.
That morning, we’d done some shopping, and I'd bought a new pair of one of those clear jelly sandals that were in at the time and a new pair of sunglasses at a clothing shop, since I’d needed both for a while. The saleswoman had said the shoes looked great on me, and while I’d bought them more so because they were comfortable and fit well, I had to admit I felt pretty in them. Then, we stopped at a bookstore and I bought a copy of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which had been on my list for a long time.
My sister had heard about a restaurant called the Blue Crane Lounge she’d wanted to try with a cool vibe and live music. We’d go for an early dinner and head over to the theater from there.
Shortly before we left, I was in the bathroom of our hotel, trying to get ready. It wasn’t a very warm day, and I was simultaneously trying to dress for the restaurant and the show. I’d cycled through the clothes I’d packed a few times before deciding on my soft pink t-shirt, black skirt, my new shoes, and a matching pink sweater for later, when it got colder.
I heard my sister knock at the door. “Marcy?”
“Still getting ready,” I called.
Then, she opened the door and looked at me. “You look hot.”
I laughed nervously. “I don’t know about that.” I was thinking the same thing about her. I always thought Eileen was the pretty one, the one who never had trouble finding dates, the one who enjoyed going out and striking up conversations with strangers when I preferred to stay at home with a good book. She was already ready, wearing her favorite sky blue sundress, and she looked gorgeous. While my sister and I both had the same light brown hair and brown eyes, my face was plain and boring, while Eileen had actually worked as a model back in Minnesota. Mostly for some local clothing shops, and while I knew she didn’t have much desire to make a career of it, she was still a model.
Then, I took black my choker necklace from the side of the sink, holding it up to my neck. “Choker, no choker?”
“Choker,” Eileen said. I put it on, thinking the choker was the right choice. “Okay, let’s go.”
“Just a minute, I need to fix my hair,” I pleaded. That afternoon, my hair wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. I’d always kept my hair short, and even though it was only halfway down my neck I was desperate for a haircut. I’d always admired women that could wear theirs long, like my sister, but anytime mine got close to my shoulders it became a nuisance. My bangs were too long and went over my eyes, but if I pinned them aside my too large forehead would be bare and exposed to all.
“Your hair looks fine,” Eileen reassured me.
“It’s all staticy though,” I complained, brushing it once more.
“Okay, come on,” Eileen said, entering the bathroom. She looked through her makeup bag and took one of her pink hair clips and held it to my shirt. “It matches, see?”I nodded.
“Pin your bangs to the side,” she instructed. “Trust me.”
“My forehead’s too big.”She gave me the clip regardless, and I clipped them to the side. Then, I looked at myself for a moment in the mirror, and thought that the clip did bring the outfit together. I gave my sister a tired smile.
“We’re just a couple of New York City girls out for a night on the town,” she said. “Let’s go.”
I grabbed my purse, my new sunglasses, and we were off.
I never did well in most social situations. I wouldn’t call myself shy, but it took me a while of getting to know someone to open up to them. So, as soon Eileen and I walked into the Blue Crane Lounge that afternoon, we saw that it was packed, I knew that I would be out of my element. The air conditioning must have been set to freezing cold, and I immediately had to put on my sweater.
Still, I took a deep breath, and followed my sister as the waiter seated near the stage.
“I guess the music starts at 5:30,” Eileen said as we took our menus. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:15, so we’d have time to order first. We’d have to leave by no later than 7 to make it to the show and not be rushed, so we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy a leisurely dinner. While there were a lot of people talking in the background, I was grateful that we could at least hear each other enough to carry on a conversation. I noticed that we were awfully close to the stage, so I hoped that whoever was going to perform would at least be good.
The restaurant had all sorts of funky art on the walls and dark wood tables. Even if being in such a crowded place was making me feel on edge, I thought it was a classy joint, and I wish we had places like that back in Minnesota. As we came in, I noticed it opened at eight in the morning for breakfast. Maybe if there was time before we were due to head back, we could come for an earlier breakfast, before the rush.
I ordered pasta primavera and strawberry lemonade and Eileen ordered a chicken sandwich, fries and a coke. The server had just come back with our drinks when a young man with slicked back dark hair, in a black t-shirt, leather jacket, and jeans came on stage, carrying an acoustic guitar.
That was the first time I laid eyes on Cole Hargrove. I noticed almost immediately that he’d looked in my direction for a second or two. His gaze lingered, and then he sat down.
My first thought wasn’t that he was cute, but that he was trying too hard to look like Danny Zuko. I almost said something to Eileen, but we were sitting so close that there was a fifty percent change he would have heard.
Then, he started to sing. What he started with wasn’t what I expected. A no frills, acoustic cover of Nirvana’s Come As You Are. He had a great voice, but my first thought was that his voice was too smooth, too clean for the song. And yet, in a strange way, it worked. It was different enough from Kurt Cobain’s version to stand on its own, but he still sang it with power. I could have just imagined it, but I thought I saw him gazing in my direction at one point during the song. Before long, I was entranced, and I didn’t even realize it. In my mind, there was nothing else but his music.
I drank my lemonade, and before long the song had ended, and he spoke. His speaking voice was smooth, clear, and he seemed to command the room of people enjoying their dinner. I would never have admitted it then, but he had a command over me then. “Thank you, patrons of the Blue Crane Lounge,” he said. “It’s a beautiful summer night, and I’m happy to be here. This next one’s an oldie but a goodie.” Then, he picked up his guitar and began his next song. The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon.
When Eileen had first told me that this restaurant had live music, I expected it to be cheesy, overwrought. But he was good. He was very good.
When our food did come, my sister had to call my name several times to snap me out of the trance that I was in. After two more songs, Cole disappeared, and I thought that would be the end of things.