Book & Author Details:
Before Goodbye by Mimi Cross
Published by: Skyscape
Publication date: January 1st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Music means more than anything to high school student Cate Reese; it’s also what unites her with Cal Woods. Devoted classical guitar players, Cate and Cal are childhood friends newly smitten by love—until a devastating car accident rips Cal out of Cate’s life forever. Blaming herself for the horrific tragedy and struggling to surface from her despair, Cate spirals downhill in a desperate attempt to ease her pain.
Fellow student David Bennet might look like the school’s golden boy, but underneath the surface the popular athlete battles demons of his own. Racked with survivor’s guilt after his brother’s suicide, things get worse when tragedy darkens his world again—but connecting with Cate, his sister’s longtime babysitter, starts bringing the light back in.
As Cate and David grow closer, the two shattered teenagers learn to examine the pieces of their lives…and, together, find a way to be whole again.
Toe taps and tongue clicks.
“Tika tika tika tika.”
Nods. And hand gestures.
I watch, transfixed, as classical guitarist Gabriel Tomas Garcia has Cal play the same twelve measures again, and again. Each time, the music is the same. Each time, it is different.
Over and over the master teacher articulates the running sixteenth notes, their incessant motion broken only by the occasional eighth note, until finally, at the end of the section, Cal hits the final note, a whole note with a fermata hovering above it like a watchful eye.
The fermata tells the player to hold the note beyond its standard value, relying on his discretion as to duration. In other words, you hold the note as long as you want.
This is a surprisingly subjective idea for composed music.
Cal holds the note— and the rest of us hold, too, the dozen or so students who sit on the folding chairs that ring the classroom, all willing victims to the music’s power. We hold our bodies still, and we each hold our breath, as if the music has encircled our very throats like an impossibly beautiful noose.
The main theme of a Bach fugue—that’s what Cal’s working so hard on. The subject. The seed. Garcia is attempting to show Cal that if he doesn’t catch this germ, doesn’t suffer the sickness—as well as find the cure—he will fail in his musical endeavor.
So says the master in so many words. Only in this case, so many words means no words at all. “He didn’t say anything,” I point out to Cal now. “Not for the last
thirty minutes.” Our class has just ended and we’re up in Cal’s dorm room, sit-
ting on the unclaimed twin bed across from his. It’s the second day of the Manhattan School of Music’s Summer Guitar Intensive and Cal’s assigned roommate hasn’t shown up yet. Cal’s guess is car trouble, my money’s on stage fright. Programs like this, although they’re open to high school students like us, like Cal’s no-show roommate, are geared toward professional players. They’re basically pressure cookers.
It’s cooking in here, too, the steamy New York City summer seeping somehow into the supposedly air-conditioned dorm. But despite the heat, as we continue to dissect Garcia’s pedagogical methods, I shiver. “Seriously, he didn’t say one word in the entire last half hour of the master class.”
“He didn’t need to.”
“I know. That’s what’s so amazing. It’s . . . supernatural, really, when you think about it.”
“You’re saying Garcia’s supernatural—because he didn’t say anything?”
I laugh. “Not Garcia. Music. It’s . . . ghostly. All that work learning a piece, woodshedding with guys like Garcia—it doesn’t change the fact that we pull it from the ether. We play the music, then it’s gone. Gone until the next time we summon it, call it up from nothing but a piece of paper covered with little black circles of ink.”
“Like raising the dead.” “Exactly!” “Or adding water to sea monkeys and watching them squirm to
life.” I punch Cal in the arm. I can do this because he’s one of my
best friends. I can also ignore his response to the blow, his mock indignation—which I do, and continue.
“Music’s haunting, you know? Just think about the way a melody gets stuck in your head.”
“That’s a really gross image. Besides, I was thinking more like, maybe we can’t let a melody go, because we need it. It’s a primitive need, I think, because music itself is primitive. It’s . . . instinctual. We respond to music on some animal level.”
“Maybe you do.” Cal laughs. “For me it’s more like a really hard math problem.”
This whole time Cal’s arms have been wrapped around his guitar, and now he plunges into the piece he’s played so many times today, drops into the racing waves of sixteenth notes like he’s an Olympic swimmer, and maybe his attention’s been on the water all along.
Instantly captivated, I listen, and this time it’s the music that makes me shiver, goosebumps rising on my skin.
A muffled ringtone comes from Cal’s backpack, and although he ignores the call, the sound has obviously interrupted his train of thought, because he stops playing.
I start to protest, when I notice he’s staring at my bare arms. “What?” I say. He reaches out and brushes an index finger across the fine hairs standing at attention along one of my forearms. I think I may feel them stand a little straighter now.
The moment hangs, making me think of that gorgeous final note, of the way Cal used the fermata to make it sing. At the end of class, we’d applauded both teacher and student and they bowed their heads, Cal’s shining black hair swinging forward. The afternoon sun had blinded me for a moment, so I couldn’t see. Then he’d straightened, blocking the bright light once more, but not completely. It still shone on the gleaming wood of his guitar, transforming it to gold.
I’d daydreamed in that instant that the gold was real. That it was payment for playing the entire piece for us at the start of the master class—for taking us on a journey, then delivering us back to the starting point, possibly forever changed.
I feel like this could change me, too, whatever’s happening now, between us.
But . . . what exactly is happening? Cal smiles at me, then laughs a little. The bed jiggles slightly. And just like earlier, when, after holding that note beneath the bull’s-eye for exactly the right amount of time, he’d released it simply by lifting his fingers soundlessly from the nylon strings, he somehow releases me, in this moment, or his laugh does, and I begin to breathe again.
But what was that? It’s confusing, the way we were bound together for a heartbeat just now.
It was only his finger, only my arm. It was nothing.
Suddenly, his fingers are flying over the strings again, playing that motif for the millionth time, and I think once more that it’s true: Words are like second-class citizens here. We’re learning the language of music, a language where silence counts as much as sound. The spaces between the notes—we talk about them, too. The places to breathe, and to rest, to just . . . exist.
We are, of course, already quite fluent in this language. You have to be, just to get into this program, and to stay in for ten days. You’ve got to work your ass off. Or at least I do.
For another minute or so, I watch the way Cal gets lost in the music, his dark hair swaying around his shoulders as he plays. Then I stand up.
He stops playing. “Where are you going?”
“I’ve got to go practice,” I say. “Some of us need to, you know.” Teasing him further, I tell him I’ll be holed up in my room for the next ten days and that he should send food and water. “But don’t worry, I’ll live. I live to practice. That’s what I’m here for.”
I turn to leave and, to my surprise, I feel Cal’s fingertips on the back of my hand—the same light touch as before.
“Not me,” he says softly.
“Oh yeah?” I look down at him, musing. “And what are you here for?”
Outside a cloud passes before the sun. Or maybe it’s later than I think and the sun has disappeared for the day behind one of the soaring skyscrapers I used to love so much when my family lived in Manhattan. Either way, I’m momentarily distracted as the room darkens.
Cal’s fingers loop my wrist. “I’m here for you, Cate. Always.” A beat later it begins to rain, and Cal starts playing again, an
improvised melody, a counterpoint to the raindrops that hit harder now, sharply striking the dorm room windows as real weather moves in. And so the moment to speak passes—or maybe I’m more like
Gabriel Tomas Garcia than I thought. By the time I go, Cal’s playing sounds like it’s part of the storm.
Mimi Cross was born in Toronto, Canada. She received a master’s degree from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in music from Ithaca College. She has been a performer, a music educator, and a yoga instructor. During the course of her musical career, she’s shared the bill with artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and Sting. She resides in New Jersey.