Ten minutes later, Rory, Mary, and Jules were sitting at a kitchen table with Keishi Domkalski, who one month before had cursed Jules and who now was serving them tea, which Rory swirled and sniffed in its cup. He detected nothing but faint hints of jasmine flowers and contrition.
“It’s funny,” Keishi said. “I don’t know how I ended up with a daughter who’s so into radio. I was so excited for her, you know, because she’d be growing up with so many different ways to find music. The songs that meant something to her could come from anywhere. I told her radio was a dying medium. And now she’s dying.” She sipped her tea.
“So this conversation got dark fast,” said Mary.
Keishi nodded. “It’s usually pretty dark in here these days. At least when Honor’s not around.”
“But you use your music to get you through, I bet,” said Rory. “What about the magic? Did Honor pick up that trick, too?”
Keishi looked at Rory as if he had dragged a needle across a forty-five instead of asking her a question. “I swear, I have no idea how it happened. I mean, obviously I knew something was going on when I kept hearing the same song and people were saying it was the second single. I even called WABB, you know?” She tipped her cup toward Jules. “And before that, we’d gotten into that house show, and after seeing how much energy Honor had, singing that song on the way home…”
Keishi looked down, and Rory could see Jules clench his jaw, silently trying to drive her forward in her story. Rory placed a hand on his shoulder. Let her get lost in her teacup for a while, he wanted to say. Keishi sighed.
“I remember after the show, wishing that she could keep hearing your song and feeling the same way, and then when that became the only song of yours I heard, thinking, ‘How funny would it be if that’s what actually happened?’ But I didn’t think about it beyond that.” She looked at Jules with so much steel in her gaze that, for a second, Rory understood how much power could have slipped from her. “I didn’t want to.”
Jules pressed his forehead against the knuckles of his folded hands. “I get it,” he told the tabletop. “I—seriously, I really do. But the thing is, it’s not funny?” He looked at Mary. “I mean, is it funny? How funny is it that someone can do this to my life without even realizing it?”
“I know.” Mary nodded. “But sometimes, that’s what magic is. The first person to cast a spell didn’t know they were casting a spell. They just saw a pattern, saw a result, repeated the pattern.”
“Kind of like writing a song,” Rory said.
“So how do we undo an accidental spell?” Jules asked.
Rory didn’t want to answer with words. Instead, he answered by letting his gaze rest on Keishi, a gesture in which Mary joined him.
“I mean, there might be things we can do to help,” he said. “But things like this… usually, they have to end with the person who started them.”
“No,” said Keishi.
“Sweetie,” Mary said. Even behind the artificial green tint of her contacts, Rory could see her thoughts turning backward in time, her eyes becoming pools that she gave over to a retrograde tide. The people she’d known, the magic she’d seen. The different lives she’d lived.
“Music is strong. Honey, believe me, I know.” Rory watched Mary draw herself taller in her seat, marveling at her strength, in part because he knew how long it had taken her to build herself up as that tower. “In fact, it’s so strong that it’s doing two other things besides what you want it to do, whether you meant for all this to happen or not. One is, it’s keeping Jules here playing the same damn song over and over again, unable to live his life.” She directed her thumb toward her right, where Jules was nodding as if his head were about to fall off.
“And then two. I suspect it’s keeping you from dealing with this. Dealing with what Honor needs you to accept. And that’s not a wish you made for that sweet girl. That’s a curse you laid thick on your entire house.”
Mary didn’t flinch at Keishi’s narrowed eyes. Instead, she leaned forward and let her shadow fall across the table. “Take it from someone who used to have a dick, sweetie,” she said quietly. “Some things you really do just need to let go.”
But Keishi shook her head. “Come on,” she said. “Come with me. You should at least meet her.”
The three followed her down a short hallway off to the side of the kitchen, past the closet where the furnace churned. “I moved her here because it’s a little warmer. She’s cold all the time.” The door beyond the closet eased open at Keishi’s touch, as if the house, too, had been holding its breath. Rory, first in line, peered over her shoulder.
A bed with guard rails had been set up inside, on top of the checkerboard-patterned linoleum that extended into the room from the hallway and the kitchen. Rory saw the girl lying in the bed, the upper part of her body propped against the raised mattress, a knitted red skullcap covering her scalp, eyes closed to the world. He also saw the only other piece of furniture in the room: a dresser. On top of it rested a boom box straight out of a bedroom from 1993 along with a few stacks of old music media. Cassettes. CDs. The Discord Three’s 1998 box set retrospective crowned the CD pile, causing Rory to bite his lip and nod. Of course Honor would be someone with good taste.
Keishi flipped the light switch, summoning a dim glow overhead, and stepped to the side of the bed opposite the dresser. She placed a hand on the girl’s red cap. “Honor,” she said. “Honor, wake up.”
Instead of fluttering open, Honor’s eyes opened wide with the sudden intensity of a spotlight, which she turned on Keishi. “Hey,” she croaked. “Time for some drugs?”
“Almost. But there are some people here to see you first.” Keishi pointed toward the doorway, and the spotlight swept the room, landing on Rory and Mary, who stood in front of Jules.
“Hey,” said Rory. “I’m Rory, and this is Mary.”
“Wait, your voice. Like, Rory Reed the deejay?” Rory smiled, and Honor began to push herself onto her elbows, with Keishi fumbling to fit her hands behind Honor’s back. “No shit. I listen to you on Sunday nights.”
“Honor, language,” Keishi murmured.
“Pretty sure he’s heard worse, Mom.”
“So you’re one of the twelve keeping me on the air,” Rory said. “Appreciate it.”
Honor smiled. Her eyelids were starting to seem too heavy for her to hold open, but Rory still could see a glimmer behind them. “I found some of my favorite songs because of you. But, like, what are you doing here?”
Rory drew in his breath. He looked at Mary, who glared back at him with a smile and several quick blinks of her full-moon eyes. He opened his mouth but caught his voice when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Actually, um, they came here with me.” Jules wedged himself between them, stepped into Honor’s room, and raised his hand in a stiff salute that made both Rory and Mary shake their heads. “Hi. Um. I don’t know if you remember me from the house party about a month ago.”
“Oh, no kidding.” Rory could hear the delight in Honor’s laughter, but he could hear exhaustion shredding it ragged at its edges, too. How well were her cancer meds working? Well enough for her to be bouncing in her bed a little, he noted.
“Your song is, like, I can’t even tell you,” she wheezed. “But how—me? Like seriously, what are you even doing here?”
“Well, I—do you mind if I…” Jules pointed to the foot of the bed, and Honor nodded. Rory saw Keishi purse her lips. “Well.” Jules sat and sighed. “I mean, your mother told me how much you liked the song. And there was some, um…”
“Research,” Rory offered.
“Careful research,” said Mary.
“Right. So I’m sorry for the surprise, but, um, how are you?”
“Me? Oh, well. You know.” Honor pointed at her head, as if the entire experience of her illness was to be understood according to the bare skin beneath her cap. She looked down at her lap for a moment before continuing. “But your song. I mean, the first time I heard it on Mr. Reed’s show—” Rory flinched at the thought of being responsible for this mess “—it just made so much sense. Like, not to be bleak or whatever, but it just seemed to fit what I’ve been feeling with this, you know? I felt—it felt good to have someone hear that inside me.” Honor laughed again. “If that makes any sense.”
“No, it totally does,” Jules said softly. “It totally does. So I guess I just…” Another sigh, another sad smile crossing Jules’s lips. “I guess I just wanted to say ‘thanks.’ For letting it mean so much to you. And, I don’t know. Would you… would you like me to sing it for you?” He looked over his shoulder. “Is that all right?”
Rory and Mary turned to each other and shrugged. “I mean, as long as it’s your choice,” Rory said. He raised an eyebrow at Keishi to confirm that it was, and Keishi, wide-eyed and frowning, nodded yes.
“I mean, I don’t have my guitar with me or anything. But I can always…” Jules let go of a deep breath and placed his hands on his knees. He began tapping, first with his fingertips, then with his palm for the kick drum. Rory couldn’t see his face, but he knew Jules’s eyes were closed. The way his voice wavered through the first verse of “What I Lose Now,” Rory knew they wouldn’t have been able to remain open through a performance that intense.
Honor closed her eyes, too. Not at first; the beginning of the song held her rapt, as if she were bearing sole witness to the apparition of an angel who had mastered his delivery of good news in four-four time. By the chorus, though, she had given herself over to the music and let her eyes settle shut while she lip-synced the words. She kept them closed even after Jules finished. Rory saw Keishi bite her lip.
“That was—I don’t have words.” Honor finally said before opening her eyes. The room seemed to fill as everyone, even Rory, who hadn’t been thinking about it, collectively exhaled.
“I can’t wait to hear your next single,” Honor continued.
“Oh.” Rory watched as Jules’s glance crept, like a man slinking home from his mistress, toward Honor’s IV pole. “Oh. Well, see, I’m not sure if there’s going to be, um…”
“Honor, sweetie, don’t bother Mr. Horace. I’m sure he’s got a lot on his mind,” said Keishi.
“Keishi,” Mary said from the doorway. She pressed her palms together in front of her chin and pointed her long, lavender fingernails in Keishi’s direction. “Let go.”
“Please, Mom,” said Honor. “How many times is anyone ever going to be able to say that they heard an exclusive performance of an unreleased Jules Horace song months before he got big?” She pointed to her cap. “How many times am I going to get to say it?”
Rory could feel what Keishi was feeling from all the way across the room. If Keishi could have wished herself to turn into stone, she would. If Keishi could have avoided ever having to answer her daughter, she would. Rory was grateful that he didn’t feel any current of magic that would allow such a wish to happen, but he didn’t envy the sharp pain that Keishi held. “Is that what you really want?” she whispered.
“Honor.” Keishi gasped and stood.
“I-I heard Rory and Mary in the kitchen. And Jules, but, like, I didn’t believe it? I was pretending to sleep when you came in.” Honor’s smile flickered. “And it shouldn’t make sense, but then… it kinda does.” Her smile trembled until gravity turned it downward. Her voice quaked as well. “It’s okay, Mom. I really want to hear the song.” She nodded.
Rory understood the look that Keishi wore as she glanced one at a time at him, Mary, and Jules. She was staring at them like strangers who had broken into her house to rob her. “Can you give us a few minutes?” she asked.
“Of course.” With a hand on each man’s shoulder, Mary gently pushed Rory and Jules through the door ahead of her.
She stopped beside Rory in the hallway. Jules kept walking toward the kitchen. Rory lunged forward and grabbed his shoulder. “Uh-uh.”
“I-I-I, no,” Jules said, turning. “I had, you know, one semi-sorta hit song. That’s more than most musicians get.”
“Honor needs you.”
“I can’t. I can’t. I’m going to kill that girl.”
“Cancer’s going to kill that girl,” said Mary.
“You’re just helping her have a good death,” said Rory. “That’s more than most people get.”
Jules closed his eyes. “Dammit,” he whispered. He swayed in silence for a few seconds with Rory’s hand still on his shoulder.
The three turned to face Keishi, who stood beside the doorway to Honor’s room, small but poised, arms at her side, chin lifted, as if she were the musician about to step in front of the mic. Her tears had left trails down her cheeks. The way they caught the light from the kitchen, they made her look to Rory as if she were wearing stage makeup. He looked to Mary at his side as Keishi began to speak.
Several weeks later, after he’d finished playing El Bee Dee’s “Sonic Tonic” on his Sunday night show at WABB, Rory leaned close to the microphone and announced to his audience, which included two hundred sixty-two listeners around the globe hearing him stream for the first time, that he had received the forthcoming full-length album from Jules Horace. He informed them that he was going to play the second single from the album.
“Peppy little tune, in D major for all you music theorists out there,” he said. “Really, a huge departure from the first song, ‘What I Lose Now.’” Gods, a part of him wished he had something to take the edge off. Listening to this was going to be like having a needle plunge into his heart. But Honor had stayed conscious the entire three minutes and forty-five seconds she’d heard it played. He could at least do the same.
“So this is the second single, but the whole album’s worth a listen,” Rory continued, shaking his head. “And the title of the record actually comes from something that was said to Jules right before the first time he performed this song, so there’s a little tidbit you won’t get anywhere else. From the album Your Audience Is Waiting, here’s ‘Good Day,’ with the parenthetical title ‘To Live With Honor’ that was later added to it, debuting right here on WABB Community Radio.”