He pauses after every stanza and makes notes on a page. I lean over and look at what he’s writing. He’s putting musical notes on blank sheet-music paper, along with the lyrics.
He points to one of the lines, then grabs his phone.
Ridge: What key do you sing this line in?
Ridge: Do you think it would sound better if you took it a little higher?
Me: I don’t know. I guess we could try.
He plays the second part of the song again, and I take his advice and sing in a higher key. Surprisingly, he’s right. It does sound better.
“How did you know that?” I ask.
Ridge: I just do.
Me: But how? If you can’t hear, how do you know what sounds good and what doesn’t?
Ridge: I don’t need to hear it. I feel it.
I shake my head, not understanding. I can maybe understand how he’s taught himself to play a guitar. With enough practice and a good teacher and maybe a ton of studying, it’s possible for him to play as he does. But that doesn’t explain how he can know which key a voice should be in and especially which key sounds better.
Ridge: What’s wrong? You look confused.
Me: I am confused. I don’t understand how you can differentiate between vibrations or however you say you feel it. I’m beginning to think you and Warren are trying to pull off the ultimate prank and you’re only pretending to be deaf.
Ridge laughs, then scoots back on the bed until his back meets the headboard. He sits up straight and holds his guitar to his side. He spreads his legs, then pats the empty spot between them.
What the hell? I hope my eyes aren’t open as wide as I think they are. There’s no way I’m sitting that close to him. I shake my head.
He rolls his eyes and picks up his phone.
Ridge: Come here. I want to show you how I feel it. Get over yourself, and stop thinking I’m trying to seduce you.
I hesitate a few more seconds, but the agitation on his face makes me think I’m being a little immature. I crawl forward, then turn around and carefully sit in front of him with my back to his chest but with several inches between us. He pulls the guitar in front of me and wraps his other arm around me until he’s holding it in position. He pulls it closer, which pushes me flush against him. Ridge reaches down to his side and picks up his phone.
Ridge: I’m going to play a chord, and I want you to tell me where you feel it.
I nod, and he brings his hand back to the guitar. He plays a chord and repeats it a few times, then pauses. I grab my phone.
Me: I felt it in your guitar.
He shakes his head and picks up his phone again.
Ridge: I know you felt it in the guitar, dummy. But where in your body did you feel it?
Me: Play it again.
I close my eyes this time and try to take this seriously. I’ve asked him how he feels it, and he’s trying to show me, so the least I can do is try to understand. He plays the chord a few times, and I’m really trying hard to concentrate, but I feel the vibration everywhere, especially in the guitar pressed against my chest.
Me: It’s hard for me, Ridge. It just feels like it’s everywhere.
He pushes me forward, and I scoot up. He sets the guitar down, stands up, and walks out of the bedroom. I wait for him, curious about what he’s doing. When he comes back, he’s holding something in his fist. He holds his fist out, so I hold up my palm.
He slides in behind me, and I scoot back against his chest again, then put the earplugs in. I close my eyes and lean my head back against his shoulder. He wraps his arms around me and picks up his guitar, pulling it against my chest. I can feel his head rest lightly against mine, and the intimate way we’re seated suddenly registers. I’ve never sat like this with someone I wasn’t seriously dating.
It’s odd, because it seems so natural with him. Not at all as if he’s got anything other than music on his mind. I like that about him, because if I were pressed up against Warren like this, I’m positive his hands wouldn’t be on the guitar.
I can feel his arms moving slightly, so I know he’s playing, even though I can’t hear it. I concentrate on the vibration and focus all my attention on the movement inside my chest. When I’m able to pinpoint exactly where I feel it, I bring my hand to my chest and pat it. I can feel him nod his head, and then he continues playing.
I can still feel it in my chest, but it’s much lower this time. I move my hand down, and he nods again.
I pull away from him and turn around to face him.
He lifts his shoulders and smiles shyly. It’s adorable.
Me: This is crazy. I still don’t understand how you can play an instrument like this, but I know how you feel it now.
He shrugs off my compliment, and I love how modest he is, because he clearly has more talent than anyone I’ve ever met.
“Wow,” I say again, shaking my head.
Ridge: Stop. I don’t like compliments. It’s awkward.
I set down my phone and we both move back to the laptops.
Me: Well, you shouldn’t be so impressive, then. I don’t think you realize what an incredible gift you have, Ridge. I know you say you work hard at it, but so do thousands of people who can hear, and they can’t put together songs like you can. I mean, I can maybe understand the whole guitar thing now that you’ve explained it, but what about the voices? How in the heck can you know what a voice sounds like and what key it needs to be in?
Ridge: Actually, I can’t differentiate the sounds of a voice. I’ve never felt a person sing the way I “listen” to a guitar. I can place vocals to a song and develop melodies because I’ve studied a lot of songs and have learned which keys match up to which notes, based on the written form of music. It doesn’t just come naturally. I work hard at this. I love the idea of music, and even though I can’t hear it, I’ve learned to understand and appreciate it in a different way. I’ve had to work harder at the melodies. There are times I’ll write a song, and Brennan will tell me we can’t use it because it either sounds too much like an existing song or it doesn’t actually sound good to hearing ears like I assumed it would.
He can downplay this all he wants, but I’m convinced I’m sitting next to a musical genius. I hate that he thinks his ability comes from working so hard at it. I mean, I’m sure it helps, because all talents have to be nurtured in order to excel, even for the gifted. But his talent is mind-blowing. It makes me hurt for him, knowing what he could do with his gift if he could hear.
Me: Can you hear anything? At all?
He shakes his head.
Ridge: I’ve worn hearing aids before, but they were more inconvenient than helpful. I have profound hearing loss, so they didn’t help at all when it came to hearing voices or my guitar. When I used them, I could tell there were noises, but I couldn’t decipher them. In all honesty, hearing aids were a constant reminder that I couldn’t hear. Without them, I don’t even think about.
Me: What made you want to learn guitar, knowing you would never be able to hear it?
Ridge: Brennan. He wanted to learn when we were kids, so we learned together.
Me: The guy who used to live here? How long have you known him?
Ridge: 21 years. He’s my little brother.
Me: Is he in your band?
Ridge glances at me in confusion.
Ridge: Have I not told you about our band?
I shake my head.
Ridge: He’s the singer. He also plays guitar.
Me: When do you play next? I want to watch.
Ridge: I don’t play. It’s kind of complicated. Brennan insists that I have as much stake in the ownership of the band as he does because I write the majority of the music, which is why I refer to myself as being part of the band sometimes. I think it’s ridiculous, but he’s convinced we wouldn’t be where we are at this point without me, so I agree to it for now. But with the success I think he’s about to have, I’ll make him renegotiate eventually. I don’t like feeling as though I’m taking advantage of him.
Me: If he doesn’t feel that way, then you definitely shouldn’t feel that way. And why don’t you play with them?
Ridge: I have a few times. It’s kind of difficult, not being able to hear everything else going on with the band during a song, so I feel like I throw them off when I play with them. Besides, they’re on tour right now, and I can’t travel, so I’ve just been sending him the stuff I write.
Me: Why can’t you tour with them? Don’t you work from home?
Ridge: Other obligations. But next time they’re in Austin, I’ll take you.
I’ll take you. I think I like that part of his message a little too much.
Me: What’s the name of the band?
Ridge: Sounds of Cedar.
I slam my laptop shut and swing my eyes to his. “Shut up!”
He nods, then reaches down and opens my laptop again.
Ridge: You’ve heard of us?
Me: Yes. Everyone on campus has heard of your band, considering they played almost every single weekend last year. Hunter loves you guys.
Ridge: Ah. Well, this is the first time I’ve ever wished we had one less fan. So you’ve seen Brennan play?
Me: I only went with Hunter once, and it was one of the last shows, but yes. I think I may have most of the songs on my phone, actually.
Ridge: Wow. Small world. We are close to a record deal. That’s why I’ve been stressing so much about these songs. And why you need to help me.
Me: OMG! I just realized I’m writing lyrics for SOUNDS OF CEDAR!!!
I slide my laptop over, then roll onto my stomach and squeal into the mattress while I kick my legs up and down.
Holy crap! This is too cool.
I compose myself, ignoring Ridge’s laughter, then sit up straight again and grab my laptop.
Me: So you wrote most of those songs?
Me: Did you write the lyrics to the song “Something?”
He nods again. I seriously can’t believe this is happening right now. Knowing he wrote those lyrics and now I’m sitting here next to him is exciting me way too much.
Me: I’m about to listen to your song. Since you get to decipher my lyrics, it’s my turn to decipher yours.
Ridge: I wrote that song two years ago.
Me: Still. It came from you. From somewhere inside you, Ridge. ;)
He picks up a pillow and throws it at my head. I laugh and scroll through the music folder on my phone until I find the song, and I hit play.
I keep on wondering why I can’t say ’bye to you
And the only thing I can think of is the truth
It’s hard to start over, keep checkin’ that rearview, too
But something’s coming
Something right for you
Just wait a bit longer
You’ll find something you wanted
Something you needed
Something you want to have repeated
Oh, that feeling’s all right
You’ll find that if you listen
Between all the kissing
What made it work
Wound up messing
That seems about right
I guess I thought that we would always stay the same
And I can tell that you find somebody to blame
And I know in my heart, in my mind, it’s all a game