When he heard his grandmother was gone, the last of his grandparents, the last of her generation to go, Michael was sitting on the beach sketching. He had his headphones on and the ringtone called out through his head as the song he’d been listening to faded away. It was Christmastime, his flight to New England scheduled for the next day, and when his mother was done telling him, when they were done crying together across five thousand miles between them, he put on the first song that came to his head.

The one thing he remembered from the creative writing course he’d taken in college, back in the day, was never to let music do your work for you; on this, the instructor had been firm. You were never let the words and melodies of someone else stand in for hard-won sentences of your own.

But the hell with that, Michael thought. No one—least of all him, the one asshole who’d flunked that course—could say it better than Joni could in that moment. He wished he had a river to skate away on, just like she did. Or, Michael thought, as he looked out at the sun-kissed Pacific, maybe an ocean.

Maybe seven of them.

Maybe a whole goddamned world.

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