Elton sat at a table in his rehab facility, in a room the patients could use to make and receive calls. The room had a door that could be closed for privacy. At the moment, though, the door was open as Elton flipped through his address book, trying to find a certain number - a number given to him "just in case." Locating it at last, he dialed and listened to the repetitive ringing. Finally, the line connected.
"Hello?" A cultured female voice was speaking.
"Hello. Are you Mrs. Taupin?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"Elton. Elton John."
There was a moment of silence. "That can't be. Elton John would have no reason to call here."
"He would, ma'am. If he were looking for someone called Bernie."
There was a sharp intake of breath. "If you are Elton, then you know perfectly well what state Bernie was in when he came home. And if you don't know where he is or how to contact him, I don't see why I should change that."
Elton was grateful for all his years of interviews, for once. He was able to keep his composure and his temper. He even felt a pang of jealousy that Bernie had such a staunch defender in his mother. "Yes, ma'am. Of course you're right. You needn't give me any of his contact details. But I'd like you to give him the number to my rehab facility, if you'd be so kind."
"Rehab facility, you say?"
"Bernie was in rehab as well. As far as I know, he hasn't used drugs again."
"That's great. He's always been sensible in the end."
"And it is good you are finally following in his footsteps. Still, I do not think Bernie would wish to renew contact with you, and I'm not entirely sure he should."
"I understand, Mrs. Taupin," Elton said wearily. "I hurt him terribly. He wrote 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' because he was in so much pain.
"Believe me. I know how he felt. I've felt that way all of my life. I truly never meant to ever make him feel like an object and I regret it deeply."
"Elton, the first time Bernie came home from London, he said he'd met such a great friend and he couldn't believe his luck. Told me and his father you were a phenomenal pianist, had a nice singing voice, and that the two of you worked as songwriters. Not only that, he said the two of you clicked like no one he'd ever known in his entire life. It was intuitive, almost telepathic. If I didn't know better, I'd say Bernie was in love with you. It's the same way someone might talk about a crush."
Elton flinched. He'd truly fucked things up.
"But then, years later, after we'd heard your songs and seen your albums and seen our Bernie on them and found that he was right about your musical partnership, he came home saying his father was right and he'd been wrong. And it killed me because I encouraged him to pursue his dream to become a lyricist. He has written for other people, but his passion for the art is diminished. I think he does it because he is called to do it, but when he wrote songs with you, there was an energy and a fire you could see. When he finished a song meant for you, he had a joy that lit up his eyes. And he'd say he couldn't wait to hear what you'd make of it."
Elton found that he couldn't breathe and that his heart was slowly breaking. His eyes squeezed shut and his mouth went dry and his mind silently howled in grief. When his brain began working again, his first thought was that once again, he knew how Bernie felt, because whenever he got a new lyric, he couldn't wait to play the new song for Bernie. Bernie was always the first person to hear one of their songs. It was their thing.
"Elton?" Mrs. Taupin prompted.
"I'm...still here," Elton choked out hoarsely.
"Are you all right?"
Was it his imagination, or was that concern Elton heard? "Um...I..." Yes? No? He wasn't sure. "I miss Bernie." Elton's voice quavered on the name, and it only grew more wobbly from there. "I miss playing songs for him. I miss going to the cinema with him. I miss his laughter. I miss the way he made every moment special just because he was there to share it with me." Elton paused, sobbing audibly but unable to speak for a bit. "Bernie is a beautiful, precious soul." Elton forced the next words out between ragged breaths. "If I could get one chance to make it right, I'd make sure he always knew just how loved he is."
Mrs. Taupin found she was capable of feeling pity for this man she once thought only cared for himself. She remembered that Bernie had told her and her husband that Elton was a professional musician and worked hard to support them both. He'd explained that he and Elton lived at his mother's place but that Elton was expected to pay rent. Elton always made sure Bernie got enough to eat and looked after him like a little brother. And Bernie had said that while others in London made fun of him and mocked his accent and his innocence, Elton treated him with respect and kindness. She came to her decision.
"Elton," Bernie's mother crooned soothingly, "come. Dry your eyes." Elton sniffled and tried to obey. "I forgot about this, but Bernie told us you had to pay rent to stay with your mother. He said you bought him new clothes and never belittled him for being a country boy. He said that when others made fun of his accent or his looks, you were always kind. And he said you looked out for him like your own brother."
"He's a brother, and more than that," Elton replied, his voice rough but steady. "Bernie and I are on the same wavelength. I translate his feelings into music and he translates mine into rhyme. I don't mean to frighten you, but I'd even say he's a soul mate."
"You'll make it up to Bernie if you get the chance to talk to him?"
"I'll get clean and stay clean, just to be sure I'm always there for him. Like in the beginning, before we got famous."
"What is the number he can reach you at?"
Elton smiled, his heart leaping with hope. He recited the number and Bernie's mother promised to pass the information along.
"I hope he calls you," Mrs. Taupin said. "But if he doesn't, there really isn't much I can do."
"Of course. No worries. I appreciate what you're doing. Bernie's lucky to have such a loving family. It's no wonder he turned out so grounded."
"Oh. You know he was wild."
"Well, he still saw the error of his ways long before me. Counts for a lot."
"Well, thank you for making Bernie's stay easier and more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been. Look after yourself."
Elton stood staring at the piano in the music room, remembering how it felt to seeBernie's smile when he sang the words, "This one's for you." "Your Song" was the first of many that he played just like that, and all at once, he turned on his heel and fled the room before he either damaged the piano or screamed in agony.
As he headed toward his room, a counsellor called out to him. He stopped, and the counsellor said he had a phone call. His former depression evaporated, to be replaced by anticipation and a touch of fear. Could he dare to hope it was Bernie? He didn't think anyone else would call him in rehab, but he couldn't be totally sure, so his hope remained tentative, yet very much alive. He nodded to the counsellor and made his way to take the call.
Elton walked into the office and closed the door before sitting at the table and picking up the telephone receiver. "Hello?"
"Bernie..." Elton's tone carried all the longing of years apart.
"It's been a while." Bernie's voice held no such yearning. In fact, there was no emotion at all.
Elton processed the flatness with vague alarm. Bernie was understated, but he usually had some kind of inflection in his tone. "Yeah. I kind of forgot what you sound like."
Silence for a beat. Then, "I haven't forgotten what you sound like."
"You've always been a better friend than me."
"Well...Not quite. I've heard a song or three, caught an interview here and there." His tone was airy, casual, implying he'd heard more than a few songs and followed more than just a smattering of interviews.
"Oh. Right." Elton couldn't help thinking that it was unfair he couldn't keep tabs on Bernie in the same way. He didn't mention his surprise that Bernie followed his career. He assumed Bernie wanted nothing to do with him ever again. Not that he'd blame him if that was still the case now.
"Yeah." An awkward silence. "So my mother gave me this number." Another pause as Bernie carefully weighed his words. "I supposed I should return your call." What he didn't say was, "Why are you seeking me out?"
"Thank you." Inwardly, Elton mourned. There was a time when this stiltedness didn't exist. "I wasn't expecting you'd call. I just thought...just thought...I should try. Try to find you. I'm sure you're doing just fine without me. Maybe have a wife and kids - nice peaceful life without my drama. I guess I'm just being selfish again. But I thought it was up to me to reach out to you, since - you know - this split is my fault."
"I don't know. I could have stayed." As soon as he said it, Bernie knew it was a lie.
"No, Bernie. I don't think so. I think maybe you stayed as long as you could."
Bernie was momentarily speechless with surprise. Elton knew him - knew him on an intuitive level that needed no translation. He sighed heavily. "It was hard, Elton."
Elton nodded, though Bernie couldn't see him. "It was hard for me, too. The grueling schedule was hard on us both. And I didn't want to hear what you were saying. About the drugs and partying and shit. I never thought that in not listening, I alienated you and made you feel small and insignificant. It was an accident and I should have known better. My parents did the same thing to me all the time. I'm truly sorry for making you feel that way. I don't expect forgiveness. I just...need you to know."
"Thank you, Elton. It's...nice to hear that. The thing is, it was supposed to be you and me, through thick and thin. We were supposed to ride the highs and lows together. But then...you left me behind. And then you became less and less approachable as you fell in with other famous people and went deeper into cocaine and alcohol abuse. Those things began to change you, and in the end, I wondered what I was really doing. The only reason I was with you was because we were friends, and when that was gone, there was no more joy in the songwriting and the shows and the wild parties."
Elton felt like Bernie had just slapped him. How could he have been so blind? Why had he chosen those people, those things, that cheated him in the end and never loved him? He hated to admit it, but John Reid was right. He really did have tunnel vision. But before Elton could muster a reply, Bernie spoke again.
"Elton, I owe you an apology, too. I was sort of in a lovesick haze when I met Heather, so things weren't sinking in as they should have. But it struck me later that there was something kind of off in the way you agreed to postpone the Tower Records date. What I'm saying is I was pretty callous about your feelings toward me. You should have come first, and I should have given you more time to...I don't know...get over me?"
"Bernie..." Elton whispered, voice choked with tears.
"Elton," Bernie said gently. "It's all right."
Elton's breathing hitched as he tried to get himself under control. "I...There's no getting over you. I've accepted that it can never be. It's no one's fault. I could even look at Heather without feeling jealousy today. I'm even happy for you. But I will always love you, in every way I can."
"Elton, I know. I know because I feel the same way. We connect in an effortless way that no one - no one - can quite duplicate."
Elton sniffled as his tears finally slowed. "Yeah. I feel that, too. You're a part of my soul. I think I knew it the day I met you. I'd never connected like that with anyone before. Our first introduction to each other was through music. Maybe that's why. Because music is a part of our souls."
"It is, isn't it?" There was a smile in Bernie's voice, and Elton smiled on hearing it. "There was a time when writing songs was more than just a job. It was the thing I felt born to do. I haven't stopped writing. But it was only when I wrote with you that I felt...alive. The anticipation of hearing a new song and the freedom I had to write about what we felt filled a need I didn't know existed until we stopped."
"Bernie..." Elton paused, hesitant, but then plunged on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all. "You wouldn't want to write songs with me again, would you?"
Bernie considered. He had loved seeing what Elton would do with his lyrics. It was like opening a present every time. But he also remembered what it felt like to be isolated and alone, and the bitter regret and heartache contained in "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" flooded him. He couldn't do it again. He knew Elton had the best of intentions, but it would be so easy to slip back into old habits, and dealing with a moody, snappish Elton wasn't his idea of fun. Apparently, he was silent too long.
"No? I can't say I blame you. You just keep rejecting me. I'll be on my way, then. Thanks for returning my-"
"Wait." Bernie finally found his voice.
"Elton, don't give up. I need time, just like you did. I need to think. But remember that whatever happens, you're a survivor. You have what you need to make it in the world, with or without me."
"That's not true," Elton protested.
"You've gotten by all this time without me," Bernie argued.
"Getting by is about all I've done," Elton muttered angrily.
"Elton," Bernie began in a disapproving tone.
"What?" he replied stubbornly.
Bernie sighed. "You know, I'm not sure I want to work with you again if this is how it's going to be."
"No. Wait. I'm sorry," Elton began, sounding small and sad.
And Bernie felt his traitorous heart go out to Elton.
"Bernie, next to my grandmother, you're the most important person to me. I'll remind you of it every chance I get if I have to. I'll never forget again. I promise.
"You were the first person I thought to look for after coming here. If you won't share your talent with me, I'll just have to accept it. You're right. It's yours to give. And so is your friendship. But will you do something for me?"
"What?" came Bernie's soft query.
"I'll give you my personal number. I won't be able to answer it for a couple months, since I'll be here, but I'd like to know that you have it. Just in case."
"Of course. Hang on. Need to find- Ah." There was the soft click of a pen being readied for use, which Elton managed to hear in his quiet room. "Fire away."
Elton rattled off his number, and Bernie took it down on a notepad. Elton heard the page being torn from it and the click of the pen tip being retracted. Bernie, ever precise, repeated the digits back to him for confirmation, and it was found to be correct.
"Thanks, Bernie. You can give me your personal number when you've decided whether to work together."
"Take care, Elton. You're doing the right thing, but I know it's not easy. Hang in there."
"I'll do my best."
"I know. You always do. I'll call you when I've decided."
"All right. Bye, Bernie."
Elton waited for the click on his line before hanging up the phone. Bernie didn't know it, but he held a piece of Elton's soul in his hands. Elton grew up knowing that his wishes didn't matter. But Bernie was someone who had done all he could to give Elton what he wanted. More than that, Elton knew Bernie had given him what he needed. A companion, a confidant, a partner. Elton didn't hold out much hope that Bernie would give him another chance. He'd likely squandered it already. He'd had only one chance at fame and he was sure the longer Bernie thought about it, the more he'd come to realize his anonymity and predictable routine was better than the chaos Elton represented. Still, Elton clung to a tenuous thread of hope. Bernie hadn't outright rejected him. He would give it his all to hang on and not give up. Because Bernie was more than worth it.