The song ended and the crowd cheered for Terry. He pulled his guitar off and held it up one-handed over his head, like he was playing in front of twenty thousand people. There was another crowd swell from the hundred, maybe hundred-twenty in the room, and Terry took a bow, and then turned and held out an arm, gesturing to Mark on the drums first, then over to Paul with his bass, and finally to me.
I stood there on swaying legs, drunk, holding my guitar, and when Terry
turned to gesture at me I could see the smile on his face, but I also saw his jaw tighten and his eyes narrow when he looked at me, and I knew I was in his sh-t-book.
Terry walked over and leaned his guitar against his amp. He was finished. Our set was done. He walked back to the microphone and told the audience he would sign their copies of his book over at the merch table, and thank you. And that was it.
I pulled off my guitar and the four of us got down off the stage and took the short staircase down into the little green room. Terry stopped there and gave us a warm smile. "Thanks guys," he said.
Mark grabbed Terry and the two shared a hug. Paul patted Terry on the shoulder. I stood awkwardly back. I knew I deserved shit from him because even though I didn't completely screw up his show, I also hadn't played very well. Not as well as I could have, anyway.
He had his little moment with Paul and Mark, and finally he looked at me. I offered him my hand to shake, and he took it. "Sorry, man," I said. "That wasn't the best."
He shrugged. "Over now," he said. "Serves me right. If I'd known you were going to get all smashed I wouldn't have asked you to play, but buyer beware, right? Hell with it, you did good enough."
He nodded. "I got what I paid for." He turned away. There was still hooting and cheering coming from the main room. "Okay, I'm going back up. You guys hit the bar."
Terry went up onto the stage. There was a cheer and he said into the mike that he would do one more song. Mark, Paul and I walked out of the back room so we could watch. He pulled the guitar back on, spun on the volume and touched a string. "Okay," he said. "This is it, I promise." And he started strumming something I'd never heard before. It was a slower thing, not the up-tempo rock stuff he usually wrote. It was a strumming song.
I looked around and spotted Carrie Anne. She was watching Terry on stage, so I slipped through the crowd so I could approach her from behind, putting my hand lightly on her back as I stepped up next to her.
She turned and pulled back slightly, but I smiled and she smiled, and she stood with her arms folded in front of her, holding her elbows. I kept my hand lightly on her back.
Terry was singing now. I wasn't closely following the words, but I caught something where he rhymed "wide awake" with "your sake". He sounded good, and I wished I could have been paying better attention, but I was too busy glowing; I still had the high of playing guitar on an actual stage in front of an actual crowd, and now I had the high of actual contact with Carrie Anne.
This was the type of thing I'd written fifty bad poems about during the first few months after she dumped me and I left town. Standing with a gentle hand on her back. Her smile. The smell of her hair. All those simple, sappy things that mean so much when you're tearing yourself apart with loneliness and desperation and frustration and self-loathing, which all seem so awful and foolish and trite and childish when you try to express them through words on on a page... but then...
...then you're standing next to her with your hand on her back, drinking in the absolute perfection of the moment, and you can feel the contours of her back through the silky nylon fabric of her dress and she's accepting, not rejecting your touch, and you're standing there listening to your friend play his guitar and sing, and you're sweaty and drunk, and everything is just coming together so beautifully...
I was suddenly glad that I'd thrown up all those gin and tonics. If not, I probably would have passed out already.
Terry ended a chorus and began a slow-rolling solo (can you still call it a solo when he's the only player?), and Carrie Anne leaned slightly against me. I slid my hand down to her waist, and I knew everything was going to be awesome.
The song finished and everyone clapped and cheered. Terry, red-faced and sweating under the stage lights, pulled off the guitar again and took a bow, a satisfied smile on his face. He waved, set down his guitar, and as he walked off, the stage lights went down and the house music came up and finally, it was over.
Carrie Anne turned to me. "Pint?"
I knew it was a bad idea, but I wasn't going to say no to anything she might have suggested. I nodded and we walked back to the bar area.
"What did you think?" I asked.
We took spots leaning on the bar. "Not bad," she said. "That singer guy is pretty good."
"Yeah, he's awesome," I said. "He's like my mentor. He got me playing me guitar again, more or less."
The bartender took our order for a couple pints of Guinness. "How about me?" I asked. "Do you think I did all right?"
She nodded and shrugged at the same time. "Yeah," she said. "Pretty good. Better than you were before, anyway. But then, you were always so drunk when you guys played your shows."
"Right," I said. "Stagefright."
"I don't know if that's the way to handle it," she said. "We try to avoid having too much before we play. But I'm not good enough to play drunk anyway, so I have to save it for afterwards."
"Right." The bartender set our pints of blackness down in front of us and I handed over the cash. We clinked and sipped, keeping eye contact as we took out first sips. "I guess I'll have to start cleaning up," I continued. "Playing sober. Do it right this time."
"Oh yeah," she said. "You're starting a new band. How's that going?"
"Not bad. Still very preliminary. We'll br in Seam/Fault/Flaw's shadow for a while, I think. You guys have more gigs lined up?"
We got talking about her band, and somehow we managed to talk without mentioning the elephant in the room: her absent boyfriend Charlie, who was also Seam/Fault/Flaw's lead singer. And when she did mention him it seemed to be in a mocking tone. It was all too perfect.
Except that when she finished her pint she ordered two more. The Guinness was sitting heavily on the raw stomach which had already spilled out a bunch of gin, and my head was wobbly and my tongue was loose. I held myself in with tight reins. The urge to make clumsy sexual comments and double entendres was overwhelming, but I managed to control myself.
After the second pints were downed I asked her if she wanted to swing back around my place for some more hangout time. "I've got a pile of beer in the fridge. We can hang and catch up," I told her.
She looked around for a moment, and then smiled and said, "Sure, why not?"
I collected my gear, said good night and thank you to Terry, and goodnight to Mark and Paul. Then Carrie Anne and I got our coats on and stepped out into the chilly December air. That stretch of Bathurst was quiet, and we decided to walk down to College where we'd have a better chance of getting a cab at that time of night.
We got a ride and sat in prim and proper positions in the back seat, with my guitar in between us, even though I was so drunk by that point that I wanted to flop over and bury my face into her lap. But I managed to keep my head on my shoulders: tonight would not be about a gross, creepy groping. Tonight was about reconnection, not drunken foolishness.
The cab pulled up in front of my little apartment building, and I paid the guy before slipping out. We stood outside in the snowless December cold, and I led her up to the door. I knew what this all meant.
We got inside, I took her coat, and led her to the coach. I was bombed, but I knew I could still seal the deal. I knew that if she was willing to come back here with me she'd made up her mind. She wanted me back in her life.
We installed ourselves on the couch with fresh beers, and recycled some old material, talking over old times. "I miss it," I told her. "Not even like, how it was, but how it could have been if it had been better. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah, I think so," she said. "We did have some laughs, and some good sex and stuff. We had some fun."
"Exactly," I said, tipping back a few gulps of beer. "There were good times, and there was also a bunch of bullsh-t, and I'm being completely honest here, there was a bunch of bullsh-t that was brought on by me being young, and stupid, and self-centered, and immature. You know what I wish? I wish we could have had the good times, but only substituting in a version of me that was a little bit older and wiser. You know like, if I knew then what I know now... that type of thing."
"You think things would really have been any different?"
We were sitting at opposite ends of the couch, facing each other.
"Yes, absolutely," I said. "I'm a different guy than I was then. I don't know. It fills me with regret looking back at how I treated you sometimes."
She shrugged and smiled. "How do you think you treated me?"
"You know," I said. "Like you weren't as important as me. Like you were some function of my ego or something. I don't know. I was just a really cocky little sh-t, you know?"
She sipped her beer and nodded. "I know."
"And it's like you look around now, and you're a few years older, and you've had time to grow, and reflect, and you think to yourself, man, if only..."
"Yeah," she said. "I think that way too."
I looked at her. "You do?"
"Sure," she said. "Sometimes I wish I'd stood up to you and tried to shut down your self-important bullsh-t, but do you know what? You were focused on yourself. There was nothing I could do to make you interested in me. You were too interested in yourself."
I nodded. "Guilty," I said. "And that's the most painful thing about everything that happened. I had this incredible girl, this incredible woman, and I barely even took the trouble to get to know you. And now I just wish I'd taken that chance."
"Well, it's not too late," she said. "You can still get to know me."
I took that as my cue. I took a last sip of the can in my hand and set the empty down on the floor. I looked toward her and tried to give her a serious look. I was not the silly, selfish boy anymore. I was a serious man. I was a writer. I was a musician. I was a man.
I slid toward her on the couch, moving my face close into hers.
"What are you doing?" she asked, shrinking back slightly.
"I want to kiss you."
"Because I've been missing you like crazy for the last two years. And if I didn't deserve you then, I think I'm at least a different man now."
She moved away from me on the couch. "Nate, what the f--k is this?" she asked. "Are you serious?"
"Yes," I said, backing off a bit, still looking her in the eye. "Look, believe it or not, I've missed you like you wouldn't believe over the last couple of years. Everything I've thought about, it's been at least a little bit influenced by my longing for you. You've changed who I am. And yes, I'm serious. I want to be near you again."
"Be near me? Nate, you want to f--k me."
I nodded. "Yes."
She shook her head. "Doesn't it register with you that I'm in a relationship now? And that's not even factoring in that we broke up like, years ago."
I shrugged. "You wouldn't be here if you didn't want to be with me."
"I was open to hanging out, but that doesn't mean I want to hook up. Oh god, have you been planning this all along?"
"None of that matters!" I said. "All that matters is that we were in love, and it got gradually messed up because I was a stupid kid. Well, I've done a lot of growing and learning since then. I've been humbled. And I'm not the same egomaniac I was then. And I want to be with you."
Carrie Anne laughed. "Right. I wish you could hear yourself, Nate. It's still all about you. I want this, I want that. And maybe you've really grown and learned since we broke up, but I can't see the difference. so far."
I shrugged. "I want to make love to you. Is that so wrong?"
"It's not going to mean anything, Nate!" she shouted. She got up off the couch. "Why do you want to make love to me? You just want to f--k. Well, that's not why I came here. I thought we could be friends, you know that?"
"We can be friends. I want us to be friends!"
She snapped at me: "We can't be friends if I spend the entire time wondering if your going to try and f--k me." She grabbed her coat off the kitchen table. "Goodbye Nate."
She opened the door and slammed it behind her, and I could hear her boots going down the flights of stairs.
I sat on the couch for a moment and thought it over. Then I felt a familiar twinging sensation, and I got up and walked to the bathroom. Then I got down on my knees and retched the Guinness out into the toilet.
|This is chapter 29 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Release your anger at @nolanwhyte.|