Kayla was sitting upright on the couch, looking shocked at the story I'd laid out for her over the last little while. Our instruments sat off to one side, plugged in but powered down. "Wow, and I thought my family had its issues."
"I don't know," I said, rolling a half-empty water bottle between my hands. "My dad may consume more happy juice than he ought to, but even he never took a swing at strangers before." She nodded agreement and relaxed a little, resting her head against my shoulder. She seemed to have developed quite an enjoyment for this, and you'd get no objection from me.
"What are you going to do now? Why not just keep staying here?"
"I suppose I could. That's not really sitting with me, though. I'm the kind of guy who likes to have his own space. A single bedroom doesn't always fit that requirement."
"You're not going out on the streets?" She sounded upset.
"What? Oh hell no, I refuse. I've got this money now, and it's not going to further education, I can tell you that. Well, not in the traditional sense, at least. I'll think of something." She accepted this, albeit without much excitement.
"Tell me again why we're practicing late?" She paused. "Not that I don't enjoy this," and followed with a tiny giggle.
I smiled. "Not sure, that message Mitch left still doesn't make sense. He said 'we,' which I first took to mean you and him. Maybe he was giving you a lift, saving you the trouble of walking for all I knew."
She shook her head, her cheek remaining planted on my arm. "Nope, 'cause here I am."
As soon as the words had left her mouth, The Garage door flew open with such force, banging against its rafters. Kayla was on her feet at once, letting out a frightened scream. Brightness poured into The Garage immediately, overpowering the pathetic dangling light bulb swinging overhead like a brilliant pendulum. My hand reached out instinctively and slapped the switch, turning the light off while I looked towards The Garage.
Adam was standing with his arms still raised from sliding the door up into the rafters, looking an awful lot like a boxer about to do a victory dance around his fallen opponent. "Hey!" he cried with bubbling enthusiasm. "There's that guy I know and that girl he's sweet on!" He came in, carrying his work gear and delivering a high-five hard enough to turn my flesh white.
Kayla just covered her face, embarrassed by his gleeful jab. "I expect this kind of crap from Mitch, not him," she mumbled behind her head. You couldn't miss the smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. "Always a pleasure to see you too, Adam," she said a little louder.
I was shaking my wrist, trying to knock the stinging pins out of my flesh. "Adam, how many times do I have to tell you? Decaf, abominable as it is, exists for a reason."
"Don't be hating," he laughed from inside the house, the door propped open by a duffel bag bulging at the seams. "I'm just happy to see you out and about again."
"Same here," I said, deciding to hold off on telling Adam about my little familial heart-to-heart until later. "Now that you're here, perhaps you can let us both in on the secret."
"What secret?" He came back into The Garage in his usual drumming attire; tattered band tee, slacks and sneakers. Now, if there's one thing Adam does not do well - and believe me, that list is a short one - it's lie. Even a little white lie that ran no risk of hurting somebody else eluded him like the Holy Grail. You could tell when he was lying, the ability to keep a straight face was impossible, and if he managed to pull it off, his eyes gave him away each time.
"Come on, dude, we both know how this is going to end. Best you come clean now, lest I have to sic Kayla on you."
She offered a short laugh, more an amused yelp than a real laugh, and put her hands on her hips. "The hell you say! Fight your own battles, stud." Grinning, I conceded to her. "But I think Richy's right. Spill the beans!" I knew I liked her for some reason.
Adam swallowed an entire bottle of water and tossed it into the bin. "I could, but I really should let Mitchell do the honors, it was his idea after all."
"What was?" Kayla and I shouted in unison.
But Adam was insistent, he'd already said too much. "Be patient," he said, "he'll tell you all about it." Then he looked outside. "As a matter of fact, here comes the man of the hour now."
Turning my head, I saw what Mitchell often called his 'ugly little beech' come chugging along up Clark and park behind Adam's truck, being careful to leave extra room between their respective fenders this time. I started to greet him when he stepped out of the car, but was soon distracted by a large Volkswagen van which had seen better days go up the street past the house, pull a sharp roundabout in the cul-de-sac and nearly clip the grille of a lime green four-door before slowing to a stop near the curb, tendrils of noxious blue smoke shooting out of the clanking exhaust, disappearing into the atmosphere once the engine shut off. "Oh, I can imagine the fellows at the environmental club preparing effigies of that garbage can on wheels to burn right now," I said, chuckling at the irony. No one else laughed or even offered a reply, transfixed on the beast, and the two large men piling out of it, greedily inhaling large gulps of fresh air and exhaling various groans, grunts and profanities while Mitchell, motioning for us to stay where we were, walked over to the strange men and began speaking. They were too far away for us to hear anything.
"What in the name of God is this?" I asked. Once more, I was greeted with silence. Mitchell began to laugh, then beckoned the group follow him, leading them up the driveway.
"Holy cow, he's got an entourage!" Kayla squeaked, looking on in awe.
"He certainly does," I said, and looked at Adam. He was beaming in that cheeky way of his, much the same way Mitchell did. "Okay, what are you guys up to?" I asked. "The last time I saw that face, you went all David Copperfield on me and made a big show of introducing Jason as our newest recruit."
Kayla was baffled. "What?" she said with a laugh.
"Long story, don't ask," said Adam. "I'd love to have told you about this back at the concert, had the situation been in our favor, but we all know how that turned out."
Don't remind me.
"Hey hey, what's going on, boys and girls?" Mitchell said. "Richard! Good to see you hopping about again." He squinted and leaned his head in closer. "Jesus, that's a nasty wound though. Hope it's not hurting too much."
"Well, it sure as sh-t doesn't tickle," I said. "Who are your buddies?"
"Ah!" His face broke into a wide grin. "Of course, where are my manners?" He pointed at the muscled goon on the left and said, "This is Sacha and Patrice." Each offered a modest form of greetings when their name was said, each spoke with the same mulled, rolling sharpness that Mitchell did.
"Howdy," I waved, while wondering how on Earth I would ever remember which one was whom, as they looked like clones of each other; all muscular, all sprouting hair like me. Upon closer examination, one of the guys had tattoos peeking from underneath his sleeves, and one of them had the beginnings of a dark beard peppering his face. "What is all this, Mitch? Are we holding some kind of audition I wasn't notified of?"
The four guys fell into fits of hip-tossing laughter. The bearded one (it turned out to be Patrice) clapped Mitchell on the arm. "You - you didn't tell them we are coming today, did you?" he said between gasps for air.
"Nobody told 'them' anything about today or tomorrow or next week," I said, beginning to get annoyed.
"Oh my God," Kayla gasped. "No way, no f--king way." She seemed to know something I didn't.
Mitchell was laughing along with them. "These guys aren't recruits. They're our big break. Call this a birthday present."
"Once again, I have no idea what the f--k you're talking about, Mitch."
Kayla tugged on my arm. "Richy, these guys - those guys - they were sitting in the booth at the bar. It's Bloodwood."
It's a good thing she was holding onto my arm, or I might have fallen over. The shock hit me hard. My next string of words fell out of me in short bursts, like the spray of a machine gun. "Bloodwood. At our practice. In our Garage."
"Well, half of Bloodwood to be fair. Cool, eh?" said Adam. Surprising, definitely, but cool? I'd have to get back to him on that. "Turns out our co-guitarist and these guys go way back, indeed."
"You don't say." I took one of the milk crate stools and sat down. "What brings you out to the West Coast?"
"Touring," said Patrice. "We've been going across Canada the last couple months, getting our demo out there. We just happened to be playing the other night - that is, we were supposed to until..." When Patrice caught sight of my stitches, his sentence seemed to die right on the spot. "We got a show to finish up in Victoria and then we're sticking around a bit to record our upcoming EP." The others were impressed. It was jealousy that struck a deeper chord with me.
"You're recording on the Island?" Adam asked. "Why not stay local?"
Sacha scoffed. "Are you kidding? You know what it costs to record out here?" All too well, unfortunately, some of the quotes we got on studio time for research sake were ran in the same equivalent as a month's rent for a one-bedroom apartment in one of Vancouver's more "happening" neighborhoods. "It's lucky for me," Sacha continued, "I know a guy from uni who's from the area, real sharp guy, trying to get into the production game, knows his way around a mixing board. He's offering to help us out at a discount, as a favor. Then we see Mitch here at the bar the other night and he tells us all about your guys' band. We don't want to just say hi and fly, you know? So we talk it over, we tell Mitch 'Hey, maybe we come, check you guys out, no promises but if we like -'"
Mitchell cut him off. "If they like us, they're talking about us going with them, over to the Island and having this guy check us out. Isn't that f--king incredible? What are the odds?" He looked like his lips would tear at any moment, he was smiling so hard.
I couldn't begin to calculate the odds. For that matter, I couldn't even remember my own name for a minute and by the looks on Kayla's and Adam's own faces neither could they. Sometimes you are told something that is so far beyond any and all expectation your only response is to repeat it out loud, over and over until it begins to sink in like roots taking to new soil for the first time. Such was the case now, as I stood in The Garage, struggling to make sense of what I'd heard, my arm wrapped around Kayla's shoulders, her own tiny arms again trying to force my ribcage to cave in. Adam - poor Adam just stood there, motionless, expressionless. You'd think he'd just been told that he'd won the lottery. Well, maybe we had, in a sense. "Re- record?" he said, the word sticking in his throat. "Damn Mitch, you never told me that part."
Mitchell shrugged. His wide smile didn't quiver a bit. "What can I say? I like surprises."
"Surprises, he says," I mumbled. "Surprises... damn near heart attack, that's what this is." Mitchell found this very funny.
The Bloodwood guys looked amused as well. "Remember," said Patrice, "Only if we like your stuff. So far it's just babbling I hear. Let's get some music going, eh?" But he said it with a smile. We didn't need any further motivation to get our gear set up and in tune. It might have been our fastest time ever. The Bloodwood members took seats on the couch and steps while we briefly discussed our set. We'd stick to the same outline as we'd planned for the Thrash, although at that moment, the Thrash seemed but a distant memory. "Mirror" had that softer intro that would do well for a fade in before picking up volume and tempo at the first chorus, carrying it steady through to the end where the first few thrash-influenced measures of Rage would marry perfectly against it, after which Kayla would step in with her now famous (famous among the band at least) "Bumblebee" solo, jumping straight into "Deaf Ears" to round out the trio. No covers this time, it was decided. Then we took our places and awaited the count-in from Adam.
(Don't f--k up.)
I didn't need to be told that only seconds from beginning our first unofficial concert. It was a mantra I'd been repeating while we set up. I was repeating it still when the light clicking of Adam's drumsticks banging out a four-count.
And a one, and a two, and a three, and a four...
It would be a lie to say that we knocked it out of the park. Sure, there were highs. The music came through as always, no major f--k ups for anyone, I was actually able to pull off both singing and playing at the same time. But the performance was not without its faults. Having only ever played in The Garage before, we had no sense of choreography about us, leaving us standing still, moving only our heads, arms and mouths like robots in a punk version of Country Bear Jamboree. A couple times I tried to relax and let loose, wandering around during the instrumental parts - both times I nearly hit someone with the bass. Still, it wasn't terrible. Bloodwood pointed this out right away albeit with reassurance that stuff like this took practice and experience to master, they were hardly the poster boys of grace, and you didn't need to consider stage behavior at all while recording stuff. Then they did something I didn't expect at all - they actually applauded us at the end and said they'd give us a few minutes to talk it over before coming to a final decision about whether or not to join them and walked out together, congregating near their tired van, lighting up cigarettes and beginning to talk.
We began to talk, too. "Well?" I asked, feeling silly for bothering to in the first place for what seemed like an open and shut decision. Kayla, having expressed a desire to record once before, was on board right away, and of course Mitchell was too. Me? Well, need you ask?
Adam spoke up. "It's an awesome opportunity, no doubt. However, I do have a few concerns." Uh oh, I knew this seemed too good to be true. "First point - timing: I've still got my job to worry about, and we don't know how long this recording could take. We do have the Thrash coming up, granted it's not till July..."
"To hell with the Thrash," I said, casting The Garage into silence. "Let's not beat around the bush here, guys. I think we can all agree what's more important for the band." I was given a variety of amazed looks. Had their ears deceived them? Did Richard actually speak those words, and mean them? Even the little voice couldn't think of anything to say to that.
Mitchell was the first to speak. "But Rich, you're the guy who spearheaded the contest in the first place. We wouldn't have ever known about it if it wasn't for you."
"And maybe that's for the best. I mean really, what are we talking about here? Think about it: We walk away from the contest, we're out what, thirty bucks?"
"Don't forget about the added cost of renting a van or something to move equipment back and forth," Adam added, counting off the added expenses on his fingers. "Studio time, recording costs, accommodations, food... That's a bigger expense right away if we do this. Before, we just needed to worry about moving stuff a few kilometers across town. Now, we're talking about moving stuff across an ocean for God knows how long."
"Hell, I'll sleep in the truck and eat rice," Mitchell mumbled.
"Okay, there's that to be considered too, but you gotta spend money to make money, right?" I said. "Besides, I have money, I can help."
(Help or shoulder?)
"Let's not think about money for a second. We say no, and all we're doing is giving these guys the finger. Sure there's risk, but there's risk in anything you do. Hey. Where's our next chance going to come from if we turn this down?"
"Why are we even arguing this?" Kayla asked, stamping her foot hard on the concrete, splaying her arms in exasperation. "Show me a local who's willing to help us out and I'll be glad to tell the Bloodwood-ers to f--k off, myself." Mitchell frowned hearing that, but it soon passed.
Adam wandered The Garage, head ducked, hands folded behind his back, his footsteps without meaning. "Granted, it's not Los Angeles," he said. "My eyes have been opened, I see the benefit here, don't think I'm willingly playing the 'Negative Nancy' here. It's just... I just don't know. Sure, I've got a bit of money set aside too and if need be, I'm sure there's work available on the side. It's still asking a lot though; pulling up roots and settling down an ocean away, essentially."
"Adam," I said, holding out a hand. "Money can be made again, that's how the world works. You think I'm comfortable risking every last dime for this? Because I'm not, I can tell you right now, it's a terrifying thought." It wasn't a lie, either, especially since I didn't even know just how much money I actually had, the little voice nagging away at the danger of watching it disappear in a puff of smoke, just "Poof!" and then - nothing. "There will always be other contests down the line. The Islands aren't that far if you think about it; a chance to make our dream come true is even closer. If not now, when?"
He let that sink in, facing the open door and looking out upon the world. Wind blew through the neighborhood, rattling the leaves on the large oak tree that loomed over the driveway. The Bloodwood guys stood by their van, a large, fleshy black hole, clouds of smoke rising out from the middle like a chimney. One of them glanced in our direction for a moment and turned back to whatever discussion they were having. Adam lifted his head up straight, and his shadow yawned across The Garage floor.
"Well, what's it going to be?" asked Mitchell, reclining against the workbench, arms folded across his bulbous stomach. "Do we go for it?"
Adam turned around and walked right past him without a word, opening the fridge and sticking his head in. He came out holding three cold cans and passed one to me and another one to Mitchell. "You know," he said, cracking open his can, "I never really wanted to spend my summer working for that fatass loudmouth anyways. F--k yes, we go for it!"
Approving yells and wolf howls erupted from the three of us, cans popped open and crashed against each other in fervent cheers, foam flowing off the tops and running down the sides, dripping onto the floor.
"Uh, hello," Kayla said, holding her arms up, "Adam, you forgot about me, total diss, man."
Adam started to say something about underage drinking, then changed his mind and grabbed another one from the fridge. "Behave yourself now," he said, tossing it to her. She opened the beer, took a large swallow, faced Adam and smiled sweetly before letting out a monster belch that made his eyes bug. Even the Bloodwood guys heard it outside, taking it as a cue to come back in and join the party. I was on the floor laughing so hard, tears began rolling down my cheeks.
"Wow," said Patrice, giving Kayla an impressed smile as Adam fetched beers for our new friends. "I like you guys already. I think we made a good call." Then he turned and looked down at me, still lying prostrate on the floor. "Hey big guy, this one-" he gestured his thumb towards her, "she's a keeper. Don't let her go."
"I don't plan on letting that happen," I said, standing up with some effort. She looked at me and blushed. She knew I meant it, too. We both did.
When the others all had beers in hand, the suggestion for a toast started floating around, and soon, everyone was looking at me. "Go on!"
(You heard them. Go on. I don't think anybody will mind you taking the spotlight this time.)
What the hell. "To the music: May it never be silenced. Rock on!" Our cans came together again in a mutual "Rock on!"
We spent the evening blasting various forms of metal from the boombox, drinking and getting to know our future travelling companions. It turned out the guys in Bloodwood were really cool. They brought a collection of early recordings from what Sacha called "The Mitch Years", along with their current demo for us to keep and check out, as well as a sampling of underground Quebecois metal acts from back home. Death inspired doom-thrash; they labeled their style as, heavy on the bass, though not so much to drown out the speeding guitars. I liked what I heard, these guys knew their stuff. It turned out Patrice pulled double duty as bassist and vocalist, treating The Garage to an earsplitting demonstration, covering octaves both high and a low; a miracle that glass didn't start shattering left and right. This also impressed me. The future looked bright and loud.
When the festivities died down later that night, I pulled Adam aside. "What's up, big guy?" he asked.
"We've been talking a lot about our future today. I've come to a decision about mine you should know," I said. He looked puzzled, but let me finish. "Can't tell you enough how I appreciate you letting me crash here for as long as I have while trying to set things back on track."
"Hey man, anytime-" he started.
"But," I interrupted, "I think the time's come for this train to switch over to another line in order to continue this journey. I'm heading out on my own." He was speechless, managing to only lift his beer a couple times, words failing altogether. "It's for the best," I said. "The door back home has been closed for good, that chapter's over. Now we start a new one - together, and apart."
We walked upstairs and onto the deck, where I was given silent consent to light up a smoke. We sat down on the dirty plastic lawn chairs opposite a weathered table and talked for a long time. I told him about the discussion, more of a soliloquy really, Eric had with me back at the hospital, about where this money I'd spoke of had come from, everything. He took it all in silence, face bouncing between anger, (more towards Eric and my father than me, I think,) understanding and sadness. When I finished, he tipped his can back and emptied it with one, long sip and looked right at me.
"Where are you going to go?"
"I'm not sure yet, I'll have to figure that out. Until we set off, I'll probably just crash at some SRO hotel. I don't need much."
He frowned. "Those places are for welfare junkies and hobos. You're neither of those. Besides, I've heard stories."
"Who hasn't?" I said after a heavy drag. "Like I told you, it's only temporary. Maybe the escape will do wonders for my little creative spark. I just need a place to jam, write and sleep."
"That's what you're doing here right now," he indicated the house with an open wave. "Stay." He sounded like even he didn't have faith in his own words. "But, I know. It doesn't work that way with you."
"You took the words right out of my mouth."
He laughed through his nose. "What can I say, Richard? I know you well enough to recognize futility, and I also know you're a stubborn a-s, whatever you want, you'll get."
"Yeah, yeah," I said, not disagreeing.
Adam crumpled his can with one fist. "You absolutely sure this is what you want?" I nodded. "What do the others think about this? You have told them, right?"
"Kayla's not a fan of the idea of course, but that's Kayla for you. I care more about her safety first. I can look out for myself. Mitch doesn't know the full details, but he's bound to reach pretty much the same, though he's probably more confident I know what I'm doing. It must be a guy thing."
He grunted. "Well, whatever you think you gotta do, man." He plunked a hand down on my shoulder, squeezing it tight and giving a firm shake. "You know yourself better than I ever will." I noticed he was stopping short of giving actual support for my idea. "Promise me one thing."
"What's that?" I asked, draining my own can and copying his one-handed crushing.
"Work on those vocals a bit. I don't want to hear any whiny, emo sh-t on this demo." He was grinning again.
"Only if you work on those sloppy, half-a-sed beats you been throwing around," I said. Then we burst out laughing and shook hands. What can I say, it was our thing. We didn't need any of that man-hug stuff to show appreciation for one another.