Carrie Anne and Charlie were there at the bar, slick with sweat from their performance on stage, buzzed with adrenaline and riding high on the glory of a successful performance. Megan and I looked at each other.
"No, we're not here on a date," I said, in response to Carrie Anne's question. "Just... here for the show."
"That's so sweet!" Carrie Anne gushed. She reached out for Megan, and the two girls hugged. Charlie looked at me, stepped back and opened his arms, offering to give me a similar squeeze.
I smiled and shook my head. "Pass," I told him.
"So?" Carrie Anne said. "Were we awesome?"
"Pretty awesome," Megan said. "You looked great on stage."
Charlie clapped his hands together. "Shots!" he shouted. "Who wants an Irish Car Bomb?"
"Oh my god, you have to have one with me," Carrie Anne told Megan. "It is soooo delicious. Come on."
The ladies turned toward the bar, and Charlie went with them. When the server arrived to take the order, Carrie Anne turned to me. "You too?"
"No thanks," I said with a grin. "No shots. Blaaaah." I mimed puking.
She gave me a quizzical look. "You used to do shots."
I shrugged. "I try not to drink hard stuff," I said. "I'm good with beer. Thanks, though."
The three of them got their drinks lined up, with shots of whiskey on top of Irish cream, which they dropped into glasses of stout. They chugged down the mix and then gave each other twisty-faced high fives.
The girls started chatting, and Charlie turned to me. "So, what did you think of the show?" he asked. "I'm always interested to hear what the music media thinks."
He's taking the p-ss out of me, I thought. Everybody thinks the music writer thing is a joke. Whatever, I thought. "You played the same show as last time," I said. "Nothing new for me."
"No!" he said. "We changed the set list. We had two new songs that we've never performed before! You couldn't tell?"
"I guess not," I said, and I took a sip of my pint.
"Well, I guess that means they fit in with the rest of the material, right?" Charlie said.
"Yeah," I said. "Or it means your songs all sound the same." I regretted saying that after it left my mouth. It was an a-shole thing to say.
We fell into an awkward silence. The ex and the new boyfriend, stuck together while Carrie Anne chatted with her buddy. Charlie and I looked at each other. We both knew where things were between us. We were just distracting each other, playing a game. Neither one of us gave a shit about the other. Hell, under other circumstances, like if Carrie Anne were out of the picture, maybe we could have been friends, but as things were, our civility was a charade. At least, that's how things appeared to me.
"Where are your band-mates?" I asked him.
"At the back. We've got a bottle of Jack Daniels back there that we've been sneaking drinks from. Do you want some?"
"No, I don't want to drink the band's booze. Besides, I really don't drink hard stuff much anymore. I don't like getting too hammered. That first night you met me, at The Horseshoe, that was pretty unusual for me. It's usually more like, a couple beers and that's it."
"Oh," he said. "I had the impression that you were a big party guy."
"I like to party," I said. "I just don't need to puke every single time I go out."
"Right, right," he said, nodding. "Hey, are you coming out for a smoke?"
"No, I'm good," I said. "I don't really do that either."
"Man, you faked me out!" he said with a smile. "That first night you were smoking and drinking, you were getting wrecked, man."
"That was a weird night."
"Yeah," he said. "You were surprised to see..." he looked in Carrie Anne's direction.
I shrugged and smiled. "I'm going to see if the next band is almost ready," I said. "Enjoy your smoke."
Charlie smiled like he'd gotten away with something. He was a crafty f--cker, and I didn't trust him. But to hell with him. I left him behind and headed into the back room where the second band was setting up on stage.
I didn't know the band that was setting up. I hadn't even bothered to learn their name, which proved what a farce my excuse for showing up had been; I wasn't here to write a review on a gig. I was here to see Carrie Anne, even though she was showing no interest at all in seeing me. Or so I thought until she and Megan came and stood with me. They'd clearly been talking about me.
"So," Mega said, taking a spot on my left while Carrie Anne stood on my right, "Carrie Anne says you think Charlie is trying to set you and me up?"
"What the f--k," I said with a laugh. "You guys are gossips, man. I don't know. I don't know what Charlie's deal is. I'm just... going with the flow here."
"Right," Megan said. "Carrie Anne says you like strippers."
I turned to look at Carrie Anne. "Carrie Anne seems to be telling everyone that," I said.
She held up her hands. "You sure liked them when we were going out."
"As if," I said. "I never went to see strippers when we were going out."
"Yeah," she replied. "You went with Ronnie and those guys that time."
"Oh," I said, remembering a particularly blurry night. "Okay. But that wasn't my idea. Is this important?"
Neither girl responded. They were baiting me. I'd stepped into a weird little triangle, and I was now caught in the middle. Even so, this was better than sitting at home surfing porn on the net.
The band on stage struck some heavy chords, adjusted, and started their first song. They were a two guy and two girl outfit, with the ladies on bass and drums with a pair of male guitarists. The singer was a fat guy with a goatee and glasses. They were doing some screechy rock.
I turned to Carrie Anne. "You know these guys?"
She shook her head. We stood and watched. They played their first song, which seemed to be all one chord, played fast.
"We are Grappa," said the singer. "And we just want to say thank you, and f--k you!"
They started their second song, which was a chunked-up version of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up."
"This is shit," Megan screamed over the noise.
The girls gestured to each other, and they turned and went back to the bar's front room. I stayed for a few more moments, but I actually couldn't stand the band, so I followed them.
I caught up with them. They were talking about someone else I didn't know, so I just hung out as a third wheel in the conversation until Megan excused herself and went off to the bathroom. Carrie Anne and I looked at each other.
"That's a horrible cover they're doing," I said, trying to break the ice.
"Yeah. We're trying to avoid covers. They're too hit-and-miss."
"Right, like The Rotary Phones playing Rock and Roll N***** at the El Mocambo show."
"Exactly," she said. "And that's actually a good song. The lyrics are meaningful, but that doesn't mean you should play it at a show."
"Right. Maybe save it for rehearsals or jam sessions or something."
"Yeah," she said. "We've learned some covers, just for practice, but we're not going to use them. We don't want to be remembered for a cover we play, even if we do an awesome job."
"I think that's where The Phones screwed up," I said. "I mean, they played the song well, but they probably shouldn't have played it. It's like, even if the can play it doesn't mean they should."
"Oh my god, you sound like... oh." She started snapping her fingers. "Um, Jurassic Park, when the guy, the chaos guy..."
"Yes!" she said, pointing at me. "And he says something like..."
I remembered the line and recited, "They were so busy trying to figure out if they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."
"Right! That's totally worth a head hug." She reached forward and grabbed me by the back of the neck, and pulled me toward her. She brought our foreheads together for a few brief moments, and I felt a warm rush pass through me. I could also smell the alcohol on her breath.
She released me, but we remained close. She smiled at me. "I have missed you," she said. "I wish... I wish we could just be friends without any bullshit, you know? It's so hard sometimes."
I nodded. "I know."
We hugged tight, separating as Megan returned. Without acknowledging what just happened, we broke off and headed to the bar for fresh drinks.
Charlie showed up with the other guys from the band, and I managed to slip away. Even though I didn't like their sound, I went back and watched the band. I needed to sort myself out. It was exhausting to be so confused about my feelings all the time.
After Grappa finished their set, Charlie came and found me, and this time he insisted that I step outside with him. The look in his eye and the tone of his voice set off little warning bells, but he kept his grin in place. I followed him out onto the patio where people were standing with their cigarettes.
"What's up?" I asked him.
"Nothing," he said, handing me a cigarette. I held up a hand to refuse it, but he snapped, "Smoke the f--king thing."
I took it, let him light me up, and then I stood with it hanging between two fingers, the smoke drifting pointlessly away.
"Sometimes you just gotta have a smoke, Nate," he said. And then, just as he did the first night we met, he repeated, "Nate the Great."
He lit his own smoke. "I guess you've heard about Carrie Anne and me," he said. "About our arrangement."
"I'm not sure what you mean," I said.
"Come on," he said. "I know she told you about it. How we're in an open relationship? She told you."
"Oh, that," I said. "Yeah, that surprises me. Why the hell would you do that? She's a great girl, man. I can't believe you'd share her with anyone."
"Well, that's the whole thing," he said. "I don't just share her with anyone. We choose. And it's only fair to tell you that you are not someone I'm going to share her with. So, I can see you and her hugging in the bar and stuff, but I don't want you to get any mixed up ideas that maybe you still have a chance with her or something. Because for you, she is off-limits."
"Right," I said. "I'm on the list. The Do Not F--k list."
"Right," he said, nodding in agreement. "Do Not F--k. You are DNF, man."
I grinned. "You're an idiot," I said. "You're an idiot if you think this isn't going to eventually ruin this relationship. You've got a great girl, and you are sabotaging it for yourself. I honestly don't know why you would come up with an idea like this."
"Don't immediately assume it was my idea," he said. "But it doesn't matter either way for you. You want to come to the bar, hang around, do whatever. Date her stripper friend. But don't start looking at Carrie Anne, because I'm telling you right now, she is off limits."
I laughed. "It's a joke that you think you guys will be able to manage this without disaster." I flicked the cigarette into a coffee can that was set out as an ash tray. "Thanks for the smoke, dipshit."
The third and final band was getting ready to go on stage, but I didn't even bother going back inside. I'd had enough of this drama bullshit for one night, and I left right from the patio, leaving Charlie there working on his smoke and shaking with anger.
And as I walked back toward the subway station, one thought kept repeating in my head: DNF list, my a-s.
|This chapter was partly written in an ER waiting room. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @nolanwhyte, and read his sci-fi trash at endicity.blogspot.ca.|