I was thrillin' like a villain, walking a bada-s strut on my way to stare down Charlie. Poor, poor Charlie.
The last time we'd spoken I'd called him an idiot and a dipsh-t, and the best he could do was tell me that I'm not allowed to sleep with his girlfriend.
I disliked him on a personal level because I thought he was a pompous douche aspiring towards hipsterhood, and I hated him on a situational level because he was the guy that Carrie Anne had moved on to after me. But on another level I had grown to pity him because of that conversation. I mean, what kind of man tells a rival something like that? That's like a boxer saying an opponent is not allowed to beat him up. It's pathetic.
If he'd been smart, he would have said something more forceful, like "Nate, I respect that you're a figure from Carrie Anne's past, and she seems to tolerate you stupid blogger a-s, but if you start getting ideas then I'm going to take a bus to Etobicoke, find a lumber yard, buy a two-by-four, and use it to alter the shape of your skull, ribcage and spine. Now back the f--k up."
Now that would have been language that I understand and respect. But what did he say? Something like, "We're in an open relationship so technically she can sleep with anybody she wants, but for you she's off-limits."
In some ways, he seemed like a way cooler guy than me. After all, he was fronting a capable band, while I was barely getting started. He was a better player than me. Plus, he could play and sing. I was a below-average player and an unremarkable singer, and I couldn't sing and play at the same time. He was more fashionable. He dropped references to French theorists, while I kept mentioning Lou Reed, who everyone seems to hate. And most of all, Charlie had Carrie Anne.
But I felt one hundred and ten percent like I had the upper hand. He had identified me as a threat; that meant I was one. He'd warned me off his girl once before, and now, the night before Carrie Anne was supposed to be coming to see me play a gig, he was calling me up, asking to meet for a drink. Obviously there would be more begging. I was expecting him to actually say please at some point, as in "Please don't screw my girlfriend."
I'd chosen the Village Idiot pub as our meeting place because it was close to my house, so I'd be able to stop off at the pub, have a beer, laugh at Charlie, and then go home. Good plan for the night. I was full of confidence, but I stopped at the LCBO and grabbed a can of beer, which I chugged in the street before going into the pub. I wanted to be loose. I wanted to be silly. I stood on a windy street corner listening to Motorhead on my music player, getting stoked to go in and face him.
I tossed the can in a street bin and went inside. I spotted him right away. He was sitting at a small table with a pint of black beer in front of him. He didn't smile when he saw me. Instead he made the cheesy slow nod, like a samurai acknowledging a rival. I stopped at the bar and ordered a pint of Moosehead, and asked the bartender if he could bring a couple shot of tequila over.
With pint in hand I sat down across from Charlie, ready for whatever he might hit me with. I expected he was going to ask again not to try and bang Carrie Anne. I didn't care about anything he had to say. I was concerned with Carrie Anne, not this pretentious jerk.
He didn't say anything when I sat down, and just stared at me with a serious look on his face.
"Hello, Charlie," I said after an uncomfortably long staring contest. "Did you text me because you missed me?"
"It's hard to miss you, man," he said. "You have a way of making your presense felt."
I smiled. "I guess so. You up for a shot of tequila?"
"Oh. Well, I ordered some. Remember that first night at The Horseshoe? You ordered us tequila shots before I even knew who you were."
"I remember. That was the first night you came cruising around. You've really worked your way back in since then, haven't you?"
"Maybe." I shrugged. "You've been trying hard to play this situation, haven't you? Having me interview you, talking up your band, trying to hook me up with Megan, almost trying to keep me close, right? Like the old line, keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
"I think we've both been trying to find each other's range," he replied. "Let's not pretend that either of us ever really wanted to be friends. You've been after my fucking girlfriend."
I smiled and took a sip of my pint. "Maybe," I said.
"Yeah, right, maybe." He laughed. "And so you've got a gig tomorrow night, and you invited Carrie Anne. Great. Sure, invite her."
"Thanks. I already did."
"And maybe you thought that would really p-ss me off, right?"
"That wasn't what I had in mind," I said with a grin. "But you sure look pissed off."
"I'm p-ssed off because I think you're acting like an a-shole," he said. "But please don't think I'm pissed of because I feel threatened or anything like that."
The bartender brought a tray and set down the two shots, plus a salt shaker and a tiny bowl with two lemon wedges. "Enjoy," he said.
"Thanks," Charlie said.
"Yeah, cheers," I said as the guy returned to the bar. "Shall we?"
"I don't want a f--king shot."
"Okay," I said, licking my wrist and sprinkling on the salt. "Would you mind telling me what it is that you do want? Because I still have no idea why you wanted to meet me."
"Two things really," he said. "First, I think you're an asshole. I think I already mentioned that, but I think it bears repeating. Your plan, as near as I can figure, is to try and break up Carrie Anne and me. Any guy that works an angle like that is an a-shole, and I'm happy to say it to your face. You're an a-shole."
I shrugged and smiled. "Guilty, I guess." I licked the salt off my wrist, knocked down the shot, and grabbed at a lemon wedge. Sucking hard on the acidic fruit, I was overcome by how really disgusting tequila tastes. I shuddered a little.
"Tough guy," Charlie sneered. "The other thing I wanted to tell you is that your cute little project is completely doomed to failure. I mean, what the hell are you thinking? Carrie Anne and I are solid, man. We're tight. Sh-t, we're moving in together after her lease expires. You think you can just show up at the bar occasionally and that will be enough to break us up? You were calling me an idiot at the bar a couple weeks ago, but dude, you're the idiot."
I managed to get the second shot down without cringing or shuddering. "Then why are you getting so worked up?" I said. "If you really think I have no shot at all, then why are you coming out here just to tell me how 'not threatened' you are?"
Charlie sat back in his chair. He shook his head and gave a smile of what? patience? "Nate," he said. "I'm trying to nip this in the bud before you make a really big fool of yourself. Let me try and clarify something for you." He put his hands on the table, leaned forward and said loud and clear: "SHE ALREADY DUMPED YOU. You are old news to her. Nostalgia at best. You think she's going to be interested in you again? She thought you were interesting like, four years ago. Then she put up with your sh-t for a couple years, and she had enough and broke up with you. Why the hell do you think she'd want you now?"
I tried to think of a quick, clever answer, but at that moment the two shots of tequila walked onto my brain and lay down. It threw off my rhythm, and I had to settle for a simple shrug. "We'll see," was all I could think to say.
"Right. We'll see."
"Look," I said, trying to bring my thoughts back in line. "Carrie Anne is special to me. I miss her. I want to be around her again. Is that so crazy?"
"That wouldn't be crazy if that that's all it was. But you've got a fucking scheme going on, and I want to tell you, it is not going to work."
"I don't get it," I said. "If you're so convinced that I'm working some angle on her, why are you letting her come to my show tomorrow? Or why aren't you at least coming along?"
"Because I don't want to see your sh-tty gig, and because I trust my girlfriend. I'm not worried that she's going to do anything with you. It's not like she's going to jump in bed with you just from seeing you play a show."
"Right," I said. I took a gulp of beer, hoping its alcohol would somehow wipe away the alcohol from the shots. "You think she won't do anything with me because you said so. Right? That's the little arrangement you guys have, isn't it?"
"Yeah," he said. "You're really hung up on the open relationship thing, aren't you? You think it's some kind of free pass for you, like you can just roll in and nail her, but dude, it is not like that. We have respect. Something which you are clearly lacking."
"You know, Charlie," I said, "I realize both of our drinks are still mostly full, but something tells me we're about done here."
"Fine," he said. "Get the f--k out of here and let me finish my pint."
We sat there and stared at each other across the table. We each took sips. They were tiny sips, and we slowly worked ourselves into a routine of making furious faces and taking teeny sips, as though we each wanted to be the last to finish. The humor of the charade was apparent pretty quickly, and we both cracked up laughing, breaking the tension.
"Hell with it," I said. "Let's just finish them. You want to talk about music or something?"
He sighed, smiled, and shook his head. "I don't want to talk about music with you, man. I actually don't think you're very good as a music writer, or blogger, or whatever it is you call yourself. Here, I'll put an end to this." He lifted his glass and drained down the three-quaters of a pint that remained, mercifully putting an end to our little date.
"Have fun tomorrow night," he said, setting his glass down. He stood up and walked out. I lingered, slowly finishing my beer and digesting everything he'd said.
I went back to my apartment. I was only inside for a few minutes when there was a knock on the door. I opened it and saw Doreen, the punkish high school girl from the second floor, standing there holding a stack of books.
"Hi," she said. "I saw you getting home. I wanted to return these to you."
"Oh, my books," I said, accepting the stack. "Thanks. I'd forgotten you borrowed these. Um, did you want to take anything else? Borrow whatever you like."
"No, I'm okay," she said. "I took what looked interesting last time."
"You must be pretty stoked about tomorrow night."
I set the books down on the kitchen table. "For the gig? Yeah, I guess."
"You're going to write about it on your website, right? I noticed you haven't updated anything in a while."
"Oh, yeah," I said. "I guess so. I hadn't really thought about writing about the gig. I'm thinking about moving away from the writing. I'm planning to put a band together."
"Oh, cool," she said with genuine enthusiasm. "But why not do both? You could write about your band."
I shook my head solemnly. "No, it's no good," I said. "I don't think I can do it. I think if I want to play music I'll need to... shut up about it."
Doreen nodded. "I get it," she said. "Um, about the books? Is there like a place where you like to go book shopping? Like a really awesome place?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. I just go to the big stores. Most of the smaller places are out of business anyway. Sometimes I go to the used bookstores. I don't know. I haven't thought about books much lately. Why?"
"My dad says he doesn't have time to go Christmas shopping," she said. "He gave me some money and told me to go buy my own presents, and I'd really like to get some books, but I'm still pretty freaked out about going around the city. I don't really know where to go."
"None of your high school friends can help you?"
She looked away. "I haven't really made any close friends yet," she said. "I have school friends, like, friends at school, but not friends that I go around with. There's one guy who's really nice to me, but I can't tell what's going on there. I don't know. I'm trying not to force anything."
"Okay," I said. "Um, how about we go out next weekend," I suggested. "We can go downtown and look around. It'll be nuts because it's so close to Christmas, but it might be fun."
"That would be great," she said, cheering up. Then she sighed. "Good luck tomorrow night. I wish I could go see you and Terry play. But good luck anyway."
We wished each other good night, and I made my way to the couch and slouched into the cushions. "Good luck tomorrow night," I repeated to myself. "Good luck, good luck, good luck tomorrow night."
|This is chapter 25 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Receive updates about his work on twitter at @nolanwhyte.|