Mornings without awaking into a blind stupor, hangover watching overhead like an angel of death are not something I've been used to, given the way life's gone these last couple years, but I don't mind telling you they're almost a joy. Waking up to find a second body in my bed however... those are rarer, still. I have never been the sort of guy to indulge in a string of one-night stands, and the few I allowed myself to give into almost always ended with my awakening to an empty apartment with maybe a note left on the dresser, the counter or somewhere else; once I found a voicemail offering thanks for the previous night's activity, but no invitation to an encore performance anytime soon. Such is the life of Jay.
Her naked back is turned to me, the detail of her impressive backpiece; a full musical staff littered with myriad notes anchored by a duo of treble and bass clefs nestled atop a lone blooming rose, the entire work entwined with sinister thorns, teasingly hidden by a sheet. Hair in wild disarray framing her face, pressed against the pillow. She doesn't even stir as I pry myself from the sheets, lift my surprisingly stiff body into a sitting position, reaching out with a finger to press the home button on my phone. The screen snaps alive, its brightness overwhelming in the still dark room. 9:30 a.m., later than I might have hoped for, but no cause for alarm (ha ha). We aren't due to be back in the studio until eleven, more than enough time to pull myself together into something resembling a functional member of the world.
That's when I notice an incredible number of texts and missed calls, yet not a single voicemail. Thank God for silent ringtones, or my phone might very well have been tossed through the window during the night. The messages vary considerably in urgency, anger and length; the last one threatens to show up at Cage and not leave until I show up for my next shift.
I send a single reply; short and not so sweet. "You do and there WILL be problems. I have no excuse to even fake politeness with you anymore, you've caused me nothing but problems. Fuck off once and for all, bitch. Tell Billy the same." I hit send, and power down the phone, leaving it on the dresser. Let the voicemail deal with it today...
Leaving Lindsay to her dreams, I shower, think about shaving and decide to let the two day old growth of spotty facial hair live to see another day, dress as quietly as I can and go into the kitchen. Last night's coffee still sits in the pot on the machine, stone cold but still good if re-heated; the two of us were too preoccupied last night to bother with refills. That draws a sly smile out of me as I poke through the skimp holdings of my refrigerator, pulling out a carton of eggs, a half-eaten package of bacon and an unopened jar of salsa, setting these on the counter next to the stove. A thrown together concoction tasty enough to pass for breakfast is born ten minutes later, divided onto two plates and set on the breakfast bar, my portion drenched with additional hot sauce. Just as I begin to tuck in, Lindsay emerges from the bedroom wearing only panties and my shirt from yesterday, a black tee with the crude scratch font of the Systex logo emblazoning the front. It sags on her trim body like flesh melting off the bone. She looks a little stunned, as if she's still emerging from the fog of sleep, or trying to figure out where on earth she is. That's when she notices me sitting shirtless in front of my plate, fork held in midair, spearing a piece of bacon.
"That one's yours," I say, pointing to the second plate with my fork, the bacon piece wiggling off the tines and dropping onto the Formica. "Coffee's from last night, but it's still tasty enough." As if to emphasize this point, I reach for my own mug and take a long sip.
Lindsay arcs her back in a long stretch, reaching towards the ceiling, then bending all the way down to touch her toes, then back up, letting her arms fall to her sides. She looks a little more awake now, tipping her head back and sniffing. "Hmm. Smells good. What is it?"
"It's..." I look at the messy combination of ingredients and shrug. "It's good." She considers this, and then drops herself into the other chair, reaching for a fork. We eat in silence for a few minutes, with occasional grunts of "Mmm," the official language of the morning-after people, before falling back to normal English. "We gotta be at the studio for eleven, right?"
"Mhm." Well, at least one of us was back to English.
"Did you call him? Let him know what the plan was?" She shakes her head and shovels in another mouthful of food. "Probably called you, wondering where the hell you were, huh?"
Another shake of the head, "Mm-mm."
I chuckle. "That's what I like: An attentive housemate." I watch her face closely, looking for a reaction, any reaction, from her. If there is one, it slips past, undetected. I sigh inwardly and return to my own plate, poking around the mixture of egg and meat and sauce. Lindsay does the same, looking equally thoughtful. This is yet another ritual of the morning-after people: Trying too hard to show any interest in something, anything, that takes your attention away from the elephant in the room.
"As long as I show up at Opus, alive and in one piece, I doubt Kev will even notice I didn't come home last night," Lindsay says at last. Then she pauses, stares off into space for a moment, then giggles, holding her fork-clutching fist to her lips. "That is, of course, until he realizes he's got no van to get him to said studio."
"I didn't even think about that," I say, and it's the truth. For once. "We could always make him walk, just an idea."
The giggle grows into a delighted cackle. "I'd like to see him try! He wouldn't make it past ten-k. I don't think I'd make it much further, either." I tilt my head in agreement, continuing to eat. She's stopped, though. The fork is set down across the plate, her liberated fingers tapping almost compulsively on the counter. "Jay..." she begins.
"Don't," I say, lifting a finger. "You don't have to say it. I understand."
"Sure. I'm not dumb. And this isn't my first time, although I bet you already guessed that."
"Mine either," she admits, looking embarrassed. She snatches her up, hiding her trembling lips behind it. "But it is the first time I ever... you know, stayed the whole night."
She's got my complete attention now. The world around me seems to fade out of existence, leaving only Lindsay, timid and intensely sexy, in my wake. "Oh?"
"Uh-huh." A smile forms behind the cup, and then falters. "I don't do this regularly, you know. Sleep with guys I'm in a band with. Or sleep with guys. One-night stands, I mean."
Does this mean you're bi? I think. Best not to ask that one today. Or ever. "Okay. For what it's worth, I don't either, with women, I mean."
"Good," she says. "You better not think of me in that way, either, or I'll put my fork in your face."
Wonderful. "Well, how should I think of you, then?"
"What do you mean?"
"You tell me. Come on, Lindsay, I'm not a mind-reader when it comes to us. Is there an 'us'?"
"I don't know," she says, still holding her cup close to her face. "There might be." She seems to sense the irritation coursing through me, because she's quick to add, "I'm not trying to be coy, Jay, I really don't know. This is different. Don't ask me to explain how or why, I just can't right now. Even I don't know what this is."
I nod. It takes an effort, but I manage to keep it together. "I get it. I do. Somehow, I do."
Lindsay reaches out and puts her hand on my knee. "I don't know what comes next. But I can promise there is a 'next' in all of this."
"Yeah," she nods, finally putting her cup down. Then she smirks. "At least, there was last night." She watches my face morph, and begins laughing so hard, she almost falls out of her chair. When she pulls herself together, she stands and begins to turn, pauses, turns back, slides herself onto my lap, wraps her arms around me and kisses me, long and hard. Before I know what's happening, she's back on the floor and walking towards the bedroom. "I like this shirt, you don't mind if I borrow it today, do you?"
"Didn't think so." She closes the bedroom door, leaving me to sit there in front of an empty plate and mug and try to understand just what the fuck happened, a futile endeavour if ever there was one. Not that you'd hear me complaining, exactly.
Doing the dishes and cleaning up is almost enjoyable for once.
We pick Kevin up in front of the Ravenclaw house at half past ten. He climbs in the back, snaps his belt and looks at us. "What's up!" he says, "ready for another day at the grindstone?" The sullen, brooding Kevin of yesterday seems to have been left behind in the house, now he's all smiling and enthusiastic, Mr. Just Folks. Though I won't say I'm sad not to see the former Kevin in attendance, I can only wonder and worry when he might make another appearance, and just how long he'll stick around for this time. Was I really so naive to think I'd leave behind having to walk on eggshells all the time by switching bands?
When neither of us responds to his question, Kevin again asks what's up, looking a little more intently at us, waiting for some kind of reaction.
Lindsay shifts the rear-view mirror to capture Kevin's reflection and squints at him. "We had a lovely night, thank you for asking. Now shut up." She re-adjusts the mirror, puts the van into gear and we're off to the studio. Kevin has taken an iPad out of his bag and is staring into a technical abyss while we coast along Highway 1 and out towards the strip of industrial land where Cloudy, to quote his exact words, "makes us sound a little less sucky," offering a cheeky, Cheshire Cat-like grin while Lindsay looked at him like she might like to make him eat one of the rheostats on his soundboard. It's the same grin Kevin has on his face right now; holding the iPad right up close to his face does little to hide it.
I look at Lindsay. She glances at me and makes an "oh, brother" expression, rolling her eyes at Kevin.
I'm smiling too. And I don't stop smiling for the rest of the day as we inch closer to finishing off the demo.
I ask to be dropped off at the Main Street SkyTrain station instead of my place, partly out of a desire to collect my paycheque a day early from Cage, and partly out of a not entirely unjustified paranoia that the Fat Man and his costumed crony might decide to stake another ambush, although you'd have to be an idiot to try and jump someone before sundown in any neighbourhood. Kevin, still in a good mood, agrees. Lindsay offers a simple "see you tomorrow Jay-Jay" in parting, but her eyes say a whole lot more as the van pulls away from the curb and back into the steady flow of southbound traffic. You know where I live...
Yes I do, Lindsay. And so do you. The question is, can either of us wait until tomorrow, when the final recordings are done and behind us, to properly celebrate? I don't know the answer, but I have a hunch I'll be finding out sooner than later.
My trip downtown is uneventful, save for being accosted for spare change by a semi-clothed gentleman and his jingling coffee cup at the ticket machine. Sadly, even things such as that are as common a sight in Vancouver as pigeons on the street corner.
Everything that follows after I get off the train... not so much.
I recognize the hooded figure sitting crosslegged on top of the newspaper kiosk for who it is long before the crosswalk signal lights up in my direction. I don't even have to turn my phone back on to know there's at least one reply to my last message just waiting for me, along with whoever wanted to speak to me today. I suppose I should feel guilty for that, but all I'm feeling right now is anger; bright and hot and only getting stronger with each step. "One day," I mutter, crossing the street, "just one fucking day without an incident, is that too much to ask?"
Our eyes lock as the distance between us closes to only a few feet, then less, then inches. I sense no anger here, at least not anger on the same level as what I feel. "Brea! What the fuck are you doing here?" I say, stopping short of the kiosk.
Brea adjusts her hood and looks at me with a pale and expressionless face, a face that also happens to be sporting, to my brief amazement, a nasty looking bruise just above the right side of her narrow jawbone. "Don't you read your messages?" she asks.
Whatever startle I felt at the sight of her bruise is wiped away in a single stroke. "Do you? I thought I made it clear that I've got no interest in talking to you, and you go and pull this? Do I actually have to say it to your face before you get the idea?"
"Well, if you actually did bother to keep your phone on, you'd know just what I think of that."
"Whatever. I'm not having this conversation. Go home, Brea. And if you follow me into the store, I swear..."
"What!" she suddenly screams, making me flinch and drawing the attention of pedestrians on both sides of the street. "You'll what, Jay? Make me sorry? Teach me a 'lesson?' You think that's the first time I've heard that? Fuck you! Fuck you and your fucking bullshit! You're no different than him! You! You..."
But she can't manage anymore. With building horror, I watch Brea's face collapse as tears begin cascading down her cheeks, strings of snot and saliva from her nose and mouth as she continues half-sobbing, half-screaming, gripping her hood and pulling at it while trying to uncross her legs and draw them up to her chest, only to cause herself to trip up. The newspaper kiosk tips forward and she falls into my arms before I even realize I'm reaching out to her. More people are staring now. Some look ready to intervene, call 911, or both. On impulse and with my arms still around her, I drag her limp body past the storefront and into the nearby alley. She kicks and pounds me as I pull her up against the brick wall as she continues to wail like a woman in a horror movie who's just discovered the dead body in the closet.
"Ow! Dammit, Brea, stop it, that hurts! Ow, ow! Fuck! Stop it! You're alright, just stop it, you're alright!"
It takes a few moments, but the flailing, the kicking, the punching stop and soon, she's just clutching her arms around my neck like a drowning man holding onto a log for dear life. Her face is buried deep into my chest, so the screaming sobs reduce to a series of muffled whimpers and gasps. All I can do is hold onto her out of fear she'll drop to the pavement like a sack of potatoes if I let go. Both my mind and heart are racing; suffice it to say this is far beyond any confrontation I expected. Hell, what confrontation? This is a pure fucking meltdown.
The confusion and panic that swallowed me slowly begins to separate, and clarity begins to seep in, like a lava lamp that's been given a violent shaking and left to sit a while. "Billy," I say, the word catching in my throat. "Billy. He did that to you."
"Fucking duh," Brea says, muffled by my shirt. The sobs are growing weaker and further apart. "Took you that long?" Then she suddenly breaks her grip and shoves both hands into my chest - hard - knocking me against the building's wall, my head snapping back and bonking against a brick hard enough to send a brief flash of white across my field of vision.
"Ow! What the hell?"
"You think you're the first person he's ever used his hands on?" she asks between shaky breaths, the pain and anguish in her face fading, "you and that Curtis asshole? Well, think again." She's growing angry now, and fast, her voice gaining strength, reaching realms of unbridled fury that make whatever I thought I felt seem like little more than a hissy fit. "And you think you suffered? You think he and that fat piece of shit knocked you for a loop? Fuck you! You don't even know what a beating is. And you're a guy, at least you stand a chance of fighting him off."
"Brea... " I start to say, "I don't..."
"Shut up!" She sniffs and raises a sleeved arm to wipe the mess off her face. "You didn't need a broken bottle to get him to back down, did you? No. Well, guess what? Not all of us are so lucky."
"What are you...?"
This time, it's not her who interrupts me, but a loud "Hey!" that catches our attention. A random pedestrian, standing at the mouth of the alleyway, fists clenched tight at his sides, glaring at me. "You get the fuck away from her right now, asshole, before I call the cops."
Before I can even begin trying to tell this would-be knight in shining armour that he's badly misreading the situation, Brea snarls. "Piss off, this ain't your business."
"What?" the guy asks. "Lady, are you crazy? He's beating on you!"
Brea repeats her foul-mouthed order, screaming it this time, and before I know it, she crouches down to the ground, grabs the closest object at hand, a beer bottle from what I can make out of the corner of my eye and without having time to think, rises and throws it at him. The bottle spins end over end, clipping the man on the side of the temple before it tumbles earthward and shatters, scattering pieces that look like small diamonds glinting in the sunlight all over the sidewalk.
The man yells with pain and surprise, grabs at the side of his head and stares at the both of us. Before Brea can think to find a second object to throw at him, he backs up, says "Fuck this!" and takes to the pavement, dodging traffic as he jaywalks across West Hastings and out of sight.
I look down at Brea with amazement. "Jesus, Brea!"
She only scowls. "What? You think I'm completely defenceless?" I have no idea what to say to this, and can only stare. Her voice drops to a tone so low and serious, it's impossible to look her in the eye without worrying she may turn that bottle-tossing hand on me. "Tell me again how you think I sent Billy to rearrange your face like that."
That's when she snorts, hacks and spits a loogie, wet and large and gross, right in my eye. I bump against the brick wall again, raising my hand to wipe away the offending slime. "Ugh!"
"Looks like you were right after all, Jay. I shouldn't have bothered. Billy was right about one thing: You are an asshole." She tugs her hood, shoves her hands into the pockets and starts speed-walking toward the other end of the alley.
"Brea. Brea!" I say. She shoots me the bird without looking back and quickens her pace. In another few seconds, she's around the corner and gone. You'll probably think me insane for saying my first impulse was to run after her. Why? Damned if I'll ever know. And what would I do if I caught up to her - talk to her? Try to hug her? You do and she'll jam a bottle right in your throat, if you're lucky, a little voice warns me. Instead, I do the one thing I know how to do best in moments when life throws another monkey wrench into the plan: Reach for my cigarettes, light up and try to think. I end up doing a lot more of the former than the latter. Besides, given that so many of these situations end up at my feet sooner or later, what makes me think I deserve any sort of explanation for anything anymore?
A long time later; it may have only been ten minutes at the most but it seemed like an hour just then, I toss the butt of my third or fourth cigarette, (okay, it was my fifth), crush it out and walk back up towards the front door of Cage Records, expecting Art to ask if I knew what in God's name was all that screaming about outside, thinking it a minor miracle he didn't poke his head through the door to see for himself.
I'm startled to find nobody at the front counter. In fact, the whole storefront is empty, a rarity, even on days when I'm the only one behind the counter. It's as if Art closed up shop early and forgot to lock the front door when he left. No, that impossible, I think, he's the last person in the world who would be so forgetful. Somewhere in the back, I hear muffled conversation repeatedly punctuated with wild laughter, further verifying the idea albeit without providing any further clarity.
"Hello?" I call out. "Art? D?"
"Hello," a voice answers, followed by the groans and squeaks of the backroom door opening, letting out an elongation of light over the counters and back wall. Art emerges, his expression of pleasant curiosity quickly changing to a delighted grin exposing a set of crooked horse teeth when recognizance sets in. "Jay! There you are at last! I was beginning to think you'd never show up."
"What?" I ask.
"Didn't you get my voicemail?" he asks in a tone more surprised than annoyed.
"What? Oh, no. Sorry, I had it off all day. Our recording, you know." Then, unable to think of anything else to add, "sorry."
"That's alright," says Art. "You're not too late. Come on in back."
"Why? And what about the store, who's minding? I only came to grab my cheque, I know it's not Friday, but..."
"You know Thursdays are dead days. And your cheque's in the office, like it always is. Come on." He beckons me with a quick wave of the hand and pops back inside the break-slash-coatroom, leaving the door ajar.
It occurs to me as I sigh resignedly and cross the room, passing through the narrow gap between the counters, that my ability to withstand this constant series of ups and downs that is fast becoming my life is not going to hold up much longer. "One fucking day," I mutter to myself, before stepping through the door into the back and being dealt another shock.
D is sitting in one of the two office managers chairs from the back office where the money safe and computer that holds whatever business records he and Art have to deal with. He's tipped back, hands folded behind his head and he's wearing a large, shit-eating grin as he listens to another guy talking about a blown sound system. It's a tired but pleasant enough voice I've heard before. I no longer have to ask about the message Art left me. I know exactly what he said.
D looks up into the doorway and notices me. "Hey! Hey! Here's that guy! How's it going, Jay?" he asks, the grin never leaving his face.
"Uh... one of those days. I'll live, somehow, I guess. What's new with..?"
That's when I see the other man sitting in one of the folding chairs closest to the right wall, wearing a tight black beanie and a plain charcoal tee, his own tattooed arms resting against the wall and the back of the free chair. His head turns to meet me, and the eyes of the man who watched me with quiet suspicion as I sipped coffee in his living room after being plucked out of his recycling bin only minutes before, greet me with surprise that I could swear turned to anger upon realizing who I was, all while his stubbled face remains tight-lipped but pleasant enough.
D doesn't seem to notice. "This is Jay Mallory, our loyal shelf-stocker and poster-paster. Jay, meet my friend Richard Demin. I'm guessing you might of heard of him before," he says with a chuckle as his own eyes scan my shell-shocked face.
D, if you only knew...