By the time Thursday rolls around, Kevin the Drummer has left one additional message, nothing more than a repeat of his earlier... What would you call it, invitation? I call it stupid, and ignore this newest one the same way as the other. I've heard nothing from Lindsay Wagner ("Vagner" to you, chum!) and don't expect to anytime soon - or ever.
I've not mentioned a word of this to anyone in the band, especially Billy, who I've not spoken to since the audition turned sh-tstorm, but I can only assume he would continue his silent treatment towards me. Let him. I've no more control over his stupid paranoia than I do of the setting sun. If he asks how it went, the plan is to downplay it as another "don't call us..." situation. If he even bothers to ask. When the fabric of relationship wears thin, as it seems to have with most of us, sometimes it's best to keep one's mouth shut and admit that what the ears don't ear, the bassist gets away with.
Which is what I've now resigned myself to, as I carry the loathed Warwick into the studio today. Hopefully, Stephen won't mind flying solo today.
Billy looks confused when he sees the bass. "What's that?" he asks. As if he's never seen one before. "What happened to your Gibson?"
"Gathering dust in the storage unit off Terminal Avenue," I say. "If we can't find a replacement right off the bat, we should be prepared. Plus, it's not like we're charting foreign waters. We've been in this position before, you know."
Billy has his back to me while he looks over the amp system that feeds his microphone, so I don't see a scowl forming on his face but I know he's still angry. His drooping shoulders give him away at once. "I see." That's all he says and continues to fiddle with the amp. I look over at Stephen and see him shaking his head, a few unruly strands of brown hair whipping in the air, brushing the sides of his face and neck.
It takes until I've set up and reconfigured my tuning to the usual drop D before it dawns on me that something's missing - or someone, stated more correctly. "Hey, where's Brea?"
Billy shrugs. "Somewhere. It ain't quite four yet. She'll be here. She better be." The distinct lack of concern in his voice is not comforting. Stephen seems to pick up on this and ventures to ask what the plan is for today, donning his familiar peacemaker hat.
"Plan?" asks Billy. "Same plan as always. Run through the demo songs, string together a set for the show at Funky's. We'll just have to modify a bit since it's only you on guitar from now on, apparently."
"Nice," I mutter, earning me a sideways glance from Billy, his bushy caterpillar of a twitching eyebrow daring me to say another word. Deep down, I don't really believe he's got the guts to punch me out and fight as I remind myself not to call his bluff.
Stephen tries to throw another bucket of water on the fire. "Well, it's not like this is a permanent thing, now is it? We can work it out somehow, hopefully without sacrificing too much of the rhythm part." He lets his guitar hang from the strap around his neck and paces back and forth across the studio floor a couple of times, eyeballing the amps. "Maybe if I hook up that extra distortion and Jay, if you run your hookup through both cabinet setups, it'll create a strong enough backbone without overpowering Billy or the drums."
"You think?" asks Billy, still frowning. I can tell right away he doesn't like it. "Won't it sound too muddy?"
"Don't think so. My sound won't be feeding through his. It's just adding distinction, gives the audience a chance to actually hear the bass part. It's that, or we pull a Geddy Lee."
"What's a Geddy Lee?"
"Plug the bass directly into the house P.A. system, really make it stand out." Stephen pauses a moment to gauge Billy's reaction. "It still leaves enough room for the vocals to be the driving force."
"That's what I thought the drums were for," I quip. It isn't well received by either party.
"We'll go the first route." Thus spake Billy: so shall it be written, so shall it be done.
Brea arrives while we rearrange the speaker setup, slipping in without so much as a hello to anyone, going right to the drums and sitting down. Judging by Billy's reaction, I think I must have been the only one to see her.
"When did you get here?" he asks.
"Hello to you too," she answers, not quite looking him in the eye. "We ready?" She's taken a fresh pair of sticks from her bag, breaking one in by giving it a hard whack against the crash cymbal. The shimmering clang echoes across the studio and back. "Oh, love that sound!"
I've said it before, I'll say it again: strange girl.
Stephen and I pick up arms, ready to begin while Billy continues to drill holes into Brea with a stare that could throw a scare into even the meanest of schoolyard bullies. "Are you gonna answer me or not?"
"Just in time," Brea says with unmistakable irritation. "That's when I got here. Now are we gonna play or discuss attendance records?"
Oh good, a lover's quarrel. Could today get any better? The old adage about airing one's dirty laundry in public does not appear to have any meaning here. Billy takes his place behind the microphone, his face unchanged. It's Stephen's face that changes, adopting a scowl of his own. I can feel my own brow tightening as a small voice far back in my subconscious wonders aloud if I could expect the same behaviors from members of Ravenclaw when they gather to practice...
In the background, a cymbal taps and the song begins.
It turned out Stephen was onto something, suggesting we rearrange the sound system the way we did. Within the space of our studio, we get a more complete sound than we would if we'd stuck to our original setup. How it will sound in public remains to be seen. At least we have working sound; one thing at a time.
Half of the session is dedicated to further tightening up the songs we have written, whenever we're not arguing about which song goes in what order for next week's show, all suggestions being overruled by the iron fist of Billy Glass. When the dust settles, our setlist looks exactly the same as it did at the Crow's Nest, with one exception. "Frozen Emotion" has been kicked to the curb, replaced by a rarely played one off the demo called "Snake Tongue." It's the only song we've written as a band that I can honestly say I hate, from the corny name to the yo-yo time changes, not to mention Billy's ridiculous attempt at trying to sing the words with a serpentine hiss. Not that my opinion counts for anything, of course.
"Look, I just don't see what's wrong with keeping the set the same," I say, knowing that I'm fighting a losing battle, "Frozen's a good song."
"I ain't saying it ain't," Billy growls, brandishing his big hand through the air like a sword. "A little change-up now and then is a healthy thing. Besides, we can work on perfecting it in the future; make it a good addition to our next demo by the time we get around to recording it."
"If there's ever is a second demo."
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on, man. How many times have we talked about recording again, only to end up not going through with it?"
"Oh, so it's my fault, that what you're saying?"
"You're the leader, as you keep saying."
"Jay..." Stephen's warning tone cuts in.
Billy waves his hand in Stephen's direction, which he clearly doesn't like, but bites his lip as it swings back, pointing to my nose, far enough out of reach so I can't swat it away, which I'd really like to do.
"I don't know what's up your a-s today Mallory, but I can tell you right now you'd better get over yourself and quick if you know what's good for you."
"Oh, come on now..." Stephen tries to interject again, a futile effort.
I slip my shoulder strap over my head and rest my bass in the little stand next to the speakers. "Nice. That's nice right there, Billy. I love you too." I reach down and undo my jacket, the arms tied around my waist, slip it on, draw up the zipper and walk towards the door.
"Jay?" Brea speaks for the first time since practice got underway. "Jay, where are you going?"
I hold my pack of smokes up in the air and spit back over my shoulder. "Figured you'd appreciate my not killing the rest of you."
Billy jumps in again. "Are you kidding? It's not even five yet!"
"You're right. It's not." I go through the door without stopping or inviting him to try and stop me anyways. Best to try and exercise what little patience I've left.
The unforgiving rains continue to drown the earth below, driving me to seek shelter underneath the lip of the roof, dodging as many of the droplets as I can by pressing my back tight against the beige-panelled wall while I go to light a cigarette, when I pull out a soggy book of matches from my coat pocket. Uttering what a repressed person might refer to as "an impossible word," muffled by the Number Seven pinched between my lips, I drop the matches into the passing current running from the drain pipe next to me, and watch the little red square get swept up in the rushing stream, carried off down the street into the mouth of the sewers, falling through the gaping teeth of the drain cover. I say a mental apology to the spawning fish below.
I can't even remember the last time I had any fun with music. For too long, I've felt like a bystander on the sidelines, watching what used to a euphoric, if not spiritual sensory experience, a marriage between head, heart and soul devolve into something so rudimentary and mechanical. The whole thing has begun to feel like just another job. Punch in, punch out.
When was the last time we came up with any original material and not just spend hours repeating the same old songs? Is this the death knell for musicians I've heard about; watching the creative voice slipping through fingers like sand, only to look down and never find it again? Perhaps it's a warning that it's time to quit chasing a dream that will forever remain one.
"Nasty habit," a voice called out from far away, cutting through the fog of the daydream. I look around and notice a hooded figure coming up the driveway, covered up with something resembling a garbage bag more than a coat, carrying what looks like a soft-shell guitar case, the kind with shoulder straps you can wear like a backpack.
"Can I help you?" I say without bothering to take the cigarette out of my mouth. While I'm generally suspicious of people in general, I take extra caution around those who show up to our studio unannounced.
"Well that's a cute way of saying hello." The soaked person steps under the protection of the roof, lifting back the hood with one fell swoop. I immediately recognize that untamed crop of stoplight hair.
"Slight chance of showers," Lindsay Wagner says in a voice heavy with mockery as she walks up right next to me, leaving a row of large boot prints on the small patch of concrete spared from the unforgiving wrath of the rains.
I stare at her. "You?"
"Me." The half-smile on her pale pink lips is hard to translate. When I don't offer anything else, she shrugs. "Try starting with 'Hello, Lindsay, nice to see you again'".
"Sorry. I just wasn't exactly expecting you to actually show up today; or ever if I'm honest."
"Ouch," she says, not really sounding offended. "Well, if I'm honest as well..."
"By all means."
"The feeling's mutual. Don't get me wrong, while I did admire your, shall we call it 'courage' at using that ridiculous excuse for lessons to try and get a feel for me..."
I can't help feeling my face prickle at that.
"... your situation did not strike me as an appealing one; not exactly something I'd want to be a part of."
I glance over at the door, glaring. "Can't say I blame you." Eyes back on Lindsay. "So why did you come, then?"
Lindsay opens her mouth to answer, then seems to change her mind, closes it for a second. "Are you going to smoke that or just play with it?" she asks.
I'm embarrassed to admit forgetting I was still holding onto it after spotting her on our driveway. "I was. Then I forgot what happens when you carry matches in the rain." Lindsay's smile evolves into a full, albeit closed-lip one. While I'm talking and moving to put the cigarette away, her own hand slips into her pants pocket and pops up in front of my face. A tiny blue-orange flame snaps out from a blue lighter and touches the unlit end. Smoke begins to fill my mouth. I take a small drag to keep it lit and exhale a thin cloud.
"What was that about a filthy habit?" I ask.
"A girl likes to be prepared." The lighter disappears back into her pocket, her eyes trained on mine.
"Sure." She watches me take a couple of drags before coming around to answer the question asked of her. Or so I think. "Kevin tells me you haven't answered any of his messages."
I try not to flinch. "Silly me, I must have forgotten." I watch her battle to keep the smile while acting all nice and neutral, unconcerned by my obvious lie. You're not the only one who can play this little game, I think.
"Just so we're clear, that was all his idea. Not mine."
I motion as if it makes no difference to me, which it doesn't. "He mentioned your name, said you guys got to talking. Do you expect me to believe that you weren't even a little bit involved in forming that idea?"
The smile is gone, replaced by a mask of moody indifference. She plays the role poorly. "Believe whatever you want. You can't tell me it wasn't a bad idea, though."
My mind flashes back to Brea's similar mood en route to the ill-fated "audition." It's not a pleasant experience. "It wasn't. It was a stupid one." Her eyes take on a cold steel look. She doesn't say a word. "I thought I made it clear I'm already in a band. It's not me I'm seeking to replace here. It's the idiot drunk who used to be our bassist."
Lindsay snorts, evoking another image of Brea, sulking in the studio. Brea, sulking in the creepy neighborhood. I don't know what it is about girls in the metal scene and snorting, but the sight is more common than you might first believe. "Please," she says. "It's not like your even happy being a part of this Diamond Mine, or whatever you call yourselves."
"Dichotomy of Mind," I correct her, receiving another snort for my efforts. "And what makes you say I'm not happy?"
"You've been scowling like Grumpy Dwarf non-stop since I got here," she says in a matter-of-fact tone. "Besides, you and Kev seemed to click during that c-ckfight of a duel." Elegant. "Playing the way you did, no f--king way you belong on a guitar. You and that bass were one, like you didn't even have to think what to do, it just came naturally. It was like watching a perfect spotlight dance. Am I right?"
I take a long, hard drag and flick the cigarette into the sewer-bound stream in response.
"Yeah, you know I'm right. I like to think I know a guy who's passionate when I see one."
I turn and lean my shoulder against the damp wall. She mirrors me. "Let's say you're right," I begin. "It's not as simple as you or the little drummer boy make it out to be."
"Little drummer boy," Lindsay muses, the smile fighting its way back. "Kevin's gonna love that one."
"Yeah well anyways, I can't very well just up and quit even if I wanted to."
"Why not?" At first I think she's being sarcastic again, but it's hard to miss the sincerity, as if she really thinks it's so easy to just dust my hands and jump ship. "Lots of people have done it."
"Well I'm not those people. And if you think it's so easy, spend five minutes around Hitler..." my head snaps towards the studio door, "... and then you come and talk to me about how easy it is to just throw your hands up and say 'I quit.'"
Lindsay pushes herself off the wall. "Okay. Let's go." She turns and starts to walk towards the door.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Accepting your invitation?" She speaks nice and slowly as though explaining to a child. "It's not like I've anything better to do today anyways. And I don't know about you but I'm just a little sick of standing out in the rain. If this frontman of yours is as classy as you make him out to be, I could use a laugh."
I follow her through the door, where she pauses to pull off her hoodie and shake it out before leaving it in a soggy lump. "I'm not going to talk you out of this, am I?" She gives me a look. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, 'ask a silly question...'" I sigh. "Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you."
We walk down the hall and into the main room. Stephen and Brea are still hanging around. Neither look like they've moved since I stormed out, determined to cut another six minutes from my life and to hell with what anyone said. Billy is nowhere to be found.
Brea spots Lindsay first. With hair like hers, who wouldn't? She jumps, before settling back down. Stephen is too busy looking at me and my unexpected company to notice this. "Welcome back," he says, not sounding like he means it.
"Cheers. Meet Lindsay, she's... A friend of mine." It'll have to do.
Stephen starts to introduce himself but is interrupted by the sudden return of Billy from wherever. He comes down from the other end of the hall, crossing the floor with an air of pomposity that does little to improve my mood. "Oh, so you're back now, huh?" he says with no emotion in his voice. "Good. Let's get back to business."
That's when he notices I'm not alone. He looks over at Lindsay, showing a conflict of both surprise, anger and yet hopeful intrigue. "Who's the chick?" he asks, displaying his usual sensitivity. I glance toward Lindsay's direction, expecting her to be p-ssed off. Instead, she's returning the same mixed reaction.
"That's 'Lindsay'," she corrects. "I'm Jay's friend."
"Oh yeah, we go way back. Don't we, Jay-Jay?" She gives me a faux smile that I simultaneously hate and find myself attracted to.
"Yeah, totally," I say, unable to muster anything else. Her choice of nickname is too much of a coincidence.
Billy is nodding to himself. "Interesting. Only I could have sworn you look exactly like this chick bass teacher I heard about the other day."
My gaze jumps over to Brea. I can feel my face getting hot again, and not out of embarrassment, my brow tightening all the way. Brea sees my expression, lifts her hands as if to say "Got a problem?" and smiles sweetly at me. I feel my stomach begin to knot.
Lindsay plays cool, unfazed by Billy's implication. "Is that right? Huh. Small world." Billy doesn't take kindly to that at all. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she adds.
There's a long, painful silence from Billy. I can hear the sound of the volcano erupting inside him. When he speaks, it's in a voice low and flat. "Not at all. Please." He indicates one of the empty folding chairs, inviting her to sit. Then he turns on me. "Mallory, are you still playing or what?"
I slowly join the others, grabbing my bass off the stand, slipping the strap over my head, Billy watching me all the while. Without bothering to check the tuning, I move in closer so only the two of us can hear what I whisper to him.
"I hope you're not expecting a f--king apology."
Billy steps back, hand reaching for the microphone. "Actually, Mallory," he says, "I'm not expecting a whole lot from you at all anymore." He nods at Brea, calls out "'Snake Tongue' on four!" and turns to face the microphone. The words should not hurt as much as they do, considering who they're coming from.
As we begin playing, I survey the room, the people. Lindsay is sitting back in the chair, one long leg crossed over the other, arms folded across her chest, beaming smile on her face. Five minutes in and she already looks like she's having the time of her life.
The same can't be said for anyone else in the room.