I almost collapsed as I stepped off the stage. Someone handed me a beer and I started staggering along, the energy of the performance completely gone. My legs were like jelly and my clothes were soaked with sweat.
Nick was there, pounding me on the back. Great, man, just great! I nodded and he moved on, slapping away at Jed and Ryan as well, shouting how terrific the show was.
That seemed to be the prevailing opinion. The room was going nuts. Everybody was cheering and whistling, as though we would get back up and do an encore, which would have been great if we knew even one more song. People were slapping my shoulders, and before I could even make it to the bar someone handed me another bottle of beer.
Ryan grabbed me by the neck and shouted in my ear, This is awesome, man! This is better than I ever expected! I smiled and nodded back. I was so drained from the emotional comedown that I could barely speak.
I got to the bar and found a spot where I could lean against the sticky top to rest, but it was only a moment before Jasmine appeared at my side. Fight or flight adrenaline came up in me. I'm normally not one to back down from confrontation, but I had no strength for another argument, and I was starting to get the idea that this chick really was a bit nuts. You can't win a fight against crazy.
I was ready for anything, but she slid in close to me and wrapped her arms around my neck, kissing me on the cheek. Oh my god, Eric, that was so good!
I backed away from her. Are you serious? I said.
Of course, she said, looking hurt. Why would you even say that?
You were pretty pissed off before. Seems a little weird to change just like that.
Oh Eric, I was just worked up because we were so late. She hugged me tightly. I'm sorry if I made you upset. You're not mad, are you?
I sighed, although she probably didn't notice in the dark, loud bar. I guess not. Here. I handed her one of the beers. We clinked cheers and drank. It felt good on my torn-up throat. It felt so good that I took several long pulls, draining most of the bottle. The show was over, so I didn't care if I got pissed again. I just wanted to cool down, clear the shit from my head, and numb the anxiety of the night.
Ryan tapped my shoulder. I'm grabbing a smoke, he said. Coming?
I got up and followed him, and Jasmine tagged along as well. The whole way to the door, people were high-fiving us and patting our backs. It was a good feeling, but it was strange. I usually kept pretty quiet. I've always stood out because I'm such a big f--ker, but I had never sought the spotlight before. The experience was new to me.
We stepped out of the madhouse into the calm of the warm April night. Ryan and Jasmine lit their cigarettes. Ryan offered me one and I took it. As always, the smoke tasted disgusting, but it gave me a chemical charge, like a punch in the brain. There was a wave of nausea and I leaned against the wall of the building.
You okay? Ryan asked.
Fine, I said. I'm just kinda wiped.
Why should you be tired? he asked. You slept all afternoon.
Not quite, I said, but I didn't want to argue too much on the point. I had slept through the equipment load-in anyway, and that meant I was a shit-stain as far as Ryan and Jed were concerned. How did the show feel for you? I asked, changing the subject.
Good, he said. Real good. Better than playing that house party. It felt like a real gig, you know? We weren't tight, that's for sure, but I think we actually played better at the last show. I mean, this was crazy. Everybody was so into it!
They really were, said Jasmine. You guys should be really happy.
We went back inside and corralled a table for the band. We sat drinking beers and talking about the show and about music with whoever stopped by. Nick, playing the role of manager to the hilt, barely sat with us at all. Instead, he was working the crowd, asking everyone what they thought of the show.
The crowd started to thin out around midnight. I was loaded again, even more than in the afternoon. It wasn't a rowdy, energetic drunk though. I was mellow and dopey, although I was still following the conversations.
I'm fading, I said at one point. Sooner or later I'm going to need a shower and a bed. I smell like a dead goat.
It's sexy, Jasmine said, leaning in close to nuzzle against me. I noticed Ryan rolling his eyes.
Keith came around and asked if we could come back the next day to settle up the money; otherwise we would have to wait until two in the morning for him to do the final cash-outs. We nodded and Jed got up to call the cab.
Jasmine, who had stuck to me like glue all night, looked at me. I can come with you guys, right? And then when you're all finished you can come spend the night at my place.
I shrugged. Yeah, that sounds cool. I had no exams on Wednesday, although I had two on Thursday, plus one on Friday and my last one on Monday. I figured that sleeping in at Jasmine's place would be cool, then I could head home to study like a mad man for the rest of the day.
The cab showed up and we dragged all of our gear out, slowly making sure that nothing was left behind. Keith shook hands with us all and thanked us for the great night, and we thanked him and blah, blah, blah. It was all a lot of mutual ass-kissing from a bunch of people who had just made a profit off each other, but it felt like genuine emotion at the time. Such is life.
At Nick's place we dumped all the gear in the living room. There didn't seem like much point taking it down to the basement since everything but the guitars was going back to the music shop the next day.
Well guys, that was definitely the way to end the year, Nick said. He pulled a little notebook out of his back pocket. I took a bunch of notes about what people thought. You guys ready for some feedback?
Jed shook his head. Naw, fuck it man. We're done for now anyway. Let's not spoil the afterglow with reality, right? We're gonna see each other before we all take off anyway.
Jasmine looked around. Are you all leaving after exams?
I bit my lip. I hadn't told Jasmine yet that I wasn't sure about coming back to Garrison Valley in the fall. She'd been a little touchy about her previous breakups, and I didn't want to start a whole big emotional scene.
I'm sticking around, Nick said. Jed's going to Calgary for the summer semester. He looked at Ryan. You're going back to Winnipeg, right?
Just for a visit, Ryan said. He was rubbing his eyes. I'll be back after a few weeks. Come on guys. Let's get the hell out of here. I have an exam tomorrow afternoon.
Oh, shit, I said, happy for the change of subject. Why didn't you say so? Come on, let's take off.
We all set out in our different directions. Jasmine and I walked alone through the downtown streets, heading out of the valley to her neighborhood in the south end of the city. It was a long walk, but Jasmine talked the whole way. She kept telling me about her plans for the summer, and the classes she had lined up for the fall. She would tell me something and then pause, waiting for me to jump in and tell her my own plans, but I didn't want to take the bait. I just kept nodding and smiling.
You're heading home for a while this summer, aren't you? she finally asked.
We were coming up to her street. I thought maybe I could get away with avoiding a direct question, but it seemed she wasn't going to let me off the hook. Yeah, I said. I'm heading back to Rose Creek after exams next week.
Right, she said, nodding like she'd known all along. Do you know when you're getting back?
I'm not sure, I said, and that seemed to satisfy her. Or at least she stopped asking questions for the time being, and we walked to her apartment building in silence.
Inside, Jasmine took my jacket and told me to go ahead and have a shower. She followed me right in though, and we had a slow, soapy time of it. She was strangely silent the whole time, and afterwards she led me by the hand to her bedroom.
Jasmine was very determined that we have sex. I was a willing participant, but the amount of beer in my system made love-making difficult, and it took a long time. She wouldn't give up though, and by the time we finished I was praying that she was ready to finally go to sleep. I was so tired I thought I might die. But she wasn't ready for sleep quite yet.
Hang on a second, she said, and giving me a kiss on the lips, she darted out of the room still naked. She returned a moment later with two bottles of beer in clear bottles. Here, she said, holding one out to me.
Damn, I said. Isn't your roommate home? Aren't you worried about him seeing you running around in the nude?
Barnes? Fuck him. He never gets out of bed after eleven p.m. She twisted the cap off the beer and sat down on the mattress that lay on her floor.
I struggled to sit up. Look, thanks for the beer, but I really don't need it. I'm ready to fall asleep.
She set her bottle down on the floor, reached out and twisted the cap off my bottle. Have it, she said.
Um, okay, I said, and took a swig.
So, Eric, now we've just finished having sex. I was wondering if you were interested in telling me the truth.
I looked her in the eye. She was staring back at me, hard. What the hell are you talking about?
I asked you when you're coming back to Garrison Valley and you wouldn't tell me.
I told you I'm not sure, I said. That's the truth.
Right. She took a drink of the beer and so did I. It was weak stuff, like a cheap Corona. I had a tingling feeling in my gut. It was hard to believe there was any emotion left in me, but I think this emotion was fear: fear that she wouldn't let me go to sleep.
Eric, just tell me, okay? she said. You must know. A week? A few weeks? Are you staying the whole summer? She paused. Do you have a girlfriend back there?
What? Fuck no. I'm serious. I really haven't made any plans. If I get a job there, maybe I'll stay the summer. If I don't, or if I get real bored, maybe I'll head back here. I'm giving up my share of that shit-hole apartment, so it's really all open.
So you'll come back... if you get bored.
I shrugged. Yeah. I guess so.
So this... us... is just something to fall back on. If you get bored.
I sighed. I could see the trap I was falling in to. I didn't mean it like that.
I just want you to be fair with me, Eric, she said. I've given myself up to you, I've let you fuck me god-knows how many times... I think you should be able to tell me if you're going to at least come back and see me, or if this is it until you come back in the fall.
My stomach was twisting. I had no problem taking a punch in the face, or slugging out some other bastard, but I absolutely hated confrontations like this. I looked around. Her cigarettes were on the little table next to her computer. I got up and took one out of the pack. I didn't really want one, but I needed something to do with my hands to keep me from squirming. I lit the cigarette.
Look, I said, blowing smoke, trying to look cool and collected (even though I was naked). I've never lied to you. I haven't told you my plans because, honestly, I haven't made any. Shit, I don't even know if I'm coming back in the fall.
She paused. She bit her bottom lip. I took a drag on the cigarette. And she threw her bottle of beer at me.
You son of a bitch! she screamed as the bottle clunked off the wall. I dropped the cigarette and staggered backward in shock. She probably expected the bottle to shatter like in Hollywood, but the bottle bounced off, leaving a crescent-shaped dent in the drywall.
You son of a bitch! she repeated, getting to her feet. You knew you were leaving for good and you fucked me anyway! You fucked me anyway, you son of a bitch! She started slapping at me, but I didn't even care. I was trying to figure out where the burning cigarette landed.
Finally, through the flurry of slaps and punches I saw the glowing ember smoldering in a pile of clothes, and I lunged to extinguish it with the beer from my own bottle. When I turned back toward her, she caught me with a good one; she'd found her bottle, picked it up, and cracked me across the cheekbone with it.
I sagged against the wall with stars popping in my vision, but when I saw her coming at me again I threw out a hand and knocked her back with a straight shot to the chest. She fell onto her ass and started to cry.
I dug through the pile of burned, beer-soaked clothes and got dressed. Through tears and sobs, Jasmine didn't let up her verbal abuse for a second, screaming and calling me everything she could think of. Looking like a pit bull's chew toy and feeling even worse, I staggered out of her room.
Barnes was there in the hall, wearing his slippers and robe. Is everything okay? he asked.
Yeah. I said. Why? He stared at me with an open mouth, trying to think of something to say. Jasmine was still naked, so she stayed behind her closed door, still screaming and swearing. I took two more of those cheap light beers out of the fridge, stuffed them in my pockets, and got the hell out of there. I had a very long walk ahead of me.
2009, Nolan Whyte