Jasmine and I locked eyes on each other. I still had my arms around Lise. Jasmine had dyed her hair again. It was black now, with blue streaks. Her eyes narrowed, and she turned and went inside the bar. Lise hadn't seen her. Maybe nobody noticed her but me.
I let go of Lise, told her I would talk to her later, and went inside Jake's. Jasmine had already disappeared from view. It wasn't a very big place. The only spot to hide would be in the bathroom, but I wasn't about to check the women's can for her. I headed to the back where Jed and Nick were hanging out.
Okay boys? I asked. Are we ready to go?
Damn, Eric, Nick said, checking his watch. It's only eight thirty. We're not supposed to start until nine.
I laughed. Right. We, I said with emphasis, pointing at Jed and me, are supposed to start at nine.
That's what I mean, Nick said. You guys, Riot Band, are supposed to start at nine.
Right. Well, maybe we should just get Ryan in here and get going. The bar is getting full. We may as well get started.
No, no, Nick said. Look, we've got it all broken down so neatly. Start at nine and play a set, break for half an hour, and then play the second set. Everything goes down to the minute, and we're done at eleven sharp. Perfect.
I looked around. I had a creeping feeling like I wanted to play quickly and get the hell out of there before some weird shit blew up in my face. I looked at Jed. What do you think? I asked him. Want to get started early?
He shrugged. I don't really care, Eric. It's not my band anymore. But the posters all said nine. You should probably wait.
Right. I took a deep breath and had another look around. I couldn't see Jasmine anywhere. I guess the bar had a crowd, but it was a most tables are taken' crowd, not a we can barely fit anyone else in here' crowd. It would be better to wait until nine. All right, I said. Let's go at nine sharp, okay?
Okay, Jed said. We'll be here.
I went over to the bar and ordered another beer. The waitress added it to the tab. I stood and drank it down, looking at myself in the big mirror behind the bar, and also watching over my shoulders to see who might come sneaking up behind me.
I didn't know what I was so anxious about. Jasmine had made it super-abundantly clear that she didn't want to date anymore The verbal shit-kicking she'd given me the morning after crashing at my place had put the nails in the coffin of our romantic relationship. So she had no reason to give a crap if I was hugging some other girl. Sure, she might feel hurt when she sees it. That would be expected. But did she have a right to be jealous? Not really.
And the thing is, I wasn't very concerned about Jasmine's feelings. It wasn't like I wanted to get back together with her anyway. Sure, I wanted to have sex with her when I was drunk, but really I was more worried about what kind of scene she would make. I knew she was a screaming, fighting psychopath when she was drunk. I didn't want that kind of nightmare going on at a gig, and I definitely didn't want to leave Lise in her path. And I also didn't want Lise to get any ideas that I was still hung up on Jasmine.
And what the hell should I do with Lise? Nothing, that's what. Not with her scary brother Smokey standing outside. There were too many weird factors about the night. I wished I could just tune it all out and focus on the gig. Just think about playing bass and singing. And that was when I thought about the joint in my pocket.
I drank down the beer. It was my third one, and I didn't have much of a buzz yet. I didn't want to get drunk though. That would make me too sloppy. Better to keep beers to a minimum until after the show. But two or three big drags on a joint would give me the weird brain-kick, and get me focused on something else besides the people around me. I would have to focus on keeping myself together.
I sipped down the last of the bottle. That sounded like harming myself to help myself. The logic was bad, stupid even. It could lead to horribly screwing up the set. On the other hand, it sounded like a good distraction for the next half hour.
Leaving the empty bottle on the bar, I turned around and almost shit myself, because Jasmine was right there next to me.
Jesus! I shouted, clutching my chest as though I were having a heart attack. You scared the shit out of me.
Nice to see you too, she said. Ready for your big show?
Well, I'm here on time, instead of asleep on the couch at home, I said. I like your hair.
Thanks, she said without cracking the slightest smile. So...what are you doing now?
I looked around for an escape. Um, killing time, I guess. I was just going to head outside. Maybe catch Ryan for a smoke.
Great, she said. I was just going for one. I'll come with you.
I turned, and to my surprise, she latched on to my arm, pressing tight against me as we walked out of the bar. We stepped out into the darkening night. The street lights had come on. The crowd was still there, and nobody turned to look when we walked out like that, but I felt truly ridiculous with that girl glued to my arm. It seemed to be some kind of announcement to the world that we were dating again.
We went past Ryan, but I didn't make any motion for him to join us. Jasmine and I walked down the road and stopped a distance from the crowd. She took out her smokes and offered me one.
So, she said nonchalantly as she lit my cigarette, who's your friend?
The girl I was hugging? That's Lise. She works at the store.
Oh. Are you two...?
I shrugged. We're friends.
Jasmine nodded and stood with her arms crossed, holding her cigarette between two fingers. And what about you and me? She brushed her black hair away from her forehead.
What about it? I asked. I haven't talked to you in what? Two weeks?
Yeah, exactly, she snapped. It's like you dropped off the face of the earth, like you're avoiding me or something. What the hell, right? I thought we were friends too. I guess you like some friends more than others. Or maybe you're trying to f--k your other friend like you tried to f--k me the last time you saw me.
I'd only had one drag off the cigarette, but I dropped it and crushed it with the toe of my shoe. I am not dealing with this from you tonight, I said. If you came here because you wanted to see my band, that's great. But I don't need any extra shit.
I'm not giving you shit, Eric, I would just like FOR ONCE, for you to be honest with me. Her voice cracked a little. Her eyes were getting red.
I sighed, but I wasn't going to put up with any more from her. Okay, this is me being honest. You're a nice girl, and you can be very sweet, but you can also be completely crazy, and I can't handle that. I can't handle a girl that is going to freak out and get violent, or scream and go crazy because she is frightened and insecure. It's too much for me. If you want to be friends, that's fine, but you will have to deal with me leading my life and seeing other people. If you can't handle that, then maybe we can't be friends after all.
She took a drag on her cigarette. Her eyes looked wet. You're so full of shit.
I thought it over. Whatever, was all I could think to say, and I turned and walked toward the bar. I cringed as I walked, expecting the whole way for her to hit me in the back of the head with a brick or a bottle or whatever else she might find on the street to throw.
At the entrance to Jake's I grabbed Ryan. We're starting, I told him. Let's go. I firmly ignored everyone else, and like an angry cop, I dragged Ryan by the arm inside.
Nick and Jed saw me coming in, and with an authoritative wave I beckoned for them to join Ryan and me at the bar. They came up, and I shouted for Keith to come over as well.
We're ready to go, I said to Keith. Nick checked his watch, but said nothing. We're on a tab, right?
Keith nodded. It's coming out of your money, but yeah, you're on a tab.
Shots. I pointed at a bottle of whiskey behind the counter. And beers.
We do want some money left over, Eric, Nick said.
Keith poured the drinks and got out the bottles of beer. The four of us held up our glasses of brown liquor.
To Riot Band? said Jed.
Riot Band, we all echoed, and we slugged the shots down. We grabbed our beers, and Ryan, Jed and I headed up to the stage, while Nick took a place in the audience.
The track lighting that Keith was so proud of came on, blinding us for a moment while we fumbled to get our guitars on. Everything was as we left it, so we were able to just flip everything on and play. I touched a finger to a string on my bass and a deep metallic hum reverberated through the whole place. A single voice cheered. There wasn't the madness and frenzy of our last gig. The crowd was just here to see a band--they weren't here to vent their end-of-semester frustrations.
Ryan and I exchanged glances. I looked back at Jed. He held his sticks and nodded. I took a deep breath. It tasted like whiskey.
Good evening, I said into the microphone. My voice was tight and even, like a controlled anger. We're Riot Band.
There were a few more cheers. The folks from outside were coming in, and the room was starting to feel full. A few people even came up to stand in the space in front of the stage. Lise was there, front and center. So was big dumb Conrad, and he looked pissed off.
Jed banged his sticks together and we opened with Revolution Baby,' one of our tighter songs. We went into it full speed, hoping that a strong start might carry us through some of the weaker points in the set when we would try new material.
I didn't have the vocal effects pedal that I'd rented before the last gig. It was a conscious decision of mine, to see how I could do without the gimmicks. I could use the gimmick later if I wanted to, but I needed to know that I could perform without it, and I stepped up to the microphone and started to sing.
The song went smoothly, and we followed it with a couple older songs. They weren't great, musically speaking, but we were tight on them, and we could play them fast and ferocious.' That was like a mantra for us at practice: everything had to be played with intensity, even if it was a slower song. Our old songs were simple, a little stupid even, but we could crack them off like rifle shots.
We'd divided our total catalogue of music almost in half so that we could pull off two sets. Set One would be ten songs plus Heroin,' which usually lasted ten or twelve minutes, for a forty-five minute total. The second set would be fourteen songs, also totaling around forty-five minutes. We gunned through the first set, keeping the crowd banter to a minimum, and just blasting through song after song.
I kept an eye on the crowd, looking out for Jasmine, but also keeping a close eye on Conrad. People in front of the stage were swaying as they watched us, bouncing during the fast songs, and generally enjoying the show. Conrad stood rooted there like a freaking tree, staring at me with his crazy-guy stare. If anyone bumped into him he would elbow them and give them angry looks or curse at them. And then he would continue staring at me.
We finally got into Heroin,' and as usual, it went over like crazy with the crowd. By this time we'd mastered the song, working out the gradual swells, the ebb and flow, and we know how to control the build-up so that the song played like some grand opera or love-scene, building toward a massive final climax. At times I felt like Beethoven, conducting a three man orchestra through Lou Reed's answer to the Ninth Symphony.
But through the whole thing, there was Conrad, staring at me. And when it was over and the crowd was clapping and cheering, he pointed at me and then jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, giving me a clear sign: I'll see you in the street, mutha.
2010, Nolan Whyte