Music woke me. It was a hammering drums-and-guitar line of ba-dam, ba-dam, ba-dam, ba-dam, snapping me out of heavy sleep. My head felt like stone on the pillow, except that stone couldn't possibly know pain like this. I could actually feel the entire shape of my brain inside my skull, and it hurt. It felt like my brain had been pulled out of my head, kicked across a hot asphalt car-lot, left out in the sun to dry and burn, and then stuck back inside my head, all covered in blood and broken glass.
In other words, I had a hangover.
The music was coming from the living room. My living room. The living room of my apartment, and I was in the bedroom of my apartment. The thing you're supposed to notice now is that I had a new apartment. I was no longer sleeping on the concrete floor of Nick's basement, and I was not sleeping a dozen feet from Ryan in some kind of boiler-room fantasy camp. I had my own place. And somebody was a-waking me up in it.
Lise was snuggled up in the blankets next to me. Either the music hadn't penetrated the depths of her somnolence (that means sleep), or she was ignoring it. And she looked too peaceful to be ignoring it. I liked waking up and finding her in my bed. I'd used the last of the money my parent's loaned me to by the bed, and it was worth every penny. Between the bed, a few other used furnishings, and first-and-last month's rent, I was pretty close to broke, but I was also pretty close to happy.
The music was screaming, high-pitched, with falsetto singing and railing guitar work. Hendrix? Sounded like Hendrix. I wasn't too sure who was in the living room. There were a bunch of people over the night before. Several were still there when I went into the bedroom and flopped on the bed. "Oh, hell," I finally said, and got up to find out who it was.
I was in my underwear, so I tugged on black jeans and a plain white t-shirt, and dragged myself over to the door.
In the living room, on the faded green second-hand couch, James was sitting with a pretty, if bedraggled blonde beauty. James had his ball cap on backwards, holding down his mess of hair. He had an mp3 player in his hand, and the cord led to a little portable speaker that was producing the surprisingly loud music. The song that woke me up was already over. An ominous blues number was slowly building.
Besides being my convenience store co-worker, James was the bass player for a university band called The Urges. They'd played a gig the night before in the basement recreation room of a church not far away, sharing the bill with a couple high school bands. A gang of us had gone to watch them, but since the show was in a church, there was nothing served except cola, orange drink and ginger ale. Luckily there was a hotel with a late night beer off-sale not far from my place. After the bands finished playing a large contingent came back to my place to celebrate a gig well played, picking up beer on the way.
The wreckage of the night was spread all over the room in the form of empty beer bottles and cans.
"Hey there, captain," James said, his eyes flicking up at me from the tiny display screen of his music player.
The blonde was wrapped around his arm, nuzzling in close with him. I was glad for James. He seemed like such a shy, sweet kid, so I was happy that he had hooked up with a genuinely hot chick. She had the really curly, poofy hair (although it was a bit matted down from a night on the couch) and she had eyes that were really big and blue, but without being bug-eyed. They were, you know, just big and beautiful. And she had a big wide smile, nice lips, and cheeks you would want to pinch. If not for Lise, I would want to nail her on account of her smile alone. It was just a shame that her personality sucked.
"Kinda loud for this early in the morning, isn't it?" I said.
"Uh, it's almost one, duh," she said in response. I think her name was Meghan.
"Oh," I said. "Holy crap."
"It was pretty late when we got to sleep," James said. "Around five?"
I went to the window and looked outside. It had snowed more while I'd slept. It was early November. The apartment was on the second floor, and it overlooked a gravel parking lot. There were houses out there too. The apartment had hardwood floors and very old appliances. There was one bedroom. When Lise wasn't sleeping over and there weren't leftovers from the previous night's party, I lived alone.
Ryan had been forced to remove himself from Nick's basement as well, and he'd done exactly what he'd done during his previous two years at Garrison Valley University: he went straight to the International Students Association message board and found someone who was looking for a roommate. He was in a three bedroom place with two students from Cameroon. I met them when I helped him move in, and they seemed cool, although I had a hard time understanding them. They speak what's called Cameroonian Pidgin English, and it's harder than hell to follow. They were in Canada to learn more straightforward English. Maybe listening to Ryan complain about everything would help them somehow.
Yeah. A lot of snow had fallen. Maybe at that very moment, four or five kilometers away, Ryan was complaining to his Cameroonian roommates about the snow. He'd been to the house last night, so he probably had to walk home in the storm. Well, to hell with him. He can handle snow.
Obviously, Ryan and I decided not to move in together after all. After sharing Nick's basement we decided that we made good friends and good bandmates, but with too much exposure we started to get on each other's nerves. Better to limit our time together. It would probably save the band.
I wandered to the kitchen and put coffee on. My head was pounding. Water and coffee would help. Maybe some Tylenol at some point. I got the water going and went back to the living room.
Meghan had her purse open on her lap. James was still focused on his player. No action. I looked into the bedroom. Lise was awake on the bed, kind of. She'd moved around, and I saw her eyes flutter when I opened the door.
"You awake?" I asked.
"I'll leave you alone." I closed the bedroom door and sat down on one of the chairs facing James and Meghan. "What are we listening to?"
"This is Hendrix," James said. "I'm trying to find a track I downloaded the other day, but it doesn't look like it's here." He shrugged and set the player down on the couch cushion next to him. "So. You nervous about tonight?"
I groaned. I'd actually managed to forget Riot Band had a gig that night. A good gig, actually. A big gig, opening for a genuine touring band, at The Garrison Valley Ballroom of all places, the same room where Ryan and I had made fools of ourselves the night I'd moved back to Garrison Valley during the summer. Nick had lined it up. We would be opening for The Pop Rocks, a self-aware gimmick chick-rock band that was getting a lot of attention. There wasn't much money in it, but it was a worth while stepping stone gig.
"Is that a yes?" James said. "Nervous?"
"No," I said. "Yes. I don't know. Let me clear my head a little first."
The bedroom door opened. Lise stood there. She was wearing a tight black Megadeth t-shirt and a pair of black panties. "Hey guys," she said, and traipsed across the room to the bathroom.
"Nice," James said. Meghan elbowed him.
"That was the pot girl, wasn't it?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said.
"Her stuff was shit," Meghan said.
"You still smoked it," I said. "It's pretty ungrateful to complain the day after."
"Sure," Meghan replied. "It's ungrateful, but I'm just being honest. The stuff I get is way better, that's all. I was happy to smoke her stuff when I was half-drunk. It was still crap, though."
The toilet flushed, we heard the sink faucet running, and a few seconds later Lise stepped out of the bathroom. "I can hear you in there, you know," she said. "If you've got a problem with the pot that I was happy to share with you last night, maybe you should say it to my face."
"Oh, I'm glad you shared it," Meghan replied. "All I'm saying is that it smoked like grass clippings. It was okay, and it got me buzzed. But where did you get it? Flin Flon?"
Lise smiled sarcastically. "It's from Vancouver Island."
"Really? Because I've had local farm-grown stuff that's way, way better."
"The farm grown stuff around here is like smoking tomato plants," Lise said. "And who the hell are you to complain? You had nothing last night. If you smoke such great stuff you should show up to a party with some to share."
"Yeah, right," Meghan said, slumping back into the couch. "I don't get good weed just so I can give it all away."
"Right," Lise said, crossing the room back to the bedroom door. "Well, there you go."
Meghan sneered. "And why are you walking around in here in your panties? You look like a junior skank club member."
"Okay, that's not cool," I said. "Remember, you're a guest here. If you want to bitch and whine about someone's weed, that's one thing, but you've got no reason to get personal."
She shrugged and leaned back. James sat there, looking at his mp3 player again, with his face red from embarrassment.
A burbling noise came from the kitchen. "Coffee," I said and got up.
Neither of the girls left it alone. When I came back to the living room they were chirping away at each other. James was on his feet, getting his stuff together to leave and imploring Meghan to do the same.
"...little skank sister of a drug dealer," Meghan was saying at the exact same time Lise was saying something about "obnoxious bitch with princess syndrome." They were both just yapping. James was practically pulling at Meghan's arm to get her up and out the door. He kept shooting me these looks that said I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...
When they were finally ready to leave, James got Meghan out into the hallway. He paused for a moment.
"You coming tonight?" I asked him. "It should be fun."
"I'll see," he said. "It will depend on..." his eyes flicked to the side, indicating the still-cursing beauty behind him.
I nodded. "I've dated beautiful girls, buddy," I said. "It's worth it for a little while."
He grinned. "Thanks for having the party last night."
I said goodbye and closed the door. Lise was walking around, swearing and popping her knuckles. Meghan had managed to push every single one of her buttons. Lise had a big dose of street kid in her and had spent a lot of time being raised by a delinquent older brother, so she had serious issues with really feminine girls like Meghan.
"What a complete and total bitch," she said, as soon as the door was completely shut. "She thinks she's the queen of the damn universe."
"Yeah, well," I said. "James is a good guy. Either he'll mellow her out, or he'll realize he has to dump her."
"Those aren't the only possibilities!" Lise said. "She could dump him and break his heart. Or worse, she could turn him into an asshole like she is!"
"Yeah." I went to the kitchen and brought out two cups of coffee. "Do you need to go home before the show tonight?"
Lise took a cup. "Maybe. I have no idea what to wear to something like this. What are these chicks all about, anyway?"
"Um, ironic girl power, I think," I said. "Like, shiny outfits like The Spice Girls, but singing all serious. I don't know. Apparently they're good. Nick seems to know all about them."
"Right. Nick." Lise sat down on the couch. "Not like it matters anyway. I'll probably just wear what I've got on."
"Yeah." I stared at her body through the tighty-tightness of her Megadeth shirt. "Actually, I was curious why you wear that shirt. You're a Metallica junkie. I thought Metallica and Megadeth were enemies or something."
She shrugged and blew on her cup of coffee. "Yeah, but that's all drama, right? One guy helped form both bands. And it's supposed to be just about music anyway, right?"
"Right." I sat down.
The Pop Rocks marketed themselves as being all about drama. Riot Band, the small-time local openers, were supposed to be all about the music. I had no idea how this was all supposed to go down. I looked at my watch. Five hours until load-in.
2010, Nolan Whyte