Ryan kept the song going, despite the chaos on the dance floor in front of him. He stared with his mouth open as I carried Lise through the stunned crowd of teenage girls to the only place I could go: back to the stage.
Lise clung to me like a wounded animal, clutching me around the neck with one arm and holding her wounded scalp with the other hand. I didn't have time to see if she'd lost any hair in the fight with Meghan. I lifted her up onto the stage and set her down, than climbed up myself. I helped her to a sitting spot behind Jed's drums, and got my bass back on in time to hit the final note of the song.
The look on Ryan's face was priceless. As drunk as he was, my jumping off stage in the middle of a song to wade into a leg-swinging, hair-pulling girl fight had completed zonked him. He stared at me with the painfully confused eyes of a puppy that had just been kicked.
"Next song," I said to him. "Keep going, quick!"
I threw a glance back toward Lise. She was there, cradling her head in her arms. She wasn't seriously hurt, but I wasn't sure how she would feel about me continuing the show while she was all messed up. Too bad. There was no time to discuss it with the committee.
Jed banged his sticks to count in the next number, and we got going, smashing into the song. I was glad that it was 'Broken Windows,' one of the songs Jed and I had written together. It was hard and fast, but the lines were pretty simple. My hands were shaky, but I was still able to play it. Adrenalin had made me jittery.
Getting involved in a fight was no big deal. I'd been in enough scraps during hockey games to not sweat it. There had been enough brawls at the bush parties around the small town where I'd grown up, and a few years of martial arts classes had made me pretty steady in rough situations. But I'd never hit a girl, and I was feeling really funny about the whole thing. You have to go pretty far to find a non-pimp who isn't against hitting women. Even though Meghan may have had it coming in a huge way, there was no getting around the fact that I'd violated my own rule of cool conduct.
But beyond that, there was also the issue of giving a girl an uppercut in the middle of a big dance floor full of girls. How could the crowd not turn on us? How could we not end up looking like villains? It was possible this could completely ruin us.
I was supposed to sing, but I was so worked up that I skipped most of the verses and just waited for the chorus, singing long, drawn-out calls into the distortion channel of the mike. "I'll climb out through the bro-o-o-o-o-o-o-ken window... I'll climb out through the bro-o-o-o-o-o-ken window..."
It was hard to tell what the reaction was down in the crowd. Obviously, no one was dancing. The girls in front of the stage were just milling around, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Meghan was down there. James had arrived and was helping her off the floor. She seemed pretty messed up. My gut twisted at the idea that James and I probably weren't going to be friends anymore. Punching out a dude's girl is usually a deal-breaker on being buddies. That was going to make working with him awkward.
The song came to an end with no applause. What did that signify? Confusion? The crowd simply had no idea what to make of the band on stage, and no idea what to make of the events on the dance floor.
There was nothing for us to do but keep playing, so we went through each song, ramming through the set at top speed. We played fast and kept the chatter to a minimum. In fact, none of us said a single word between songs. We finished one and started another. I think we were too freaked out to do anything but keep playing. We all had one thing in mind: get through the set.
We had chosen 'No Fun' to be our closing song, and as soon as we started playing I knew it was the wrong choice. It was nihilism, pure and simple. I remembered playing the song at Riot Band's first show at Jake's Restaurant, and it had seemed so alive and powerful. This time it just seemed like we were overstaying our welcome. The song, which can be absolutely frenetic when played with drive and passion, plodded along like a deer that had been clipped by a truck on the highway, and was now dragging a broken hind leg out into the bluffs to die. I sang and we muddled through it, and we ended our set without a word to the audience. After the last note we wordlessly pulled off our instruments and started tearing down our gear.
At least the sound guy understood. In moments the stage lights dimmed and the house music started. I looked to where Lise had been sitting, but she was gone. I hurried to get my gear off stage.
When I pulled my Peavey amp down into the little backstage room, I found Lise sitting on a chair, smoking a cigarette.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked her. "You can't smoke in here. Where did you even get that?"
"From Ryan's jacket," she said. Her face was puffy and red from crying. "Sorry."
"Please, put it out," I said. "We'll get in trouble. Are you okay? It was kind of a mess. How's your head?"
She crushed out the cigarette on the tile floor. "It hurts so much," she said with a sob. "That girl is such a bitch. I can't believe you had to get off stage to help me."
"Yeah," I said. "Let's not worry about that, okay? We need to get the gear off stage. Just hang out, okay? I'll be right back."
We tore down our gear and stuffed it all into the little room. As we were taking a quick break to catch our breath, the door opened and the tall redhead from The Pop Rocks stepped inside.
"Has someone been smoking in here?" she asked, giving me a sharp look. "Drama, were you smoking?"
"You're very funny," I said. "Look, someone had a cigarette. Deal with it. Did you know that people used to smoke on airplanes and buses? In the seventies, people smoked in university classrooms. You'll live, okay? Just think about yoga and vegetables and you won't get cancer, I swear."
"Okay, calm down, drama," she said. "Don't get all worked up. Say, you didn't just punch out a girl, did you? Because I'm hearing some crazy rumors."
I muttered one of the bad swear words under my breath. "Your turn on stage, isn't it?" I said. "Maybe you should get up there."
I held out my hand to Lise. She gripped my fingers and stood up, and the two of us walked out. I ignored the rest of the band and pretty much everything else that was going on. Lise and I walked out through the crowd. Everyone watched us as we passed through the main room and went outside. I didn't see James or Meghan anywhere.
We walked to the corner of the block and caught a cab back to Lise's place. Once there, we went straight down to her bedroom in the basement and had crushing power-sex, as we both worked out our angry, violent feelings. She worked out the pain and frustration of being caught in a violent confrontation, while I worked out the excess pent up aggression of having to use my fists to solve problems. We hammered away on each other until we were both completely spent.
In the darkness of her blackened bedroom, I knew what I needed to do. "Are you okay?" I asked her.
"I left the guys with all the gear. I have to go back and help them."
"You're serious," she said. "You actually want to go back there."
"I don't want to go back. I have to. Ryan and Jed don't work for me. We all have to help."
"They'll live," Lise said. "Stay, okay? I'd like to just be with you for a while."
I moved close in the dark and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm sorry," I said. "I have to go. It's my responsibility. I'm part of the team, right? You don't want to come?"
Her voice took on an edge. "No. I don't want to come."
"You're mad at me?"
She sighed. "No, I know you have to go help out. I just wish you didn't have to. It would be so nice if you could stay. But I won't be angry at you for going back."
"Good." I kissed her on the cheek again and got up.
I got a cab back to The Garrison Valley Ballroom. The Pop Rocks finished their set moments before I arrived. Since so many of the kids that had come to see the show were underage, the room emptied quickly. I quickly spotted Ryan standing in the area of the bar with a drink in his hand.
"Hey man," he said when I walked up to him. "You disappeared on us. Where'd you go?"
"I took Lise home," I said. "Is the gear okay?"
"Sure," he said. "Jed had a buddy with a truck take it all back to Nick's place. They went with the gear. I was supposed to stay in case you turned up. You owe everybody for skipping the lifting and carrying."
"Yeah, I know," I said. "Damn. Hey, have you seen James?"
"James?" He wobbled slightly as he considered the name. "No. I haven't seen him or his chick since...well, you know. What was her name again?"
"Yeah, drama," said a voice. "What was her name?"
I turned around. The chick from The Pop Rocks was right there. She was dressed in a shiny black costume, and her long, reddish-brown hair was wet with sweat from their performance. "Do you even know what we're talking about?" I asked.
She smiled. I hated how hot she looked. "I can guess," she said. "I figure it has something to do with you punching someone during your set? Or am I crazy?"
Ryan's eyes goggled drunkenly at the woman. "Did you see it?" he asked her.
"No," she said with a coy smile. "But a lot of people were talking."
"She was beating up my girlfriend," I said in a serious tone.
She held up her hands. "Hey, I'm not judging," she said. "But if the other combatants have left already, maybe you guys should come upstairs with us. We've got a bunch of beers waiting. The Pop Rocks are ready to party."
Ryan shook his head. "There is no upstairs here," he said. "Are we going to drink on the roof?"
"No, no," she said. She took Ryan by the hand. "Come with me."
She led us outside. While the members of their crew tore down the equipment on stage, we went out and climbed aboard the huge shiny black bus that dominated the parking lot next to the building. Inside we found a small living room with benches running along the walls and a tiny kitchenette. There was a big blue plastic tub filled with ice and cans of beer.
Ryan and I grabbed beers while our host disappeared into a deeper room to change. Other members of the band appeared with various hangers-on, mostly female. We introduced ourselves as Ryan and Eric from Riot Band, but they all giggled and acted as they already knew exactly who we were. It creeped me right out.
The lead singer came back in and introduced herself as Taylor. She sat down next to me and started asking me about the fight, which of course, everyone had spent all night talking about. I slugged back a few quick beers.
Someone brought out a bottle of Jamaican rum, and a few shots went around. Taylor started asking me for crazy stories, and I said I didn't have any, but after another beer I remember a few. We did another shot of rum, and then I remembered a few more.
Before I knew it, Emily was there too. She was there talking to Ryan, and the two were yapping away at each other. It sounded like they were fighting, but I was having a hard time keeping it straight. Taylor was saying something to me, but I couldn't quite figure out what it was.
I excused myself for a minute and stepped down off the bus. I went to the side of the building and puked on the gravel pathway, heaving out all the booze I'd managed to quickly take in. It was sometime around midnight. I had no idea if we'd made any money at the gig, but I'd already paid for two cab rides. I was broke, drunk and feeling lost.
Like I didn't know who I was.
Did I really hit a chick? I tried to stand up straight and reared back drunkenly, banging myself against the brick side of the building. The impact felt good, like a reassuring slap on the shoulder. I looked at the puddle of puke between my feet.
What was I doing there?
I was in a rock band. That seemed to explain everything.
2010, Nolan Whyte