The day after The Pop Rocks gig, I was in pretty rough shape. I had made it back to my apartment around three or four in the morning, completely drunk off my ass. Ryan and I had partied on the tour bus with the girls from The Pop Rocks until pretty late, and when I decided I couldn't possibly handle any more booze and alpha-type women, I got off the bus and started walking home.
A long march through a snowy Canadian prairie town with a light jacket on had probably done just as much harm as drinking all night, and I woke up feeling run down and sick. My throat hurt and my lungs felt all full of junk. It was Sunday, and I didn't have to work until four in the afternoon, so I had a hot bath, wrapped myself up in some warm clothes, and relaxed until it was time to go to work.
It was definitely a day to think over my mistakes. The night before had been rough. The fight on the dance floor between Lise and Meghan had been ridiculous, and I felt bad that I had to intervene and hit Meghan, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what I could have done differently. And I felt bad for going back to the gig and leaving Lise at home. I know she would have liked me to stay with her.
I didn't have a phone installed in my new apartment. My budget was thin, and I didn't want to put a phone in and then have the company cut off service a few months later. I also was without a cell phone or computer (I checked my email at Nick's place or the campus computer labs).
This meant finding me was a pain in the ass, and I had a feeling Lise was going to want to talk to me. But I felt like hell, and the nagging feeling of guilt about leaving her to go party kept me from heading down to the payphone and calling her. Instead I snuggled up in bed with a cup of tea (yes, I drink tea), and tried to catch up on some reading for class. I was only enrolled in two classes, but I'd already fallen way behind.
When the time came I ate some sandwiches, dressed in my warmest gear, and left my apartment. I didn't have any change for the bus, so I had to walk to Sally's Convenience Store. No big deal. Sure, it was snowing again and the wind had picked up, but I was fine. The occasional sneeze. Some difficulty with my sinuses. The dreadful feeling of death creeping up my spine. Nothing major.
It was about a quarter to four when I got to work. Nikki, one of the high school girls that worked weekends, was behind the counter when I arrived.
"Lise called for you," she said as soon as I came in. "Twice."
I shook the collar of my coat to get the snow out. "Thanks," I grunted.
"Don't you have a phone yet?" she asked in a sneering voice. Nikki was a Twitter-addicted cell phone junkie. The idea that I'd gone a few weeks without a phone was a continual mind-blow for her.
"Not yet," I said. "Not on my lofty salary."
"Get something prepaid," she said. "Your girlfriend is trying to call you and you don't even have a phone. Why don't you learn about this stuff?"
"Must be the small-town kid in me," I said, and I headed for the back room. I hung my coat up on the rack, then picked up the phone and I punched the number for Lise's house.
On the third ring someone picked up. "Hello." It was Smoky.
"Oh, hey Smoky. It's Eric. Is Lise there?"
There was the sound of Smoky slowly exhaling. I probably caught him in the middle of a pot sesh. "Eric, my man," he said. "Some shit went down last night, hey? Lise is pretty upset. Heard there was some scrappin'?"
"Uh, yeah Smoky. There was some shit. Do you mind if I talk to Lise?"
"Eric, man," he went on. "You have to watch out for my little sister. I trust you, but you have to earn my trust, you know what I'm saying?" He spoke in slow, even tones. "I don't like hearing about her getting in fights with your friends at your shows. It makes me think you're not taking care of her. I would hate to think you were placing her in harm's way."
"No, no, Smoky. There was just this psycho chick there. It's not going to happen again."
"You're right about that, man. I have a one-warning policy, if you know what I mean."
"Yes. Is Lise there?"
"Yeah, she's here," he said. "Man, she's been pissy all day waiting for you to call. Don't you have a phone?"
"I'm working on it. Can I talk to Lise, please?"
He put the phone down. A minute later Lise picked it up. "Eric? Where have you been? How come you didn't call?"
"Sorry," I said. "I walked home in the snow last night and I think I got a cold. I just stayed in all day and kept warm."
"Did you help Ryan and Jed?"
"Actually they'd already cleared everything out by the time I got there."
"What did you do?"
"Um, Ryan and I hung out for a bit. We had some beers with the other bands."
It was silent on her end of the line. "You went back there to drink, didn't you?"
"I had some drinks," I acknowledged. "I did legitimately go back there to help, but it was too late. Do you think I should I have gone immediately home? Or did you want me to take another cab back to your place?"
"No," she sighed. "It just seems to me like you left me when I was feeling low so that you could go and carry on the party with the rock star girls. And that doesn't make me feel very good. And then you couldn't even manage to call me all day. It's all...it's all pretty disappointing, Eric."
I thought about her words. "I didn't expect to be having this kind of conversation with you," I said.
"Yeah," she said. "Well, maybe you've been taking me for granted a bit."
"Yeah." I stood there and stared at the wall of the little break room. "Look, I've got to start my shift. I'll give you another call later on, okay? I'm sorry about all this. It's all been a bit fucked up."
She sighed. "Okay. Call me. And don't worry about calling late. I'll be up."
"Okay." I paused. "I love you." She didn't say anything, and just kind of hung there in silence. "I'll talk to you later," I said at last. "Bye-bye."
I hung up. Damn. Why the hell did I say that?
I put on my employee vest and went out on the sales floor. Nikki saw me and took off her own vest. "Finally," she said as she passed me.
"Hey, who's closing with me tonight?" I called to her as she disappeared into the back room.
"James," she answered.
Damn. This was going to be interesting.
Nikki left a few minutes later. I went up and down the aisles with the broom, and then set myself up behind the cash register. James was late, which was unusual, and I was getting nervous.
He arrived at twenty after four, briskly walking in and shaking the snow off his coat. He spotted me behind the desk but avoided eye as he ducked into the back room. He came back out a minute later with his little red vest on, walked up to the counter and gave me an unsmiling nod.
"Hey Eric," he said.
"Hi James. Doing alright?"
He nodded and looked around. "Yeah. Sorry I'm late. It was a weird day, you know? What with Meghan and all."
"Yeah. Last night was pretty weird too." I cleared my throat.
"Yeah, about last night, Eric. I know it got out of hand when the girls were fighting and all, but did you, you know," he held up a fist, "did you give Meghan a shot?"
There was a twisting feeling in my gut as I thought about my answer. "I don't know, man," I said, feeling myself weaseling out. "It was confusing. I was trying to separate them. I'm not sure if she got hit with my hand when I was trying to grab them, or if she, I don't know, caught a knee or something."
"Right, right," James said. "Because some people were saying pretty clearly that you gave her an uppercut." He raised his fist again. "Gave her a shot on the chin."
"Dude," I said. "I was just trying to separate them. I wasn't trying to hurt anybody."
He shrugged. "Okay. Well, Meghan's got a bruise on her chin. She's not very happy about the whole thing. It's all kind of a shitty situation, and it would really suck if you hit her and you weren't willing to come clean about it."
"Look, James," I said, "I hit her, okay? I didn't want to. She picked a fight with Lise and she was swinging her around by the fucking hair. She wouldn't let go. I was just trying to help Lise."
James didn't say anything, so I kept talking. "You need to take a serious look at that girl Meghan, you know? She totally instigated all that shit last night. She was picking on Lise from the moment they met. I'm not even going to tell you what she said to me when you weren't around last night."
"Why?" he said. "What did she say?"
"Never mind," I said. "She was being nasty, that's all I'm going to tell you. That doesn't justify hitting her, and I'm sorry about that. But really, I think you should think about who you're dating, that's all I'm saying."
He set his jaw tight and walked away from the counter. I think he was couldn't make up his mind whether to back up his shitty girlfriend by calling me out, or agreeing with me that his hot girlfriend was crazy. Either way, I felt rotten, and we barely said a word to each other the rest of the night.
After we shut the place down at midnight I called Lise to see how she was feeling. "You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'm cool," she said in a happy, dragged-out voice. I knew she'd been smoking dope all day. Maybe drinking too. "You wanna come over?"
I felt like hell. My chest and head were both congested and I'd been getting chills all night, but I decided that the better thing to do for my relationship was to go over there. It meant I was probably going to miss my Monday morning class, but hell, I missed half of my classes anyway. It was the long walk in the cold that I wasn't crazy about.
"Sure," I said. "I'll be there in a while."
I hung up the phone. James was grabbing his jacket. "You're walking over to Lise's? Man, you're crazy. You sound like shit. You're gonna get pneumonia or something."
I coughed to clear phlegm from my throat. "I'm cool. Hey, James, are we okay? Like, are we cool?"
He shrugged. "I guess, man. I'll lock up."
We stepped out into the cold night. It had stopped snowing but the wind was still up. James locked the door, and we gave each other a half-hearted fist bump before going our separate ways.
Man, what a drama day, I thought to myself as I walked up Fourth Street. In one day a lot of relationships seemed to have gone sour. Except for the band. The band seemed tight. Of course, I hadn't checked in with Ryan or Jed or Nick, but everything should be cool with them. The show went fine, that was the important thing. And I assumed Ryan made it home okay from the party bus. I couldn't actually remember what happened to him, but I was sure he was okay.
Suddenly I started getting worried. I would have to call Ryan in the morning and find out what happened to him. I was pretty sure he was still on the bus when I left. But I couldn't say for certain.
And that Taylor chick, the lead singer from The Pop Rocks. I felt like there was something there too that I should have remembered. No shagging or anything like that, but there was something. Maybe Ryan would know.
It was half-past twelve when I got to Smoky and Lise's place. Lise let me in. She was sitting in the living room watching TV, and as I had suspected, she was in pretty damaged shape. She'd been smoking for hours and was completely burnt out. She started talking, saying in a rambling monologue about how hurt she was about all the shit from the night before, but how I caught her so off guard saying that I loved her, and at first it felt really wonderful, but then she started worrying that I said it because she was mad, and that made her really sad, but then she thought I wasn't that manipulative to use words like that, and on and on and on...
I didn't know what to think at that point. My chest felt horrible. I went to the bathroom and got a bunch of toilet paper to blow my nose. I really just wanted to lie down and get some serious sleep, but Lise was in a real talking mood. I settled onto the couch and let the waves of her words wash over me until she talked herself out and was finally ready to relax.
We went down to her room and curled up in her bed. There was no thought of sex; we were both ready to drop right off. We just lay down, said goodnight, and went to sleep, hoping for a moment of rest before the mess of a new day began.
Author's note: Riot Band Blues will not appear Friday, June 18th, but will resume at its usual time Friday, June 25th. Peace.
2010, Nolan Whyte