I missed class on Monday. I stayed at Lise's house, sicker than a leper colony. I had it all: sore throat, stuffed and runny nose, sneezing, coughing, high temperature, chills, hot sweats, cold sweats, swollen hands, puffy eyes, green stuff in my lungs, plugged ears, dilated pupils, sore joints, stiff muscles, pallor, twisted insides, cold and clammy outsides, and angst about the dark vacuum of nihilism that is the universe.
Sick. I'm telling you, sick.
Lise played nurse, bringing down toast and tea from the kitchen, and she stayed by my side through my misery. In the afternoon she gave me head under the covers and then brought me upstairs for a bath. When I was all clean and warm and dry, she set me up in the living room with a big blanket, the TV remote and video game controller, and a plate of hash brownies Smoky made when he heard I was sick.
"I've got to go to work," she said. "Take it easy here. Smoky might be back later, but just chill out. Eat whatever you want. Go to bed when you get tired. I'll be home around one."
I croaked some words of thanks, and she left. Neither of us said anything about love.
The hash brownies sat there on the plate, and I considered their possible medicinal qualities. Sure, people talked about medical marijuana all the time, but I always figured they just wanted to get high, so they talked up imaginary benefits. I knew the hash would make me hungry, and all I'd eaten that day was some toast and an orange. Maybe the munchies would force me to eat, and food would give me strength to overcome the death-like cold I had. I figured it was worth the risk. There were three brownies on the plate. I ate one and started playing Pac-Man.
After fifteen minutes I was getting good at clearing the levels. After twenty minutes I was balls-over-the-wire freaked out by the whole operation, and I had to set the controller down. I looked around the room to try and orient myself. The room seemed really small and I seemed really big. Then it was the other way around.
Needing to clear my head, I got up and wandered over to the kitchen. I wasn't feeling hungry yet, but I had a look inside a cupboard. It was full of liquor bottles. I poured a big glass with one part scotch and two parts water and went back to the couch.
The machine had started showing a demo game, and I sat down and sipped the drink and watched the demo, and let me tell you it was goddamn fascinating. Watching the little yellow Pac-Man guy running and running, almost getting eaten, getting his power pellet and then eating the ghosts that were chasing him...it was exhilarating.
Eventually the munchies started kicking in. I looked around. The other two brownies were right there. So I ate them both.
Time slipped away for a while. Smoky came in and found me with my fingernails digging into the cushions of the couch and sweat running down my face. I was so wrapped up watching the Pac-Man demo that I felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack. Seriously, my heart was pounding. Adrenaline would shoot through me every time a ghost came near the little yellow prick. And he kept dying! But then a new demo game would start and I would be on edge again.
"Hey, Eric dude," Smoky said. "You okay? Playing some Pac-Man?"
"Yeah! Pac-Man. I was playing..." I looked at the clock hanging on the wall and could not figure out what time it was. "I was playing a while ago. Now I'm just watching."
Smoky sat down next to me on the couch and picked up the controller. "Watching the demo? Let the good times roll. Mind if I cut in here?" He stopped the demo and started flipping through menu screens. "I'm just gonna put some music on here...and find a new game...cool?"
CCR started playing, and he loaded a game where he was a big robot with a sword, shooting missiles at another big robot. It was the most fucked-up unbelievable thing I'd ever seen.
"So, you're pretty sick, huh?" He was watching the screen, clicking away with the buttons and controls. "Lise said you had a cold or something. Did you try a brownie?"
I was staring at the screen. I had no idea what was going on. I felt like the fate of existence hung on the outcome of this robot fight. "Yeah," I managed to say. "I tried the brownies. Thanks."
He stole a glance at me out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, I see," he said with a laugh. "You're flying, aren't you? Yeah, you look messed up. Were they strong? How many did you have?"
"Three?" He laughed. "Man, three would make me fly too. I can't imagine what three would do to a light-weight like you. You're okay? Dude, I'm impressed. Three is ridiculous."
I couldn't say anything. The robots were going so fast...so very, very fast. How could anything move that fast? How could Smoky be controlling this robot? How could he be reacting this quickly? I started twitching, trying to anticipate actions, trying to respond to the attacks by his opponent.
"You know something, Eric?" Smoky said. "I think you're all right. I gave you a hard time about that whole fight thing the other night. I don't like to see Lise get mixed up in any fights, you know? But you came to her rescue, and that's good shit. And today, you know, I realized how much she really cares about you."
He jerked violently, yanking the controller to respond to an attack. His robot took a hit and dropped to its knees. Sparks flared out of a wound in its torso and it fell flat on its face. Game over.
"She's dated some real assholes, you know? Dudes that I wanted to take apart with power tools, guys that really treated her like shit. Abusive guys, you know? It's almost like she's attracted to human shit."
I tried to soak in the words. Human shit. Did he mean me?
"She's got issues," he went on. "Hell, we've all got issues, but her shit with these guys, and running away, and dropping out of school, it's almost like she's got no sense of self-worth or something. She was on a really bad road. She was getting into so much trouble at school I actually thought dropping out was a blessing. And the cutting..."
Cutting? What the hell...oh yeah, the leather wrist band that I've never seen her take off even once...
"Anyway, the fact that she's been able to hold down this job has been a really positive sign. It's not much, just a convenience store, but it's symbolic, right? And now she's dating you. And I had some doubts, but you seem solid. I think you're good for her, man."
"That's cool," I managed to say. "Thanks."
"Sure. You want a drink? I'm going to have one of those brownies."
Smoky and I sat on the couch. He got wasted on brownies and rum, and I sipped another scotch and water and watched him play video games. It was a bonding night. Lise got home at one o'clock, and was almost angry that I was still awake.
"You should rest," she said. "You're sick." She took me downstairs and got me into bed, where I immediately passed out.
Tuesday was another sick day, although in the evening I made my way back to my own apartment. On Wednesday I dragged my sick ass back to the university.
I attended my single class for the day, and managed to pick up where I'd left off with the course. Afterwards I headed to The Market, the campus lounge. That was the place where the members of Riot Band usually congregated on weekdays, and as I'd hoped, Ryan was there with a cup of coffee, a half-eaten chocolate chip muffin, and an open text book.
"Dude, there you are," he said as I came up to his table. "I thought you'd died or something. Man, you look like shit."
"Fine, thanks. How are you?" I replied. I knew I looked awful. My eyes were still puffy and bloodshot, and the skin all around my nose was red and peeling from blowing my nose every fifteen minutes. "So, you gonna tell me what happened Saturday night?"
He shook his head. "What an insane night, man. I can't believe we partied on the tour bus. And that Emily chick? That was crazy. Did you know we left together? I lost track of you at some point. We both got pretty wasted, and we split a cab to her place."
"You shag her?"
"No," he said, "but we made out for a pretty long time. We went about as far as you can go without actually doing it. Second base with dry-humping, I guess you would say. But it was like, do we still hate each other or something? I don't know. She was still really nasty and sarcastic, even when we were making out."
"Well, you did call her fat."
"I know." He smiled. "And I got away with it."
We hung around and caught up for a while. I filled him in on how much I couldn't remember about my own experiences in The Pop Rocks' tour bus, as well as my subsequent interactions with James, Lise and Smoky. Ryan filled me in on the details of playing with Emily's breasts. He went into a lot of detail. It was like he'd never even seen one before. He went on and on and on. Jeez, dude. I get it. They were nice. You're not twelve years old.
Nick and Jed arrived together an hour later. They both looked bitter. "There you are," Nick said when he saw me. "You been sick?"
"Yeah. Does it show?"
"Little bit." He turned to Jed. "What should we tell them first?"
Jed shook his head. "Coffee first."
Ryan and I looked ominously at each other while our drummer and manager went up to the bar. They returned a few minutes later with cups of coffee and sat down.
"Bad news?" Ryan asked.
"Layers of it," Nick said. "First things first: the new issue of The Typesetter came out today, and that chick Emily gave us another horrible review. She says the music sucked, but she also went out of her way to give some inverted feminist rant about Eric breaking up the cat-fight with Lise and that other chick."
"That's a strange thing to attack us for," Ryan said.
"Well, apparently the fact that he carried her up on stage was symbolic of our cave-man attitudes about women needing to be rescued and taken as trophies. And the fact that you guys kept playing through the whole thing was also a problem for her. Like violence against women was part of the show."
"That's such shit," I said. "What was I supposed to do, just let my girlfriend get beat up?"
"Dude, don't sweat it," Jed said. "This Emily chick totally has it in for us. No matter what we do, she'll twist it against us. What do you expect? Ryan called her fat."
"Yeah, but we made up!" Ryan blurted out. "And we even made out! She showed me her boobs! We're friends!"
"Hmph," I snorted. "I guess you didn't get away with it after all."
"Anyway," Nick said, "we've got other stuff too. You guys have been going on and on about playing The Market." He nodded toward the empty stage at one end of the room. "Well, a bunch of local bands are setting up a show for mid-December. The guys from Blow Up Springfield are setting it up. I asked around, and apparently they're not interested in letting us play."
"Good grief," I said. "Because of the last review Emily wrote? That shit about us thinking we're the only band in town?"
"Maybe partly," Nick said. "But I guess there's also some resentment that no one else has played Jake's yet. We've had the place for like, ten weeks in a row, and Keith hasn't had a single other band play there yet."
I laughed. "So? Have they asked Keith? He'd let anybody play there."
"Apparently not," Nick said. "In fact, he's been telling other bands that he'll have to run it by us if they want to play. And that goes to show you, he has no idea what he's doing running a venue."
"Okay," I said. "Whether or not we want to play at the December show, we'll have to talk to Keith. He's hurting his own business talking like that. And we don't need bad blood with any of the other bands."
"There's something else too, Eric," said Jed. "This one is a little weird. Lise called me last night."
I frowned. "What for?"
"She asked if I could show her some stuff on the drums. And she asked me not to tell you about it."
"Okay, that's a little weird," I said. "You figure she wants to join the band? She knows you want to switch to keyboards."
"Yeah, that what we thought too," Nick said. "There's just one issue. We don't want her in the band."
2010, Nolan Whyte