I think Nick could read the pissy, defensive look that crossed my face, because he immediately put up his hands. "Okay, just let us explain, Eric." He took a quick sip of coffee while he collected his thoughts. Ryan and I watched as he shifted in his chair. Jed, his accomplice in betrayal, sat patiently waiting while Riot Band's manager prepared to explain himself.
"It's like this," Nick said.
"And we don't even know if Lise actually wants to join the band," Jed interjected.
"Right," Nick continued, "but if she does, Jed and I really think it would be a bad idea to let her in. I mean, she can't play. At all. Jed could teach her, but it would take a while to get her up to speed, you know? It would be better to have someone who could contribute, and you know, push us forward, instead of us slowing down to let her catch up."
"Yeah," Jed said. "And you know, there's the other thing."
"What other thing?" I said.
Ryan laughed. "Come on, dude. Even I can spot that one a mile away. You can't let a chick into the band. It'll destroy us. It would only take a few months before we'd be at each others throats over her."
I scoffed. "She wouldn't mess around like that. She's not going to screw around on me."
"It's not even that," Ryan went on. "She wouldn't need to try and screw around. Think about it. She's in the band, and she's making suggestions, and even though you know they suck, you side with her over us, because if you don't, she'll withhold sex. So Jed and I are busting our nuts trying to get you to listen to reason, but you're following her around like your dick is metal and her mouth is a magnet. You're thinking with your dick, and the band starts to suffer because we're using her shite suggestions."
Ryan wasn't finished. "Then, when we're on tour, we three dudes are stuck alone traveling with your tight-bodied little honey of a girlfriend. And we've got to share everything because the budget is tight, and so it's all of us together in a van, together in a change room, together in a hotel room. We're all going crazy watching her get changed before the show, stripping down at bed time, with her sweaty little T-shirts and ass-hugging jeans, and even if Jed and I really aren't taking quick looks when we think no one's watching, you start thinking that we are. And pretty soon you're carrying a knife, ready to give us a poke in the lungs if we get out of line. It could be a really bad scene, Eric."
We all sat and started at Ryan. "Shit," Jed said. "Did you have that speech ready to go, or what?"
"And what if you two break up?" Ryan said. "Think about it. What a nightmare. We've got to play a gig, and she shows up with her new douche-bag boyfriend, and you start tearing the venue apart like a coke-head gorilla. No thank you, Eric."
"Wow," said Nick. "Um, I don't want that to speak for all of us. For Jed and I, the issue is definitely more getting a qualified player. Someone to add to the sound, you know? But since Ryan has so... graphically raised the issue, we should mention your fairly sketchy run-ins with the ladies, Eric. The scenes with Jasmine, the fight last weekend. You know what we're talking about."
"Let's put it plain and simple," Jed said. He was trying to sound authoritative, but he gave his nervousness away by tugging at the ends of his flopped-over mohawk. "We don't think it's a good idea for your girlfriend to be in the band. We all like Lise. Lise is cool. But it raises some possibilities we don't think we should have to face."
I nodded. "Okay," I said. "You guys have said what you wanted to say. Now allow me to reply. First of all, you guys are a bunch of assholes. Ass... holes. You are the part of a human ass where the shit comes out. You open your mouths and shit starts to flow. You just can't help it. You're assholes."
They could see I wasn't really mad. I think I even put them at ease.
"Second of all," I said, "Lise hasn't asked. So don't burn bridges before you come to them. If she just wants to learn drums because she thinks it might be fun, then you guys have raised this all for nothing."
"Yeah," Ryan said. "Maybe she doesn't even want to join the band. Maybe she just wants to f--k Jed, and this is her way of getting him alone."
I gave Ryan the tenth-level evil eye. "I don't think that's it," I told him. "Anyway, I'm not going to get all freaky about it. If you guys don't want her to join, that's reasonable. I mean, she can't play worth a shit. And I don't think Jed would be able to get her up to our level that fast."
"Right," Ryan sneered. "Because our level is sooooooo high. A bunch of freakin' prodigies, we are."
"You're hilarious," deadpanned Jed.
"What did you tell Lise anyway?" I asked Jed. "What did you say when she asked if you would teach her?"
Jed shrugged. "I said I was really busy with school and the band, and that I didn't have a lot of extra time to give lessons. Which is true anyway."
I thought it over. "I'll talk to her," I said. "Try to figure out what her intentions are."
"Don't tell her I told you," Jed said. "Like, bros before hos and all that sexist shit, but I told her I wouldn't tell you that she asked."
"Okay," I said. "Let's leave it for now. Are we jamming tonight?"
"We'd better," Jed said. "We're playing at Jake's tomorrow and we haven't had a practice since when? Last Tuesday?"
"Funny," Ryan said. "Think about it: we've played two shows since our last practice."
"You guys want to drop by the house around seven?" Nick said. "And don't bring any beer this time, okay? Let's try and keep focused."
"Ha!" Ryan shouted. "Listen to this guy. Our manager. Yes sir!" He saluted Nick. "No beer tonight, sir!"
Nick drained his coffee. "Okay, enough of this shit. You know I'm trying to help you guys." He stood up and grabbed his bag of books. "See you guys tonight."
"I'm just kidding," Ryan said. "We'll see you seven, right?"
Nick smiled and gave Ryan the finger as he walked out of the student lounge.
"I'm going to get going too," Jed said. He finished his cup of coffee. "Lise did one thing for us," he said. "She brought the whole drummer subject back up. I still want us to find somebody. We've been jamming songs with me on keyboards for weeks. I want to start playing some of this shit before we get old and die."
I shrugged. "Let's play one tomorrow night."
"With no drummer?" Ryan asked.
"Why not?" I said. "I think the people that show up at Jake's are willing to hear some different shit. Maybe it's time to get the keyboard on stage, anyway. Get used to having it up there."
"Let's work it out tonight," Jed said. "I'll see you guys at Nick's place." He left.
"What now?" I asked Ryan.
"I'm going over to The Typesetter's office," Ryan said. "Maybe Emily is there. I want to give her shit for writing all that garbage about us."
"What for?" I asked. "The paper is already out there. She can't take it back. Just forget it and move on."
Ryan stood up. "I can't leave it, man! You don't understand: we made out. And then she slagged me in an article, like it never even happened! I feel betrayed. This will sound really funny, but I feel dirty."
"Okay, dude," I said. "Just tell me this: when you were getting it on with her, was there any part of you that was secretly hoping she would write a more generous review because you were making out?"
"Secretly?" Ryan laughed. "That's what I was thinking the whole time. That, and I was hoping to see her boobs. She has ah-mazing boobs. So I guess I was only fifty percent successful. Saw the boobs, but the review was still negative."
"You're a whore," I said, as we stood up. "Anyway, let's get going."
We walked out of The Market, but at the door, I paused and looked up at the stage at the far end of the room. "What do you think?" I asked Ryan. "Think we'll get to play here?"
"Maybe," he said. "But if we do, I hope it's not just some shite local band festival with ten other bands. If we play, I want us to be headlining. And I want The Pop Rocks to open for us, not the other way around."
"Yeah, right," I said. "Were they any good, anyway?"
"The Pop Rocks? Yeah, they were tight," he said. "They definitely had their act down, you know? And that chick, the red head you were feeling up, she can really work a crowd."
"Wait, what?" I said, grabbing his arm. "You never said anything about me feeling up Taylor. Why the hell didn't you mention anything sooner?"
"You don't remember?" Ryan asked. "You're serious? I didn't think you'd forget that. I thought you were just being discreet. I mean, the bus was practically Girls Gone Wild."
"You spent a solid hour telling me about making out with Emily, and you can't say anything about me messing around on my girlfriend in the back of a f--king tour bus?"
"Dude," he said, leaning in close and lowering his voice. "I assumed that since you didn't bring it up, you didn't want to discuss it. I was trying to be sensitive, you know? Because like you said, you were kinda messing around."
"Come on," I said. "Let's go. And tell me what the hell happened."
We walked down the hall to the office where The Typesetter is published. As we walked, he told me the story: apparently Taylor and I started talking about strippers, and eventually, fake breasts. She said something about having guys ask her if her breasts were real, and I started teasing her about having fake breasts. She played along and let me squeeze them. According to Ryan, the squeeze lasted about twenty seconds, and was followed by a quick flash. She then returned the favor and squeezed my pecs.
"Damn," I said. "We sound like a couple of idiots."
"Well, everybody was pretty drunk," Ryan said. "And you two really hit it off."
That caused a sinking sensation in my stomach. I had the sudden feeling that I couldn't trust myself when I was out without Lise. It was a horrible feeling, since I'd told her just the other night that I loved her. And it was true: I really loved Lise.
"Shit," I said, as another thought occurred to me. "Did Emily see us?"
"Yep," Ryan said. "Everybody had a pretty good laugh over it. You guys were practically putting on a show for us."
Ryan went inside The Typesetter's office. I was so embarrassed that I stayed in the hallway. Ryan came back out and reported that Emily wasn't there, so I was able to avoid having to face her at least.
That night we got together at Nick's for our practice and jam. We played a solid hour, plugging through our current list of performance numbers. Everything was pretty tight. We took a break so Ryan could have a cigarette, and I asked Nick if I could use his computer to check my email.
I went upstairs. Bertrand, the snobbish grad student was up there. I hadn't seen him since Ryan and I had moved out of the basement. He was in his room, sitting at his desk, working on his laptop with his door open.
"Hey, buddy," I said as I passed by. He silently got up and closed the door. I grinned and went into Nick's room.
I hopped on Nick's computer, logged in and opened my email inbox. There was the usual shit: some spam, a few emails from my friends back in Rose Creek, and one from an address I'd never seen before: email@example.com. My face flushed red and I felt a drop in my stomach. There was a mixture of shame and excitement. I opened the email.
"Hi Eric," she said. "Just wanted to say I had a lot of fun with you and your friends the other night. I hope our bands cross paths again. It would be great if we could party again. Your bus or mine? Ha ha. Seriously, if we play Garrison Valley again, we'll try to get you guys on the bill. Let me know what you guys are up to. Love to catch up for some more drama if you guys make it down east. Kiss kiss, Taylor."
It all seemed fairly innocent. Friendly. A little flirty, maybe, but we hadn't really done anything, right? And there wouldn't be anything wrong with replying, right? It would just be networking with another band.
I put the email into a folder and signed out of my account. Hell with it. It was too heavy to think of at the moment. I headed down the stairs to bum a cigarette off Ryan. Drama. Taylor was right. Riot Band was all about drama, drama, drama.
2010, Nolan Whyte