Lise and I lay next to each other, snuggled up in her soft bed. It was after two in the morning, and we were both enjoying the bliss of being totally exhausted, but comfortable and ready to rest. Post-coital endorphins moved sluggishly through our systems, smoothing frayed nerves and relaxing stress-points. I felt like I was wrapped up in a warm cloud.
"You okay?" she asked me.
"Yeah, I'm great," I said. "Why?"
"You seem real edgy," she said. "Acting weird. It's hard for me to figure out."
"Yeah, it's been a weird week," I said. "After all that crap last weekend, and the fight, and everything that came after... it was all pretty stressful." I stared up into the darkness, thinking about all the things that Lise and I hadn't talked about. "But we're cool, right? I know this week was odd, but I'm really happy being with you. And I want you to be happy, so if anything I do bothers you, you should tell me about it, okay? Let's try to keep the communications open."
"Right," she said. "Sure. You too."
"You know, I was thinking," I said, looking for a way to open one of the subjects that had been on my mind, "did you want to learn an instrument? Learn to play guitar or something, so you could play with me and the guys sometimes? Not like, as part of the band or anything serious like that, but just for fun?"
"You never mentioned anything like that before," she said. "Why bring it up now?"
"I don't know," I said. "I thought maybe you might feel left out sometimes. We're always playing music, but you don't really get included. You're a music fan. I was wondering if you wanted to play too."
She yawned, but I had the weird feeling that she was faking it. It was hard to tell in the dark. I prefer to look at someone's face when I talk to them. "Maybe," she said, sounding extra-sleepy. "I hadn't given it much thought. But if I wanted to get into something, I could do it on my own. So don't worry about it."
"Okay." She kissed me on the lips, forced another yawn, and snuggled into the blankets. The conversation was over, and without a hint why she would ask Jed for drum lessons behind my back. It was still a mystery.
* * * *
The next night I caught a bus and headed to a house in Garrison Valley's west end. It was a nice neighborhood, with big, new-looking houses. I found the address James had given me and rang the front door bell.
A slender Asian kid with spiked hair opened the door. He was wearing a t-shirt with the arms torn off. "Hey, Eric," he said. "Come on in."
It was Dong-Ha, the singer for The Urges. I'd met him a few times, very briefly, at Riot Band's gigs. The band practiced in his parents' garage. He led me in through the posh living room to the kitchen where the guys was hanging out.
The Urges formed out of the ashes of Seriosity, a super-uptight surf metal band that split up when their psycho lead guitarist left. The other members, Kyle the drummer, Randy the rhythm player, and my buddy James the bass player, quickly reformed as The Urges with Dong-Ha as their rapper-singer. Riot Band played a basement gig once with Seriosity, but I'd never seen The Urges play. Based on the Seriosity gig, I knew they would be solid. They had buckets of talent.
They were sitting and standing around in the kitchen. "Hey Eric," they said when I came in. Randy, who I barely knew, gave me a firm handshake. "Welcome, brutha," he said.
There were hot knives heating up on the gas range. Randy had a dinner plate on the counter next to him. The plate had a series of little balls of rolled pot waiting to be smoked.
I pointed at the knives and the pot, "I guess your parents aren't home, huh?"
"No, they'll be gone all night, man," Dong-Ha said. "They give us the house every Saturday night. They go to dinner and then to some church club or something. They usually don't get back until ten-thirty. You want to smoke next?"
"No, I'm good," I said. "How do you guys get any work done after getting baked?"
James shrugged. "We take it easy. We smoke a bit now, then a little bit during a break. We go a bit harder when we're done. Then we usually go to a bar or a party or something."
"Wow." I laughed. "Hardcore. We usually just have beers. This is funny, actually. I figured you guys were all crazy-intense and stuff. I never would have thought you got high when you played."
Randy got up off his stool, pulled the knives free from the range, and with bottle-top funnel jammed in his mouth, he proceeded to smoke one of the balls of rolled marijuana weed.
"The hardcore-intense shit was mostly Doug," said Kyle, the drummer. He spoke in a slow, relaxed drawl. "He was pretty serious about certain things. He had a really dominant personality, and really fixed ideas on a lot of things. And that's not really our style."
James grinned. "Can you tell we talk about Doug a lot?"
Randy opened the kitchen window and blew the smoke out into the night. "Yeah," I said. "Doug was a pretty big asshole."
"Sure, but so are you, right?" said Randy as he closed the window. "Like, the same kind of dominant guy, always getting in battles and stuff for your band."
"Damn, I don't know," I said. "I wouldn't say I'm being an asshole to anyone."
"Well no, maybe you're not being an asshole to anyone," Kyle said. "But you do seem to have a lot of confrontations with people. A lot of little conflicts."
I nodded. "Yeah, more than the average sometimes."
"More than anyone I know," said Randy. He jammed the knives back into the range's blue flame.
An ironic grin crept across my face. "Guys, is there a point to all this? You remember that I'm here inviting you to play a paying gig with us, right? It's like a gift. I'm helping you guys out."
"Relax, Eric," James said. "Don't get so worked up. It's just conversation."
"Yeah, man." Kyle shrugged. "It's not like we're actually calling you an asshole. We're just talking."
"It's true, though," Randy said. "It is a gift. You haven't even heard us play. You can't say we've earned it the spot, because you don't know what we sound like."
"Yeah, but we're buddies," I said. "Or I should say, James and I are buddies. And I saw you guys play when you were Seriosity, so I know you're capable." I laughed uncomfortably. "Is that suspicious?"
"Of course not, dude. Relax," Kyle said. He put the bottle-top in his mouth, picked up the knives, and smoked.
"Yeah," Randy said. "Seriously, we're not getting on you. We're just talking."
There was a quiet moment, and then the sound of a toilet flushing at the bottom of a set of stairs just off the kitchen.
"I thought your parents were gone," I said to Dong-Ha.
"They are," he replied. "That's James' chick."
"Are you serious?" I said. "Meghan's here? Damn, guys, you could have given me some warning. In fact, you could have let me know she was going to be here."
"Eric, it's cool," James said. "She knows you're here. She's cool with it. She's not all hostile or something."
A door downstairs opened, and sure enough, up came Meghan. "Hey Eric," she said with a smile. Unlike the guys, it didn't seem like she'd been smoking up.
I couldn't help looking at her chin. I somehow had the idea that she would have a bruise on her chin or jaw from me hitting her. I was still wracked with guilt over the punch even though it was a completely justifiable action: I was protecting a smaller girl (my girlfriend) from a bully. Simple.
But there was no bruise. There was just pretty blonde Meghan, with her curly hair done up and her makeup on, wearing a tiny tight blouse and jean shorts. Freezing clothes for late November, but this is how bar-stars dress, isn't it?
I said hello, and we all stood in a weird silence. I waited for someone to say something about me punching Meghan, but everyone played it surprisingly cool. The guys kept smoking, and I told them about the gig spot opening for Riot Band at Jake's Restaurant. I told them about the money, the times, the equipment. They didn't really have any questions. I started wondering why I'd bothered to come.
Dong-Ha finished a blast, blew the smoke out the window, and slammed it shut. Despite the use of the window, the room still had the stink of pot. He turned to me. "You sure you don't want one, Eric? There's lots."
"No," I said. "I had a pretty funny time last weekend. I'm trying to take it easy on the substances."
"Well, you're coming to the bar later, right?" James asked. "We're all going to Gooch's after we jam."
"I hadn't planned on it," I said.
"Going to meet Lise?" James asked. Everyone seemed to pause, as though waiting for the subject of last weekend's fight to come up.
"Why doesn't Lise come with us?" Kyle said.
"She's not bar age," Randy replied. Again, there was a pause. I waited for Meghan to make a vicious comment, but she kept quiet. I couldn't figure if James had talked her into laying off Lise, or what, but whatever it was, she was biting her tongue.
"Okay, let's hit it guys," Dong-Ha said, and he clapped his hands. Randy, James and Kyle got up and followed him to the door of the attached garage. Meghan and I straggled along behind.
"You always come to their practices?" I asked Meghan.
"Usually," she said. "We go to the bar after they're done." We stepped into the garage, which was chilly. The guys got ready to play, and after a moment's deliberation and to two second sound check, the started playing.
The difference between The Urges and Seriosity was immediately apparent: where Seriosity had been absolutely rigid in composition and execution, The Urges began a jamming drone, basically riffing away at a couple of chords. They sounded great, but there was no hint of the super-tight surf metal act they had once been. Now there was noise-riffing and stoned out droning.
Dong-Ha started to sing. I'd been told he was a rapper, and I'd envisioned a kind of Korean Zac De La Rocha, but he was more like Johnny Rotten, singing in staccato bursts. It was cool, but it was totally unexpected.
I still had my coat on from when I arrived, but Meghan was standing next to me holding her arms and shivering lightly. When the song ended, she tugged on my sleeve. "Let's wait for them inside," she said.
I looked questioningly at James, but he didn't seem to care at all. He looked relaxed and focused on playing.
I followed Meghan in. She closed the door behind us and went to the fridge. "Do you want something?" she asked. "They've got some coke or...milk."
"I'm good," I said. "Look, Meghan, everybody's being really cool, but I wanted to say about last week at the show... I don't know, I guess I wanted to say no hard feelings."
She took the bottle of coke and poured herself a glass. "That's okay," she said. "I picked a fight and I got hit, right? It would be stupid if I was really mad about that. Actually, I thought it was cool of you, coming to your little princess's rescue like that. It kind of shows what you're made of. You're a stand up guy. I dig that."
"Funny," I said. "Seems like some of the others think I might be some kind of asshole."
She shrugged. "True," she said. "But I don't care so much what James and his buddies think. They're fun guys, and I like James, but they're not exactly hot shit, you know what I mean? Like, where the hell was James during the fight? He's not really the strong type."
"He's a good guy," I said.
The hot knives were still resting in the grill of the range, and Meghan turned the knob, bringing the blue flames to life. "Sure," she said. "He's a good guy. I like him, and I'm going to go out with him for a while. We all have fun. But you know, sometimes I look at couples and think, what are they doing together? Like James and me, we're having fun, but we're not really a match. And I think about you and your girl..."
"Lise and I are a great match," I said.
There were still a couple little balls of pot rolled a waiting on the plate for someone to smoke them. Meghan picked up the bottle-top funnel and waited for the knives to glow. "I'm not going to disagree," she said. "But I will say that sometimes people can be too close to a situation to see objectively."
She put the funnel in her mouth, pulled the knives free, and with a deft touch of one blade she picked up one of the little balls. She then pressed it hard between the two super-heated blades, and a plume of smoke poured out, only to be sucked into the funnel and down into her lungs.
Meghan squeezed her eyes shut as her lungs absorbed the narcotics from the acrid smoke. She suddenly started waving for me to come closer. Unsuspecting, I approached.
She opened her eyes and grabbed my neck, pulling me close. She pressed her lips to mine and breathed the smoke out, pushing it into my mouth. I took it in, sucking it deep.
Meghan popped the window open for me, and I blew the smoke out into the darkness.. After a breath, I turned toward her. "I said I didn't want to smoke."
She smiled and shrugged. "I didn't want to waste it," she said.
"Tell the guys I'll see them later," I said. She didn't reply, and just watched as I zipped up my coat and walked out.
2010, Nolan Whyte