Sticks And Strings. Part 23

It's me. That's what it's always boiled down to. I'm my own obstacle course.

Sticks And Strings. Part 23
Only when you're in a place of utmost peace can things become clear. Everyone has their own refuge, a place you feel safe to let the walls down and allow the truth to be absorbed and reflect upon you like a mirror of your soul. Some need to be surrounded by absolute silence. Me? My clarity came when immersed in the ocean of music. Truly, silence was a frightening concept. All the better reason the amp volume was set high. The Marshall's sharp resonance made even the mezzo piano of notes scream fortissimo as we played. Mitchell's approach to jamming was exactly that. Never mind practicing the songs we'd written, he'd say, there's always a place for those sessions, just free flow, whatever comes, welcome it - sucky or otherwise. No heart, no love, no point. A recommendation I was too glad to follow. Save the weeding out for another time. If only I could learn to apply the same philosophy to my lyric writing. He was right, of course. Did bands like Black Heart Legions write perfect all the time? Of course not, name one band whose whole career consisted of nothing but first drafts and one-shots? They might exist, certainly. But were they famous? Hell no. Who wants to invest their hard-earned dough in a crap album? That silent thought made it easier to bite the bullet when Mitchell set down his guitar after a lengthy jazz-inspired solo, or doodle' he was more fond of saying. We agreed to disagree on that, the word doodle seemed too wimpy to associate with the music we played. Cee-garette? he asked, taking a pack from his pocket, putting one between his own lips. I accepted and helped myself to a plump looking one, stray tobacco strands waving from the end. Hand-rolled ones were preferable to the usual prepackaged ones found in almost every store this side of Vancouver; tastier and less expensive in the long run. Mitchell broke a match from the flimsy book resting on top of his amp, sparked it, waved the flame out, and threw the pack my way, showing no care about smoking indoors. I followed suit. After a couple of puffs, I crouched near my bag, fishing for my notebook, letting the GIO hang from my shoulders, its heavy body smacking against my thighs. Mitchell watched with some interest while I tore the sheet with the "Empty Shell" lyrics, looking them over once more. Wow, you ain't kidding you went to town on them, he said, noticing the shadows from the heavy scratches clinging to the paper's underside. I did. Then I plucked my cigarette from my lips, blew smoke against the paper, keeping it close to my chest as if trying to guard a stray diary entry from prying eyes, and stuck the glowing end right bulls-eye in the middle, holding it until the paper began to crinkle and turn brown. Eventually the cigarette poked through the small, cindering hole, sticking out the back side like the tip of a glowing tongue. A choked yelp escaped from Mitchell's throat. Hey! The f--k are you doing, man! What you suggested, I said, killing them. Well, fine, but jeez, don't burn my damn house down! Silly Mitchell, like I would ever allow such a thing to happen. I put the cigarette where it belonged, tapping the ashes onto the paper and crumpling it into a ball. A few dying wisps of smoke escaped from its folds and vanished. Mitchell took the singed ball from me, carrying it out of the room. The sound of water hitting the kitchen sink followed right behind. Where the hell did that come from? he called over the running tap. I don't know, I replied, unable to resist smiling. It just came, and I welcomed it. Actually, I felt pretty good about the whole thing. You're a strange one, Richard, he said, his voice returning to normal as the water shut off. I like you, don't get me wrong, but you surprise me sometimes. That makes two of us. A frantic burst of knocking ended our short-lived exchange. Without leaving the room, I heard the door open, followed by a female voice moving so fast, I didn't catch a word after Hey, Mitch. Not that I needed to. Right away, I knew who it was. Looks like the party's about to get interesting, I thought, tapping a few strings. Mitchell returned cigarette-less a second later, a strange smirk written across his face. What's funny? I asked. He didn't answer, only picked his guitar up, tightened the strap and smiled some more. Boy, people sure liked to leave me guessing until the very end. With some annoyance, I put my smoke out in an ashtray sitting on the lone table in the room, looking back just in time to see Kayla wander into the room, dragging her hard case behind her like it was a rolling suitcase, her other hand occupied with stuffing something into her hip pocket. The first thing to come to mind was a silent awe; what on Earth had she done to her hair? The blonde was gone, replaced by a color that matched the lip gloss she wore. It reminded me of bubblegum, contrasting against the dull whitewashed dimness of the room. You could use her head for a night light. She broke into a toothy grin once she saw me. Oh, well hello there, Richie! Good to see you! Richie? Is she serious? What the f--k is going on? Mitchell snorted, breaking out in a grin of his own, one he tried to hide as soon as the warning glare locked onto him. I forgot all about the questions rolling around in my head the minute she reached out a hand and stroked my arm, shoulder to hand, running her fingers slowly against mine as carefree as you could believe it. Only, I didn't - couldn't believe it. Upon looking closer, I noticed her pupils bouncing in and out like two little black trampolines. The harder she tried to stare straight at me, the more her eyes danced. Thin red veins drew along her whites. The realization almost screamed out. Good lord, the girl is as high as a cloud. Ah... err, well, good to see you too, Kayla, I managed to get out. Can you please let go of my finger? Not here, not now, girl, please. You're looking - (Wrecked, whacked out of your gourd?) - lovely, I finished, worrying she would strain a jaw muscle if she kept that smile plastered on her face. Then again, realizing I'd just openly said what I had, little chance that was going to happen anytime soon. Why thank you! she said with a zealous squeal, patches of red beginning to crawl across her face. I felt like a change of face - hair... hell, you know what I mean. Her hand finally fell away from mine. She slid across the hardwood floor in her socks, over to her case, taking her guitar out, its color bearing a close resemblance to her hair. She moved so fast while setting up, I kept worrying she would put a hole in the wall, one Mitchell seemed to share, stupid grin notwithstanding. Things were definitely going to be interesting now. Recalling the results of my own experiments playing while high, if that was anything to go by, then it was a safe bet how productive Kayla would be. The idea of cutting my participation short, minor though it was, lingered in my mind. Then I told myself to quit being a pussy, and re-tuned, ready for action. We were free flowing, after all. *** It was a good time. In the end, I had to laugh at myself for being such a goddamn worrywart. The stuff we played wasn't terrible. Maybe not for use in any future setlist, Thrash for Cash or otherwise, but a far cry from awful. Kayla continued to surprise, playing close to the same skill level she held sober, though with a lot more slipped notes. Nobody minded. Someone went so far to suggest bringing in a tape recorder to capture any future sessions. Why? Comedic purposes, mostly; something we could all look back on and laugh at if Systex ever made it big. I can see it now, I said, kicking back in the couch. Instruments set aside, beers had been broken out, and everyone was relaxing. Mitchell sat opposite on a thin metal folding chair, dangling crossed arms over the back, beer can gripped tight while Kayla - gasp! - took the spot on the couch next to me. You had to give her props for persistence. By now, her edge seemed to be wearing away. She'd been quiet for a while. Picture it, our first EP: 'Sessions At Mitch's - Volume One'. Mitchell couldn't seem to tell if I was serious or not. Kayla started giggling obscenely behind her half-empty can, doing her best to keep the beer in her mouth. Lights came on in Mitchell's head and he looked suitably unimpressed with himself. 'Sessions At Mitch's', he muttered with a shake of his head, standing and heading in the direction of the bathroom. I say it again, Richard: You're an odd one. I know. With one final tip of the head, I drained the can and tossed it into the half-full plastic bin against the wall. It clattered for a second before coming to rest among its brothers. Things were good. The GIO hadn't seen so much action since the group's core had finally been cemented; I'd almost forgotten how good it felt to just shut up and play. Fretting over some half-a-sed lyrics seemed so dumb, felt so dumb that I had to smile at my own foolishness. What you smiling at? Kayla asked, looking amused herself. I just got the joke, I said. It's so damned simple, why couldn't I think of it before? Uh... okay? What was the joke anyways? Me. I don't get it. I didn't either. Not until today. It took killing them to really hammer the point home. I am such an idiot. All this time I've been telling myself the problem was something else; some intangible... thing out there, throwing curveballs left, right and center when in truth, the windows are so fogged out, I can't even see straight. It's me. That's what it's always boiled down to. I'm my own obstacle course. Oh, why didn't we have a tape recorder here and now? I wasn't sure if the words flowing from me were really sinking in right then. If this was some kind of trance, I wasn't sure I wanted it to end; how strange, yet fantastic a feeling. Usually the simplest of self-depreciating jabs was enough to trigger a full systems shutdown, even if the bitter pill was laced with truth. And yet here I was, unable to stop smiling like a fool. This was more than just thinly veiled masochism. Knowing me, the real impact was apt to strike me like a venomous cobra later on, probably when I was alone. The deepest of thoughts never does appreciate an audience. Kayla stared at me with silent wonder. Are you feeling okay, Rich? You lost me around that last corner. Poor girl, she probably hadn't even been on the same track, her eyes still caged in a red haze. I felt great. So much so, I let the irritating nickname go. Never mind, I said, just thinking out loud. I paused, then added, Mitch's right, I am odd. No fooling. That's been obvious since day one. She paused, putting her beer down on the table. It's not a bad thing, makes you different. I like that about you. Her hand landed softly on top of mine. Oh dear. The first instinct was to pull my hand free, an instinct quickly snuffed out like a weak candle in a windstorm. I wouldn't mind another one of those profound self-truths striking right about now, I thought. Nothing came, of course, no surprise there. Fate must be having a jolly time pulling those puppet strings. If Kayla expected me to do something, she would just have to wait until the bridge between head and heart was re-opened to traffic. The soft brush of her bright hair against my cheek as she laid her head against my shoulder did very little to help clarify the murky emotional bog I now found myself knee deep in. Those moments of awkward silence that last only seconds yet somehow manage to play out a lot longer are pure torture sometimes. Perhaps just as uncomfortable with it, Kayla offered a quiet and subdued, Am I being the weird one now? No, I said. I don't think you are. Not a complete lie. Yeah, I am. I can tell. She lifted her head, pulling away to the other end of the couch. She drew her legs up to her chest and rested her cheek on her knees, avoiding any eye contact with me. So much for breaking the ice, I thought. How long is it until Thrash? she asked, pretending not to be hurt by my reaction, or lack thereof, to her advances. July 7th. Just over two months from today. Why? I forgot. I wasn't surprised. And we're in for sure. Her eyes came back around. ...right? Yep, unless Adam just made off with our cash, which I seriously doubt - I'll kick his a-s if he did! She straightened up, shocked at the idea. Relax, Adam's the most straight up guy I know. Now all we do is wait and play. Then I thought. And somehow figure out how the hell we get you inside Murphy's without the hired goons catching you trying the old one-two sneak-in. Mmm, no I think you meant just wait and play. Say what? See? She pulled a flat, rectangular object from her pocket, holding it out for me to see. An unsmiling blonde girl stared at me from the lower corner. I refused to be caught posing one of those stupid fake smiles you see on everyone else's, she said, dropping it into my hand. This should work fine. Her lips drew apart in a contented smile, as though believing she had saved the day. I couldn't believe my eyes: A fake I.D. - the crme de la crme of them all. The quality unlike any one I'd ever seen; every meticulous detail in place, right down to the digitally embossed signature, not so much as a smear of ink anywhere to be found. Goddamn, I whispered, looking it over. I might not have viewed it in the same light as pulling the band's collective waffles from the toaster just in the nick of time, but far be it to dismiss the checkmark off the list of concerns. Let her have her moment. Where'd you get this? Her smile broadened. I know some artist people who are good with computers. Oh, like who? "You know. People, she said in a tone that seemed to mask a hidden Like it or not, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Don't ask questions, Richard, not this time. Just shut up, smile and nod. I handed the I.D. back to her, and it went back into her pocket. I thought you'd like that. She reached out a hand to grab the beer from the table and polish off the remnants, adding her now empty can to the bin full of dead soldiers. Satisfied, she dotted the back of her wrist across her mouth. Speaking of crazy... Richard? Hello? In one fluid movement, she was sitting right next to me again, her arms around my neck and gripping my hair while bringing her lips up to meet mine. Before any thought could register, we were embraced in a kiss of an intensity not felt since the days where the Richard Demin show ran the tagline featuring Sarah Matheson as The Girlfriend'. Unwilling to relive the black-and-grey memories of that fiasco once again, I thought about pulling away from Kayla, much as she had not a few minutes ago. Thus, the two dominating beasts that fed my instinct fought each other in an ongoing stalemate; reluctance versus desire; with desire winning in the final round via knockout when I felt her lips part further, letting her tongue slid across my teeth and stab the inside of my cheek, while the little voice had nothing to contribute for once. Thanks anyway, little voice, but I'll take it from here. Kayla's face matched her hair when we finally parted from each other. I'm sure mine looked identical. Whoa, she whispered between heavy breaths, eyes glossing over, darting about like a nervous squirrel; though I suspected this time was due to a different sort of intoxication. Whoa indeed. Mitchell's voice cut in like a dagger, making us both jump and let out little yells. He leaned against the corner wall, arms crossed, surprised expression, evidently suppressing the urge to comment on the situation, a comment quite apt to be about as delicate as an axe murder. After judging the look I shot him, open your mouth and sign your death warrant I intended it to say, Mitchell delivered with This is what you call, uh, creative muse? Kayla looked ready to faint, or jump out the window and take me with her when my only response was to let out a single snort of amusement. We looked at each other, and she began giggling again, letting her head fall into my shoulder, face hidden behind her small hand. Mitchell watched, and then went to grab another round of cold ones from the fridge, making a comment about how people in Brentwood; teenage musicians in particular, were very different from back home. Odd, he meant. And he wasn't far wrong. *** When I got back to the Merritt house later that night, Adam greeted me from the back of his pickup, broom clutched tight in his hands, tiny dust particles hovering in the crisp evening air, reflecting in the archaic wall sconces that illuminated the outside Garage wall against the heavy dusk. The air was rich with the warm smell of sawdust the closer I came. Lumber, Adam explained, for some project Mr. Merritt had future plans for. He kept looking at me, expecting an answer other than "Oh, no reason" to his question of why I was wearing such a funny face. Bull. The only time you ever get that look is when something's happened. What now? Nothing, dude, honest. Oh, but I do have some good news. We don't have to sweat the legal age thing with Kayla anymore. Why? She hasn't dropped out, has she? Don't be ridiculous. She's got it taken care of. Are you talkin' about, like, a fake I.D.? It's good, I reassured him. I mean really good, best quality I've ever seen in one. Adam paused to consider this, then climbed down from his truck, lifted The Garage door up and hit the light switch. Instantly, the Garage's light drowned out the sconces' paltry glow, and soon they shut themselves off. He hung the broom on a hook embedded deep in the wall, collected a pale ale from the fridge and cracked the top. You're sure it'll get her in? he asked. Dude, wait till you see it and tell me it's not good. And you're sure that's all? Nothing else happened I should know about? Goddamn, would he not get off my back? What did he want, a full confession signed in blood? Nah man, it's all good. Just did some jamming today with Mitchell and Kayla. Oh? Where, up at Central? Or did you brave the ghoul-laden grounds of Compton F--k Compton, I've a little more self-respect than that. No, at Mitch's place, you know the complex just off of Fox's? I was bored earlier, knew you wouldn't be back till tonight, so I just dropped by. Kayla happened to drop by a while into our session and she hooked up with - us. Dangerously close to saying me, there; oh, the explanations that would have ensued had that slipped out. Tomorrow, I thought. Well, that's alright then. He took his beer over to the drumset, beckoning me forward as he took his seat. I haven't had a chance to play all day, I'm restless. You down to jam some more? The question was more than amusing. You expect me to say no? Give me two minutes and we're good to go. That's what I like to hear! Oh hey, Richard, just one more thing. What's that? Pink isn't that attractive a color on you, he grinned, tapping his cheek. What...? A quick wipe revealed the unmistakable sparkle of bubblegum lip gloss smeared across my knuckles - Kayla's lip gloss. The very sight caused my heart to drop into my stomach. Oh. Well f--k. Where'd that come from? Adam's laughter filled The Garage.

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