Primal Music: part four.

She woke to a splitting headache and a stomach that wasn’t certain if it wanted to be filled or emptied of its already meager contents. “Fuck,” she murmured as she rolled over…and nearly smacked her bed companion in the face.

In spite of her body punishing her, she smiled as she thoughts back to their night together. The end of the evening was admittedly a bit of a blur for her, but she had ended up just where she had wanted to be. Asleep, Gordon looked much more peaceful, freed from the clash of his ambition against darkness. The rough stubble against his pale jaw made him seem younger, and where his body had fought against the blankets, she saw a surprisingly toned form for a man so slim. He was a catch, she had decided as much, but it was in a way that she felt she was uniquely qualified to appreciate.

But smiling down on her two night stand wasn’t going to put her digestive system right. The thought of the lo mein she’d blindly accepted the night before made her intestines lurch. Water. She needed water, and then if she felt brave enough, she’d look into the possibility of toast. Surely a bachelor had a toaster, even in a questionable apartment such as this. Probably lives on ramen noodles and cereal like he’s still a student, she mused.

Getting back into her form-fitting dress did not strike her as tempting when her stomach was on rough terms with her, so she opted for bra and underwear. It was the first step to getting dressed, she justified in her mind, and she could at least pretend that she was wearing a bikini. She pulled herself lamely off the mattress and found her bra, but her panties were already on her body. Well then. Probably just an early morning, zombified bathroom trip she didn’t remember taking, or so she told herself. Gravity was a cruel mistress and left her head spinning when she stood.

The apartment stood quiet in the early morning. Someone had cleared away Gordon’s beer and her Chinese, but her bag was still on the sofa. In the dim light, and perhaps through the haze of her hangover, everything looked a bit more battered, as though it had been claimed off the street or otherwise severely mistreated by its owners. It didn’t matter to her though as she beelined for the refrigerator. If he had a nice, big bottle of water in there, she would promise him all sorts of sexual favors, she vowed mentally. Peering in the relatively empty door, she grinned as she spotted a glass bottle. Once she got some painkillers into her system, it was going to be his lucky day.

She was still musing on this train of thought when she heard a laugh behind her. “Oh, like you didn’t know about the tattoo after last night,” she said snidely as she bent a bit more to show off as she grabbed the water.

“Actually, I didn’t.”

The voice that spoke was not one she knew. The bottle slipped from her fingers and shattered as she screamed. A stranger stood before her in a white t-shirt and black boxers. His dark hair was at bed-tossed angles, and when he held up his hands in alarm, she saw a hint of a belly, probably owing to his youth. “Whoa, whoa, sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Who the fuck are you?” she asked, backing up against the refrigerator. The appliance was cold on her skin, making her remember that she was only in her underwear. Futilely, she tried to figure out how to configure her arms and legs to cover herself.

Gordon came bounding from his room in his boxers, looking about as dazed as the other man. “What is going on? I heard glass…” He blinked at the sight of the other two in their underclothes, probably mulling what was going on.

“Who the hell is he?” she asked, jabbing a finger at the young man at the cost of her modesty.

“That’s Damon. He lives here,” he explained in a croaking voice. His eyes were nearly glued shut with exhaustion, as though he couldn’t bother to perk up for this sort of an issue. “Damon, this is Lizzie. Lizzie, this is Damon. Damon’s the band’s new guitarist. Lizzie is…” He licked his lips and let loose a grizzly yawn as he sought out a word. “A girl I met on the road. She bought me a drink, things happened, and now she’s here because she’s in love with me. Isn’t that right?”

She could tell that he wasn’t serious, but her cheeks were still burning. She was embarrassed to be in that state of undress, to have shattered the water bottle right in front of her bare feet, to be called out on her wild idea that this would be okay. “I can clean this up,” she murmured, but she just shuffled around the mess and then retreated back to his bedroom. She didn’t even think about the fact that she’d left her bag with her clothes behind in the living room, but she was too flushed to go back out and apologize for the awkwardness. She heard their hushed voices but just closed her eyes and tried to think of a way to pretend she was still asleep.

About a minute later, he slipped back into the room and lowered himself onto the mattress next to her. She didn’t want to be near him, not then, but there was nowhere for her to go. “Don’t worry about the water. Damon said that he’d take care of it,” he told her as he put his arm around her. Was he trying to make her feel better, or was it just for his benefit? She didn’t know, but she felt disgusted with the whole sorry situation.

“I’m not in love with you,” she told him as she kept her eyes shut tightly, telling herself that now was not the moment to cry. She had a tendency to let her emotions get the better of her, but she didn’t want to be a cliché, not then. She had to be strong and independent. It was that bravery that had brought her so far, and she didn’t want to give it up on account of some crush. “We just had fun together before, and you invited me. I needed to get away and see something different.”

He exhaled so loudly that she could hear it, even when her pulse was blaring in her temples. “I wasn’t serious about that, you know. I was just teasing you because I don’t know what to call this. It’s more than a one night stand but less than…I don’t even know. A bit of fun, it is, but that doesn’t sound right either, does it?”

“No,” she had to admit, though it was reluctant. She felt like she was fun, and it wasn’t selling it short to describe it accordingly. He did seem tormented about words, and maybe that was just the way of a songwriter. Or maybe she was just letting the mood of the hangover get the better of her.

“Besides, I don’t imagine you feel very well today given the way last night went.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you fell asleep with your hand down my pants.”

“Oh.” In her mind, they’d had another great lay and had settled into bed like two content adults. Not being able to hold her liquor felt like another embarrassing strike on the chart against her. “Well, I hope it was fun before that.”

“Mmm, it was very fun,” he confirmed, throwing in a wiggle of his eyebrows to emphasize his approval. Even if she didn’t feel great, she still found herself laughing. It didn’t seem fair that she had that effect on him, but it was his bed. A bit of leeway was understandable.

“Well, a girl has to do something to remain interesting. You have to work for it.”

“Is that permission?” he asked, his grin only becoming wider.

She shook her head as quickly as she could without inducing a fit of nausea and pushed her hand in his face so he would stop giving her that look. “If you don’t want me to vomit on you, you should just change your mind and think about more innocent avenues, sir.”

His lips twisted for a moment, but he rolled away and settled on his back. “I do like getting called sir, so I’ll acquiesce. Just because you appealed to my sweet spot,” he explained. His fingers still absently touched her arm, and she liked the fact that he didn’t give up on her entirely. “I’m impressed you came all this way though. I mean, I’m nothing special.”

She scoffed as he spoke because it seemed like he was fishing for a compliment. Who could aspire to be famous only to blow themselves off? To her, it seemed like a formula for failure. “You’re never going to get noticed if you act like that,” she told him. Summoning up some bravery, she rolled on her side and narrowed her eyes at him. “I think it’s the idea of you that stuck out in my mind the most. You’re still mostly a mystery, someone who writes songs and breaks hearts and has this kind of artistic calling. And you’re not willing to let reality to get in the way of that. I think it’s really interesting. It’s better than the people who get their shitty jobs that they endure for eight hours until they can’t stand it anymore and go to bars or clubs until they’ve washed it away.”

“I think I like your interpretation of me more than the reality I am. And that’s not self-deprecation. That’s just a fact.” He bit his lip for a second as he looked her over, then decided to take the risk and peck a kiss to her lips. “What about your life then? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Oh God, I don’t really know.” She was still a teenager, which meant that she was both an adult and completely committed to not being a grown up. “I’ve always liked the idea of being an entertainer of some sort. When I was a little kid, I used to do all sorts of things. I took dancing lessons, which I loved, and I did a bit of singing. I was also a model I guess, just minor stuff. I don’t think I’d want to be known just for my looks though. I mean, that sounds so cocky and backhanded, but those go eventually, and who wants that pressure?” When she noticed that she was rambling, she blushed and put a hand on her cheek. “I couldn’t be any of those things now though, so I’d just settle for being happy, I guess. Not pouring beer.”

“Why couldn’t you be those things?” He didn’t ask it with any edge in his voice. As he gazed at her, it was with confusion and pure belief. “If you want to be a dancer or a singer or a model or an actress, whatever, who’s to say you can’t? Maybe it’d be the hardest thing in the world to achieve, but maybe it’s the only thing you’re born to do.”

“Do you really think people are like that? Just programmed to have the good life, no matter what world they’re born into?”

“I have to pretend that it’s out there waiting for me, otherwise I’m going to just fight for this thing for the rest of my life without anything to show for it,” he told her with a sad smile. It broke her heart, so she knew she had to distract him.

“Play me a song.”

A slow grin spread across his features, revealing a boyish satisfaction that made her momentarily forget that she was in a rather compromising outfit in a strange city. “I guess I shouldn’t do anything too loud then, for your head and all,” he teased as he scrambled to the corner for his acoustic guitar. The pale wood had seen better days, and the pick guard’s plastic held dozens of shallow scars that reflected the room’s dim light.

“You must really love that guitar,” she observed.

“Love or hate. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to tell.” He settled back down on the mattress next to her, resting the groove of the guitar over his skinny thigh. A plectrum was tangled in the strings by the instrument’s head, and the groan released by removing it made her laugh and cringe at once. “Right. Do you want to hear a cover of something you already love, or do you want to discover your new favorite song, a Gordon Morrow classic?”

Morrow. So that was his last name. It made her think of the future, of potential, and she thought it suited him. She braced herself for his response, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to get some revenge on him for taunting her about her hangover. “You don’t happen to know any Britney Spears, do you?”

Fuck off!” He grabbed a pillow but at least managed to resist the urge to fling it at her. “Actually, I’ll have you know that we’ve just gotten this track played on the radio. Proper stations too, not just some indie local station where a student only spins his friends. Okay, so it was in the middle of the night, but don’t ruin my moment.”

She snatched the pillow from his grasp and curled her body around it. It made her feel a bit more human to sit up like that. “Well then, it’s decided. I need to hear this track before it’s all over daytime radio and everyone’s singing along. I have to find out if it’s good or if I’m going to have to stock up on batteries so I can just keep my headphones on listening to Brit-Brit for the next six months.”

He narrowed his eyes as though he had something snarky to say to her, but he dismissed those thoughts with a shake of his head. Instead he focused on his fingers’ positions on the fretboard and then closed his eyes. It only took a couple of strums for him to begin to nod along to the music that he was making.

Two cups of hot coffee
sweat their way into the day,
remaining untouched
as hands explore other heat
and we vow to drink it cold

Even after the first verse, she had chills. His voice was nothing like what she’d expected. Subdued but controlled, it was a bit higher than his speaking voice. It was quiet but firm, like a whisper that had summoned up untold strength, underspoken but soulful and undeniably lovely.

I curve to your ribs
like there are magnets to pull me,
to break me,
to wind us into tender knots
that only grow tighter at the pull

His voice lifted in volume even as it became more grounded, dropping down within the scale. He didn’t seem to register the change with more than just a furrow of his brow, his eyes still firmly shut. To her, the words had such darkness and hope at once. Such sadness he must possess within him, but his drive and determination were obvious. His fingers drifted down the guitar neck steadily, creating a simplistic but moving solo, and then the last note was given the opportunity to resonate in the quiet of the room.

When his eyes opened, he set on her that cool, inquisitive gaze. “Well? Is it crap?”

She really had no idea what to say. She had given him hell about his music and aspirations, unrealistic as they were, but his performance had nearly moved her to tears. She had few friends who were creative, and they tended to just sketch their own tattoo designs or write love poetry to the embarrassment of their boyfriends. He had somehow found both the right words and notes on the guitar that would convey all that depth without getting too flashy or demanding. “Gordon. It’s beautiful.”

At the compliment, his face lit up even more than it had when he’d spotted her in the bar. It was an unsettling feeling, as though music were his first love and could never be bumped from that position. Of course he doesn’t love you, she had to scold herself because when he was singing only to her like that, she could pretend that it had a much deeper meaning than it did. It was still bittersweet to know that she could travel so many miles and not compare. “I don’t suppose it’s the song you’ve written about me though,” she added dryly.

He laughed and pulled the guitar over his head so he could rest it at what could arguably be considered the foot of the bed. “I started to write that one years ago, so you can’t fault me for it not being about you. But I write all the time, so maybe there is a song about you somewhere in the room. In one of my notebooks. Or in my head. Maybe I’m writing about you right now, just looking at you.”

“Bullshit.” She knew that he was just being flattering, but she still felt her cheeks burn. After pulling pints for a couple of years and waiting tables, she knew what it was like to be complimented by men regularly for her appearance. Still, it was usually some remark about her beauty, her breasts, her ass. He had a more mysterious, poetic way about him, and she wasn’t used to that kind of indirect approach. “If you’re making up a song about me right now, why don’t you play it?”

“Because it’s not perfect. I’m not a very good guitar player. It’s going to take some work. I don’t want to insult you with my crap. This is going to take polish to suit you.”

“Are you saying that I’m polished? I blacked out in your bed and broke glass all over your floor.”

“Well, compared to my last few dalliances…”

She released the pillow so she could swing it at his head, and even though he tried to duck, she still connected with his ear. There was no way she could hurt him with such a futile weapon, but at least she got a laugh out of him. “Okay, I surrender! You’re not classy! Is that better?”

“More accurate, anyway.” She looked to the door and realized that their raised voices had to carry over to his flatmate’s room. “Your friend is going to think that we’re fucking psychotic. Music and screaming.”

“That’s kind of his scene. He’ll be okay. Though I do think it’ll take him a while to recover from seeing a woman in her skivvies who wasn’t here to fuck him. He is kind of the handsome one of the two of us.”

She looked at him sideways and then pushed herself up to her feet. “As I recall, you didn’t have another guitarist when I met you. This changes everything. To think that I could’ve gotten it on with him instead of you. We wouldn’t have the whole Gordon name issue. It’s not too late…”

Blog: The Fanifesto

It’s all Patrick Monahan’s fault.

I’m not saying that music failed to make people crazy before Train came along; Beatlemania was a bit more intense than anyone’s response to a guy in sparkly pants. However, Monahan has something that The Beatles didn’t (besides sparkly pants): a story that inspires non-fans. According to frantically reblogged posts on Tumblr, Monahan was performing onstage when he spotted a beautiful woman in the audience. He knew that he had to meet her after the show. She became his wife.

The barrier was breached. The Force was disturbed. Rockstars became attainable, fans became attractive, and it didn’t matter if you were married and a grandmother, you still had a shot to get with your favorite performer, not just for sex but for keeps.

I’m a big music fan. I participate in a forum or two online, go to a lot of shows, write reviews, and so on. Because I have eyes and a functioning brain, I see a lot of disturbing behavior. Stuff that goes beyond the fun and fluffy. Stuff that makes you wonder if someone’s really annoying or really unbalanced. So, before the next gig where you’re boosting your cleavage because dreams do come true!11111, think back to this fandom manifesto (fanifesto, because I love me a good portmanteau). Remember, I only tell you this because I love you and don’t want you to be hurt when that asshole steps out with some actress slut who has stolen your man.

Musicians owe you nothing beyond music, so act accordingly. By definition, a musician makes music. You can check a dictionary if you don’t believe me. Nowhere in the dictionary will you see that the musician signs autographs, takes photos, spells your name properly, responds to every tweet you and you alone send his/her way, stares deeply into your soul, or proposes marriage. Many performers are generous enough to give their fans the time of day and form a connection, but it’s not an obligation. Your life will not be shattered if s/he doesn’t answer you on Twitter or Facebook. Also, keep it fun. If they’ve sold millions of records or live in another country and would never tour near you, offering to house them, feed them, clothe them and stroke their hair is not generous, it’s just fucking creepy.

There are not better or worse fans, just different fans. Look, my favorite band has held that position for eight years. I’m tempted to throw out a Z snap and a neck swivel when someone who only got into them a couple of years ago thinks they’re a bigger fan because they’ve bought more concert tickets and merch without having read that obscure 2005 interview I’ve committed to memory. But it’s childish! Be happy that your favorites have enough money to still make music without becoming jaded over the music industry (I’ll save my rant on that for a different time).

There is one exception here: the condescending fan. They are worse fans because they alienate and put others down. It’s not about the music anymore, it’s about them and their own egos. Just because you turn up at every date of a tour doesn’t mean you get the bonus of becoming a friend of the band. If you’re cool and it happens that way, that’s nice, but recognize that not everyone has that much free time/money/childcare/ability to endure repetition. Be humble and polite. I’ve met so many friends at gigs, and we introduce each other to new music all the time without having to brag about how long we’ve listened to so-and-so. If your only goal is to be a lifelong fixture in the band’s life beyond the music, check yourself. If you have to say, “Please don’t think I’m creepy,” then surprise, you’re probably being creepy. Turn that Z snap and neck swivel on yourself.

Know and embrace barriers. Ah, we’ve all heard the tales of rockstars signing tits and loving every second of it, but unless you’re on ecstasy, that’s probably not appropriate at a Coldplay concert. If there’s any doubt, just ask. Good approach: “Can I please get a hug? I’m just so excited to meet you!” Bad approach: “Nice shoes, wanna fuck?” If you see the musician in the wild, be polite when approaching. Remember the first rule, they owe you nothing. If a musician comes up to the barrier or crowdsurfs at a gig, you’ll be crushed forward enough that you will inevitably touch that sweaty demigod. That does not give you permission to grope. It’s inevitable that some people will do it, but when was the last time a stranger squeezed your ass in public that you really loved? Bosoms are not squeeze toys, and guess what, neither are crotches. Congratulations, you’ve cupped his balls. So has his doctor, and he paid for that. Who gets the better deal?

Live a life outside. On the internet, everything is more dramatic. You are literally dying if you don’t get tickets to a show. You are suicidally depressed because nobody’s on Twitter at the same time you are. Don’t anchor all your hopes and dreams to one band or musician. Your Tumblr handle isn’t printed on your forehead (if you have that tattoo, I don’t want to know you), and nobody can figure out your all important post count by looking at you. To be all pop psychologist, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment because what you need isn’t something that can be provided by someone else. Personal acceptance comes first, and you’re not doing anyone any good if you’re living a minimal life because Fernando from The Greatest Band ever is going to be playing in town in 93 days and you’re convinced that it will be the last time you see home before you step onto that gleaming steel chariot, never to return again. There’s loving a band, there’s obsessing, and then there is flat out stalking. If you’re not sure if you’re stalking, ask someone. You probably are stalking, let’s make that clear, but at least the stranger will be more inclined to alert the authorities.

There’s so much more to say, but I’ve rambled enough already. If you find yourself offended, pause a moment: are you pissed off because I’m an inferior fan of music who is jealous of your wealth/beauty/close personal friendship with “the lads,” or are you defensive because you see yourself in this? Real talk.

Primal Music: part three.

For her eighteenth birthday, Lizzie asked for only one thing: a plane ticket to New York. In the months that passed by, she’d let a few boys fool around beneath her clothes, but her encounter with the gangly musician so often reappeared in her thoughts. There was something about that man’s stubborn passion, his desperate drive that made him unlike all the others who thought she was pretty enough or just had a nice enough body. She had to see him again, if only to hear his band and let him know if she honestly thought they could make it.

Of course nobody wanted to send her off to the big city when she didn’t even know where she was going, so she did what she thought was the most rational thing for a girl in her position. She got drunk using a fake ID, got a tattoo far too low to be considered a tramp stamp, and bought the ticket herself.

She had once had a boyfriend who wanted to maintain a long-distance relationship when he’d gone off to college, so she nearly expected to be greeted by open arms and a kiss on the cheek when she stepped off the plane. “As though he remembers you exist,” she scolded herself as she shrugged on her backpack and began the disconcerting march from JFK’s terminal to the overpriced AirTrain. She’d only booked the weekend in the city, and she hadn’t bothered with a hotel room. All she had was some leftover birthday cash, a change of clothes, and hope.

Of course, she quickly exchanged some of the money and the hope to get drunk at the first bar she found when the subway spat her out on the Lower East Side. She found that in the darkest places, she didn’t have to flash any identification when cleavage was already on display. Tequila shots were a minor homage to the night they had spent together. Each time she let a new shot scorch its way down her throat, she had her regrets amplified. What if he had just issued the open invitation to visit because he had felt pressured not to break a young girl’s heart at the awkward end of a one night stand? What if he thought she was a ridiculous little girl or, worse yet, some sort of creepy stalker? Was it just stupid to come all this way with no back up plan? He could have a girlfriend now. Hell, he could have had one all along for all she knew. Bitterness and liquor complemented one another.

But after the third man approached her to offer to buy her a drink, her confidence blossomed. She wasn’t just some slut coming in off the street. She knew how to cock her head to pretend she was listening to a boring introduction, how to laugh at the appropriate pauses, how to lean over to offer a sympathetic glimpse down her top. If Gordon was no longer interested in her, then she would just have to find another suitable man to keep her company until Sunday.

The drink had numbed her fear, and she strode down the street like she’d lived here her entire life. She wouldn’t remember any of the landmarks along the way, that much was true, but she would fondly recall the way the night had spread out before her with the brightness and cheer and warmth of Christmas lights.

Somehow the bar was a little grittier than she had expected, but then again, so was this part of Brooklyn. One of her heels caught on the stairs—she had come prepared for how ridiculously tall he was—but she caught herself early enough to simply pull her little red dress back into place and then shimmy onto a stool. A stocky man with pockmarked cheeks and light stubble took one look at her and dropped the rag that he’d been fidgeting with. “Please tell me that I can do something to help you,” he entreated with a hint of an Irish accent. The kindness he offered brought a liquid grin to her face. She felt unstoppable.

“I certainly hope you can. You see, I’m looking for somebody, but he’s not expecting me.”

“And would that somebody happen to be me?”

“No, he’s…” She bit on her tongue and tried to figure out how to put him into words. She only knew his first name, and her household alone showed that it was far from a unique moniker. She’d have to force her inebriated mind to get creative. “He’s a little older than me. Really fucking tall, I mean unfairly so, and skinny as a pole. Kind of curly, dark hair. Doesn’t like shaving much. He’s got a big nose, but it’s not really in a bad way. Endearing. He’s in a band. At least he was.”

The man’s grin grew as he watched her try to sum him up. “Aye, that’d be Gordo. You’re not some sort of groupie, are you?” Because that’d be a bloody first.”

“No, I haven’t heard the band. He just told me if I’m ever up in Brooklyn to come here, and he’d probably be in.”

“Well, I can tell you that not only is here in this very establishment right now, but he’s probably fucking impatiently waiting for me to finish pouring his Guinness.” The bartender nodded his head behind him, and sure enough, that lanky form was bent over with his elbows on the bar, lips pursed as he waited for his drink. He was lost in his own head, clearly not looking to her end of the bar. The man finished slowly pouring the dark stout, giving it a proper head before he brought it over to Gordon. He had his hand going for his wallet, but the man shook his head, then deliberately pointed to Lizzie. So much for a subtle entrance. Words were exchanged between the two men, but she couldn’t hear what was happening before he pushed away from the bar and moved through the throng of weekend revelers to reach her.

“Holy shit, it’s you.” As soon as the words slipped out of his mouth, he tapped himself on the forehead with his free hand. “Poetic as ever. I’m so sorry about that. I’m just really surprised to see you since it’s been a while. Lizzie with an ie.”

“Gordon with a G.” She was so delighted that he remembered her at all and hadn’t retreated into the din of the bar that she put her arms around his neck. At least she aimed for that. Even in her heels, she was a bit too short, so she settled for putting her hands on his shoulders and pressing her body against his. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

He held his pint up high enough that she wouldn’t be able to slosh it everywhere. “You know, I really should have gotten your number, but we haven’t hit the road since the van died about fifty miles out of the city. It was a fucking nightmare. Are you here with family or what? A boyfriend? Girlfriends?”

“No, I came all by myself.” She beamed up at him with pride at her independence. She’d thought of herself as an adult already when they’d met, but she had such a newfound freedom that she was looking for the next impulse to leap upon. “I had my birthday, so I thought fuck it, what do I want more than anything else? And I wanted to see New York. I’ve never been here before, but I don’t really care about the touristy stuff. I thought I might hear your band. Or have you gone solo already?”

He laughed a bit and shook his head at her. “Not only are we still together, but we’ve signed a record deal. I mean, before we were signed to some shitty indie label that dropped us.” He swatted the words out of the air with the back of his hand, obviously not wanting to get into the details that could have left him so deflated when they had met. “But we’ve recorded another album. It’s fucking incredible, if I say so myself. We have a new guitar player, which is great because I’m pretty miserable at it if I’m honest. He’s actually here now, if you want to meet him. But fiiiirst.” He turned back to the bar, and sat there was a couple of shots of amber liquid. She’d had enough to know that she probably didn’t need to continue drinking, but her newfound spirit of independence meant that she was eager to accept anything bought for her. “I think I recall you liking tequila.”

“Tequila and sex,” she said, downing the shot. When she set the glass back on the bar, she saw how his cheeks flushed and laughed openly at him. “I’m teasing! I mean, I do, but not in public. I don’t want to embarrass you on your home turf, even if you did your best to mortify me where I worked.”

He covered his face with his hand but was more than motivated to put back the tequila when she said that. He washed it back with a healthy drink of the pint, even if the two beverages didn’t customarily go together. “Oh God. I was really just a miserable asshole then. I hope they didn’t give you too much hell about me. Please tell me that you’ve moved on to working somewhere where people treat you better or at least provide better company.”

“Oh, now you want to know what I’m up to.” She batted her eyelashes at him, then dissolved into laughter. There was a fine line between liquid confidence and liquid confusion, and she found herself approaching it rapidly. Talking about herself and her life back home just felt so complicated, especially when she was more than delighted to be in the moment there with him. “You’re much more handsome than I remembered you to be. I hope you’re not offended by that, but it was dark, and then you were hungover. It wasn’t the greatest impression, and I thought you were just trying to run off on me.”

Somehow her words just brought laughter rather than cringing. “It was the call of the road. Had to get on to the next gig, ya dig? But honestly, you were just so…hnngh.” He made the noise and balled up one of his fists, as though that would get across to her what he meant. “You were lovely and young and really nice, turned my night around. But I couldn’t just lead you on when I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. It wouldn’t be fair for either of us.”

She felt her cheeks growing warm and hoped that she could blame the drink rather than a sudden bout of shyness. After all, she’d brought herself this far, and to back down would just be a tragedy. “Well, I’m not as young as I was, but I hope you still find me lovely. I don’t know anything about this city, but I was hoping that I could see some of it with you.” In her mind, she was speaking in heavy innuendo, but she didn’t have a clue how she sounded to him.

To her relief, he put his arm around her waist and studied her carefully. “I suppose I could do. Have you been hitting the bars already?”

“Just one,” she admitted, holding a finger up to verify the count. “There are a lot of very generous men in New York. They might be very jealous of you right now. I didn’t even tell them about you, though I was tempted.”

He nodded and took a long drink of his beer, then set the glass on the bar. “You’d better credit me for that next time I’m in, Floyd,” he called out, then grabbed her backpack to sling over his shoulder. “Let’s head off into the night then, Lizzie. I think you’re about ready to hit the sack.”

She hardly noticed the walk back to his building. Being tucked against his chest was familiar and made her feel secure in some strange way. Maybe it was the night, maybe it was the new experience, or maybe it was just him. “I wish I’d had some advance notice,” he grumbled as he unlocked the front door, but she knew that he wasn’t really upset. He kept smiling too much to mean it. “I’d just take you to a hotel, but things are a bit tight at the moment.”

“The life of the starving artist?” she asked with a smirk. He let his firm hands guide her inside, and she was immediately struck by how chilly it was. Maybe the short skirt had been a poor move. The apartment was dimly lit and snug, with a good half of the living room housing guitars, amps, and equipment she couldn’t even begin to classify. There was a stereo bigger than the television, and both electronics rested on some precarious looking crates that had probably been liberated from dumpsters behind grocery stores. Sober, it may have been a sign that this was not the fantasy escape she’d sought, but after so much to drink, it just felt like a refreshing glimpse at reality. This man wasn’t living at home or forcing his parents to pay for everything. He was making his own way, fuck the consequences. She wanted to be able to say the same of her own life.

But he’d changed somehow since that night, she could perceive as much already. She’s worried about how she would be able to keep up with his partying lifestyle, preparing herself to take drugs for the first time if necessary, but all she got was a slightly older man holding out a tepid glass of water and offering her a bit of leftover chicken lo mein from the night before. She hadn’t eaten since leaving home, she’d been too nervous, so she pilfered the carton of Chinese without a second thought to manners or taste.

He pushed some clothes off the end of a battered blue sofa and asked her to sit. The kitchen was practically within arm’s reach, and it only took him a moment to crack a beer for himself before he settled down next to her. “I can’t believe you came all this way to see me,” he murmured. Even though she knew she couldn’t be all that attractive, shoving forkfuls of noodles and cold vegetables and meat into her mouth, he still looked on her like she was someone worth having in his home.

“And maybe to fuck you, too,” she pointed out once she’d chewed and swallowed, though she was beginning to lose the swagger that other men’s attention had given her. “Otherwise I blew money on Victoria’s Secret for nothing.”

He watched her curiously for a moment, then let himself relax back and laugh deeply. Something changed in his features when he let go like that. Fine lines crossed his cheeks, and his eyes nearly pulled shut to make way for his joy. She loved that expression already, knew she wanted to see it more. “I don’t get you,” he admitted. “I can’t tell if you’re trying to have me on or get me off.”

Why can’t it be both? she thought desperately, but she was at least sober enough to hold her tongue. Instead she set her food down on the wobbly mass that passed for a coffee table and then hoisted herself up onto unsteady feet. “I think I’ve had half of the main tour just by looking around here, but you could show a lady your digs.”

Gordon unfolded his thin legs and sputtered into his beer a bit. Apparently it wasn’t what he had expected her to demand of him. “I guess that would be the gentlemanly thing to do, and you’ve seen enough of my ungentlemanly side.” The wandering part of her attention wanted to know what he was thinking about doing instead and why he hadn’t bothered to be polite, but she couldn’t dwell inside her mind when he popped up to his feet so rapidly and stretched out his arms. “Right here you have the entryway/front hall/living room/guest room/rehearsal space/kitchen combo. It’s a very popular layout for the indie set,” he explained to her. “The oven’s shot, so don’t even try to sneak off to fix me a complete breakfast in bed before I wake in the morning. Or afternoon, if I so choose.”

She felt herself shiver involuntarily at the mention of breakfast. She didn’t want to be that tragic girl, but she liked Gordon and had nowhere else to go. For being as mature as she fancied herself, it was really far harder to get by without help than she could have ever imagined. Whereas he had recoiled at the thought of a handout, she could have burst into tears to know that it would be so easy to at least spend the night here. “I make a mean takeout,” she informed him, tapping his ribs to signal that the tour ought to continue.

He gestured to a small door just past the kitchen. “That’d be the bathroom. I suppose that’d be your favorite room, girl and all, right? Well, it’s just us boys here, so it’s probably disgusting to you. I don’t even want to show it to you because you’ll just go run into the night. Just know that it’s there, and if you have to use it, keep your eyes closed and the light off and don’t judge me.”

There was something about his self-effacing nature that made her giggle. When he was just feeling sorry for himself, it was annoying, but cut with humor and a bit of hyperbole, it was just the right balance. “You do remember that I have brothers, right? And I had this one boyfriend who I stayed with a lot, and he had a real problem with drugs. He really couldn’t look after himself, so I tried to do it for him.” For a second, she felt like the alcohol wasn’t enough, the memory coming back with all the heaviness that that reality had possessed. She could hardly breathe, and then she reminded herself that she was far from home and didn’t have to be that girl anymore. “Come on, don’t be a jerk. I’ve worked in the service industry. I’ve seen worse bathrooms.”

Concern flickered over his features, but she’d changed the topic so quickly that it was clear he didn’t want to make her linger in the past like that. “Well, Damon’s right next to the bathroom He’s the bandmate I was going to introduce you to. I suppose he’ll be home eventually. Unless he’s not. I wouldn’t be too upset if he didn’t come home. But he’s like a puppy. He knows his way.”

She didn’t entirely follow his logic, but she nodded along anyway. She teetered ahead and pushed on the next door she found. “That means this must be your room!” she cried out, and she was greeted by nothing but darkness. There was no light on, and there was no window to be found. She would have tumbled over, but he caught her elbow and drew her back against him.

“It’s really unfair that you can’t really stay upright on your own,” he told her as she leaned against him. It didn’t make her all that eager to push away and find her balance again. His breath still carried the scent of lager, and to her then, it was intoxicating. She didn’t have a single reason to resist him, not when it had been her goal to get back to him in the first place.

So when his lips did not meet hers, she was surprised. Instead he leaned around her to switch on the light, revealing a room that looked like it had been struck by a small but concentrated tornado. Clothes were scattered on the floor, and a mattress on the floor with its sheets kicked all to one side served as the bed. An acoustic guitar was propped up in the corner, somehow staying upright through sheer will given the amount of books, CDs and vinyls that were scattered nearby. “So,” she said as she took stock of her surroundings. It wasn’t like her room, which professed her interest in her friends, nights out on the town, and silly pop music. He didn’t even have anything up on the walls. “You like to read?”

“I was an English major,” he admitted with a shrug. There were so many things that they didn’t know about one another, and it was exciting to add another piece to the puzzle, to get some hint as to what the image might be. She waited for him to tell her a bit more about school, where he’d gone and whether he’d graduated, if he’d liked it or if he considered it a waste of time, but he just dropped down onto the mattress and pulled off his red Converse sneakers. “You must be exhausted after travelling so far.” His voice was low, and she couldn’t tell if his words had two meanings or only the obvious.

“Well, I’d like to go to bed. You seem to have the right idea already.” There were so many conversations that they could have, but it was late, and she had waited so long to see him. There was a spark, and she knew that he must have felt it too.

He patted the space next to him and then gave her a grin. “It is bigger than yours, if memory serves.”

There are so many awful puns that I could make right now,” she protested, but it only kept that smile on his face. Suddenly all she wanted to do was kick off her heels and settle down next to him, but she couldn’t make herself hurry because once she took that step, she couldn’t go back. So she counted the breaths as she moved. Five for the left shoe, six for the right. At this rate, it would take her until dawn before she settled in with him. He seemed to have other plans though.

The light was still on, a first for her, but she didn’t mind. It let her look up at him, to see his grey-blue eyes and pale skin, the dark freckle on his cheek and the curls that were falling over his forehead. Maybe he wasn’t conventionally handsome, but to her, he was beautiful. She was so comfortable there, she trusted him, but she had to close her eyes, just for a second.

Primal Music: part two.

Gordon woke to the sensation of his pulse throbbing in his temples. Too much tequila, not enough water. His throat felt dry, the taste clinging to his tongue unusual. He rubbed at his eyes roughly and swung his legs over the side of the bed, then nearly staggered due to the shortness of the bed. He had to find a bathroom so he could gauge how much he resembled a human being.

His clothes had moved from the floor sometime in the night. They had been folded and neatly placed in a chair. He shuffled over to at least grab his boxers to avoid traumatizing her roommates. He could feel every vein in his eyes throbbing, and the pink walls didn’t help him feel any more comfortable in his state of distress.

Pink walls.

Photographs had been hastily tacked up on most surfaces, showing girls smiling together in clubs, in parks, in school uniforms.

He backed up slowly and expected to trip over a teddy bear any moment, but no stuffed animals jumped up to attack him. Still, the girl looked just the same as she did in those photos. She was old enough to work around liquor, at least unless there were exceptions being made for her to get by. He didn’t know what to think, but everything about her room cried out young, and it scared the hell out of him.

As did the knock on her door as a voice bellowed her name and then turned the knob.

In their haste, they hadn’t thought to lock the door. He felt the blood drain from his face as he uselessly held his boxers in front of his naked body, trying to will himself invisible because there were precious few places a man over six feet tall could conceal himself at a moment’s notice.

Lizzie stirred, and with the energy of someone who had long since learned to protect her privacy, she launched herself at the door. Sometime in the night she had slipped into his t-shirt, which fit her like a dress. “Dad,” she growled, confirming the worst fears in Gordon’s mind, “you know you can’t just come in here like this.”

The man on the other side of the door didn’t sound impressed. “It’s my home. Why shouldn’t I go where I please?”

“Because I have someone in here.” She threw a glance over to Gordon, her eyes refusing to meet his.

“You mean in addition to the two who were crashed out in the living room?”

“Yes. They’re in a band. They didn’t have anywhere to go last night. It wouldn’t be right just to leave them sleeping in a van outside work. Look, just give us a minute, and then we’ll come down for breakfast.”

Gordon couldn’t make out what the man said, but he could only assume that the man had acquiesced because the door drew shut under her touch. She sighed and leaned back against the wood, her hand reaching behind her to engage the lock this time. “Fucking tequila,” she grumbled beneath her breath.

“Your father? That was your father?” he yelped. He wanted to get dressed and beat a hasty retreat, but he wasn’t alone in this. He had his bandmates to think about, and oh god, had he fucked a teenager? No matter how he turned, she’d see him naked as he put his boxers back on. And really, she’d seen a lot more, even if they hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights. He fumbled with the material, keeping his gaze on his ankles. “My shirt. You have my shirt.”

“Oh. Right.” She gave him a modest smile and peeled off the faded blue t-shirt, revealing the fact that she had nothing on underneath. She looked just as good as she’d felt beneath him, her breasts full and her hips just broad enough to give her curves. She sat down on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs before patting the spot next to her. “I guess there are some things we need to talk about.”

 

“Like the fact that I could go to jail?” he asked, his voice a forced whisper. He writhed into his shirt inside out, then struggled to correct the error. “After the sort of day that I went through, I can’t believe you’d just let me. I mean, those guys at the bar. They knew, didn’t they? And they let it happen, Christ, to laugh at me again.”

 

Her face grew red, but she at least choked down her anger because she knew that she had misled him. “Relax, would you? Okay, so I guess I kind of lied about the roommates, but would you really have come home with me if I’d told you that I live with my folks? I’m not some kid. I’m almost nineteen. My uncle owns the bar, so he lets me work there and pays me under the table. I’m just trying to get my head around things, maybe find out if there’s something I can do with my life that’s more than waiting tables or pulling pints before my tits sag all the way down to my knees.”

She sounded remorseful enough that he could at least let himself sit down. It was better than pacing when his heart was hammering and his breath was shallow. “So you’re eighteen.” It was all he could come up with to say under the circumstances.

“I’m eighteen.”

“Siblings?”

“I don’t know how many are around right now. Three older, one younger. The youngest is probably the only one about. His name’s Gordon too actually. So is my dad’s.”

In spite of himself, he couldn’t hold back a smile. She pressed her lips together to stifle the reaction, but she did the same. “Freud would have a fucking field day with you, you know that?” he asked.

“I know. My family’s really fucked up. I guess I am, too.” She looked over at her clothes, then reached out to find her bra. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t things would go like this. I don’t know what I was thinking last night. There was just something about the way you carried yourself, like the world was against you no matter what. It made me mad. It made me want to show you that sometimes, the world can just be nice. And I wanted you to want me more than you wanted to be pissed off about everything. I guess I just wanted you to want me.”

Tears were brimming in her eyes, clinging to the dark lashes. He felt his heart drop in his chest at the thought that he could upset a young girl like this. “Come on, none of that,” he said. He hesitated, then put his arm around her shoulders. She curled into his body, ducking her head to avoid his gaze. “You’re a beautiful girl. You could have anyone you want. Maybe everything’s confusing right now, but it won’t always be. And at least you don’t want to be a musician so you can spend half your twenties baring your soul in front of ungrateful bastards who want nothing more than to have you shut up.”

She laughed quietly and swiped at her eyes. “You’re just different. You’re not like the boys around here. I guess I was kind of pretending that you’d like me enough that you’d take me with me and get me out of here. I’m so afraid I’m going to die here, some granny in sweatpants with five divorces under my belt and not enough money to feed everyone.”

“Well, I’m already in that position with one mouth to feed. Minus the sweatpants and granny scenario.”

She gave his chest a playful shove and then moved to the edge of the bed to look for her underwear. “You’re awful. I don’t know why I wanted to see what it was like to be with an older man.”

“Pity, perhaps?”

She gave him a firm glare and then rummaged around for a dress that she could easily slide into. The baggy clothing combined with her lack of makeup made her look younger, more innocent. “None of that. You’re going to be pitying yourself after my dad makes you stay for breakfast so he can give you hell in a completely passive-aggressive fashion.”

He gritted his teeth but took it as his cue to slip back into his jeans. “I’m sorry I was such a shit yesterday. And about your dad. I just kind of crashed into your life, but regardless, you were the best thing that could have happened to me.”

“What a fucking liar you are.” She blushed, but when she smiled, he could see those crooked teeth that made her all the more endearing.  “Whatever. You’re a musician. You probably get into weirder situations and sleep with more beautiful women all the time.”

“You’d be surprised.” They were back in their clothes, and with the blankets draw up over the bed, it was easy to pretend that they were back to owing each other nothing. There were a few one night stands in his past, but he couldn’t really remember one that was awkward like this. He was torn between self-preservation and protecting this young girl’s confidence. He probably wouldn’t have slept with her had he known her age, but the deed was done, and he couldn’t pretend that they were strangers. “Come on, let’s go endure the Inquisition while I’m still hungover enough to be suicidal and charge into it.”

Gordon’s bandmates had flown the coop at dawn, leaving behind a message that they were going to find junk food and wait for him at the van. This left him alone with his young lover and her father. Coffee had already been set out, toast at the center of the table. Gordon would have given away the shoes on his feet to get some greasy sausage, bacon, and eggs into his system, but the dry toast would have to suffice. He took a seat and offered a hand to the other man, who seemed exceptionally young to have a teenage daughter. He couldn’t have been much beyond forty yet, with a full head of light brown hair and a mostly unlined face. “Nice to meet you,” Gordon said, resisting the urge to add “sir” to the end of the statement. “Thanks a lot for the breakfast.”

“Well, it’s not a problem…” He paused, no doubt to demand a name.

“Gordon.” His voice felt thick in his throat. “I hear you’re called the same. Small world.”

“Yes. Small world.” Gordon Senior stared at his daughter a moment, then set about buttering his toast. “So, our Liz says that you’re in a band?”

“Yeah. We’re called Smile of Winter. We might change it since it’s a bit ubiquitous, you know? Tough to pin down. But we play indie rock, I guess. We’re from New York. Well, we all live in Brooklyn now. Same difference, really.”

“You’re a long way from home then. Big tour?”

“Hardly, but you take the paying gigs wherever they crop up, as long as they pay enough. Not a lot, but enough to justify buying the gas and a few drinks, anyway.”

“But not enough for a hotel room.” There was no room for the sentence to be a question, and so Gordon could only nod in affirmation.

“We’re not at that level yet. Too many other expenses. But we’re hoping it happens soon. We’re giving our all to everything.”

The older man nodded and picked up his mug and toast. “Right. I have some stuff to sort before I go to work, so I’ll leave you two to it. I don’t suppose you’ll be here when I’m leaving, so safe travels home, Gordon.”

“Same to you. I mean. Take care.” He flushed but at least didn’t look away as the older man left the room, his footsteps retreating up the stairs. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered.

Lizzie leaned over and kissed his cheek, though he could only read innocence in her touch. “You really got off lightly. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Probably because you’re leaving and we won’t see each other again.” With those words, her lip stuck out a little. He knew she was trying to be playful, but there was something regretful in her voice.

“We might see each other again. We never really know where we’re going to head on tour. But hey, if you ever get up to New York, you ought to visit me. I mean, if it’s a night I’m not behind the bar batting my eyelashes for tears or getting fired from a temporary job, I’ll probably be at The Fritz. I’d give you my phone number, but I’m pretty sure that’s the utility that’s been shut off this month due to non-payment.”

She elbowed him but shook her head and did her best to choke down any emotions she might’ve had. “Fuck off. I really don’t know what to think about you. One second you’re sweet, and the next you’re absolutely infuriating.”

He gave her an absent shrug. “I usually opt for infuriating. It’ll keep you from missing me too terribly.”

“I think I will miss you. I’ll always pretend that you were the one who could take me away from here, even if you’re living on the streets of New York.” She tore at the toast on her plate, the butter making the bread fall apart in jagged creases. She had had her night of excitement, but she knew that she would have to go back to her everyday existence, thinking about what might have happened. “Do you think you might write a song about me someday?”

“Maybe. But I won’t share it with anyone until people stop telling us how shitty we are.”

 

“I’m sure you’re not as bad as it seems. People just need a reason to care.”

Her words resonated in a strange way within him. Had he thought too little of others’ opinions, dismissed them and just accepted as a given that they wouldn’t care? Did he need to look outward more? He could have fallen into the inquiries more, but she was finished with her coffee and moved to put their dishes in the sink. “And you should lay off the drugs. Fucking ruined my brother’s life. I’d hate to see that happen to you.”

“Does that mean you’ll keep up with my band?”

“Only if your music doesn’t suck. It’d be a shame if it did after all you put me through.”

Primal Music: part 1.

In July, I wrote a “novel.” I use quotation marks because it’s a) a rough draft and b) just shy of 53,000 words. That makes it roughly the length of The Great Gatsby without the classiness or literary ingenuity. I’m going through my second draft right now, so I’ll be posting a few chapters at a time here. It’s better than copying and pasting 106 pages from Word.

“Primal Music” (for want of a better name) is about a struggling musician and a girl. I’ll leave you to it. Continue reading