CHAPTER 27: NOTHING SERIOUS
By the time the sun went down I was the only one from the band still lurking in the hospitality tent. I huddled by the bar, nursing a beer and icing my black eye. The bartender had given me a glass full of ice along with her email address. Melody was a no-show.
Fuck. I was a sucker. I should’ve known she wouldn’t come. What a waste of a perfectly good stage-high. “What’re you looking at?” I snapped at a tall, plain girl hovering nearby with a backstage pass clutched in her hand.
“You?” she said and blushed. It was clear she’d never been backstage before—I could see her trembling around the edges with nervous excitement she couldn’t quite contain.
I forced myself to take a deep breath. It wasn’t her fault. Hell, maybe it was her lucky night. I took another look:
“Well, now you’ve seen me,” I gave her a deliberate once-over: strong more than beautiful, tall enough to look me in the eye, slightly hunched like she was ashamed of it. I would’ve bet money that her ancestors had been Vikings. I imagined her standing over me in a Scandinavian sauna with a bundle of birch twigs in her hand, preparing to flog me within an inch of my life. I could dig it. “And now I’ve seen you. You got a name, stretch?”
“Laura,” she said—or tried to—her voice cracked. She tried again: “Laura.”
“Sit with me, Laura-Laura.” I leaned back on my stool and patted my knee. She perched on it lightly. Her legs felt muscular, maybe a runner. Wholesome. That was the word. She looked like a poster child for Alpine dairy and daily multivitamins. Rosy cheeks. Virgin hair. Strong teeth. She was blushing again. She wore her niceness like armor: I tried to imagine her listening to, much less enjoying our music.
“What brings you to Riot Fest? You look like you had a normal childhood.”
“I-I won a pass. On the radio. Heard you were gonna be playing and…”
“Are you a fan?” I teased her with mock astonishment. “You don’t strike me as the metalcore type.”
“Oh, um… Sorry?”
I’d forgotten how fucking nice Midwesterners were: here I was teasing her and her impulse was to apologize to me. There was a hunted look in her eye—afraid to disappoint—eager to be whatever I wanted so long as I didn’t make her leave.
“You wanna get out of here, Laura-Laura?” I asked.
“You mean, like…like… sex?” She mouthed the word ‘sex’ as if it were a curse that she was embarrassed to say out loud.
“Yes, Laura-Laura. I want to sex you up. Let’s find a dark place where we can do unspeakable things to one another.”
“I—” I could see conflicting impulses overload her brain as she struggled to answer. She wanted to say yes—wanted to say whatever it would take to keep my attention on her, but a bigger part of her still couldn’t believe it was happening. “I can’t,” she managed at last. The words burst out of her like a sneeze, a reflex to protect herself. Her voice was shaking. “I’m sorry—I want to, but…” Her eyes glistened and she stood up and fled out of the tent before I could see her cry.
I watched her go, regretful, but not surprised. This was out of her depth—she probably had a nice suburban home to go back to. Steady job. Maybe a dog. I was just an interesting detour in a straightforward life.
It could be my life. For a minute I was tempted: give up, give in, fade out, fit in. Like Tombstone. Like Gorey. Surely, I could find a wholesome Alpine maiden who still blushed at the thought of being desired to settle down with. A clean and quiet life in the Midwest. A few Hummel figurines for children.
A life under glass. I imagined myself caged in Laura-Laura’s house, wearing khaki and watching my language—maybe joining a Presbyterian church. Coaching Little League. Teaching Boy Scouts how to tie knots. Drinking light beer; claiming to like the taste. A surge of vicarious depression skated across the back of my mind like a cold wind and I shuddered.
“You deserve that black eye,” Melody’s voice cut through the ringing in my ears. My heart leaped and I turned the wrong way to try to look at her and had to turn all the way around before finding her with my good eye.
Thank you, Holy Father.
“Yeah? You want to kiss it better?”
She assessed the damage to my face and licked her lips. “I don’t kiss assholes.” She leaned on the bar beside me and held up two fingers to the bartender.
“Take pity on me: I’m a wounded man.”
The bartender set down two plastic cups on the bar, poured a measure of whiskey into each, and chased it with a dark look in Melody’s direction. I reached for one of the cups but Melody held it out of my reach and downed it.
“Evie says you keep asking about me,” she said.
“You seem surprised.”
“Most guys…” she trailed off, glancing away self-consciously. Most guys freaked out when they found out she had a kid.
“I’m not most guys.”
Melody came around the stool to stand in front of me. She had my pass around her neck and I tugged on it to pull her close.
“I’m glad you came,” I said, and I meant it.
“I promised I would.” Melody stepped in closer until she had a knee on either side of my legs. I wanted her so badly, but I held up my hands: not touching. Melody looked at them, then looked back at me, and settled her weight onto my lap.
“I’m not looking for a relationship,” she said, “nothing…serious.”
“I don’t want you tellin’ me how I gotta live my life. I don’t belong to you, and I never will,” she said. “You get me?”
“Yes.” My mouth was dry. My voice cracked. Something clenched in my chest.
“I don’t get to tell you how to live your life.”
“You don’t belong to me.”
“And you never will.”
Melody poured the second shot in her mouth and leaned forward to press her lips against mine, spilling the warmed liquor across my tongue. The sweetness of it sent me reeling: I sank into the kiss like I was drowning.
“My baby’s with her father tonight,” she told me when she finally pulled away. “Court-ordered visitation. Apartment’s too empty without her.”
An invitation? I held my breath as she twined her arms around my neck.
“I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
“Me neither,” I said. “You wanna get out of here?”
“Back to your ‘friend’s’ place?”
“No, I’m banished. Let’s go to your place: I’ll fill your emptiness.”
Melody hesitated. “Can I trust you?”
I tugged at the lanyard dangling around her neck again. “I asked your priest friend the same thing when I gave him this. Wasn’t sure he’d give it to you. He said I was just gonna have to take the leap: I wouldn’t know if I got it right till afterwards.”
“Seems to have worked out pretty okay.” I leaned in to kiss her again and she parted her lips to meet me with a faint gasp of pleasure before pulling away again.
“But can I trust you?” she persisted.
I sighed and looked around the hospitality tent as I considered how to answer.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I’m a dumpster fire of a human being: I drink. I do drugs. I chase women. I swear a blue streak. I get into fights.” I gestured to my black eye meaningfully and she caressed it with the edge of her thumb with a faint smile. “But I won’t lie to you, or try to control you. I’m not looking for anything serious, but I’m not gonna treat you like you don’t matter. I get tested, I wear a condom, I like making you cum and I want to eat your pussy till you squeal. And I make pretty good pancakes the morning after. And I get the feeling Judge’ll kick my ass into next year if I hurt you, so…”
The more I talked the more Melody struggled to hide her smile until at last she burst out laughing. “I never had a guy try so hard to sell himself short like you just did,” she admitted.
“Well, it ain’t pretty, but it’s the truth.”
“It’s something alright.” She climbed off my lap and got to her feet. “Maybe you’re not like everybody else after all.”
“Baby, I’m not like anybody else.”
She offered me a hand and pulled me up. “C’mon, let’s go home.”
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