The hotel room Miranda reserved for us has a broken air conditioner. I discovered this last night after we arrived, when I sat down in front of it only to find no relief from the discomfort of sitting in Sadie’s stuffy front seat for four hours. After tinkering with it for a good ten minutes without finding a way to make it work, I came to the conclusion that it was a lost cause. As soon as Miranda stepped out of the bathroom after her post-travel shower, I gave her the bad news.
“It’s busted,” I announced.
I didn’t expect her to launch into a breakdown upon such a discovery. That is exactly what she did, however, dropping to her knees in front of it. She tinkered with it just as I did, to no avail. When she stood up, she was clutching her head in distress, about this close to pulling her hair out by the handful.
“Oh my God, Chevy, I am so sorry,” she said. “Really, I had no idea– oh God, could this trip get any worse?”
Surprised by her outburst, I placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Randi, it’s okay,” I assured her. “I’ll call someone from maintenance tomorrow morning. Besides, the sun’s already down. We should be okay for the night, right?”
She considered this for a while before nodding. “Yeah. I guess so.”
We resolved not to worry about it, ordering a pizza and watching the trashy TV channel the last guest left it on before turning in for the night.
When I wake up the next morning, I’m already about to roast, the thin sheets on the bed making me feel like a fly trapped in a spider web from Hell. After rolling over to face Miranda, however, I know I don’t have the bad end of the stick.
“We can’t stay here,” she proclaims, desperately attempting to tame her insanely frizzy curls. “I can’t take it.”
With that, the pair of us head downstairs, where I report the issue to the concierge. Then we return to Sadie, spending the day driving the streets of Myrtle Beach in search of anywhere with air conditioning.
Throughout the day, we explore just about every thrift store in the area and eat two out of three of our cheap meals for the day. I find a record store that I convince Miranda to stop at. We spend a good thirty minutes inside before leaving empty-handed, following our discovery that any vinyl we might buy would surely warp in the heat and that I can’t afford most of it, anyway. (Besides, neither of us brought along our turntables.)
We continue to drive around aimlessly. Miranda forces me to listen to just about every single Beatles album ever recorded (though she says there are twenty-three, and that we couldn’t possibly listen to them all in one afternoon.)
By five o’clock, I’m bored half to death, suffocated by the heat and even grumpier than I was when we left my house yesterday. Once again, I realize just how unrealistic the expectations I’ve had for this trip all these years were. I close my eyes and rest my head against the window, trying to imagine the two of us walking across the Sunset Strip or finding The Beatles’ place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In my daydream, Miranda is still going to UNC to major in journalism in the fall, and I’ll be following her, majoring in… what?
I think hard about this. Back when I still had any chance of going to college, I was leaning towards becoming an English teacher. This was mostly because I was a major lit nerd and teacher’s pet, recieving an A+ from Mrs. Ellis on every single one of my book reports. Now, I don’t believe that would be my career of choice. Mostly because I had already been dealing with a woman-child with a stalled amygdala for most of my life. Perhaps I’d be better suited to be a guidance counselor, if I didn’t think it would send me into a mental breakdown of my own.
Knowing that there’s no use in worrying so much over something that would never happen anyway, I create a world in which my long-since dead writing talent magically resurfaces, allowing me to follow Miranda in pursuing a journalism degree. That way, we could continue doing everything together. Yeah, that sounds good. Way too good to be true.
I open my eyes and peer over at Miranda in the driver’s seat. Though driving a state south and staying in a hotel with no AC was never part of my plan, I’d say that the saddest change of plans is that, after this is over, Miranda and I will be seperated. She’s been my rock for all these years. I had never pictured her being gone until it was inevitable. Though I know she’ll be leaving to achieve one of her biggest goals in life, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish she’d stay. Maybe that makes me a horrible friend for wanting to hold her back. Even so, I can’t deny the truth. If given the chance, I would hold her back. I’d hold her back any way that I could.
Oblivious to my thoughts of keeping her stuck with me, Miranda continues driving nonchalantly. She stops humming along to the radio momentarily, something outside of the window catching her eye. “Look, Chevelle,” she says. “They’re having a Battle of the Bands at that club tonight.” She turns to me, a mischevious smile surfacing on her face. “Think we can sneak ourselves in?”
I look back at the club sign before shaking my head. “It’s an all ages club, you dork. And you turned eighteen last month.”
Miranda sighs. “You’re no fun.” She turns back to the sign. “Wanna go anyway?”
I think about this. Though I’ve had little to no experience with clubs, all-ages or otherwise, seeing a few live bands in action would certainly make the day more interesting, plus give me my fix of music that isn’t as old as dirt without having to pay too much. Really, it seems like a good idea.
“Okay,” I agree.
Miranda hastily maneuvers Sadie to turn around, causing me to bump my head against the window. She secures a spot at the front of the parking lot, smiling proudly. “There.”
I open the door, rubbing my head. “Nice turnaround there. It almost killed me.”
Miranda scoffs as the two of us head to join the people in line at the door. If there was any doubt that this was an all ages affair before, it’s long gone now. Most of the crowd consists of teenage girls younger than Miranda and I, many of which are eyeliner-clad and extremely giggly. While listening to them cracking their gum and obnoxiously laughing at each other only inspires annoyance in me, it apparently provides Miranda with a sense of nostalgia. She nudges me. “Remember when we were like that?”
I look through the sea of giddy adolescents, pretending to think hard about it before turning back toward Miranda. “Were we really that annoying?”
Miranda elbows me in the side. I chuckle, looking back towards the door as the line moves.
As we get closer to the door, I continue to watch the girls. To be honest, I do get what Miranda meant. I just really, really didn’t want to think of the time when we could be that carefree. It seems like it was so long ago, even if only two years have passed since then. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like I’ll have much time to do so, considering that the last group of girls in front of us are at the front of the line now. The bouncer nods at them, causing them to squeal with excitement as they squeeze past him. With that, Miranda and I are right in front of him. After we show him our driver’s liscences, he nods at us as well, handing both of us a bright orange wristband before ushering us inside.
Miranda stares at her wristband with a look of puzzlement.
“It means we’re too young to drink,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “Bummer.”
We mill our way through the crowd steadily flooding into the building, unsure of where, exactly, we should go. Pushed to the side of the room by the throng of teenage girls crowding close to the vacant stage, a poster advertising the bands participating in the competition catches my eye.
Quite a few band names are displayed on the sheet of paper. Most of them are lame in the way that tells you that a teenager most definitely came up with it. A few of them are good, clever usages of double entedres or lyrics by more famous bands. The rest of them are more simple: The Hunger, Cherry Kiss, Extraordinary Things.
As I continue to skim over the poster, the crowd continues to fill the room. Though I’ve never had the opportunity to attend a Battle of the Bands in my hometown of rural McNowhere, in my imagination, they didn’t tend to attract this much attention. There were so many screaming kids in hand-decorated T-shirts, you’d think that they had come to see bands who had made it big, rather than people they probably go to school with.
The crowd’s anticipation is palpable within the air, making the club feel almost as stuffy as Miranda and I’s hotel room. With my back pressed up against the wood paneling, I’m growing claustrophobic. Knowing that I might go insane if I get jostled by one more person’s shoulder, I nudge Miranda. When she looks at me, I motion over to the area by the bar. Since most of the attendees are also part of the orange wristband crowd, the area is considerably less populous.
“Let’s move over there,” I tell Miranda over the chatter.
She nods, taking my hand as we make our way through the crowd.
The closer we get to the bar, the easier it is to breathe. To our luck, an air conditioning box is conveniently located nearby. I stand next to it, happy for the cool breeze.
The lights come on onstage, inspiring even more excitement from the audience. Over the clamor of the other crowd members, I hear a girl squeal before yelling out to someone. “Wyatt! Hey!”
I turn around to see one of the giggly girls, excitedly chatting with a tall, brown-haired guy. Her cheeks are rosy as she talks to him, pointing toward her T-shirt as he nods. From the ease with which they talk to each other, it would be easy to believe that they’re friends. Judging by her giddiness, however, I know better. He’s part of one of these bands, and she’s a groupie in the making.
Fortunately, he seems to be nothing short of a gentleman, giving her a proper goodbye and shaking her hand before continuing to make his way through the crowd. As I watch the girl stare at him with obvious heart eyes, I don’t notice that the guy is approaching Miranda and I. That is, until I hear a voice that most definitely isn’t Miranda’s in my ear. “You girls thirsty?”
I jump, startled. When his question registers, I’m still incapitated. Unable to form words, I raise my arm in front of him, showing him my orange wristband of shame.
He chuckles. “Okay, then. That might be a problem.” He leans closer to me, lowering his voice. “Unless you don’t want it to be.”
Still unable to speak, my eyes travel to his wrist, only to find his arm to be free of any wristband of his own. Okay, wow. Apparently, he isn’t as young as I thought.
Noticing my silence, Miranda takes over, obviously prepared to chase him away. “You trying to slip us something?”
The guy’s face falls at her question. His face goes as red as his groupie’s was as he shakes his head fervently. “No, no, no. I’m not that kind of guy, I swear.” As he throws his hands up in an effort to profess his innocence, I’m surprised by how boyish he looks. Though I know that looks don’t mean anything, I can’t help but think that he’s relatively harmless. If nothing else, he seems too nervous to pull off the perfect crime.
And I have to admit, he’s pretty convincing. “I’m the guitarist for Extraordinary Things,” he says. “This is our first night playing in the Battle of the Bands, and I figured I’d get the fans some drinks for coming to support us. I’ve never seen you guys at one of our shows before, so I wanted to welcome you… Unless you’re coming to see somebody else, of course.” He grins, eyeing us quizzically. “Let me guess. Cherry Kiss fans?” To my surprise, his eyes settle on me rather than Miranda. That hardly ever happens. “You kind of have the riot grrl look going on.”
I shake my head, suddenly regaining my ability to talk. Of course, that doesn’t mean the words that leave my lips are particularly smooth. “We aren’t fans of anyone, actually.”
The guy doesn’t falter for a second. “Really?” He chuckles. “Well, that’s a shame. I was just beginning to think you might be cool.”
My face burns. How do I always manage to blow it so bad? Now it’s my turn to be awkward. “No no, it’s not like that,” I stammer. “We’re, um, tourists. We just came to have a good time.” Then, because I haven’t already said enough: “Our air conditioner is broken.”
At this point, I want to find the nearest hole, crawl into it, and die on the spot. The guy’s mouth twitches like he wants to burst out laughing. He must have remarkable self control in order to keep himself from doing just that. “That’s unfortunate,” he says.
I look down at my shoes as if it might keep me from dying of embarassment. “It really is.”
Either severely disenchanted with the guitarist or me, Miranda keeps us from settling into an awkward silence. “I have to go to the ladies room,” she pipes up. She nudges me, forcing me to look up at her. “You’ll be okay?”
Obviously relieved by the fact that she won’t have to deal with me anymore, Miranda takes off towards the restroom.
Once she’s gone, the guy turns back to me. To my surprise, the look on his face has quickly changed from amusement to genuine curiosity. “So,” he says. “While we were discussing the possibility of me being a creep and your air conditioning woes, we never got each other’s names.”
I force a smile onto my face, holding my hand out to him whilst pretending that I’m not internally screaming. “I’m Chevelle.”
The guy nods. “Chevelle,” he says. “Like the–“
“Like the car,” I finish. “Yeah.”
His smile grows wider. “Okay, ‘Chevelle Like the Car.’ ” He takes my hand, shaking it. “I’m Wyatt Easton, guitarist and backing vocalist extraordinaire.”
I grin. “That’s a little cocky, don’t you think?”
He smiles back with a shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe.” He pulls his hand away. “So, now that you’re hopefully convinced that I won’t drug you, how about that drink?”
Oh, what the hell? Miranda’s not here, and I’m bound to do at least one really stupid thing on this trip. “Sure.”
“Awesome,” Wyatt says, with almost enough enthusiasm to make me regret my decision. “Can you give me your hand real quick?”
Hesitantly, I do so.
I’m really unsure of myself when he reaches for the silver chain belt around his waist, only to retrieve a small pocket knife. He switches the blade out before giving me another startlingly unintimidating, little-boyish smile. “Now, hold very still…”
Before I can think of what I want my last words to be, I hear a quiet ‘snip.’ When I look back down, I’m relieved to find everything intact… minus my wristband, that is.
Wyatt looks all too satisfied as he discreetly tucks it into the back pocket of his black jeans. “Never fails,” he says. “Now, drinks. What do you like?”
I answer honestly. “I have no idea.”
I follow Wyatt to the bar, taking a seat on one of the tall stools as I watch him order. I nervously cross and uncross my legs, afraid that someone might notice that I’m not twenty one and call me out. Maybe I’d somehow get hauled out to jail, where they’d have to call Mom and ask her to bail me out, only to find that we don’t have a pot to piss in. What would happen then?
I can’t think of this for much longer as Wyatt comes back my way, bringing two cups of something yellowish along with him. He takes a seat next to me, handing one of the cups to me. I take it, trying my best to steady my shaking hands in order to keep from spilling beer down the front of my tank top.
Wyatt is much more laid back, lifting his drink to his lips like an old pro. Then again, I get the feeling that he’s done this all before. After taking a drink, he sits his cup down on the bar. “Since you weren’t sure what you liked, I got you my usual. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure.” In effort to keep myself from looking like a complete dork, I pick up my cup, taking a small sip.
It’s not like I’ve never had alcohol before; I have, at the few high school parties Miranda and I attended. It’s just that obtaining it was never this big of a deal, as it was usually provided to us by someone like Nash Myers. I also was never one of the only underage drinkers in the building; there were always only other teenagers there. Last but definitely not least, I’ve never had anyone actually buy me a drink, much less a really cute, somewhat older guitarist who had cut a wristband off my arm with a pocket knife. Considering how many firsts are occuring right now, I’m pretty sure I have every right to be nervous.
I put my cup back down, the taste of the drink still on my tongue. Huh. Not bad. Nothing like the cheap beer I had at those parties, that’s for sure.
Wyatt watches me intently. “Good?” he asks.
I nod. “Yeah. Tastes fine.”
He smiles, resting his arms against the top of the bar. “So Chevelle,” he starts, keeping his voice low. “Just so I know exactly how big of a felony I just committed, how old are you?”
Alright. Here goes nothing. I lean forward to tell him the truth. “I’m eighteen.”
His smile grows wider. “Cool,” he says. “So am I.”
“How?” I ask.
“Let’s just say that, when you’re in an up-and-coming rock band, you almost always ‘know a guy.’ Sometimes the guy books your gigs or sells you a tour bus. Other times, he makes you and your buddies fake IDs.” He takes another sip of his drink, obviously proud of himself.
I take another sip of my drink, deciding to ask him a question about the band he so desperately wants to talk about. “When does your band go on, anyway?” I ask.
“We’ve got the third slot.” He goes from sipping to gulping, downing half of his beer. “I’m not worried, though. Some pretty crappy groups got in. Probably as a joke.”
I laugh. “Wow. Elitist much?”
“No, really!” He crosses his arms behind his head. “There’s an all-male Bikini Kill cover band called Speedo Assassination.”
I sputter, nearly spitting my drink out on him. “There is not!”
“Seriously. I can’t make stuff like that up.” Judging by the mischevious grin on his face, I’d say that he most definitely can.
We both polish off our drinks. Wyatt offers to get us refills. Having enjoyed my first drink with him perhaps a little too much, I eagerly hand my cup back to him. He walks back up to the bar. On his way back, he stops to talk to someone. “Oh, hey.”
I turn around, expecting to see Miranda, who I’m ninety-nine percent sure isn’t still in the bathroom. Instead, I get three other slightly-punkish teenagers, two guys and a girl, each wearing expressions encompassing varying degrees of exasperation.
“Hey, man,” the taller of the two guys says. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing much,” Wyatt replies. “Just having a drink or two.”
“Oh shit, you’re drinking?” the shorter guy asks. Apparently, the mention of alcohol does wonders of perking him up. “Can I have some?”
“Yeah, if it comes out of your own pocket,” Wyatt replies. “You missed Happy Hour with Wyatt, man. I’m already buying for a friend.”
The girl scoffs. “You should’ve been out there helping us, twerp. Not in here, buying drinks for some girl.”
Wyatt shrugs. “It’s not my fault I’m not a mechanic.”
The girl rolls her eyes. “Whatever.” She turns to the taller guy, giving him a sweet smile. “Now, would you happen to be interested in buying this girl a drink, Pierce?”
“No problem, babe.” He turns to the shorter guy. “Don’t worry, rat, I’m getting you something, too.”
Not appearing to be phased by being called a rat, it’s only a split second before the shorter guy is on Wyatt’s heels, following him to my seat. He jabbers on and on as they walk. Though I don’t understand most of the things he’s saying, I think I hear something about an engine. Wyatt nods along, giving him one word replies before taking the stool next to mine yet again, handing me my second drink.
With that, the other guy stops talking long enough to acknowledge my presence. He turns to Wyatt. “Yo, who’s your friend?”
Wyatt gives me a look that’s somewhere between entertainment and apology before responding to him. “This is my friend, Chevelle. This is her first time seeing us live, and her air conditioner’s broken, so I wanted to make her night a little bit better.”
In order to avoid turning tomato red in response to his air conditioner comment, I lift my drink to my lips, tilting it back. I take much more than a sip this time.
Wyatt turns back to me, motioning to his friend. “Chevelle, this is Gabe. He’s the drummer for Extraordinary Things.”
Gabe smiles. Though his patch-covered denim jacket and almost-mohawk suggest that he’s at least as old as Wyatt is, he has a baby face, chubby and seemingly innocent. Due to the fact that he’s waiting for a beer purchased with someone else’s fake ID, however, I suspect that I might be a bit off about that. Of course, I’m not any better.
“Nice to meet you, Chevelle,” he says.
As he smiles at me, I get the feeling that Gabe is just as benign as Wyatt. I smile back at him. “Same to you, Gabe.”
Feedback sounds from the speakers next to the stage, signalling that the first band is about to go on. As a group of slightly-greasy teens with instruments take their places, I notice Miranda, weaving in and out of the crowd. Though I’m tempted to invite her to the bar to join us, my train of thought is derailed by Gabe’s voice. “Well, look who brought the party!”
The guy and girl that came in with Gabe are now approaching us. The guy holds a beer of his own, lifting his cup to the air as if it’s a prize he has won. The girl by his side carries two more. She seats herself on the stool next to Gabe’s, sliding one of the cups over to him. “Here’s your drink, rat.”
I’m not sure if it’s a punk thing or what, but Gabe doesn’t seem to be offended whatsoever by the girl’s nickname for him. In fact, looking at the small smile on her face as she looks at him, I almost believe that it’s a term of endearment.
My assumption appears to be confirmed by Gabe’s response. “Thanks, kraken.” He then raises his cup in a silent, one-sided toast before beginning to guzzle it down. The girl huffs out a laugh before following suit.
If I had to guess, I’d say that everyone in this band is a veteran of putting their fake IDs to good use.
Gabe, Kraken, and the other guy put half of their drinks away in companionable silence. It’s only after the band onstage begins playing that they decide to put down their cups and start asking questions.
“So, Wyatt,” the guy yells over a yowling guitar. “Does our new drinking buddy have a name?”
Wyatt nods. I’m unsure if it’s because of the stage lights or the second drink that he’s nearly polished off, but his smiling face has gone rather pink. “Guys,” he says. “This is Chevelle. She’s a Battle of the Bands newbie.”
Thankfully, he omits the air conditioner part this time, instead opting to turn toward me and motion to the two of them. “This lovely lady is Tess Gallagher, our bassist,” he says. “And that handsome gent over there is our lead singer, Pierce Augustine.”
Pierce waves to me, his mouth occupied by his drink.
Tess eyes me, seeming to examine me. For what, I have no idea. She doesn’t give me any indication as to whether or not she found it as she parts her red-painted lips to speak to me. “Hi, Chevelle,” she says. Flipping her curtain of black hair over her shoulder, she returns to her assessment of me. Her eyes sparkle in the club’s neon lights, concealing knowledge I don’t believe I’m privy to. Clearly, she’s a lot less kraken, and a lot more wise woman. It’s just unclear what she uses that wisdom for.
Obviously experienced in this game, she quickly picks back up, not leaving room for awkward silence and obvious staring. “So,” she says. “What brings you here, just now?”
I think about this. If I say ‘tourism,’ I suspect that she’ll be a lot more likely to judge me than Wyatt was. So, I leave out that part and give her half of the truth. The cooler fraction.
“Me and my friend were just passing through, and we saw the place.” I shrug. “It looked like a good time, so I figured we should stop by.”
Tess narrows her eyes. The lights pass over them into another corner of the room, preventing me from seeing that gleam in them. “Interesting.”
She averts her secret-keeping eyes from me to Wyatt. Nursing her beer, she gazes at him for a long while. Though her eyes still don’t give away what she’s thinking, their sparkle has lost its edge. Looking at him, they’re much softer. Kinder.
My heart sinks up for a moment as I come to the conclusion that they’re a couple. Though I haven’t said anything out of the way to Wyatt throughout our exchange, the idea of having illegal drinks with another girl’s boyfriend still makes me feel pretty dirty.
This idea is mostly chased out of my mind when Pierce drapes his arm around Tess’s shoulders, only for her to sink back into him as if on autopilot. In that moment, I know that, if there are decidedly non-platonic feelings there, Tess is more than likely the one with a taste for infidelity.
When Pierce looks at her, however, the feelings behind his eyes are clear. Lively and bright green, his eyes leave him a loving, wide open book. The window to the soul, indeed.
As the band onstage carries out their show, the five of us sit and drink together. Though I try to be laid back as not to stick out like a sore thumb, I can’t help but feel nervous at the thought of being under Tess’s watchful eye. Whenever I turn to look at her, she always seems occupied by something else. When I turn back around, though, my intuition tells me that she’s looking when I’m not. As uneasy as it makes me feel, I do my best to keep my anxiety concealed for the aforementioned reasons.
Wyatt, Gabe, and Pierce keep the conversation going, their joking coming easily. It’s very obvious that they’re good friends. I wonder how long all of them have known each other as I watch Miranda weave in and out of the crowd. I wonder if life will one day sever their bond, cutting the ties that so tightly bind them together.
I try to chase these thoughts away with the help of a little alcohol. As the night goes on, I feel as though I’ve invented the next big drinking game. Every time you have a negative thought, drink. Genius. How has no one thought of this before?
Giving my game a little test run, I experience firsthand exactly how effective it is. Though I’m still feeling ever-so-slightly sappy, the night seems to go by faster and faster. The band’s current song ends, then their whole set. Before I know it, the next band is up, and Tess is pulling on Wyatt’s arm as he gets up for a refill.
She shakes her head when he turns around to give her an annoyed look. Rather than showing the wisdom in her eyes, the stage lights illuminate her freckles. Though she has a good many, she doesn’t have quite as many as Miranda. Oh, shit. Miranda. I drink.
Meanwhile, Tess is busy convincing Wyatt of the reasons he can’t do just that. “You’re a lightweight, twerp,” she chides. “You can’t have three beers before we go onstage. Not if you wanna win this thing, that is.”
She motions toward the stage to prove her point. After doing so, she turns back to the bar, hands on her hips. She glares at Wyatt, Gabe, and Pierce like a disapproving mother. “Speaking of winning this thing, we best be getting backstage. Give us time to prepare ourselves before our cue.”
Gabe pouts, staring at his unfinished second drink. “But–“
Tess shuts him down quickly. “No buts.” She snaps her fingers. I watch her, slightly awed by her, in all her intimidating glory. Though she’s the one Hot Topic dress in a group of ripped skinny jeans, it was clear that she wore the pants in the band. “Get a move on.”
Defeated, Gabe takes one last longing look at his cup as he and Pierce stand. Tess is clearly satisfied as they form an orderly line, ready to parade backstage and prepare for the show ahead. Just before he completes that line, Wyatt leans in to whisper in my ear. “Have as many drinks as you want,” he says. “Just tell the bartender you’re a friend of mine.”
An odd excitement fills me as I nod. Wyatt pulls away, smiling at me before following his band through the crowd.
In this moment, I know that I’ll order quite a few more drinks. It will be an honor to call myself a friend of Wyatt’s every time.
I eventually make my way into the crowd to find Miranda, shortly before the second band’s set ends. I tap her on the shoulder, interrupting her assessment on the amatuer punk band onstage. She jumps before turning around. Upon seeing me, her relief is obvious. “Finally,” she yells over the music. “I was wondering where you had wandered off to.” Her smile fades as she takes note of the cup in my hand. She raises an eyebrow. “I take it you got rid of that wristband.”
I nod, smiling so widely my cheekbones hurt. “Uh-huh. A friend’s buying for me.”
“A friend, huh?” For all the things Miranda excels at, hiding her worry is not one of them. “Well, I take it isn’t me.”
“No,” I giggle. “It’s Wyatt.”
She stares at me blankly, obviously still lost. “Wyatt? Who’s Wyatt?”
“Wyatt Easton,” I reply. Though I want to go further into my explanation than his name, a spontaneous fit of laughter prevents me from doing so.
“Yeah,” Miranda says. “Well, that’s really nice.” She turns back to the stage, trying to avoid me in my current, giggly state… Whatever was up with that.
Regardless of her reasoning, I don’t allow her to ignore me for long. As soon as the second band walks offstage, Extraordinary Things appear, ready to impress. They take their positions as soon as possible. That foreign feeling of having something to look forward to fills me once again, leaving me jumping up and down as I point to Wyatt and his guitar. “There, Randi! That’s him!”
Recognizing him from earlier, Miranda’s face falls completely. As inebriated as I am becoming (maybe that new game wasn’t such a great idea) her dissappointment is more than palpable. “Oh.” She turns around to face me, noting the drink still sweating in my hand. “Are you sure you should be drinking that?”
I try to hit her on the arm. I miss. Dammit. “Shut up! He’s not like that! He’s nice.” Looking up at him onstage, absolutely shredding on his bright red guitar, I can’t help but smile. “So nice.”
“Of course he is.” Unlike Tess, any feeling of Miranda’s is bound to be reflected in her eyes, plain as day. Right now, her eyes are telling me that she doesn’t believe Wyatt is nice at all. She crosses her arms and continues to stare at him, concealing her eyes from my view. “Remember, I said the exact same thing about Nash Myers.”
I groan, rolling my eyes. “For the love of God, shut up about Nash Myers. If I have to hear his stupid, preppy name one more time, I swear I’ll…”
Halfway into my dramatic declaration, I lose my grip on my cup. Much to my horror, my drink goes sloshing onto the feet of the girl standing next to me, who just so happens to be wearing flip-flops. She groans loudly, turning to look at me with venom-filled eyes and a well-defined scowl. The scariest part of the situation? Her T-shirt advertises Speedo Assassination. Holy crap. They do exist.
“Sorry.” Though I try my best to smile apologetically, I’m pretty sure I just look as drunk as I feel.
Whatever the case, the girl doesn’t buy it. She huffs and walks away, head held high as her shoes squish loudly.
Defeated, I search for consolation in Miranda, only to find her grinning broadly. Of course, she can’t resist offering her sage words of wisdom.
“Maybe you’re the one who needs to shut up.”
At the end of the night, the results are clear. Some middle-aged guy with the voice of a game show host scales the stage after the final band steps off, announcing the winners. Though I’m not surprised that Speedo Assassination doesn’t make the cut, I hope that the girl I spilled my drink on takes it kindly.
The punk group that came before Extraordinary Things gets third place, with Cherry Kiss, the riot grrl group, takes first prize. That leaves Extraordinary Things in second place. Though it’s not the first place win I’m sure he wanted, Wyatt still leaves the stage in a celebratory mood. Somewhat to my surprise, he seeks me out to do the celebrating with him.
He makes his way through the crowd, eventually finding me, gravitating back towards the bar for one last sip to quench my thirst. When Wyatt flags me down, however, I have a feeling that I might stick around a bit longer than I originally intended.
“Hey, you,” he says, flashing me a mega-watt smile. Mega-watt Wyatt. Ha. “Did you get Joe to load you up?”
I nod. “Sure did.” Sensing his playful mood, I jut my lower lip out in a pout. “But I ended up spilling one of my drinks all over some girl in the crowd. She was a Speedo Assassination fan.”
He laughs. “No way. They actually have fans?”
“What a waste.” He eyes me mischievously. “We just might have to fix that.”
“What?” I ask. “The fact that Speedo Assassination fans exist? What do we do, storm the stage and tell them that they suck? Scream from the rooftops of this very club that their rendition of “Rebel Girl” is a disgrace to Kathleen Hanna’s very being?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “Though I do find it impressive that you know that
Kathleen Hanna is the frontwoman of Bikini Kill while you’re halfway smashed. Maybe I wasn’t so wrong in having you pegged as the riot grrl type.”
“Honey, I’m all types of types. ‘Halfway smashed’ is one, ‘riot grrl’ is another. And there are maybe, like, fifty two more. Hey, can you hold on a sec?” I swivel my head around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Miranda in the crowd. Why does she keep disappearing?
“Looking for someone?” Wyatt inquires.
I return my attention to him, waving my hand nonchalantly. “Nah. Jus’… A friend.”
As he stares at me, I find myself noticing things about his eyes. Even when he isn’t laughing at me, his eyes are, all sparkly and crinkled at the edges. Another thing about them is their color, which is a kaleidoscope of a mystery. Are they brown? Green? What the hell?
“So you are looking for someone. Unless it’s an imaginary friend, that is.”
I snap out of my reverie in order to testify to Miranda’s existence. “Noooo. She’s very real. You met her. She thought you were gonna spike our drinks.”
Regardless of their color, I can most definitely discern the feeling in Wyatt’s eyes now: recognition. “Oh. Her.” He shakes his head, his hair, messy with after-show sweat, falling over his forehead and concealing his eyes. I’ll miss them.
He adequately distracts me from their absence by linking his arm through mine. Though I’m initially reminded of Miranda upon realizing this, that feeling quickly fades. Although the gesture is similar, if not identical, the context is very different. The reason? Simple. Wyatt isn’t Miranda. This isn’t something rooted in familiarity, the touch of the girl who has been my best friend since before I had boobs. This was a guy. A really cute, if slightly sweaty, guitarist, who has been buying me drinks all night. All of the sudden, I’m not so great at breathing.
I try to fall into a steady pattern of inhaling and exhaling as he grins at me. Oh my god, his mouth. It’s the prettiest mouth I’ve ever seen. How can a mouth be so pretty? “You don’t have to wait for her,” he says. “She seemed like a bit of a killjoy to me.”
Killjoy. That word echoes back to me in the form of Miranda’s own voice, referring to me. Oh, how the turns have tabled. No. The tables have turned.
“Okay,” I tell Wyatt. “You lead the way to wherever we’re going.”
Of course, we were going to the bar. Wyatt was in search of a celebratory drink. I was looking to post-game my pregame.
Soon, I was more than halfway smashed. What I didn’t know until now, however, is that, for me, ‘smashed’ quickly leads to sappy.
Thus, my conversation with Wyatt quickly leads from flirtation to sob story. Though it isn’t any fun, I can’t stop the words from bubbling out of my mouth. It seems that, when I’m drunk, I have an involuntary Debbie Downer muscle. Apparently, it works really well.
“I s’pose it’s only fair I leave Miranda for once,” I slur. “She’s leaving me, anyway.”
Wyatt nods, his oddly-colored eyes sympathetic. Luckily for me, he seems to be a good listener. “Leaving you?” he inquires. “Are you two, like, a thing or something?”
I giggle. It sounds more like a hiccup than a laugh. “God, no,” I say. “We might as well have been, though. Not ’cause I have feelings for her or anything. We’re just that close, you know? We’ve known each other since we were little. We’re like an old married couple sometimes.” I look down into my cup, examining the bubbles rising from the bottom. “You know, ‘honey, I’m home’ and all that.”
“I see,” Wyatt says. “And why, exactly, is Miranda leaving you?”
I groan. “Freaking college.” I take a sip of my drink. Suddenly, I need it. “She’s going. I’m not. It sucks.”
“It does,” Wyatt concurs, even though he really doesn’t know. He does look awfully sincere, though, his solemn expression telling me that he isn’t pretending to be sensitive in order to get me into bed with him. That’s good, considering that I’d have no idea what to do if I ended up in bed with him. I might make up a bed time story to tell him. Maybe sing a lullaby rendition of a Green Day song. “Just so you know, though, I’m in the same boat. When it comes to college, I mean. The concrete box of education was never for me.”
I scoff, glaring at him. He’s playing every bit of the part of the stereotypical rocker. “I don’t think it’s a concrete box,” I say. “I actually wanted to go. It’s just that I can’t… for financial reasons.”
“Yikes.” Wyatt lifts his drink, pointing it at me. “Now that really sucks.”
I laugh. “Keen observation there, Sherlock.” I pause, quickly falling back into my self pity. I’d take another drink, but, at this point, I’m pretty sure it’s only making it worse. Can I ever win?
I lean closer to Wyatt, propping my elbows up on the bar. “You wanna hear why I can’t afford to go to college?” I ask, keeping my voice low as to maintain my integrity.
“Hit me,” Wyatt replies quickly.
I take a deep breath through my nose, preparing myself to tell the sordid tale I’ve repeated in my mind so many times. “I was an accident,” I begin. “My mom was in college, and she fell in love with this loser. After a whirlwind romance that lasted a few months, said loser found out that he knocked her up and conveniently decided to skip town. So my mom dropped out and ended up stuck with me.”
“That’s a horrible way to put it,” Wyatt remarks. “I mean, she’s your mom. She probably didn’t feel like she was stuck with you.” He gives me a pointed look, his eyes curious. “She loves you, right?”
I snort. “I think so,” I say. “So, anyway, we have that ditched-single-parent sob story thing going on. I’ve never seen a child support check from my dad in my entire lifetime, by the way.”
“That’s illegal,” Wyatt points out.
“It is,” I agree. “But I don’t really care at this point. I’m too old to be considered a child now, anyway.”
“Still,” he says. “That’s shitty.”
“Of course it is,” I reply. “But that’s not the point.”
“I’m kind of scared to find out what the point is, then.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “You’d already know what the point is if you’d just shut up and listen.”
He drops his gaze down to the bar, hanging his shaggy head in shame. “Sorry.”
I don’t have the time to accept his apology. I just want to rip off the Band-Aid and get my story over with. “Long story short, my mom raised me on her own. She had a whole bunch of jobs while I was growing up: waitress, school janitor, telemarketer. But her preferred source of income was gambling. She and some girlfriends took a trip to Vegas when I was a kid. They hired a sitter for all of their little ones and spent a night hitting up the casinos. So, while me and little Timmy were watching SpongeBob, she was learning the joys of slots and those fake horse races. It was like Christmas for her; the money we needed just kept pouring in, and she didn’t even have to really work for it. That seemed like a pretty good thing, so she just kept doing it. I’m sure you can imagine how that could go wrong.”
He nods. “You know, gambling is a lot like Battle of the Bands,” he says. “Not much good comes from it unless you’re winning.”
I point at him. “Exactly. Plus, the more you do it, the more varied your win-lose ratio is going to be.”
Wyatt’s smile fades. “So your mom has a gambling problem,” he says. “And you can’t go to college because of that?”
I nod. “Because she ended up losing so much over a decade of gambling, that she ended up dipping into the fund that my grandparents set aside for me,” I finish. The Band-Aid rips off. Though saying it out loud stings, it’s nothing in comparison to the pain pulsating from the bullet hole. “She says it was an accident, of course, but that really doesn’t fix it.”
“Well, duh,” Wyatt says quietly.
I wait for him to follow up that statement, but he doesn’t. There’s no ‘geez, that’s awful.’ No ‘what a terrible mother.’ Not even an ‘I’m sorry.’ He just shrugs with a sense of nonchalance I envy, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and beginning to type something. To be honest, I’m more than a little dissappointed.
When he finally opens his mouth again, I’m met with a response I would have never thought of. “What if I told you I could help you?”
Though I try to tell myself not to get my hopes up, my heartbeat immediately speeds up as soon as his words soak in. He could just be messing with me, announcing as soon as he sees the glimmer of hope on my face that I’ve been punk’d.
Or he could be an angel in disguise, someone who could wave as magic wand and make my dreams come true, bippity-boppity-boo. Images of fairy tale campuses dance in my head, a tall college building being my magic castle.
I can’t help but open my mouth and ask him what I’m so desperately wondering. “How would you do that?”
He smiles, returning his phone to his pocket. “Unfortunately, our tour bus is dead,” he says. “The engine just completely crapped out, out of nowhere. Problem is, we weren’t done with it just yet.”
I stare at him intently, wondering where this is going.
Luckily, he elaborates. “See, this particular Battle of the Bands is an ongoing thing. A traveling ongoing thing, kind of like a garage band American Idol. Seeing as we’re going on to the next round, we at least have to have someone to get us to Nashville by next Friday. And from there… Well, we’ll just have to see what happens.”
By now, my heart is beating so fast, I’m afraid the whole club might be able to hear it. The anticipation is killing me. “And where do I come in?”
He smiles, meeting my eyes. “Would you happen to have a car?”
Holy cow. This is too perfect. I nod fervently. “A bus.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
I nod faster, almost afraid my neck will snap. “A Volkswagen bus called Sadie. She seats ten.”
Wyatt grins, satisfied. “Well, then,” he says. “You just might be a good candidate. Are you free this coming week?”
Normally, those last words from a guy like Wyatt would sound like a prospect for a date. This time, however, they weren’t. They were so much more, and I was much more excited about this than I ever was about being asked out. I smile, meaning it with every fiber of my being. “Of course.”
“Okay, then.” He rubs his hands together, like it’s a done deal. I really hope it is. “Thank you so much, Chevelle. Really. This is a huge deal. The prize money for the finals is a huge amount. If we just happened to get that far, I’d be happy to split it with you. If not, well… I’ll see what I can do. You won’t be walking away empty-handed, regardless.”
I’m tempted to pinch myself. This is way too good to be true. And yet, for some inane reason, I believe it. At this point, I have to. “Thank you, Wyatt,” I gasp. “Thank you so much. God, I could… I could kiss you.”
He chuckles, shaking his head. “Save that for the second round.” He reaches back into his pocket, retrieving something. “Until then, I can give you this.”
Within a matter of seconds, he shoves my discarded wristband into my hands. Upon closer inspection, I find that he’s written a long list of numbers on it. His phone number.
Even more than halfway smashed, I know that my plans for the summer have changed dramatically.