I love my bed. It’s a king size Tempur Pedic and no matter how I lay, it’s warm and safe and seems to cradle me like a lover. It is, at this moment, all that exists in my world and I don’t plan on leaving it for a long while yet. It’s just me and the squishy goodness of supreme comfort standing sentinel against the outside that we refuse to let trespass.
And so far, so good.
I roll over and snuggle deeper into the down duvet, releasing a satisfied sigh in the darkness of my cave, my own fortress of solitude.
Superman so had it right, except for the ice…
I have no idea what time it is, and I don’t care. I only know that if I let this bought of wakefulness pass, I’ll just fall back into unconsciousness. And that’s precisely what I plan to do. I feel the emptiness creeping in, about to claim me again, but then just as I’m about to embrace it, something pulls me back.
I squint down at my feet beneath the duvet. Nothing… just my fuzzy wuzzy PJs disappearing into the darkness, and I shake my head. I must have had one of those falling moments before sleep, the ones that make you jerk awake.
My eyes slide shut and the bed sucks me in further, but then I’m shocked out of it again.
This time I brace myself on my elbow and use my phone as a flashlight. The light is blinding and my eyes take a moment to adjust before I can clearly see my feet.
Nothing happens and I frown.
Something’s just not right but I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.
Just as I’m about to give up the ghost and settle back in, I finally see it: movement. It’s warm and soft as it glides against my foot, and I panic, chucking back the covers and sandwiching myself against the headboard.
I watch as the duvet writhes and squeaks in anger before a cute, fuzzy face emerges. A ferret is in my bed, and I feel anger bubble up in my chest to release from my throat in an almighty bellow of, “KYLA!”
She’s been trying to force me out of my room, knocking and screeching and calling and doing any and everything to make my isolation impossible.
But my door and the lock on it are as sturdy as my resolve.
I’ve thwarted her repeatedly, but this… this is just plain dirty.
I check and find that the door is still closed, still locked.
How did she manage it?
She’s a witch. That’s the only explanation.
I fling it open, and she’s standing right there at the door, Kate and Ethan next to her. And they’re all laughing so hard that they can barely stand.
I cross my arms over my chest, glower at them, and seethe out, “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
I’m not sure why I asked that. I mean, there are just so many options. I could take my pick. Kate is the first to recover. She’s smart enough to heed my threats and to worry when I’m angry with her. So she has the good sense to stare at the floor and rub at the nape of her neck with contrition.
Ethan is just… Ethan: sort of slimy, over-the-top, and entirely single-minded. “Good morning, gorgeous!”
He’s completely unaffected. I roll my eyes at him but otherwise ignore him because all of my attention is focused on Kyla. She’s wearing a smug expression and I want to slap it right off of her face.
“I’ve been trying for almost two weeks to get you out of there, Ashley!”
“I obviously don’t want to come out!”
I mean, logic…
“Well, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you want. You’re not going to hole yourself up and wallow on my watch.”
I channel Paula Carlin. “Watch me…”
I go to slam the door, but they all try to stop me. It’s an epic battle as we push from both sides, but I’m outnumbered, and so I inevitably lose.
Kate hangs by the door, hands in the pockets of her skinny jeans as she rocks on her heels. Ethan gets a phone call and holds up a finger to let me know he’ll be a minute before walking away. And Kyla bursts in like she owns the place, heading straight over to the windows to let in the incessant sunlight before turning to me.
“Take a shower, get dressed, and be in the kitchen in half an hour, or so help me, I’ll bring home a new ferret for every minute you make me wait and stuff them all under your door.”
“I’ll do what I want, Kyla.”
“It’s been two weeks, Ashley,” she says again, as if the passage of time should somehow matter to me.
I turn to Kate for support only to find none. “We have a show tonight. Remember, Ash?”
Ah, fuck… I don’t even know what day it is. Has it really been two weeks of dodging, eating take-out, and blissful sleep?
I look around at the mostly empty cartons that litter the floor near my bed and sigh. It’s been awhile for sure.
“God, you’re such a slob,” Kyla says as she pulls her teriyaki sauced ferret out of one of the old containers and starts to collect them all.
Once her arms are full of sticky fur and refuse, she strides up to me. “Half an hour, and leave this door open.”
Kate’s quick to get out of the way to let her pass before looking to me worriedly. “Ash, are you okay? I mean, can you play tonight?”
All of a sudden, I feel like an asshole.
I nod, not really sure. “Yeah, just let me get ready. We’ll get the band together for a quick rehearsal if possible.”
She smiles and leaves me to do as Kyla commanded, and I release a huge breath as I make my way into the master en-suite, trying to find the will to care. It’s a supreme effort, but I get myself cleaned up, however slowly.
“You’re five minutes late,” Kyla accuses as I flop onto one of the stools around the kitchen island freshly showered and dressed.
“I decided to dry my hair. Sue me.”
She places a thick sandwich in front of me and I stare at it. Her sandwiches aren’t normal. They have things like cucumber spread and bean sprouts in them, and there’s not a single slice of meat to be seen.
Apparently, since she’s a vegetarian, we all have to be.
A bottle of water and a bag of kettle chips make an appearance as well, and while I won’t admit it to her, it’s really good, definitely a vast improvement over the junk that I’ve been just barely surviving off of.
Kate digs into hers, Ethan’s still on his phone in the living room, and Kyla just stares at me as I tuck in.
“What,” I ask around a mouth full.
“So,” she asks, as if this is supposed to be all the clarification I need.
I mean, my last nerve is about to snap.
She rolls her eyes. “Explain yourself.”
I uncap my water and wash the last bite down before answering.
“I don’t need to explain anything.”
She takes a savage bite from her sandwich and I get the sneaking suspicion that she just needed to fill her mouth to keep it from exploding at me.
But then she swallows hard, which defeats the entire purpose.
“You don’t think that you need to explain yourself,” she asks calmly.
Um, no, I really don’t.
I shrug, opening the chips and crunching on one happily. The sadistic part of me is sort of doing a jig. It’s kind of nice to give back a little of the frustration that she’s been dishing out.
She wipes her mouth with a napkin and Kate’s head starts to bob between us nervously. We always fight, but this one is making her nervous.
“So you think it’s okay to just disappear when you want to, and then you don’t have to explain yourself?”
I scoff. “I hardly call taking some me-time in my room disappearing, Kyla.”
She nods almost mockingly. “So I suppose that Spencer trying repeatedly to text and call you without response, causing her to worry that something may have happened to you, is just ‘me–time’.”
She used air quotes…
Oh… I’d sort of turned off my phone to make it shut up, but that was Kyla’s fault. She wouldn’t stop harassing me.
“And,” she continues. “The fact that I had to explain to her that you’re not dead is also just part of that ‘me-time’ you took.” Okay, air quotes died in the 90s for a reason. “Therefore, no explanation is due.”
“I never asked you to talk to her for me.”
“You’ve had everyone worried sick, Ashley: Spencer, Shirley, Kate, me… even Ethan!”
I glance back at him in the living room and he holds up his finger again.
“You wouldn’t talk,” Kyla continues. “You wouldn’t come out; you couldn’t even be bothered to just say that you needed some time!”
She shakes her head. “No, you’re too selfish for that. You just disappear and leave me to deal with your shit, and if I hadn’t been here, no one would even know that you’re alive. Yeah, that’s not disappearing at all.”
“You know, Kyla, I have enough to deal with without you trying to butt in. I needed some fucking time, and this,” I gesture to her. “Is precisely the reason why. Spencer wouldn’t be calling if you hadn’t stuck your nose where it didn’t belong. Kate, Shirley, and even Ethan know that I do this from time to time.”
I glance at Kate who nods in agreement and Kyla glares at her.
Ethan just holds up that finger again.
I think I may have a finger of my own for him.
“They also know that I’ll eventually come back around.” Kate nods again, though more reluctantly. “But you… you just can’t handle it.”
“Because it shouldn’t be that way, Ashley! You can’t just check out every time things get difficult!”
“And this is exactly the problem, Kyla. You don’t seem to understand that I can do what I want, when I want. I don’t answer to anyone.”
She stares at me nonplussed. “So what, all of your relationships are one-sided? Everyone lucky enough to know you, just has to put up with whatever, whenever, without any obligation on your part to at least be courteous?”
I shrug. “This is who I am, Kyla; take it or leave it.”
She stands, throwing her napkin on the counter. “I guess I’ll leave it then.”
She makes her way to her room and after a moment, I follow her. By the time I get to the doorway, she’s already filling the bag that she first showed up with from the dresser.
“So you’re leaving,” I ask.
She laughs mockingly. “I don’t owe you any explanations.”
But this is the difference between me and her: I can accept that. I learned a long time ago that it’s futile to care because it always ends up this way no matter what. The problem is that you have to start out not caring or there will be some that sneak inside beyond the barriers. And by then, it’s too late.
So yeah, it’s Kyla. I care… even as much as I hate that I care.
“If… if that’s what you want…,” is all I can say.
She stops. “What I want is my sister back, but she obviously died a long time ago.”
Wow… that wasn’t even just a low blow. That was straight for the jugular.
But then… “Maybe you’re right.”
I mean, I’m not the Ashley with dreams, with humor, with Spencer; not anymore.
Kyla sags onto the bed, her shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry. That was…”
She shakes her head, and I find it in me to shrug off the emotions that I don’t want to feel. I’m so tired of feeling. And yet, it’s like I can never get rid of it altogether. It’s like no matter what, it’s there, lurking in the shadows and pulling me around like a puppet; I’ve just gotten so good at lying about it, hiding it, and sweeping it under a rug.
Why did I get up today?
Oh, right, obligations.
But I don’t want to owe anyone anything.
When did I start owing people things?
I glance over at the door to my room longingly. I could just shut myself up again…
I look back to Kyla and lean against the doorframe with crossed arms. She’s been attacking me from the minute that she so rudely woke me. I just need to hold it together long enough for her to finish and then maybe she’ll leave me alone.
“Look, I’m sorry. I just… you didn’t used to be this way. You’re so distant and it’s like you don’t care about anyone or anything.”
I sigh. “Kyla, I think I’ve proven that I’ve always cared about you.”
She nods. “I know. If it weren’t for you, I probably wouldn’t be alive.”
Nope. Our crack whore mother would have set her in the cardboard box turned bassinette and gotten high. That would have been it.
“This is my turn to take care of you,” she continues and I frown. Is that what’s happening? “But you won’t let me.”
“Kyla, I’m a big girl. I don’t need a mother.”
She looks up at me, her big brown eyes overflowing with tears. “I know that you don’t see it, that you’re independent and whatever, but you’re not okay, Ash. If I don’t fight to help you, no one will, least of all you.”
I throw my hands up in frustration. “What does okay even mean, Kyla? What’s so wrong with me that you think you need to fix me? I just wanted to be alone, eat take-out, and sleep!”
“You’re depressed, Ash…”
And that did it. “Of course I’m depressed,” I shout as if this should be obvious.
I start ticking off the list on my fingers. “Our mother gave me a disease that’s trying to kill me; then I had to pay her to help me so I could live a little longer; I may not live anyway; I gave up everything that I cared about to avoid hurting the people that I care about; and just when you convince me that there’s hope – that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to get some of it back, that I might not die, I find out that it’s impossible! What part of this isn’t depressing? Are you really so surprised?!”
Her tears stop and she stares at me for a long minute. “This is about Spencer…”
She said it as a statement, not a question, and I turn and slide down to the floor utterly exhausted. “It’s more than just Spencer. She’s just… kind of, the worst part.”
Kyla gets down on the floor and leans against the jamb across from me. “What do you mean?”
She shoves my leg. “Come on, just talk to me. Please…”
I lean forward and rest my head in my hands as I brace them against my knees. “Look, Kyla, Shirley found me by accident and took me in, so I survived. And then I kind of stumbled into the band, and I wound up with Kate and Ethan. And then you showed up… and it was almost like having a real life again. I started to feel hopeful, that maybe it was really going to be okay. I didn’t want to push it, but you did. You kept on and on, and brought Spencer into the picture. So, I went to see her, and I just kind of… lost all of that hope… again.”
That same hand is now resting gently on my leg. “Ash, I don’t get it. You haven’t lost Spencer. She’s been calling non-stop…”
I fist the hair at my temples. “I’ve lost her, Kyla…”
I know it’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s been four years. I didn’t expect Spencer to pine over me or become a nun, for fuck’s sake.
Why am I losing it now?
But then, I never really mourned losing Spencer the first time. I sort of just skipped all of the in-between and went straight for the bitter end. But now, now that I’ve seen her, felt her loss, I’m… grieving her.
It’s like this squeezing feeling in my chest that won’t stop and it’s making it impossible to breathe.
God, is this what it felt like for her?
How did she stand it?
“Ash…” Kyla pulls my hands from my head. “If you want Spencer back, then stop running from her. Fight for her…”
I start to laugh at the absurdity of her statement. “You’re joking, right?”
She clenches her jaw and folds her arms, and I just laugh some more. I mean, that’s one hell of a punchline.
“You think this is funny…,” Kyla’s voice is low.
I nod enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, it’s a riot.” I start to calm. “Thanks for that. I needed a good laugh.”
“What’s so funny about fighting for Spencer,” she asks bitterly.
“Well,” I clear my throat. “Let’s see… I could die, which isn’t even the worst part because if I don’t, and we’re together, and like ten years later I suddenly get sick again, then she’ll have to watch my hair fall out and clean up after me while I puke my guts out.”
She’s quietly staring at her lap. “Oh, and then the best part,” I pretend to be excited. “The best part is that I can’t even contribute to a family. I mean, best case scenario is that I die and leave her to raise our family alone. Or, I could just pass the disease right along…”
I feel the wind leave my sails. “Besides, Kyla, she’s happy. How unfair would it be for me to try and sabotage the life that she’s built for herself with someone healthy?” I shake my head. “I can’t do that to her. I ruined her past; I won’t ruin her future too.”
Kyla wipes at her eyes and realize that I feel a little better. Maybe that’s all that I needed to do: lay it all out there and just accept it.
“Okay,” Kyla says. “I’ll stop pushing.”
“Thank you,” I say almost desperately.
I poke my head around the corner to look for Kate, who’s now on the couch in the living room listening to her headphones while Ethan, surprise, is still on the phone.
I look back to Kyla. “So, are you still leaving?”
She gets to her feet. “I know it doesn’t matter to you, but I’m not ready to give up on you yet.”
“Kyla,” I groan, pulling myself up. “You just said you’ll stop pushing.”
She smiles. “Yup, and I will. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to make it easy for you to keep yourself closed off.”
I stare at her nonplussed. “That’s the same thing as pushing…”
“No it’s not. I’m not going to shove you in the right direction, I’m just gonna… kind of… stand in the way of the wrong one.”
I scrub at my face. “Kyla, I’m never going to be… okay, whatever that means to you.”
“We’ll see,” she bobs her head once, her smile unrelenting.
“Whatever,” I turn and make my way to Kate, pulling the ear buds from her head and startling her.
She looks up from her phone. “You guys good?”
I nod. “Let’s go play some music.”
She grins and waggles the phone. “Everyone’s waiting.”
About this time, Ethan finally snaps his phone shut. “So sorry about that! Anyway, there’s been a change of plans tonight.”
“We’re not playing,” Kate asks worriedly.
His smile is sleazy. “No, you’re going to play alright.” He rubs his hands together. “Now, get your sweet asses in gear. We need to rehearse.”
Practice was therapeutic and frustrating. Ethan was like a slave driver, and he wouldn’t speak a word about the changes to the show tonight. All he gave us was a new address and the fact that we were no longer headlining.
Jac and Jon were pretty pissed about it, but Kate took it in stride. Personally, I didn’t really care. Playing, no matter how big or small the crowd, helps me to focus on anything but life.
Rehearsal was no exception.
Or at least, for a time…
Now, I’m sitting at my vanity and putting the finishing touches on my hair and make-up, but it’s hard to focus because that life stuff is back in the forefront. I keep looking down at my phone hoping that it will buzz or ring or maybe stand up, flourish a top hat and cane, and start singing like that little cartoon frog.
But it doesn’t…
And it probably won’t…
And ultimately, it shouldn’t matter.
I worked up the courage to text Spencer and tell her that I’d been having a rough couple of weeks and I was sorry. It was a lame response, but it was the best that I could come up with. There really wasn’t a good reason, at least none that I could explain to her. How could I possibly say that I needed some time to let her go? How could I explain that I needed to settle the fact within myself that all I’d ever have is the memory of something perfect and the current picture of something so much less than enough?
I couldn’t, so I took the easy way out: vague disclaimers and another apology.
That was a few hours ago and she still hasn’t responded. I guess I just want to see something from her that will indicate whether or not things will be okay, whatever that means.
I know that she’s pissed at me, and she should be. She’d left several worried voicemails and texts. The worst part is that none of the things I keep doing to her are in any way her fault. It’s all me and my fucked up head.
I just wish that I didn’t care.
But I do.
I wish that I didn’t want more from her.
But I do.
Either way, it’s over.
I need to keep reminding myself of that.
We can go forward as friends now, if she still even wants that.
It’s debatable at this point, though…
“Ash, we need to go,” Kyla calls out from the living room. I sigh and look at the phone one last time before pocketing it and determining to just let it go.
Besides, I need to focus on the show, and God knows I could use the distraction, even if it’s only temporary. Kyla comes hopping up to my door as she clumsily slides on her remaining pump.
“You ready,” she asks with a smile.
“Yeah,” I reply with a sigh, the phone in my jeans pocket somehow heavy on my hip.
We make our way through the house to the mud room and I grab my keys and jacket.
“Did you put the rat away,” I ask as I sling the cool leather on and push up the sleeves to mid forearm.
“Her name is Sheezus.”
I stop and smirk at her. “Like the Lily Allen song?”
She nods and I can’t help but be a little proud.
We load into the Humvee and I scroll the ipod to said song, opening the sun roof and windows, and turning up the after-market Bose speakers to let the bass have its way.
Kyla laughs and we have a good time dancing, shouting the lyrics, and just being ridiculous on the way to some venue on Santa Monica. I even play some Katy Perry and Lorde in further tribute to her ferret, though I refuse to play Gaga.
I have some standards.
She just rubs me wrong…
The traffic starts to get really congested, way more than expected, and I glance at the clock on the dash. I wanted to be there at least an hour before the opening act, but the way it’s looking, we may only arrive just in time.
As we pull up to the address, I realize that it’s The Troubadour, and I can’t help but think that something’s very wrong. The Troubadour is one of the top venues in America. I mean, Elton John and Prince have played here… and that’s to name but a few.
This place has launched countless, epic careers…
“Oh my God, Ash…”
“This can’t be right,” I say as I pull around back. “We’re well known in WeHo, but not this well-known…”
There is a huge group of fans at the back door being corralled by one long, red, flimsy velvet rope, and they start screaming when they see us pull in.
I pull next to Kate’s rusted out Gremlin and park. Okay, so Kate’s here, but this still can’t be right. I glance over at the waiting crowd. Several girls have signs that ask Tegan and Sara for their hand in marriage, and that’s when my heart falls into my toes.
“Ash, are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah. But I might have to kill Ethan.”
I get out of the car, and when the girls in line see me, they let out a collective groan. It’s almost funny. I had no idea I had managed to disappoint the entire WeHo lesbian collective.
I’m on a roll today.
I grab Al and Lita from the backseat, and Kyla grabs my pedal board, and we make our way to the front of the line. Several dirty looks are given as we reach the behemoth standing guard at the door.
“You’ll have to wait in line like the rest.” He points a meaty thumb at the fangirls.
“Oh, um, I’m actually the lead singer for The Mourning After…”
He just stares at me dumbly. “I don’t care if you’re the pope. Back of the line…”
“No, you don’t understand…”
He crosses his arms over his chest and I swear his humungous man boobs twitch as if they have a life of their own.
“I don’t think you understand, girl. I said back of the line.”
“She’s playing here tonight, meat head!”
If I had a free hand, I’d be swatting at Kyla, because her mouth gets us both man-handled by our arms and shoved several feet away.
“You’re not stepping through that door at all now,” he says.
The girls in line clap and I try drill a hole into the dumb mammoth’s head with my eyes. I don’t do well with being manhandled.
I set my guitars down to pull out my phone, and my heart does a strange flutter when I see that there’s a text from Spencer.
My hands are almost shaking as I reply.
Once that’s sent, I move to text Kate.
My phone buzzes just as I’m about to put it away.
I really want to type ‘because,’ but I’m not trying to bury myself with her completely. Instead I respond with:
About this time, the girls next to us go nuts again and I look up to see Kate and Ethan step out behind the beast. The squeals become disappointed sighs and grumbles yet again.
My phone buzzes.
I don’t have time to reply before picking up my guitars and meeting them at the door. Pinhead the bouncer isn’t about to let us in though.
“These two are eighty-sixed,” he says to Ethan.
Ethan smiles at him before dusting some fake lint from his massive shoulder as if to placate him.
“Now, let’s not be hasty.”
The bouncer’s pecks twitch and Ethan drops his hand before swallowing harshly.
“Surely you wouldn’t want to keep these talented ladies from their adoring fans.”
He gestures to the line where not one of them knows us before quickly changing tactics. “But, if you want to go in there and explain to Cyn why the second act in the line-up won’t be here tonight…”
Dropping Cyn’s name works. Beads of sweat quickly form on the bouncer’s massive forehead. “Um, no, that’s okay.”
He steps out of the way and Kyla just can’t help herself. “Someone’s got your balls in her sling, doesn’t she, big guy?”
Ethan just laughs off the comment before giving me a dirty look, and Kate, bless her, restrains Kyla long enough to get her through the door in one piece.
Ethan rounds on us when the door shuts. “Are you two trying to get us killed?”
I look to Kyla. “Yeah, Kyla.”
She scoffs. “That guy is about as useful as a box of hair and he was power tripping. I’m not going to put up with that.”
I can’t help but smile at her.
“Well, keep it in check, will you? This is the Troubadour. Getting kicked out of here is musical career suicide.”
And that explains Ethen’s problem: Kyla threatened his paycheck.
I shove him on his shoulder, realizing that I’m still mad at him. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
He grins. “I wanted it to be a surprise. Besides, it was really last minute. The lead singer of Killola got food poisoning.”
Damn, that sucks.
“So, Tegan and Sara… seriously,” I ask.
He nods, that sleazy, self-satisfied grin in place, and for once, I can’t begrudge him.
Kate’s voice cracks with star struck awe. “Are they… here?”
“They’re in their dressing room, but they should be coming out anytime now.”
“Do the craycray girls waiting out back know that they’re already here,” I ask.
He shakes his head and I can’t help but chuckle. Poor saps… I wonder how long they’ve been waiting only to have missed the girls completely.
“They’re a part of the online fanclub. They’ll get to meet and greet the girls here in a little bit and then they’ll be let into the general admission floor before the rest of those standing out front.”
Wow, that seems like a load of bullshit. I’ve waited hours in line before to see The Used, in the rain no less, only to have some twits show up ten minutes before the show and waltz right to the front of the line because they pay a twenty dollar yearly fee.
No wonder the girls out back are so hostile.
Jac and Jon come bouncing up to us, excitement written all over their faces. “Oh my God, you guys! We just met Tegan and Sara!”
“What are they like,” Kate asks eagerly.
“Hot,” Jon says, to which Jac slaps her on the stomach.
“They’re really nice,” Jac clarifies. “Really down to earth.”
“Yes, yes, they’re very sweet,” Ethan says. “Now focus. After the first act, you guys will set up on the stage and do a sound check. You have to make set up and breakdown quick. You only have about ten minutes.”
We all groan. He’s such a nag.
“So that’s why you made us practice setting up and tearing down at rehearsal today with your little stop watch,” Kate says bitterly.
The drummer always has it the worst. Everyone else just wheels their rigs in, plugs them up, and plays. But being a drummer can be very tedious. Almost everything has to be assembled onsite.
“Quit complaining. I got us a gig at the Troubadour. This could be our big break.”
Oh, so now it’s ‘us’ and ‘our’. One fuck up and he’ll pretend he’s never met us.
“Okay, ladies. Go get warmed up and hydrated. The first act will be going on in about twenty minutes.”
He finally walks away and Kyla and I look around backstage, finding a beat-up old couch. We both plop down and I immediately pull my cell out to text Spencer back.
I can see Kyla watching me from my peripheral and glance over at her to find her staring at her fingernails. I glare at her suspiciously and my leg starts to vibrate with nervousness until the phone buzzing nearly sends me to the floor.
I sigh and I swear I hear Kyla hum out, “Mm Hm.”
I scowl over at her and she leans back in the couch, her hair of sudden interest to her. Kyla puts her hand on my leg to keep me from vibrating off of the couch.
I breathe deep and try to center myself.
I stare at the screen a little taken aback. I mean, she knows everything now. Surely she can put two and two together.
I mean… hello?
I want to laugh and then I want to tell her that I hardly doubt that others have it as hard as I do, but she won’t see it that way. In fact, I’m the only one who appears to see it that way.
I go for sarcastic to keep the bite out of my words.
Kyla snorts next to me and this time I catch her reading over my shoulder. She tries to play it off, but I know, and she knows that I know.
“Don’t you have something better to do,” I ask her.
She grins. “Nope. This little conversation should come with popcorn.”
I want to smother her right now but my phone vibrates.
What…? That was supposed to be sarcasm…
Okay, the bitterness is starting to seep out.
“Yeah,” Kyla says really close to my ear since she’s practically resting her head on my shoulder to read with me.
I decide to stick with sarcasm.
Kyla starts to laugh and I just stare at my screen dumbly.
I mean, what do I even say to that?
It’s the best that I can do…
Relief sweeps through me. I’m so thankful for neutral territory.
I turn to look at Kyla. She jumps up and down in her seat. “Let’s go get her!”
She stands and I grab her arm to pull her back down. “No, just wait.”
“Why,” she cocks her head at me.
I don’t answer her, I just start to text and she continues to read.
Kyla swats me on the arm. “You’re evil.”
I grin at her. “I know.”
My phone buzzes and we both turn our attention back to the screen.
I watch the fangirls charge through the back stage area like a herd of angry cats in heat as they’re led to the general admission area, Tegan and Sara getting mauled at the front.
I chuckle and Tegan must have heard because her eyes find mine and she winks at me.
“SHE TOTALLY WINKED AT YOU,” Kyla squeals.
And I’m a little excited about it too, but all I can really think about is Spencer and this ‘us’.
I slump down in my cushion. “Carmen’s with her, Kyla…”
“What,” she asks, her mind still star-struck. “Oh,” she finally catches on. “Well, duh,” she says. “Spencer doesn’t go anywhere without her. This is what I was trying to tell you earlier, Ash. She may think that she’s happy with Carmen, and maybe in some ways she is. I mean, Carmen’s a safe bet. But it’s not genuine happiness. Even you must see that.”
“Oh, well, I don’t know,” I say bitingly. “I might be too stupid to notice. I mean, this is me we’re talking about.”
She rolls her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. I just mean that anyone who knows Spencer can tell.”
“Yeah, even me,” I reply dryly.
“Well, you have been out of the fold for four years, Ashley.”
I think about it for a minute: is Spencer happy with Carmen? If she’s not, she certainly claims to be. She had nothing but good things to say about the sea witch. But mostly, there’s one pivotal thing that I lack with Spencer that the sea witch has in spades: trust.
I’ve given Spencer no reason to trust me since I left her, and I’ve already fucked it up again in the last two weeks.
And if I were to try to take her from Carmen, that would only further cause her to distrust me.
No, I have to do the right thing by Spencer, even if it’s the hard thing.
I shake my head. “I’m not going to try and break them up, Kyla. It’s not right, and that’s not how I’d want it.”
“What do you mean?”
I loll my head towards her in my slumped position. “I mean that if Spencer wants to be with me, she has to make that decision for herself. She’d be giving up all that safety for something that could go south of nowhere at any minute.”
She shrugs. “Okay, so maybe she would choose the safe relationship, but she needs to at least know that there’s another option…”
I mull that over for a minute before shaking my head again. The same principles still apply. “No, Kyla. It’s not right.”
“Whatever,” she says standing. “But she’s still our friend, and if you won’t, I’m going to go let her in.”
As if she has esp, Spencer texts:
I hold my hand up to Kyla and she sighs before helping me up. We make our way back to the door where buff and bald is still keeping watch.
He gives us a dirty look while we wait. But it’s not long before Spencer and Carmen round the corner hand-in-hand.
Spencer smiles brightly. “Thanks for getting us backstage,” she nearly gushes. “Tegan and Sara are Carmen’s favorite.”
Carmen doesn’t seem too happy to be here. Scratch that, she’s happy to be here, just not happy to see me.
“Thanks,” she mumbles when Spencer elbows her in the ribs.
I feel jealousy spike through me.
I miss having sore sides.
“No problem,” I say amiably. “I’m glad you’re both here.”
I’m not sure where that maturity came from, but Spencer seems very impressed.
And that’s when I realize precisely where it came from.
“Your band isn’t listed on the ticket,” Carmen says almost accusingly.
“It was a last minute change,” I reply. “The lead singer of Killola got food poisoning.”
Spencer cringes in sympathy and Carmen finds her opening to get a jab in. “Oh, so that’s why they called you.”
I can feel my eye twitch, but I force on a plastic smile. “Something like that.”
“Come on, you guys,” Kyla mediates. “The first band will be taking the stage any minute now and Ash still needs to warm up.”
Kyla, being the meddlesome person that she is, yanks Carmen with her, breaking her death grip on Spencer and pushing her through the door.
I hold back my laugh as I hold the door for Spencer. “After you.”
The bouncer scowls at me and I just grin at him before leaving him out there alone.
I notice Kate, Jon, and Jac in a far corner and nod towards them. “Want to come meet the rest of the band?”
Spencer smiles her reply, and we approach them. Kate has her drums ready to piece together on stage, and Jac and Jon are fighting over the lesbian wonder twins.
“I’m going to ask Tegan out for a drink after,” Jon says.
Jac scoffs. “She’ll be busy with me, Jon. But I might be able to convince her to bring Sara for you.”
Jon shrugs. “One’s as good as the other.”
“You’re both delusional,” I say. “Tegan already winked at me.”
They both look at me dumbstruck. “You’re full of shit, Davies.”
I shake my head. “Nope, total winkage.”
“It was probably an eye twitch,” Jon replies which sends everyone into a fit of giggles. Well, all but Kate, who looks as pale as a sheet.
Kate has serious stage fright just before a show. I’ve held her hair many times while she’s puked her guts out. But once she gets up there and starts to play, she’s fine.
“Anyway,” I say. “I want you guys to meet my friend, Spencer.”
Jon grins roguishly and holds out her hand. “Well, hello Spencer.”
Jac rolls her eyes. “She’s a shameless flirt.”
Spencer takes it all in stride, shaking both of their hands as they introduce themselves.
Kate seems to perk up a little bit. “Wait, the Spencer?”
I give her a warning glance and she fumbles a little. “I uh, I mean, um, hi!”
She thrusts her hand out so violently she nearly knocks over one of her cymbal stands. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
I glare at her again. “I mean, not finally… just… I’m gonna be sick…”
She turns and runs for the bathroom and I sigh. “I need to go take care of her.”
“That’s fine,” Spencer puts her hand on my shoulder. “I think I should probably find Carmen anyway.”
“Okay,” I say, shuddering as her hand strokes down my arm maybe an inch before falling away.
“It was nice to meet you both,” she says to Jac and Jon, and then, just like that, she’s leaving.
I watch her go, feeling a little sick myself.
“Davies is in love,” Jon sing-songs.
I break my eyes away from Spencer’s retreating form in time to see Jon and Jac high five each other. They’re unaffected by my glare and I make my way to the bathroom to find Kate.
She’s already at the sink rinsing out her mouth.
“How you holding up?”
She takes a deep breath and turns off the water before grabbing a paper towel. “You know how it goes.”
I nod and lean against the sink next to her.
“So, that’s the Spencer,” she asks.
I snort. “Yeah, and thanks for that by the way.”
“Sorry,” she grins. “You know I suck at subtlety.”
That’s one of the things I like about Kate. What you see is what you get.
Besides, “And you know how much I hate pretentious assholes.”
She nods and turns to lean against the sink with me. “So, you’re still in love with her.”
God, why does everyone just assume things instead of asking?
I try to shrug it off but that only makes Kate laugh. “I never thought I’d see the day, but… you got it bad, Davies.”
“She was my first.”
“We’re just friends now.”
God, it sounds ridiculous, even to my own ears.
“Uh huh,” Kate says. She puts a hand on my shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Let’s go warm up.”
She smiles at me before heading for the door, and this is another reason that I like Kate: she doesn’t pry or push. She just makes herself available.
I follow her out of the restroom and make my way to the couch area to grab Lita. It’s time to do some scales. We’ll be plugging right into the sound system, but we still get to use our own pedals, which is great. Hauling an Orange full stack is cumbersome.
I sling Lita on and start to loosen my fingers on the frets. I can’t hear any of it because the first band is in full swing, but I don’t need to. It’s all about location and majors and minors. I instinctively know which notes flow together as I climb my way up the wooden ladder and across the six strings.
“I’d forgotten what it’s like to watch you do that,” someone shouts in my ear. I turn my head to see Spencer watching my hands. “I always thought that it was amazing!”
I don’t miss a note as I lean in to reply to her. “Well, it was an amazing gift that made this possible for me!”
She beams at me when I pull back, and I mouth the words that I never said enough, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she mouths back.
Her eyes find something over my shoulder and she excuses herself. I turn to see Carmen, Kyla still firmly attached to her. I may not like the fact that Kyla butts in, but I can’t help but find her torture of Carmen hilarious. She won’t leave her alone, and I know that she’s only doing it to give me and Spencer opportunities.
Carmen slings her arm over Spencer’s shoulder and makes a show of kissing her and whispering in her ear.
I feel my stomach churn.
Carmen glances at me, smugness oozing off of her, and I let her have her moment, albeit grudgingly. She won Spencer fair and square.
And Kyla doesn’t know it, but there is no opportunity for me and Spencer.
Jac and Jon come over and start to work on their own scales, and Kate starts to stretch. It’s not long before we hear the first band call out that they’re on their last song, and we all look to each other.
Each of us has a touch of the jitters, but mostly, it’s just pure excitement. That’s what I love about music: the energy, the focus, the total control even as you lose it completely. It’s adrenaline, a drug, and I’m hopelessly addicted.
“You guys ready,” I shout.
Jac and Jon are beyond pumped and Kate’s pallor is more flushed than pale now. I grab a bottle of water from the economy sized pack near the stairs to the stage and hand it to her. She’s smart enough to sip it slowly.
I adjust my wireless sender, check the battery pack, and make sure the receiver and my pedal board are in easy reach. I feel hot, so I take off my jacket and look around for a safe place to put it, but I don’t trust it just anywhere with all of the fan club traffic through the area.
Kyla pulls Spencer and Carmen over, bubbling with excitement. “Is it time?”
I nod and hand her my jacket, and we all look out at the activity on the stage. They’re just a local band like us. I can tell that they’re going over-the-top though in an attempt to impress.
That’s what I hate about the music industry: bands get so desperate that they’ll sacrifice the music to get seen and heard. Everyone in this band is way overplaying their instrument, and it’s messing up the song.
It’s a good thing I’m rich. My band doesn’t have to worry about this crap. They know that we’ll still have funding whether this is the moment or not. I’m the reason we have Ethan, professional gear, the press kit, and our ep.
And I’m happy to do it. This is what I want to do with my life, however long that may or may not be.
The band finally stops posturing, the lights brighten, dance music fills the space, and they start to tiredly drag their gear from the stage.
It’s really time…
We move out of the way while they clear the stage, and then we each start to set up. I’m quick to plug my wireless receiver into one of the sockets in the floor at the front of the dais and get my pedal board situated beneath the mic. Jon and I both start to tune our guitars while Jac finishes setting up her keyboard and plugging it into the PA.
I notice that Kate still has a couple of pieces she hasn’t brought up, and I help her, bringing them onto the stage so that she can situate everything around her just so.
“How you feeling,” I shout.
“I’ll be alright, but thanks,” she responds.
Once I know that she’s good, I check everyone else, and I realize that we’re ready.
I click on my big muff – yes, that’s really what it’s called – and let a chord ring out. It starts low and then the sound tech cranks up the volume until it’s loud and ballsy.
I smile into the mic. “Check, check…”
It’s almost there. “Testing, testes, one, two, three…?”
The crowd chuckles and I give the sound tech a thumbs up. Jon goes next, doing a few Flea riffs until the levels are right, as well as checking her mic for backup vox.
Then Jac does a few scales on her keyboard, and of course, always last and least appreciated, the drummer.
Poor Kate. At least her color looks better…
Once we’ve confirmed that it’s all good, I decide to just dive right in.
“Alright, West Hollywood! Let’s show some love for The Dolly Rocks!”
There are a few claps and whistles and I want to laugh, but I just move on. “Are you ready to see TEGAN AND SARA?!”
Wow, that did the trick. They shout so loud that I can feel my hair blast back from the sheer volume and force.
“Alright, well we’re The Mourning After, and we’ll try to make this quick!”
Everyone chuckles and I decide to do something I’ve been avoiding all night: be petty.
“This song goes out to my good friend, Spencer!”
I glance over at Spencer as I kick us off into the song, and she brightens at the sentiment. Of course, Carmen’s less than pleased, especially when she hears the first and primary lyric of the song, “I hate your fucking girlfriend…”
Spencer didn’t beam so much after that, but I could tell that she found it funny, even though she was holding back for Carmen’s benefit. The set went off without a hitch, and the crowd was really into it. Of course, they wanted Tegan and Sara, so the energy wasn’t as focused as it had been in the last venue, but I know for a fact that we definitely won some hearts by the time that we were clearing the stage.
I helped Kate first before grabbing my receiver and locking up my pedal board. Kyla took Lita to put her away and to my surprise, Tegan and Sara are now standing side stage.
Carmen is talking to them animatedly but Spencer is watching me.
“God, you were amazing,” she says loudly in my ear as she gives me a tight hug.
I squeeze her back, enjoying the solid feel and smell of her before she pulls back all too soon.
“You guys really were awesome,” Tegan says, cutting off Carmen’s enthusiastic gushing.
“Thanks,” I say shyly.
I feel a blush creeping up my neck. I haven’t felt this way since I first fell in love with Spencer.
Speaking of which, she’s smirking at me.
God, she knows…
Of course she knows…
But as I look around me, it appears that everyone knows.
Even Carmen, and she’s trying to light me on fire with her mind. Too bad she doesn’t have the brain capacity for that.
Tegan and Sara move onto the stage as their roadies finish setting up, and the crowd goes nuts. They start to play I feel it in my Bones and I feel far too amped to just sit on the sidelines and watch. I want to be down in the crowd.
“Who’s coming with me,” I turn and ask our group.
Kate smiles. “I’m totally in!”
“You know we are,” Jon speaks for both her and Jac.
“No way,” Kyla says.
I look to Spencer.
“In for what,” she shouts.
I grin at her before pointing to the writhing crowd and watch with amusement as the blood drains from her face. But it only lasts a moment. The energy in the air is palpable, and I know that she wants to let it sweep her away.
All she has to do is let it.
She smiles and just as she’s about to agree, Carmen cuts in. “We’ll wait here!”
She puts her arm around Spencer’s waist, almost like a seatbelt, and I look into Spencer’s blue eyes, daring her to defy her girlfriend and just do what she wants. But she shakes her head, the blue fire in those eyes dimming, and I find myself beyond disappointed; not because she said no, but because she let someone else tell her no.
I shrug and take off at a run right for the edge of the stage where I stop and look to Tegan and Sara. They both grin at me, the noise of the crowd crescendos, and I take a step back, making my intentions clear.
They’re into it, so I know I’m safe as I leap off, turn, and land awkwardly on their hands.
Some of them get a little fresh with me, but that’s okay. The feeling of surfing over this enormous wave of adrenaline and sound is a cleansing experience. I spread my arms and legs, making myself as stiff as possible, and just let them sweep me away.
I tilt my head up in time to see Kate, Jon, and Jac follow, and all too soon, I’m being set down at the back of the crowd as the song comes to a close and blends seamlessly into the next.
I help the girls down from their own rides and we’re all laughing as we turn to make our way back stage, but that’s when we run into an older blonde in a tight, black leather vest and pants. Tattoos cover her ripped arms as she crosses them and looks down on us disapprovingly.
I see Ethan come running up behind her only to stop when he sees her, turn, and run away like a scared little bitch.
I knew he’d disown us…
“What do you think you’re doing,” she asks, only she doesn’t have to shout to be heard. Her voice is just that low and sharp.
This has got to be Cyn…
“We were crowd surfing,” I say back defiantly, mirroring her pose.
She looks me up and down and there are several long moments of tense silence and scrutiny before she smiles and chucks me on the shoulder.
It nearly sends me stumbling she hits so hard. “You got balls, kid.”
“Thanks,” I say. “I think…”
She laughs and escorts us backstage where it’s a little quieter. “You guys did a good job tonight. I’d like to book you with a couple of other acts over the next few months.”
We’re all speechless…
And as if he can smell the money, Ethan finally finds his balls, and pushes his way over to us. “Hey, wait! I’m their manager!”
He’s breathing heavily as she takes her hand and starts to pump it enthusiastically.
“Ethan Marks,” he says. “I represent these ladies.”
She sizes him up and I watch him tug at the stiff tie at his collar. It’s his nervous tick. “We’d be happy to negotiate.”
Cyn looks to me.
“He’s a douchebag, but he’s good at getting us shows,” I shrug.
“Fair enough,” she says.
She pulls a card from her pocket and hands it to him while addressing us. “I’m Cyn, and I’m the booker and manager here. I’ll be in touch.”
She looks over at Ethan a little disdainfully before turning and walking away, and Ethan stares at the card in his hands like it’s a crisp Benjamin. I can almost see the money-signs in his beady eyes.
Out of nowhere, he roughly pulls us all together for a hug and we each fight our way free.
“You guys did it,” he shouts, pumping the card into the air.
And with that, he just walks away. I turn to each of my bandmates and we all start screaming. This is the best night I’ve had in a long while. I feel wild, and free, and like nothing can touch me.
We make our way to the bar to have a self-congratulatory shot, and that’s where Kyla finds us.
“Add another to that line,” she tells the bartender.
“I need to see your ID,” he says and I smirk at her.
She smirks back, pulling an ID from her clutch and passing it to him. He looks at it skeptically for a moment, before handing it back and pouring a fifth shot.
I gape at her. Where’d she get a fake ID?
The shot shoved into my hand pulls my attention away and I look around us. “Wait, where’s Spencer?”
Kyla rolls her eyes. “Carmen wasn’t feeling well, so they decided to go.”
“But Tegan and Sara…”
“To the future,” Jon says as she raises her shot.
We all follow, but for me, like a ton of bricks, that word brings me back to reality.
Kyla puts her arm around me and whispers. “It’s still possible, Ash.”
I put my arm around her waist and find it in myself to toast to the future and mean it, because even if it’s a short one, I have one for the moment.
And I’ve always lived in the moment.
We knock the shots back. Kate and Kyla grimace as it burns all the way down, but I let the burn and everything about this night remind me that I’m here, and that I’m alive.
I need to quit asking for more.