“Hey, Chris, you’re really good,” someone says as he’s coming out of the men’s room. There’s a line down the narrow hall. These joints never have enough stalls. There were two guys pissing in the sink when he went in. The girl who gave him the compliment is hot but then they always are. She’s wearing a short leather vest, has one of those sexy haircuts streaked down the side. He’s been there a thousand times – literally – the band’s been on the road forever.
“Thanks,” he says.
The crowd’s closed in a little, seeing it’s him. “I mean it.” She reaches out and touches his arm. He can smell her perfume.
During the second set he tries not to look, feigning indifference, waiting for the ballad (third to last song), it’s then he’ll make eye contact, smile and look away. There’s some guy who’s been sitting with her most of the night, he’s been buying the drinks, some cowboy complete with a hat and a cherry red Mustang. They’re always the same as well, the best looking girl with the best looking guy. For the ballad the band covers Bob Seeger.
Here I am…
He knows she’s been waiting. He flashes the smile, as if it’s all part of the song.
…on the road again
She blushes and looks to the side. Mustang Man sees what’s happening, pulling her close, she ignores him. His body deflates, tires slashed, but he’s cool, he’s not a loser, he stiffens and waves down the bartender. Suddenly Chris feels like playing; the energy builds and they do an encore. The show ends to shouts and cheering and thundering feet. It feels like the early days. He catches the base-player’s eye, sees the drummer looking his way with a smile – they remember it too.
Later on as they’re loading out she’s still there. She left for a while but now she’s back, sitting with a friend by the door. It’s two AM. He walks up and the other girl makes an excuse.
“Hi,” he says, sitting across. The next part needs to be done: her name, her family, the boutique where she works in the mall, he has to listen. He knows she hasn’t a clue the band is six months away from being no band at all – there won’t be a third album. She’s still riding the fame off the first, making the same excuse they all made over the second – it was rushed. He’s guessing she’s never imagined the scene in her own life where she’s holding her second child and handing a maxed out credit card to another girl in that same boutique (though a different name now, several times over) and how she’ll drive home in the car she bought new the year before they got pregnant, how she’ll be wondering if her husband made it through the lay-off. Maybe she saw Mustang Man turned Mercedes Man at the annual Christmas Tree lighting the night before.
“I’m twenty-two,” she bursts out, surprising them both, “I have to get out of this town. I’ll do whatever you ask.” She’s got this look in her eye. He saw it once in a mirror, a lifetime ago.
“Take me with you?”
published 31 July 2013