by Albert Waitt
Published in the Literary Review, Spring 2001
I’m the wheelman as we leave San Francisco at seven in the morning. Although my head is pounding, it’s not a bad time to drive--everyone’s asleep. Bonehead’s six-foot-five frame is spread across the back of the cargo bay. He smells of dope, but none of us could pass for a rose. We haven’t showered in two days, since Sacramento. Jason is crashed out on a bed of duffel bags wedged between my Fender Twin Reverb and his drum cases. Bridget is curled in the passenger seat. Her coarse, black hair lies across her face and there’s a tiny bit of drool trickling out of the corner of her mouth. The seatbelt is tight across her chest and spreading open the Red Sox baseball shirt she’s wearing. Her tits aren’t the firmest things anymore, but I’m staring right at them, of course, as her eyes flick open.
“Enjoying yourself?” she says, smirking.
“For the moment.”
“If--I’m sorry. When we score with Sony tonight, you’ll say this was the best tour of your life.”
“I hope to hell you’re right.”
“Relax, Rex. You know the business.”
Bridget wraps the shirt around her and rests her head on a scrunched up towel against the window. Her eyelids flutter and close. The sun makes her pale skin seem gray. In front of a microphone, when it’s dark and the red and yellow and blue lights are on her, she looks like she did ten years ago when she was twenty-five. I’m no different. My stage gear consists of a baggy, black T-shirt, and my Telecaster is slung low enough to hide the gut I’ve acquired on a cheeseburger and Budweiser diet. When I let loose on a lead, I never bend down to look at my strings in the classic guitar-hero pose. I don’t need an audience gaping at the bald spot spreading from the crown of my head.
By the time we get through Monterey, I’ve had three cups of coffee; if my hands weren’t gripping the wheel they’d be shaking. I tell Jason to get his ass up and look out the window. We’re on the edge of Pacific One, climbing and twisting through Big Sur. Beneath us boulders are being walloped by meaty blue waves. Spray shoots up and then disappears. It’s Jason’s first time on the west coast, but the kid won’t budge. Join a band and see the ceiling of a rented Ford.
Tonight we’re playing the Snake Pit in LA on Sunset Boulevard, the place owned by Timber Franklin, the actor who considers himself a musician. The entire tour was set up around this one gig, a showcase for a Sony Records’ Vice President named Vince Jerrison. According to Alfred, our manager back in Boston, if Jerrrison likes us, he’ll produce a contract. In itself, signing with a major label is no guarantee of a number one song or fat bank account, but it gives you a chance. I’ve been sleeping in vans and playing for my cut of short money for seventeen years--the last two with Bridget--and have never had a better shot. It’s our time. But if things don’t work out the way the they should, the three weeks of shows we have scheduled as we make our way back to Boston will be my last. I haven’t mentioned this to the rest of the band yet. We’ve got enough problems.
“I can’t take it,” Bonehead says, as soon as he sits up.
“Too bad, my friend.” One of the rules we have is that the driver controls the radio. I play country and western. There are hundreds of dishwashers in Nashville who can play guitar better than all but a few of the guys you see on MTV. Even if I have to suffer through lyrics about some sap getting tossed from his trailer, there’s always a neat lick to be swiped from a country song. I’ve had my share of rock and roll clichés. The rest of Bridget Holly and the Bootlickers hate C and W, which is another reason I play it.
“Can we stop? I have to call Kara.” Jason, who’s been awake three minutes, starts his mantra.
“Sorry.” He’s twenty-one and has no excuse for having less fun than I am. “Come on, Rex.”
“The driver’s the law,” I tell him. Bridget looks over at me and grins. If Kara hadn’t had to take summer classes to get her degree, she’d probably be the fifth body stinking up this van.
“How long before we get there?”
“She’ll be in class by then,” he pleads.
“No distractions for you. You need to focus on beating the drums. It’s like in boxing: fighters aren’t allowed to have sex before a match; it takes away their legs.”
“Speaking of sex, I’m going to bag me an actress tonight.” Bonehead walks hunched-over to the front of the van. “The Boneman is ready for the big time. I figure Jennifer Love Hewitt is about right for the major label artist I will be as of tonight. I hear she hangs at the Snake Pit.”
“Who gave him my Spin?” Bridget asks.
“I didn’t know he could read,” I reply.
“No fear. The Boneman will remember you little people. Jenny and I’ll have you out to the pool. We’ll need someone to clean it.”
“I need to call,” Jason says. “Kara’s going to have my ass.”
“Someone ought to get her hands on that cute bum of yours, Jason,” Bridget says. The kid has the looks of a front man: dirty blond hair, muscles, handsome face. Bridget maintains if he could sing, she’d be out of a job.
“He could’ve had that waitress at Slim’s, but he bailed,” Bonehead says.
“I have no desire to cheat on my girlfriend.”
“What if Jennifer Love Hewitt comes on to you tonight?” I ask.
“I’ll give her to Bonehead.”
“What if Bonehead’s already with Heather Locklear? What you would you do then, Jason?” Bridget winks at me.
“I’m human. I’d think about it. But I couldn’t do it.”
“He probably feels guilty if he jerks off,” Bonehead says.
“You’re missing the point of all this,” I tell Jason. “Don’t you know about the two-hundred-mile limit?”
“We’re not fishing, old man.”
“It’s international waters. Anything goes.”
“You haven’t got laid on this trip and you don’t have a girlfriend. What’s your excuse?”
“I’m not Bonehead,” I say. “I’ve got standards.”
Bridget snickers. She’s seen some of my mistakes. We’ve been friends a long time, and Boston is a small town when it comes to music.
“I’ve got to take a piss, pull over at the next exit,” she says. “Let the kid call his girlfriend. We can’t afford the negative energy today.”
What Bridget wants, Bridget gets--it’s a matter of respect. We’re only going as far as she can take us. Five years ago her band, The Stalkers, was signed to Capitol. They had a hundred-thousand dollar recording budget, advertising, marketing, and tour support which included a custom motor coach. Her picture showed up in the “Random Notes” column of Rolling Stone. She played on Letterman and Conan O’Brien. But their album died in the racks, and they got dumped by Capitol before they got a chance to do a second. Now Bridget’s riding a van again, and you can find The Stalkers in the cut-out bin at Newbury Comics for eight dollars, only two aisles away from where our self-financed and self-produced Bridget and the Bootlickers sells for twelve-ninety-nine. This business can make a real job look pretty good sometimes.
Back in Boston, I work as a carpenter for a guy who actually likes the music. The Bootlickers play every hole from Boston to New York, and my boss understands when I need a Friday off to play a gig in the Village. But he’s not happy about me leaving for six weeks in the middle of the summer while he’s got two projects underway. “Don’t do this to me again,” he said on my last day of work. He hated to say it, and couldn’t even look me in the eye when he did, but he’s got reality to deal with. If we weren’t frying ourselves out here on the road, I’d be working overtime and putting money in the bank. Last year, for the first time in my life, I had a statement with four numbers to the left of the decimal point. I finally qualified for a credit card and paid my rent on time each month.
To make it in music, you’ve got to be like Bonehead, who at twenty-seven, can’t imagine himself doing anything else; or like Bridget, who has absolute faith in herself. When you’re worrying about your day job and the balance on your new Mastercard--or you’re homesick for your girlfriend and the lousy apartment you share in Allston--it doesn’t make things any easier. For Jason and me, the one hour a night we’re on stage is fun, but it’s not always enough.
If Timber Franklin didn’t own the Snake Pit, it wouldn’t have made Spin’s “Hot Clubs of the Country” list. The place isn’t darker or dirtier than any of the other dives we’ve played on this tour. After loading in the equipment, Bridget and I sit at the bar to write up a set list. I have a glass of water in front of me. A roach crawls out of the tip well and strolls right up to the plastic cup and stops, as if he expects me to move it for him. Even the insects are Hollywood. This is not a good sign. Musically speaking, Bridget Holly and the Bootlickers happen to be the ultimate anti-Hollywood band. Our sound goes against all current trends. Instead of sucking the soul out of our songs by adding layers and layers of vocals and instruments, we use just one vocal track, one guitar track, one bass track, and whatever’s needed for the drums. It’s sparse and bare. We let Bridget’s throaty voice stand naked, out in front of the music. It’s the way Buddy Holly did things and it works because of Bridget. The girl has it. Even when she’s answering phones for her father--“Dr. Millstein’s dentist office, can I help you?”--her voice sizzles.
The manager of the Pit, Jackey Timpson, arrives at five-thirty, looking like she just rolled out of bed. She confirms that Vince Jerrison is coming to the show but rolls her eyes, as if he’s a real pain in the ass. It wouldn’t surprise me. These industry guys say one thing and mean another. I’ve heard, “You guys are great,” enough times to know it translates as, “I don’t think so.”
Timber might be a lousy singer, but he’s okay. We get free beer and a food buyout. Jackey gives us ten bucks a head to eat on, a real bonus. She directs us to the Do-Drop Inn a mile down the road that’s fifty bucks a night for bands playing the Pit. But she doesn’t recommend leaving the equipment in the van overnight. So we’ll either have to haul it into the room, which will not happen at three in the morning, or one of us will stand guard and sleep in the van.
When we check in, Bonehead asks if anyone famous has OD’d here. This almost disqualifies us for our discount because the desk clerk, a middle-aged, round Mexican woman, does not find it humorous. The carpet in the room is stained and yellow, and the spreads on the two queens are so thin that my Mom wouldn’t even bother to cut them up for dust rags. It’s one of the nicer places we’ve stayed at; the water in the shower is hot. We’ve spent a lot of nights these past three weeks on friends’ floors. Any cash we can save on lodging, we can spend on luxuries like food and coffee and beer.
Bridget goes out to dinner with her old rep from Capitol, a guy who now sells Mercedes in Beverly Hills. Bonehead teases up his hair and decides to walk down the strip. After getting off the phone, Jason turns on the Jetsons, and I watch with him. All I can think about is Jerrison seeing me snap strings as I launch into a lead. I imagine the batteries in my fuzzbox dying midway through the set even though they’re only a week old. I consider the possibility of forgetting chords to songs I wrote. I flip through an LA Weekly but can only look at the pictures. I’ve played bigger places than the Snake Pit--including the Garden in front of fifteen thousand people in a WBCN festival show--and never had thoughts like these entering my head. I’m sweating. I wouldn’t be getting worked up like this if all I were doing was framing houses.
“Come on, Jason,” I say. “I’ll buy you a beer.” We head down Sunset toward the Pit. As we look for a bar I remember what I like about LA. The greatest women in the world live here, if you go for things like looks. I drag Jason into a place called The Blue Agave. We follow a slalom course of potted cacti to a courtyard and sit at a small wrought iron table. Mexican folk guitars hang on the walls. Thirty-seven margaritas are described in the menu. A tanned blonde in a flamenco dress with ruffled sleeves and a plunging neckline comes over to the table. Her hair falls halfway down her back. She couldn’t walk across the street in Boston without being hit on five times by men in suits, but in California she’s just another orange in the orchard.
“Hi, I’m Gerrette, your margarita mamacita. What would you like?”
“They make you say that, right?” I ask.
“I’ll have a frozen strawberry margarita,” Jason says.
“You are such a kid.” I shake my head and Gerrette grins. “Bring us a couple with Sauza Commemorativo, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice, up, with salt, please.” It’s the way they’re supposed to be made.
“I’ll have the strawberry, please,” he says.
“Drummers don’t drink frozen pink cocktails, Jason.”
“So you guys are in a band?” She couldn’t be less excited.
“Yeah, we’re playing the Snake Pit tonight,” I say.
“No kidding.” She goes off to get our margaritas.
“She was impressed,” Jason says, laughing at me.
“She’ll be at the show tonight.”
“She thinks you’re an ass.”
“I want you to enjoy this,” I tell him. “I’m doing it for your benefit.”
“Not interested. You’re the one who’s uptight. You need it more than I do.”
“I’ve had my share of cheap, fulfilling sex. If I went home with someone now, it would be for her shower.”
“I know you’re waiting around for Bridget.”
I shake my head. “If it were going to happen between us, it would’ve a long time ago.”
“Bonehead calls you two the star-crossed virgins.”
“There’s a reason he’s called Bonehead, you know.”
“But you’d like to see me acting more like him?”
“No, I’d like to see you having fun. I used to love being on the road when I was your age.”
“What happened?” Jason asks.
“I’ve done this too many times without anything to show for it. I don’t know that I see the point anymore.”
“Are you still talking about chicks?”
I want to tell him I’m not, but I’m saved by the waitress.
“Do you like rock and roll?” I ask, as Gerrette places our drinks in front of us.
“Are you any good?”
“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t. We’ve got the best drummer in the business, Jason Jackson.” I aim a finger across the table.
“This is LA. Everyone’s somebody,” she says.
“We’ll put you on the guest list. Money back guarantee. If you don’t like us, we’ll buy you a drink.”
She smiles. “If I don’t like you, I certainly won’t want to drink with you. But I might be able to make it,” she says, and wanders off to another table.
“She’s perfect,” I tell Jason. “Beautiful, nice, a snappy dresser, brings you alcohol. She shows up tonight, you better be all over her.”
He rolls his eyes and takes a sip of his margarita.
“How’s your frozen Pop Tart?” I ask.
I slide him mine to taste. “Too much tequila,” he says.
He misses the point but I’m tired of badgering him. The sweetness of the tequila is offset by the bittersweet of the Cointreau and the tartness of the lime, and it’s all complemented by the salt around the rim. It’s a concert in a fiesta glass and it’s damn tasty.
We finish our drinks and go look for a laundromat.
Our dressing room is the size of a closet. Bonehead practically decapitates me with an elbow trying to put on his leather pants. Bridget wears her red skirt and the tight black top that zips in the front. She’s five-nine, almost my height, and our eyes meet constantly. She’s all confidence as she musses up her hair until it looks like she’s had a real good time. Meanwhile, I’ve got a death-grip around my beer. We’re warming up for this LA band, The Galloping Guppies, but drag our feet going on because Jackey warned us that Jerrison has a habit of being late. For the first time on the tour, we’ve got a packed house.
We follow Bridget onto the stage. She drapes her head over the microphone and slowly raises her right arm. The guys up front on the dance floor are howling and if I were in the audience, I’d be howling with them. Jason taps the sticks: one two three four. I hit an E and the fog-like thickness of the sound calms me. My hands are shaking but now it’s adrenaline pumping through them. Bridget jerks the mic stand back and on the same beat Jason pounds his set. We’re off and we’re cooking.
Jason bangs away like the illegitimate son of Charlie Watts, and Bonehead follows him as if their rhythms are chained together. Bridget’s voice aches with desire and hurt and lust. Just by looking at the audience, without hearing a sound, you could tell she was on. I’m playing a fill on “Stabbing Back,” our third song, and I notice her watching me. An intimate smile rises on her face, as if something is about to explode between us. My playing is sharp--chugging out a rhythm, then a quick lead, then back into the soul of the song--and it’s all in service to the music. There’s a reason Keith Richards is a god; he’s part of his songs, playing them from the inside out and never imposing himself on them. I look around the stage and see Jason and Bonehead beaming. Halfway through the show, it’s as if the four of us have to do nothing but let it flow. The set builds and as we climax with “Shreds of my Heart,” the crowd is throbbing and bouncing in unison. We get called out for an encore, which is a rare for a supporting act. We finish with “Shakin’ All Over” and I let rip with a lead that’s got people bouncing and spilling beer, and when Bridget takes it home, everyone is screaming along with her.
I’m totally spent but don’t even feel the weight of my amp as I haul it offstage. I don’t feel as if I have weight, either. I’ve played thousands of shows and can’t recall more than one or two that could approach this one. We couldn’t have been better.
Vince Jerrison is waiting with Jackey outside our dressing room.
“That’s the best set we’ve had here in months,” Jackey says.
Jerrison nods. “Let me buy you guys a round of drinks.”
Bridget and I pull rank and have Bonehead and Jason stow the equipment. Jerrison leads us to the back of the club. We pass Gerrette and a friend in the middle of the room. I wave and smile and give her a little two-minute sign.
Vince claims a space for us at the end of the bar, where it’s not so crowded. He’s wearing one of those fifty-dollar designer T-shirts and jeans that aren’t 501’s.
“You guys were great,” he says.
I refuse to acknowledge the possibility that this is the “industry speak” brush off. We were just too on-fire. I catch my reflection in the mirror behind the bar; I’m grinning like a fool. So is Bridget. I take a swallow of Budweiser and it tastes of Champagne. Vince starts telling us how retro we are, as if we don’t know our own style.
“Of course, that’s not what’s hot now, but who can tell what’s coming next,” he continues.
His eyes make the circuit from Bridget’s to mine to her chest.
“You can be the one who ushers in that next trend,” Bridget tells him. “We’re ready to get it going.”
“From ‘Peggy Sue’ to ‘Watching the Detectives’ to us. It happens every twenty years and we’re right on schedule. We’re money.” I tip my beer to him.
“Hey, damn straight. We’ve got some great people at Sony who could really do a lot for you. Yeah, I could see us working with you. Let me think who we could get to produce, someone who could really do something with your sound. Punch it up a bit.”
Bridget and I exchange a glance. If they’re serious about you, these clowns who have never picked up a guitar will craft a detailed three-year plan off the top of their heads in thirty seconds.
“Your manager sent me the CD. Interesting, but awfully simple. Have you done a video?”
“Not as the Bootlickers. I was the lead singer for The Stalkings. We were on Capitol and hit heavy rotation on MTV for a week in ninety-three.”
“I don’t believe I know the piece.”
“She’s a goddess on the screen, Vince.”
“Oh, did you do an ancient Roman thing or something?” Jerrison asks.
“It was a performance clip,” Bridget says, without a hint of frustration in her tone. I signal for another beer. We know Alfred sent him the video last month.
“I wonder what theme would work with your current style.” Vince strokes his neatly trimmed goatee. He looks around the room. “We’d probably have to do something to make you people more contemporary.”
“Sony’s put out some great disks this year, Vince,” Bridget says.
“We’re a very progressive label.”
And we’re a throwback band. As soon as the bartender comes by, I order a shot of Sauza Commemorativo because that’s all we’re going to get out of Vince. He doesn’t like our sound. It’s as if the other four hundred people in the place, who were digging us, didn’t exist for him. He’s just pissed on the best show I’ve ever played.
I’m sure Bridget is every bit his equal in negotiation, except now she has no postition. But even if she realizes he’s not thrilled with us, she’ll keep after him until he tells her “no,” with that exact word. I want to grab her and explain that’s it’s not her fault this guy has no vision. If I listen any longer I’ll end up tossing Jerrison out on his butt. That’s what Keith Richards would do. But I’d probably break my hand on Vince’s square jaw and not be able to swing a hammer when we get home. Instead, I grab my beer and drift down to Gerrette and her friend, who have been joined by Bonehead and Jason.
“Well? What did he say?” Bonehead asks.
“Word for word?”
“Spill it, man.”
“He said, ‘You guys were great,’ and then tried to figure out what producer at Sony they could get for us.”
Jason lets out a whoop and so does Bonehead. We’re all high fiving. The girls are kissing us like they’re part of it, too. I can’t bring myself to tell them what it means. This is Bonehead’s dream and Jason’s, and mine, for that matter. After that set, these guys deserve a few hours of feeling like they’re the Stones, and I’m not about to take that away. I decide to crawl into a bottle of tequila.
Gerrette’s friend Mare orders a round of shots for us. She’s taller than Gerrette and her skin looks so soft I want to reach out and touch her. Mare’s dressed in cutoffs and a sleeveless top, and Gerrette’s minidress looks smaller than my shirt. I smile. We clink glasses and drink a toast to Sony.
We move the party to a booth. When we go to sit down, Mare places herself right next to Jason. He’s too excited or clueless to notice. Gerrette maneuvers into my side of the table. Bonehead is left hanging off the end in a chair. They’ve already made up their minds. Sometimes it’s this easy. It might be the only thing that’s easy for the next month. We go through the usual bullshit, how the tour is going, how much longer we’ve got on the road, what it’s going to be like recording for Sony. Through holes in the crowd I watch Jerrison and Bridget. He talks, motioning with his hands, which he sometimes places on her white arm. She nods and drinks her beer.
“So where are all the actresses that come in here?” Bonehead asks. He’s clued into what’s going on at this table. But he knows how to look cool. He doesn’t jump right up.
“Mare’s an actress,” Gerrette says. “She’s on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“No kidding? That’s Kara’s favorite show.” Maybe Jason has figured it out and is on the defensive.
“A friend of his,” I explain.
“Winona Ryder was in here last week,” Mare says.
“What about Jenny Love Hewitt?” Bonehead wants to know.
“I heard she’s a homebody. But she’s on Fox and I’m on the WB, so I don’t really know her.
“Didn’t you see Timber come in?” I ask Bonehead.
“He was behind the bar just before we went on. Find him and you’ll find Jennifer Love Bug or whoever you’re looking for.” He finishes his beer as his eyes spin the room looking for Timber who, to the best of my knowledge, is not here. As soon as he can use the “I need a drink” excuse, Bonehead bolts.
“I thought drummers were supposed to be sweaty and fat,” Mare says, squeezing Jason’s biceps.
“We had showers today and we can’t afford enough to eat to get fat.”
She smiles at him and I know he’s picturing her on television. It’s easy to do.
“You guys must meet a lot of women,” Gerrette says.
“Sometimes it can’t be avoided.” I say. “Waitresses like to follow us home.” She slugs my shoulder and laughs.
“You know, my girlfriend loves Buffy. It’s her favorite show.” Jason starts cackling.
“What about you?” Mare asks him. “Do you like it?”
“I’ve never seen it, really. I think we practice on Tuesdays. But it must be great.”
“You’d be terrific in a video, Jason,” she tells him.
“Only because I’d be hidden behind a drum kit.”
“Oh, no.” She brushes a hand through his hair. “You need to be up front. You’ve got a look.”
She probably also has the impression that he’s a fantastic actor because no one could be this humble in real life except for a dopey kid from New Hampshire, which he is.
“I think you’d fit into a Keifer Sutherland role. Handsome but not too pretty.”
“Not too pretty is right.”
I order another round of Commemorativo. If I’m going to have to listen to this, I’m going to need one and so is he.
“So, Gerrette, are you an actress, too?” I ask.
“No. I’m a writer. I’m trying to get a sitcom in development.”
“What’s it about?”
“A waitress who wants to be a writer.”
“I see. Any luck?”
“Not yet, but luck can change in an instant. Look at the Bootlickers.”
We get plastered. Jason loosens up enough so he’s got Mare’s mouth open and is inspecting for fangs. He hasn’t called Kara tonight, a first. But after a set like we just played, you move beyond your normal thought processes. Now that you’ve achieved a higher state of rock and roll, you think it’s going to be this transcendent all the time. The hangover we need to worry about won’t be caused by beer and tequila. When we play San Diego tomorrow night, we won’t have a label interested in us anymore--we’ll just be another beat-up band playing in a crummy dive. The energy will be gone and so will the fun. I hold hands with Gerrette under the table. Her green eyes are bright like little Japanese lanterns. Bridget and Jerrison keep talking. He’s close, as if he’s whispering record company secrets to her. Gerrette squeezes my hand and I’m even more tempted to get up and kick Jerrison’s ass now than I was an hour ago.
When the staff begins to clear the place out, I leave Jason with the girls and walk up to Bridget and Jerrison at the bar.
“How’s everyone doing?” I ask.
“Fine, man.” His eyes are glassy. “Super show tonight.”
Bridget slides over and puts her arm around me. This is how she takes herself off the market when she’s getting hit on after a show. Her hair smells like cigarette smoke.
“So do you have our contract ready to sign?” I ask Jerrison. “I’ve got a pen.” I try to make it sound like I’m joking, but don’t hide the sarcasm well.
Vince looks at us and assumes we’re closer than he originally thought. “Listen, I’ll give Albert a call tomorrow. We can work with you.” He shakes my hand and then kisses Bridget on the cheek. He sways as he walks off.
“At least he would’ve fucked me before he fucked me,” Bridget says. She buries her head in my shoulder. I massage the back of her neck.
“Let’s get the goddamn gear out of here,” she says, straightening up.
Bonehead has disappeared, probably on a hunt for an STD. Gerrette and Mare wait as Bridget, Jason, and I load the van. I go with Bridget as she drives back to the Do-Drop. Jason follows in Mare’s car with her and Gerrette.
“What are you two doing tonight?” Bridget asks. There’s another rule. No one brings a friend home to the room. “If you guys want to use the motel, I’ll sleep in the van.”
“No, I’ll rough it.”
“So you finally managed to corrupt Jason.”
“He ought to get something out of tonight. I couldn’t tell those guys that Jerrison was yanking us.”
“He might call Alfred tomorrow, you never know.”
“You don’t believe that,” I say.
“Well, I’m not giving up, either.”
“Good for you. I should have knocked that asshole’s teeth out.”
“That would have helped the cause,” she says, as if I shouldn’t have even had the thought.
The parking lot of the Do-Drop is behind the motel and three out of the four floodlights are smashed. The one that works appears to be at half strength. Bridget trudges up to the room. Gerrette and I sit on the trunk of Mare’s Honda, holding hands again. Mare and Jason are standing across from us, arm in arm. We each have a beer that I smuggled out of the dressing room in my bag.
“You guys want to go back to my place?” Mare asks.
“We’ve got to leave early in the morning,” Jason says, and giggles. It’s the line I’ve taught him to get out of situations like this. But he’s always preferred, “I have a girlfriend.”
“We’re not heading out until noon,” I say. If he didn’t look like he was having so much fun, I’d let him weasel out of this. But his tomorrow isn’t anything to look forward to; he might as well enjoy himself.
“I’ve got a Jacuzzi and a bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge,” Mare says.
“I can’t leave the van out here and I’m too drunk to drive it,” I say.
“I’m not going if you’re not,” Jason says. They sway to the music on Mare’s stereo, Frank Sinatra of all people.
“Go take a Jacuzzi,” I say. “She’s not going to bite you.”
“I promise.” She nibbles his ear and he wiggles his head. His arm tightens around her.
“I’ve never been in a Jacuzzi,” he says.
“When are you going to get another chance like this?” I ask. “I’ve got to stay with the van and Gerrette was just telling me how she always wanted to spend the night in a Ford. So get out of here, Jason.”
“Come on.” Mare guides him to the front seat.
“Okay, but I’m keeping my boxers on.”
She starts the engine.
“You know you can get in now and he won’t even notice,” I tell Gerrette. “It’s cool if you want to go. I wouldn’t sleep in this piece of shit if we didn’t have the gear in there.”
“No way,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to spend the night in a Ford.”
We climb in and I dig out the sleeping bags and lay them lengthwise across the floor, in the midst of all the cases and amps. Gerrette finds a blues station on the boom box. I roll down the windows a few inches and flop onto the nest I’ve fashioned.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I ask.
She gets up off the passenger seat, moves into the back, and steps out of her dress. She’s a shadow in the moonlight except for the white silk of her thong. “I can see you smiling,” she says.
I hold out my hand and she takes it. Facing me, she wraps her legs around me and tugs on my shirt. Before she can pull it over my head, there’s a knocking on the passenger window.
“Rex, are you in there?”
When she finishes with my shirt, I kiss her and tell her I’ll be right back.
Bridget’s outside, still in her skirt from the show. I can see the outline of her breasts under a thin white Tee. Her hair has been pulled back and her make-up washed off.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“I’m going to feel like shit tomorrow.”
“I’m already there.”
“That show was fucking perfect,” I say.
“You’re not going walk away when we get back, are you?”
“I can’t see how playing in a cover band on weekends could be any worse than this.”
“I can’t lose you, Rex.” She takes a step toward me.
“You’re just feeling down. It’s this fucking business.”
“No, it’s not just that.”
There’s enough light to see that her eyes are bloodshot and moist. I lean in and kiss her. Our tongues swirl and press against each other. My hand finds the small of her back and I pull her close. We fit together like notes of a chord. Then her arms come between us, her tongue flicks away, and I’m left reaching as she pulls back. She holds her hand against my chest so I don’t follow.
“I’m sorry, Rex, but it’s the music,” she says. “I’ve never had a partner like you. We’ve got a connection when we write and I’ll never find another guitar player who knows what these songs need like you do. Please don’t quit me.”
“I’ve got a friend,” I say, nodding to the van so I don’t have to look at her. A night’s worth of tequila begins to burn a hole through my stomach.
“We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?” she asks.
“If you want.”
She turns and walks slowly back up to the room. She waves before going in.
“Is everything all right?” Gerrette asks when I return. She’s lying naked on the pile of sweat-stained sleeping bags, just where I left her.
“Business,” I say.
She raises her arms and I climb on top of her. I try to banish Bridget from my mind. Gerrette’s kiss tastes of Kaluha and sour milk. She wriggles and moans and I’m sliding in and out of her. Everything’s soaked. Her hands are clawing my back and I want it over. She’s getting louder and louder, and the van is creaking. It seems like I’ll never be able to come. When she finally climaxes I roll off of her. She crawls next to me and runs her tongue along my neck.
“You sure know how to rock and roll,” she whispers.
Anything but that, I think.
There’s a quiet tapping on the passenger door. Sunlight sneaks through the louvers on the rear window in ruler-like lines. Gerrette is tucked under my arm and her thin legs are wrapped around one of my thighs. Her hair spreads out across my chest. The condom I had swiped from Bonehead’s bag sits on the amp next to us like a worm after a rainstorm.
The knocking starts up again.
“Give me a minute.”
Gerrette stirs and squeezes me with her arms and legs. Her face is streaked with smeared black eyeliner. It must be a hundred degrees already.
“It’s busier here than LAX,” I say, and throw on a pair of shorts. She reaches for her dress.
The pavement is grainy under my bare feet. Jason’s leaning against the side of the van. His mouth hangs open as if he can’t get enough air. I won’t even try to duck if he takes a poke at me.
“I went in the Jacuzzi,” he says. He looks down at his once-white Chuck Taylor’s and then raises his eyes to meet mine.
“And Mare’s not really on Buffy. She had a one-line, one-time role.”
“Christ.” I don’t know what to tell the kid.
“Why did she have to be so fucking good?” he shouts.
Jason laughs and I do, too. He could have said the same thing about the set we played last night.