Chapter 1: Tonight (prelude)Scene One: Performing
Performing, Trix becomes divine. She is the god and goddess, timeless, encompassing the sexiness of both sexes and the beauty of all races. Her body can do anything. She wields herself like water.
When Trix sings, ideas enter our consciousness while we marvel at the artistry of her crisp and sultry voice. She captivates the crowd, captures and embodies the music, while I radiate in her glow from behind my guitar. With our voices joined, I express and soar like I never can alone. On her stage, I am a performer, and that is powerful.
When she’s not performing? Well...that’s not a distinction she would make.
Was it only a week ago she found me?
Chapter 2: Last Friday NightScene 1 Too Cool for School
Twenty minutes in line felt like eternity, shivering outside the pulsing dance club until the muscled bouncer finally moved aside. Goosebumps stood out while I rubbed my bare arms, but Chris didn’t offer me his sweater. As we stepped through the door, low-pounding music shifted abruptly from muted to mind-blowing. I covered my ears involuntarily, then slowly lowered my arms to my sides, hoping no one noticed. I felt a pang when the big guy waved me through without even checking my ID – it only highlighted that my twenty-fifth birthday loomed large, just one week away. Somehow, finding myself at the mid-point of my twenties gnawed at me.
The club was Chris’s idea for fun. Things felt pretty fresh and raw between us – we’d wanted to be together for months, but had only recently admitted it. I had left my long-term boyfriend, Ethan, for Chris, and that made us squirmy together. Worse, I’d moved to the city just three days before, crashing at his small apartment when we hadn’t even dated yet. We’d gone from fantasy to serious in a quick series of sudden moves, without even nodding to the reality and scariness of joining our lives. So here we were, in this loud and crowded place, not talking about it. Maybe I’d have rathered stay in or gone someplace quiet, or maybe I just felt like a tag-along to Chris’s well-established life. Regardless, I was in the mood to secretly disdain his choice of club. I thought it was just like him to choose the kind of pulsing, noisy joint where artists, ruffians, and musicians hang with rich kids and other wannabes, so everyone feels cool and cultured. That’s how he wanted me to see him.
Three guys waved and hooted at Chris from the other side of the bar. He smiled big and led me by the elbow in that direction, but I wanted to dance. I tugged his hand, shimmying backward towards the floor, trying my best to look enticing. Chris shook his head and pointed to the guys, as if I hadn’t seen them. I puckered my brows and tilted my head to the crowd of dancers with a smile, but it wasn’t enough – he hesitated. I’ve never had much patience for hesitation. I dropped his hand and spun into the crowd.
I had my choice of partners out there, but I couldn’t seem to get into it, turning from one hot, moist body to the next until finally, I danced with the music itself. I closed my eyes, the bass line pounding through me and my arms and torso flowing with the melody. Typical club fare suited me fine, steady and upbeat, no thought or analysis required. I let my body be with time and space and sound in the moment. I breathed in the smells of sweat and perfume, flesh and want, while lights danced over my eyelids. My body let my spirit take over and it felt like sweet release.
One after another I shook off the last month’s flashes. Chris’s shy smile when our hands first met across a sticky campus coffee table – this I zapped with a head-shake. The moment Ethan’s face morphed from disbelief to pain once he realized I was leaving for real – that, I smashed with a stomp! The instant his face switched from pain to anger – shoved off with rolling hips and swinging head. One by one I cleared the distractions until I felt alone in a clean, white space with the music and my body’s movement. I held myself close, slid my hands over my hips and appreciated my own muscled thighs and smooth skin. I shook my hair out and released myself to the joy-spot of being simply a body in motion with music. I just moved.
Out of nowhere, I started back to myself, stumbling as the rhythm flew from me. I opened my eyes to see only hers, piercing into my soul from across the crowded room.
Trix sat taller than anyone around her; regal, contained, like a feline queen. Short-cropped, serrated black hair accentuated her high cheekbones and long face, culminating in a wide, full-lipped mouth. Each feature on its own looked exaggerated – together, they settled into place on an exceptionally striking face. Everyone at the table had situated themselves around her and she took it as her due. People pawed for her attention while she kept her eyes on me. And those eyes – dark, intense, large, and slightly too wide apart –shone with recognition like she already knew me inside out. I felt an electric shock, and found it alarming.
I felt suddenly too self-conscious to be seen. I realized I stood statue-still when people started bumping me around. I needed to get away. Where was Chris? I quelled my almost-panic at not seeing him right away. I finally caught sight of him, laughing large near the bar. My elbows won me no friends but got me through the crowd. I slid up beside Chris, my heart racing, and tucked myself under his arm. He absently pulled me closer, still intent on his conversation.
Then suddenly, she stood there, in front of me, her eyes unwavering from my face as she spoke.
“Well, Chris, you’ve brought us a new mouse to play with?”
Her words sounded put-on-accented, elongated and clipped at the last second. Wait – they knew each other? Chris’s face showed clear distaste. He couldn’t help scrunching up his nose at what smelled to him of pretense.
“How’re tricks, Trix?” he asked, which from someone else might have sounded lame, but I thought he pulled it off. He seemed wary. She didn’t even glance at him. Trix reached over and took my hand in hers. Her fingers felt long, like a man’s, and bony-strong; soft and firm at the same time. Her thumb lightly traced the calluses on my fingertips. I searched for her eyes but all I could see was black.
“Come sit with us,” she called over the music, her words only for me. She pulled my arm to lace our hands over Chris’s head, lifting me onto tiptoes as I found myself spun around, Chris trapped between us. Trix grabbed Chris’s hand firmly with her other, and dragged us both behind her like small children at a fast clip. She ploughed through the dance floor where a path opened before her, like Moses through a red sea of dancers. Chris rolled his eyes back at his friends, but he didn’t resist. Neither did I, for that matter. I was already in her power, and we hadn’t even been properly introduced.
Trix waved two people away from her table and deposited us in their chairs, backs to the dance floor. I shrugged apologetically, but the dethroned couple had already disappeared into the dancers. Trix crouched by my side so our faces sat level, and looked me in the eye.
“Perhaps she has a name?” she drawled, without letting go of my hand. She leaned in close to my ear, and her stage whisper sent a thrill down my neck.
“Tell me your secret name.”
I couldn’t respond. I felt her words sinking into my chest, speeding my heartbeat then seeping through my stomach and lower, spreading a sweet, achy trail. Trix spoke directly to my body. I felt almost paralyzed. I wondered briefly if I’d been drugged. Then, Chris broke my moment with a nudge, drawing my attention to a stunning blonde across the table, watching me through narrowed eyes. I gathered she’d been speaking to me. I signaled to my ears, as though I just hadn’t heard her over the music.
“I’m Trace,” the woman shouted from across the table, with a hint of expectation that the name should mean something to me.
“Um, hi,” was what I managed in return.
Trace looked like exactly the kind of woman to intimidate me. Beautiful and self-assured, she sat askew in her chair, legs draped over the side so her bare feet rested against the forearm of the man beside her. Dancer or gymnast? I wondered as she flexed her toes and I caught sight of taut calf muscles under her paisley tights. She had pulled back her thick sunshine hair in a high cheerleader ponytail, so the full force of her lovely features shone without obstruction. Clear skin, ironic pout, large breasts and a confidence fully justified by her appearance. She was the popular rich girl who never needed to ingratiate herself or even consider how others might feel. At least, I decided all that about her in the ten seconds we’d held eye contact.
Trix used a single fluid movement to grab a chair from another table and sit backwards, chin propped on her hand, gazing at me as though nothing could interest her more. I felt disconcerted, so I tried not to seem uncomfortable and only got stiffer. On my other side, Chris leaned in conspiratorially, but he spoke at full volume.
“Trace plays with Trix. They have a little act.”
Trace just looked away, bored, but irritation flashed across Trix’s face before she smoothed it into a smile.
“We have a band. Trix n’ Traces, maybe you’ve heard of us? Bash here plays bass.”
Trix indicated the dark, serious man acting as Trace’s footrest. He lifted his hand in a friendly wave, his raised eyebrow substituting for a smile. These people were too cool for school, and I was starting to feel like I’d had enough for one night. I thought we were here to dance? I turned to Chris for help, but his eyes sparkled with interest. I realized he enjoyed seeing me squirm a little. It told him more about me, I guess, to see how I acted in unknown territory. So instead of helping, he decided to stir the pot.
“Christine plays a mean guitar!” Chris offered the tidbit mischievously, like a single appetizer at a hungry table. I glared at him. Did he really want to force me into this conversation? Couldn’t he read me at all?
“Chris and Christine?” Trix asked me, her features miming incredulity. “Cute.” Her tone said this accidental cuteness undermined our entire relationship and made us somehow pitiable. I couldn’t tell her teasing from scorn, and I felt on guard. I looked away.
“So you play?” Trix asked, but she’d already known.
“Yeah, since I was a kid,” I admitted. “I started out with rock, then I’ve been playing classical with the Orchestra back home. While I did my degree...?”
I trailed off. Did I sound like I was bragging, or just lame? She continued watching me, waiting for something else.
“And, I sort-of had a band?” I offered shyly.
“Originals or covers?”
“Not really. Sort of?”
“No!” I sounded too insulted and laughed to cover it up. She regarded me sceptically, then smiled, deciding to play.
“Don’t get all huffy, music’s music. How about Punk.” She tossed it out expecting an easy no, but she didn’t know me.
“A little.” She tilted her head with interest. “You know, Green Day, Rise Against...”
These she dismissed with her hand - not surprising, I could tell she was a purist.
“So I’m guessing no Minor Threat.” I shook my head. Had I even heard of that band?
“What about what’s playing right now?”
Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed the music until she asked. It seemed like dance fare, maybe a little more intricate but who could tell at this volume? All the music was mostly beat. I tried for humour.
“What, synth pop? I don’t even think there’s a real guitar in there.”
Wrong direction - she pursed her lips, put out.
“There is so real guitar! It’s an art, the mixing and matching - don’t knock it. Okay, so...how about...Metal?”
I hesitated. Did she want a yes or a no? I knew I shouldn’t care, but I wanted her approval.
“Maybe a bit?”
She smiled to herself. “Metallica?” she tried. I shook my head. “Then it’s gotta be Guns ’n Roses.”
“Just once.” I admitted reluctantly.
Trix chuckled, like she’d seen three moves ahead in chess.
“Sweet Child.” She stated it, knowing she’d score a hit.
“Okay, yeah, but...on the acoustic, quiet, pretty...” I retorted a little defiantly, to cover my embarrassment at being caught in sentiment. She laughed, leaning forward to brush my cheek with the back of her hand.
“You’re telling me your whole story in a song, little sister.” I looked down, embarrassed. She tucked her hand under her chin.
“What about current stuff? You a Black Keys kinda girl?” She sounded almost bored now.
“More...White Stripes. Or...closer to Metric, maybe?” Her eyes widened just slightly, letting me know she hadn’t pegged me yet. I wondered what she’d expected.
“What kind of audience are you playing for, Mouse, that would put up with the mix you’re spinning me?”
She snorted a laugh out her nostrils.
“Clearly. How about this: female musical hero.”
Trix watched me closely. I didn’t hesitate - this one was easy.
“Joan Jett! It’s not even the music, it’s just her absolute dedication to rocking out!” I enthused in spite of myself. “You know?” I finished weakly.
“Hm.” Trix’s thick, curved eyebrows contracted together for a few seconds in thought. She took a deep breath and pushed it out fast, nodding once to herself. “I see. You’ll do, Mouse.”
I felt I’d narrowly passed a test I didn’t quite deserve to pass, but I’d had fun rising to the challenge. I could play almost any style, but Trix did me the honour of trying to guess my musical heart. I thought maybe she’d stopped short, but at least she had decided to take me seriously.
“Zeppelin or Floyd?” Clearly we had reached the last question, and I had an answer.
“It’s Sophie’s Choice.”
Trix laughed out loud and I felt like I’d won a prize. She clapped her hands together.
“Good. Bash, Trace - a guitarist! We were just talking about changing it up, and here she is.”
Bash shrugged. Trace widened her baby-blues and huffed out a puff of frustration. She parted her plush lips, closed them again carefully, and shook her head. Then slowly, gracefully, she unwound her legs to stand, kicked on her sandals, and simply walked away from the table. Trix didn’t look up. Chris shook with silent laughter beside me. He leaned in and loud-whispered too-close, right in my ear so it tickled and I cringed away.
“I could use some popcorn for this show.”
Then, almost like a light switched, Trix lost interest in me. She stood and reached for Bash’s hand as he came around the table to join her. Without another word, they strode to the dance floor. Trix stroked the top of my head on the way by, the gesture as intimate as a lover’s touch.
“Let’s dance,” Chris murmured against my neck, his arm slinking around my waist as he stood. I focused my attention back to him as we melted into the music and each other. Chris liked going with the moment so his creative intensity made up for any lack of technical skill. We could really work each other up on a dance floor, sliding together and apart, appreciating each others’ bodies and physical control. He wore a green-sheened black t-shirt, fitted to his muscled chest and cutting his biceps at a nice angle. I enjoyed the lights dancing on his clean head, and the intensity that gripped his face. I relished looking up at him, always a little taller than I expected. He looked like a contender, after all.
So I hardly thought about Trix while we danced, except when she distracted the corner of my eye. And she wasn’t exactly on my mind as Chris and I tugged and tore at each others’ clothes before we even got through the apartment door back home. Our kisses fervent, our fingers clumsy, we had sex leaned over the telephone table by the front door. When he not-quite-gently yanked back on my hair, I could see his face in the mirror, screwed up a little tighter every time he thrust. The power there took my breath away.
Afterward, Chris cooked and I yawned into my hands at the kitchen table. The clock declared 3:03 am, so pancakes seemed like the thing to do, though maybe sleep was winning out. That was when my mind wandered back to Trix, and I realized that her whisper still lingered in my skin. Her advances had felt unmistakably sexual in nature, and I had to admit, I didn’t mind. I’d been with a couple of girls before, sweet kisses and exploring fingers, but no one like her. Ethan hadn’t minded me exploring with girls - he liked to hear about it, or watch. In fact, he was pretty lenient about flirting in general, though I suppose it didn’t serve him in the end, considering where I was now. That made me wonder suddenly how Chris might react to similar dalliance. He was not the kind of guy to bode competition - he felt the pride of my full allegiance. I felt a little pang of loss. Of course, based on tonight’s evidence, Chris might at least find it amusing to watch me flirt with girls. I decided I should ask him but as I opened my mouth, he beat me to the punch with his own direction.
“So how did you like your first Friday night out in the big city? Hey, I think that might even count as our first official date!”
“That’s weird, isn’t it? We’re like, living together but we haven’t even been going out? I’m still really amazed I’m here.”
He looked up sharply. “No regrets?” he asked, like he really wanted to know. I squirmed around the truth.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that, exactly. I wish I hadn’t had to break Ethan’s heart, for example.”
It had seemed like a good, easy truth to start on, but he glared at me angrily.
“You can’t feel sorry for him? After what he did?”
Now it was me who didn’t want to talk about something. I switched direction fast.
“So, yeah, well...the club was fun. That Trix is pretty intense! How do you know her?”
Chris shot me a look that said he knew exactly what I was doing, but he was going to let me change the subject...for now.
“She’s with Bashir, or Bash as she introduced him. He was…is, on our research team, at the University. We were office mates last year, we T.A.’d a class together. I went to their wedding.” He sounded a little too nonchalant for the grin tugging the left corner of his mouth. I decided to fish a little, let him have his fun.
“Who’s wedding? Don’t tell me Bash is married to that blonde bombshell?” I probed. He broke into a grin, abandoning the straight face.
“Worse, he’s married to TRIX!” He couldn’t hold back his loud bark of a laugh, the one that burst out like the world’s craziness took him by surprise. “They went ahead and did it - they got hitched last June.”
“What? But I could have sworn...aren’t they both gay?” was what popped out of my mouth.
Trix was married? Really? I could usually tell a hag-fag from a boyfriend, and that man was no boyfriend, at least not to her. And Trix - I didn’t see how I could have misread that. I’d felt her hot breath on my neck as a mating call. She couldn’t have been clearer about her orientation if she’d worn a chick-magnet t-shirt.
“Well, sure, but it got his parents off his back about marrying a nice girl. Interesting, right?”
This was my chance to see what he really thought, so I pounced on it.
“Yes, especially since she was all over me. How did you feel about that, by the way?”
“Huh. Well, maybe she was just trying to make someone jealous.”
“Gee, thanks. But I mean, how do you feel about her coming on to me? How would you want me to respond to that?”
Chris held back his answer, busying himself at the stove. He hadn’t expected this conversational direction, and I wondered if he felt disappointed in me, or even jealous himself. But maybe he just didn’t hear me, because he flipped the last pancake from pan to platter, spinning back to present the lovely, steaming mound with a smile of pride. As he moved around me, I grabbed a pancake before the stacked plate could hit the table.
“Ow!” I yelled, dropping it in my lap. Instantly, Chris swooped and scooped the offending dough with a wrist-flick toss into the sink, making a perfect basket.
“Watch out, don’t burn yourself!” he laughed.
He lifted my fingers and blew on them softly. I felt touched by the gentle breeze of his breath, the strangely tender shape of his mouth, his shyly downcast eyes. I felt a surge of love. He kissed the tip of my tallest finger, then deposited a brown bottle on the table with a flourish.
“Only real maple syrup in our home,” he proclaimed. He was often thoughtful in the details.
Those pancakes were beyond good. I felt so hungry, and there was nothing in the world that I would have preferred in that moment. I let my attention sink into them, my nose filled with aroma, my mouth warm with golden flavour. I lost track of the conversation.
Chapter 3: Saturday MorningScene 1 Groggy, Messy and Grumpy
I woke up groggy, messy and grumpy. I could see Chris across the room at the computer, slightly blurry, his back to me. For all intents and purposes, we really shared just one room. A flimsy half-wall and cupboards partitioned the kitchen, and the bathroom did have a door, so by city standards it qualified as a “three room” apartment. Still, the space offered little scope for privacy.
“You’ve got email,” called Chris, and I felt a burst of righteous anger.
“What are you doing in my inbox?” I demanded, my tone edged with a slight screech.
“Calm down,” he sighed, already exasperated with me. “It’s in MY inbox, for you. Come read it. I won’t look over your shoulder.”
I felt ashamed, and irritated with him for letting me stay ashamed instead of helping me laugh it off or giving me a hug. Didn’t he care about me at all? He went into the bathroom and shut the door. I cursed that we were already off on the wrong foot for the day, and it was my fault.
I read the message on the screen:
>> Chris, Tell her 2 come 2 Timeless, 1pm bring guitar XXOO-Trix
How presumptuous. I really wanted to go, though. I wanted to see what her music was about. She interested me; well, honestly, the way she moved her body compelled me. I wanted to see more. I tried the bathroom door and found it locked. I felt a pang - he locked me out? But maybe it was just habit. I stood outside and called out, “So, what’s Timeless? Should I go?”
“I need a minute in here.”
“But, how will I get there?” I asked through the door.
“What, you’re going?”
“Well, yeah! You coming?”
“Really, Christine, I said I need a minute in here, okay?”
I flopped on the sofa to wait him out. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the shower turn on - some minute! I closed my eyes and practiced my meditation, music floating through my head, my breath even, present in the moment. In. Out. My irritation dissipated. In. Out. I fell asleep.
Eventually, Chris opened the door, startling me back to reality. Steam escaped in a whoosh as he stepped out. I felt struck by his white, muscular chest, like the ivory statue of a lovely man. Glistening water droplets beckoned from his bushy little mid-chest soul patch, begging me to lick them away. I didn’t resist, and he moaned a little with pleasure, putting his arms around me. We held each other a long time.
“Sorry I was a grump,” I whispered into his damp, curly armpit hair. He smelled like soap and water, clean and warm. He didn’t reply, but gripped me a bit tighter and kissed my shoulder. We separated slowly, and then I felt him shift back to business as he moved sideways, sweeping up my clothes from where I’d left them on the floor the night before. He tossed them into the hamper, picking up where we’d left off.
“Timeless is the old art-house theatre where Trix and Traces plays, mostly. It’s downtown - the wrong side of the tracks. It’s far. Three buses.”
From his dresser drawer, Chris selected the top t-shirt, shook it three times and slid it over his head, muffling his words.
“They gutted most of the chairs to make a dance floor, and opened up the lobby for lounging and gaping. It’s a pretty cool place. Though in the afternoon, I imagine you’ve been summoned to band practice. I’m sure you should be honoured,” he added cynically.
Chris walked to the kitchen, looking fresh and ready to face the day, while I dragged my bedraggled self behind him, wrapping the blanket around my shoulders like a cumbersome robe.
“Should I go?”
I expected a joke, or a tease, but he looked down at me seriously.
“You want to go?” he asked.
I debated different ways to answer before settling simply on “Yes.”
Chris’ eyes squinted a little as he looked into mine. I wondered what he was looking for. Whatever it was, it seemed clear he didn’t approve.
“Look, why don’t you just tell me why you think I shouldn’t go, instead of beating around the bush?”
“I didn’t say...” he started, taking in a breath, “Okay, well, here’s the thing. Trix is all drama. She makes drama in the air by breathing. She’s like a tornado of craziness. Maybe you need more drama, I don’t know. I mean, you just left your ex to move here with me after a few months of flirting over coffee - isn’t that enough drama for now? I want to settle in here and figure this out together. Don’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but...”
“Look, it’s not that I don’t get why you might want to check it out. Maybe you’re looking for one more chance to show Ethan he was wrong, that you still have a chance to be a star?”
That’s what he thought this was about? I felt a prick of irritation that he would presume to say it, especially since Ethan wasn’t wrong.
“What? Quit analyzing me!” I brought us back on point. “I’m not joining the band. I’m just going to see what I can see. You know I can’t even bring my guitar - Gretel’s completely banged up.”
In fact, I couldn’t bring any of my three guitars. Ethan was holding two of them hostage in my old apartment - a Les Paul knockoff he’d handed me down, and my prized classical acoustic. My precious show-quality Gretsch, “Gretel” got damaged in the move; actually, Ethan threw her down a flight of stairs behind me the day I left. I still had the yellow and green bruise remnants and a jagged scar; a sickening, vague reminder that I was always letting everyone down. But unfortunately, I’d stumbled again upon that sore point with Chris.
“Not just banged up! The guy threw your guitar at you down a stairwell. In a violent rage!”
“It’s not that simple. We were always together, through high school and college. Then I said I didn’t want that anymore. Of course he got upset.”
“Don’t minimize what he did. You got stitches on your leg, and it was me with you at the hospital, remember. I can’t believe you’d defend him.”
“Yeah, well, Gretel is broken, and Ethan’s holding the other two hostage, so...”
“Jerk,” Chris muttered, still riled.
“So, anyway, I’ve got no guitar. I just...I don’t know anyone here, I’m totally outside the scene. Then this band lands in my lap. I want to stay...open. You know? To possibility.”
Chris’ eyes clouded with perplexity. I wished I could give him more to go on, but I didn’t know what he wanted to know. I wasn’t hiding anything - I had told him my reasons as clearly as I knew how. He seemed to arrive at some conclusion on his own, because he sighed.
“Hey, if you want to go, go! Be my guest. Just try not to get sucked in, okay?”
He ruffled my hair, kissed the top of my head, and headed for the kitchen. He didn’t offer to come with me.
Chapter 4: Saturday AfternoonScene 1 More Like Mirrors
I had a hard time finding Timeless. I got flustered at the transfer and took the wrong bus, then got off and had to walk pretty far, not really sure of the way. My phone’s GPS was no use, the signal cutting in and out among high rises. The city neighbourhoods felt almost schizophrenic, with patches of run-down, scary-looking buildings dotting high-traffic, polished commercial zones. I started feeling the streets as a repeating background loop, the same 4-corner Starbucks, Drugstore, Bank, Restaurant over and over. By the time I found my way to the other side of the tracks, I was sweating and puffing and wondering why I had bothered.
When I finally arrived, Timeless loomed large on the corner of the main street and a tight ally way. Formerly a stately building now in various states of disrepair, Timeless sported the expected giant marquee, regal stone steps, huge red double-doors and lions-head knockers. It was all just a bit shabby short of sheik. If the brickwork looked a little crumbly, that only added to the authenticity in my books. I climbed the steps in eager anticipation, reached for a knocker, knocked loudly, and waited. Nothing. I looked around for a buzzer, aware that I was being watched curiously by several people loitering on the street. I felt embarrassed and unsure. I was definitely in the right place. I pulled the handle, but the door didn’t budge. I tried the other door, same deal. Frustrated, I skipped down the steps two at a time, and peeked around the edge of the building.
The ally-way was just wide enough for a single car, dusty and strewn with various refuse. About halfway down, on the ground with his back against a propped-open door, sat a teenaged boy with his eyes closed and an unlit cigarette dangling from his fingers. Above him, laundry hung on taught, thick lines stretched across between the buildings. For a moment, I imagined one of the large-cupped bras falling directly on the kid’s head, a minor amusement insufficient to distract my grump.
The boy didn’t acknowledge or even seem to notice my approach, and I got suddenly overwhelmed by the effort it would take to speak to him, or ask about getting in. Drained, about ready to call it quits and go home, I surprised us both by sinking to the ground beside him, bricks solid against my back. For one brief moment, his eyes lit with curiosity, like I presented an unexpected spectacle. But before I’d even registered his interest, he stared back down at his lap, closed off.
“Are you sitting here for a reason?” he mumbled, without turning his head my direction. I got the impression he was both very tired, and very shy.
“The doors are locked. Trix told me to come today.”
He laughed a quick and unexpected “huh,” glancing at me briefly. His eyes were the colour of milk chocolate flecked with golden toffee; they darted away like a squirrel’s.
“Oh, she TOLD you. No asking for Trix!” he exclaimed. I couldn’t figure out whether his tone meant admiration or criticism. I had a sudden sense that Trix had recently hurt his feelings - I constantly got flashes like that from the way people said things, a certain turn of the mouth, hunch of the shoulders. I thought it meant I was empathic.
I found something vaguely, disturbingly familiar about this boy, like when you can’t place a face but maybe he was a wanted criminal from the back of a bus, or someone’s cousin met at a wedding. A thick black spike through his freckled nose made him seem young and vulnerable to me, although his manner seemed older, maybe eighteen or twenty. He evoked a strong tenderness in me that I couldn’t explain, like I imagined I’d feel about a kid brother if I weren’t an only child.
“I’m Chrissy...uh, Christine,” I stumbled, and immediately wanted to kick myself. I was determined to be Christine, not Chrissy, in this new life, but old habits die hard, and I’d messed up my first intro in this place. He didn’t seem to notice, though.
“Jamie,” he replied, hauling himself to his feet. He held out a hand, callused skin and dirty finger nails; I felt proud I only hesitated a second before taking it. He pulled me up with surprising strength, sinews rising on his mottled arms. Jamie stood only a few inches taller than me, but his frame held the gangliness of a much taller teen. His version of skinny fell just short of gaunt, slightly sunken cheeks telling the gravely story of past eruptions. The tracks scarring his arms looked old, but I wasn’t sure if that meant he wasn’t using or he’d moved on to other body parts. He didn’t seem high. As Jamie turned to open the door, his longish hair fell away, and I noticed a burn scar along his lower left check and the top of his neck. Of course, he noticed mine at the same time.
“Hey,” he cried, guard down. “We’re twins!” When I didn’t reply right away, he seemed even more awkward than before. He motioned to his neck, and to mine, with hands that floundered in the air.
“Um...your scar...sorry...I just...”
“More like mirrors, actually,” I replied, cautious and clearly ending the conversation. My own burn isn’t something I think about much anymore. An accident with hot grease when I was a kid left a discoloured, puckered sweep from my jawbone down the right side of my neck. It’s the kind of thing people might not notice, depending what I’m wearing, or suddenly notice the second or third time we meet. My hair mostly covers it. I don’t consider it much, but I didn’t like him reminding me about it.
I followed Jamie into the building. The shallow, metal-grate landing barely held us both as he reached behind me to slam the door shut. When he gave it a rattle to be certain, I thought we would both topple over as his hip bumped against me and the staircase wobbled. Jamie looked down at my body in such close proximity, a sly grin crossing his face before he turned and bounded down the stairs like a puppy.
The stairs ended in a tunnel, which led to a fork, where Jamie flew down the hall to the right. I followed. The hallway twisted suddenly left into a large, open, low-ceilinged area that I guessed sat under the stage. I found myself in a semi-chaotic workshop. Except for two pristine work tables and an impeccably-made cot, every inch of space held something. Tools, paint, material, lights, instrument parts, open circuit boards, lumber...I couldn’t take it all in. Several intense, abstract panels of colour lined one wall, so big I didn’t know how they would get out the door. A full-sized sheet hung from the ceiling so that it touched the floor, still wet with an intricate design of muted phosphorescent colours.
Something large and heavy fell almost directly over my head - instinctively, I ducked. I glanced quickly at Jamie to see if he’d noticed, but he stood with his back to me. I heard fast, heavy footfalls above, and a muffled, heated conversation.
“Well, so, this is where I live?” offered Jamie, turning shyly.
“It’s, uh, cozy.”
“I’m here all the time, anyway, it’s easier. It’s not special treatment. I do production. Like, stage, lights, and now I have to do sound? I work with the mentors and the kids. But mostly, I like to make stuff.”
His voice rose at the end of his sentences, like I was a teacher come to inspect the premises. I felt a little sad that I couldn’t reach across the gap to him. We were so different. I gestured toward the freshly-painted tapestry.
“So this is your work? Really cool! is it a backdrop?”
Excitedly, Jamie scampered to the sheet.
“Big show on Friday! Trix wants SPECTACULAR! I got these paints leftover from a show at the Royal. Guy I know there let me take ’em. Doesn’t look like much now, but when the light hits it, POW!”
He slammed his fist into his hand while doing a little jig, one knee and the other, then remembered himself and looked down shyly. I laughed out loud - I couldn’t help myself. He peeked up from under his eyebrows like a favourite child who knows he’s pre-forgiven for whatever mischief he might conjure. The smile we shared made his pock-marked face dazzling. He was a good looking kid, after all. Then, before my eyes, Jamie suddenly crumpled.
“But maybe it’s not that good,” he mumbled, looking down, talking to himself. “I don’t think she likes it. She...” He broke off, biting his lip. Abruptly, he bent and started cleaning up newspapers and brushes on the floor. So I was right - Trix had hurt his feelings. I crouched beside him to help clean up. He didn’t look at me.
“You probably want Trix - she’s on the stage.” He pointed up.
I realized he had reached his capacity for interaction at the moment, but I still felt a little stung at being so summarily dismissed. I moved to the door.
“Uh. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Well, nice to meet you...” I stammered, backing out.
“Hey,” he called. The way the light and shadow cut his upturned face, he looked about six years old. “Good luck!”
“Um, thanks,” I laughed. It seemed an odd parting thought, but, whatever.
Up and down the hallway, half-closed doors revealed small, messy make-up rooms and bursting costume closets. Peeking instead of watching, I stumbled forward through an open doorway into the theatre, directly in front of the stage.
Trix perched on the fourth rung of a ladder downstage left. She wore garish yellow-and-black-striped tights under shorts; from below her legs looked impossibly long. A worn-thin AC/DC t-shirt rode up as she reached, playing peek-a-boo with her belly button. From my angle below, I saw more than that. Her outfit either cried out I’m a total dork or I’m too cool to care; her presence left no doubt which was true. A huge smile broke out as she saw me standing there.
“You’re here!” she exclaimed, her voice full of excitement. She leaped to the stage floor like a panther, landing in a crouch.
“You’re late,” she clipped, standing, with a bite of command. “Where’s your guitar?”
“Um, I’m between guitars at the moment.” She grimaced at me, frowned. Re-evaluating?
“And you’re okay with that? A little break from playing?”
I didn’t appreciate her scrutiny. It hadn’t been that long - my digits weren’t soft. I felt myself disengaging from the conversation. She noticed, and switched tacks. “But you’re here! So use that one over there, for now. Let’s play!”
Trix headed centre-stageward, calling, “Back at it, people!” over her shoulder. A wave of her hand brought two boys running to remove the ladder she’d been climbing. I stepped back to take a good look around. A well-used building, Timeless seemed to be a former theatre, converted for movies then back again, with a massive stage fronting the retracted screen. The theatre walls ascended surprising heights, ornamented with unapologetically ostentatious plaster sculpting. A large empty space surrounded the curve of the stage, seven remnant rows of theatre seating encasing the back like leftover piecrust. Two spacious aisles sliced through the seating at ten and two o’clock, slanting upward to wide, arched doorways, beyond which I noted the low-ceilinged lounge, complete with martini bar and sparkly chandelier. Four perfect, gilded balconies overlooked it all.
I turned around to face the stage, and walked backwards until I bumped into the leftover line of theatre chairs. I used my bum to lower a creaky seat and sat in the front row, acutely aware that I was not doing as I was told. The level of activity in the room surprised me. Based on my band’s experience, I had expected maybe four or five people plus a sound tech, if we were lucky. Here, I saw maybe a dozen musicians picking up instruments, and twice that many people doing repairs or working on sets around the room. This band had at least two guitarists already. Everyone moved to a corner of the stage, leaving the centre quite open, as if they didn’t want to take up space. At a walking pace, Trix turned herself around and around the circle they left, arms wide-spread. She stopped at perfect downstage centre, pinning me with her eyes; squinted, then settled her face into a mask.
“Alright, ONE TWO THREE, FOUR” she called, and the music started.
I needed half a minute to wrap my head around the sound. Bash’s bass line carried me along a heavy cross-rhythm, with occasional curves like the ends of a moustachio. One bare chested percussionist produced deceptively subtle, intricate electronic beats, offsetting the drummer’s heavier hand. Keyboard filled in and punctuated without over-synthesizing the sound, mostly. Dance-fast but lacking the light banter of dance music; hard-edged but not always; some country twangs but mostly rock...no, pop...but not really. This music defied simple definition. I loved it.
Trix stood still while they played. I felt her watching my reactions. I closed my eyes against her watching.
I could imagine this music pumping an audience, especially with the right lighting and atmosphere. I felt myself moving, carried forward in my seat. But I also gradually noticed that something felt off in the guitar. The lead guy definitely had experience, his beat-up vintage Stratocaster intoning what could have been a companion piece to the rest of the band. Interesting, evocative, his interpretation almost worked but it wanted to take over the song, and no one was going there with him. Beside him a younger guy, maybe sixteen, just couldn’t keep up. I felt schadenfreudely satisfied by his lack of skill.
After another minute, Trix signalled a stop. I opened my eyes to see her pivot slowly and deliberately towards Mr. Strat.
“What song are we playing?” she asked him, almost mildly.
“Universe Now,” he answered. His demeanour didn’t shift at all. He was older than I’d originally thought from his tight, fit little body - probably over forty. Maybe even fifty.
“You are playing Universe Yesterday. Or possibly Universe An Hour from Now? It’s not working. Try something else.”
Mr. Strat didn’t acknowledge the reprimand, but Trix nodded and turned on her heel as though he’d agreed. She could have been parodying a drill sergeant but she seemed to mean it.
“Alright, little girl,” she called to me. “You didn’t pay admission for this show. Get up here and play with us. Are you a musician?”
The challenge bugged me, but I did feel like playing. I had been semi-consciously imagining myself playing the whole time I listened, which was why the guitar started jarring me in the first place. I itched for it in spite of myself. Walking towards that stage felt a little unnerving, and also comfortable, like home. Maybe like going home when you’re not sure who lives there anymore.
I climbed up to the stage.
The teenaged guitarist eyed me uncertainly, making as if to hand me his guitar while watching Trix for instruction. His face knew how to laugh, but just then appeared a bit crestfallen. Trix noticed and shook her head once to the side.
“No, she can use that one.”
She waved at a guitar, plugged and ready, lying on a stool. The boy’s eyes widened visibly, his mouth rounded into an unconscious oh, like a comic book character who just can’t believe it. I could see why. This was a nice guitar. More than nice - a cherry Gibson SG, well loved. The spotlight shone down on her glossy exterior like a heavenly blessing. I stroked the wood gently, as one strokes a horse’s muzzle to say, hello. I thought I heard a collective intake of breath, and I felt every eye in the place on me and that guitar.
“Oh, relax, people! It’s mine,” she confirmed to me. “They think I’m a bit possessive.”
Trix turned around in a wide circle, her arms spread in supplication as she called out.
“See? See! I can share. I don’t even know her and what’s mine is hers.” She leaned in my direction and stage whispered, “But I do know you, don’t I?” I rolled my eyes at her. I caught Trace and Bash exchanging a glance and wondered what that meant.
I felt self-conscious. My face warmed as I picked up the guitar. Its weight felt strange to me, the neck just a little too long, but my hands came alive touching it. I picked a little at the chords, getting the feel.
Absently, I strummed out the first bars of my favourite song. To my surprise, Mr. Strat repeated the response back to me. I caught his eye, and we smiled at each other. We played together and he surprised me again - he sang. His voice sounded gravelly, but pretty too. I couldn’t believe he knew the words.
As the moving river down the mountain flows
I’m gonna move, I gotta move
As the salmon swims and wildlings roam
I’m gonna move, I gotta move
As I joined him, so did Trix, suddenly behind me where I couldn’t see her face. Her lovely deep voice made me a bit ashamed of my own, but I’d started and I continued.
So I strap on my backpack and I hit the road
If it gets too heavy, you know I’ll drop the load
Moving along life’s highway,
Taking the moments my own way
Moving along so I can stay alive
Stumbling forward I will learn to thrive
Bash joined unobtrusively with his bass, filling out the sound, adding something a little sharper-edged to the longing ache this song already held for me. Several voices that came in at the chorus stayed to hum when they lost the words.
Like the whisper-wind of the leaves in Spring
I hear the call, I heed the call
Chasing lights fantastic through the streets
I heed the call, I want it all
I think I can get there and be someone new
If you want to meet me, I’ll look for you
Moving along life’s highway,
Making the moments my own way
Moving along so I can stay alive
Stumbling forward I will learn to thrive
So many voices joined now that I couldn’t see where they were all coming from:
That’s what freedom means to me
That’s what freedom means to me
It ain’t love if it ain’t free, baby
That’s what freedom means to me
Then suddenly just me. Did Trix give a signal I missed? I almost stumbled, but kept going. I closed my eyes.
Though a simple man I’ll always be
I hear the call, I heed the call
Though the Northland holds its cold grip on me
I heed the call, I want it all
I know I’ll be back there when my time is through
But it only matters
If I’m with you
The chorus rejoined me for the finale:
Moving along life’s highway,
making my way home my own way
Where I belong so I can stay alive
Stumbling backwards I will always survive
That’s what freedom means to me
That’s what freedom means to me
It ain’t love if it ain’t free, baby
That’s what freedom means to me.
Clapping and hollering filled the space, and I even heard a couple of whistles. I hadn’t realized how many people were there, working in the wings, hanging things in the rafters. I felt embarrassed. I felt welcomed. It could have been a contrived scene from a movie, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I felt like I’d come home for the first time. These people knew my secret favourite song well enough to play it, sing it, hum the tune. That sing-along is one of the happiest memories of my life. I put it in an impenetrable bubble in my heart where none of the rest of what happened can touch it.
Trix waved everyone back to work distractedly, caught in thought before abruptly snapping to.
“Okay, people, now that our new Mouse feels more at home, let’s get back to it. Are you ready?” she called, and anyone not at their instrument scrambled.
“Let’s try it again - Universe Now - one, two, three four!”
The band started playing. I stood there like an idiot. The same song sounded different on the stage. Guitar limp in my hands, I closed my eyes to listen. I still hadn’t heard Trix sing, and I worried she was watching me. Still, I didn’t open my eyes. Fast and heavy with a strong, dance-able beat, Universe Now offered multiple paths for entry. I let my thinking fall aside, feeling out the music for my personal call.
Trix started a low, keening sound. The music tugged at her voice, drawing it open to increasing volume and fullness. I felt enlisted, a gravitational pull to play into the tornado in which her voice rose and rose, until it filled the theatre and there was nothing left but to finally break in anguish. A natural beat of silence, then the walls echoed with Trix’s deep, elongated and finally distorted laugh. We dropped fast into a strong, repetitive grindy beat.
And I was in.
I’ve always loved jamming with other musicians and seeing what comes out. I listened for where they were going, especially Mr. Strat and the drums. I blended in my own unique colours, and fed off the others to add to the experience. I felt shy to meet their eyes, but pleased that they were looking for me.
As she started into lyrics, I found Trix’s acidy vocals and Mr. Strat’s slight whine made for a vaguely unpleasant blend. He definitely had his own, strong style, and he played a little more bluesy, a little less edgy than she sang. I felt tension between them, each wanting to lead the direction. I recognized the feeling from when my parents fought over what was best for me. Without my really noticing, my own playing began drawing in elements of each. It felt like holding a balancing pole with one at either end. Exhausting, but I triumphed in the accomplishment.
I missed a few cues but no one minded. Not having responsibility for the core elements of the song felt freeing. I was left to become part of the music, enveloped with the band in a way I had not expected. When I heard someone throw in a playful few notes, or turn down an unexpected track, I felt deep appreciation for the essence they infused into our shared space. I felt myself feeding into and from an unfamiliar energy flow, finding its rhythm.
As we neared the end of the bridge, I leaned heavily on distortion and vibrated slowly down the scale behind the music, stopping just short of a full complement to pause at the natural pause, then filled that void with the guitar’s low but rising groan, grind, wail, screech, scream, pitching higher until it disappeared into silence. A guitar impersonation of Trix’s opening wail.
Trix’s deep laugh broke the silence just as drums and bass crashed into that space together like a tidal wave. As I jumped in the current I opened my eyes to see Trix actually surfing the wave in perfect parody, her face tight with concentration as she executed impressive spins and jumps. I could almost see a surfboard beneath her feet. Our eyes locked and I was playing only for her, playing to keep her moving. Finally, she rode into shore as we eased ourselves to an end.
My hands tingled electrical short-out; my fingers felt tender. My heart raced. I deliberately slowed my breathing, and almost immediately remembered to feel a little shocked with myself. That wailing stunt could have been really cool or really, really stupid, and I hadn’t even weighed the chances before launching in. I felt my colour rise as I considered my narrowly-missed embarrassment, even while I relished the pleasant rush of unexpected daring.
I watched Trix grab a towel and sponge off her forehead and arm pits showing no modesty. Without further delay, she counted us into the next song.
“Anti-flow. Ready? One, two, three, four!”
This piece played slower and simpler, so less room to move - I felt sorely tempted to sit it out. Self-consciousness had crept in, but I stayed put and played in a simple background loop. A young guy joined the stage on trumpet, punctuating the early stanzas with a sad, elongated sound, then breaking into a compelling solo. I would have bet against a trumpet working, but this one had style.
A young rapper strode boldly on stage, talking fast over Trix’s relaxed vocalizations. Their vocals blended and separated over the lyrics and his improvisations; his spoken word and her slow, languid croon. As the verse closed, Trix skipped back and gave over the stage, letting him show his stuff. As he finished, each instrument stopped in turn until only a single drum beat out the windup. Throughout the theatre, people clapped and hooted - the boy had fans.
Suddenly all heads turned to the aisle, where a teenaged girl pushed a large, unsteady cart, creakily bearing a teetering pile of food. As a single beast, every person dropped what they were doing and ran for the cart. Blocked, the girl was forced to stop as hand after hand grabbed at the food. Throwing her arms up, she giggled delightedly at the attention all around her, clapping her hands like a little girl. But she wasn’t little - at least 25 pounds of extra flesh peeked out around her tight-fitting clothing.
Trix appeared in front of me, gently removing her guitar from my unconsciously possessive grip. She motioned to the commotion.
“Feeding time at the zoo, Mouse,” she shared. I scrunched up my nose, disgusted by the nickname, until I realized that just made me look even more mousey. If she kept calling me Mouse everyone would, and I didn’t want that. Trix leaped from the stage without noticing my reaction. I clamoured clumsily down behind her.
Food revealed itself as sandwich wraps, vegetarian but not bland or boring - warm, full of sprouts and shredded carrots with a gentle, insistent spiciness. I savoured the sour, salty bite even as sauce dripped on my chin. Surreptitiously, I wiped it off with the blade of my finger, and flicked towards the floor before wiping the rest on my jeans - they needed a wash anyway. But I sure hoped no one saw that.
I looked around for somewhere to sit, but I didn’t see anyone I knew at first glance. At least twenty people lounged around the theatre, eating intently with few words between them. In the dim light, I realized most were teenage boys, or not much older. Trace and Bash sat on the stage steps off-side, forming an insular clique. Trace saw me looking and leaned in to whisper something to Bash, pointedly not inviting me over. Fine, I’d have felt intimidated anyway.
Trix walked the room, talking briefly with everyone who crossed her path. Trailing her, my eyes caught on Jamie, bent over a kid at the sound controls, his compact body exuding a competence and gentle authority I hadn’t sensed in our brief encounter. He looked somehow older next to someone his own age. I kept my eye on him while he retrieved a sandwich, then I hurried to nonchalantly take the seat beside him. He flashed me a quick smile before looking down at his lap.
“You nailed it,” he assured me, his face in profile. “I bet she has you in the show.”
“Really?” I asked, quite pleased with this praise. He still didn’t quite look at me, facing front while he spoke.
“Most of the kids subbing on guitar kinda suck lately. Next to them, you’re a rock star. Plus, Trix’ll like how sexy you look with her big Axe in your fast little hands.” He turned, looking me up and down boldly with no attempt to hide his assessment. The next second, he ducked his head shyly. This boy was a mass of contradiction. I felt tempted to whack him for insolence, but restrained myself - I had to remember that I’d only met Jamie a couple of hours ago. He felt like a kid brother, if I’d had one, but he seemed too fragile for even playful roughhousing.
“So is that what this was?” I asked, “an audition for something?”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” Jamie’s tone said he’d figured as much. “Trix says gotta keep the sound fluid, you know? So she subs in musicians like, all the time. Some kids wait months to get a spot to show their stuff, and then you... well, here you are. Anyway, it’s cool, how songs change when new musicians get into them? She keeps people around while as it’s working, then subs in someone else. Some regulars show up? But the only ones who are always here are Trix, Trace and Bash. Well, and me.”
“What about Mr. Strat? That old guy on the Stratocaster?”
“John? He’s amazing, huh? But he and Trix don’t like to share the sandbox. He’s kind of...in and out? He’s Trace’s uncle, and I don’t know if he has that many places to go anymore. So, he keeps coming back? Things go better when he’s here, he kinda keeps the calm in the bunkers.”
“The bunkers? What’s that mean?”
Now I felt really curious. Keeps the calm? But Jamie nudged my attention forward. Trix stood, quietly watching the assembly, waiting for us to notice her. She said nothing, but her bearing, her very presence in wait, demanded our attention. All the little satellite conversations dropped off suddenly as people turned their faces her way. When she had the room at attention, she spoke.
“We had some great subs today. Thoughts?” Trix looked around. One guy called out “Al Roy!” and punched at the sky. I heard mumbled assent and the rap artist raised his fist in thanks.
“Yes, that almost worked. Let’s jam a few numbers this week and see what sticks. Could be interesting for Friday.”
Jamie leaned in and whispered, “Can’t believe Trix went for that! Nobody gets a show first time out, and rap? He probably just won twenty bucks off those guys. Wait, don’t say I said that.”
Trix cut through like a teacher who caught us passing a note.
“Yes, Jamie, please share your thoughts with the class.” Stammer gone, Jamie responded with a confident smile that didn’t match the skittish kid I’d just been chatting up.
“Chrissy Christine here lit up your sorry stage,” he stated with a sly smile my way. Shit, he did notice my name slip after all. He nodded my way, gaining some agreement from the room. My face burned, and this time I really did almost whack him. Trix grinned appreciatively.
“Indeed. And she can play, too. Of course we’re keeping you, Mouse. You’ll join us Friday night.” It wasn’t a question. I could hardly lift my eyes.
Discussion continued. The boy who couldn’t keep up on guitar needed more practice with a band before he could try again. The trumpet could come to rehearsals, but no promises, and if he made a nuisance of himself in every song he was out. Someone wanted to know if he played saxophone, which interested Trix for about five seconds until he admitted he didn’t. A lot of laughter and light-hearted banter accompanied conversation that moved over various aspects of the performance. No one seemed to take criticism too seriously, and since I’d escaped unscathed, I found it easy to join in the general mood.
When my phone buzzed a text, I suddenly noticed the time, later than I’d planned to be there. I didn’t even know what time the bus came by, or even when the last bus left. Time to go. I quietly made my way to the front, seeking the exit.
Chapter 5: Saturday EveningScene 1 Welcome to Timeless
The front lobby looked dark except for a string of lights over the snack counter. I almost didn’t see Trace standing in the shadows until she moved so those lights caught her champagne hair, sleek white jeans, glint of teeth. Her smile called me friend, but I didn’t buy it.
“I was hoping I’d catch you, Mouse.” She curled her tongue around the nickname gently with a wry humour that knew it got under my skin and thought I should get over it.
Trace rolled her body a little to lean against the counter, regarding me sideways, a cat flirting with the furniture. I noticed her almost-flat upper lip and very slightly down turned nose, these minute imperfections only enhancing her loveliness by flourishing her smile. She totally possessed the words beauty and grace as I imagined them. I worked to quench my quick burn of envy.
“Christine,” I corrected automatically.
“Right. Let’s just stick with Mouse. You know, you never should have hit that stage without seeing me first. I need to take care of you.” Her tone sounded coy. She made me nervous.
“Take care of me?” I squeaked.
She straightened her posture, assuming a more business-like air.
“There’s paperwork, forms to sign. Step this way, please, miss.”
“But I was just...” I started. Ignoring my protest, she glided beside me, dropping her hand casually on my shoulder. I felt a little powerless to resist as Trace moved us towards a windowless, unmarked thick steel door just behind the snack counter. Using a key, she opened the door and slid a guitar pick into the hinge to prop it open. Before we left the lobby, she pointed to a large sign I’d failed to see, but which I never could have missed if I’d come in the front doors. A rough piece of wood, about four feet wide, hung dead centre. Its neon orange glow provided a blinding backdrop for the hand-painted purple inscription:These premises monitored by video surveillance AT ALL TIMES! The world is watching. Be warned.
I loved the extreme messaging - it sounded just like Trix. Beneath the sign, someone had graffitied ornate lettering that looked like they’d misspelled sex: sXe. I wondered if Trix had painted the sign herself, and whether the graffiti was vandalism or an intentional touch.
“That’s the first thing,” Trace tossed over her shoulder as I followed her down the dark, narrow hallway. “I assume she told you we livestream those practices to the website? You’ll have to sign off on that, and other publicity stuff. If, of course, you’re going to play?”
Stepping over the threshold into the only lit office, she spun around to catch my reaction. I skittered reflexively away from her gaze before forcing my eyes up from the shadows to meet her laser-blues. That accomplished, I felt a little cocky.
“Well, I just played. Did that get broadcast on your livestream?”
“So if I don’t sign, you guys are in breach already, right?”Trace pursed her lips, then deliberately rearranged her features into a sweet smile.
“I suppose.” Her hand wave dismissed that thought as she leaned in with a secret to tell me, my new best friend in the treehouse.
“I really hope you will join us. You’re obviously talented, quite...pretty, just what we need to round out the show. Please, say you will.”
She lilted her tone, tilted her head; a baby doll. Too sweet on purpose, almost over the top. She could have been more convincing, but she was letting me see her maneuver, almost daring me to call her out as a fake or believe her hook, line and sinker. I had no idea how to respond to this, and my awkward came out gruff. “Why don’t you give me the stuff you want signed?”
Trace regarded me a few seconds longer, then moved slowly to the desk, landing softly in the chair. From a prepared folder, she slid me pre-filled release forms for media, safety and general liability, all convoluted language in 8pt courier. A personnel form required my Social Insurance Number. The volunteer agreement wanted permission for a police background check. There was even a form to verify that I had read and understood all the forms.“
You people want me to sign my life away.”
“Just any liability we might have for it. You take responsibility for yourself in these walls, and you let us use what we record. That’s what this jargon means. Are you in?” I honestly couldn’t see any reason why not to sign. I didn’t love the idea of band practices broadcast online, but it might help build a local following.
“I don’t know if I’m, uh, in, exactly. But if I don’t sign all these, I can’t play again, that’s what you’re saying?”
“You got it, Pontiac.”
I picked up the pen. She diligently signed witness after me on each sheet, stacking the results neatly back into the folder. After disposing of the last, Trace sat watching me, head cocked to the right, waiting for me to reveal whatever puzzled her, or maybe she expected me to transform into a chicken or something. What did she want? I didn’t expect her next question.
“You live with Chris? Bash’s friend from school?”
Why would she ask that? I felt like she really wanted something else. I decided to stick with simple answers.
“A nicely-proportioned man, your Chris, quite attractive. We miss seeing him around here. For awhile, he was here all the time. Now, not at all.”
“Really?” I wished this was not news to me. My mind ran over conversations with Chris for any clue of his personal involvement with Timeless. I felt pretty sure he’d never mentioned this. I was also sure Trace had guessed that.
“Bash misses him, but I don’t think Chris was ever coming here to see Bash.” I sat back as my suspicion gave way to certainty. Trace was leading me down a garden path. I itched to tell her to just get on with it. She looked thoughtful.
“Really, I don’t think we’ve seen him since Luca left.”
There it was. Now a simple question on my part to get her to the point. I almost couldn’t choke it out, but I managed.
She nodded her satisfaction as I spoke my line in the play she’d written.
“Our disappearing sound tech. She and Chris seemed close...but then, she left, and now, you’re here, so, mystery solved! Maybe we’ll see more of Chris again, if you’re going to be around?” Trace smiled brightly, as though I’d cleared things up for her, knowing full well she’d just muddied my waters.
“Well, I’ve got everything I need. We’re done here. Off you go!” She passed me a little booklet.
“Welcome to Timeless,” Trace stated, speaking the booklet’s title with raised eyebrows, prettily acknowledging the irony of her welcome. I wondered how she could pull that off.
“Um, thanks.” What else was there to say?
I felt I’d just been bested at a game I didn’t know had started, with rules I’d never learned. I replayed the conversation as I made my way back up the dark hallway and out the front door, thankful to be alone. I hesitated on the sidewalk, then decided to head back the way I’d come that afternoon, hoping I’d find a closer bus stop along the walk. This edgy neighbourhood didn’t invite a nighttime stroll. I felt nervous. I heard footsteps behind me, faster than I liked. I sped my pace and so did they. Suddenly, Trix knocked my heart into my throat by loping up beside me.
“Hey, Mouse, what did you think?” she asked. She threw an arm casually over my shoulder, like she hadn’t just given me a heart attack. I didn’t respond right away.
“What, you don’t like me calling you Mouse?” she asked, direct. “What would you have your nickname be?”
“I don’t want a nickname.”
She stopped, so I stopped out of politeness. She took my shoulders in her big hands, turned me to her, and bent down fast, bringing us face-to-face. I got lost in the large pupils of her dark eyes, a little mesmerized. I couldn’t look away. She spoke low, her voice deep and barely above a coaxing whisper.
“Tell me your secret name.”
“Sun,” I answered immediately. I didn’t know why. Our eyes held contact as she laughed a slow, deep, good-natured chuckle. She took my chin between her fingers and thumb as her mouth softened into a sisterly smile.
“Yes, little one, you might be giant in there somewhere.” She turned my face to the left, regarding my scar. “How to let it out without the burn, hmm?” I moved away. We resumed our walk.
“Why Mouse?” I asked, already feeling resigned to the inevitability.
“Small as a...cute as a...” she laughed, reaching over to tickle my tummy like a toddler. I giggled in surprise. Then pouted.
“More like, quiet as a...or mousey...” She snorted, amused.
“I don’t think anyone would take it that way...well, maybe as an irony. No one could describe you as mousey, Christine. You’re quite lovely.” She turned and swept her hand under my cheek so I looked up at her. I thought for a second she would kiss me, but her expression stayed quizzical, curious.
“Surely you know that you’re beautiful?” she asked.
I couldn’t keep looking at her disappointment in my lack of self-admiration. I shrugged away and we walked quietly for a minute. In truth, I was feeling a little resentful at her intruding so far into my own space. Not just the constant touching. I bristled at her presumption, to just call out things that I didn’t even talk about to myself, like she knew them already. Who was she to expect me to share these things openly? Why should she make it her business to know where I fell short on my personal development path? I felt afraid of looking foolish to her, but also defensive of my right to be just as I was - the combination made me petulant.
“Well, I know you think I’m hot. What was that the other night? I don’t even know you, and you’re coming on to me in front of my boyfriend?”
“That?” She seemed both amused and a little annoyed, almost mocking by elongating my that. “That’s who I need to be at a nightclub, and you got my attention, little girl. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I just am who I need to be for that. It’s a trick you could learn, you know. You might be happier. Chris is a big boy, he can handle it. And surely I didn’t hurt your pride, either?”
I found myself smiling at her shyly. I didn’t like to admit how much I enjoyed being the object of an interesting person’s attention - being singled out, held in a special position, given shows of preference.
“So you’ll play, for sure, on Friday? Right?” Her sincerity felt disarming.
“I don’t know the music.”
“Songs’r all here.”
She tossed me a memory stick from her jacket pocket, as if that solved the problem.
“How can I practice? I don’t have a guitar.”
“A true musician needs no instrument to practice. Listen. Contemplate. Ready yourself.”
“What are you, Yoda?” She laughed, a genuine peel of enjoyment.
“Use my Gibson when you’re here until you have your own. At home, try my way. Listen to the music. Imagine yourself in it. Your body can follow with what you’ve taught her so well.”
“You’re too tall to be Yoda.”
“So you will come? I need to know today.” Something in her earnest plea made me want to come through for her.
“Okay, I’ll come.”
She rewarded me with a huge smile - I thought her eyes would bug out of her face, she seemed so happy.
“Good. Practice every day at one p.m. Don’t be late.” Her giddiness infested what she meant to be a bossy tone. She hadn’t been as sure of me as she seemed. But I had to disappoint her.
“Every day? All afternoon? I can’t. I have to look for a job.”
“What? Getting your ass pinched waiting tables at the Hard Rock Café?”
“Yes, or something. In the short term. Later I can look around for...I don’t know. Movie background music? Ads? Maybe teach?” She looked incredulous.
“And that is the extent of your aspirations?”
I felt irritated. Where did she get off? It should have been clear to me far sooner that the heights of excellence were not for me. I had skills - technically exceptional - but I always missed the solo opportunities, got passed over for lead, or left out of the band. When the budgets tightened at the University, it was me who got cut. I saw myself as one of those Olympic skaters who come in 32nd. They are far more talented than your average figure skater, among best in their country, but they will never rank.
“Who am I to have aspirations? A steady income will do,” I answered sullenly. Trix had heard me play all of one time. Of course I played well. People are always impressed at the beginning. But over time, they notice that something small is missing. If I knew what it was, I would have changed it, but I couldn’t figure it out. For years I practiced and practiced, thinking I just needed to get better. I had only recently accepted the truth - in fact, during that last fight with Ethan. Because he was right for once, damn him.
Trix stopped again. I felt tense about missing the bus, so this time I kept going. She skipped sideways along the sidewalk ahead of me, surprisingly light and quick like a daddy-longlegs spider, cutting me off so I bumped into her. I lost my balance, landing on my bum like a two-year-old. We both found this incredibly funny, especially as the bus roared by and eased my tension, since I had obviously already missed it, nothing to be done. We laughed together as she helped me to my feet.
Trix kept my hand, and swung our arms leisurely as we walked the remaining block to the bus stop. I felt calmer once I could stop and look around.
“Okay, look.” Trix turned me toward her. She held my arms on both sides, just below the shoulder, firm in a yielding way. Normally I would feel pinned, but instead I felt secure for the first time in a long time. I was still marvelling over this and almost missed what she said next.
“It’s hard to get beyond ourselves, beyond where we’ve been and what we think is wrong with us, to imagine what’s possible. I know you’re still behind that wall, but you mustn’t give up. I can see your potential.”
Did she say what I thought she said? Did she just name my deepest, darkest secret fear and I missed the metaphor? Relief pored through me. She knew I was flawed. She believed in me anyway. But wait a second. Being who she needs to be? In one session, Trix had seen my weakness and my strength. Was she going for the easy win, playing on my fear, feeding me hope? Why? She watched my face with what looked like real concern.
“Christine?” she started, gently, carefully. “This is no big deal for you. One night on a stage for a big crowd! To feel that way is rare. Why wouldn’t you crave that? I don’t understand your hesitation.” She did appear genuinely puzzled.
“I said I’ll come,” I replied irritably. She sighed, and leaned forward to press her forehead against mine. We looked into each others’ too-close, bleary eyes.
“Don’t let me down” she whispered.
It seemed minutes passed. Finally, she raised her head and looked around.
“Mouse, why are we standing at a bus stop?”
“So I can go home?”
She laughed. “I’ll take you home, come on!”
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