My plan to get out quick was just as quickly scrapped, however. Only the owner could pay me, and he was missing in action. Tony just shrugged. “I dunno, dude. I’m sure Clarence will be back.”
The sad thing was, I knew the payout would hardly be anything, but resources had gotten so low, hardly anything was still something.
I was rolling up my chords when I saw Mary coming toward me. I turned my head before I rolled my eyes. She had an eager look on her face, and I had a sick feeling that she was going to gush all over me and make the performance out to be something it wasn’t.
Instead, I was surprised to find Erica’s hand on my shoulder. She had cut Mary off, cock-blocking her and saving me the brain-freeze of cold glad-handing. “That was really good,” Erica said.
“Are any of the songs autobiographical? Some of them seemed to have the sting of truth.”
“I suppose all of them have a grain of reality in them. I don’t like to decode them, though.”
“There was that one about being in love with someone despite how many times they hurt you, it was obvious that it had some kind of basis in experience.”
Mary had joined us, and she had a sour look on her face. I could smell the remnants of cigarettes in her hair. It rose in waves from her head, like in cartoons when someone is steaming mad. “I don’t know,” she interjected, “I thought it came off as a little cliché.”
“Yeah. Kind of trite. No one loves like that anymore. If they ever did!”
I was instantly annoyed. I know she was really lashing out at Erica, but it was a stupid tactic to use my music to do it.
“Maybe, but you know, cynicism? It’s pretty cliché and trite anymore, too. Everybody’s doing it. Enjoy something or don’t enjoy it, you don’t always have to be so smart.”
“My favorite song you did was that ‘Free’ one,” Mary said. “What was it? ‘I will never be free, I will never be laid to rest.’”
“Of course it was your favorite. I didn’t write it.”
It was a Depeche Mode cover.
That was an answer she wasn’t expecting, and she stopped talking. She had an almost panicked look on her face, the air of someone who has just made a wrong turn into an area of town they were warned never to visit. “Oh...I....”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I usually cover songs by writers who are much better than I am. It keeps me humble.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Erica said, leaning in real close to me. “I’m guessing you have plenty of other things to be conceited about.”
Erica’s overtures had becoming increasingly obvious as the night wore on. Anyone could have seen that she had put the designs on me, and for reasons I could not fathom. Tony had been around the entire evening, but it didn’t stop her from consistently being near me, hanging over me, talking to me. Had I not been trying to find a headspace to recover from my troubles back home, I might have found it more flattering, might have even acted on it, opting not to worry every time Tony skulked by, giving me a brooding look from under his eyelids. They were like closing garage doors, and he was sliding his hateful gaze in under them before they slammed shut.
This invasion into her perceived territory rubbed Mary the wrong way, and she was on the defense. Every time she saw my glass emptying, she was there offering to go get me another drink. I refused just about every time, and in response, she’d joke, “Then why don’t you get me one instead?”
I’d say, “No,” and we’d laugh like it was no big thing, like it wasn’t a cruel game we both indulged in willingly, but only one of us was getting hurt by. I finally felt sorry for her and how many times she kept sticking her chin out to get socked, so I gave in. She nearly squealed. Sometimes people just need a victory, no matter how tiny.