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Reggie gave me another beer and he and me and Colin shared a joint in the back room, sitting on milk crates and talking. If they noticed any change in my mood they hadn’t said anything yet. When I asked if the goateed security dweeb at the door would have anything to say about us smoking Colin told me that’s who he’d bought the weed from. I was waiting for the smoke in my system to mellow me out when Colin asked me “So, what did you think of the show?”

This I could talk about. “Marilynne almost made me piss myself. She’s fucking awesome. A force of bloody nature.”

“He’s trying to say he liked it,” Reggie said.

“Yeah, I liked it,” I added.

Colin took a long drag, held it, and let the smoke leak out his nostrils before he spoke again. “Then why the long face?”

I tried a smile. “Is that better? I’m just stressed over the new record thing.” I held out my hand with an impatient jerk and he put the roach into my fingers.

“Daron, man, it’s kind of early to be stressed don’tcha think? I mean, what are you going to be like when actual recording starts? When final decisions have to get made? When you’re disputing with your A&R man about what you’ve done?”

Reggie whacked Colin on the arm and took the joint from me. “Jeez, you really know how to cheer a guy up.”

“I’ll be okay,” I said. I took another swallow of beer in my mouth, the cold brew fighting with the toasty dryness of the pot.

Marilynne came in then, bringing a blast of noise and light with her. “Band’s almost done,” she said. “Gerry says we can load out after them if we want, instead of waiting until after Tidewater finish up. Personally I’d rather not be jockeying for space at the loading dock at two a.m.”

“Why the fuck not?” Colin said. “This roach is toast anyway.”

Reggie nodded, his lungs full of smoke and a lighter in his hand. I followed them back into the fray, glad to be part of the brigade. But when load out was done, I found myself alone on the loading dock with my sense of unease still intact.

Bart found me sitting out there some time later. Thrash Rat had offered to give me a lift home–they were dropping Colin off there, they said–but somehow I’d opted out of that and stayed. After they drove off, I didn’t want to go back inside the club either. Ziggy and his paramour were probably long gone by now, I told myself, but I still didn’t go in. I was sitting there thinking that this was the second time I’d found myself out in the rain after a scene with him in a club, and wondering if it was something about him or about me, when Bart stuck his head out.

“There you are,” he said, and the door swung shut behind him.

“I helped Colin load out.”

“Reggie said you had some kind of fight with Zig? I didn’t even realize he was here.”

I didn’t realize Reg had even seen that moment on the stairs. The feeling of scrutiny increased and I shook my head like I could shrug the unease off. I put on a casual voice. “Not really. We just… ran into each other. I wanted to chew him out about missing practice but with all the jostling and noise we didn’t even say two words.”

“Is that what’s got you so bent out of shape? The missed rehearsal?” His breath fogged in the chill, damp air.

“Well, shouldn’t I be? I mean, we wasted the whole day. We expected him to be there. He could have called to say he wasn’t coming, couldn’t he? I don’t know.”

Bart crouched next to me and eyed the wet concrete with distaste. “Well, we never said he had to be there every day.”

“No, but he knew darn well we were expecting him. Didn’t he?”

“Maybe. He did mostly just spin his wheels the day before…”

We were both quiet for a moment, the sound of Tidewater’s drums pounding through the brick wall behind us.

“He’s playing some kind of game,” I said finally. “And I don’t like it.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”

“Talk to him, I guess. If he shows up.”

“And then will you loosen up a little? I mean, I never thought I’d say this, but I think you’re taking this a little too seriously, Daron.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I know I’m usually the one advocating a business-like demeanor, but I really feel like it’s a mistake to make too big a deal out of this. It’s like when you’re in a relationship, and once you think you’re settling in, she makes some funny comment or doesn’t do something you expect, and you can either get all bent out of shape and create a rift that eventually splits the two of you up, or you can roll with it and later find out it wasn’t worth making strife over. You know?”

I looked at him. “Actually, I wouldn’t know.”

“Well, yeah, okay. And I haven’t exactly had a great track record keeping significant others either. But the analogy is the same.”

“I guess.”

“Speaking of significant others, Michelle’s still inside. If you want to go home I can take you and come back and get her later.”

I took that as my cue to stand up. The drizzle was steady and fine. “I’ll just take a cab.”

“No, c’mon, you don’t have to…”

I held up a hand. “Come on, Bart. I got in for free, didn’t have to buy any booze, and I’ve got thousands of dollars in the bank doing nothing. I can spring for the cab. Don’t leave Michelle alone in there.” I jerked my head toward the door. “I’ll be okay. I’m going to go get some sleep. Let’s take the day off tomorrow, too. Alright?”

He nodded, the overlong curls of his bangs bobbing over his eyes as he did so. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The cab dropped me off at the curb in front of our place. The house was dark and quiet, everyone out, still at clubs, girlfriends’ houses, wherever. I guess Colin and the band went out to eat instead of coming here.

I fumbled my keys on the front steps and when I dropped them I stared at them where they fell. I sat down as it started to rain again, the crooked awning and the wind from behind the building sheltering me from the wet. Damn it, damn it, damn it. My brain ran around inside my head and I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes. Something wasn’t right, nothing was right, and I knew it, but I couldn’t see how to fix it, or even exactly what “it” was.

The worst part is, I thought, I’m supposed to be fucking happy now.

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