Chapter Six: The heart is an overrated muscle

 

    I loved show nights. Pete probably didn’t realize how much his dreams of being a rockstar made my life more interesting. It was on a small, local scale, but his band had fans, and people were always excited before they came on. Pete started playing the guitar after his tenth birthday. I can still close my eyes and see him getting it. Our moms handed it to him with a blue ribbon. The moment his hands held the guitar a huge smile spread across his face. Our mom’s loved going to concerts, and since they were both single, they brought us with them a lot. As my mind reluctantly glanced at memories the realization that Pete probably missed my mom too sunk into my gut like puddles soak a sock.

    My eyes found him through the camera lens I had positioned carefully between me and the world. His jet black hair was a crafted spiky mess. A black t-shirt and tight jeans gave the appearance he didn’t care what he looked like—I was the only one privy the to Pete’s preparations before a show. Only I knew he struggled with aggressive stage fright even though his dream was to be famous and play in front of thousands of people. Pete reached down to plug his mic into the large square amp to his right. My thumb grazed the button taking two pictures very quickly.

    He looked at me and smiled, “What kinda shots are you getting?”

    “The best ones,” I mumbled back. People started lining up outside the small American Legion. Every Saturday night teenagers from all the different suburban pockets filled various crumbling concrete parking lots of whatever Legion was taking turns hosting.

    The smell of tobacco oozed off of Wilson’s denim jacket as he pushed past me to roll an amp to its proper spot. Wilson was the drummer of Goat’s Gin, and possibly the only thing not great about Pete’s band. Pete wanted to replace him but felt bad so put up with his mediocre playing and negative, quick-tempered demeanor. Pete was heroically nice.

    “Why don’t you do something useful?” Wilson growled at me.

    I stepped out of his way, “Excuse me is how you go about doing that,” I snapped. My back was now pressed up against the brick wall near the stage.

    As I glared at Wilson, rolling my eyes, I caught a glimpse of Pete, who was staring at me sporting his wide smile.

    “What?” I asked Pete, now instantly distracted from disliking Wilson.

    “It’s nice having you around,” Pete said this to me in a tone different than the one he was just speaking in. Something about the way his voice wrapped sweetly around his words made my stomach go soft in a way that Pete didn’t typically cause.

    I stepped away from the wall, shaking it off, then crossed my arms in hopes of keeping myself put together, in hopes of keeping myself somewhat safe.

     “Where’d your mind just go?” Pete took a step closer to me, his eyebrows furrowed.

    Madness was at the tip of my tongue as a small woman with dark brown hair and thick red, horn-rimmed glasses stalked up, pushing past me in a hurry. This was Teresa Martinez, the brains behind the local bands getting to play at new venues every week. She was awesome, but it came with the price of being intimidating and openly opinionated.

    “The band before you has a broke down car. Can you guys be ready earlier?” Teresa’s voice barked in a way that always made me think of a Shitzu.

    “So we are starting?” Pete’s whole expressions dropped. “We’re supposed to be headlining.”

    “No, Devil’s Brains are going on before you. Still headlining, just sooner.”

    “Okay, yeah we can be ready.”

    “You,” Teresa poked me in the bicep with her acrylic tipped finger. “Can you take pictures of the merch tables?”

    “Yeah.” I nodded at her obediently.

    Teresa was gone as quickly as she arrived. I looked at Pete feeling strange.

    His eyes attempted to communicate something but I wasn’t able to pin point exactly what.

    “I’ll be back,” I mumbled as I pointed to the tables stacked with t-shirts and stickers.

    He nodded. As I walked away a twinge of a missed moment tugged at my toes.

***

    Daryl Hayes and his blue hair belted out that he can’t deal with life into the mic not holding a candle to the natural talent Pete had. I’d seen and Daryl and his band Devil’s Brains preform the same songs almost every Saturday for three years. A fun group of guys, but not a bunch that held a ton of ambitions. The final song of the set rung out with a guitar cord held for a bit too long. The crowd was sufficiently dense. I had to maneuver my way through the crowds of people to get clear shots. When I had a camera between me and the world, I felt somehow safer.   No matter where I was, most of the time I didn’t feel like I quite belonged. With Pete and behind a camera were the two places I felt at truly comfortable.

Another thing that goes on North Jersey’s not so great list is the harsh mixture of timeworn buildings and houses that were slammed against construction so new and top of the line it seems more fit for a movie set then in Bergan County. I think that was something that made everything feel so fake.

I couldn’t help but reflect on how everyone starts dying the second we are born, and I was starting to believe that was the same for society. The guitar and bass rattled in my head mixed with the anxiousness pulsing everywhere. Muffled conversations filled various pockets in the arena. I was looking forward to Molly showing up. She said she was going to try and talk Malachi into coming too, which I hope she would. I found myself craving anything new. Things separate from my old life made it easier to forget my pain. The shows were the courting before everyone would break off into parties that best fit their social circles. As removed as I felt form my current reality. I did the same. Pete was the beat I held onto to keep moving. He always seemed to know where he was going, and I always felt lost.

    The music stopped abruptly. Cheers and the always expecting booing from the angrier on lookers broke out.

    “Thanks jerks!” Daryl mumbled into the microphone. Him and others stalked off the stage.

    Pete strutted out from behind a black curtain. A few girls hooted at him, which he loved, of course. I was more than used to girls throwing themselves at him. He used to not always indulge in it, but once Cora broke his heart at the beginning of Sophomore year he decided his heart was safer if he had many girls instead of just one. Felix the bassist, and Wilson following Pete out and they quickly settled into their usual spots.

    “How’s everybody doing tonight?” Pete’s raspy voice spoke closely into the top of the microphone.

    Cheers bounced out of various mouths throughout the small arena, a space where senior citizens play bingo during the day.

    “Here is, Play Me.” Pete mumbled, then quickly cleared his throat. Right before he started to sing, he close his eyes carefully. Possibly only I could see him pull in a preparation breath. His fingers moved with the strings like it was just the most natural motion in the world, and when Pete being to sing his words the whole room came together. Once I brought the camera between us I only felt closer to Pete, and safer. His lips fell into a pout as he sung about some crazy night with a girl who’s name he never knew. My thumb stamped down on the circular button in quick succession.

    “Now he’s hot,” Molly’s voice in my ear pulled me out of the mini trance I was getting sucked into. Her long fingers clutched my shoulders, “I convinced this one to come with me,” she yelled over the live music as she motioned her head toward Malachi, who was wearing a sleeveless shirt and bobbing his head to Pete and the rest of Goats Gin.

    “Told you he was good to look at!” Malachi shouted at Molly with a wide, self-pleased grin.

    “That’s your best friend Pete?” Molly’s voice strutted up in a confused, almost amused expression, one I’ve never seen before. “Please tell me you mean friend with benefits, or one of those messy x-boyfriend-now-besties that never works type of relationship.”

    “No can do. He’s been my best friend since I was seven,” I said this as my eyes found themselves back on Pete. His black hair hung over his eyes now. He was worlds away from where we all were. Unfortunately for timing, in a brief passing wave, I had gotten a glimmer that told me I felt otherwise.

    “Mmmhmm.” Molly’s arms dropped to her sides. “I thought you said they weren’t going on till eight thirty.”

    “The band before them were no-shows.”

    “Lame.” Molly flipped her fire-engine hair out of her face. Her chest shimmered with a thick layer of body glitter, which somewhat worked out with her simple outfit of a mini-shirt and low cut t-shirt. If I had anything show-off there, I suppose I might.

    “You guys only missed two songs and they’re playing twice as long.”

    “It all even’s out I suppose.” Molly’s eyes were locked on Pete. I knew that look, I saw girls size Pete up that way all the time. Another flutter irritated my gut, but this flutter was the of jealous sort. What was wrong with me?

    The two of them followed me around as I captured Goat’s Gin’s performance. Malachi and Molly’s comments back and forth added to the excitement of taking pictures. My mind kept pretending that I was a taking photos for a major magazine. I was usually by myself when Pete was on stage. I realized that I should probably have taken more of Wilson, but was hoping that he’d be replaced soon. There were other drummers. I wasn’t sure what would come first: Wilson getting bored with it, or Pete finally getting fed up. The bass rattled in my ears. All the warmth from all the moving bodies by the end of it made my mouth dry, and my head is suffering from a dull ache.

    “Thanks, guys remember to buy t-shirts!” Pete groaned into the microphone. His forehead glimmered under the florescent lights. I stood there anxious as he climbed off stage. He spotted  Malachi and Molly, then tossed a thumbs up.

    “This must be the cool girl who isn’t a drug addict,” Pete said his words purposely spoken in his ‘smooth’ voice.

    Molly, like most everyone, smiled, “You must be the not hot best friend without benefits.” Molly extended her hand and shook Pete’s. How she lobbed her own smoothness back at Pete made me both admire her even more and gave me the fleeting urge to push her down.

     Pete laughed, then eyed Malchi. “I know you.”

    “Yes, some crazy parties my friend.” Malachi laughed at something nobody quite knew execet him.

    “Well El, how was it?”

    “One of your best. Wilson is still bringing you down.” I shifted my feet, not feeling completely comfortable with standing still.

    “I am right here Phone Home,” Wilson shot back as fumbled with dismantling his drum kit.

    “Phone home?” Molly crinkled her nose.

    “E.T.,” I said, feeling Pete’s eyes on me. “My name and I’m obsessed with the movie,” I lied. My cheeks instantly burned with embarrassed heat. I knew full well that Pete knew I lied. E.T. was my mom’s favorite movie. She named me after the alien’s friend Elliot, a decision she made while on bedrest at age sixteen.

    “Ahh,” Molly responded but her eyes were set on Pete’s in way that made me uncomfortable. Molly and Pete hooking up wasn’t something I was exactly anticipating as a possibility.

    “Party at my place!” Wilson bellowed, cupping his hands around his face. That was something he did bring to the table was house with parents who traveled constantly making the house contents party spot. The poor house has witnesses countless mistakes by intoxicated minds. The thing I found about life, is that trouble isn’t far off and at any point everything can be different.

    “Let’s do it!” Pete touched Molly’s arm, her cheeks redder in response. “You two coming?”

    “Sure thing,” Molly slid her long arms in front of her chest.

    I felt instantly sick. I wasn’t exactly sure if it was because I have toddler handle of what is mine is mine, but part of me thought maybe I wanted to distract myself with Pete in a different way. My head was officially muddy and I was flustered. These feelings only grew as we headed to Wilson’s house all together.

You can listen to the first five episodes on iTunes and Stitcher. New episodes air every Saturday.

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