Ted sighed, "See," he said, "this is what I'm talking about. These jokers were only supposed to do a mini set, and they haven't even started yet."
"Who are they?" Owen asked him.
"I don't even know," Ted said, clearly disgusted. "The original openers came down with some kind of intestinal flu, so they booked these guys to fill in."
"Should have just had you go on early," Owen said. "It is an all-ages show. Plus everyone's here to see you guys."
"My point exactly," Ted replied. "Plus, if we had longer sets, we could try out some of the new stuff I've been writing. It's, like, a total change for us."
Ted nodded, suddenly looking much more animated. "I mean, it's not so far from our regular stuff. Just a little slower, with some more technical touches. Reverb, and all that."
"Technical?" Owen said. "Or techno?"
"It's hard to say," Ted replied. "It's kind of its own thing. Maybe we'll be able to get a couple in the second set. Tell me what you think, okay? It's, like, supposed to be out there but still accessible."
Owen glanced at me. "You know, if that's what you're after, you should ask Annabel what she thinks," he said. "She hates techno."
They were both looking at me now. "Well," I said. "Actually—"
"So if she likes it," Owen said, "it's not too far out there. If she hates it, though, it won't float with the masses."
"And she'd say if she hated it," Ted said.
"Yup." Owen nodded. "She's dead honest. Doesn't hold back."
As he said this, I felt some part of me just sink. Because I so wanted this to be true, enough that, once, I'd actually believed it was. But now, I just sat there, feeling them both looking at me, and felt like the biggest liar of all.
There was a burst of guitar music from the stage, followed by a few drumbeats. Finally, the opening band was starting. Ted made a face, then pushed himself out of the booth. "I can't tolerate listening to this crap; I'm going back. You want to come with?"
"Sure," Owen said. I heard someone yowl, and more feedback. To me he said, "Come on."
I followed him and Ted along the back of the crowd, passing Clarke's table on the way. Rolly was still there, talking excitedly, waving his hands as he did so. Clarke was listening to him, however, so that had to count for something.
Ted led us to a door by the bar, then down a hallway so dark I could barely make out the restrooms as we passed them. When he pushed open a door with a hand-lettered sign that said private , the sudden bright light spilling out made me squint.
The first thing I saw inside was a guy with curly black hair crouching on the floor, reaching under a nearby couch. When he saw us, he got to his feet, breaking into a wide smile. "Owen! What's up, man?"
"Not much," Owen said as they shook hands. "What about you?"
"Same old, same old." The guy held up a cell phone and battery. "Just busted my phone. Again."
"This is Annabel," Owen said.
"Dexter," he said, offering his hand. To Ted he said, "What's the word?"
"The opener just went on," Ted replied as he walked over to a small fridge, pulling out a beer. "Are you guys pretty much ready?"
There were two guys at a nearby table, playing cards. One of them, a redhead, said, "Do we look ready?"
"Well, looks can be deceiving. Because we are."
The other guy at the table laughed, throwing down a card as Ted shot him a look, then plopped on the couch, propping his feet on the table in front of him.
"So," Dexter said, sitting down on the opposite end of the couch. He put the phone on his knee, then picked up the battery, examining it. "What's new on the local music scene?"
"Nothing worth talking about," Owen told him.
"No kidding," Ted said. "You should see the frat-rock cover band that's playing now. Total Spinnerbait wannabes."
"Spinnerbait?" I said.
"They're a band," Owen told me.
"Hate Spinnerbait!" the redhead said, throwing down a card with a smack.
"Now, now," Dexter said, placing the battery carefully back on his phone. When he removed his hand, though, it fell off again, hitting the floor with a clack. He bent down, picking it up. "That's the thing that's great about this town," he said, putting it on again. "There are so many bands to choose from."
"Doesn't mean any of them can play," Ted said.
"True. But variety is always a good thing," Dexter said as the battery fell off again. He turned the phone over, trying to fit it on that way: no go. "In some places," he said, "you really only have a few choices and that"—the battery fell off again— "sucks."
"Dexter." I turned around to see a blonde girl sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. She was holding a yellow highlighter, and a textbook was open in her lap. I hadn't even seen her. "Do you need help?" she asked him.
"Nope. I'm good. Thanks, though."
She got up, sticking the pen in the book and the book under her arm, then walked over to him. "Give it to me."
"No, I've got it," Dexter said, turning the phone over again. "I think it's busted for good this time, actually. Maybe something broke out of it."
She held out her hand. "Let me try."
He handed it over. Then, as we all watched, she looked at it for a second, stuck the battery in, and pushed down. There was a click, and then a trilling sound as the phone came on. She handed it back to him, then sat down on the couch.
"Oh," he said, turning the phone over and staring at it. "Thanks, honey."
"No problem." She opened her book—Statistics for
Business Applications, the spine said—then smiled at us. "I'm Remy," she said.
"Oh! Sorry!" Dexter said. He reached down, smoothing a hand over her hair. "This is Owen and Annabel. This is Remy."
"Hi," I said, and she nodded, pulling out the highlighter again.
"Remy's slumming, touring with us over her fall break," Dexter explained. "She goes to Stanford. She's very smart."
"Then why's she with you?" the redhead called out from the table.
"I have no idea," Dexter replied as Remy rolled her eyes, "but I think it's my mad make-out skills." He leaned over, planting a series of loud, sloppy kisses on her cheek. She winced, trying to push him away, but then he fell into her lap, his long legs splaying out across the couch.