“I will let you down,” Dexter sang as I pushed my way toward the bar. “But this lullaby plays on…”
I went to the bathroom, where for once there was no line, and shut myself into a stall. Then I sat down, pulled my hands through my hair, and told myself to calm down. It meant nothing, this song. All my life I’d let other people put so much weight to it, until it was heavy enough to drown me, but it was just music. But even there, locked in the stall, I could still hear it going, those notes I’d known by heart for as long as I could remember, now twisted and different, with another man I hardly knew who had some claim to me, however small, singing the words.
What had my mother always said when we listened to it on the one scratchy album she owned of my dad, back when we still had a record player? His gift to you, she’d tell me, idly brushing my hair back from my forehead with a dreamy expression, as if someday I’d truly understand how important this was. By then, she had already forgotten the bad times with my father, the ones I heard secondhand: how they were dirt-poor, how he’d hardly spent any time with Chris when he was a baby, and only married her-not even legally, it turned out-in a last-ditch attempt to save a relationship already beyond repair. What a legacy. What a gift. It was like a parting prize in a game show where I’d lost big, a handful of Rice-A-Roni and some cheap luggage thrust upon me as I left, little consolation.
The final note sounded: the drum cymbals hummed. Then, huge applause, cheering. It was over.
Okay then. I walked out of the bathroom and headed straight to the bar, where Chloe was sitting on a stool with a bored expression. Truth Squad was still going, playing a medley of camp songs-played Led Zeppelin style, with crashing guitars and a lot of whooping-that I recognized as being a set-ender. The guy Chloe had been talking to was gone, Lissa was still talking to the not-cute-but-decent one, and Jess, I assumed, had used one of her regular excuses and was either “at the pay phone” or “getting something from the car.”
“What happened to the surfer boy?” I asked Chloe as she scooted over, making room for me on her stool.
“Girlfriend,” she said, nodding to a booth off on our left, where the guy was now nuzzling a redheaded girl with a pierced eyebrow.
I nodded as Ted did a few windmill guitar moves, John Miller going all out on a drum solo, his face almost as red as his hair. I wondered if Scarlett was impressed, but she’d left the booth where she’d been sitting, so I couldn’t know for sure.
“Interesting song choice earlier, didn’t you think?” Chloe asked me, pushing off the floor with her foot so that we twisted slightly in the stool, to one side and then back again. “Couldn’t help but feel that I had heard it somewhere before.”
I didn’t say anything, instead just watching as John Miller continued to battle his drum set while the crowd clapped along.
“Of all the things he should know,” she went on, “that you hate that song is a freaking given. I mean, God. It’s basic. ”
“Chloe,” I said softly, “shut up, okay?”
I could feel her looking at me, slightly wide-eyed, before going back to stirring her drink with her finger. Now there was only one person between me and the A &R chick, who was jotting something down with a pencil she’d borrowed from the bartender, who was watching her write with great interest while ignoring a whole slew of people waving money for beers.
“We’re Truth Squad!” Dexter yelled, “and we’re here every Tuesday. Thank you and good night!”
The canned dance music came on, everyone pushed toward the bar, and I watched as Dexter hopped off the stage, conferred with Ted for a second, and they both began heading toward us, Lucas in tow. John Miller was already making a beeline for Scarlett, who I now saw standing by the door, as if trying to ease herself out gradually.
The A &R chick was already holding out her hand to Dexter as they came up. “Arianna Moss,” she said, and Dexter pumped her hand a bit too eagerly. “Great set.”
“Thanks,” he replied, and she kept smiling at him. I glanced across the room, looking toward the door, wondering where Jess was.
Ted, pressing closer, added, “The acoustics in here are terrible. We’d sound much better with decent equipment, and the crowd kind of sucks.”
Dexter shot him a you-aren’t-helping kind of look. “We’d love to hear what you think,” he said to her. “Can I buy you a beer?”
She glanced at her watch. “Sure. Let me just make a call first.”
As she walked away, pulling a cell phone out of her pocket, Dexter saw me, waved, and mouthed that he’d be just a minute. I shrugged, and he started to move toward me, but Ted pulled him back.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. “She’s here to talk to all of us, Dexter, not just you.”
“He said we wanted to hear what she thinks,” Lucas told him. “Calm down.”
“He’s buying her a beer!” Ted said.
“That’s called public relations,” Dexter told him, glancing back in my direction. But now Arianna Moss was already coming back, tucking her phone in her pocket.
“And what was up with that song?” Ted shook his head, incredulous. “Sonny and Cher would have been better. God, anything would have been better. We might as well have had on leisure suits and been playing dinner theater with that crappy song.”
“She loved it,” Dexter said, trying to catch my eye, but I let a burly guy wearing a baseball cap step into my line of vision.
“She did,” Lucas agreed. “Plus it got us out of the bottomless pit into which ‘The Potato Song’ had flung us.”
“‘The Potato Song,’” Ted huffed, “was doing just fine. If John Miller had bothered to make it to the last band practice on time-”
“Oh, it’s always somebody else, isn’t it?” Lucas snapped.
“Shut up, you guys,” Dexter said under his breath.
“Ready to talk?” Arianna Moss asked as she walked up. She asked Dexter. I noticed, and so did Ted. But only he, of course, was truly bothered.
“Sure,” Dexter said. “Over here okay?”
They started walking and I turned my back again, waving down the bartender for a beer as they passed. By the time I’d paid they were sitting in a booth by the door, she and Dexter on one side, Lucas and Ted on the other. She was talking: they were all listening.