She was at my door within minutes, her hair still wet from a shower with some flowery shampoo.
“You okay?” she said, and I wished she hadn’t. “You seem really jittery.”
“Anxiety is my normal state,” I said, which came out sounding serious rather than a joke. “Let’s go out somewhere, see some bands or something.”
She eyed me with a crooked eyebrow. “And you’re not going to disappear on me when I turn around?”
I blushed. I suppressed the urge to stammer something stupid and untrue. “I promise I won’t,” I said. “Let’s go down to Lansdowne Street and see what’s up.” It was the one part of Boston I knew.
We took the subway there, coming up in the middle of an area busy with pizza shops and convenience stores. We could have been any one of the college-age couples walking around on their first date. I led her over the highway to where a string of clubs inhabited the block opposite the big green wall of Fenway Park. In Boston, the same real estate mogul owns almost all the clubs. On Lansdowne Street there were half a dozen places, some large, some small, changing names every few months as fads allowed, but remaining basically the same. I knew what we’d find there — some places where no matter what was going on it would be too loud to talk. If I could, I’d get too drunk to do anything later but pass out. I was glad she was with me, it made me feel safe, somehow. But I dreaded what might come later if I didn’t play my cards right.
“How about here?” I stopped in front of a place with psychedelic murals on the walls. A sign read “Tonite, 18+” so I knew the door wouldn’t be a hassle. We showed our IDs and they fastened a plastic bracelet around Carynne’s wrist. They stamped the back of my hand with a smudge of ink. “I guess this means you’re buying,” I said, once we had cleared the entryway.
I don’t really remember what bands we saw. I mostly remember circulating from one bar to another inside the club so we wouldn’t seem like total lushes, posing ourselves under black lights as we watched the crowd go by, and nodding and smiling at each other a lot in the din. By midnight I thought I should have been good and buzzed, but mostly I just felt edgy and nervous.
Carynne was trying to say something to me.
She put her mouth against my ear. “Hungry! Want to get some pizza?”
“Not really,” I said, but she acted like she didn’t hear me and started for the door. I held my ground. She turned back. I saw her mouth You-Promised. I followed her.
We went back to one of the pizzerias near the subway stop and had slices. We sat in a Formica booth next to the window. “I think I could live here,” I said, watching people coming out of the pub next door.
“Are you going to move here when you finish school?”
I shrugged. “It seems better than New York, and there’s lots of clubs. Maybe I will.”
She chewed on the ice from her soda and watched me watching the people. “Well, if your band ever needs a road manager, give me a call.”
The neon sign made crazy stripes in her shiny red hair. “I’ll do that,” I said, surprised by my own sincerity. I did like her, I realized, I just didn’t want to sleep with her. “Thanks, by the way, for trying to cheer me up the other day.” I liked her smile. “I’m really sorry about… losing you in New York.”
She smiled. “That’s okay.” She offered me some ice, I shook my head. “But you have been acting really weird the past couple of days.”
I shook my head. “Wait, how do you know what’s weird and what’s normal for me? I mean, I might be like this all the time for all you know.”
She chewed on that for a minute. “So, what’s your point?”
“My point is…” I didn’t know what my point was. “Just, how do you know what’s weird.”
“So you’re saying weird is normal for you.”
“Yeah. No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying suppose that were true.” I stood up, feeling irked but still smiling. “Look, this is dumb, we’d better try and get the train.” I walked out of the restaurant without looking to see if she followed.
She did. She was saying, “I think we’ve missed the last one already.”
She was right. When we got down to the turnstiles the gates had already been closed. We went back up to the street and looked around. “We could get a taxi,” I said.
“Nah,” she pointed at the skyline. “Boston’s not that big. We only rode three or four stops on the Green Line.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” She started up the street. “If we get tired, then we can always call a cab. But really, it’s not that far.”
“How do you know?” I followed her.
She smiled and wiggled her head at me. “I go to B.U.”
“You’re kidding.” I knew she went to school but I hadn’t thought about where. “I thought you were from L.A.”
“I am.” Her step got a little more smug and we walked in silence for a while, but only for a while.
“So, why have you been acting so weird?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I dunno, just, you seem real quiet.”
“Haven’t I always been kinda quiet?”
“Yeah, but… well, how about you tell me why you ditched me in New York.”
I walked a little faster. “I don’t know. I just couldn’t deal.”
“With what? Me? Or yourself?” She was looking more at me than at where we were going. I hoped we were going the right way.
“When did you become my analyst?”
“I just want to know, that’s all. Naturally curious.”
“Nosy, you mean.”
The banter dropped out of her tone, her face serious. “Look, you’re the one who disappeared in the middle of the fuckin’ murder capital of the East Coast.” Her cheeks got red and I looked away from her face.
“I said I was sorry.”
She gave an angry snort, and then went on more calm. “What did you do while you were missing?”
I had forgotten she was Ms. Persistence. “I wandered around a lot. I went to a dance club in Alphabet City. I came home and wrote a song. I went to sleep. Story of my life, you know.” Something clicked–all of a sudden I had the lyrics to the song, or most of them, anyway. I started humming to myself. Story of my life, you know.
“Is that the song?”
“What’s it about?”
I smiled. “Well, now it’s about wandering around, going home lonely, and writing a song.” I could hear it as Janis Joplin would have sung it. “Sort of.”
She listened to me hum for a minute before she said in a small voice, “Will you sing me some of it?”
I almost took a wrong step. “I don’t sing.”
“Sure you do. If you can hum and you can write lyrics you can sing.”
“Well, maybe I can. But I just, don’t.” Not in front of other people, anyway.
“You mean you won’t,” she said, looking at the sidewalk under her feet.
“No.” It was my turn to insist. “There are some things that I just don’t do.”
She nodded to herself and we were both quiet again for several blocks. Eventually my paranoia crept up. “Are we getting close, yet?”
“What? Oh yeah, another couple blocks.” She looked at me like she had forgotten I was walking with her. We came around the corner and I saw the hotel.
“Daron,” she said, slowing her pace without warning, “can I ask you something?”
“Are you going to sleep with me tonight? Or are you going to blow me off again?” My tongue froze up. She waited a few moments before going on. “I figured I should ask you now before we’re whispering in some hallway about it.”
“I,” I began, but couldn’t think of what to say after that. The aftereffects of all the drinking seemed to hit me in a rush.
“Normally I wouldn’t just come out and say something like this,” she went on, “but after New York I think the direct approach is best.” She stopped walking, then, and held me by the arm. “So, do we fuck or not? I figure if you’re going to get all freaked out I may as well have some warning.”
“Carynne.” It was hard to look at her, hard to start a sentence. “I wish,” No that wasn’t it. I tried another. “I mean, there are some things…” I faltered again.
“… that you just don’t do,” she finished for me. She hooked an arm in mine and started us for the hotel doors again. “It’s okay, Daron,” she said as we crossed the street. “I understand.”
I wasn’t sure that she did. But I wasn’t sure that she didn’t either. And I wasn’t sure which possibility worried me more.