Nighttimes were settled then, Matthew and I roomed together most of the time. Everything about it worked out great, at first. I learned a lot about stage tech, and I read a lot of books, and it kept Carynne at a safe distance. Matthew always answered my questions, and kept passing down mysteries he picked up by the armload in every airport we passed through. But after a while I started getting restless. I wanted to go out and look for someone to scratch my itch. But being underage, in an unfamiliar city, traveling with so many people, it was impossible. When I felt courageous, I would masturbate in the bathroom after Matthew had fallen asleep and fantasize about running into another Mr. Neatly Groomed.
Daytimes would have been easier if not for Carynne. Things would be going along great and then she’d switch into flirt mode, giving me a coy smile as she doled out my per diem or trapping me in the window seat of the plane. I tried to act cool. The last thing I wanted was for the others to see me upset. I could picture Remo, shaken with concern, prying into “the problem.” And worse, if my resolve was weak enough, I might even tell him. Sometimes when she would start in, if I was on the ball I’d send her off to do some vital errand for me. Gee, Carynne, I’m so glad you’re here, would you fetch me another pack of gaffer’s tape? When she’d come back to the stage I’d be gone. I felt like such a shit.
In Seattle she tried telling me her “intimate” secrets, to whet my appetite, I suppose, or make me jealous. After she recounted the tale of how she had taken on the whole rhythm section of Battleaxe simultaneously, I began some hard thinking. Suppose I told her the truth? It would save her from being offended and she’d get off my case. But I’d have to make her promise not to tell anyone. That would never work. After all the things she’d told me, I knew no secret would last. And who’s to say it would work? Would she take it upon herself to “convert” me? That might be even worse.
In Chicago, she changed her tack, trying to get me alone whenever possible. I tried to be as nice as I could, and still say no. This only encouraged her. She wasn’t going to take no for an answer, unless I got nasty about it. I considered it. And what then? She could make life very hard for me, now and in the future. For all I knew, she might spread the rumor that I was queer out of spite. I got tongue-tied when she stood too close, and there was no way I could tell her it wasn’t for the reason she thought it was.
In Madison, where we played a summer festival show on the University of Wisconsin campus, Carynne got her chance.
When we arrived at the building it was noon and none of the student crew were ready for us yet. They were still hanging lights and building a drum riser, laying down cables and setting up the monitor board. A small platoon of students in matching t-shirts took our personal gear backstage. Remo suggested we all get something to eat. One of the students directed us to a street nearby where pizza shops and record stores abounded. Everyone scattered.
Carynne, of course, stuck by me. Don’t get me wrong, it was sometimes fun to hang around with her. She knew every trivial fact about every rock musician who had ever lived or died. Especially the ones that had died, whom she always referred to by first name, Jimi, Janis, Buddy, Richie, Keith, all except for Lennon. I don’t know why. I got a chill thinking about him; was there a psychopathic killer in my future? And would I be remembered by my first name or my last name? I wasn’t 100% sure what to do about the last name issue, now that I’d decided to change it. I wanted to owe Digger nothing, not even that.
She and I sat in a little Formica square of a restaurant where the air conditioner above the door hummed loud enough to drown out the tinny transistor radio that sat on the service counter. I ate pizza while Carynne poked at a bowl of lettuce they called a salad. She looked around the empty restaurant, then leaned across the table to me. “Did you see the backstage setup?”
“No, I just looked around the hall.”
“It’s wild, all these little rooms, like little dressing rooms or unused dorm rooms or something. I’ll show you when we get back.”
“Okay.” As soon as I had said it, her smile fixed on me hard, and I knew I’d made a mistake. Dread churned my stomach. But maybe I could still get out of it, maybe the crew would be done by the time we arrived; then we’d have soundcheck, I might be able to keep myself busy until showtime. She was talking now but I wasn’t listening.
I could just try to sleep with her, I realized. I tried to rationalize it. What would the harm be? She’d be happy and I’d be off the hook, my secret would be safe, and maybe she’d lose interest in me. I certainly wasn’t going to be the technicolor fuck she claimed certain other touring musicians were… I fought back nausea, the pizza heavy in my stomach. If I hated myself for leading her on, I was sure I’d hate myself even more if I went ahead with it. What frightened me most about the thought of it was not that I couldn’t go through with it, but realizing that I probably could.
Digger would have. I’d have to think of something else.
“Are you listening to me? I said we should get back.” Carynne was tapping her watch.
As we were leaving the restaurant, she slipped her arm around my waist.
Two or three students were lounging at the sound board when we arrived at the hall. There was no sign of anyone else. She pulled me by the hand into the wings and led me up a steep set of winding stairs. Off the narrow corridor there must have been a dozen small rooms, each equipped with a makeup mirror, costume stand, and a low bedframe holding a striped institutional mattress. “Isn’t this wild?” she said as she sat down on the cot, shaking her shoulders.
Stalling, I peered out the window and looked into the closet, found it empty. Panic was setting in and it was becoming harder to think. My heart raced. I flipped the light switch on the wall and the ring of lightbulbs around the mirror came on.
She stood up, and kissed me. I froze there, my arms at my sides, but she didn’t seem to notice, holding my head by my hair. It disturbed me how soft her lips were. She pulled back and looked at me, smiling. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to do that,” she breathed.
Actually, I think I do, I thought, but didn’t say. My mouth and brain were still numb. I just stared at her while my mind sank into confusion.
Our heads turned as the door creaked. It was Matthew to my rescue. He poked his sandy head in and looked around, his laminate swinging from his neck on a lanyard. “Hey, I see you found the maze back here, pretty neat, eh?” His T-shirt was worn thin and showed the curve of his chest.
“Yeah,” I croaked. “Pretty neat.”
He winked. “Well, you two hurry up. We want to start soundcheck in a couple of minutes and I want you,” he nodded at me, “doing monitors with the kid they’ve got here.” He looked at Carynne. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell Waldo.” And he backed out the door and shut it before I could say anything more.
Carynne pushed me toward the bed. “I’ll just have to give you a blow job, okay?” I sat down hard as she was already yanking on the button of my jeans. “We haven’t got time for anything else.” Her fingers were cool and smooth against my balls as she pulled my underwear down. I gasped as she took me in her mouth. I clenched my eyes shut and pressed the back of my head against the wall. I was still soft but she was sucking and moving at a furious pace. With my eyes still closed, I imagined it was Matthew kneeling between my legs. She made a little sound in her throat as I got hard. I pretended that her hair on my stomach was Matthew’s mustache, bristly and neat. And right up until the moment that I came I kept telling myself I hadn’t done anything to deserve this, I hadn’t asked her for it and I hadn’t agreed to it. But my body said otherwise, need overtook reason, and I came so hard my foot cramped.
I kept my eyes shut, unable to face her. We were both panting. She put a tissue in my hand. At least, I thought, it was over.
I looked up to see her wiping her mouth with another tissue. “We can come back up here during the first half of the set,” she said. “I won’t make you late.”