It meant I was willing to make sacrifices and work two jobs and kill myself to get it all done.
It meant I was brave.
I wished I had been brave enough then to tell her those things.
Instead I kept my mouth closed and listened to her prattle on about a charity event she was hosting right before Christmas and how Michael was doing, and how perfect his wife, Bethany, was.
The more she talked and the more I stayed silent, the more nauseated I became. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I lied and said, “Mom, there’s someone at the door. I have to go.”
“Oh, sure, honey. It was good to see you. Tell Cade we said hi and we’ll see him at Christmas.”
“Mom, I’m not sure he’ll make it to Christmas.”
“And why not?”
“Well, he has his own family to see, plus it’s not exactly cheap. He has tuition and loans to pay.”
Like all the rest of us.
“Oh, your father and I will just take of all that. He can stay for a few days and then go on to Texas. We’ll pay for it. I won’t take no for an answer.”
I was so glad she didn’t mind throwing money at someone she’d just met.
“We’ll see, Mom. I really do have to go.”
I hung up and threw my phone somewhere on the floor. I pulled the covers over my head, and hugged my pillow, but the damage was done. I was too worked up to go to sleep.
I took a long shower. I made a complicated lunch that was supposed to occupy my mind, but didn’t. I went for a run. I played my guitar. I tried to write a new song.
I did that for two days.
Distraction. Failure of said distraction.
Different distraction. Different failure.
Repeat until insane.
The whole time my phone sat there, taunting me. Cade was one call away. Or a text if I was feeling particularly cowardly.
One question could solve so many of my problems. Or delay them anyway. Wasn’t that what life was? Taking the good while we could get it, and delaying the bad as long as possible.
Cade was good, and he could help delay the bad. Win-win, right?
Except for the part where I had to degrade myself to do it.
How much was I willing to sacrifice for the money my parents were giving me?
I knew . . . I could feel it somewhere in the space between my heart and lungs that this wasn’t a hopeless dream. Anything that felt this good and consumed me so completely couldn’t be hopeless. I thought of all the gigs I’d have to cut back on if I didn’t have that money. Any one of them could be the one that puts us on the track of making music for a living, but if the gigs never happened, neither would our break.
I’d just finished thinking that I wasn’t afraid to make sacrifices.
Could I sacrifice my own pride, bend to my parents, and pretend to be something I wasn’t if it meant following my dream? It wasn’t as if I had to actually be someone else. I just had to pretend . . . for a little while.
Five hundred bucks a month. I suppose people had betrayed themselves for less.
I made it to Sunday evening before I went back to my room and fished my phone out from under the pillow I had stuffed it under to dampen the temptation. Before I could analyze what I was doing, I scrolled through my old texts and found Cade’s number.
Hey. My band is playing this Friday at The Fire in Northern Liberties. You should come.
I tossed my phone down on the bed, and then pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes.
Why did I feel like I’d just hit my self-destruct button?
I was just inviting him to see us play. That didn’t mean anything. I still had a whole week to make up my mind.
My phone started ringing, and I jumped to answer it.
Oh, it was Mace.
He probably wanted to do something tonight . . . or spend the night, now that my parents were gone. I just . . . I wasn’t feeling up to being around people.
I hit ignore.
Cade’s reply came a few minutes later.
I spent most of the next week avoiding Mace. We saw each other at practice, and we grabbed dinner beforehand a few times, but I just kept telling him I had to work, which was true. And when I didn’t have to work, I told him I wasn’t feeling well, which wasn’t true, but oh well.
When the day of the gig arrived, we were set to meet that afternoon to load up our equipment from Trestle. Spence had a van we used to transport what we needed. When I arrived, Mace wasn’t there, and Spence was outside smoking.
He inhaled, and on the exhale said, “You look like shit.”
I did. “Thanks, douche rocket.”
I hadn’t slept well the night before because I knew I was going to see Cade the next day, and I still hadn’t decided whether I was going to ask him about Christmas.
“I’m just saying . . . we need you to look hot for tonight and you look like you’re auditioning to be an extra on The Walking Dead.”
“I’ve had a shitty couple of days, okay?”
“Right. Mace said you’ve been sick the last few days.” Spence made air quotes with his fingers when he said “sick.”
“Stay out of it, Spence. And don’t you worry. I’ll be good by tonight. I’ll look so sexy you’ll be dying to get back into my pants.”
“You know I’m always dying to get back in your pants.”
I rolled my eyes. “Har-har.”
He smiled, and took another drag on his cigarette.
“You sure Mace is coming?”
“Why wouldn’t he be?”
He shrugged. “Maybe he took one look at you in that outfit and decided not to show after all. Or maybe he found out about the preppy boy you were making googly eyes at last week at the bar.”
I flicked his cigarette and it went flying out of his mouth.
He said, “Hey! I was using that.”
“I was not making googly eyes at anyone. You’re delirious.”
“No, love, I’m observant. There’s a difference. But keep your secrets. Fine by me. Just wait to cut Mace loose until after tonight or we’ll have problems.”
I twisted the key and opened the heavy front door to Trestle. He followed me inside the darkened, lifeless bar, and I said, “No one is cutting anyone loose. You’re way off on this one, Spence.”
I flipped on the light, and he shrugged. “I wasn’t wrong when I thought you were about to toss me to the curb. I doubt I’m wrong this time.”
Sometimes it was really obnoxious being friends with an ex. He liked to bring it up all the time, but I knew for a fact that he was way past over me. The guy had a different girl every week. He liked to say he was practicing for the groupies we’d eventually have. I liked to call him man-whorrible.
My pocket buzzed.
Mace had texted.
Can’t make it 4 set up. Sry. C U 2night tho.
Are you fucking kidding me?
I hit dial, and it went straight to voice mail. I called a second time. Same thing. At the tone, I said, “You better have the best damn excuse in the world, Mace. Tonight is important. Don’t you dare be late!”
Spencer was holding both of our guitars, smirking when I hung up.
“Maybe it’s not Mace who is getting tossed to the curb.”
It was undoubtedly the worst idea ever, bringing Cammie to Max’s show. But my desire to see her play overruled any common sense I was still holding on to. I’d been in midconversation with Milo about date ideas when I received her text. I didn’t even hesitate before saying yes.
Cammie and I met up Friday night at a restaurant close to the venue. She was wearing a little black dress that fit her slim body perfectly. It also probably cost more than my entire wardrobe . . . maybe my whole apartment. When we’d met at Trestle her cheeks had been bright pink. I’d assumed she’d been flushed from alcohol. She’d also been the dictionary definition of giggly. Again, I thought alcohol.
Apparently, I was wrong on both accounts. That was just Cammie, cheeks drowning in blush and lungs made of laughing gas.
I went through all the motions of a date.
Pulling out her chair.
Cammie was nice enough, and very pretty, but a bit predictable. She ordered a salad and kept tossing her blond hair back and forth so much I was surprised she didn’t have whiplash. She giggled not just when stuff was funny, but to fill the silence.
There was a lot of silence on my part.
“So, my professor was completely unreasonable, and wouldn’t even consider letting me retake the test, when really the entire misunderstanding was his fault. You’d think for the amount of money we’re paying for his class that he would be a little better at communicating, right?”
I had to work on replying faster.
“Right. You’d think.”
She smiled and tossed her hair again. “I’m sorry. I’m probably boring you with all my talk about school.”
“Oh, no, not at all!” I said.
“Oh good. Because you know, I ran into the same professor at happy hour hitting on a girl my age. Can you believe it?”
I said as fast as humanly possible, “I cannot!”
“I mean, the guy was like forty. I suppose if I were a different kind of girl maybe he would have let me retake the test, but honestly. I wrote a letter to the dean about the professor. Maybe he’ll get fired. At the very least, my grade will get changed. Daddy is friends with the dean. They’ve been golfing together for ages.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Oh yes. You know, I almost went to another school so that I could ‘make my own way,’ and all that, but in the end, I thought . . . why not take advantage of every opportunity I’m given?”
She kept going, but I was having trouble listening. I liked to think that I probably made it longer than most before tuning out. I was sure that there was a really cool person underneath the designer clothes and the manicured nails and the most obnoxious laughter known to man, but tonight I didn’t have the patience or attention span to find her. My body felt almost electric at the thought of where we’d be heading next.
I’d spent an embarrassingly long time Googling Max’s band Under the Bell Jar. I learned that they’d named themselves after a Sylvia Plath novel, which made me think of Max’s threat to stick my head in the oven on Thanksgiving, and I died laughing. The bass player and Max were the original founding members, and it looked like Max’s boyfriend was a more recent addition. His name was Mace. As in the stuff sprayed into the eyes of rapists and muggers. Or the ancient weapon used to bludgeon people to death.
He sounded like a real keeper.
I was snapped out of my reverie when the waiter came by with the check. My stomach clenched as I slipped a ridiculous amount of cash into the plastic folder. Maybe I shouldn’t be dating, not if I wanted to have the money to go home for Christmas.
I pulled out Cammie’s chair and offered her my arm.
God help me.
“I’m so glad I met you at that god-awful bar. My friends dragged me there, and I wanted to leave as soon as we got there. Well, until I met you.”
Awesome. That meant she was probably going to hate the place we were heading.
“So, tell me again about this band,” she said.
I’d been on the website enough to be able to parrot back to her, “They’re a local Philly band that blends rock and folk music. They’re supposed to be pretty good.”
Dear God. I had to keep talking.
“Yeah, I’ve not heard them play before, but I know someone in the band. I think it’s going to pretty awesome. Do you like music?”
She started talking about Lady Gaga and I sighed in relief. That should last us at least until we walked the block and a half to The Fire. Then hopefully it would be loud enough there to drown out her inane giggling.
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