Mia hesitates for a second, then skitters to catch up. “Nobody knew it was you.”
Her ignorance—the luxury of that ignorance!
“The whole car knew it was me.”
“What are you talking about, Adam?”
“What am I talking about? I’m talking about having photographers camped out in front of my house. I’m talking about not having gone record shopping in almost two years. I’m talking about not being able to take a walk without feeling like a deer on the opening day of hunting season. I’m talking about every time I have a cold, it showing up in a tabloid as a coke habit.”
I look at her there in the shadows of the shut-down city, her hair falling onto her face, and I can see her trying to figure out if I’ve lost it. And I have to fight the urge to take her by the shoulders and slam her against a shuttered building until we feel the vibrations ringing through both of us. Because I suddenly want to hear her bones rattle. I want to feel the softness of her flesh give, to hear her gasp as my hip bone jams into her. I want to yank her head back until her neck is exposed. I want to rip my hands through her hair until her breath is labored. I want to make her cry and then lick up the tears. And then I want to take my mouth to hers, to devour her alive, to transmit all the things she can’t understand.
“This is bullshit! Where the hell are you taking me anyway?” The adrenaline thrumming through me turns my voice into a growl.
Mia looks taken aback. “I told you. I’m taking you to my secret New York haunts.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a little over secrets. Do you mind telling me where we’re going. Is that too much to f**king ask?”
“Christ, Adam, when did you become such a . . .”
Egomaniac? Asshole? Narcissist? I could fill in the blank with a million words. They’ve all been said before.
“. . . guy?” Mia finishes.
For a second, I almost laugh. Guy? That’s the best she’s got? It reminds me of the story my parents tell about me, how when I was a little kid and would get angry, I’d get so worked up and then curse them out by going “You, you, you . . . piston!” like it was the worst thing ever.
But then I remember something else, an old conversation Mia and I had late one night. She and Kim had this habit of categorizing everything into diametric categories, and Mia was always announcing a new one. One day she told me that they’d decided that my gender was divvied into two neat piles—Men and Guys. Basically, all the saints of the world: Men. The jerks, the players, the wet T-shirt contest aficionados? They were Guys. Back then, I was a Man.
So I’m a Guy now? A Guy! I allow my hurt to show for half a second. Mia’s looking at me with confusion, but not remembering a thing.
Whoever said that the past isn’t dead had it backward. It’s the future that’s already dead, already played out. This whole night has been a mistake. It’s not going to let me rewind. Or unmake the mistakes I’ve made. Or the promises I’ve made. Or have her back. Or have me back.
Something’s changed in Mia’s face. Some type of recognition has clicked on. Because she’s explaining herself, how she called me a guy because guys always need to know the plan, the directions, and how she’s taking me on the Staten Island Ferry, which isn’t really a secret but it’s something few Manhattanites ever do, which is a shame because there’s this amazing view of the Statue of Liberty and on top of that, the ferry is free and nothing in New York is free, but if I’m worried about crowds we can forget it, but we can also just check it out and if it’s not empty—and she’s pretty sure it will be this time of night—we can get right back off before it leaves.
And I have no idea if she remembered that conversation about the Man/Guy distinction or not, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. Because she’s right. I am a Guy now. And I can peg the precise night I turned into one.
The groupies started showing up right away. Or maybe they’d always been there and I just hadn’t noticed. But as soon as we started touring, they were buzzing about like hummingbirds dipping their beaks into spring flowers.
One of the first things we did after we signed with the label was hire Aldous to manage us. Collateral Damage was due to come out in September, and the label planned a modest tour in the late fall, but Aldous had different ideas.
“You guys need to get your sea legs back,” Aldous said when we finished mixing the album. “You need to get back on the road.”
So right as the album came out, Aldous booked us a series of ten tour dates up and down the West Coast, in clubs we’d played in before, to reconnect with our fan base—or to remind them that we still existed—and to get comfortable playing in front of an audience again.
The label rented us a nice Econoline van, tricked out with a bed in the back, and a trailer to haul our gear, but other than that when we set out, it didn’t feel that different from the shows we’d always played.
It was completely different.
For one, right away and for whatever reason, “Animate” was breaking out as a hit single. Even over the course of the two-week tour, its momentum was building and as that happened, you could feel it in every consecutive show we played. They went from well-attended to packed to sold-out to lines around the corner to fire marshals showing up. All in a matter of two weeks.
And the energy. It was like a live wire, like everyone at the shows knew we were right there on the verge and they wanted to be a part of it, a part of our history. It was like we were all in on this secret together. Maybe that’s why these were the best, most frenetic, rocking shows we’d ever played—tons of stage diving and people shouting along to the songs, even though nobody had heard any of our new stuff before. And I felt pretty good, pretty vindicated because even though it was just a matter of pure luck that things had gone this way, I hadn’t blown it for the band after all.
The groupies just seemed part of this wave of energy, this growing swell of fandom. At first, I didn’t even think of them as groupies because a lot of the girls I’d known vaguely from the scene. Except whereas before they’d been friendly, now they were brazen in their flirting. After one of our first shows in San Francisco, this hipster chick named Viv who I’d known for a few years came backstage. She had glossy black hair and wiry arms covered in a daisy chain of tattoos. She gave me a huge hug and then a kiss on the mouth. She hung by my side all night long, her hand resting on the small of my back.
At that point, I’d been out of commission for well over a year. Mia and I, well, she’d been in the hospital, then in rehab, and even if she hadn’t been covered in stitches, plaster, and pressure bandages, there was no way. All those fantasies about sexy hospital sponge baths are a joke; there is no place less of a turn-on than a hospital. The smell alone is one of putrefaction—the opposite of desire.
When she’d come home, it had been to a downstairs room that had been her gran’s sewing room, which we’d turned into Mia’s bedroom. I’d slept on a nearby couch in the living room. There were spare rooms on the second floor, but Mia, who was still walking with a cane, couldn’t handle the stairs at first, and I hadn’t wanted to be even that far away.
Even though I was spending every night at Mia’s, I’d never officially moved out of the House of Rock, and one night, a few months after Mia had come back to her grandparents’, she’d suggested we go there. After dinner with Liz and Sarah, Mia had tugged me up to my room. The minute the door clicked shut behind us, she’d pounced on me, kissing me with her mouth wide open, like she was trying to swallow me whole. I’d been taken aback at first, freaked out by this sudden ardor, worried that it was going to hurt her, and also, not really wanting to look at the stubbly red scar on her thigh where the skin had been taken for her graft or to bang against the snakeskin-like scar on her other leg, even though she kept that one covered with a pressure bandage.
But as she’d kissed me, my body had begun waking up to her, and with it, my mind had gone, too. We’d laid down on my futon. But then, right as things had gotten going, she’d started crying. I couldn’t tell at first because the little sobs had sounded just the same as the little moans she’d been giving off moments before. But soon, they’d grown in intensity, something awful and animal coming from deep within her. I’d asked if I’d hurt her, but she’d said that wasn’t it and asked me to leave the room. When she’d come out fully dressed, she’d asked to go home.
She’d tried to start things up with me once more after that. A summer night a few weeks before she’d left for Juilliard. Her grandparents had gone away to visit her aunt Diane, so we’d had the house to ourselves for the night, and Mia had suggested we sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms since by then the stairs were no longer a problem for her. It had been hot. We’d opened the windows and kicked off the antique quilt and just gotten under the sheet. I remember feeling all self-conscious, sharing a bed with her after all that time. So I’d grabbed a book for myself and propped up a row of pillows for Mia to bolster her leg against, like she liked to at night.
“I’m not ready to sleep,” she’d said, running a finger down my bare arm.
She’d leaned in to kiss me. Not the usual dry peck on the lips but a deep, rich, exploring kiss. I’d started to kiss her back. But then I’d remembered that night at the House of Rock, the sound of her animal keening, the look of fear in her eyes when she’d come out of the bedroom. No way was I sending her down that wormhole again. No way was I going down that wormhole again.
That night in San Francisco, though, with Viv’s hand playing on the small of my back, I was raring to go. I spent the night with her at her apartment, and she came with me the next morning to have breakfast with the band before we took off for our next stop. “Call me next time you’re in town,” she whispered in my ear as we parted ways.
“Back on the horse, my man,” Fitzy said, high-fiving me as we piloted the van south.
“Yeah, congratulations,” Liz said, a little sadly. “Just don’t rub it in.” Sarah had recently finished law school and was working for a human rights organization. No more dropping everything to be Liz’s plus-one on tours anymore.
“Just because you and Mikey are all tied down, don’t come sobbing to us,” Fitzy said. “Tour time is playtime, right, Wilde Man?”
“Wilde Man?” Liz asked. “Is that how it’s gonna be?”
“No,” I said.
“Hey, if the name fits . . .” Fitzy said. “Good thing I hit Fred Meyer for the economy box of condoms before we left.”
In L.A., there was another girl waiting. And in San Diego, another. But none of it felt skeevy. Ellie, the girl in L.A. was an old friend, and Laina, the one in San Diego, was a grad student—smart and sexy and older. Nobody had any illusions that these flings were leading to grand romance.
It wasn’t until our second-to-last gig that I met a girl whose name I never did catch. I noticed her from the stage. She locked eyes on me the entire set and wouldn’t stop staring. It was weirding me out but also building me up. I mean she was practically undressing me with her eyes. You couldn’t help but feel powerful and turned on, and it felt good to be so obviously wanted again.
Our label was throwing us a CD-release party after the show, invitation only. I didn’t expect to see her there. But after a few hours, there she was, striding up to me in an outfit that was half hooker, half supermodel: skirt cut up to there, boots that could double as military-grade weaponry.
She marched right up to me and announced in a not-too-quiet voice: “I’ve come all the way from England to f**k you.” And with that, she grabbed my hand and led me out the door and to her hotel room.
The next morning was awkward like none of the morning afters had been. I did a walk of shame to the bathroom, quickly dressed and tried to slip out, but she was right there, packed and ready to go. “What are you doing?” I asked.
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