“I-A” Excerpt

I found Sandy first, pressed against the alley wall between Frankie’s Joint and the Pony.  It took me a moment to recognize who she was with, but I knew Steven’s hair anywhere.  Even from the back.  Even with Sandy’s fingers tucked in the middle of it.  I couldn’t see Steven’s hands, but I could see his lips.  And I could see hers.  I could see all four of their lips but I couldn’t tell where any of them ended.  I thought I had fallen as low as someone can, but the sight of them was the straw that broke my back and sent me crashing through that glass floor.

I’m not sure how long I stood outside and watched them—longer than I should have—but the college kids were still cheering for the band to come back out when I went inside the Pony again.  They’d all had their share of courage and weren’t afraid to tell the world about it.  None of them saw the lead singer behind them at the bar, laughing between his drinks and cheering along with them.  I stood by the door and tried to forget about her.  And him.  And his hands running through the wrong hair, stroking the wrong cheek, exploring the wrong body. The lead singer had his arms around two different girls, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“Hey!” He called with a gesture for me to come over.  He turned to the girl on his left arm as I made my way over to him. “This here’s the guy who wouldn’t have a drink with me earlier.”

“Well I’m sure he’ll join us for one now,” the girl on his left cooed.  “Won’t you?”

“I don’t know,” I responded. “I was about to head home, really.”

“Little life advice my man,” the singer said, moving the arm holding his cigarette to me.  “When a woman like that offers you a drink, you always take it.  Unless, that is, you’ve got a tremendous reason to decline.  So do you have one?”

“Well I’ve got my physical in a few hours,” I told him. “Plus my best friend just went home with my…someone I didn’t want her to go home with.  Either of those good enough?

“Her?”

“Are they good enough or not?”

“Well you’re telling me that you might get sent off to some war and you’re heartbroken.”  He turned back to the bar and shouted at Bobby.  “Barkeep! This cat needs a drink.”

Before he had finished speaking, two shot glasses filled with a mysterious green liquid slid our way.  I tipped mine back immediately.  The faster I drank the sooner I left.  I was used to the warmth liquor brings, but that curious green drink set me on fire.  My eyes stung and watered over, I could hardly breathe without kindling the flames, and my throat was the aftermath of a napalm strike.

“So your best friend’s going behind your back with your girl or something?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Or something.”

He shook his head in disappointment.  The crowd cheering for an encore had finally accepted that the show was over.  Their hero leaned to the girl on his right and started to whisper something in her ear.  I took the opportunity to head for the door, excited for the restless sleep in my future.  Before I made it to the door, the lead singer threw his arm around my shoulder.

“Hang on man, I got a little secret to tell ya,” he leaned in close next to me, his face just inches from mine.  I could practically smell the seductive talent that left his lips on stage each night.  “Look, man.  I can’t give you better advice about your broken heart than that shot.  But if you wanna stay here in Jersey and avoid that war, just tell ‘em you’re gay.  It’s some sort of mental instability to them.  You’ll walk away a free man, just like I did.  And free men get to talk to these lovely ladies behind me.  Come on, brother.  Let’s go back to them.”

With that he turned back to the bar and returned his arms to their rightful place.  I stood stonelike for a moment, my hand pressed against the door.  I saw Steven come in through the back and talk to Bobby at the bar. He settled his tab and I watched Bobby short change him.  He looked my way once Steven had left again, with the saddest smile I’d ever seen.  I threw him a resigned smile and he just nodded his head.  He poured me a few more ounces of green magic as I let go of the door and walked back to the bar.  I tipped it back and headed outside.  Steven and Sandy were nowhere to be found, but Davey was just coming up the steps from below.  He didn’t say a word to me.  He just walked over to Frankie’s Joint, pulled a quarter out of his pocket, and started a game of pinball.

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