A girl, and a band, and their start, and all that lovely jazz
|Then, way back then, I was new to the town, and alone.
Almost bohemian, half-breed gypsy, I was used to starting over. But this time seemed like one time too many. Too many endings proceeded this supposed new start. Tired and gunshy, I crashed at an accquaintances (rather, a distant cousin. but no better than a stranger on the street.) and found part time work at a local grocery store.
My world travelings hadn't improved my social skills. By this point, barely twenty years old with all but two continents travelled (And most likely never to reach the seventh), I'd become painfully introverted. I was loath to be starting over, again. my way of life had consisted of stop for a few months and make money, then be on my merry hobo way.
The grocery store, a large, ungainly thing, seemed to me louder and more boisterious than a euro market, and less friendly. I offered my kind, but strange, new co-workers small smiles, but little else.
After almost two months of doing nothing more but work, sleep, and stare blankly at my accumliation of photographs, my cousin near kicked me out of the house.
"Go," she urged, "find something, anything out there. Explore! Adventure! For godssake, talk!"
Irked, but obliged, I went. I took to the habit of walking past midnight on random city streets. Living in the world so long, I wasn't afraid of mere threats of robberies and all sorts of horrible waifs who do horrible things to young women, alone. (A great fear of my cousin's, although she'd lived in the same city all her life.)
No, what I feared were the real people. In and out of cities, and open land, I'd come to realize I'm a very unintegral part of the circle of life. So very few would seek to do me harm-what would their advantage be? And the few who did, never did again.
But the real people. The warm, smiling ones. The ones you become connected to. These are the dangerous ones. Only those you care for can ever really hurt you.
I discovered, during a nighttime journey, a tiny cafe not far from the house my cousin lived in. It just so happened that on the particular night I found it, there was an open mic being held.
I cautiously crept inside, observing a unshaven youth taking to the stool on the seemingly hastily prepared stage. The room was pulsing with life, young and those hanging onto youth were scattered around on sofas and shabby chairs, around cicular tables, and, around the stage, seated cross legged, huddled together. Most of the faces were smiling, voicing their encouragement to the man on stage.
He pushed curly black hair from his face, smiled and moved toward the microphone. Opening his mouth to say something, he instead laughed, and drew back.
"Don't tease me, Darron!" A voice nearby me howled.
The young man laughed, opened his mouth again, then, thinking the better of it, placed his fingers ready on the acoustic guitar resting in his lap.
Caught up in my observations and the easy going mood of the room, I jumped when I felt a hand upon my elbow. Turning, I saw the hand was attached to a small, bony creature with intense hazel eyes. Indicating the empty sofa,save for him, and the group of girls seated on the floor, he simply said "Sit."
I smiled my thanks;there were no other empty seats save for this table.
"I'm Paul." He held his hand to me, which I took. I recognized his as the catcalling voice, who named the boy on stage Darron.
"Rayna." A guitar chord rang out, followed by another. The murming crowed hushed, and, sharing a last smile, we turned our attention towards the source.
Begining only slightly ackwardly, the guitar and it's boy revealed songs of love lorn and giddy childness. Enrapt, like a child with a new toy, I revelled in my "treasure" of the night. What good fortune to find this cafe,this scene, this night!
The songs became slower and more painfilled. The occasional tear would drop from the boy's brillant eyes. Then he'd smile, and push back the wavy curls that never stayed put.
Enthralled as I was, I still sat rigid, definsive, next to the friendly Paul, and the roomfilled with strangers.
Though not complete strangers. I recognized a few girls from work, all being younger and gossipy.
All too soon, a mere half hour!, the boy named Darron relinquished his place at the center to another boy-man. He was recieved by the girls seated along the floor. Splitting in half, the girls chose to either sit again on the floor for the new minsteral, or move along with Darron to where I was seated, ackwardly, with Paul.
"Hi." He thrust a hand to me. Surprised, I took it."I'm Darron." He waited. I took in his slight frame, intoxicating dark eyes that were perfectly framed by the black curls.
Paul leaned in. "Now you tell him your name."
I could feel the hot, pink flush creep to my cheeks. Freckles across his cheeks danced as he gently laughed.
"Rayna." Amused at my own blatent shyness, i allowed myself a laugh at my own expense.
"He, scoot over." He genlty shoved at my shoulder.
"Oh," I started. "I was just leaving."
"No!" Paul said in my ear.
"No." Echoed Darron. "Stay."
"Stay." Paul affirmed.
I voiced my weak protest that fell on deaf ears.
Seated on teh otherside of Paul, a girl I recognized from work caught my eye. She rolled hers,a nd laughed. "Stay." She nodded. "You'll like Erich's set."
Resigned, I leaned hesitantly against the back of the sofa. I pulled a cigarette frommy case, and fumbled for my lighter.
Paul motioned me to stop, and held a light to the end of my cigarette, and cupped his hand around the end till I had it lit.
"Thanks," I said, exhaling.
"Next time, take." He placed thelighter on the table."IT's assumed. " He nodded. "Speaking of sets," he leaned over me to Darron. "You sucked."
Darron let out a boyish giggle." I know."
The girls voiced their protests. "No, you were great, Ronnie."
"What did you think?" Paul directed to me.
I mused. "Well...you're guitar was flat."
Both boys laughed. "She can stay." Darron said to Paul, giving me a warm smile.
I caught myself smiling as I settled back to listen to Erich.
what is this? me, being social?
Panic started to set in. Not being accostomed to social situations, other than brief conversations with my cousin, I started to feel trapped.
The boy on stange seemed to draw his set out for hours, though it only lasted twenty minutes. The moment Darron stood to congratulate Erich, I bolted.
Well, tried to.
Halfway to the door, Paul grabbed my arm. "Leaving?"
"Just going out for some air." I lied.
"With all of your stuff?"
I only had my bag and jacket. "Well, strange place, strange people. You know. "
An amused smile crept onto his face. "I think I need some fresh air, too." He grabbed a pack of cigarrettes and his lighter off the table, deposited them into his pocket, linked his arm with mine,and we walked out.
Standing against the wall, I hugged myself with one arm, and held a lit smoke in the other. I fumbled for things to say, when my only thought was to run home. Fast.
"You work at Saveqik, right? " He asked me.
I vaugly heard him explain to me how the girl seated next to him worked with me, and recognized me. I half smiled, barely nodded, inhaled faster and faster.
"You okay? "
Hearing my name triggered a response. "Sorry. " I flashed him my teeth. " Just tired, I think. In fact, I should have been home an hour ago. Work in the morning, you know. "
He gazed at me, thinking secret thoughts, then smiled. "You should come here agian, next week. But come early, before they start the open mic."
I stared at him.
"Promise you'll come. You'll enjoy it. "
Never having been asked in earnest to join complete strangers, I promised.
"So this is where you two ran off to." A voice teased behind us.
"Yes," I turned to Darron. " We were just about to commit clandestine acts when you showed up."
He laughed. "Are you coming next week?"
Paul nodded. "She promised."
"Why?" I wondered aloud. "I mean.."
"Because no girl ever told Darron he sucked before. " Paul interjected.
I stammered. "I didn't say he sucked, just that-"
"So you have to be good. " Paul finished.
I laughed. "Alright, I'll come. "
they nodded their approval.
"But for now, I'm leaving. "
"walking?" Paul asked.
"Which way do you live? I'll walk you."
"That a-way."I pointed straight. "Then to the left a bit. But I'm good,thanks."
"You sure?" Darron asked. "Scary place at night, this city."
I laughed. "No strange boys following me home!" I waved my goodbyes, and left, smiling to myself. My cousin would be proud. I was social.
The following week passed quickly, in the same routine. Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat, sleep.
On my feet too long at work, caught up in the monotony, swipe, beep, your reciept, thank for shopping at Saveqik. a voice startled me out of my trance.
"What are you doing here? It's six thrity!"
Dressed in a oversized t-shirt ( really, anything would be oversized on his frame), with a girl attatched to his arm, he leaned in. "You're still coming tonight, you promised...remember?"
Puzzeled, I stared back at his intent gaze." Tonight?"
"It's thursday, open mic night, at the cafe.You promised! The show starts in an hour!"
I waved at the empty lanes around me. "The night cashier called in. I have to stay until they get ahold of someone else to come in. "
I met his unrelenting stare. "All right. I will try to be there..."
He shook a bony fist. "You promised. "
The girl on his arm giggled. "Don't mind Paul, he's a little over passionate about the guys."
"Darron, Erich, that lot. He's living his rock star dreams vicariously through them. "
The night manager, noticing the noise and the growing line in my lane, began walking towards us. "Alright. I'll try. Now, go before you get me in trouble. " I whispered. Loud enough for my manager to hear, " I understand your excitment about the new brand of degergent we're carrying now, sir. Thank you for shopping at Saveqik."
Paul and the girl left, with Paul mouthing "seven thirty" to me as he walked away.
"Rayna, you can go. Thanks for staying over. " Steven, the night manager stood at the end of the lane. Indicating behind me, he added, "Jessica's here now. "
The whole way home, I debated whether or not to go. Sure, I promised. but, I didn't know these kids...and a night with the television sounded comforting.
What am I saying? I asked my reflection in the mirror at home. Friends reruns, or getting out of the house?
By the time I arrived home, I already knew, without knowing, that'd I'd be making an appearance to Java Jacques. Pulse quickening slightly, I quickstepped around the apartment, changing out of my work clothes, checking out my reflection in the mirror.
"Ray?" My cousin stood in my doorway."Mike and I are going to watch a movie...You're welcome to join, unless you're planning on locking yourself in your room, again."
I flashed her a smile. "Thanks, but I'm going out. "
"'bout time. " She smiled back.
The autumn air crunched around me, the abandoned leaves under my feet. It had still been light when Ieft my apartment, but in the fifteen minute walk, darkness had decidedly settled. There was a lone figure under the street light in front of the cafe.
"Come here often? " I questioned.
"You're late. " Paul responded.
"Am not. It's seven thirty on the dot." I stuck my wrist out.
"I know." He smiled and led the way inside.
"Ah, Rayna! My favorite critic!" Darron called from the same sofa we had occupied the week before. I blushed slightly.
"All I did was point out your guitar was flat..."
He waved his hand as if he didn't want to argue the fact. "This is Erich. You ran out before I could introduce you two last week. Erich, Rayna. " As he spoke, Erich stood and shook my hand. Although a slightly larger build, he had the same intoxicating dark features as Darron, with brilliant green eyes instead of Darron's hazel.
"Pleasure to meet you, Rayna."
"My, but aren't you all formal. Nice to meet you, too." I settled on the couch next to Paul. Girls flitted all around the guys, it seemed, cooing over them. "Your harem?" I asked Erich.
He laughed. "One of the perks of being local celebrities, I suppose. Well, for these guys, at least." He indicated Darron and Paul.
"Ahh,"I nodded. "A serious musician. "
"That, and he doesn't like girls." Paul said in my ear.
"Hmmm..."I eyed Erich. "' Local celebrities,' eh?"
"Darron and I are in a band together, we've been doing shows around here for years."
"Ever thought of finding a bigger audience?"
He grimiced. "That's a bit of a sore spot right now. We-"
"Welcome to Java Jacques Open Mic Night!" He was cut off by a server on the stage. "First on deck tonight is a JJ's regular. Give it up for Darron Hayes!"