Chapter Six:

The Oriental Rugs

I could see three other people through the tinted windows of the van

I could see three other people through the tinted windows of the van. Blue paint peeled next to the handle of the sliding door, the rusted orange metal clashing with the blue. Joe opened the passenger door for me, and I climbed up and in, settling myself into the seat before turning around to face the people in the back.

"Hey," I greeted them warmly. They greeted me equally as friendly. Two of them had a similar haircut as Joe's; unruly and obscuring what was probably sixty-percent of their eyesight. The other had a short buzzed head of blonde hair. "Is this yours?" I asked him.

Joe climbed in next to me. "No, it's my brother's, I'm borrowing it to cart our stuff around." He then turned to the back. "Guys," he said, "this is Lauren. Lauren, that's Greg," he pointed to the larger of the two brunettes, "Tony - " the other brunette "- and Parker." The blonde.

I said hello once more as Joe pulled out of the driveway. I reached for the seat belt only to find there was none. Shifting I turned back to the guys in the back.

"So how long have you guys been together?" I asked conversationally.

"Two years," Tony answered. "I play bass, Parker's on drums, and Greg's vocals and on guitar."

"Awesome. How long have you been playing, Tony?"

"Five years, I -" Tony started, but Greg cut him off.

"Tony had played upright bass - as in orchestra bass - for seven years, " Greg punched him in the shoulder.

"You just wish you could handle something that big," Tony shot back, punching equally as hard back.

I laughed lightly at their banter, a bit unsure of how to react. We pulled in to the driveway of a house. It looked relatively small and neat. There were blue shutters around the windows and a white door.

Joe came around to my side before I could get out, opening the door for me.

"Thank you," I said, smiling before hopping down.

"My pleasure," he said. "Why don't you go inside? We're first band up so we've got to get ready."

I nodded my head and followed his pointed finger. I took a path around the left side of the house and down to the basement. Opening the door nervously, I stepped inside.

Actually, I would have if there had been room.

A mass of bodies stood in my way and I had to forcibly push myself through, mumbling apologies to the countless people whose feet I stepped on. Stacked in one corner were several amps, a microphone in the center, a drum set behind. I made my way to the middle, trying to get directly in front.

"Hey, everyone!" A voice yelled over the din. I turned to look. "My mom made snacks!" Looking over, I saw sandwiches cut in the shape of triangles on a plate. There looked to be about seven. There was about three times that cramped into the room. One fan stood in the corner, slowly revolving. It was oppressively hot, but no one seemed to mind.

"Donation?" A metal bowl was shoved up under my nose.

"Um... for what?" The boy holding it had gages. I found myself looking through his ears rather than at his face.

"The bands, duh, new one," he said.

"Is it that obvious?" I asked, dropping a five into the tin.

"Just try not to look so scared," he said, before moving on. Unsure if that made me feel more comfortable or just more awkward, I crossed my arms and waited for Joe to show up.

I watched the interactions of those around me; they all seemed to really know each other well.

"Ow!" I yelped as my foot was pounded by a black van. I understood the covered-toes bit then.

"Sorry about that," he said, looking down at me. I had to crane my neck to see his face. He had generous amounts of acne on each cheek, yet somehow it didn't hide that he had a nice look about him.

"I don't know you..." he said dazedly.

"Oh," I struggled to pull myself together. "I'm Lauren."

"Well nice to meet you Lauren," he said, sticking out his hand. I shook it; it was sticky. "I'm Peter, enjoy the show." He left abruptly. At least everyone seemed friendly - though I did still feel as though I was invading some ritual that

I was in no position to attend.

Finally, I saw Joe's band come in, he had his guitar swung around to his back as he tried to maneuver his way in. They spent another good ten minutes setting up, and I found myself huddling in on myself. Did I belong here?

"Try to keep a firm footing," a voice said behind me. I turned to see it was the guy who had been carrying around the tin. "I'm Fred, by the way."

"Lauren," I answered back, watching as a girl with unnaturally red hair started jumping up and down. "Why do I need a firm footing?"

"You'll see," he said, turning back to the front.

I watched as Joe turned on the amp plugged into his guitar. Almost instantly a buzzing filled my ears, the crackling reminded me of snow. He dragged the pick across the strings and the sound reverberated through the room - I felt as though I should have brought earplugs.

Greg stepped up to the microphone. "Hey," he said. "We're the Oriental Rugs, and we will blow - " he took a pause " - your - " another "-mind."

"And possibly your eardrums," Fred said behind me. There was a cheering before they started, the girl with fiery red hair was overbearingly enthusiastic.

"Thanks Danielle," Greg smiled at her. I wondered if they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

Before I could prepare myself, they started playing. Greg stood at the microphone, and he looked like he was screaming into it, but I couldn't hear him over everything else. The bass pumped through me, sending my stomach pulsing. I watched Joe on the guitar. Though I could barely make out what he was playing, he certainly looked good doing whatever it was that he was doing.

Parker seemed completely lost in what he was doing. He rocked fully as he played, putting an insane amount of force into how hard he beat the drums. I wondered vaguely what the mom who made the triangle sandwiches was thinking.

Only thirty seconds into the song, I saw a ripple go through the crowd. Eventually it made its way over to me and I found myself pushed into the poor guy beside me. He didn't seem to care though, as he pushed me back and sent me sprawling into those on the other side of me. I think I felt a bruise forming on my shin.

Oh my God.

Scared out of my mind I tried to make my way toward the wall, but the mass of bodies was impenetrable. Suddenly, an arm reached out and pulled me back to the far side of the cellar, where thankfully no one was moshing.

"Thank you," I mouthed to Fred, because he couldn't hear me over the music even if I had used a megaphone. He only smiled at me before returning to the other side. Here everyone was much calmer. Their heads bobbed in time of the music, some had their whole body pulsing with the beat - though not in the crazy, run-into-people way. Closing my eyes I tried to feel what they were feeling. I felt the beat of the base and the drums waving through my body. My foot started to move on its own. Though it was not exactly my tasted in music, I felt the draw. You could easily get lost in it, its throbbing notes. Joe and the others seemed to have already. Joe was running around like a maniac, as if just playing the notes wasn't enough for him. Parker was screaming with Greg, and if I listened hard enough I could hear some of it. I loved picking out the different pieces that made up the whole song.

They played three songs, and I watched the moshing continue on the other side. They seemed to enjoy it - though I saw it was mostly the guys. Must be some testosterone thing.

When Joe and the others finally finished, everyone clapped. I saw him looking for me, and he smiled when he saw me. I felt my heart flutter as he brought the strap over his head and put the guitar into a case before setting it off to the side, he then walked over to me.

"What did you think?" he said. He was sweating; his massive amounts of hair stuck around the sides of his face.

"Like nothing I've ever experienced before," I said. "But in a really, really good way."

"Nice," he said, signaling for a high five. I reached up and smacked his hand as hard as I could. He grabbed it and pulled me to him, wrapping his arm around me.

"I'm glad you like it." I could feel his wet shirt against my arm. Normally, I would have been seriously grossed out - but this was the manly, musician sweat that I found I didn't mind.

It was those few minutes, with his arm around me that I felt suddenly very nervous. My boy experience had always been seriously lacking. My only kiss being with a very sloppy, drunken summer kid last year. I had never had a boyfriend, and it hadn't really bothered me until that moment. What did I know about being a girlfriend? The other band had already started and I was still dwelling on it.

"You want to go outside?" Joe said in my ear, he was very close so I could hear him. "It's a bit hot in here."

I nodded, thankful to get some fresh air. When the band finished their song, Joe grabbed my hand and began pulling me through the crowds. He nodded at several people along the way, but otherwise didn't stop.

We fell through the front door and onto the kid's lawn.

"That's better," he said.

"Much." I breathed in deeply and let it out slowly. "I had no idea it would be this violent."

"Come on, Lauren, toughen up." He shook my shoulder a bit and my teeth rattled. I felt like an idiot for saying it.

Before my embarrassment could show, a voice called over to Joe.

"Hey!" Fred came out of the darkness of the woods. "You up for it?"

Joe only nodded; I looked up at him in confusion. He grabbed my hand and pulled me with him. As we neared the trees I saw three other figures come into view. They were passing around something which I only learned later was a bong. They handed it to Joe and he inhaled slowly. Suddenly, my eyes started to water. "Do you want to take a hit?" he asked me, handing me the... thing.

"Um, I don't do drugs," I said, and as I said it I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.

"Don't worry about it, Lauren, you don't actually get high the first time," Fred said, his eyes seemed to be laughing at me. He patted me on the head like a father would.

"Look, I really don't think - "

"It's fine," Joe said, handing it back to Fred. "Do you want to go back inside?" Though I felt a wave of relief as he said that to me, I also had the feeling that I was ruining his fun. I felt like the goody-two-shoes Lauren that didn't drink and didn't smoke. The one who was the mom at every outing and made sure everyone got home safe.

I shrugged me shoulders. Joe seemed to notice my discomfort.

"We could go for a walk?" he asked.

"That'd be nice," I said. We left them then, and took a stroll down the road. Joe was mostly silent. I felt as though a chasm of awkwardness had stretched between us.

"I'm sorry," I said quietly.

"Don't be sorry," he said. "It's not your thing. Whatever, you know?"

The silence stretched again. There was no moon and I could hear the peepers from a nearby marsh. When I had lived at my old house, which was no just my dad's, I would listen to them before I went to sleep. Far from disruptive, it was a calming, familiar noise that reminded me of when my parents were together.

"So how long have you been playing guitar?" I asked, desperate to say anything.

"Since I was nine, so eight years."

"You did really well tonight," I said. Though in truth I could hardly hear him.

"Really?" he asked. I saw his eyes light up and I felt relieved. "I was really nervous with you being there."

My chest tightened - I made him nervous? I resisted the urge to let out a girlish squee, the prior incident forgotten.

"Well, you did really well," I said again.

Joe stopped walking and went to go sit on a nearby wooden fence. I looked at the house that it was in front of, saw the lights were off, and sat down beside him.

I felt bold, "I hope I get to see more of your shows..."

"I'd like that," he said. "I could take you to some more chill shows too. Girls seem to like the ska shows a lot more sometimes. I'll teach you how to skank."

"What?" I asked, for a moment I thought he called me something of a slut.

"To skank," he laughed upon seeing the look on my face. "It's a verb. It's a type of dancing you always do at ska shows."

"Can you show me?" I asked.

"Not here, unfortunately," he said." It only looks vaguely socially acceptable when done to music."

"Well, I still expect you to teach it to me," I said, a mock frown on my face.

"It's a date," he said. I turned toward him.

"It's a date," I repeated.

His face was very close to mine. His eyes glanced from mine to my lips every so often. Leaning up I connected my lips with his. He tasted like smoke and cinnamon, and I found myself relaxing, even as he reached a hand around my waist. When we finally broke apart I felt my cheeks flame up, my stomach felt like it was doing somersaults.

"I should probably get you home," he said. We walked back to the van in silence, only this time it was not uncomfortable.

"The others don't need a ride?" I asked as I stepped in.

"I'll go back and pick them up," he said.

The ride home was quiet; we spoke only a few times. I could still feel his lips on mine, and I wondered if he would walk me to my door.

He pulled up in front of my house.

"Thanks for tonight, Joe," I said, looking down as I unbuckled myself. Joe leaned over and I only realized it after I looked up.

"You're welcome," he said, and he kissed me again. It was short and chaste, but it felt just as good as the one before.

"I'll see you at work," I said and jumped out. I wanted run to the door so I could get inside and call Shannon.

Instead, I kept my pace as normal as possible.

At the door, I turned to wave, but he was already gone. Disappointed, I rummaged through my purse to find my key.

"Lauren!" I heard a voice call, causing me to jump what felt like a foot in the air. Frightened, I turned to see it was

Thomas running across his yard.

"God, Thomas, you scared me," I said, clutching my chest.

"I just wanted to see how your night went," he asked.

"Oh, you waited up for me?" I asked. "Way to be a stalker," I teased lightly.

"You wish - " he stopped. His grin fell immediately. "You smell like smoke."

"Do I?" I said. Thomas looked almost angry with me.

"I thought you didn't do that kind of stu - "

"Chill out, Thomas. Some of the people there were smoking. I didn't do anything." I felt angry with him now. Who did he think he was?

"Look, Lauren, that's a bad crowd - "

"You don't know anything about them!" I was surprised that my voice came out a loud as it did.

"I just don't want you to get hurt - "

"I can take care of myself!" I said angrily. "Could you stop acting like a big brother and be happy for me for once? A friend would."

"I just don't trust him - " he stopped as I cut him off again.

"I'm sick of you making judgments about Joe! You don't even know him!" Thomas had a very strange look on his face, but in my state of fury I couldn't care enough to decipher it. "Don't talk to me until you can stop being so critical of people barely even met!"

With that I jammed the key into the lock, in my state having issues fitting it in right.

"I'm just trying to look out for you - "

I didn't answer as I entered my house after finally unlocking it and slamming the door behind me. I ran upstairs and changed quickly into my pajamas, throwing my clothes from that night into the hamper.

Collapsing onto my bed I no longer felt like talking to Shannon. My fight with Thomas had ruined all the good feelings I was having. Growling I buried my face into my pillow.