"I don't want to sing the German song anymore," I tell Nicky as I throw my backpack onto a nearby black plastic chair. It nearly rocks over and falls before quickly steadying itself. He looks at me, eyebrows flat and seamlessly paralleling the top of the piano he's propped his chin upon. "I want to sing a Joan Jett song."
And with that his eyebrows rocket toward some of the leftover gel that managed to escape his notice this morning. "First off, your concert is next week. You can't just change your song." I shrug like all uncaring teenagers do when they propose impossible situations, releasing the problem from my own shoulders and instead burdening his. "Secondly, this is a piano." He knocks against the hard wood twice, as if once wouldn't convince me that it wasn't a harmonica or something. "Not an electric guitar."
"You don't know which song it is yet."
"Which song is it?"
"'I Hate Myself for Loving You.'"
"You want to sing 'I Hate Myself for Loving You' at a high school Christmas concert?"
"Yes. It doesn't have any profanity. It's perfectly fine for little children ears."
Nicky drops out of sight. His ass can be heard landing on his pretentious little pianist chair. "You're not singing that. Even if the entire music department thought it was a good idea," he pops out from the side for a moment to give me a look conveying exactly how unlikely this would be, "It's too short-notice to gather all the proper equipment."
"I can sing it a capella."
"Would you just sit down?" He plays a little ditty that spans most of the keys. To warm up. To show off. To summon a woodland spirit. Who knows. "We only have forty-five minutes to warm you up and perfect that shittiest of shitty pronunciation of yours. You would think," he pops out to look at me again. I raise my eyebrows as I drop down onto the chair next to my bag. "That Russian would help. Even a little bit! Aleksandr spoke that shit so well, you'd think his good-for-nothing brother would have picked up on some of that gruff, vodka-drowned lexicon you grew up with."
He thinks he knows everything. He doesn't even know what 'lexicon' means. Thinks he's so smart using linguistic jargon because he works with people that sing. "Russian isn't a Germanic language, you idiot. They're different. If anything, English's lexicon would help me more than Russian ever would."
Nicky's back behind the piano. One can't prove him wrong without subjecting themselves to at least several seconds of the cold shoulder. Throughout the room the product of his bruised pride rings, short bursts of bouncy tunes that remind him that he's good at least at one thing. "Well. Speaking of your brother," we weren't speaking about my brother, "how is he?"
I nudge one of the immensely scuffed tiles with the rubber front of my sneaker. God, this school is old. "He's still licking his wounds." Of course, Aleksandr has only been slightly more mopey than usual, but his eyes are redder. He doesn't debate or correct or lecture with the same fire he used to. He tracks dirt into the house despite being told his entire life that it's a mortal sin to do so. "You made him sad."
For some reason Nicky must have been expected, "Oh, he's positively fucking fantastic," because he pauses over his keys before playing a melody with undertones more melancholy. But nonetheless the piece is upbeat, like fast-paced obliviousness and laughter will make everything better. "That's not my doing. He's always been sad."
The music room is warmer than the rest of the school. With about two hundred chairs behind me typically occupied by underclassmen singing like harmonious, high-pitched angels, the heat from all their sweaty bodies must have stayed behind, if only for ten minutes after they left. The notes from Nicky's piano bounce off the large green strips of fabric meant to keep the noise concentrated, to encase everyone within every cough, sneeze and syllable created by children who think they're creating art. "It doesn't matter," I tell him. "Let's just warm up."
And usually he's the one impatient to get a move on. But no, today is interview day. "What's up with the blonde chick you're seeing?"
Oh. Can't forget about her, now can I? "Some kids have caught on. It's good to once and a while try and throw them off track."
Another ditty. Slower. He hesitates over each key like picking the wrong one would electrocute him. "So you're not into girls now?"
"I-It's just weird," he says, still hidden behind the safety of his oaken best friend. "I mean, I never told you, but in ninth grade you were the only person that knew. The only one. And I told you everything, how I liked girls, but for some reason guys were cool, too, and you were all, "No, girls are gross," and you were so honest that it's unsettling almost," he pauses. "It is unsettling to see you with someone. Female." The piano stops. I let him finish in case he has anything more to say. "You would come over and cry because you wanted to be like everyone else and you couldn't. You couldn't deceive someone innocent just so you could deceive everyone else."
He's not done yet.
"And now you're dating this girl like it's nothing."
He's good. "People change, Nick. They get better at things."
"I'm sorry I didn't talk to you while I was dating Aleksandr. I mean," another pause, another few trembling notes, "I'm sorry I wasn't your friend. But we can be friends again."
On the side of my leg there's a neat little hole in my jeans just large enough for my finger to dig through. I take advantage of this opportunity and play with it, stretching the threads, exposing more and more of that pale Ukrainian flesh my mother's so proud of. "It was lonely, being fifteen and not having you around anymore." Several threads snap at the same time. The hole doubles in size. This time the jeans are a foresty green. "But I got over it. It's all good."
The heat from the vanished bodies of the lowerclassmen is starting to wane away. "What are you do – oh." Nicky stands up silently to peek at the corridor leading into the music room, where the tap tap tap of someone's heels skip inside after the door squeaks open. I lean my head over to the left to try and see who's intruded.
Figures. "Hey, Aleksi." The way Nicky has his head sliding to one side, he's probably marveling just like I did at how those yellow curls stay so curiously afloat despite the laws of gravity. Cici's tiny feet are adorned by white flats and white stockings. How they make so much noise, God knows. Maybe they're tap shoes. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Poor little thing. She doesn't have to be so polite. With a cursory glance toward Nicky, who has suddenly just taken notice to that leftover gel and is rubbing at it viciously, I stand up and make my way over to her, grab her petite hands appropriately, and kiss her forehead. I am so good. All the bitches wish they had a boyfriend like me.
As if following my own personal agenda, she turns red and looks away. She may be uncomfortable to have as a lover, but as a daughter she'd certainly make a decent candidate. I could teach her how to swing a bat and hit a ball.
Well. I actually couldn't do that.
I could teach her how to interpret poetry, maybe. "What's up, Cici?" I ask her, wrapping a long finger around a shiny stray ringlet. Sometimes it's scary how spindly my own limbs can be.
Cici, unfortunately, is still very preoccupied recovering from the initial shock of my unreserved affection. I glance at Nicky. He's got one arm leaning over the edge of the piano as he watches like a voyeur with nothing better to do. I wink at him just to show my control of the situation.
"When do you have lunch?" suddenly rushes out of her mouth, almost as if it were poison she were trying to expel before it infected her blood stream and killed her.
I won't let the poison kill her. "Sixth period." One curl, two curl, three curl. Play with all the curls on Cici's head. Watch them bounce like rabbits.
She looks up at me with determination burning in those blue eyes of hers. "Do you want to eat lunch together?"
For some reason she's so frightened that I'm going to pick up her tiny body and throw her into the wall. Insensitivity and violence does not Aleksi Lebedev make, little one. "Of course." I press my lips against her cheek this time. Pretend her face is a peach. Slightly fuzzy, but soft and not to be bitten into because the juice dribbles everywhere and you don't like peaches anyway. "I have to practice now, so I'll see you then."
Her wide eyes are still following my every move. New boyfriends are typically not very trustworthy until a decent amount of time into the relationship. Understandable. I let go of her curls and step away. Her gaze darts from Nicky, still hanging all over his instrument like a lazy cat, and then back to me, brightly smiling like a Mormon missionary patiently awaiting her choice to accept Jesus. "Okay," she says. The sound of her flats echo as they backtrack toward the door. "Bye... Aleksi."
I wave. Go now, child. Don't let the door hit your inappropriately loud shoes on the way out. "Bye!" I call, and soon enough, she's gone.
Nicky instantly turns to me the moment she leaves, like his gossip meter has been newly filled and he's ripe for some judging. But surprisingly he doesn't do anything of the sort. "Tomorrow night. What are you doing?"
Oh. It's like Cecilia never even came by. By the way she dresses, maybe that's the way she affects most people. "It's Wednesday. I'm not doing anything."
"Good. Let me pick you up then and take you somewhere."
I fall back into the chair I'd been sitting in and go back to picking at the hole in my jeans. "Where's that?"
He smiles. The evil Nicky that was dating my brother and criticized every breath you took has returned. He's very good at disappearing for short bursts of time. "You'll see. Trust me, 'Lex. It'll be fun."
I'm not exactly used to having other people drive me around. When Nicky's fuel-guzzling black whatever-the-fuck-it-is pulls into the driveway, both Aleksandr and my mother, who are busy finishing up their vegetables like proper citizens on quiet Wednesdays, both pause and look out the gigantic square window the bastard who designed this house decided to put at the very front.
Aleksandr doesn't say anything. He just looks and then goes back to stabbing each point of his fork into all the peas on his plate. Transparent pea-juice squirts out of one that's particularly unfortunate. I shove on my black flat cap before either of them can ask where I'm going or what I'm doing. Hats prevent questions.
Sometimes. "Who's that? Where are you going? Is that why you ate dinner so quickly?" I send my mother a glare full of death and intimidation. She blinks, her interrogatory expression unchanging. "Is that Aleksandr's friend?"
"Yeah." I lower the hat so the edge hovers only just above my nose. Aleksandr shoves a forkful of steamed carrots through his lips. The air between us reeks of betrayal that I didn't consider before accepting Nicky's offer.
Oh well. I've got friends, too. He'll deal. "Bye!" The door's shutting behind me before my fingers can tingle with any more guilt. The rumbling of Nicky's rusty piece of crap pierces the fog that comes out only to inconvenience teenagers that try to have fun on weekday nights. A rush of mustiness and marijuana greets me when I open the passenger door to reveal a grinning Elvis reincarnation. "Is that shirt supposed to be glow-in-the-dark?"
Nick glances down at the garment in question. It's white and bright and bouncing off the fucking moonlight. He might as well turn off the headlights and lead the way himself. "Sometimes you want to stand out, 'Lex," he explains mysteriously as the 30-year-old relic slams behind me. "How much money do you have on you?"
I pat my front pocket to double-check I actually brought something. "Forty dollars."
"That's fine." The engine revs into life and we unintentionally – or I hope, at least – screech out of the driveway to pollute the rest of my neighborhood with noise. "It's not very far from here. What's the time, seven? Eight?"
On the dashboard there's an eerie lack of a clock. Only the numbers of the silent radio station glow defiantly within the utter blackness of the car. I press my wrist against it in order to get a satisfactory glimpse at my watch. "8:35."
"And were you guys eating in there?" he asks as we pull onto the main road. "Is that some European thing? Eating like a half-hour before you go to sleep?"
"Sometimes we eat earlier."
There aren't many other cars on the street. He takes this as an invitation to speed up to forty-five miles above the limit. "I hope you're thirsty, then, 'Lex." The way he turns to me at this point is very creepy. In the dark his eyes shine through and I'm able to watch his eyebrows raise ever so slightly.
But he doesn't say anything after that. I spin around in my seat and look straight ahead. Any further interaction will occur when it needs to occur.
Everything outside my window is blurring into one another, one glimpse of a streetlamp blending away like someone took an eraser to its existence. I finger the part of my pants where there was a hole earlier. They're black now. Black seems more appropriate for nighttime activity, as opposed to an outfit that makes it look like you spilled teeth whitener all over your clothing.
Nicky doesn't seem much interested in talking after his odd little piece of advice. If it was a piece of advice, even. How this kid can have bouts of such childlike nervousness and sincerity like he did earlier today is beyond me. He's such a goddamn weirdo.
Various stores and restaurants now dot both sides of the street. Only very few are recognizable, even if most of everything has an immense amount of orange light revealing every crook and crevice. A couple of kids, stylishly dressed in darker colors, walk among each other like stone-faced runway models near a dimly lit café.
Cafés have drinks. But we keep on driving. Much slower now that there are actual streetlights that tell people to slow the fuck down. We jerk to a stop when faced with a twinkling red one hovering over the middle of the street. "It's like, right there," Nicky says after a good ten minutes of silence, and I follow his nod.
There's nothing even there. Just a dead bookstore.
The light goes out and gives up its role to a green one. Carefully, or, I hope so, since there isn't any other way to drive this thing, we slide next to the sidewalk's curb, only a couple yards away from a fire hydrant. The car sputters when he shuts down the engine and gives the vehicle some mercy.
I quickly get out and rush around to the other side so I don't get hit, since someone left me exposed to the open road. A faint beat of music comes from the ground below us. Oh no. "Down here, 'Lex," Nicky calls from some staircase leading underground that was too stupidly hidden to notice before. Fuck my life. Fuck it. Clutching my arms in both a defensive stance and to block some of the biting wind that never gives up, I follow him.
Inside there's barely any way to see. A stage on the far right side is home to three or four people rubbing up against one another, groaning and moaning as a substitute, evidently, for singing. One of them shrieks some incomprehensible words and raises his arms to the flock of indistinguishable club hoppers, who all scream in response what seems to be until their throats burn. "Why would you think I'd like this place?" I yell as Nicky shuffles through tables home to either abandoned drinks or giggling adults.
He manages to grab onto my sleeve, and I let him lead me forward due to the fact that I don't have much of a choice. "To shake some of that feminine ick off of yourself!" he yells back, although there's little need to since he chose to do so right into my ear. I balk when he steps away. Kaspar might as well just gun me down now. "You don't have to do anything! Just have a fun time!" And he's gone. He's gone and I'm left all alone to fend for myself in a place where everyone is a dripping fountain of perspiration and ready to grope anything that may or may not have a pulse.
Myself included. An older man, mid-twenties, maybe, with a sloppy pair of red lips appears without any fucking warning in front of me, clasping one of my arms, saying something that can't be heard over the badly mixed mélange of popular radio songs. I don't even have the energy to ask him what the hell he's saying, but pulling away to leave only has his grip firm up. The word "dance" finally makes itself clear and properly heard. But I don't want to dance. I don't know how to dance. Where did Nicky go?
It's too late. The safe, crowded haven between the tables escapes me, and between the confusion of bodies and alcohol splattering wherever the hell it feels like splattering, the man and I work ourselves into a less cramped, but much more excited mixture of people. Green and red lights continuously spin around us like a caravel, and the man lets go of my arm once we're in this apparently more acceptable place. His floppy black hair leaves a sheen of sweat behind on his forehead when he flips it back. But he doesn't seem to be interested in saying anything, just raising his elbows above normal elbow-level and moving his hips back and forth like he's achieving something.
I step back a bit, but even with his eyes closed, this doesn't escape his notice. He pulls me closer. And closer. And does not smell appetizing. As attached to him as I am, it's easier to notice that he's got a good four or five inches on me, and it's never any good when someone's over six-three and wants you to do something you don't want to do. Unlike Nicky, but very like his shirt, his skin positively makes a show when the light hits it.
Even with his mouth flapping back and forth, I can't hear a fucking word over the beat after beat that seems to invade your body and jerk at it like a puppet controlled by invisible strings. This doesn't stop whoever this guy is from taking the liberty of grabbing my hips and moving them back and forth himself. Okay. No. Good-bye.
To my stranger's dismay, I slip away from his grasp and into the confusing, gyrating mass of bodies. Nicky. Nicky must be found. Fortunately, even though I'm a fair distance away from the tiny two-person tables, there's a bar with very inviting stools to sit upon.
And soI drop onto one. "I.D.?" a fucking ninja of a bartender asks me the moment I breathe a sweet, sweet breath free of the toxins of human secretion.
I wave dismissively and close my eyes, but not knowing the protocol when it comes to sitting down at bars, I open them, ask for water and give him a five. Do you pay before or after you order a drink?
Doesn't matter. He takes the five and leaves me alone to watch, from a thankfully sizable distance, everyone else grinding against one another, socializing, grabbing, and even sucking in certain places. I wince and spin around. Nicky has such terrible judgment when it comes to what other people are actually interested in doing. Aleksandr would have fainted upon his first step inside this place.
"Water," the ninja says, handing me with it a bunch of change. I shove it in my pocket without bothering to count it and nod at him, and he disappears to the other side of the club, or what seems like it, to serve somebody else. The water is very cold. I dip two fingers into it and run them across my forehead.
A man, without a shirt this time, is in front of me without any warning, just like the last ninja, doing very suggestive things to my virginal stool. Between his legs is what looks to be some sort of conveniently-sized traffic cone, but I'm not allowing myself any more time to find out anything else about it. Most of the people in here are cheering this guy on as he thrusts and plays with the elastic strap of what's holding his traffic-cone in place. Right right. I don't even know how I got in here. Find the exit first and then Nicky. Exit and then Nicky.
Like a blessing from above, the exit sign is beautifully visible above all the bouncing heads and raised fists. Without even caring about who I step on or whose drink I spill, the exit comes closer and closer until I'm at the concrete steps I'd so carelessly stepped down. When I stumble out the door and up onto the street, a gush of succulent cold air greets my hands and face. It blows back and forth all over my body, and just to revel in it, I trip over to Nicky's car, lean on the side of it, lean back my head and willingly close my eyes for the second time tonight.
It feels wonderful for half a second. My head jerks forward after something hard and small strikes it. Several pairs of footsteps rushing away emanate from the other side of the street, but the world doesn't clear from the fuzz again until after the sounds have vanished and there's only the looming lamps of orange and the dust of Nicky's car on my back to keep me company.
An amply sized stone clinks onto the sidewalk in front of my feet. I feel the back of my head where it had hit. On my fingers there's both goosebumps and too much blood for my liking. It's doubtful there are napkins in the car, but it's most likely locked anyway.
I pull at the front door just to see. Locked.
He might be reachable by cell-phone, but that's also nothing to hope for. My thumb trembles slightly as I dial his number, and, dial tone droning, once, twice, I put the phone to my ear and make myself a seat on the pavement.