Our usual drummer couldn’t go on the road with us for tour upcoming tour, which meant we were stuck with the sub drummer. I get along with pretty much everyone, but this guy’s only redeeming quality was that I didn’t have to play with him that often. So seven months of sharing a small RV plus a stage with him was not exactly what I was looking forward to.
It was enough to give a guy a case of the scratch.
But what are you going to do? He knew all our stuff. He was there. He was willing to do it.
Three days before we were supposed to leave he got into a car accident and broke his wrist and ankle.
Thank God, and oh fuck.
Zeeter, our guitarist, texted me with the news. Then he called me a few minutes later.
“This is your fault, dude,” he said by way of hello.
I laughed. I knew where this was going.
“Matt, you put some sick fuck juju on him.”
“I wasn’t the one who just last week said, ‘I hope he breaks his wrist or something.’ That was you, Zeet.”
“Yeah,” Zeeter said. “I wanted to punch him. I couldn’t believe he was such a dick to Julie in rehearsal.”
Julie is our lead singer, slash keyboard player, and Zeeter’s girl. The last thing she needed was our drummer hitting on her and harassing her before the tour even started.
“Anyway,” Zeet said. “You’re a bassist. You know a ton of drummers.”
“Yeah, but they’ve all got steady work or day jobs. None of them can pick up and leave for a few months. Do we put an ad on Craigslist or something?”
“I guess. Wait, hold on, Julie’s saying something.” Zeeter must have taken his mouth away from the phone for a minute. I heard a muffled conversation, then Zeet was back. “Julie says she thinks she has a solution. She’ll call you in a few minutes.”
“Okay,” I said. I wanted to say something reassuring to Zeet, but I wasn’t really sure what to say. The truth was—when I didn’t have a bass in my hand—I was pretty quiet, even around Zeet and Julie, who were my best friends. “I’m sure everything will work out for the best,” I said. It sounded pretty lame.
Zeeter laughed. “Whatever. Hold on… what? Julie wants to know if you’ll come over.”
“Now?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Sure,” I said.
“Pick up a pizza on the way,” he said.
I was curious to see what Julie had thought up. Knowing her, whatever it was would be interesting. As long as she didn’t have us playing along with a drum machine looping old techno, I was willing to hear her out.
I balanced the pizza box in one hand and pounded on their door with the other. “Pizza delivery!” I yelled out.
Julie opened the door. She’d buzzed one side of her hair almost completely off and dyed the other side blue. Even though she’d done it over a week ago, it was still jarring to me.
“That’ll be 400 bucks and a kiss,” I said. I stuck my cheek out toward her.
“Whatever.” She gave me a half hug, took the pizza, and sauntered into the small kitchen.
Zeeter came in to greet me with a big shoulder bump hug.
“Yo,” he said.
“Yo,” I said back.
“How do you get the bassist off your doorstep?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard that one. Pay him for the pizza.”
Zeeter got paper plates out. Julie distributed the first round of slices. I admired their ease.
“So, what’s the big plan?” I asked Julie.
“You remember me telling you my cousin Aaron just graduated last week?”
I had to wrack my brain for a minute. I was expecting her to talk about someone local, so I had to shift gears.
“Well, I asked him if he’d like to tour with us, and he said yes. So I invited him down to audition, and if we like him, then we’re good to go.”
I just stared at her.
“I sent him all our stuff, so he has it. He said he could learn it in plenty of time.”
I was dumbfounded. “Drums? His instrument was drums?”
“That and piano, yeah.”
“So, what do you think?”
I just sat there.
“He’s coming from the best rock and roll university on the planet,” Julie said. “I know you never met him, but he’s really laid back, you’ll like him, everyone likes him.”
“He’s cool, dude,” Zeeter said. “And he’s available.”
Julie put her fingers up with each point. “We already know he’s honest,” she said.
“Which puts him way ahead of fuckwad,” Zeeter said.
“Two, he’s available.”
“Which puts him way ahead of Mr. Drink-and-Drive-Before-a-Tour,” Zeeter said.
“Three, I know he’s not going to hit on me in the middle of the night.”
Zeeter snickered weirdly at that one.
“Four, he’s really good.”
“Five, he’s willing.”
Zeeter snickered again. What was with that?
I took a big bite of pizza. Then I shrugged. When I finished chewing I nodded and said, “So it’s settled. If he doesn’t suck, we’re all set. When does he get here?”
“His flight arrives tomorrow afternoon. I figured we’d audition him slash rehearse tomorrow night.”
“Awesome,” I said.
We actually practice and rehearse in the bar where our steady Wednesday and Thursday night gigs are. When I got there Julie and Zeeter were already there. Zeet was plucking out a riff from a new song he was working on.
I picked up my bass, made sure all the strings were still in tune, and began thumping out a bass line that would go with Zeet’s melody. I was facing the back of the stage, looking down, so I had to turn around when Julie said, “Oh, hi Aar.”
I turned around and felt like I was poleaxed through the chest. A few things hit me at once. He didn’t look anything like I thought he would look like. Most rockers look sort of like me. I’ve got dark, long flowing hair down to my shoulders, where black band T-shirts, and an ‘I can eat your face off’ if you step on me wrong kind of rocker look. Not Aaron.
He looked like a preppy teenage cupid. He was absolutely beautiful, with blond hair that had multiple shades of sand and light, and framed his face in a perfect natural curl. Intelligent, bright blue eyes. Freckles.
Exactly not my type.
Yet my balls surged up, and my mouth went dry.
He was wearing a white and blue polo shirt and khakis. And he was definitely gay.
I looked down at my bass and frowned. Not happy. I fiddled with my bass some more. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he said back.
I don’t even know how to describe my reaction to him. It felt like going to the same fast food sleazy burger drive-thru and the clerk hands you a to go box filled with lobster.
He went to hug Julie, and then Zeeter, and then came over and transferred both his drumsticks to his other hand so he could extend his right out to shake mine. I had to look up at him or be rude.
I looked him in the eye and shook his hand. At least I didn’t get a zing of excitement from the contact.
“Matt Savland,” I said when I shook his hand.
“Aaron Tarpenter,” he said back.
I felt the urge to needle him. “So preppy boy,” I looked down at the sticks. “Can you actually do anything with those?”
He half twirled one quickly in his right hand and slammed it down to the floor. It bounced back up and appeared, almost magically, back in his hand where he finished the twirl without missing a beat.
“Yeah,” I said. “But you know you’ll have to make music, right?”
He laughed. “You know what they say about drummers, right?”
“That they’re dumb?”
He laughed again. “That they know how to bang.”
I blinked. My God, was he flirting with me?
No. That was just his line.
Aaron pushed past me, and settled himself on the drum throne behind the bar’s house drum set. He spent a few minutes adjusting the heights of the drums, cymbals, and seat.
He twirled the stick in his left hand, and I noticed a rainbow ring around his left thumb.
Inwardly I groaned.
This was not good.
“What do you want to start with?” Julie asked him.
Why didn’t they tell me he was gay? But on the other hand, why would they? As far as they knew I was straight as an arrow.
“How about ‘Best of You’,” Aaron said.
“Okay,” Julie said.
Aaron smacked his sticks together as he counted it off. I got my head in the game. It took all of one measure to figure out he was a fantastic drummer. I locked up into a perfectly tight groove with him immediately. He kept the pace rock steady without speeding up or slowing down at all, keeping me in line with the firm throbbing kick his bass drum. He made the snare sound good: low, warm, and resonant, not poppy, high, and shallow like fuckwad had snapped it.
Pretty soon I was lost in the groove. We cranked out one song after another. The subtle high of being in the flow of the music when it’s right washed over me, and I bounced on my toes as I played.
We stopped after an hour for a break. As soon as we stopped I went back to razzing Aaron. It was like I couldn’t stop. I, who usually say very little, was running at the mouth with funny little digs. It kept skirting the border between friendly and obnoxious.
He threw his stick up in the air and caught it.
“That would be great if we needed a baton twirler,” I said. But the way I said it, my voice laced with disgust, had all three of them looking at me.
“That’s it, I’m out of here,” Aaron said. He grabbed his sticks and ran out the door.
“What?” Zeeter said.
I put my hand up to Julie and Zeeter in a stop motion, to say ‘don’t worry, I’ll fix it’, and I lunged out the door after him. I ran after Aaron. I caught up with him two doors down, in front of the closed tattoo parlor and grabbed his bicep and spun him around.
“I mean, what the fuck, man?” Aaron said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it the way it came out,” I said. I dragged him into the thin alley between two buildings and pushed him up against the brick wall.
“What’s your damage?” Aaron said. “I just got here. I thought we were rocking it.”
“We were,” I said.
“So what the hell could you possibly cause you to be all on the asshole attack?”
My gaze flicked down to his rainbow ring.
He saw it.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he said. His shoulders sagged. “Really? You’ve got a problem with a gay guy in the band?”
I shook my head.
“I can’t believe I flew all this way and some homophobe is going to—”
“I’m not a homophobe,” I interrupted him.
“—make my life a living hell,” he continued.
“Aaron, no, it’s not like that.”
“No? Because you’ve been pretty shitty so far. I mean, I’ve tried to laugh it off, but, ah, yeah.”
“I know, I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way, honest.”
“I’m a good drummer,” he said.
“I know, I know,” I said again. “Amazing. We haven’t sounded that good since, well, ever.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Really.”
I realized I was leaning further and further into his personal space. I got lost in his eyes, really, really blue but with tiny lines of white in them, like snow on sky. I leaned even closer.
“I can’t work with you trying to intimidate me and pick on me, Matt. I can’t.”
“I know, I know,” I said for the third time. “I’ll stop, I promise.”
I leaned in even further, and he put both his hands on my chest to push me away. But I didn’t budge.
“You’re crowding me, man.”
He pushed me harder. I still didn’t back off.
Right here, I thought. This is where whatever I do now will set up the precedent for the whole tour.
I’ve been with a lot of women. We play out five nights a week, and there are a lot of beautiful fans who think getting with a front man and saying, ‘I’m with the band’ is pretty cool. I’d never been with a guy. But I knew myself enough to know that I looked. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I’d probably try, maybe even end up with a guy someday. But I didn’t expect it to be now. Didn’t expect it to be him.
“So what the hell, man?” Aaron asked. “I don’t get it. Why are you busting my chops? Do I just rub you the wrong way? How can that be? I was in there for all of five minutes before you started busting my chops. Two minutes. We haven’t even had a conversation yet.”
“You don’t rub me the wrong way,” I said quietly. Although I could think of some rubbing the right way I could get into. My cock twitched.
I just stared at him. He didn’t look my type. Didn’t dress my type. But he was magnetic. He was a hell of a drummer. And I wanted him. Bad. I didn’t know what to say.
I lifted my hand, and let the back of my knuckles drift across the space above his cheek, just barely, barely brushing him.
Aaron’s eyes bugged out wide. His expression completely ‘what the fuck?’. If I surprised myself, I surprised him a million times more.
“You ever heard the story of the little boy who dunked the girl’s hair into his inkwell?” I asked in a soft voice.
He shook his head. He looked like he was in shock. I leaned in and grazed my lips against the side of his, touching more cheek than lips, again barely touching him. I heard a soft sound and realized it was me, groaning.
“Once there was a little boy in grade school, and he liked this girl so much. He sat behind her every day. He didn’t know how to talk to her, or how to get her attention, or how to be gallant,” I said. I brushed a kiss on the other side of his cheek and lips.
“So finally he just took her long ponytail and dipped it into his inkwell. She screamed and yelled. He knew it was stupid, but at least she noticed him.”
Aaron was still looking at me like I was from another planet.
I grabbed the back of his neck and brought him in for a real kiss. He stopped me at the last moment, strong-arming his palms on my chest. His breath was right in my mouth when he talked.
“So you were a jerk because you liked me,” he said.
“But you’re straight.”
He said it as a statement but seemed to want me to respond. I frowned. I know I’m a very guy’s guy, but still. I didn’t like him making assumptions about me.
I didn’t answer him.
“You’re gay,” he said.
“Oh, come on,” he said, and rolled his head around like he was looking to the heavens for help.
“I… I… ah… I…”
“You’re at least out about it, that you like guys sometimes,” he asked.
I hesitated even more.
“Listen, Matt. I dated someone who was in the closet in college. It sucked. I’m not going to do it.”
I closed the distance between us and pressed a soft kiss on his closed lips. He groaned.
“Tell me you’re gay, and you’re out,” he said. I shook my head. He groaned for a totally different reason.
“It’s really bad to mess with members of the band. A definite no-no. It can break the band up. And I need the job.”
“Julie and Z are a couple,” I said.
“And that’s what you want to be? A couple?”
I nodded. But then I lost my nerve a little and just shook my head and shrugged.
“I don’t know, man, I’ve never been like this.” My voice cracked. I didn’t like it.
Whatever conflicted, vulnerable, weirdness I felt, I wanted to share with him, but what could I possibly say?
I looked him straight in the eye and let him see what was there. I never thought I’d be going for a 22-year-old who looked like he should be playing polo with Prince Harry, but I wasn’t going to deny what I felt. Like I’d give up the whole world if he’d just let me kiss him, really kiss him.