“I need a smoke,” he mumbled against her ear, and they pushed their way through the crowd of sweaty bar-goers until they burst out of the doors and his headache dissipated immediately in the cool night air.
“Look alive, Johnny,” she said in amusement. The music was faint and muffled, but he could still hear it as he leaned against the brick wall at the end of the alleyway. “If I didn’t know you, I’d think you were about to keel over and die on the pavement.”
“That’s a funny way of saying I look like shit,” Johnny replied as he lit his cigarette and stared down the damp city street. It was pretty all lit up at night. Nothing like Jingletown, which went to bed at 8pm and stayed asleep for a good 12 hours.
“You look like someone who’s never been to a show before,” she said.
“I haven’t,” he said, “besides the ones you take me to.” He picked at the chipped black nail polish on his middle finger and exhaled smoke. “I didn’t exactly grow up in a place with a lot of this kind of shit.”
“Do you at least like it?” she prompted. She’d been the one to take him – of course – she knew all the weird little underground bars loud bands played in, the ones with the graffitied toilets and no one bothering to check their fake IDs.
“The band sucks,” he said, locking eyes with her and not being able to stop the lopsided grin from spreading across his face. The previous shows they’d gone to were better. He liked being sweaty and bloody and getting punched in the face in the pit. “But at least I’m with you.”
“You’re so pretentious,” she said, fighting and failing to keep a smile off of her face. “As if this band is any worse than the garage bands from your hometown you always complain about.”
He shrugged. “Bad music is bad music wherever it’s from.”
“Wanna go to 7-Eleven and get taquitos?”
“Rebecca Pearce,” Johnny said, “I am so in awe of you.”
She slipped her hand in his and pulled him off the wall and down the street towards the one static thing in his life – convenience stores.
“Do you know what a hernia is?”
Will’s voice was detached. They were talking in between him taking bong rips and wheezing. Johnny used his ring finger to smudge his eyeliner a little more and rolled his eyes.
“Whatever, that’s not the point. Point is, she’s real fuckin’... amazing. Not just physically hot. Like hot in personality too.”
“A hernia is when your organ slips out of place,” Will muttered. “Don’t knock her up.”
“I’m not as dumb as you,” Johnny lied. “I don’t want to reproduce a litter of interracial manlet babies, thanks.”
“Yeah, you should get a sperm donor over 5’4”. Maybe 5’10” plus.”
Johnny flipped off his phone as the bong bubbled.
“She keeps takin’ me to shows. Last night was definitely the best one. Not like, the best show,” he clarified, “but the best time. Band was shit so we skipped and ate taquitos outside of 7-Eleven.”
“Did you warn her taquitos make you shit your guts out?”
“Of course I did. I’m not an animal, William.”
“What a ladykiller.”
Johnny pursed his lips at himself in the dimly lit bathroom mirror and immediately poked himself in the eye with his eyeliner pencil. “I’m a steal,” he said, trying not to tear up and ruin his perfectly messy liner. She liked the eyeliner, he thought. It gave out bad boy vibes.
“Just don’t make her your manic pixie dream girl or you’ll ruin the whole thing with your mommy issues.”
“I know what all four of those words mean separately but not when you put them together.”
He heard Will sigh and wondered why the hell he was about to accept relationship advice from him, of all people. “She’s a person. If you keep idolizing her it’s gonna go downhill real fast.”
“She’s perfect though,” Johnny said, definitely not idolizing her. “And she likes me.”
She looked up at him from where she lay sprawled out on his mattress, hair like a halo around her head and eyes slightly squinted like she was trying to read him. “Sorry about your dad.”
Johnny shrugged. “Too young to remember it well.”
She rolled onto her stomach and Johnny watched as her eyes scanned the random shit he’d decorated the guitar with. There was a ripped, yellowed section of notepaper with old lyrics taped to it, a NOFX sticker Tunny had given him. The case was worse – shiny black Sharpie hearts Will had drawn he had to hold at a certain angle in the light to see, a photo of David Johansen in 1973.
“I can tell it’s well loved.”
“She feels like a part of me. If I lost her, it’d be like losing a limb.”
Johnny strummed absentmindedly. The guitar had seen every part of his soul. It had been there with him when he was 14 and his mom’s husband started to push him around; it had been there with him when he was 16 and dropped out of school. It had been there when he was 18 and he had hauled it into the Greyhound alongside Tunny’s as they fled Jingletown.
“Are you gonna play something for me?”
He paused and avoided her eyes, looking down at the strings and biting his lip. “I’m kind of out of practice,” he said. It wasn’t untrue but it also wasn’t much of an excuse. “And I’m not great, in general.”
“Yeah right,” she said. “Quit pretending to be so humble. You talk about music like it’s your long lost lover. You’re always going on about how much you wanna make it in the music scene. Just play me something.”
Johnny pulled a long strip of black nail polish off his thumb nail and played her something.
“You’re not as bad as you think you are,” Will said. Johnny rolled over on his side, back turned to his guitar case leaning sadly against the wall. “I don’t know why your big fuckin’ ego doesn’t affect how you think about your music. You overestimate everything else about yourself but underestimate your musical ability.”
“That’s the best compliment you’ve ever given me,” Johnny said, “besides that time you told me I have a great ass.”
“You do,” Will said.
“Just because we’re in love doesn’t mean it’s gay.”
“You keep talkin’ like that I’m gonna go back to Jingletown and suck your dick.”
“Please,” Will said.
There was a pause.
“I mean, please come home, not… that other part,” Will attempted to clarify. “Not that I wouldn’t mind it from someone who wasn’t you. I’m fucking lonely.”
“You have a girlfriend, gaylord,” Johnny said. He took a drag of his cigarette and chewed on the nails of his free hand in his version of trimming them. “Ask her to do something.”
“She’s pregnant,” Will said. “And doesn’t want anything to have to do with me.”
“I don’t know a lot about women but I’m pretty sure they can still fuck when they’re pregnant,” Johnny said, spitting excess nail on his mattress.
“You are so fucking sleazy,” Will said. “How did you land a girl? Is your girlfriend even real? You still haven’t sent me a photo. Everything you’ve been telling me is just a masturbatory fantasy, isn’t it? You’re banging drugs and fucking 40 year old men, aren’t you?”
They were drunk. The fun kind. They’d gone to the 7-Eleven on the corner and bought Slurpees that were equal parts every available flavor, drank half of them, and filled the rest up with vodka. Then they’d swapped clothes, danced in the rain, and were now collapsed on her bed, listening to The Queers on vinyl and warming themselves up.
“I’ve always wanted to meet someone as weird as you,” she said, and giggled.
“Just what I’ve always wanted to hear from the girl I got a massive thing for,” Johnny said, grinning and squishing his face against the pillow. She wasn’t wrong. He was a weirdo.
“I mean that in the best possible way,” she said. “Sincerely. I’m spooning you and you’re wearing my skirt. You think you’re not weird?”
“No, I am weird,” Johnny said. “We just don’t talk about it.”
He felt her smile as she kissed his neck. “Well, I like it.”
Johnny’s chest felt warm. It was definitely his acid reflux acting up because he was drunk and not love. “Will thinks I’m a sleaze.”
“Which one’s Will again?”
“The gay one with the pregnant girlfriend.”
“I don’t think you’re a sleaze.”
He sighed and balled up the sheets in his fist. “I think I’m just on my best behavior when you’re around ‘cause I wanna impress you so bad.”
She pushed his hip towards her, rolling him over so their noses were an inch apart. Her hand settled firmly against the small of his back, making him arch it slightly and hold his breath. “I like you when you’re silly and loud and not trying to act cool.”
“I can try to try to not act cool,” he said.
“Why are you speaking in an Australian accent?” she asked.
“I’m so fuckin’ drunk,” he said, dissolving into squeaky giggles as she laughed along with him and pressed her lips to his.