Three hours after Frankie left our room, Peter and I were cruising through campus to Isla Vista, followed by Alex and a girl named Anna, who turned out to be Frankie’s Filipina neighbor. The night was bubbling with languid contentment all around us, and every once in a while we’d acknowledge this phenomenon with sleepy grins and stupid giggling. We soon ambled into the Isla Vista Brewing Company as calmly and cooly as we could despite being hand-stamped, underage, and debilitatingly stoned. The venue was a big pool hall, but crowded, stuffy, and hot inside. The Screaming Mimes were already well into their set when we began to weave through the crowd of frat guys, their sorority dates, and other scattered neo-hippies and nerdy indie-rock types.
The band was loud as hell, a power trio who maybe believed they were aping Cream, but who I thought were really plodding along more like Crazy Horse. Peter gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up, but for his sake I held back my cultivated hipper-than-thou rock critic pose. My roommate was extremely passionate about the music he liked, and bursting his bubble just to look cool would be criminal right now. Instead I gave him a little wave and wandered up to the stage to check out the band’s gear. Right away I noticed the bassist, who shouted tunelessly into the microphone, and my addled attention span fixated on the inverted wedge shape of his guitar, a Thunderbird IV. In between verses he’d make eye contact with the drummer, who bashed away at his kit without a care in the world. The guitarist seemed to remain above it all, slashing out bar chords with stoic determination.
My friends soon slithered up through the crowd behind me, but we’d barely endured three songs before the Mimes mercifully ended their set in a barrage of messy chaos. As the band began to pack up their gear, Alex and Anna disappeared in the direction of the pool tables, but Peter turned to me again with wild glee in his eyes. “I love these guys! Let’s get you a CD!” Before I could reply, he pushed through the crowd to where the Mimes now stood at stage left. They were nursing half-empty beer bottles, laughing and thanking their friends who’d come to see the show. I sidled up next to Peter as the bassist fished a disc out of its box and handed it over.
Peter exploded with his usual naked enthusiasm, but the bemused bassist didn’t seem to hear half the compliments my roommate showered on him. We introduced ourselves, and the bassist did a slight double take as I mentioned my name. “Don’t I know you?” he asked, shaking my hand. “You look really familiar.” I gave him a quizzical look. “Don’t think so. Never seen you guys play before.”
“Oh,” he said, still studying me with the focus of the semi-sober as gallons of sweat poured off his buzzed pate. “Well, I swear I’ve seen you somewhere, dude,” he said. “It’ll come to me.” He said his name was Colin Dawson, shook my hand, and turned to another person to sell them an album, completely forgetting Peter. My roommate took it in stride, drifting over to Alex’s pool table. I backed away from the Mimes’ little merch corner and watched their drummer stack his cymbals near the back door. He noticed me, raised an eyebrow, and walked over to Colin the bassist and said something inaudible, and then they both looked at me appraisingly. Colin let the drummer hawk some CDs and came back my way as the second band of the night, Cool Water Canyon, eased into their set with mellow cool.
“Hi again,” he said, a little more seriously. “Hey, did you say your name was Roy, man?” I blinked and said yes. He nodded and jerked his head back at the drummer. “My brother Ben recognized you. You were at our apartment one time to get a ride from our housemate, remember?” I felt vaguely unsettled, like the day after the fire, but I figured it was from the weed. “Really?” I said. “Um, who’s your housemate?”
“Well, ex-housemate,” he said, a little bitterly. “Derek, man, Derek Haynes.” I suddenly cascaded into a very cold pool of paranoia. “You know Derek?” I said, trying not to appear nervous. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Well, thought I did. I mean, I grew up with the guy, but three months ago my band came back from a crappy little tour in to find he’d just skipped out on us one weekend. Like, went home to O.C. and didn’t come back, and we’ve been trying to get ahold of him to pay up his share of the rent and stuff ever since.”
I hoped I was successfully suppressing the increasingly sharp stabs of illogical fear. “I wondered what was up with him,” I said with forced calm, then hastily, as Colin cocked his head at me, “…cause, you know, we played soccer together and, um, stuff.” I told him all about how another girl on the team had called me a few days after I came back from home once, saying Derek went AWOL and asking me to help take over the team, and I’d failed to keep everyone interested, and that I hadn’t heard from Derek at all. Colin nodded again, apparently believing me. “I remember his team, yeah,” he said. “Remember when he quit, too, and then, like, he was gone. We didn’t know what to do or who to call; we’re not real keen about having the cops in our place, if you know what I mean,” he winked. I smiled lamely.
“Things got a little hairy later,” he continued, “when his mom came up here to move the rest of his stuff out of the apartment, and wouldn’t even talk to us. She thought we had something to do with him going missing and, like, a week later we did have the cops at our place, giving us all kinds of shit about Derek being gone.” Colin threw me that same look again, like he was sizing me up, and then said, “Come to think of it, Roy, I’d assume sooner or later the O.C. sheriffs will wanna talk to you too, you know. They were kinda making a point of meeting everyone who knows Derek.”
“R-really?” I said again, unable to hide anything this time. I was about to try and explain my blackout and how I tried to call Derek too around that time, but two things happened right then that cut us off: Colin’s brother called him to help move their gear outside, and someone tapped me on the shoulder softly. As Colin said, “Well, see ya,” I turned around and found myself face to face with Francesca.
She’d been crying, and was dressed in the same grubby sweats and “Zero” shirt. “Hi Roy,” she sniffed. “Pete said you’d be up by the stage.” I strained to hear her tiny voice over Cool Water Canyon and the chattering crowd. “Frankie, where’d you come from? Are you okay?” She looked around nervously and said, “Oh, I’ve… just been out and around, and no, I’m not okay. Listen, Roy, do you mind… do you think, maybe, um, you could walk me back to the dorm? I know you guys all came out here to listen to the bands and stuff, and, I don’t wanna ruin your night or anything, but do you mind?” I must have looked totally gobsmacked, because she quickly added, “It’s okay if you don’t want to- I’m sorry, I just-”
“I’ll do it,” I said, fighting once again to regain composure in front of her, which was tough to do at this point after the drugs, the noise, and the fear. The rush of gratitude I expected from her didn’t come, so I loudly emphasized my inability to resist helping beautiful women in distress. She thankfully didn’t see it for the blatant opportunism it was, and gave a soggy laugh before pulling me by the hand back toward our friends, who naturally had no problems with my early exit under these circumstances.
On the way back to campus she explained that her Iranian boyfriend had actually only driven up to UCSB to dump her, apparently felt guilty about it, gleaned one last fuck out of her, and then changed his mind again and dropped the bomb when she came back from talking music with me. I tried to pay attention as best I could, but my brain kept drifting off at random, and I was lucky that Frankie didn’t notice as she vehemently expounded at length against the depths to which guys would go.
We walked the same misty, stinking lagoon path I’d been on two nights before, but it seemed to radiate a much more malicious vibe tonight, and I kept silently jumping out of my skin at the slightest provocation. I nearly pissed myself in fear when a heron sloshed across the dark water on our right, and almost collapsed in relief when we stepped into the comforting warmth of the dorm. Frankie seemed to still be mired in her own problems, and I was yawning uncontrollably now, about to think up a reason for going to bed, but before I knew it she’d wrapped me up in a very tight hug, said something like “thanks” or “good night” or both, and disappeared into her room.
I was once again alone in the hallway, and took my time returning to my room, trying to process the last few hours. I shut my door, left the light off, picked up my unplugged bass, and just held it without playing as I lay back on the bed, waiting for the sleep that, perversely, wouldn’t come.