Audre’s suspicion toward Regina was rooted in the former’s careful observation of the girl-jock’s motives. Audre had little to lose in taking a cautious route to re-exploring her friendship with Regina.
The initial curiosity as to how her former friend knew Phantom was a bridge of sorts that would restore, at least momentarily, their communication. While the band played “Pride of Man,” she wondered not only how Regina knew him, but knew him well enough to be invited to a rehearsal of Albion Moonlight.
Partway through the song, Phantom tapped Audre’s knee with an affectionate pat that seemed to say, Hey, good you’re here. She smiled. It did feel good to be there, though she checked some of her exuberance. There was that other girl seated on Phantom’s right.
As the band went to the instrumental solo, the lead guitar player — she guessed it was Peter, Phantom’s nephew — took the room on a searing guitar ride that rendered tame the vinyl version that Audre had bought at Xerxes months before. Audre liked this solo a lot.
It was different, fresh, alive, not like a cover song that molders in the dank basement of memory. The nephew’s fingers took the tune and bent it into something that sounded like blues, then jazz, then something maybe Indian or Middle Eastern. Then back to the tune after taking it through these winding streets of musical delight. It was spare and efficient for all its wandering about.
Audre heard her own era in the way the song was played. The solo differed from so much of the late ’60s, early ’70s music she had found totally boring, guitar runs pasted together without a coherent idea, improvised by players who seemed to be distracted by all the little alleys and stoops and dead feral cats found along the winding streets of their meandering play.
When the band finished, Phantom turned to her.
“Peter Printz. He’s my nephew. Diggin’ it, huh?”
Peter Printz was cute, and Peter Printz was not a clone of the 1960s. He had long hair but it looked 21st century, with a black shiny braid between his shoulder blades and a grey tweed newsboy’s cap that he wore backwards. Goatee, earrings, bands of Celtic knots tattooed on his upper arms brought him right up to date with 2011 Bay Area-boho style.
While the music played, the two girls had suffered no discomfort other than some squirming attempts to slough off excess energy. They now needed to be “on” for the intros and the players’ questions: How did you like the music? How did you hear about us? Do you play? Sing?
This, followed by some lightweight flirting.
Then the players went back to their instruments, this time to work on one of their own compositions. They told their guests they were going to do one called “One Step Closer,” about the hardships of working people in the current economic slump.
Peter Printz had written the song with his uncle, whom he addressed as either Relic or Phantom, and not, as he told them, the “Uncle Wilbur” that his parents had referred to when Peter was growing up and hearing stories of that uncle who had gone to California.
Peter told them he had been hanging around the uncle’s store a few weeks before when Phantom said he thought it might be time to try a little bit of topical music, maybe take a look into what is really going on these days, what with the protests and the Occupy Movement and all that.
After a few more tunes, Audre took out her phone to check the time and her messages, thumbing her way into reconnecting with what she had missed. A message from her father, wanting to know if she could get a toner cartridge for him at Printers Plus before they closed. She had 15 minutes to get there.
Audre took up her purse and put on her coat as she rose. She touched Phantom, chaste but affectionate, on the shoulder. Then, as she passed in front of her, she reached out and gave Regina a wave of wiggled fingers. Regina nodded but looked pained.
“My dad wants me to bring him a cartridge from Printers Plus and they’re closing at 9:00. He doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Will you call me? Or text me?”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it.”
But there was no time for Audre to think about this just yet. Negotiating traffic took up part of her concentration; the rest of it was engaged in fabricating excuses she’d need to tell her dad if she did not get to the store in time.
She did get there, though, as a store clerk turned his key in the door. She showed him her phone, where the display read out 8:57. He unlocked the door and told her to hurry.
“Just one thing.”
With the toner cartridge in a nice, fresh plastic bag, Audre sat in the driver’s seat and noted that it was only 9:07. No-failed-mission meant no questions, no need to lie to the dad and the mom. And a moment to process recent events.
Now, thought Audre, What am I going to do with all this new information?
She was on fire to learn how Regina knew Phantom. Was she being stalked by her former friend? That thought was so bizarre she blushed to think it.
Was it purely some coincidence? At 16, she did not know enough to take into account the strange world of thematic coincidence or synchronicities, as they are called beyond entry level counterculture metaphysics. Though her philosophy told her to welcome these and go with the Cosmic Flow, she could barely recognize them for what they were. She wanted to believe but she did not know how.
This next step required courage. She would need a lot of it if she were to try to conform her behavior to letting the Cosmic Flow of Coincidence sweep one along to the pot of gold called Universal Love. We cannot, here in the autumn of 2011, predict whether she would find that courage.
But in the gap between the feel-good philosophy and the courage to make it part of who she was, she found a pair of options to consider before deciding if she would, indeed, call or text Regina.
One option was obvious. If she were to learn that in some form, big or small, Regina had stalked her, had perhaps followed her to Xerxes and talked to Phantom after Audre left the store, and then hatched a plot from what she learned from him, then it would be adios, Regina. Audre could not reward her for invading her private life. Regina knew how important Audre’s privacy was to her. How could she be so Neanderthal?
If, on the other hand, Regina had met Phantom by chance, that would be in accord with the Cosmic Flow of Coincidence. And if Regina maybe took some random encounter and used it to launch an aggressive plan, well, that was not really in keeping with the idea of going with the Flow. But still, if there was chance involved, maybe, she thought, this is supposed to happen.
Audre burned to find out how Regina knew Phantom.
When Audre got home she went back into her room. She did not have homework to do. It was the one Wednesday night of the year that worked like a Friday, the night before Thanksgiving.
For the holiday, her father had accepted an invitation for their family to join the families of the two men ranked directly above him, for a holiday feast at one of the nicer hotels in the city. All she had to do was dress up. This would not be that easy to do, as she had to wear clothes that her mother told her “must not embarrass” her parents. This is going to be good for your father’s career if we do the nice things and make certain we have a good time. And that begins with dressing nice. Inconspicuously nice.
Given that admonition, it was likely that the wardrobe conversation would be resumed were she to join the rest of the family in the living room. Audre preferred her room anyway.
She listened again to Albion Moonlight’s EP. Then she sent Regina a text message: U know Phantom how?
Within an hour the telltale ringtone told her she had received something. It was an answer from Regina: Kid next door knows AM band.
Ah, Coincidence! The cosmic flow at work. This is very good!
The news did not give Audre the kind of permission one looks for from a stern and parsimonious god, from whom one begs in prayers for a hint of grace. Nor did it automatically make it all right to subject Regina to a loyalty test. It did bring Audre a step closer to finding out if this time, her old, maybe-new friend could be trusted.
She needed to know: open up for the friend, or climb back down into the hibernation that always beckoned her with waiting arms? Too soon to tell, but the week after the Thanksgiving holiday would surely reveal something more. For now, the possibility of a renewal loomed.
Now, what can I wear to this party? We are supposed to act in ways that make these people “like us,” so they’ll enrich our family with a bump-up in prestige and compensation. Is this not what her mom implied with her caveat about “doing the nice things”?
If I were to dress like a ho, it would be vulgar, but at least it would be honest.
And to dress like that would call it all out, wouldn’t it? What to wear? How to be a prostitute without dressing like one?
What to wear, what to wear?
From the far-flung corners of the intricate Web, items of interest and intrigue (some even stranger than fiction):
© All content copyright 2011 Serial Jones. All rights reserved.