a young girl, Laurie Meadowlark taught herself how to play the drums,
keyboards, and guitar. She's good at all three; when she plays gigs with
her mom and Terry, her brother, she's on keyboards. Two others are in
Meadowlark: Aaron, the bassist, and Knox, the drummer.
But trouble is simmering in the group; and Laurie, just seventeen and the youngest, is feeling increasingly unwanted by some of the others. On the verge of adulthood, she is wondering: Can she play the game of life too? Read on!
“I remember,” Mom said, reaching for her hand as she drove, “when things didn’t go your way, you’d raise holy hell.”
Laurie shook her head as she watched downtown San Diego pass by. “I haven’t gotten started yet.”
“What I mean to say is, you’d bawl and stomp around and throw things. I was half-afraid you were going to punch Schnelling in the nose!”
“I was going to punch him in the nose. You stopped me. You grabbed my hand and dragged me out. Remember?”
She glanced at her. “So what’s going to happen? Am I through with the band?”
“Of course not, honey. Of course not. We’ll ... soldier on. It’s what we do best. It’s what you do best.”
“What are you going to say to Terry?”
“What—that if we keep you in the group, there’ll be no more club gigs? No more girls screaming to grab his butt and throwing their underwear on stage?”
Mom, still holding her hand, gave it a strong squeeze. “I know you’re really pissed, sweetie. I’m sorry.” She released her when the light turned green and they took a left onto the merge lane that would put them on the Five.
“We’ll sit down with the band later and explain it to them. Rationally. Coolly. With as little temper as we can manage. Okay?”
“Terry wants me gone. He’ll be ecstatic. Don’t deny it!”
“Terry wants a lot of things that aren’t good for him.”
“Nice political way of confirming my suspicions.”
“I can love my son and not agree with him. He thinks you’re too naive, too ‘green’ to be in ‘his’ group. He wants to project a harder image.”
“I’ve heard,” she grumbled. “He wants to be the new Foo Fighters. Besides, it’s your group. You’re the one who formed us.”
Mom sighed. “I had Terry when I was twenty—just three years older than you are now. I’m not even forty! I love the Foo Fighters. But it’s my group. I make the final decisions. He knows that.”
“Does he, Mom?” demanded Laurie. “Does he?”
“I taught him guitar. I taught him how to sing. Just like I taught you. You taught yourself keyboards with an assist from Mister Dubake at school. I make the final decisions. He knows that.”
Laurie sighed as she watched the city zoom by. “We’re just getting started. We’re just getting off the ground. Seriously—fuck Dan Schnelling!”
Mom reached for her hand. Laurie held it back while fighting back tears that wanted to spill down her cheeks. One did anyway. She silently cursed it.
If Terry was ecstatic—and Laurie knew he would be—he didn’t show it. With the rest of the group, they sat in the living room and listened as Mom explained what happened at the meeting. When it was announced that Schnelling had effectively fired her given that they’d still want to hold on to over sixty percent of their upcoming gigs, she watched him carefully. He glanced at her; but for the most part did nothing but sit back in the recliner and take a deep breath.
“Maybe it’s time we hire a manager,” said Aaron, looking around. He was sitting on the couch. “We should hire a manager, get a contract drawn up, and stop messin’ around with the Dan Schnellings of the world. He’s not the worst of them, you know ...”
Meadowlark’s drummer was Knox Mulloy. Soft-spoken, Knox was also a victim of both Dan Schnelling’s and Terry and Aaron’s backstabbing. Schnelling once told Mom, “Girls want to see bare-chested drummers bashing away. You make that kid bare-chested and the girls’ll puke! He’s also balding—at nineteen! Who ever heard of that?”
“He’s also been called a young John Bonham,” Mom had retorted.
Schnelling snorted. “By who—Butt-Ugly Drummers Quarterly?”
“By KGB radio!”
“Every fucking semi-serious drummer is a ‘young John Bonham’ to someone. It’s bullshit. He’s a mediocre talent at best.”
Standing next to the stereo, Knox said, “We can’t let Laurie go. I’m sorry, but ...” he glanced around at everyone, “... she’s the backbone of this outfit. She’s this band’s spiritual center.”
Aaron glanced at Terry, and both snorted with laughter.
“That’s enough, you two,” Mom warned as Laurie flipped them the bird, which Terry returned and to which Aaron only raised his eyebrows threateningly.
“Schnelling is right,” he said, taking his wolfy glare from her. “It’s time we grew up. This isn’t a Teen Beat cover band.”
“It never was!” Laurie yelled.
“If we want to get serious about music, then we should follow Schnelling’s advice!” he said, then added: “Honestly ... and you know, Laurie, really, baby, nothing the matter with you, you’ve got some talent, you really do, a few more years and you’ll be somethin’ ... do we really need a keyboardist? Let’s go for an edgier sound, harder, maybe even a little metal.”
“Call me ‘baby’ again. See how that works out for you,” said Laurie after standing and cocking her head.
Aaron watched her steadily, a dangerous look on his face. He was a six-foot-tall, well-muscled man, someone who would have no problem taking her on. He snorted again.
She started for him.
“Laurie!” Mom yelled, standing and putting herself in the way while jamming a solid palm in her chest. She glanced at Aaron. “I think you can put a lid on the attitude. Whaddya say?”
It was his turn to stand. “I’m sorry, Cherylynn. You’re the oldest here, and you formed the group, yeah, sure, but you’re not my mom. Don’t talk down to me.”
He and Mom exchanged dark, threatening looks. She turned back to Laurie.
“Sit down, hold it in for a few more minutes, and let’s let everyone have their say. Okay?”
She glanced at Aaron, who was smirking; and then at Terry, who was shaking his head disdainfully. He and Aaron exchanged a glance, and then looked away, both trying to suppress laughter.
She sat back in her chair. She went to speak, but Knox beat her to it. He came to her and put a hand on her shoulder. The gesture was threatening in itself. But only because it moved her to tears, which she angrily suppressed.
“I have an announcement,” he said. She heard him take a big breath. “If Laurie is out, then so am I.”
Aaron chuckled. “Dude. She still won’t fuck you.”
Terry burst out in laughter as Laurie launched from her seat. Aaron, holding up his hands in mock defense, exclaimed, “Whoa! Mean high-school chicky comin’!” but shut up when she slashed at him past Mom’s futile attempt to separate them, nails extended. She connected with his cheek, which instantly began bleeding, three parallel nail tracks that had him instantly clutching his face.
“You fucking bitch!” Aaron yelled, and threw a backhand. The blow sent her tumbling into Mom, both of whom fell back into her chair.
Aaron’s astonishment, as he examined the blood on his fingers after pulling them away from his face, provided the window for Laurie, her mouth filling with blood, to kick his knee. She was wearing her black boots with two-inch heels.
The kick was true; shrieking, he bent forward to clutch it. She had already recoiled for another strike as her ten-year study in karate had trained her to do.
The blow landed square against the bridge of his nose, knocking his head obliquely to the side.
Two hundred-plus pounds of unconscious dickhead bassist collapsed on top of both of them.
Mom’s yells were deafening and incoherent. Laurie had inadvertently elbowed her in the cheek. Keating’s weight was sudden, painful, and suffocating. Knox was immediately there, pulling him off, and grabbing her by her wrist to help get her to her feet.
“Get away, you fucking lard-ass!” roared Terry, who pushed both of them away as he went to stoop over Mom. He helped her to her feet, then righted the chair she was sitting in.
Laurie winced. Mom’s left eye and cheek were bleeding and swelling as she watched, her lip split.
“Knox!” she yelled, “you stay and help me with Aaron. You two—call an ambulance and then GET THE HELL OUT OF MY SIGHT!”
Laurie, rage-tears spilling, went to leave. But Terry had her by her shoulder and spun her around.
The slap she gave him was of such force that it split the flesh of her hand just under her middle finger. His head snapped back and he barreled backward into the end table with lamp on it, which smashed against the wall, flared, and went out.
Mom was screaming something. Laurie didn’t care if it was at her or at whoever. She grabbed the keys to her car and ran outside. A moment later she squealed away from the house, her left eye swelling shut.
“I’m sorry, Miss ... are you okay?”
He was an older man, tall and black, with kind eyes and a bulging stomach. He had touched her shoulder, causing her to wheel about in fear. He watched her with concern.
“Uh ...” she murmured. “Uh ... yeah. I’m ... okay.”
“Forgive me, but you don’t look okay. Are you in some kind of trouble? Can I help in some way?”
Goddamn these tears!
“No ... uh ... I’ll be ... I’ll be okay. Thanks. Just ... I mean ...” She hurried away from him, towards the ladies room. “... I’ll be ... thanks.”
She began jogging.
She got to the door, flung it open, and rushed into the stall where she closed and locked it. She sat hard on the toilet, dropped her head in her hands, and began sobbing in earnest.
The darkness cocooned her. The smells too. The nasty smell of a public bathroom, of course; but also the sharp odor of cleaning detergent recently applied, and the brine of the ocean, which was twenty feet beneath her. The pier would be closing in a half hour. She had a half hour to sit here if she wanted.
Tears stung her left eye, which that asshole had cut when he backhanded her. She had glanced in a mirror in another bathroom somewhere on the way here. The cut ran from just next to her eye down her cheek. He must have been wearing a ring.
The eye itself was a gruesome boil of black, brown, even green. It alarmed her. She couldn’t see out of it.
Did that fucker blind me?
Did it fucking matter anymore?
A knock on the door.
“Anyone in there?”
The door creaked open. “Hello?”
“In here!” she yelled.
“Pier is closing, ma’am,” the man’s voice announced.
“Thank you ...” she returned.
She heard the door close.
She gathered herself, opened the stall, and went to the door. A man was closing the pull-down cover over the snack bar just adjacent, one she and Mom used to visit to buy shaved ice. He peered at her as she walked out. It must have been he who called out to her. He gave her a flat-eyed gaze of tired annoyance and went back to work. She marched past him and a minute later was at the foot of the pier, the large gates of which were being closed by a police officer. He gave her a cursory glance as she passed.
The Motel 6 was one she’d passed a thousand times before. It bordered National City and Chula Vista along the Five. Slummy and industrial.
She’d never checked into a motel by herself before. It was much easier than she thought it would be. The woman at the check-in gave her a sympathetic stare as she logged in her information and took her debit card, which, thankfully, Mom had given her just a couple months earlier.
Mom was no fool. She’d be frantically looking for her. Doing so would put her on the computer, where she’d do things like look for debit card transactions. That would exclude everyone but her from knowing where she was. It was better than calling, which would almost certainly alert the rest.
The clerk gave her a key. “Have a good night, dear,” then gave directions to the room—Room 208. Laurie nodded and walked out into the night.
She got to her room, went in, and sat weeping at the edge of the bed while the night passed her by.
A knock at the door.
“Laurie? Laurie? Let me in! Laurie?”
She’d been awake since six. It was now 7:15. She’d gotten maybe three hours of unsteady, unsatisfying sleep. She hadn’t bothered getting undressed or even pulling the covers back. Somehow it seemed wrong to.
She swung her legs over the bed, sighed, and stood. At the door she hesitated.
Mom pounded on it again. “Laurie? Please open up! Please!”
Laurie opened it.
Mom was instantly against her, throwing her arms around her. “Sweet Jesus, I was so damn worried!”
Laurie, having resolved not to cry again, was already sobbing in her shoulder. They held each other for a long time before either spoke.
“If you’re going to yell at me, don’t bother,” she announced. “I’m not going to apologize, except to you. I’m sorry you got hurt. I’m sorry things got out of hand.”
She genuinely was sorry, so much so that she could scarcely look at her. Mom’s face was black and blue, at least on the left side, her eye mostly swollen shut, just like hers. Her upper lip had split too. She looked gruesome.
Mom, still holding her, reached and very gently touched her cheek. “You need stitches. This is infected.”
“You probably need them too!” Laurie blubbered.
“I’m fine. But that cut isn’t. Let’s check you out of here and get you to the E.R.”
Laurie’s guilt got the better of her, and she blurted. “Yell at me. Go ahead. I want it!”
Cherylynn shook her head. “No point. I know you feel bad. You should. You let those two get to you. It’s my fault, really. I thought you’d be able to hold back; and I thought those two were better than schoolyard bullies. I was wrong on both counts. For that I’m sorry. I should have thought of a better way to deal with such bad news. Now—let’s get going.”
The emergency room doctor finally showed up after a two-hour wait. He insisted on examining both of them. After stitching up Laurie’s cheek, he said, “I’m going to have to report this as domestic abuse.”
“The one responsible isn’t a member of our family. Our group, yes; our family, no. So I don’t see how this is a domestic case,” protested Mom.
“I’m sorry,” said the doctor. “I don’t have a choice in this. Hang tight and I’ll get the release forms.”
With that, he left.
An hour later, Laurie and Mom got back in Mom’s car. It was noon, just after.
“Hungry?” she asked.
Laurie nodded. “Famished.”
Her cheek stung from the new stitches, which were bothersome also in that she could see them in the bottom of her vision, which, thank fuck, was still functional.
“Let’s grab some drive-thru and go sit in a park for a bit.”
“Well ... I’m waiting. Let’s have it.”
Mom sighed and took a pull from her straw. She swallowed and shook her head. “Knox is out. He quit. Between frantic attempts at locating you, I tried calling him, even going to his home. I tried talking sense into him, but ... no. He’s done.”
“Can you blame him?” Laurie demanded. “Those two have always hated him! I wouldn’t doubt in the slightest that not only are they partying knowing this, but they’ve already got another drummer lined up!”
Mom sighed, but didn’t answer. It was confirmation enough.
“Jesus!” Laurie cried, blinking yet more tears away. “Jesus!”
She gazed at her. “What—are they going to can you, too?”
“Tex Lansing,” Mom murmured.
“Tex Lansing. Of course. Of—fucking—course!” She leaned forward. “What are you gonna do?”
She looked so tired, Laurie thought. That just made her feel worse, which didn’t seem possible. Mom held up. “I ... probably shouldn’t tell you this, but ... hell. I don’t think it matters anymore....”
“Aaron and Terry went out. They got back about 2, drunk and high off their asses. Aaron’s face was gross, and he was wearing a knee brace and limping. I told him to get to the hospital, that I’d take him. He told me to fuck off, that it was all my fault. I thought he might hit me, but he just left.”
“I tried to convince him to stay. He was way too drunk to drive. I thought I should call 9-1-1, but didn’t. Pretty stupid of me. Terry stumbled and belched up to his room and passed out completely clothed.”
She held up.
“I snuck into his room. I ... glanced through his phone messages. There were nine to Dan Schnelling, all just three days ago.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me!”
Mom shook her head.“This isn’t my group anymore,” she said, resignation heavy in her voice. “I woke Terry up—I got a bucket out of the garage and filled it all the way up and dumped it on his head, right there on his bed. Probably five gallons of ice-cold water. He screamed at me. I took his phone and smashed it underfoot as he watched. I’m going to play one more gig with him and Aaron and Tex, but then ... I’m out, too. Meadowlark is Terry’s group now.”