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!
She knew his number, but at the last minute—almost half past midnight—decided not to call it. She knew he’d be up; he once told her his best songs came to him late at night as he gamed. In the morning she dressed after showering, then went downstairs.
Mom wasn’t up yet. That wasn’t typical. Usually she was up by seven. But the last five days she had remained in bed, waking only past ten and not dressing out of her PJs the rest of the day. Also atypical.
Her depression was completely understandable. Laurie ached for her.
It was 9:55. June 12th. The thermometer at the back sliding-glass door read sixty-three degrees. Foggy. Gray. She heard the toilet flush upstairs in Mom’s bathroom, and then sparrows arguing outside on the porch next to the swing.
She sighed and went to fix herself something to eat, and something for Mom to eat when she woke.
At 11:23, still waiting for her to get up, she sighed again, grabbed a pen and the pad of paper next to the microwave, and wrote:
Went to Knox’s.
Scrambled & sausage in fridge.
Be back this afternoon.
She quietly returned to her room, put her guitar in its case, grabbed her purse, and went back downstairs. Before opening the front door, she glanced one more time upstairs.
That fucking Terry!
If she saw him again, she was going to take her guitar and bash it Pete Townshend-style against his fucking skull!
She hopped on the Orange Line; twenty minutes later she got off. Knox’s house was up a nearby street, a convenient five-minute walk from the stop.
She rang the doorbell when she got there. It was almost 1 PM.
Mrs. Mulloy answered. “Laurie! My goodness, what happened to you?”
The last of the stitches were almost gone, and the bruising had faded to a mild greenish-purple discoloration.
“Ran into a creep,” she said, truthfully. “Actually, a pair of ‘em.”
So Knox didn’t tell her. Which was for the better, because Mrs. Mulloy had in the past proven herself a bit of a meddler and worrywart.
“You got mugged?”
She thought of answering yes, and went to shrug, but Knox was suddenly behind his mother. “She got mugged, Mom. I thought I told you. Mind letting her in?”
“You never to told me!” Mrs. Mulloy protested, stepping out of the way. “Of course, Laurie, come in, come in! I was just heading out for some shopping. If you’re home when I get back, you can tell me all about it!”
“Only if she wants,” said Knox, who glanced at her case and smiled. “Came by to jam?”
“Only if you’re not busy. I’m glad you’re here. I didn’t know if you would be.”
“You got lucky,” he said, shutting the door as his mother, mumbling something about how the world has “gone to hell in a handbasket,” walked off. “I was supposed to be at work, but my boss rearranged the hours—again.”
“Slinging fries and mixing shakes,” she sang, the full lyrics of which they had been working on, off and on, for more than two years. She had shared them with Terry and Aaron, she realized, and hoped then that they hadn’t remembered them. It was Knox’s song after all.
“I’ve got more where that came from,” he said as they made their way down the hall to his bedroom.
“Seriously?” That was the best news she’d heard in weeks!
“Seriously.” He opened the door; she closed it after stepping in. “I’ll play the rest for you. You can sing the lyrics. Here they are—” He reached for a small stack of roughly collated post-it notes and handed them to her.
“Oh, hell yeah! This is awesome!” she said as she read through them. “Let’s get to it!”
Two hours later, she was half-lying, half-sitting on his bed, more or less slumped with a couple of pillows between her back and the corner of the wall. He’d come back with a couple of beers; he handed one to her. She sat up, popped the top, took a sip, and reclined. “Your mom won’t get mad?”
“She’s pretty uptight most of the time, but not about you. She trusts you. Which is saying something, because she really doesn’t like people all that much, girls especially.”
“She seems like such the socialite, all concerned about appearances and stuff.”
He sat at the desk chair after pulling it around. “She’s a big bag of contradictions, ol’ Mom. She’s doing a bit of personal growth, I think. She quit the conservative Catholic Church a couple of months ago, the one we’d been members of since I was born, and joined the UUs!”
“Unitarian Universalists. Very liberal. She’s dumped most of her acquaintances. She calls them acquaintances and not friends. She doesn’t really feel she’s ever had a real friendship her entire life. She told me that just the other night. She was so much more uptight when dad was around. It’s like ... she’s having a mid-life crisis. She’s forty-six ... I didn’t think women got them. But I think she’s having one.”
“Is she going to buy a fancy sports car and get a boyfriend just a couple years older than you?” she asked, grinning.
“Nah. Her crisis seems to involve donating half her clothes to a relief agency, which she did yesterday, eating more vegetarian meals, giving five hundred dollars to the Biden campaign, and—get this—even smoking pot! Yeah! She told me!”
Laurie’s surprised gape held a few seconds after she blurted, “What?”
“No shit,” murmured Knox, shaking his head. “She told me. She and Mrs. Ducleaux down the street. Someone five years ago she would have never even thought of striking up a friendship with, let alone smoking a joint with! It’s ... sometimes overwhelming, to be completely honest.”
Laurie got the message.
“It’s better than ... well, what it used to be. Right?”
“Suppose. I mean, yeah, it is, especially with my dad not around. It’s beautiful to watch sometimes. But sometimes she asks me really personal questions that I’m, like, ‘Whoa. Stop.’ ”
“She doesn’t mean anything by it. She told me that when she was in college she ‘had a fling’ with her roommate. I think she was trying to make me feel included and safe. I don’t know.”
Laurie held up. “I’m ... sorry for what those assholes said.”
“It’s not your fault. To be entirely truthful, I’m glad they blew everything up. I was getting really tired of their shit. I’m just sorry that you and your mom got hurt.”
“You’re not sorry they kicked you out of the band?”
“I’ve thought for a long time about quitting. Those two have been pretty fuckin’ rude to me more times than I can tell you. More times than I’ve ever told you.”
“I’m sorry, Knox.”
“I had a feeling they were up to something. Turns out I was right.”
She thought for a moment. “Fuck ‘em. Just ... fuck ‘em. I’m so angry with Terry right now that I may not speak to him for a long, long time. I know if I ever see him again, he’s due for a fat fucking lip—another one!”
“Yeah ...” said Knox, considering “... yeah..” He held up. “I think you and I should form our own group.”
“I’ve thought a lot about that too. But I’m still a minor for another three and a half years; are you sure you want to include me? We won’t be able to land any club gigs.”
“To tell you the truth, I couldn’t care less about playing clubs ever again. I say we set up YouTube and Patreon channels and let the chips fall where they may. And we need your mom with us, too. Think she’d be interested?”
“I ... I really don’t know right now. She’s really down. I think after a few months have passed, she might want to jump in. It’s doubtful she’d want anything to do with music anytime before then.”
“Well, then,” he said, taking his sticks and rapping them on this knees, “it’s just you n’ me, babe. A drummer and a guitarist-slash-keyboardist.”
She smiled. “What shall we call ourselves?”
“That’s easy,” he said right away. “We should call ourselves Laurie.”
She told Mom when she got home. Mom—who was still in per PJs and robe.
“I think that’s really wonderful, sweetheart. But I don’t think I’ll be joining you. Not anytime soon. I need a break.”
Laurie hugged her tightly. “I know. I figured as much. Knox sends his love.”
“When I think about it, those two were really cruel to him sometimes. I guess I didn’t want to look all that closely at what was really going on. Are you hungry?”
“Famished. But you shouldn’t cook. I’ll pop up the street and grab us some burgers. Sound good?”
“That sounds perfect. I’ve got some cash. I’ll go grab it quick.”
When she got home, she noticed that Mom had dressed and was sitting on the couch with her feet propped up and a glass of wine in hand. They ate in the living room.
“The news that you and Knox are forming your own group has made me feel a lot better,” said Mom as she finished.
“Then join us!” Laurie exclaimed.
“No, sweetheart. I don’t think that’d be right.”
“Because you think Terry will feel you’re playing favorites?”
“Screw him!” shouted Laurie. “For a really long time I was convinced that you played favorites with him!”
The hurt that flashed in Mom’s eyes made her recoil. “You did? You really felt that way? When?”
She shook her head. “It isn’t important.”
“It is to me!”
“It isn’t important because as I got older I saw that you weren’t playing favorites at all. I was just jealous because as the older kid he had so many more opportunities than I did, which I mistook for you playing favorites. I know now that you weren’t.”
“I think what I’m going to do is try—try—to be supportive of both of you. You aren’t going to be a problem. In fact, it’s going to be tough not favoring you from now on. And as tough as that’s going to be will be as tough as it will be pretending to be happy with him and his new band. It’s going to be a long time before I get over my anger. I really believe I raised him better than I apparently have.”
“I don’t think I’m ever going to forgive him for what he did,” Laurie murmured.
“He’s going to need you someday,” said Mom, reaching for her hand and squeezing it. “Especially if he gets all famous and whatnot. He doesn’t have the character, I’m very sad to say, to handle that kind of attention or adulation or cash.”
“Do you think he’s got that kind of talent?”
She shrugged. “Talent really isn’t the final judge anyway, so what do I know? The masses often raise up totally untalented people and make them statues and induct them into halls of fame. It’s all a crapshoot, really. He’s certainly got the drive, I’ll give him that.”
“Yeah. When he’s not high out of his gourd or hung over!”
“That’s something else I didn’t teach him,” said Mom sadly. “He used to be so straight-laced, so nose-to-the-grindstone. When do you think he started using drugs?”
“I think it started when Aaron joined the band. I’m pretty sure that’s when it all went to hell.”
“Does Knox do drugs?”
“No. He and I smoked a joint once. He didn’t like it; but I did. I slept really well that night. Are you mad?”
“I did my fair share of pot when I was your age, so no, I’m not. I’m like you—it knocks me out. I sleep like a baby. I’ve got that tincture in the fridge, and I know you use it now and then. I’m fine with that. I’m much more concerned with alcohol.”
She kept her gaze on her.
“No,” said Laurie. “I had a beer with Knox earlier, but I don’t drink like half the kids in school do, and nothing close to what Aaron and Terry do.”
“I’m so glad you are close to Knox. He’s such a good kid. A kind, kind soul. And damn talented.”
“More than Tex Lansing?”
“Are you serious?” chuckled Mom. “There’s no comparison! Schnelling laughed off the John Bonham comparison, but it’s quite true. Knox has a gift.”
“So join us!”
Mom patted her hands, which was always her way of saying she wasn’t going to argue the matter any longer, then stood and began cleaning up. Laurie helped, deciding not to press the issue any further.
“Some TV?” she suggested.
“I think I’d like to go for a drive, maybe grab a waffle cone at the Ocean Beach Pier, watch the sun set.”
“Want some company?”
“I’d love some.”