Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 12

Just like the Charlotte show, we left for Raleigh Saturday morning so we could still play and get paid for Friday and Sunday at the Blue Ridge, except this time we had to leave even earlier, well before the sun came up. It was a five-hour drive, and Kat’s swim practice was at one and went until three. Our show was set to start at seven, which meant we needed to be there by five for soundchecks, leaving only two hours after the swim practice to tour the school, and that didn’t count getting ourselves ready.

At least this time we planned ahead. Kat had skipped our Friday show and gone to bed early, so she did all the driving while I zonked out in the passenger seat, which was significantly easier to do in her car than it was in the packed van.

Hanna was over the moon to see us. Even better, there was no sign of Troy. I’d been able to catch up with Hanna just last week, so I hung back letting her and Kat reconnect. Kat looked as happy as I’d seen her look in a long time, which was all the proof I needed to know that this had been a good idea.

Arm in arm, they strolled ahead of me, planning all the things they’d do once they were both here. They’d already submitted the paperwork to be roommates next year, and I swear they acted like they were going to own the campus.

They paused in front of a magnificent red and white brick building, crenellations lining the top, its windows reaching out on both sides.

“Can we go in here?” Kat asked, bounding towards a white brick archway that housed ornate wooden double doors.

I craned my neck to read the sign at the bottom of the steps. She had, in fact, found the math department.

“It’s Saturday,” I called from the bottom of the steps. “There aren’t any classes going on right now, are there?”

“No,” Hanna confirmed.

“But I just want to see what the classrooms look like. I promise I won’t take long,” Kat said, looking hopefully at both of us.

“Charlie, don’t be a party pooper,” Hanna said, circling me to give me a light push on my back, directing me up the stairs after Kat. “Of course, we can look around.”

“Hey, I didn’t say ‘no,’” I said, catching up to Kat and holding open the heavy door.

The whole building felt stuffy, like an old library, which was probably exactly what they were going for. I was been picturing classrooms like we had at Carr. Instead, all the ones on the first floor were more like auditoriums, with large whiteboards spanning one side and facing rows of long, counter-like tables. They could probably fit a hundred or more students in here at one time, which I guess worked for something like Math where it was students just writing stuff down as the teacher talked.

I had always known that I wasn’t the kind of person who loved school, even the idea of college. But Kat? She loved it. The same huge, beige room that I found impersonal, she saw as a refuge. She moved from one seat to another, pretending what it would be like to be in this class. I didn’t get it, but it was good to see her so happy.

The upper floor housed classrooms that looked a lot closer to what I’d been picturing, with a desk and whiteboard at the front of the room and individual desks for the students facing it. Some of the rooms still had problems up on the boards, which Kat excitedly tried to solve. She was taking Calculus Two this year, but that was still a high school-level course, and most of these problems were a little beyond her current level.

“This is just a start,” Hanna said, as we finished exploring one room and moved on to the next. “Talk to your professors and get to know them. If you can find one to mentor you, you can really learn things. The things Professor Cross has taught me are better than any actual class.”

“You got lucky,” Kat responded.

“Maybe, but you’re ten times smarter than I am. Once they figure out that you’re a genius, they’ll be falling over each other trying to make you their pet nerd,” Hanna said, and then dodged a push from Kat, both girls laughing.

Kat suddenly held up her phone, pointing at the doors to the building.

“Stand up on the steps,” she instructed. “I want to take a picture for me.”

Hanna looped her arm through mine while Kat backed up to the sidewalk, holding her camera up, when a bunch of what I could only think of as frat guys, dressed a lot like Troy dressed, came walking down the steps, laughing and being generally loud.

I’d never been one to mingle with frat guys; although Hanna’s ex Marcus had flirted with the idea before he headed off to college. But Troy had really soured me on them. It probably wasn’t fair to judge them all using him as a standard, but so far I hadn’t been overly impressed by any of them. This group did nothing to change my opinion.

As they walked past Kat, still being loud and obnoxious, one of them swung out and smacked her on the butt. I knew how Kat was with confrontations and how she froze up whenever anyone got physical with her or made advances at her. Walking by and doing that would have been bad enough, but three of them had broken off and huddled around her while the rest of the group kept going, which was going to make it worse for her.

I charged down the steps, ready to intervene when Kat surprised me, putting up a hand in a stop gesture while still looking at the guys.

“ ... wouldn’t wear them so tight if you didn’t want it, baby,” one of the guys was saying as I came jogging up.

“How else am I going to find a guy, am I right?” she asked, running her hand lightly down the arm of the guy to her left.

To an outsider, her voice might have sounded flirtatious, but knowing Kat as well as I did, I could hear the seething anger underneath.

“The right guy’s right here, gorgeous,” the guy in the middle said, making some kind of gesture that I guess was supposed to make him look cool but really only made him look like an idiot.

“I should have guessed,” she said in that seductive voice she used to use to win guys over, stepping in close to him, putting a hand playfully on his chest. “Were you the one who slapped me? ‘Cause, I don’t know. It was kind of weak. I need a guy who can really make me feel something.”

He grinned at his buddies. It amazed me they bought her act and actually thought they were making headway. How anyone thought this move would work, or that an actual woman would talk like this, blew my mind. Maybe they only had experience with drunk girls and porn and thought this was what women were like all the time.

“I was just getting your attention, but if you wanna come with us, I can show you what’s up.”

“Ohh, I know what’s up,” she said and brought her knee up hard, driving it straight into his groin.

I swear, the guy went cross-eyed as he crumpled over with a wheeze.

“Hey...” his buddy on the left said.

He’d barely moved an inch before her arm arced down and back up, giving him the same treatment his friend had gotten. Swimmers weren’t bulky, but they built a lot of arm and shoulder strength, and I knew firsthand, having been on the receiving end of her playful punches, how that could hurt.

The last frat buddy put his hands up and backed away, making it clear he wasn’t interested in being victim number three.

“We should probably go,” I said.

Kat had handled herself well, but the rest of their group had just turned the corner, and it wouldn’t take much for us to find ourselves massively outgunned. Kat let us lead her away, but she had this proud little smile on her face.

The last time she’d stood up to someone it had only been with words, and she’d been a complete wreck afterwards. This time, she’d gotten physical, had clearly been ready for more and, didn’t seem fazed at all. I knew she’d been working hard at her therapy, but I didn’t know it was going that well.

It wasn’t until I put my arm through hers and felt the slight shaking that I realized she was still putting on a brave face. I think she knew I figured her out because she gave me a small, apologetic smile. I put my hand through hers and gave it a comforting squeeze. I wasn’t going to out her to Hanna if she didn’t want me to, and I was still proud of how well she was holding up. This was a serious victory for her on her road to recovery.

The space was just as big as Warren promised. It was probably the largest indoor location we’d played so far. I guess because it used to be a warehouse. There were big roll-up doors that we could drive the van right through and double doors that lead to the far corner of the building, on the stage side, where we could haul our stuff in and set up.

This wasn’t the kind of place that kept a drum kit set up for us to use, so we had to haul Seth’s in, but it was still a step up from the van being double parked on a small street or parking half a mile away and hiking everything in, both of which we’d had to do at previous shows.

The tech crew was already setting stuff up as I headed for the stage. The familiar hum of amps greeted me on my way up to the stage.

“Watch it, man!” Marco snapped behind me,

I looked over in time to see Seth nearly drop Marco’s new keyboard. Marco had been super sensitive about it ever since he brought it back from Asheville. I understood, since I was particular about my guitar too, but it didn’t give him an excuse for being a dick, especially to Seth, who was the only person in the band to always have his back. Seth, for his part, shot him an annoyed look, but said nothing.

I set my guitar case down next to the front mic and turned to Kat and Lyla, who were setting up Lyla’s bass.

“Need any help?”

“We’re good,” Lyla said. “Just seeing if I can talk your girl into some alone time.”

She winked, draping an arm around Kat’s shoulders. I just shook my head. Lyla loved teasing Kat and Hanna, both of whom were straight, every chance she got. She usually had good luck getting a rise out of Hanna, who never knew what to say to that kind of teasing, but it never fazed Kat, who always took it in stride.

“Their coach said I had the fastest time they’d put up this year. I didn’t break the school record, but it was close,” Kat said, pushing Lyla’s arm off her shoulder and continuing to tell her about the training session.

I hadn’t realized that Kat and Lyla had become friends at some point; I guess ‘cause I never saw them hang out or anything. The two were getting along famously though, and I was happy to see it. Between how she’d stood up to those frat guys and now socializing with someone not in her immediate circle, Kat was making some serious strides in her recovery.

I left them to chat, heading over to where Seth and Marco were setting up Marco’s synth.

“Dude, quit complaining. Jesus Christ,” Seth snapped just as I got there.

I had no idea what Marco was complaining about, but I’d never heard Seth get mad once in the year that we’d been playing together, and especially not with Marco.

“I just want it done right,” Marco shot back. “We can’t afford to keep replacing these.”

“Seth, why don’t you go set up your drum kit,” I said, intervening. “Marco’s almost done with this, anyway, right?”

“Yeah,” Marco said, glaring at Seth, who stalked off in a huff.

“I don’t know if your goal is to piss off everyone you know; but if it is, you’re doing a damn fine job of it.”

“Whatever,” Marco said.

I don’t know if he realized I was right or if he just didn’t want another lecture from me, but either way, he stopped bitching which was all I really wanted.

I went back to where my guitar case was and looked at the cables stretched out across the floor. This was definitely the messiest setup I’d ever seen in all of the shows we’d played, and that included some spectacularly crappy dive bars. It took me several minutes to trace them back and to find the one that connected to my direct box, which would balance out the signal from my guitar, and then connected through whatever wiring this place had to the mixing board in the sound booth. Wherever that was.

I’d just gotten my guitar all hooked up and ready for a soundcheck, setting it on its stand in the middle of the stage near my mic, when Lyla and Kat wandered over from Lyla’s side of the stage.

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