Page 7

 Jay Crownover

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The angel that stretched from one side of my collar bone to the other and went way below my navel was probably my most recognized piece. I also had a Japanese dragon that covered one whole arm that Nash had done when he was just starting out, and my other forearm was covered from elbow to wrist in a complicated mélange of Salvador Dali paintings that Rowdy had recently finished. It looked more like a painting on flesh than a tattoo.
All of the guys had their strengths. Rule was all about heavy lines and gothic pieces that covered huge amounts of skin, and he tended toward the traditional style. Nash loved big color and bold design. It was easy to see his street style and new-school aesthetic in everything he did. Rowdy, though the most irreverent of all of us, really treated his work like art. He believed in creating custom-designed pieces that no one else would have, and honed his talent like a true craftsmen. Tattooing was just another art form to him, and I think he took what he did more seriously than the other guys. In fact, I had enlisted him to design all of our album covers and T-shirt designs for the band.
Cora’s hands and needles had been in places that I didn’t care to think about, but all the staff at the Marked did a great job. I had zero complaints and didn’t hesitate to refer anyone who asked about them.
“Yeah, dude, it was badass. I totally name-dropped, and the guy with the flames tattooed on his head worked me in on the spot.” He rolled his eyes dramatically and looked at me like I should have disclosed pertinent information before suggesting they hit the shop. “You didn’t tell me the place was packed with talent. The blonde that ran the desk, holy shit, man, she was like my dream girl.”
I bit back a laugh because Cora was every rock and roller’s dream girl until she opened her mouth. With her mismatched eyes and undeniably general cuteness, her looks were deceiving. Guys like Ryan were attracted to her crazy hair and the fact that she had a full-sleeve tattooed on her left arm and tiny, solid black gauges in each ear. The fact that she was mouthy, bossy, and treated us all like we were wayward kindergartners never came up until the poor, unsuspecting guy was already head over heels in love.
I shook my head at him and warned, “She’s too old for you and way more trouble than she’s worth. Trust me. What did you get done?”
He peeled the protective covering off and proudly displayed a snarling gargoyle. It was cool, well done, but honestly kind of generic. I could tell Nash had done his best to put some flare into it to make it unique, but it was really just a tattoo that some kid got because he thought a big ol’ piece of ink would make him look cool while onstage and in photos. Because they were paying me more than a grand an hour for my time, I just nodded and told him to get into the studio with the rest of the guys in the band. I could tell he wanted more props, but I was almost out of patience for dealing with people’s shit today, so I just kept my mouth shut before I said something that would get me in trouble.
For the next three hours I tweaked vocals and mixed instruments to get the first five songs done. The rest of the guys in the band were pretty committed to putting together a solid debut album, but Ryan was difficult, and I could tell he was getting irritated that I kept deferring to Jorge, the band’s drummer, because he was the main songwriter.
I needed to understand what was behind a song before I could do it justice, but Ryan clearly wanted all the attention on him and it was making getting anything laid down hard. The kid had decent pipes and a butt load of charisma, but if he didn’t pull his head out of his ass all they were ever going to be was a really good opening act for far better bands.
The recording session ran so long that when the guys in my own band started showing up for our practice, I was still working on getting the bridge for the chorus in song number two right. My bandmates were used to having to kick it while I paid the bills, and when the kids saw that they had an actual audience to impress, they pulled it together, and I managed to get everything hammered out up to track five.
Von was my lead guitar player and songwriting partner, Catcher played bass, and Boone managed the drum kit. We were a pretty tight group; had to be since we spent so much time together. So I didn’t have to say anything to them, just offer up a grunt and a narrow-eyed stare when they jokingly asked how it was going.
The kids came bounding out of the studio to say hey to everyone, and I wanted to smack Ryan when he asked if they could hang around and watch our practice. I was over teenage metal heads and had just wanted to knock out a quick practice so we could go grab a beer and some wings and bug Ayden. I knew I should stay away from her, but I couldn’t seem to do it for too long. Our band had a big show planned for Valentine’s Day the following weekend and I figured it would just be easier to agree to let them stay than to argue about it.
I led everyone to the back room that we used for our practice and the guys and I took our places like we have at least twice a week for the past five years. We were a well-oiled machine; we knew what we were doing and that no band worked when someone’s ego was the driving force. I thought that maybe watching what an actual band looked like might help Ryan get off his pedestal. Boone tapped out a lead-in beat and looked at me over the top of his kit. “We gonna play the set for the show or you need to do some harder stuff?” They knew when I was in a mood, really we were friends first and a band second, they just understood where I was at.
I shoved hands through my dark and usually messy hair and rolled my shoulders around. The microphone felt like an extension of my arm when I pulled it out of the stand. I met curious looks all around and nodded at him.
“Yeah, let’s go black and then do the normal set.”
Before I even finished the sentence, deep rhythms were coming off the drums and low bass tones were shaking the ground under my unlaced combat boots. Von made the air ring with guitar chords that were sharp enough to peel the paint off the walls and I started singing. I let all the anger at my dad stream out. I let the frustration of trying to wrangle young talent explode into vocals that ebbed and flowed with every emotion that was trying to strangle me. By the time we had moved to the second song, the guys in BMA had all taken seats on empty instrument cases and were watching us with wide eyes and slack jaws. When we moved on to the mellower stuff, what we played for the bar crowd, I could see that Jorge was really listening to the power behind the lyrics that meant something. I could also see that Ryan was probably going to try to emulate everything I did to a T at their next performance.
After I had yelled, dripped, and purged every bad thing that happened today out of me, I dropped the mic on the floor and pulled the edge of my T-shirt up to wipe my face. I felt empty, but better.
I turned to the guys and told them I was hooking up with Rowdy for a beer if they wanted to come. Usually, we tried to hang out once a week and just touch base, but Catcher was doing some demo work for another band, Von and his girlfriend had just had a baby, and Boone was struggling with a pretty short bout of sobriety. Lately I had been kicking it more and more with Rowdy and the guys from the shop.
I had known Rule and Nash since high school, but those two were a pretty tight unit, and when Rule’s older brother, Rome, was in town, it was worse. I often ended up on the outskirts of whatever they had cooking up. I was stoked when Rowdy had started coming around because he was quirky, unpredictable, and always a hell of a good time. They were all good friends to have, and I liked to think they felt the same about me, but Rowdy and I just clicked and had an understanding so he typically ended up being my go-to bro.
The rest of the guys in both bands filed out the door but Jorge stayed behind as I chugged a bottle of water and moved to put all our stuff away. “What’s up?”
He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the tips of his tennis shoes instead of at me. “You guys are so much better than us, so much better than half the bands we were on tour with at Metalfest. Why are you helping us out, and not in the studio making albums of your own? I’m just wondering how that happens?”
“You guys are pretty solid, but if you don’t get Ryan to tone it down, you’re going to end up breaking up before you get anywhere. You got a lot of attention from Metalfest, so you should capitalize on it. You’re paying me to help you, Jorge, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize talent when I see it. You write really good songs but anyone can sing them. You don’t need a front man who doesn’t appreciate that.”
He looked up at me and grinned. “Thanks.”
“No problem.”
“That song you closed with, ‘Whiskey in the Morning,’ it’s about a girl, isn’t it?”
I sighed and clapped him on the back of the neck as I guided him out of the warehouse.
“Aren’t all the best songs about a girl? It doesn’t matter if it’s metal, if it’s country, if it’s blues or rock and roll; all the songs that make us remember and make us want to sing along are about the best kind of girl, the kind you can’t live without but can’t ever get ahold of.”
“You have one of those?”
I barked out a bitter laugh and stopped by the Challenger. “Oh yeah.”
I texted Rowdy to let him know I was on my way, and he shot back that I had better hurry because the place was packed. The girls were all smoking-hot and dressed in sexy little sports-themed uniforms that made Hooters girls look like they were dressed for church. The bar was typically packed so that wasn’t anything new. We went there enough that Lou, the door guy, usually hooked us up with a seat, even if there wasn’t room or if the bar had a long wait.
When I walked in, I noticed the blonde with the giant fake boobs giving me the eye, but I never even blinked in her direction. I knew Ayden hated her and that it was my duty as her friend—god, I hated that word when it came to her—to keep all common enemies at bay, even if said enemy looked like she wanted to give me a bath with her tongue the first chance she got.
Lou gave me a head nod and pointed a meaty finger toward the section of the bar that was off to one side. It was the closest to the patio that was open in the summer, and I had no trouble spotting both Ayden’s dark head and Rowdy’s much blonder and far more prominent one. I don’t know when he decided that a pompadour, long with perfectly groomed chops, was a style he could rock in the real world, but for the last year or so he had been wearing his hair like James Dean and dressing like a cat from the fifties. Rowdy was eccentric and liked flash and attention, so I just rolled with it because it was just part of who he was and not much made me chuckle like he did.
I caught Ayden’s eye and gave her a grin. She looked at me for a second, then looked away without so much as a twitch of her lips. It made me frown as I settled onto the stool across from Rowdy. Even if there was some serious sexual tension between us she was always usually happy to see me.
“What’s her problem tonight?”
I still felt bad about knocking her off the landing, but she had insisted that she was fine, so I didn’t know what I had done to piss her off between then and now. Unless she had felt the instant hard-on that lying on top of her had caused. I couldn’t be held accountable for that uncontrollable response. She was beautiful, and if she had any idea how badly I wanted to be on top of her all the time, it would make her do a lot more than frown at me.