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"Amid the Noise and Haste"
Title: Amid the Noise and Haste
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (TV)
Warnings: language, slash, a lot of angst, a little sleaze, some silliness. There is unhappy stuff here, but I would never really hurt our boys.
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me), and not at all any claim to ownership of these TV characters or their real-life counterparts.
Summary: Established relationship. Mike’s leadership is tested when the Monkees lose a gig and all signs point to it being Peter’s fault.
Author's Notes: I took some liberties with the episodes: it suited the story better to go by the order they were filmed than the order they were broadcast. However, I did not make up a certain pastime of 1950s Texas kids (my mother was one of those kids). Also, the pretext behind this story’s conflict is… not just down to me being a sleazehead (though I totally am), but loosely based on something I read about the very early days of the Rolling Stones. And there is a happy ending, I promise. :)
“Hey, guys—I’m back!”
Mike dropped his suitcase by the front door and held his arms out. Not that he was expecting the guys to rush into his embrace, but the gesture was a way of reclaiming the home he’d been missing something sore for the last three weeks.
Davy made his way from the kitchen to the couch, juggling two soda bottles and a large bowl of popcorn, deftly maneuvering around a certain imposing structure in an incongruous green hat. “Oh, hey Mike.”
Mike watched Davy sit down on the couch next to Micky, who was reading a magazine. Davy held out the bowl to him. Micky scooped up a handful of popcorn, shoving it all into his mouth at once, oblivious to the pieces that missed their target and dropped down his sides onto the floor.
“Pig,” Davy said fondly. He switched on the TV.
“Next time I’ll extend my pinky,” Micky crunched. “Oh, hey Mike.” He flipped another page of his magazine.
Mike watched them in disbelief. “What, that’s it? No, ‘oh, Mike, you’re back’? You don’t ask me how my flight was? How my ma is, and Aunt Kate? Why I’m back a day early?”
“Not bad, fine, the same, and because you couldn’t stay away any longer,” Davy delivered in a perfect 1deadpan.
Well, okay, maybe that was a fair point. It wasn’t like he usually gave very detailed answers to those sorts of questions anyway. But still—he had been gone a damned long time, visiting his family in Texas. It had been a good visit, he supposed, but he’d pretty much had his fill of his numerous relatives toward the end. It was hard to deny who you were that long and that close to people who had known you all your life. But he couldn’t tell them about him and Peter yet… not if the precedent of Peter’s attempt to tell his own family was anything to go by. But at least Mr. Thorkelson, though he hadn’t taken it too kindly, was a well-bred, well-educated, well-mannered sort of gentleman from Connecticut. If he’d been from Texas, he’d have come right after Mike: shotgun loaded, both barrels raised. Mike wasn’t ready to subject Peter to similar wrath from his Texas clan.
Actually, he mused, his ma would probably be okay with it. She’d always been a somewhat unconventional lady… but the rest? No way. And so, feeling more than a little fed up, he’d cut his visit short by a day. It had taken some pleading to change his flight, but he wasn’t sorry, no sir—wait a minute, Mick and Davy weren’t surprised at all! What’s up with that?
“How’d you know I was coming back today?” he asked suspiciously.
“Elementary, my dear Nesmith,” Micky smirked. “Whenever it smells like Dow Chemical took a dump on the front step, we know there’s an ill wind blowing from Texas.”
“I do not smell like DDT!” Mike said indignantly. “Anyway, I told you before it doesn’t have a smell. At least, not a bad one…”
“Actually your mum called half an hour ago to tell us you changed your flight,” Davy confessed.
Mike felt only slightly appeased. He never should have shared that tidbit about his Gulf Coast childhood, the game of running with the other kids through the fog the DDT trucks sprayed on the streets several nights a week, to kill off the mosquitoes. The guys had been ribbing him about it ever since, like it was the most yokel thing they’d ever heard. And people wondered why he didn’t talk about himself much!
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Peter had been sympathetic, of course. He claimed he had heard of the trucks being used in Connecticut, too, although he admitted he’d never actually seen one. It wasn’t the strongest of defenses, but Mike appreciated the effort.
Thinking of Peter, Mike forgot his annoyance and glanced around the pad.
“He’s down on the beach,” Davy said, tone knowing but not mocking. DDT trucks were fair game, but Davy and Micky both held to the code that the relationship of Mike and Peter was off limits for ridicule.
“Cool. Say, what about—“ He stopped when he noticed something odd about Micky. Namely, that his face was turning blue.
Micky dropped the magazine, pointing frantically at himself. Davy started pounding on his back, and Mike rushed to the kitchen sink to grab a glass of water. Approximately fifteen seconds later, a saliva-coated, unpopped kernel shot onto the floor and found a home among the layer of detritus that had accumulated since the last time the pad was vacuumed—probably, Mike guessed, three weeks ago.
“Oh, lordy,” he sighed. “What have you three been up to? Obviously it sure wasn’t housework.”
“Nothing much,” Davy answered while Micky downed the entire glass of water in one go. “Micky was taken over by a space alien robot who made a pass at our refrigerator. Oh, and before that he almost sold his drums to pay for a phony guru’s health club.”
“Almost!” Micky spluttered. “You didn’t need to tell him that, when it never really happened.”
Mike gave a weary chuckle and stretched his arms over his head. “Business as usual, then. Anything else I should know before I start setting this ship to rights again?”
“Oh…” Micky set the glass aside. “Well, you know—“
“Did I mention Peter’s down on the beach?” Davy piped up. “You should go see him, he doesn’t know you’re back.”
“You’re right, I should.” Micky and Davy both looked relieved. That’s odd. What are those two jokers up to? “Then when we both get back here, we can all rehearse.”
“Mike!” Micky squawked. “Rehearse, are you kidding? You just got back! Can’t you, you know, take a breather for the rest of the day or something?”
“Yeah, I just got back—from vacation. I already had a breather! We’re all back together again, we got our next gig at the Tiger Lily day after tomorrow, so why not rehearse?”
He watched them exchange helpless glances, and instantly he knew he was not going to like what he was about to hear.
Davy switched off the television and cleared his throat.
“We lost the Tiger Lily gig. Mr. Potzenpanzer called us two days after you left and cancelled us.”
Although Davy considered himself a scrappy sort, he had to admit that he and Micky and Peter weren’t the best at fending for themselves. It was a wonder the pad was still standing after such a long stretch without Mike to prop up its foundations. They all appreciated what he did for them, but it was also undeniably fun to tweak him from time to time.
It was not fun to give him bad news. Telling him while he was with his family in Texas was not even an option. And now here it was: the moment they’d had nearly three weeks to prepare for, yet they still didn’t know what to say. Neither Micky nor Davy wanted to invite a rage that would probably deafen them, at the very least. They’d even considered taking out renters’ insurance to cover the toll from a blast likely to fall on the higher end of the scale between Krakatoa and Hiroshima.
Five… four… three… two… one…
“We lost the gig?”
Micky had squeezed his eyes shut; Davy watched them pop open. He probably looked as stunned himself. Just one, quiet, slightly dazed question?
“You mean the Tiger Lily gig, we lost that?”
“Mike,” Micky began uncertainly.
“That gig we truly, madly, badly needed ‘cause we hadn’t worked in over a month? We lost that?”
“It’s not—“ Davy started, but soon realized he didn’t really know where to end.
“The gig that dumbass Potzenpanzer promised me he’d hold till I got back from Texas, he cancelled it? Soon as I left, he called you and cancelled it, no reason, no nothing?”
“Look—“ Micky tried again.
“Out of my way!” Mike stomped over to the phone. “That bastard son of a—“
Micky shrugged at Davy. When Mike got on a roll like this, there was usually no stopping him. And he had reason to be mad, Micky knew. The Tiger Lily was an up-and-coming club, not really on the Strip but close enough for some deliberately imprecise publicity, and quite groovy in an odd way. It was converted from, of all things, a church. The stage was the altar, the seats were pews, and the tables were—Micky admitted he especially dug this part of it—overturned coffins. The club owner, Mr. Potzenpanzer, seemed no worse than any of the other owners they (or rather, Mike) squabbled with for bookings. Maybe he used too much shoe polish on his thinning hair, maybe his clothes were a little too Sonny Bono for a guy in his fifties, but he’d offered a decent wage and accepted that they couldn’t play right away due to Mike’s Texas trip. It had seemed as good a setup as they were likely to get.
Then, just two days after Mike left, came that call. Davy had taken it. He had listened, stunned, tried in vain to plead their case, all to no avail. Afterwards he had told Micky, and together they told an edited version to Peter. And when it was all over, the three of them had said what they’d been saying constantly for some time: “I wish Mike were here.”
Now he was here, and on the warpath.
“Where’s that damn number of that damn club,” Mike snarled. He kept lifting the various bits of claptrap from the table, searching for the elusive business card of Mr. Potzenpanzer. “Bastard. He ain’t gonna get away with this. I’ll report him to the union. He ain’t got no call to cancel us with no warning just ‘cause he fuckin’ feels like it.”
“Well, actually he does,” Davy muttered. “If we don’t have a contract. And we didn’t.” He quickly stepped out of fist range.
“Only ‘cause the jerk wouldn’t give us one! Well, I’ll tell every goddamn band in LA County to stay away from his club. Yeah, see how he likes bein’ stonewalled with no explanation—“
“Mike, cool it!” Micky grabbed the phone away from him. “You can’t do that. He’ll just tell every other club owner to stay away from us. Nobody wins that way.”
“And—“ Davy glanced at Micky, who could only nod. “It’s isn’t… it’s not exactly true that there was no explanation.”
Mike’s narrowed eyes glittered at them both: questioning, dangerous, commanding.
Help me, Davy silently mouthed at Micky.
“Um, well.” Micky sat next to Mike at the table. He set the phone back down, more for the sake of having something to do and delay his next words than for any real reason. “He said he… um, reconsidered our audition and had some concerns about… our rhythm section. Specifically… our bass.”
“You’re shitting me.” It was all Mike could think to say. The boiling furnace within him had been snuffed out at once with Micky’s incredible pronouncement. “Peter? He has a problem with Peter? Peter as a musician, out of all of us?”
“Well… yeah. He said Peter’s too slow, not keeping proper time.”
“He said Peter hits too many bum notes, throwing the rest of us off.”
“And he also said that Peter never gets his mix and tone right, always too much or too little for whatever song we’re playing.”
“And then he said that we might amount to something some day if we replace him, but until then our only shot is to let him stand on stage unplugged while a real bass player fills in for him behind a curtain—”
“I get it!” Mike shouted. “I get it… I just don’t… believe it.” Replace Peter? Not let Peter plug in? How could he possibly do that? And why would he even consider it? This Potzenpanzer fool didn’t know what he was talking about. Nobody who looked like Groucho Marx in a paisley straitjacket could be taken seriously as an authority on good music. Peter probably had more musical knowledge stored in one lock of his hair than that asshole did in what passed for his whole miserable excuse for a brain… Peter… oh lord… With some effort, he lowered his voice. “How did Peter take it?”
“He doesn’t know,” Micky replied, almost as quietly.
“He knows we lost the gig,” Davy clarified, “but we didn’t think we should tell him why. We just told him Mr. Potzenpanzer said we weren’t the right style to fit the club.”
Mike nodded, trying to pull himself together. “You’re good friends, guys.”
“Actually we were waiting for you to tell him,” Micky said.
Mike glared. “You’re shitty friends, guys.” He looked around the messy pad, idly tallying up all the chores that probably hadn’t been done during his absence. “Okay, I’ll go down to the beach and tell him.”
He started to rise, but Micky put a hand on his arm. “Wait a minute. Have you thought about… if it’s true?”
“Micky!” he pulled back, genuinely shocked.
“I’m not saying it is true, just that … we’re used to his playing. Maybe too used to it. Maybe we’re hearing what we expect to hear, instead of what’s really there. If he’s falling off, would we really notice?”
“I ain’t heard him in three weeks,” Mike barked, “so I think I’m in the best position to know. What’s with you Benedict Arnolds, anyway? You sound like you’re ready to kick him out of the band right now. Or rather, you’re leaving me to do it.”
“Mike, will you calm down!” Davy sat down on his other side. “We’re not saying this because we want him out of the band. Of course we don’t! But don’t you see, there’s a deeper problem. If Peter is really slipping up with his music, then it means something’s really bothering him. He loves music too much, he lives for it. He’d never mess it up unless something was distracting him, something really heavy.”
“And,” Micky joined in, “if that’s the case, then we’d be better able to help him if we admit there’s a problem and talk to him about it, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.”
Even as all the protests rose up in Mike’s mind, some shaft of rationality pierced him. They’re right. Goddamn it, they’re right. They’re thinking like… leaders. And I’m thinking like… a lover.
He adjusted his hat to calm himself. “You’re right,” he said in a much more even tone. “I need to talk to him. We’ll be back in an hour or so… and mark this, you two: we are rehearsing tonight. I want to hear him play for myself.”
“That’s fair,” Davy said, and Micky nodded. “Really, Mike, we want to help him. That’s all. It has nothing to do with—” he made a vague gesture toward Mike then out toward the beach “—you know, you two being together. We’d never judge anything on that.”
“Yeah,” Mike managed a tiny grin. “For shitty friends, you’re pretty good ones. Later.”
He took his time strolling down to the beach. He knew where Peter was likely to be: a tiny inlet they sometimes used for a little privacy when Davy or Micky (or both) had dates at the pad. As he walked, Mike listened to the roll of the ocean waves, trying to get his thoughts in order. He really didn’t know what to say.
Well, Peter, word is you’re a lousy musician. You agree with that?
Good to see ya again, man. Davy and Mick think you’ve gone loco—care to comment?
Hey, babe, we lost our job! Let’s fuck!
Before he could kick himself at that last one, he became aware of a sound. At first it was difficult to hear over the waves, but as he got closer to the inlet there was no doubt: the gentle trilling and twanging of an acoustic guitar in the hands of a master.
He stopped, just to listen. Just to take in the delicate touches, the steady strums, the intricate chord changes that accented but never overwhelmed. Peter never overplays… Maybe that’s why Potzenpanzer didn’t like him. Maybe he likes the flashy guys better, even if it doesn’t fit the damn song… Hmmm, maybe there is something to that “wrong style” explanation, even if Davy just made it up to make him feel better. Has to be something like that, ‘cause if what I’m hearing is any indication it’s sure not down to bum notes!
As he drew closer he caught sight of the lone figure sitting on a blanket, blond head tilted back in close-eyed bliss. This is what I came back for, he thought with more joy than he’d felt all day so far. He’s here! I’m here! We’re back again! And he can really play! Yeah, he sure can play one mean … guitar.
Mike’s euphoria vanished instantly. Guitar. Yes, Peter was a master with the guitar, always had been and from the sound of it still was. But Potzenpanzer’s complaints had been about his bass technique. Was that the problem? Was Peter fed up with playing bass when there were at least four other instruments he could play? Was he missing the guitar? Is that my fault, ‘cause I only want to play guitar myself? Or I’m not writing songs for his other instruments?
In an instant his arms were full of warmth and life.
“Looks that way,” Mike smiled, burying his nose in Peter’s hair. Strange, of all the things he’d missed in Texas, it was Peter’s hair that really tore at him. The soft feel, the pure blend of silk and honey… the clean scent. He almost laughed when he recalled the DDT trucks of yore. Guess I’ve always had a thing about smellin’ stuff, he thought for no particular reason.
They pulled back slightly from each other, still clasping hands, taking each other in. Peter looked at him with pure delight, the same way he looked at Christmas. And now I gotta tell him Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Should he really kill the mood with business?
Yes, you should. You’re supposed to be a leader now, not a lover.
“So, Peter,” he decided to dive straight in. “You bored with playing bass?”
Peter blinked, wondering if he had inadvertently fallen asleep for a few minutes. Certainly he seemed to have missed some of the conversation.
“Huh?” was the best he could manage. Seeing Mike’s own perplexed stare, he grasped for something more meaningful to say. “What, you don’t want me to ask how your flight was?” He paused, lost again in the dearly missed sight of Mike, who if anything seemed to have grown even taller during his time away. He also seemed to be letting his sideburns grow out more… Peter almost reached up to touch one of the dark tufts, but the feeling that something was not quite right stopped him. “You, um, don’t want me to ask how your mother is, and Aunt Kate? Why you’re back a day early?”
“Not bad, fine, the same, and because I couldn’t stay away from you any longer.” Mike hugged him again, but when he drew away his face once more had a serious and puzzled cast. “Look, I’m not gonna pussyfoot ‘round this here problem. Mick and Davy told me we got fired from the Tiger Lily. It sucks, man, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me mad as hell. No warning, crap explanation—it sucks. I want to know what you think of… uh, this ‘wrong style’ reason for losing the gig.”
I think it’s a lie. No, Peter didn’t think; he knew it was a lie. The problem was, he wasn’t sure if Davy and Micky were lying to him, or if Mr. Potzenpanzer had lied to them.
“We’ve heard worse reasons,” was all he could think to offer. “Somebody else has always hired us again anyway. Eventually.” He sat back down on the blanket, nudging his guitar aside to make room for Mike.
If possible, Mike looked even more solemn than before. Man, this is really killing him. Well, he did work really hard to land us that gig before he left… Peter dropped his eyes. And I lost it for him. Oh, God…
“I just want to know,” Mike said presently, carefully lowering himself onto the blanket. “If you’re tired of the same old, same old, and this clown doesn’t like our set—well, maybe he’s not alone in that. Maybe we need to shake things up. Get you more on the keys, or even the banjo. Could give us a shot in the arm, change our style just by changing our arrangements.”
“You—you’re serious about this?”
“I’m… trying to get used to the idea. I always liked what we had. We could be better, sure, but our style was ours and it hurts to let it go. But I don’t want to hold any of you guys back, either. If we can’t keep the band going otherwise… if you’re getting too bored—”
“I’m not bored. Don’t even think that.”
“But there’s only so much the bass can do—“
“Sometimes that’s how it should be. Simple but effective. We’d be all over the place if I started doing Bach fugues with it. It would be lousy for you and Davy and Micky, even if it might be fun for me.”
“So you are bored!” Mike accused.
“I’m not bored! It’s not like I never get to play anything else. I do.”
“Maybe not enough.” Mike’s already stressed expression suddenly turned haunted. “Oh, shit… is that why you got all hung up on that damn harp before, ‘cause I don’t let you do enough other stuff?“
“No! The harp was not your fault.” He didn’t really want to remember that: the worst mistake he’d ever made in a life full of them. A shudder ran through him; in his head he could still see the gold harp that lured him and the smirking face that tricked him, nearly costing him everything. If it weren’t for Mike… “That was all me,” he mumbled, ashamed. “I was stupid...“ I won’t be that stupid again. I won’t! “Whatever you want me to play is enough,” he tried to get back to the subject. “Really. Why would you even—“
“Peter, it’s a fuckin’ bass!” Mike cut him off. “You been thunkin’ away at the thing for two years now, when you can do so much more. Nobody would blame you for getting tired of it. I wouldn’t,” he added with sudden gentleness.
It was that gentleness that made Peter stop worrying over his own dilemma and really listen to what Mike was saying. Or rather, what he was stopping short of saying: Mike was afraid. Afraid that the band couldn’t hack it anymore, that he felt the weight of responsibility to keep them going, that at least at this moment he didn’t know how.
A year ago Mike would never have confided, or half-confided, any of this to Peter or anyone else. Peter felt his own responsibility, the opposite pulls of needing to reassure the man he loved while at the same time letting Mike keep his pride by pretending not to notice the fear. What do I say? What do I do?
You could tell him the truth. Tell him it’s all a lie, nothing to do with our style, no need to change.
No, he couldn’t. Until he knew who was lying, and who knew what, and what fallout would fall where from knowing who knew what when, and—oh, brother. Anyway, if Mike was worried about him wanting to quit the bass, then he supposed he should just keep trying to reassure him about it.
“A bass line doesn’t have to be just thunk-a-thunk,” he began cautiously. “Listen to Paul McCartney on ‘Lucy in the Sky.’ He goes from downbeats to every beat, running eighths back to downbeats, then arpeggio, then—“ Peter stopped himself, embarrassed by his own babbling. He never wanted to sound like a know-it-all; just because he had more formal musical training than the other guys didn’t make him a better musician. “Anyway,” he finished lamely, “it’s a groovy line, better even than some guitar parts, but at the same time it doesn’t take over the song. It supports it. Not boring at all.”
“Yeah, well,” Mike grumbled, jumping to his feet and pacing back and forth, “I ain’t Paul McCartney. Or Lennon. Maybe I can’t write songs groovy enough for you to cut loose like that.”
Oh, no. Not this. Every few months it seemed Mike had a crisis of confidence over his songwriting. It went hand in glove with his worries over the band, as if they would live or die depending on the sheer force of his own will and output. Peter had given him many pep talks, trying to remind him that he didn’t have to shoulder the burden alone and that in any case he was a great songwriter. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t—but even when it did, it never lasted long.
“Hey,” Peter attempted now, “’You Just May Be the One’ is plenty groovy. I love it.” Seeing Mike’s uncharacteristically bashful little smile, Peter realized his praise might have been misunderstood. “I mean, I don’t just love it because you … because of why… who… you wrote it for. I love the bass line on that one, and I love to play it.”
“You’re just saying that.” Mike kicked at a small drift of sand. At least he kicked it in a direction away from Peter’s guitar.
“I’m not; I mean it. And, maybe you don’t notice because you’re so close in your head to your songs, but I’m on the outside watching you write them, and I know: your style is changing anyway.” How to say this in a way Mike would believe, without getting all boring and technical and know-it-all? “You were in a different place back when you wrote ‘Papa Gene’s Blues’—and it was a good place, a great place. Now you’re somewhere else, but it’s still great. Musically, I mean,” he floundered.
Perhaps he was getting through. Mike peered down at him closely, making him shift his seat a bit, looking for the answer to some question he would never openly ask.
“I don’t know, Peter,” he said finally. “If we’re changing… “
“It’ll be because we want to and because we’re ready to. Not because some club owner doesn’t like us.”
“Okay, I gotcha. But,” the stern leader was back, “if you do get bored playing bass, you gotta tell me. Promise?”
“I promise,” Peter said readily, even as the little voice in his head whispered once more: Just tell him the truth…
“Cool,” Mike broke into a grin. “And you can start living up to that promise right now.” He helped Peter to his feet, then reached down for the guitar and handed it over. “I want to get some rehearsing done tonight. Maybe we can’t kill ‘em dead in a club, but damned if we can’t do it in our own living room!”
Micky plopped his head on one of his tom-toms, snatching a few precious seconds of rest. Mike was driving them hard tonight. Really hard, harder than he usually did even before a gig. Of course, this would have been before a gig, but—um, yeah. Better not mention that again.
It didn’t escape his notice that all of the songs Mike had them run through featured the most demanding bass lines in their whole repertoire. Mike was testing Peter. Micky was cool with that. It was a lot more fair to Peter to give him the chance to show his competence than to judge him just on the words of one uptight club owner. Problem was, Mike seemed to have forgotten that the bass shared the rhythm with the drums. Micky was getting a workout even worse than the ones when he’d got mixed up with that phony health guru Shah-Ku a couple weeks ago. What passed for his muscles still hadn’t really recovered from that ordeal. Tangling with space aliens the following week hadn’t helped, and now here was good old Mike putting him through the wringer yet again.
But Pete does sound good. He really does. He nailed “You Just May Be the One.” Too bad Potzenpanzer didn’t hear that. Pshaw, who needs that guy anyway. Pete sounds great; we’ll be fine.
“Okay,” Mike announced. “Change of pace here. Mick, wake up. On three, ‘The Day We Fall in Love.’”
“You must be joking!”
“Do I ever joke in rehearsal?”
No, Mike never did. But, still—this song? The one they all absolutely hated? It wasn’t even that complex a bass line, so why was—oh. Sometimes it took him a minute, but Micky could usually follow Mike’s thought processes. “You Just May Be the One” isn’t really a test, because Peter loves that song. A real test is to make Peter play a song he hates. And Micky was usually happy to follow Mike, who always knew very well what he was doing. But not this time, not with this song.
“Hey, Mike,” he started, “how about we try ‘Papa Gene’s Blues’?”
“Nope,” came the curt response. “We’ve done enough of my songs. Now, on three.”
Micky exchanged a helpless glance with Davy. Davy cast a worried glance at Peter.
He’s going to suss what’s up if Mike makes him play this, Davy thought. Peter did look puzzled, as well he might since Mike never, not ever, wanted to play “The Day We Fall in Love.” But he didn’t look upset or suspicious or… or however a friend was supposed to look when he was being lied to by his other friends.
Resigned, Davy waited for his cue. Just have to hold me nose and get through it. He looked at Peter again, seeing and hearing nothing out of the ordinary.
“There’ll be birds singing everywhere…”
Sometimes he felt like the other fellas considered him personally responsible for this song, blamed him for it. It hadn’t been his idea at all! It was suggested a long time ago by Mr. Gunther, the record store owner, who for a brief time was the closest thing to a manager they ever had. Unfortunately, their small but loyal following had latched onto the soppy tune and for quite a few months had all but demanded it as part of their regular set.
“There’ll be rainbows reaching across the sky…”
Oh, gag. Davy would have been just as happy as the other three to scrap it, but so long as their audience wanted it he felt they should include it. You should never deny your audience, especially when you barely had one. Growing up with nothing had taught him sacrifice, and that included doing things you didn’t really want to do. Mike had grown up with nothing as well; Davy would have at least expected him to understand. But no, Mike hated the song and eventually succeeded in dropping it from their setlist despite some protest from the floor.
“’You’ll see,’” Davy intoned without enthusiasm, bringing the song to a close. “’You’ll see.’”
“Great!” Micky leapt up from his drum kit. “Another solid day’s work. I’m off to bed now, see you all tomorrow—“
“No, we’re still not tight enough.” Mike adjusted his microphone stand. “Again. On three.”
“You what?!” Davy protested. “That song is never going to be tight, because it’s rubbish. We could play it five times, and it would still be rubbish.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Mike said with a crocodile smile. “We’ll play it five times.”
I hate you, Micky silently mouthed to Davy.
Peter leaned back against the headboard, taking in the calm darkness of their room, thinking about changes.
He knew he had a tendency to say whatever he thought would make people feel better, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t sincere. He’d meant what he said to Mike earlier on the beach: people changed when they were ready to. Clothes, hair, music, beliefs—it was all of a piece, when you were ready. So ready, you might not even realize it was happening until you had to stop and look back.
A snore interrupted his musings. Mike was lying flat next to him, one arm flung across Peter’s waist, face pressed into Peter’s abdomen. There’s one change right there, Peter smiled. Normally Mike was the one who couldn’t sleep, but tonight he was out like a… what was the phrase? Out like a log or dead like a light? Anyway, he was awfully tired.
Of course he was. Why wouldn’t he be, when he’d had to deal with flying halfway across the country, then finding out they’d lost the Tiger Lily gig he’d worked so hard to book, then another loss of faith over his songwriting, then that grueling rehearsal, then Peter’s very special welcome-home celebration for him…
I shouldn’t have done that. I should have let him rest. Except, it hadn’t been his idea to do it. He had never been the type to ask for things, and he still wasn’t. That hadn’t changed, at least not yet. No, it was Mike who had insisted on celebrating, and Peter also had never been the type to refuse to please. Or so he’d thought…
He recalled again Mike on the beach, all but wilting under the idea that they’d have to change their style. He had done his best to reassure Mike, but he’d failed to do the one thing that could have settled it once and for all. You should have just told him: the “wrong style” reason for losing the gig was a lie and not worth worrying over. And for the millionth time, he wondered who was really the liar here. If it were Davy and Micky, they wouldn’t be as easy around him as they had been. There would have been questions, tension, or worse. Unless they were just trying to protect him, like they always did.
That left Mr. Potzenpanzer. If Peter looked at people the way he always used to, then he would say that maybe the club owner felt kind of bad about the way things went down and lied to Peter’s friends to spare Peter’s feelings. If Peter looked at people the way Mike always did… then he would say that everyone sucked and only ever acted out of self-interest, and Mr. Potzenpanzer had lied because it was the easiest thing to do.
Mike’s lack of trust in people had always confused Peter. On the one hand, it was unquestionably a source of his strength. As the leader of the band, he had to be on constant watch against rival bands, club owners, music store owners, Mr. Babbitt, even the local garage that serviced the Monkeemobile when its latest meltdown was beyond even Micky’s wizardry. If Mike ever lost that extra sense of vigilance, they’d all suffer for it.
On the other hand, it had been one of the chief obstacles to getting close to Mike. But now that Peter was close, now that he had proven to Mike that he wasn’t in this relationship only for himself, he liked to imagine that maybe Mike wasn’t so closed off as he once was. It had been a real breakthrough, that day when he’d told the guys about himself as a kid chasing DDT trucks through the streets in Texas. Not so long ago, Mike never would have shared any part of his childhood. The way he carried himself, you’d have thought he never was a child at all, but born fully grown with guitar in hand. But he was changing, just that little bit, and Peter hoped that his own unconditional acceptance had something to do with it.
It went both ways, though. Mike was changing him, too: he couldn’t seem to view the world through a warm glow of puppies and bunnies anymore. He knew now that ugly things lay out there beyond the pad and the beach. The proof came only a week after they got fired from the Tiger Lily, when Micky started going on and on about Shah-Ku’s health club—somehow Peter just knew the guru wasn’t all he said he was. It was a strange instinct, both welcome and unwelcome. Part of him didn’t want to lose his faith in the goodness of people, but part of him admitted that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing if he were no longer quite so naïve. If he’d still been his old self… well, a certain scene would have gone down worse than it did. Mike, or rather Mike’s influence, had played a part there.
How to be alert without being too happy or too unhappy: it was a problem for both of them, though from opposite ends. But together they could find some balance, he was sure of it. If they could really put this thing with the lost gig behind them…
Another snore made him glance down. With a fond smile, he brushed the unruly thick hair from Mike’s unguarded face. Maybe Mike is changing a little too much, he joked to himself. He’d never have let anyone see him like this before. Heck, he’d never have made us play ‘The Day We Fall in Love’ before…
He couldn’t hold back the laughter bubbling up in his throat. Mike’s head jerked sideways before settling back on Peter’s stomach. “Share … joke… babe…”
Pete stroked his hair again, speaking quietly as he realized Mike was not fully awake. “I was just… seriously, Michael, ‘The Day We Fall in Love’? What were you thinking? We all hate that song. Even Davy hates that song.”
“… well… ya know… hadn’t heard in a while… thought… maybe … not as bad as remembered…”
“And was it?”
Peter chuckled to himself. He started to slide back down the bed so that he too was lying flat, but Mike’s next muttered words stopped him cold.
“…you were a real trooper though… all through the damn thing… only one of us who never fluffed it… “ The arm across his waist pulled back so that Mike was now gently squeezing his thigh. “… knew you hadn’t lost nuthin’… Potzenpanzer, that dumbass… don’t know what he’s smokin’… musta got dropped on his head when he was born… you play damn good… the best… dumbass…”
Thank goodness the room was dark. Peter did not want Mike to see his white face as he felt the blood drain down to his toes. “What?”
Mike snuffled, shaking his head from side to side. “Huh?”
Peter nudged his shoulder. “What were you saying?”
“What was I saying?” Mike finally lifted his head. Peter couldn’t see his eyes, but he could imagine them as two bottomless, bloodshot pools.
“Just now, you were saying—um, something about Mr. Potzenpanzer? About how I play?”
“Oh. That.” Mike abruptly sat up. From the rustling sounds Peter could picture him pulling himself together, like a general gathering his greatcoat before making some momentous decision. “Well, Peter…” Mike cleared his throat. “All that stuff about us not being the right style for the Tiger Lily… well, Davy and Micky weren’t being quite straight with you. And neither was I. They, uh, we—it’s not because we wanted to hurt you,” he interrupted himself quickly. Too quickly? “Just the opposite. We didn’t want to make you feel bad, that’s all.”
A cold, sick feeling filled Peter’s stomach, chasing away the warmth from when Mike had been nestled there. “Mr. Potzenpanzer said he fired us because I couldn’t play?”
“Um… yeah.” Two rough but gentle hands cupped his face. “But we know now that’s just so much bullshit. It’s his problem, not yours. Forget about it, forget about him.”
“You know now? That’s why you made us play that crummy song five times, to test me?” He was surprised at how normal his voice sounded when his insides were splintering apart. He didn’t know what to think or feel. He wasn’t even sure if he was angry or not. At whom? For what?
“What was I supposed to do!” Mike snapped. Oh no. That defensiveness was never a good sign. “Would ya rather I just said, ‘Well, Pete, ya cost us a gig so I’m kickin’ ya out on your can’? Shouldn’t I have given ya one fuckin’ chance first?”
Peter ran a twitching hand through his hair. “Don’t yell at me, Michael.” That was the one certainty he could cling to, that he just didn’t want to be yelled at. In the darkness he heard Mike take several deep breaths. “So… “ Peter fumbled, trying to collect his muddled thoughts. “So, what if I didn’t pass the test?”
He felt Mike’s body stiffen next to him.
“What would you have done if I didn’t play well tonight?” Peter prodded, not really understanding his need to hear the worst. Maybe if he heard it enough times, the sting would grow numb and not hurt.
“Doesn’t matter,” Mike finally said, all gruff dismissal. “You played great. It’s settled, over, done with. I told you before, just forget about it.”
“But what if I messed up? Tell me what you would have done.”
“I… I would have talked to you about it.”
“What if it wasn’t just my playing?” No, don’t go there.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He could hardly believe his own recklessness. I’m going there. “What if I skipped rehearsals, or missed gigs, or… I don’t know, got drunk or something… or … “ No, I can’t go there, not all the way. “Or if I did… something—or didn’t do something—and it cost us a gig?”
“Peter, what in the world are you jabbering about?”
“Would you have told me to leave the band?”
“God, Peter, will you stop! I said everything’s cool, why can’t you just accept that?”
“Because it’s not cool! We can’t let this—our—what we have—bring the band down. We said that right from the start. It’s not fair to Micky and Davy. It’s not fair to us, either. If I’m a drag on the band, you have to tell me. Will you tell me?”
“You’re not a drag—“ Peter turned on his side, his back to Mike. “—but, yes, okay, I’d tell you if you were. And… if we couldn’t fix it… “ Mike’s hand rested on Peter’s shoulder. “It would kill me, but, okay. I’d tell you to leave the band.”
“Okay.” Peter reached back to take Mike’s hand in his own, holding tight, trying to memorize the feel in case he never felt it again. Why did I push for that answer? Why do I want to hear him say he’d kick me out?
Perhaps because it was at least one truth among all the lies.
Or maybe because, much as the truth hurt, it was a clean sort of pain that left a clean sort of wound.
ON TO PART 2...