“Another bar,” he says.
He finds his MP3 player beside the recliner cushion by the window and sets it on the TV stand beside his bag.
I moan in protest. “Oh no, Andrew, I refuse to go to another bar tonight. I will never drink again for as long as I live.”
I catch him flash me a grin from across the room.
“Everybody says that,” he declares. “And I wouldn’t let you drink tonight if you decided you wanted to. You need at least one night in-between hangovers or you might as well get your AA card stamped early.”
“Well, I hope I feel good enough to do something besides hang around in bed all day—but the prospect isn’t lookin’ too good right now.”
“Well, you have to eat, that’s mandatory. As much as the thought of food right now probably makes you sick, if you don’t eat something you’ll feel like shit all day for sure.”
“You’re right,” I say, feeling nauseous, “It does make me sick just thinking about it.”
“Toast and eggs,” he says, walking back over to me, “something light—you know the drill.”
“Yeah, I know the drill,” I say blankly, wishing I could just snap my fingers and be better already.
BY LATE-AFTERNOON, I do feel better; not one hundred percent, but good enough to ride around New Orleans with Andrew in a streetcar to a few places we didn’t get to see yesterday. After I managed to get down some eggs and two pieces of toast we took the Riverfront Streetcar to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and walked through a thirty-foot long tunnel with water and fish all around us. And we hand-fed parakeets and worked our way through rain forest exhibits. We fed stingrays and took pictures together with our cell phones, the stupid-looking kind with our arms out in front holding the phone. I later looked closer at the pictures we took, how our cheeks were pressed together and the way we smiled into the camera as if we were any other couple having the time of our lives.
Any other couple…but we’re not a couple and I realize I just had to remind myself of that.
Reality is a bitch.
But then again, so is not knowing what you want. No, the truth is that I do know what I want. I can’t force myself to doubt it anymore, but I’m still afraid of it. I’m afraid of Andrew and what kind of pain he could inflict if he ever hurt me, because I get the feeling it wouldn’t be any kind that I could bear. Already it’s unbearable and he hasn’t even hurt me yet.
I sure got myself knee-deep in a mess, no doubt.
By the time the night falls over New Orleans again and the party-people have come out of their dwellings, Andrew has me crossing the Mississippi by ferry and walking to a place called Old Point Bar. I’m glad I decided to wear my black flip-flops again, rather than the new heels. Andrew sort of insisted, especially since we would be walking.
“I never leave New Orleans until I’ve come here first,” he says, walking alongside me with my hand clasped within his.
“What, so you’re a regular?”
“Yeah, I guess you can say that; a once or twice a year regular, anyway. I’ve played there a couple of times.”
“The guitar?” I assume, looking over at him curiously.
A group of four people walk past from the opposite direction and I move closer to Andrew to give them space on the sidewalk.
He moves his hand from mine and slips it around my waist from behind.
“I’ve been playing the guitar since I was six.” He smiles over at me. “I wasn’t very good at six, but you have to start somewhere—didn’t play anything worth listening to until I was about ten.”
I let out an impressed spat of air. “Young enough to be musically talented, I’d say.”
“I guess so; I was the ‘music boy’ when we were growing up and Aidan was the ‘architect boy’ (he glances at me) because he used to build things—built a massive tree house in the woods once. And Asher, he was the ‘hockey boy’. My dad loved hockey, almost more than he did boxing (he glances at me again), but only almost. Asher gave up hockey after the first year—he was only thirteen (he laughs lightly); Dad wanted it more than Asher did. All Asher ever really wanted to do was mess with electronics—tried to communicate with aliens on a contraption he built out of random stuff lying around the house after he saw the movie Contact.”
We laugh gently together.
“What about your brother?” he asks. “I know you told me he’s in prison, but what was your relationship like with him before that?”
My face sours delicately.
“Cole was an awesome big brother until he went into eighth grade and started hanging out with the neighborhood trash—Braxton Hixley; I always hated that guy. Anyway, Cole and Braxton started doing drugs and all kinds of crazy stuff. My dad tried putting him away in a home for troubled youths to get him some help, but Cole ran away and just got into even more trouble. It got worse from there.” I look back out ahead as more people come shuffling toward us along the sidewalk. “And now he’s where he deserves to be.”
“Maybe he’ll be more like the big brother you remember once he gets out.”
“Maybe.” I shrug, highly doubting it.
We make our way to the end of the sidewalk and onto the corner where Patterson runs into Olivier and there’s Old Point Bar that from the outside looks more like a historic two-story house with an add-on apartment on the side. We pass under the elongated old sign where next to the building there are a couple of plastic tables and chairs with several people smoking and talking really loud.
I can hear a band playing inside.
Andrew holds the door open after a couple comes out and he takes my hand. It’s not huge a place, but it’s cozy. I look up at the tall ceilings, noticing the many photographs and license plates and beer lights and colored banners and old signs hanging around on every inch of space. Several ceiling fans hang low from the wooden ceiling. And to my right is the bar that, like just about any bar, has a TV on the back wall. Even through a mild throng of people a woman working behind the bar raises her hand and it appears she’s waving at Andrew.
Andrew smiles at her and waves back with two fingers as if to say ‘talk to you in a few’.
It looks like all of the tables are taken and there are people dancing on the floor. The band playing along the back wall is really good; some kind of blues rock, or something. I like it. There’s a black man strumming a silver guitar sitting on a stool and a white man singing with an acoustic secured to his front by the guitar strap. A heavyset man is on drums and there’s a keyboard on the stage, though it’s unoccupied.
I do a double-take when my gaze skims the floor and I see a scruffy black dog looking up at me and wagging its tail. I reach over and scratch it behind the ears. Satisfied, it waddles over next to its owner sitting at the table next to me and lies at his feet.
After waiting a few minutes, Andrew notices three people get up from a table not far from where the band is playing and pulling me along, we walk over and get it.
I still feel off from the hangover and my head isn’t completely free of pain, but surprisingly enough, as loud as it is in here, it’s not making my headache worse.
“She’s not drinking,” Andrew points at me and says kindly to the woman who had been standing behind the bar.
She had weaved her way through the people and over to our table by the time I sat down.
The woman, with soft brown hair pulled behind her ears, looks to be in her early forties and she’s smiling so hugely as she takes Andrew into a bear hug that I’m starting to wonder if she’s his aunt or a cousin.
“It’s been ten months, Parrish,” she says, patting his back with both hands. “Where the hell have you been?”
She smiles down at me.
“And who is this?” She looks at Andrew playfully, but I detect something else in her smile: assumption, perhaps.
Andrew takes my hand and I stand up to be properly introduced. “This is Camryn,” he says. “Camryn, this is Carla; she’s been working here for at least six of my atrocious performances.”
Carla pushes him on the chest, laughing, and she looks back at me. “Don’t let him lie to you,” she points at him and raises both brows, “this boy can sing.” She winks at me and then shakes my hand. “Good to meet you.”
I smile at her likewise.
Sing? I thought he played guitar here; I didn’t know he sang, too. I guess it doesn’t surprise me. He already sort of proved to me that he can sing back in Birmingham when he hit that ‘alibis’ note in Hotel California. And every now and then while we were riding in the car he would forget I was there—or not care—and let his vocals loose on any number of classic rock songs funneling from the speakers.
But I never expected that he has actually performed somewhere. Too bad he didn’t bring his guitar; I’d love to see him perform tonight.
“Well, it’s good to see you again,” Carla says and then points to the black man on the stage. “Eddie will be glad to know you’re here.”
Andrew nods and smiles as Carla makes her way back through the small crowd and to the bar.
“Do you want a soda or anything?”
I wave my hand at him. “No, I’m good.”
He remains standing and when the band stops playing, I realize why. The black man with the silver guitar notices Andrew and smiles as he sets the guitar against the chair and comes over. They hug much in the same way he and Carla had and I stand up again to be introduced, shaking ‘Eddie’s’ hand.
“Parrish! Been gone a long time,” Eddie says in his thick Cajun accent. “What it been, a’yea?”
Carla had sounded somewhat Cajun, too, but not as much as Eddie.
“Almost,” Andrew says, beaming.
Andrew seems really happy to be here, like these people are some long-lost family members and he’s never been at odds with any of them. Even his smile is warmer and more inviting than I’ve ever seen it before. In fact, when he introduced me to both Carla and Eddie, his smile lit up the room. I felt like I was the one girl he finally decided to bring home to meet the family and by the looks in their eyes when he introduced me, they felt like that, too.
“Gon’ play t’night?”
I take my seat again and look up at Andrew, as curious about his answer as Eddie seems to be. Eddie has that won’t-take-no-for-an-answer look on his smiling face, the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth deepening.
“Well, I didn’t bring my guitar this time.”
“Oh,” Eddie shakes his head; “you know betta—play me a cooyon?” He points at the stage. “Got plent’ guita’.”
“I want to hear you play,” I say from behind.
Andrew looks down at me, unsure.
“I’m serious. I’m asking you.” I tilt my head gently to one side, smiling up at him.
“Uh huh, dat girl got dem eyes, she does.” Eddie grins at Andrew from the side.
Andrew gives in.