Lina and Ty turn to look at me over their shoulders as Simone waits on my response. They don't look impatient or scheming, but I feel like I'm annoying them all the same. It's a feeling I could never seem to shake around new people. Hell, I can't even shake that feeling around people I've known for years.
“Oh. Um. Yeah. Sure, thanks.” I fumble to pick up my backpack. There is a brief thought, that they might just be inviting me along because they feel obligated to. But at a glance, I sense no malice or reluctance in their faces. Once I’m out of my chair, slinging my backpack over my shoulder, Simone starts to walk again, then the rest of them follow suit.
“Have you ever been to LPR before?”
“It’s pretty cool. It’s got this vibe. Everything’s red and there’s fish everywhere.”
Well that was an abstract description if I’ve ever heard one. “What kind of place is this?”
“It’s a music club. And it’s Marcy’s favorite place. Right Marcy?”
“Hellllll yeaahhhhhhhh,” Marcy says, volume escalating with each passing letter.
“Oh. Okay.” I pause, swallow. “Does it cost anything?”
“It’s fifteen, but I got you,” says Ty, then goes back to talking to Lina. I wasn’t even aware he was listening.
Shit, now I feel guilty. First they’re inviting me to chill, now they’re paying my way. I want to make him take it back, I want to say, “Please don’t, I insist,” but I know I don’t have the money. All I manage is a meek, “Thanks,” at which he laughs and says, “It’s whatever.”
I feel my guard start to go up, suspicion creeping into my mind. Why are they being so nice? What do they want from me? Does Ty know I like him? Does this mean he likes me back?
Quickly, I remind myself that this is not high school. They are not playing a cruel prank on me. They are being nice and inviting me into their social circle, and I should be grateful for that. Why can't I just be grateful for that?
“Guys I’m hungry,” Simone says, arching her back, chest raised, stroking her belly.
“There’s food there,” says Ty.
“They’re so expensive though.”
“Too bad,” he says, turning around to wave jazz hands in her face. “It’s part of the red fish experience.” She laughs at that.
“Oh! Le Poisson Rouge means The Red Fish!”
Ty, Lina, Marcy and Simone all turn to look at me, pause, and burst into laughter. At first I feel as though I'm being mocked, but then --
“Whoa, good job Madeleine!" says Marcy. To Ty she says: "She figured it out way faster than you did, Ty."
“Well I don’t speak French, unlike Little Miss Madeleine here.”
Wait, I said that out loud? I didn’t mean to say that out loud. Oh god. My cheeks are burning again. Having a social life shouldn't be this difficult.
“Hey you’re like that French show with the little girl in the yellow,” says Lina. “And it’s called Madeline.”
Marcy: “Remember the theme song? What was it? She was not afraid of mice, she loved winter, snow, and ice –”
Ty, Lina, Marcy: “To the tiger in the zoo - Madeline just said 'poo poo'.” They break into silly laughter.
“Hey, Madeleine?” Simone falls a few steps behind the others to say something quietly to me: “You okay? You seem edgy.”
I could give her the standard I’m fine, just a little tired – the magic line that works on everyone, to make them stop worrying, to make them stop probing, to make them leave you alone
but the truth spills over my bottom lip:
Nothing could have prepared me for this.
It’s small and a few degrees too cold, like most concert venues. People mill about, drinks in hand. They look like a bunch of pretentious, self-satisfied douchebags, honestly. I sincerely hope this place doesn't turn out to be Hipster Central.
“You hungry?” Lina asks. “Simone’s getting her food, we can order together.”
“No,” I lie. I just don’t want them spending any more money on me.
We find a set of adjacent couches in the lounge and settle in. Ty writes down what everyone wants, then goes up to the bar to order. Lina, Marcy and Simone are neck-deep in some conversation about some person I don’t know. I politely laugh along for a few moments, but can’t stop looking over Lina’s head, into the concert hall.
One things leads to another, and before I know it, I’m there. Front and center, thighs smushed up against the stage, craning my neck to stare at tonight’s opening performer. He is his perfectly carved jawline courting the microphone. He is his knuckles, skipping all along the frets of his guitar. Consider me mesmerized.
More people pile in. The lights go lower, the first performer leaves, a new band takes the stage. It’s dark and crowded and people are touching me. But for the first time, that doesn’t scare me.
Music wafts in. Intensifies. Accelerates. I close my eyes, and I am alone with the music.
I don’t know it yet, but right now, in the lounge, over food and drinks and laughter, Simone is looking around, suddenly confused, asking, “Hey, did you guys see where Madeleine went?” Ty and Marcy and Lina look around too. They start to worry. It's the first time anyone has ever noticed my perpetual state of absence, the first time anyone has ever wondered if I'm present with them.
But I’m okay, guys. I’m here, where the speakers are. Here in the noise. Electronic bass like a violent heartbeat, making the walls bounce. Synth melodies and lazy throaty vocals coursing through my nervous system, dragging blood around my body, waking up my muscles, feeding oxygen. Bodies around me packed tight, for warmth, for security. Itching to get closer to the stage. Closer to me, maybe. I let them press their thighs, their ribs, their drunken, loose smiles into my being. The music pulsates through our skin, making us a singular heartbeat, a steady inhale and exhale. I feel safer in this crowd of strangers than I feel inside myself.
There is a dizzy, spinning, whooshing – there is abstract mouth at my ear – there is hand on shoulder elbow around waist body pulling me closer – there is Ty, voice somehow distant as he attempts to overcome the sheer loudness of this place – asking me if I am okay, asking if I need to sit down – Simone was right, everything’s red, there’s fish everywhere – there is a rhythm guiding my pelvis this way, that way, slight bends in the knees like buoys bobbing on the surface deep water, a toss of my head like the way a small wave breaks on the sand –
And there is Ty, realizing that yes, I am okay, more than okay, I am red and I am a fish and I want to move with him.