They stood around the brick planter. Rich finished his cigarette.
“So have you two been dancing long?” Rich asked.
“Oh – we’re mostly here to support our friend. He’s the lead singer in the band. Mike,” Mel said.
“But – we are open to dancing,” Shannon said, giving Mel a look.
“Do you dance?” Mel asked.
“Are you asking me to?” Rich smiled.
“I was just wondering if this is your thing,” Mel said, “but we’ll see how the night goes.”
She met his eyes and held his gaze. Shannon was right. It did feel good.
“I’ve done some before. I don’t go out frequently, though,” Rich said.
“How’d you end up here?” Shannon asked.
“Serendipity. I only came out for a drink,” he said, looking around at all the people around them. “I love seeing people be so full of life. I love the energy, the noise, everything.”
He met Mel’s eyes again and smiled. She smiled too.
“Speaking of coming out for drinks, I’m going to go grab one. Mel, you want anything?” Shannon asked.
“Oh – well, I’m probably ok.”
“I’ll get you one of what I’m having,” she said, and then headed toward the bar.
Mel pulled her phone out and casually checked the time.
“What do you enjoy doing if not dancing then?” Rich asked.
“A lot of different things. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of painting.”
“I love that. It takes so much soul to paint,” Rich said.
“Do you also?” Mel asked.
“No – but I admire those that do.”
“Yeah? Why so?” Mel asked, wondering if he was just flirting. She never liked to take a cheap compliment.
Rich set his drink down. Mel noticed he talked with his hands a lot and had to be careful not to spill his drink. Rich looked her in the eyes again, and began to answer.
“I could hold up my phone and take a plain picture of exactly what something is. The wonder of technology, huzzah,” he said, his hands motioning as if he was throwing something away. “But someone like you,” he motioned toward her, “you capture the soul of it. I can look at my generic picture and see what something is, but when I view a painting, I get a sense of what something feels like, what it means. That’s why I think it takes so much soul to paint.”
“What?” Rich asked.
“Oh – I was just thinking about how some people used to think taking a picture could steal someone’s soul. The way you just described it – I guess they were kind of right.”
“You could paint a portrait of them and give it back,” he said. “Portrait of Dorian Gray style.”
Shannon came back with their drinks.
“Here’s yours, and here’s mine,” she said, handing Mel a glass full of pink with a large, blue flower sticking out of it.
“Thank you,” Mel said, “Interesting cocktails they have here. You didn’t try any?”
Rich shook his head, and picked his drink back up.
They stood around for several moments, each taking a drink. The music from the stage washed over them. Mel pulled her phone out briefly. Shannon nudged her and she put it back away.
“So you said you know the lead singer?” Rich asked.
“Yeah, Mike. We used to go to high school together. We graduated in the same class,” Mel said.
“He’s good – seems completely natural to him. Could you see him as this even back in high school?”
“Oh absolutely. He always had a band. I’ll bet his friends wish they stuck with it,” Mel said.
“Like Luke?” Shannon interjected.
“Yeah,” Mel laughed.
“Who’s Luke?” Rich asked.
“Oh, a total fuck up,” Mel said, taking another drink. “God that sounds mean, I’m sorry.”
“Hey, you’re among friends,” Rich smiled. “Sounds like he has a story.”
“Yeah, but why spread around his shit? Tonight’s supposed to be a good night.”
“It is a pretty good story, though,” Shannon said.
“Well, I have to know it now,” Rich said.
Mel smiled as they both stared at her.
“Jesus – ok, well you have to understand we all grew up in a smaller town about half an hour from here. Everyone knew everyone’s business.”
“I’m following so far,” Rich said.
“Ok. Luke was a friend of Mike’s. The lead singer you’re hearing right now. Luke would play guitar and they would put on these shows around town together. But then Luke started not showing up. Mike would still do the shows – he’s just that much personality that he can carry it on his own. I mean, you can see how he is on stage tonight. But he would get so pissed when Luke would stand him up. So Mike confronts him about it. Turns out Luke was sleeping with Ms. Latimer – our 11th grade biology teacher.”
“Scandal,” Rich said.
“Not just sleeping – remember the story of them down at the Lake? Jenny saw them in the water,” Shannon added.
“Oh I forgot about that! They also did a thing at school too,” Mel said.
“What? Where?” Shannon asked.
“The band room.”
“Nononono … I would eat lunch in the band room!” Shannon exclaimed.
“Luke sounds like a … pretty bold guy.” Rich said.
“Not good bold, though. Dumbass bold,” Mel said, “Luke kept bailing on him even after he keeps telling Mike ‘dude, it’ll never happen again. You can count on me.’ So Mike had enough, and one night as he’s doing a gig all on his own again he ad libs this song about Luke and Latimer.”
“Luke and Latimer… eating out of her…” Shannon started to sing.
“So the gossip channels just explode – though people pretty much already knew. But the song was hilarious and took it next level. Luke was one of those really self-serious types that people loved to poke. So this song goes viral in our town. Someone had recorded it, ends up on YouTube. Everyone sees it, loves it, and it‘s everywhere. God, I remember someone was playing it in the background during the school announcements.”
“It feels really shitty even talking about this, this was really horrible.”
“Oh – he deserved it. He was always such a jackass to everyone.” Shannon said.
“What did they do?” he asked.
“Well, it was just before summer, so after school let out Latimer never came back. Not sure if she was fired or just transferred or what. There were rumors of everything, but I never knew. And Luke was furious. He started talking trash about Mike and trying to get his shows cancelled – talking to bar owners and all that. But no one would have it – everyone loved Mike and knew Luke was just being – well, Luke.”
She took a drink and shook her head.
“Poor guy. I’m really feeling bad as I remember all this,” Mel said, taking a breath. “So anyway, everyone got so pissed at Luke because he wouldn’t let it go. Eventually he showed up at one of Mike’s shows and confronted him and the new guy that played guitar.”
“Oh I forgot about him – what was his name?” Shannon asked.
“I don’t remember either. He’s just the guy that played guitar after Luke,” Mel shrugged. “We were all there. The room was so tense. Luke had made such an ass of himself at that point that he didn’t feel like he could just back down. I thought it was going to get violent, but that’s when Mike grabbed the guitar, held it out to Luke, and made a peace offering.”
“He could rejoin the band if he played the song about him and Latimer,” Shannon said.
“He just stared at it for a bit, but then I remember they both laughed, like the whole thing had been a big joke. So Luke gets up, and they pour their heart and soul into this rendition of ‘Luke and Latimer.’ All of us were laughing so hard.”
Mel took another drink. She looked up at the string of lights hanging above the patio.
“God, we were so fucking mean as kids.”
“Mel, he was terrible to everyone. Look at how he treated Mike even before everything, and hell, look at him now,” Shannon said.
“What happened to him?” Rich asked.
Shannon turned to him, rolling her eyes.
“Oh he never left town. Got busted selling opioids at some point. Two ex-wives and three kids later, I’ll still see him now and then doing a bar crawl down High St.”
“Gets kicked out of one place, crawls to the next. God, I feel bad for him,” Mel said.
“Everyone has their own shit, and I have no more fucks to give. He spends all day feeling sorry for himself. He’s had enough pity, he doesn’t need mine.”
“Still …” Mel said.
Rich raised his glass.
“To Luke and Latimer,” Rich said.
Mel hesitated, still feeling bad for them. She raised her glass.
“To all of us fuck ups,” Mel added.
Rich looked at her and smiled. “Let’s start with them for now.”
Mel met his eyes, then nodded. They toasted their glasses together and then each took a drink.