The bar was nothing special; cheap, boring beer selection, torn vinyl chairs and a handful of college kids playing pool in the back. Apart from them, there was just the requisite trio of old-timers perched on stools, carrying on a rambling conversation with a saggy, tired-looking bartender. The TV above their heads, tuned to the hockey game (what else), was on mute. The jukebox was playing Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," at a mercifully low volume.
The place wasn't shiny enough to be hip, but it wasn't grungy enough to be hip either, and anyway, it was 5:17 on a Tuesday night. It was dead.
It was perfect. And right across the street from Kim's shitty convenience store job (Tuesdays and Sundays, plus the occasional extra shift when she couldn't get as many hours at her equally, if differently, shitty barista gig).
All she wanted was a drink, a quiet booth where she could pretend to work on her Personal Statement for an hour or so, and maybe for an idiot undergrad to get too close so she could murder him with her eyes. Comfortably achievable goals. Leaning against the bar and waiting for the bartender to look up from his conversation and notice her presence, she thought about what she could write to persuade the sound engineering program to accept her. Something, you know, impressive.
Making music is really the only thing I like. Like to do. But I'm not that great at it, and the people who are willing to play with me are assholes. Also, they suck. So I was thinking, maybe I could get a job making bands not suck … or something ...
Her eyes were wandering vaguely over the room, rolling automatically at the bros fistbumping enthusiastically over a mediocre shot, when they snagged on a lone figure tucked away in a corner booth. There was an audible record scratch noise, although Kim didn't dignify it with any reaction more dramatic than a slight widening of her eyes.
The girl stuck out. She was wearing the hood of her grey sweatshirt up over most of her violently cherry-red dye job, but wild, choppy bangs flopped out, covering her downcast eyes. She was scribbling something in a notebook, an empty glass by her elbow, and her lips were pursed in what might, in other circumstances (being narrated by some dude, for instance) might have been described as a moue. Kim remembered the expression.
It wasn't like they'd ever really known each other, but then again, it had been hard to be avoid the posters. The magazine covers. The cardboard stand-ups. Media saturation bred familiarity.
Kim wasn't feeling especially social, ever, but this was as good an opportunity as any for procrastination.
"Two Mooseheads," she told the bartender, who had finally slouched over and was staring at her in vacant expectation. Shifting her messenger bag to rest more comfortably against her back, she grabbed a beer in each hand and carried them past the pool bros purposefully enough that they didn't have time to get interested.
The scarlet head came up a little when the glass was set down in front of her, and then lifted further to favor her benefactor with an appropriately disgusted expression. Whatever she was expecting, it clearly wasn't Kim Pine, because she froze that way for a beat too long; you could see the loading bar stalling out over her head. Kim took the opportunity to plop down opposite her, not saying anything, and take a sip of her own drink.
Envy Adams, rock star, closed her notebook and narrowed her eyes at Kim. "Do I know … oh. Scott's little drummer girl, wasn't it? Kimberly?"
Kim just looked back at her, unimpressed. Envy was trying for that same breathy, affected tone that characterized all her interviews (and, from what Kim remembered, conversations with ex-boyfriends), but it sounded a little rusty, her edges blunted.
"So what are you up to these days? Still … backing him up?" The pause tried for insinuating; mostly came off as stilted.
Kim shrugged. "Who, Scott? He fucked off to America or something, last year. I'm surprised you didn't know that; did you finally give up on stalking him?" She got an icy glare for that, but there was a tinge of pink in Envy's cheeks. It was mildly entertaining.
Then, abruptly, Envy sighed, sounding a little aggravated and a lot tired. She picked up the second beer and took a swig, then set it down and looked back at Kim, more exasperated than anything. "What do you want, anyway?"
Another shrug, this time a little more sincere. "To drink alone and stuff. Might as well do that with a rock star, I guess. Since you're randomly here at my local, for some reason."
"You want to know what I'm doing here."
"Nah, I really don't care." Kim looped the strap of the messenger bag off her shoulder and nudged it over towards the wall, settling in a little more. There was a faintly incredulous look in Envy's dramatically-lined eyes, but she didn't press the point, taking another sip of her drink and making a face.
"This is disgusting."
"We don't all have major label deals. Well, not anymore," Kim amended. It had lasted all of twenty-four hours, but fair was fair.
Envy gave a smug little quirk of a smile that fell short of convincing. "I suppose that's true enough." The fingers of her left hand tightened briefly on the edges of the closed notebook in front of her. "I'll have to get the next round."
She did. And the one after that.
Envy was not, it seemed, any nicer drunk. If anything, she was just getting less subtle. "I've kept an eye out for Sex Bob-omb since I got into town a few weeks ago, but you don't seem to be playing any gigs. Did everything fall apart without Scott?"
Kim snorted, unable to to decide which was more ludicrous; the idea that Scott Pilgrim was the glue that could hold a band together, or the fact that Envy kept bringing him up.
She hadn't really given so much as a passing thought to Scott in months; not intentionally, but out of a blessedly sheer lack of interest. She was disinclined to mess with that state of affairs.
"We're theoretically supposed to have practice, I don't know, ever again ... but Stephen's been getting into more solo work; I think he met someone who works at a recording studio. It's not like we were any good."
Envy gave an affirmative little hum, seeming to feel that she'd scored a point. In the lull, it became apparent that the bar had grown surprisingly crowded and noisy at some point. Kim noticed that the pool table bros had multiplied, and some of them seemed to be looking over at their table with vague recognition and the beginnings of intent. Envy followed her gaze, then threw back the rest of her tequila sunrise and set the glass down with a click.
"Want to get out of here?"
The wind outside was sharp enough to stab you in the lungs if you weren't careful not to breathe too fast. Kim contemplated the corner bus stop with a grimace, but Envy was already saying "Come on, my place is right around the corner."
This was, if not a bad idea, at least a pretty strange one.
But whatever; it was cold, and it wasn't like she had anything better to do. (Well, not anything that she realistically would do.) Kim followed Envy down a side street and through an unassuming door to a second-story studio apartment. They stumbled through the door, tripping on a pile of various haphazardly-discarded and clearly overpriced shoes that littered the small entryway. Kim could feel the flush in her cheeks, whether from the weather or the booze. She dumped her messenger bag on the floor as Envy disappeared into the main room, heading for the kitchenette.
Kim trailed after her, noting that she was a little unsteady on her feet, just in general. She paused, taking in the mess of cardboard boxes that littered the floor and stood stacked precariously against walls. Many of them were open and vomiting clothing, jewelry and miscellaneous rubbish. A full-sized bed, unmade, was pushed into a corner with a TV set standing on still more cardboard boxes in front of it; otherwise, there wasn't any furniture.
"Wow, lifestyles of the rich and famous," she drawled.
Envy looked up from where she was shoving dirty dishes and empty takeout containers out of the way, and setting down a couple of mugs and a bottle. An electric kettle was starting to make warming-up noises.
"I've been busy," she said dismissively, before opening the fridge and rifling through it, emerging with a small plastic bottle of lemon juice. "Go ahead and have a seat," she waved absently in the direction of the bed, which was more or less the only option.
Kim, however, was feeling vaguely curious, and started poking at some of the boxes. The first one was even more shoes; her feet ached just looking at the height of the spiked heels poking up from the top of the pile. On the next, Envy had discarded her long black coat and notebook. Peering closer, Kim saw that "Solo Album Notes" was scrawled across the top in sharpie. Curious, she flipped open the cover.
The margins of the first few pages were full of notes and doodles, but most of the lyrics were scratched out, sometimes with furious, jagged scribbles. Others were just one or two random, disconnected lines. Most of the notebook was empty.
It occurred to Kim that the one and only Clash at Demonhead album (not including the EP), prior to Todd Ingram's not too unfortunate exit, had come out well over a year ago. The tour, of course, had been cut short due to the disintegration of their bassist. As far as she could remember, there hadn't been any real news about the band or their singer since then. Not that she'd paid attention.
She was halfway to making some kind of comment when something caught her eye. Another box, half-buried in a mess of corsets and lingerie, with one flap torn open. A small plastic hand, clutching what appeared to be a magic wand, was sticking out.
Envy came up behind her, a steaming mug in each hand, just as Kim gave a surprised snort of laughter.
"What are you--hey!" Envy's annoyance took on a note of something like panic as Kim held up the statuette, waggling it around.
"I had no idea you were such a nerd," she commented, pulling out a fistful of neatly-labeled, burned DVDs. Fansubbed anime. There were official English-language releases underneath, both DVDs and ancient VHS tapes. And at least a couple plush dolls of ridiculous, huge-eyed characters with felt hair in improbable shades.
"I was in college," Envy said flatly. Her cheeks were making a valiant effort to match her hair, although again, that could have been the alcohol. "My mother must have included that box by mistake when she shipped me some things from Montreal."
"Sure," Kim replied, extra deadpan. She stuck the doll on top of the mishmash of underthings and stood up, snagging one of the mugs from Envy. It smelled of lemon and whiskey. "Well, I've somehow made it to my mid-twenties without watching a single episode of Sailor Moon, but I guess that couldn't last forever." She held a disc out, raising her eyebrows. Envy stared back, her expression unreadable. Possibly she was taking this as a challenge.
"No, it really couldn't," she said finally, snatching the DVD away from Kim and striding towards the bed. "Come on."
They shoved the mess of comforters and pillows back into a pile and propped themselves against it, sipping their hot toddies as the music started.
Partway through the first episode, the main character was somehow crying and wailing the villains into submission while an exasperated talking cat tried to egg her on. Kim shook her head. "This makes no sense."
Then she looked over at Envy, who was obviously biting back reflexive indignation and trying to hide it. She shut up and finished her drink.
They skipped around, watching whatever episodes were on the random discs Kim had pulled out of the box. There were bizarre villainous plots with themed henchmen, repetitive magical transformations, strange fashion choices, tuxedo-wearing stalkers, and oddly provocative catch phrases. Envy gave in to singing along with the theme song almost immediately, looking a good deal more relaxed and less put-together as she very probably mispronounced the Japanese words (not that Kim would know).
Kim wasn't sure she got the appeal, entirely, but she was kind of enjoying watching Envy Adams transform into a real person. "Make up!" or whatever.
It was getting very, very late, and they were spread out languidly in their blanket nest, munching snacks and sharing a beer out of Envy's fridge, the credits rolling for the umpteenth time. Kim said, "so, you're working on a solo album?" half expecting the chilly rock star facade to come slamming back down, but Envy just pulled a face.
"My label's been riding me hard, and with the band on … hiatus," she ignored Kim's snort, "I've been trying to put together some material on my own. But I'm not entirely sure what I want to say."
There was a pause.
"I worked hard to get to this point, to be this person, but now I'm … not sure I want to be Envy Adams anymore." There was an edge to her voice, and a look on her face like those words tasted bitter on their way out.
Normally Kim would probably have been a complete asshole at that point, but it was late and she was pretty buzzed, and to be perfectly fucking honest, she thought she knew a thing or two about getting sick of yourself.
They were sitting really close on the bed, and under her dramatic makeup and candy-bright hair, Envy's expression was raw, appealing in a way Kim hadn't really considered before. And also, well, Envy did have a really great voice, even when she was singing weird-ass Japanese lyrics about hearts being kaleidoscopes. Kim had definitely listened to that CAD album a whole bunch when Scott wasn't around to get all melodramatic about it. She liked good music, and people who could make it.
So maybe that was why, or maybe there wasn't a why; who the fuck ever knew. Kim leaned over and kissed her.
Envy stiffened just a little, then kissed back, harder, like she was proving something. They pulled apart after a minute, breathing a little fast, and she rasped, "I don't know why I told you that. I don't know why I let you watch my fucking anime. What the hell am I doing?"
I'm lost too, Kim didn't say. I don't know what the hell I'm doing, ever, or what I want to do. Maybe nobody does. At least you don't, either. It's kind of reassuring.
Instead, she grimaced a little, brushing away a few strands of Envy's unruly bangs that were stuck to her mouth, and said, "it's cathartic, or something."
Envy's mouth quirked a little, a little wry, a little mocking. “Or something." She leaned back in.
Kim frankly suspected some half-hearted cherry blossoms of floating past their heads at that point, but she didn't open her eyes to find out. No good could come of mixing genres like that.
Everything was horrible, her mouth tasted like socks, and the sun was stabbing her in the eyes.
Kim rolled over and blearily took stock of her surroundings; the cardboard boxes, the blue screen of the TV that had been left on all night, the snoring rock star on the bed next to her. They had both fallen asleep fully dressed, and Envy's eyeliner had smeared onto the comforter under her face. She was drooling a little.
It felt ungodly early, although the hangover definitely wasn't helping. Painstakingly, Kim levered herself up off the bed, and staggered over to the small bathroom to splash water on her face.
She grimaced, noticing the small reddish-purple bruise that was blooming high on one side of her neck, below her left ear. Well, she was certainly getting shit for that from her coworkers in the afternoon. None of her collars would cover it.
In retrospect, it was not surprising that Envy Adams would be a biter.
This was too much to process while her head was trying to crack itself open like a raw egg. She gathered up her coat and messenger bag, then paused. Snagging a fast-food receipt from the clogged kitchen counter, she scrawled her email address on the back and dropped it on the discarded pile of DVDs. Sliding into her tennis shoes, she slipped out the door into the crackling, early morning Toronto air.
She wasn’t holding her breath.
Two weeks later, Kim hit the 'send' button and sat back in her chair, taking a deep breath. There. The application was sent. She had actually done something about something.
She was going to owe Stephen's new recording studio boyfriend free coffee for the rest of her natural life (or at least, her tenure as a barista) for that recommendation letter.
There was a small pinging noise, and she looked back at the computer. A new email. She was way too jumpy right now.
It was, of course, just an automated confirmation from the university that her application materials had been successfully submitted. However, there was another unread message underneath, which she hadn't noticed before, probably because she'd been too busy fighting with pages of forms. The subject line read, 'DRUMS FOR ALBUM.'
She blinked at the name once or twice, before shrugging; if that was supposed to convey something significant, she’d let Envy (Natalie) tell her directly.
I need a drummer for a bunch of tracks on my new concept album, and Lynnette's fucked off to Chicago to play with some emo girl group. You should come by the studio next week and see what you think.
I'm thinking about "Transformation" for the album title. Or maybe "You're Punished."
Some recording creds from a major label couldn't hurt, no matter what she wound up doing next; and besides, it would help take her mind off waiting for a response to her application.
Just so long as nobody expected her to dress up in bows and a short skirt (again), it could be fun. Or at least not completely boring.
She hit 'reply.'