Monday mornings sucked just as much for Dylan as the next guy, but for whatever reason this one felt especially terrible. Probably it had something to do with being hungover as fuck and only getting about two and a half hours of sleep, but Dylan was completely unable to do anything but lie motionless in bed, flat on his back and staring at the ceiling while his alarm clock blared a staticky classical radio station and he tried to will his limbs to move.
Eventually and with a Herculean effort he managed to drag himself out of bed and over to the bathroom, Tchaikovsky still carrying on in the background. Goosebumps rose on his arms from the frigid winter air as he shuffled down the hall, bypassing his mother and ignoring her cheerful morning greeting. Once he was safely barricaded inside the bathroom, he surveyed his reflection in the mirror without much hope. His skin was pale and sallow and his eyes looked like bottomless pits with yesterday's makeup smudged all the way down his cheeks. His hair was sticking up in the particularly stubborn way it had that meant it wasn't going to start looking like it belonged on a human head anytime soon and on top of everything else the red dye in it was steadily fading to a non-threatening shade of pink that was most definitely not goth. He'd have to get Henrietta to dye it again sometime soon.
Dylan stared down the apparition in the mirror and thought that the most depressing thing about him was that he wasn't even too far-off from what Dylan looked like normally.
Heaving a sigh, Dylan switched on his flatiron and prepared for battle.
Twenty minutes later Dylan had managed to finish getting ready without puking, which he considered a win. He shambled down the stairs, grabbing a backpack full of unfinished homework on his way out the door.
His dad gaped over his newspaper as Dylan walked out, apparently too baffled to even say goodbye. You'd think he'd have gotten used to it by now, thought Dylan, stepping onto the porch. He winced as a gust of wind hit him head-on, stinging his nose and eyes. He shoved his hands in the pockets of coat and peered impatiently down the snowy, tree-lined street.
Eventually Henrietta pulled up to the front of the house in her mom's beat-up car, Georgie nodding off in the front seat and Evan sitting in back.
They all looked just as bad as Dylan did, which almost made him feel a little better. He climbed in back and Evan nodded at him, Henrietta giving a distracted little wave from the front.
She peeled away from Dylan's house at breakneck speed, ignoring the fact that his mother was peering through the front window at them and looking rather scandalized. Sometimes Dylan felt kind of sorry for her, not getting some Justin Timberlake-wannabe conformist asshole for a son, but then he usually remembered that she was a bitch anyway.
For a while, no one spoke. Georgie had fallen completely asleep, Henrietta was concentrating on driving as aggressively as possible, and Evan was busy on staring out the window in a tortured manner.
All too soon Park County High was looming in the distance, shabby and oppressive-looking. They pulled into the parking lot just as the last bell rang. Dylan watched the stragglers shuffle inside, considered having to go in there himself for yet another day of crippling boredom interspersed with torment at the hands of those conformist boners he was forced to call his classmates, and realized that this was just not going to fucking happen today.
"I'm not going in there," he announced with as much determination as he could muster while still feeling half-dead from exhaustion.
"I'd rather drown in concrete," agreed Evan.
Henrietta, who had been getting ready to shake Georgie awake, glanced back at the two of them and nodded. She pulled out of the parking lot, performed some kind of highly illegal U-turn that involved almost rear-ending several cars, and started driving to Benny's without even having to ask.
Dylan pressed his pounding forehead to the cold glass of the window, hoping that it would soothe his raging hangover headache at least a little bit. He never had done well with nonmetaphorical pain. Evan shifted around in the seat next to him, his cane bumping against Dylan's knee in a way that could almost be considered sympathetic.
Soon Henrietta was pulling into Benny's and they were all piling out of the car, sort of dragging Georgie along with them until he was awake enough to walk on his own. They claimed their usual booth and ignored the way that fucking waitress was glaring at them. It had always been the same dried-up old bitch, ever since they were eight. Sometimes Evan would make elaborate comparisons likening her to Republicans or corporate America or Kanye West, but mostly Dylan just thought she was a cunt.
She brought them their customary six dollars worth of black coffee without bothering to ask, delivering it several minutes later than was probably acceptable and with palpable resentment in her face. The four of them performed a seamless group eye-roll and proceeded to ignore her completely, just like usual.
They nursed their cups in silence for a few minutes. Dylan warmed his fingers against the hot, chipped porcelain of the mug and felt his headache recede, just slightly.
Henrietta started telling some story about a show she went to on Friday and Dylan zoned out, looking past the dancing snowmen and nondenominational holiday greeting painted on the dirty windows of the diner. It had started snowing again, which would suck when they were back in Henrietta's car and had to worry about icy roads and all that shit on top of her questionable driving skills, but for now it just looked kind of pretty. There had been a heated group discussion the other day (or as heated as they ever got, which meant that Georgie stayed awake the whole time and Evan put down his coffee cup one or twice to make a gesture) on whether or not snow was conformist. Dylan had been high at the time and he couldn't really remember what they decided, but whatever. Cognizance was for assholes.
Dylan rested his chin on his hands and watched the white flakes spiral downward, thinking he could probably write a poem about them being God's dandruff or something when he didn't feel so terrible.
Henrietta finished her story with a sigh of annoyance, maybe at whatever it was that had happened to her and maybe because Dylan hadn't been paying attention. Georgie shifted groggily next to her, clutching his mug like his life depended on it. He was probably only just realizing that he wasn't in school.
"I wrote a poem last night," Evan announced from his place on the other side of Dylan, voice sounding a little rough and scratchy. Dylan settled back in the uncomfortable vinyl seat of the booth as Evan produced his battered black composition notebook and read them a poem in between sips of coffee. The meaning was indiscernible, which was pretty typical of Evan's poetry, but that typicality was strangely comforting. After he read the last line, something about being stabbed to death by a toothpick of pain, Henrietta nodded pensively.
"Deep," she said. Dylan and Georgie made noises of agreement, and they lapsed back into silence. Once they were all finished Henrietta declared that she needed a smoke badly, so they scrounged up whatever coins and crumpled dollar bills they had between them to pay for the coffee and trooped out to stand on the curb while Henrietta smoked.
Dylan lit one up too, hunching his shoulders against the cold. After a minute Evan sidled up to him, an unlit smoke dangling out the corner of his mouth. "Forgot my lighter," he announced, looking at Dylan expectantly. Dylan rolled his eyes but leaned in without complaint, letting Evan touch the tip of his cigarette to Dylan's and inhale until it flared to life. For a brief second, Evan's chapped lips and stuck-together eyelashes and cold-reddened nose were all Dylan could see, and then there was a puff of smoke and Evan stepped back. Dylan put that second out of his mind and glared pre-eminently at Henrietta, who always laughed like she knew something they didn't whenever they did this. She looked away innocently.
Occasionally other kids that had ditched for the day went walking by in twos and threes, talking and laughing and giving the four of them weird looks as they passed.
Dylan scowled at them and flicked his bangs out of his face impatiently, rubbing at his eyes to dispel the last remnants of sleep. He knew that compared to those other conformist douchebags they were pretty non-commutative, but the idea of carrying on a full conversation this early in the morning made his stomach turn. He glanced over at the three of them, and in the split second of eye contact they all shared he knew they were thinking the same thing.
After a few minutes Henrietta tossed the smoldering butt of her cigarette in the snow. Shortly after, Dylan and Evan followed suit. Georgie leaned over and surveyed the three tiny craters that they burned into the snow with interest. He was always trying to get them to let him smoke and drink when they did, and truthfully the thought didn't really bother Dylan or Evan, but Henrietta wouldn't allow it.
"It's too fucking cold," Dylan complained, mostly just for the sake of complaining. Evan nodded his assent and Henrietta suggested that they just go back to her house, because her mom was probably the only one who wouldn't care that they hadn't gone to school.
Dylan shrugged. Henrietta's house was pretty much where they always ended up, anyway. The four of them got back in the car and sped away. Henrietta cranked up the heat and Dylan reclined against the leather seat, letting it wash over him. Living his life in cold and darkness was fine in theory, but that shit became a different story when his face started going numb.
Dylan absently watched melted snowflakes run in rivulets down the window of the car until they pulled into Henrietta's driveway, jolting slightly as they bounced over the curb. Once Henrietta locked the car she herded them through the front door and into the house, from which her mother was thankfully absent.
They walked up the stairs and into Henrietta's room, its welcoming darkness a direct contrast with the cheeriness of the rest of her house. They all went to their usual spots without thinking about it; Georgie sprawled out on the bed, Evan and Dylan side-by-side on the floor, and Henrietta sitting cross-legged and holding another clove cigarette loosely between her fingers, paying no attention to the purple candles dripping wax into a saucer perilously close to the flame.
Georgie yawned hugely and dragged a pillow underneath his head, ignoring Henrietta's annoyed command to not fuck with them. She exhaled through her nose and picked up one of the many composition books lying around, idly thumbing through it with the hand that wasn't busy with her cigarette.
Dylan glanced over at Evan, who was staring at the ceiling in a way that reminded Dylan of himself from that morning. His hair was damp from the snow, curling at his temples and the nape of his neck even though these days he wasted a lot of time and effort trying to get it straight. As Dylan watched, a water droplet that had been clinging to his cross earring rolled off and dripped down the side of his neck.
"Why don't you ever wear a fucking coat," Dylan asked abruptly, making sure there wasn't enough emotion in his voice for the question to be misconstrued as concern or anything stupid like that.
"Why do you always wear those fucking purple shoes," Evan retorted, not moving from his spot. Dylan glanced down at his shoes like he was just noticing they were there before shrugging and using one of them to kick at Evan's shin.
"Fuck off," Dylan replied without any real heat in his voice. Evan just made a snerking noise and scooted closer in order to sock Dylan halfheartedly in the shoulder, which was pretty much more energy than they usually spent on physical interaction in a whole week. From behind her notebook, Henrietta rolled her eyes in familiar exasperation.
Dylan felt sticky and claustrophobic, which were two of his least favorite things to be. He was damp with sweat and there was spilled beer on the crotch of his favorite pants and for the last half hour someone had been trying persistently to stick their hand down the front of his t-shirt. None of these things mattered, however, in light of what was going on a few feet away from his face.
Dylan's older brother Keith had flown in from New Jersey a few days ago, supposedly for a family visit. Dylan had his suspicions about this, however, mostly because he'd barely exchanged words with their parents at all so far and had in fact only stayed at the house long enough to raid the fridge and drag Dylan to his first basement show, insisting that if he didn't go he would be "totally missing the fuck out, dude."
Dylan had agreed, less because he actually thought that was true and more because he and Henrietta had been cultivating a taste for prescription drugs lately and he usually ended up scoring something or other when Keith was around. Which was how he'd ended up here in some girl's basement in North Park with no drugs in sight, vying for airspace with all of Keith's weird hipster friends.
He ended up just sort of standing around uncomfortably for a while, clutching his red plastic cup full of lukewarm beer and aggressively not speaking to anyone while Keith went around catching up with everybody. Just as he was getting ready to fake an anxiety attack or something to get Keith to drive him home, the band had come out.
It consisted of two stick-thin guys and a slightly more average-sized drummer, all with greasy dark hair at least partially obscuring their faces. The main guy spent a while gleefully attempting to get everyone in the audience to take their shirts off while the other two got their instruments set up, and then they started playing.
The sound could have easily been mistaken for a sudden terrorist attack if you weren't paying close attention. They were out of tune and obviously wasted and the frontman's voice wasn't all that fantastic, but Dylan couldn't tear his eyes away. He inched closer to the front of the basement where they were playing almost subconsciously, cutting his way through various clumps of dirty college kids until he was right in front of them and his eardrums were in immediate danger of rupturing. It wasn't like he'd never been to a show before, but this felt different. These guys completely sucked and half the people in the basement weren't even paying attention to them, but they were up there anyway like they had every right to be.
Dylan sort of felt like he had forgotten to breathe, only really coming back to himself when the bassist flipped him off at the end of their set and they were packing up their shit and walking away.
Not long after that Keith found him and they drove home, thankfully in relative silence. Dylan used the time to calm himself down. All he could think about was wanting to try that for himself.
He could still play bass, and Henrietta could still play keyboards, and Georgie-well, Georgie never really knew how to play drums, but he could learn. The prospect was the most exciting one he'd heard in a while. However, getting excited about shit was pretty much the least goth thing you could possibly do. Considering that presented another problem, namely how he was going to get the others to agree that this was a good idea. It would definitely take careful planning. Dylan barely remembered to say bye to Keith when he dropped him off at their place before speeding off to God-knew-where, more immediately preoccupied with holing himself up in his room to plot.
It was Friday afternoon when Dylan decided to bring it up with the rest of them. He was sprawled out on the damp concrete of their spot behind the school, listening to Bauhaus and not caring about the quantities of melted snow that were steadily soaking their way into his black jeans. Henrietta and Evan were arguing about something and Georgie was messing with the volume on their beat-up old radio. Dylan opened his mouth to interject and then decided it was too much effort, staying quiet and watching a plastic bag and a styrofoam cup chase each other across the asphalt as the wind picked up. He pulled himself up to a sitting position and shivered, ignoring the sharp look Evan gave him and holding up a hand to ward off his inevitable nagging about how Dylan was going to catch pneumonia and totally die or something.
"All I'm saying is," said Henrietta, pausing to take a drag of her cigarette from its thin black holder. "There's pretty much no point in even listening to music anymore because all of it eventually becomes mainstream conformist bullshit."
Dylan visibly perked up as she spoke. He couldn't possibly have hoped for a better opening.
"Totally," he agreed before Evan could answer her. "It's like, the only way you know a band won't sell out is if you're fucking in it yourself."
Henrietta tilted her head pensively. "You know," she said. "That's actually not a bad idea."
Georgie glanced over at them. "We did totally get robbed at that talent show," he remarked.
Dylan shrugged, trying to act like it didn't make much of a difference to him either way.
"But it would be so much work," Evan protested, yawning.
Dylan remained unfazed. "Yeah," he conceded. "But I remember you looked kinda cool up there singing."
Evan considered this for a moment. "Maybe we should do it," he said. "I mean, we don't want to turn into lazy conformist assholes or anything."
Dylan nodded soberly. Georgie rolled his eyes.
"I probably still have all my old keyboards and shit," Henrietta said thoughtfully. Dylan knew his bass was gathering dust in a closet somewhere, because his parents enjoyed reminding him of this fact sometimes when they were loudly listing off all the reasons he was a disappointment. That just left Georgie. Dylan remembered back when they had done the talent show that Georgie didn't really know how to play drums at all and had just sort of banged on them in a vague rhythm whenever he thought the song needed some extra punch because Henrietta said drum machines were for conformists.
Noticing the eyes on him, Georgie shrugged defensively. "I might know someone who can teach me drums. Maybe." A strange expression crossed his face for a second, which was weird because Georgie usually didn't have much in the way of facial expressions besides apathetic or sleeping.
"Who?" Henrietta demanded. "You don't know anyone except us." Georgie shrugged again and turned back to the radio, making it obvious that he wasn't going to say another word on the subject.
"What should our name be?" Dylan said hastily, in an attempt to distract Henrietta. After a pause for consideration, Evan was the first to speak up.
"Carnage Visors," he offered. Henrietta looked like she was considering it, but Georgie frowned and shook his head.
"Referencing another band in the name of yours is so overdone."
Evan made a noise that would have been considered a huff if it had come from anyone else, but didn't protest.
"Vascular Dementia," Henrietta suggested.
Dylan shook his head. "Too metal. A mental disease would be cool, though."
"Borderline intellectual functioning. Frotteurism. Manic episodes," Georgie recited in a monotone. Dylan dimly remembered him spending a week inside memorizing the Wikipedia article on metal disorders sometime last summer, much to the chagrin of his parents.
"I like the last one," said Dylan thoughtfully. "The Manic Episodes."
"The Manic Episodes," repeated Evan, and then Henrietta, like it was a mantra. Dylan nodded once, decisively, and then reached over to steal the cigarette that was hanging out the side of Evan's mouth.
"We should have a practice," he said, taking a slow, victorious drag. "Tomorrow."
"We can do it in my garage," said Henrietta. Dylan hid his triumphant expression behind an exhaled cloud of smoke before carefully sticking the end of the cigarette back in Evan's mouth, which was open in half-hearted protest.
That night while Dylan's parents were asleep so they couldn't ask stupid questions, he braved the dusty clutter of the hall closet in order to find his bass.
After sneezing three times and stubbing his toe on some kind of wooden block, because of course out of all the parents in the world his were the ones who would develop enough emotional attachment to a tree stump to keep it in the house, he returned to his room with the bass. Although the case was covered in dust, inside it looked just the same as it had when he was eight.
Deciding that he'd make sure everything was in working order tomorrow, Dylan settled down with his nightly cup of coffee and tried not to think about tomorrow's practice too much, because looking forward to things was way un-goth.
Dylan and Georgie arrived in Henrietta's garage at more or less the same time Saturday afternoon to find everything prepared, due to the fact that Henrietta had bullied her mom into setting up her old keyboards and a drum set that apparently belonged to her mom's ex-boyfriend.
Georgie showed up with drumsticks, and when Dylan asked where he got them Georgie gave him a mutinous look. "Forgot," he said, and that was the end of that.
After they had all stood around for a few minutes fiddling with their respective instruments and vaguely complaining about how cold Henrietta's garage was, Evan showed up and Dylan figured they should probably get down to business. Subsequently, he realized that he didn't actually have any idea what you actually had to do to practice with your band if you didn't know any songs or have any lyrics.
Evan, who had apparently been having the same thoughts, glanced questioningly over at Dylan.
Henrietta was miles ahead of them, as usual. Setting aside her cigarette holder and narrowing her eyes in concentration, she hit a couple buttons on her keyboard and started playing a simple, vaguely-familiar sounding tune slow enough for Georgie to join in with a basic drum beat. Dylan shrugged and started picking out a bass line, trying to match it at least vaguely with what Henrietta was doing. Evan, who had brought his notebook with him, flipped it open to a random page and started singing, presumably using the words to one of the poems he found there. Dylan could hardly hear him over Georgie's drumming, but from what he could tell he was at least trying to match his voice to whatever Henrietta was doing.
Dylan discovered after a few attempts that he could flip his hair and keep playing at the same time, and it was impossible to stop the invigorated smile from spreading across his face. Thankfully, he was able to wipe it off pretty quickly and everyone else was too preoccupied to notice.
They continued in this vein for a while, with Henrietta occasionally making adjustments to what she was playing in accordance with some invisible indicator that only she could see.
After he had mastered the hair-flip and needed something else to do, Dylan adopted a kind of Charlie-Brown reminiscent dance in which he just sort of shrugged his shoulders and shuffled from foot to foot while he played. As he was working out the kinks of this, Georgie was starting to drum slower and slower until they were all playing at roughly the speed of a funeral march.
Finally he broke off altogether, the rest of them kind of crashing to a halt at different times once they noticed that he had stopped playing.
"My wrists hurt," he announced when Evan sent him a quizzical look, dangling one of them limply in front of himself.
Dylan peered anxiously at the three of them, trying to mask his worry and wondering what he would do if they decided this whole thing was boring or conformist or too hard.
However, as he looked around he noticed that Georgie was massaging his wrist like he wanted to start up again as soon as possible, Henrietta was making more adjustments to her keyboard, and Evan was flipping through the notebook on his knee as though he was looking for more poems to use as makeshift lyrics. Relieved, Dylan flicked his hair out of his eyes and set his bass down carefully, making his way over to where Evan was sitting with his notebook.
Evan glanced up and then beckoned Dylan closer before nodding down at the book, open to a page that featured a highly graphic narrative of their Spanish teacher's bloody death complete with correct conjugations of the verbs voy and estar.
"Do you think this would work to sing?" he asked, squinting down at it.
Dylan rested his chin on Evan's shoulder as he scanned a couple paragraphs before straightening up and shaking his head.
"Too metal," he repeated. "Plus I have class with you and your Spanish accent sucks ass. I liked that thing about dead trees you did a couple weeks ago."
Evan rolled his eyes but seemed placated by the compliment. On the other side of the room, Georgie looked doubtfully down at his own hands.
"We're pretty terrible," he remarked.
"We're definitely going to have to practice more," Henrietta said decisively. "And you should probably try some wrist-strengthening exercises."
"What can you even do to make your wrists stronger?" Georgie demanded. Dylan and Evan exchanged glances and snickered, and Georgie glared over at them.
"Just saying," said Evan. "If you didn't try to act all asexual and mysterious, we wouldn't be having this problem."
"I'm fourteen," said Georgie.
"Your hormonal prime," Dylan supplied helpfully, earning himself a look of death from Henrietta.
"Actually I feel a lot better now," said Georgie loudly. "We should probably get back to it."
This time Dylan lead them off, starting with a bass line that he vaguely remembered from some song or other that was thoroughly reinvented when paired with Georgie's rather unorthodox drumming. Evan waited a couple beats and then starting in singing, which for him basically just meant talking loudly in a slightly more musical way than normal. His voice was low and rough from smoking, and Dylan wouldn't admit it if anyone asked, but he sort of liked it.
He was so busy trying to perfect his Charlie Brown bass dance that it took a few seconds for him to realize that Evan was singing the thing about the trees.