The rehearsal wasn’t going well.
On the bandstand at Tony Mart’s, the Cruisers were practicing music that Eddie had written for the new album, which he was tentatively calling A Season in Hell, after Rimbaud. The music was difficult to play. Kenny kept getting too fast on the drums. Sal was bitching and moaning that he was breaking his fingers trying to play the bass line; then a string on his guitar broke, and they had to wait for him to put on a new one. Frank hit a few wrong notes on the piano from time to time. Joann had a bit of a head cold, so her voice didn’t sound quite right.
Finally, an exasperated Eddie said, “Awright, awright, let’s take a break.” He called to Joann, “C’mon, baby, let’s go have a smoke.” He put his arm around Joann’s waist, and the two of them headed out the front door of the bar. When they finished their cigarettes and came back inside, only Kenny was on the bandstand. “Where the hell’s Sal and Frankie?” Eddie demanded.
Kenny looked uncomfortable. “Uh,” he said, “Sal’s in the john. I think Frank went out back.”
“I’ll go get Frank,” Joann said, starting for the back door of the bar. A few minutes later, she put her head through the doorway and called, “Eddie, I think you better come out here.”
“Just come here,” she insisted.
“Oh, awright,” Eddie grumbled. A frown on his face, he strode through the doorway and out into the back alley.
“I’ll be on the stage,” Joann said as he passed her. She ducked back inside.
The alley was a jumble of trash cans, garbage cans, and cases of empty beer bottles, all the refuse of a busy, popular bar. When Eddie stepped into the alley, Frank had his back to him. “’S’matter, Frankie?” Eddie said. “What’re you doin’ out here?” Frank turned to him, and Eddie’s mouth dropped open. “Ho-lee shit!” he exclaimed. “What the hell happened?” Frank had a black eye.
Frank looked away. His hands in his pockets, he mumbled, “Sal and I had a little disagreement.”
“The hell you did! You got a black eye!”
“It’s nothing,” Frank said, embarrassed.
“That ain’t ‘nuthin.’ Now, what happened?”
Frank looked uncomfortable. “Frankie…,” Eddie said sternly, fixing Frank with the gaze that Frank always found so disconcerting.
Frank shrugged. He sighed. “Sal accused me of fucking up the rehearsal. He said it was all my fault.”
“An’ you got a black eye over that?” Eddie plainly didn’t believe him. “C’mon, Frankie, what happened?” There was that stern tone of voice again.
Frank swallowed and looked away for a moment. Then he turned back to Eddie. “Sal said I was fucking up the rehearsal. I said it wasn’t my fault if we were fucking up, and then he said again that it was my fault, and then he called me a fag and a whore and said the only thing I was good for was taking your dick up my ass, so I took a swing at him. I got him in the nose, and he gave me this.” Frank pointed to his eye.
For a moment Eddie just stared at him. Then, his hands balled into fists, he exploded. “I’ll kill ‘im! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill ‘im!”
“No, Eddie! Just forget about it,” Frank pleaded. He put a hand on Eddie’s arm.
Eddie shook him off. “Forget about it? The hell I’m gonna forget about it! Nobody talks to you like that, not Sal, not anybody, not if I got somethin’ to say about it!”
“Eddie! Please! Sal’s your oldest friend. I don’t want to cause any trouble between you and him.”
Eddie still looked angry. For a few minutes he stood staring at Frank, but then he began to calm down. He took Frank’s face between his hands and looked at him closely. “You are not a fag and a whore,” he said, speaking quietly but firmly. He brought Frank’s lips to his and very gently kissed him. Frank put his arms around Eddie’s waist while Eddie wrapped his arms around Frank’s shoulders and hugged him tightly for a few long moments. “Nobody talks to you like that,” Eddie repeated, speaking barely above a whisper. Frank returned the kiss.
When, minutes later, they finally let go of each other, Frank said, “Please, Eddie. Just forget about it. Okay?”
“Are you sure that’s the way you want it?”
“Yeah. I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
For a moment Eddie looked at him, frowning. He wasn’t happy with Frank’s answer. Nobody was going to talk to his Frankie that way, not even his oldest friend Sal Amato, not if he had something to say about it. Then, he sighed, “Awright, if that’s the way you want it.”
Frank nodded. “I do.”
“Okay, then, let’s go back inside.” Eddie put his arm around Frank’s shoulders and steered him to the door.
When they got back inside, Sal was back on the bandstand. His nose was swollen and had obviously been bleeding. He and Frank glared at each other. Eddie looked at Sal’s nose and then at Frank’s eye. He frowned and shook his head. “Awright,” he said, “we got work to do. Let’s get on with the music.”