Please read the Author's Note on my page! Also, the song later on is called "The Best Deceptions" by Dashboard Confessional. Just...so you know
The Princess and the Soon-To-Be-Eunuch
It was beyond easy to make assumptions about Charlie Wiles. The first time I'd seen her was at an underground club, and the moment I'd laid eyes on her, I had been determined to dislike her. That's not hard for someone like me to do to someone like her; usually, when one sees a chick in an otherwise all-guys punk rock band, she's the lead singer and a slut.
Not the case with Charlie.
She was the guitarist—sometimes main, sometimes rhythm—for Assimilation Simulation, and she didn't, well, suck. The second charge against chick-rockers, in reference to promiscuous habits, didn't really match Ms. Wiles either. She was skinny and totally flat-chested; the first time I saw her and every time since, she was wearing baggy jeans and a black t-shirt, usually fitted to her slender torso and completed with some obscure band name or quote splashed across its front.
There was a guitar pick on a leather string tied around her neck, like a choker, 24/7. Normally, that really bugs me, but I made an exception for her just this once since it was smudged and had a large chip, which meant one thing: it had been well-used and was only demoted to decoration when it became useless. Later on, I'd be told by its wearer that it was the first pick she'd ever owned and, subsequently, the first pick she'd ever broken.
I only ever saw her get really angry once; that was when her brother, the band's lead singer, had called her "Charlotte" on stage.
Most of this reflection over ever-precocious Charlie came afterwards; back to the first time I ever saw her.
It was pretty cold outside, but most of the people at the club were aware of the basic science behind low ceilings, inadequate ventilation, and mosh pits. Ergo, most of the people wore short-sleeved shirts, if they wore any shirt at all. That was what I liked about being a regular; it was so easy to pick out the people who just didn't belong.
That was why I scoffed imperiously the moment a group of people walked in and, sipping from a can of soda in between two tall guys, there was a girl wearing a heavy black bomber jacket zipped up to her neck. She looked totally unfazed by what was at least a fifty degree rise from the shock of the cold outside air, and if it weren't for the fact that it was painfully obvious that she had no idea what clubs were like, I would've said she'd been expecting the change.
This early presumption in regards to her poser status also made it simple to ignore the ease with which she wove through the thrashing mosh pit. That night was especially lively, I remember; three bloody noses had erupted by the time Charlie and her "group" arrived, and that was only coming from the music coming from speakers, not a band.
"That's the band!" Trey yelled into my ear. I shot him a confused glance, and he pointed towards the girl and four guys she'd come in with. As soon as his statement became clear, I shot him my best "are-you-kidding-me?" look. "Yeah, that's Assimilation Simulation!" he shouted.
"Who's the chick?"
"I don't know, probably their groupie!" Trey shouted, grinning and winking over-dramatically. He was lucky he was tall; otherwise, his childish sense of humor, blonde hair, and beyond-thin frame would have made him an easy target in the pit.
Everyone there had been expecting the band for half an hour by the time said musical group finally arrived; the guitars and amps, along with a nice drum-set, were already set up when most of us started to arrive, so anticipation was high. I'd heard a lot about this band, including an obviously amateur-made but decent demo.
My knowledge of the band's skill and the previously made presumption regarding the girl in the bomber jacket both made me quite skeptical upon seeing the same girl, sans jacket, walk calmly onto the stage after a very tall, thin guy and pick up a beautiful Strat, lifting the polka-dotted strap over her head. She was wearing a plain black t-shirt, which made me dislike her a little bit less. For any of you aspiring attendees out there, I'm just going to say that anyone who wears a Ramones, Sex Pistols, or Blondie t-shirt the first time he or she goes to a punk concert is obviously trying too hard. I wouldn't recommend it.
It took a few seconds, but eventually, someone in the crowd noticed that the people on stage were not, in fact, tech crew, but the band. Once he saw that they were paying attention, the aforementioned tall guy, obviously the lead singer, grinned and addressed the crowd through his mic. "Hey, what's up? I'm Lance."
"Hey, I'm Fish," said the bassist into his mic, "and that's Chris," he added, gesturing towards the drummer, who wasn't paying attention.
The girl had yet to even look at the crowd; she was by the amps, talking to a techie, presumably about volume. The lead singer, newly dubbed Lance, pointedly cleared his throat into the mic. The crowd laughed; it's sort of tradition at small clubs like this for the band to act, well, normal with the crowd. Any band that comes to "grace us with its presence" and whose members act like they're some untouchable reincarnation of The Pixies receives a very cold welcome. This band was already establishing a pretty good repertoire.
"Let's go to the pit, Ink!" Trey shouted in an unnecessarily loud voice. I waved him off, plastic cup full of water in hand. I don't mosh to a new band; first, I see how much it sucks and decide if it's worth my energy. The fact that I'd been going to that club since I was thirteen—which makes seven years—practically guaranteed me one of the sought-after tables at the back of the floor.
Meanwhile, back on stage, the lead singer had done a few more attempts to get the girl's attention, each time getting more obvious and each time remaining just as useless.
He heaved a sigh, grinned again, and, in a high-pitched imitation of a girl's voice, said, "Hi, I'm Charlotte, the singer's baby sister!"
I watched with a smirk as the girl's head snapped to her right and she fixed the singer with a very cold glare, one eyebrow arched; the death-stare was accompanied by a sneer and a very casually and gracefully raised middle finger, which made the crowd whoop and laugh. Her face relaxed into a slight smirk as she turned to face the crowd, blowing into her cupped hands as if they were cold, which I found highly unlikely.
"Okay, sorry, it's Charlie! Jesus, we wouldn't want them to think you're actually a girl!" The girl simply arched the same eyebrow, shaking her head, and flipped her brother the bird once more. "Oh, man, she is vicious!" Lance said, rubbing his arm as if she'd punched him. "Well, anyways, we're Assimilation Simulation, and, uh, you bastards had better be ready to mosh in there!"
As soon as the song started, I found my apparently instinctive dislike for this girl—Charlie—draining, albeit slowly. Maybe that was because it began on a riff that was obviously influenced by but not a carbon copy of The Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love". Not bad, especially since she was the one playing it, and Charlie looked nineteen at the very oldest.
I took a moment to appraise the girl's appearance. Her skin looked pale, and I didn't think it was just the blue house lights' effect. She had long dark hair that was pulled back into a high, messy bun; a shorter chunk fell over one of her eyes, but for once, it actually didn't look like it was supposed to be there (that ridiculous messed-up-on-purpose look that I loathed). Her eyes had looked large and round under dark eyebrows earlier, but as soon as she'd begun to play, they'd narrowed into a half-lidded look of heavy concentration.
All in all, she wasn't at all bad looking, but I got the feeling that she must have been toning herself down on purpose. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen any girl anywhere not getting all made up whenever she went out, and I really couldn't see this girl deliberately looking plain on a daily basis.
It was well over half and hour later that they finished their set with a cover of The Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare" and a very violent mosh pit settled down into the applause and catcalls that greet any decent band—the latter honor is usually saved for bands with chicks.
The club's manager, Wake, asked me to stay after and help with the stage tear-down. I agreed quickly; it wasn't the first time I'd been granted temporary roadie status and it certainly wasn't the last.
I was just coming back from returning an amp to its back room when I heard a very pissed off "Hands off the Strat!" from behind me. I turned quickly, inexplicably relieved when I saw that, while it was Charlie who'd yelled (as I'd guessed), it wasn't aimed at me.
The very tall, very muscular head techie, TJ, cringed slightly. I shook my head in disbelief that he had picked up any equipment not belonging to the stage, since he and I both knew every piece in the inventory, and that was certainly not one of them.
"Sorry, miss," TJ said, sounding sheepish, handing the guitar to Charlie gingerly.
She twisted her mouth into a smile, settling the guitar so it was strapped across her back. "No, it's fine, I'm just still pretty protective. This cost about four months' payment, so you get it, yeah?" she said, looking up at the burly face of our lead roadie.
He grinned and nodded. "Well, I'll be sure to keep everyone away from it next time you guys come here. I'm TJ, tech crew."
"Hey, I'm Charlie, and we look forward to coming back. Great amps here," she remarked, looking around appreciatively.
It was only my quick reflexes that kept TJ from running into me when he turned around, but it still made me realize that I'd been watching them the entire time. Charlie's gaze landed on me briefly, her eyes narrowed in scrutiny, but then she turned wordlessly and headed backstage.
I avoided the large room behind the stage for a while, though I wasn't sure why, but eventually, I gave in and wandered back in search of water.
"Charlie, how can you say that? Assimilation Simulation is an awesome band name!" I followed the sound of voices and saw that it had been the bassist, Fish, who'd been talking. The band members, along with TJ and a few other techies, were lounging on some very old couches that had been back there for a very long time.
Lance, the lead singer, nodded vigorously. "Seriously, Chaz, how can you even defend your dislike of its…what's that word…repetitive…-ness?"
I hesitated before walking over and sitting down across from Charlie, who was rolling her eyes. Her hair, I noticed, was actually a very dark reddish color; her eyes looked either blue or green from where I was sitting. "God, Lance, that nickname royally sucks, and how many times do I have to tell you? Clichéd band names sicken me, but not as much as clichéd ideas do. Yeah, yeah, it really rolls off the tongue, but seriously—assimilation? What will our first CD be called, huh? Non-conformist Rebels?"
"What's so bad about being a non-conformist?" I found myself speaking before I could stop to think.
Her gaze landed on me, and I could tell she recognized me instantly from earlier. For the third time that night, her eyebrow arched as if to pose a challenge. "The idea that there's even such thing as non-conformism is ridiculous."
Fish grinned at me ruefully, muttering, "Dude, I don't know who you are, but you do not want to get her started, believe me. Just admit that she's right and save us all some time." Normally, I'd be annoyed by someone I didn't know talking to me like that, but Fish reminded me of Trey, who, I noticed, was also sitting backstage.
I disregarded the warning, though, and looked back at Charlie, who looked primed and ready to retort to my unspoken reply. "Oh, really? How do you figure, princess?"
The guys from the band all did the exact same thing at the exact same time: a sharp intake of breath followed by a short chuckle. If possible, Charlie's eyebrow arched even more sharply and she leaned forward slightly, her head at an angle. She rested her elbows on her knees and dropped her voice to a quieter, sardonic level. "First of all, call me 'princess' just one more time and I will castrate you with piano wire. Secondly, I figure that non-conformism doesn't exist. It's completely impossible. Conformism is allowing one's actions to be controlled by the thoughts and actions of others, right?" No one offered an answer, and she obviously wasn't expecting one, since she continued. "Well, this supposed 'non-conformism' is the exact same thing; it's allowing others' thoughts and actions to affect you, but you're doing the opposite of whatever it is that they're doing, so you feel special. Truly original thinking comes neither from conformism nor from this bullshit idea of the nonexistent non-conformism. I despise people who believe that they're forward-thinking because they have blue hair and wear bright yellow pants. I don't claim to be unaffected by the lives of people around me, and I hate it when anyone makes the claim that they're thus separated from others."
There were a few moments of silence that followed her tirade, but then Trey shattered it by standing up and clapping dramatically. Immediately, Charlie let out a bright, somewhat sheepish laugh.
"By the way, I'm Charlie," she said to Trey, extending her hand.
He practically leapt the coffee table to shake her hand vigorously. "I'm Trey, and I think I love you. Seriously, you are one of the best guitarists we've had in ages, and you're a chick!"
"Nice rant, princess," I drawled, testing her reaction.
She stiffened visibly, but then a derisive smirk played across her mouth as she replied, "I thank you for the compliment. It's nice to meet you. Trey, is that your name?" He nodded. "I see. And what about the soon-to-be-eunuch in the corner? Does he have a name or is he just known as Overly Confident Jackass around here?"
Her eyes then flicked over to me, alight with unexpressed laughter.
I cleared my throat, half-smiling, and said, "I'm Ink."
She shook the hair out of her eyes, regarding me coolly, before smiling radiantly. "Well, Ink, I'm going to let that one slide, just this once mind you, for three reasons: Firstly, you have good hair—seriously, the straight black hair really works for you. Secondly, this is a damn good venue and, from the looks of it, you're pretty engrained into its inner workings. Finally, damn it all if I went and forgot those thick rubber gloves I need for handling piano wire at home!"
I think I started falling for her right about then.
Assimilation Simulation ended up becoming a regular act due to its popularity. It was about three months after their first performance that I (and about 150 other people) heard Charlie sing.
They'd been playing for close to half an hour when, after a particularly fast-paced number, Lance had somewhat breathlessly said into the mic, "All right, boys and girls, we've got a rare treat for you kiddies tonight. Charlie, it's all yours."
Apparently, she'd left the stage at some point, because Charlie reemerged with an old acoustic guitar in hand, followed closely by TJ, who was carrying a stool. He had taken it upon himself to be Charlie's personal bodyguard, stating her resemblance to his baby sister as an explanation. I was skeptical about that, since he was 6'7" and black, but who was I to argue?
TJ set the stool down in front of the main mic; Lance was standing by the drum-set, drinking some water. Charlie perched herself on top of the black wooden stool, adjusted the mic's height, and, after clearing her throat, said, "Hey guys, what's shaking?" The customary whoops greeted her.
I should take a minute to explain what had happened in the three months since the first show. It may be recalled that I thought Charlie was making herself look less than stunning on purpose and that it was a one-time thing; I was wrong. I had never seen her with an ounce of makeup on. The fact that I (and everyone else, including her) knew she'd easily turn heads if she did wear makeup and dress like, well, a girl made her that much more attractive to me.
Her skilled playing, unassumingly charming personality, and coolly not-even-trying looks had earned her a fan-club consisting of about ten regulars—yours truly not including due to a conflict of pride. They whooped very loudly every time she took the stage, and did so even more loudly when she took the mic or indulged in the rare guitar solo.
"Now, I love the boys in the mosh pit," Charlie began, ignoring the cheers from said area on the floor, "but you guys have been a little crazy tonight." Needless to say, this elicited nothing but very proud screaming. "Wake is worried about his club, which I'm sure you understand. So…he asked if we'd slow it down for a couple minutes." Cue disappointed groans from sweaty college guys. "And since Lance is incapable of slow music…here I am."
I raised my eyebrows slightly, interest piqued. Charlie had mentioned in one of the frequent backstage hangout sessions that she hated it when she was shoved into the spotlight simply because she was a girl who played guitar.
She was nervous; I could see that easily, since blowing into her hands and swallowing hard were both telltale signs. "Uh, I'm not going to tell you who sings this song originally, because I swear that the guy right there in the As I Lay Dying shirt will have me burned at the stake on the grounds of being, well, emo. So I'll just start with a little story. No, first of all, how many girls we got here?"
Not many, I thought. Despite this (correct) assumption, there was a smattering of high-pitched cheers.
"Right on," Charlie said, grinning. "Well, let me ask this: Has your boyfriend ever gone on a trip to Cancun without you and had a little too much of that special kind of fun?"
Boos and yells greeted her. I was frowning at the stage, wondering where she was going with her story.
"Let me tell you that I was in that place not too long ago. See, couple months ago, Tyler—" Charlie stopped since Fish and Lance let out the same, not-very-polite word at the same time "—Tyler went to Cancun mostly healthy and guess what? He came back with herpes. Isn't that nice? Well, I was a little pissed, so, um, I'm going to play this song for Tyler. Hope you like it. Remember, Mr. As I Lay Dying, I want you to stay away from all manner of flame-making equipment!"
The crowd was unusually quiet and still, which may well have been a first in the club's history, as she played an experimental chord. "Oh, and Ink," she said into the mic, almost as if it was an afterthought, while looking directly at me, "I know you're back there with a damned skeptical expression on your face, wondering how much I'm going to suck, so I'd like you to remember that my piano wire offer still stands." I laughed along with the rest of the crowd until she began to play.
Lance had settled on the step of the platform on which the drum-set stood, watching his sister intently. I wondered why for a moment, but then she began to sing. Her voice wasn't amazing; I'd certainly heard better ballads, as well. What she and her voice did have, though, was raw emotion and a sort of husky strength that made it perfect for the kind of song she was singing.
"I heard about your trip.
I heard about your souvenirs.
I heard about the cool breeze and the cool nights and the cool girls you spent them with.
I guess I should have heard of them from you.
I guess I should have heard of them from you.
Don't you see, don't you see that the charade is over?
And all the best deceptions and the clever cover story awards go to you.
So kiss me hard, 'cause this will be the last time that I let you.
You will be back someday,
And this awkward kiss that tells of other people's lips will be of service
To keeping you away.
I heard about your regrets.
I heard that you were feeling sorry.
I heard from someone that you wish you could set things right between us.
Well, I guess I should have that from you.
I guess I should have heard of that from you.
And don't you see, don't you see that the charade is over?
And all the best deceptions and the clever cover story awards go to you.
So kiss me hard, 'cause this will be the last time that I let you.
You will be back someday,
And this awkward kiss that screams of other people's lips will be of service
To keeping you away, to keeping you away.
I'm waiting for blood
To flow to my fingers.
I'll be all right when my hands get warm.
Ignoring the phone;
I'd rather say nothing,
I'd rather you'd never heard my voice.
You're calling too late,
Too late to be gracious.
You do not warrant long goodbyes.
You're calling too late, you're calling too late, you're calling too late."
It was almost eerily quiet for about three seconds before her fan club whooped loudly, easing the atmosphere immediately. People began to cheer, and Charlie grinned slightly. "Thanks, but seriously, folks, you're supposed to be mellowing out, here," she said before hopping off the stool and carrying it and her guitar backstage. Lance took the mic again.
"Aw, isn't she just such a cutie? And guys, I'm not joking here, if you see some tall jackass with curly brown hair and an oversized ego named Tyler Schmidt, let me know. Me and Fish owe him one," he said, which induced the few girls in the crowd to "aww" right back at him. Girls and their weakness for older brothers.
After the show, I was backstage before the band arrived. When they walked in with Trey trailing behind them, Lance was (as usual) talking and ruffling Charlie's hair. "…and now Chaz is all growed up! Still, kid, I don't understand why you're pissed that I gave that bastard a broken nose; he deserved worse."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, I'm just mad that you think I can't handle myself. I mean, I know that I'm only 5'6", but I am perfectly capable of using means besides violence to get vindication."
"Everyone knows that, Charlie, some of us more than others," I drawled from my position on the couch. She met my gaze briefly, smirking slightly, before plopping down next to me. "Nice shirt," I said before she could retort to my previous (true) statement.
Her t-shirt was black, as usual, but instead of a band name, it said, in large white letters, "Who is John Galt?"
Her gaze dropped down to her own shirt before flicking back up to mine, lit with excitement. "Have you read Atlas Shrugged?!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," I answered warily. Fish and Lance both groaned; Trey looked confused; TJ frowned; Chris, as usual, said nothing and remained totally impassive. I had heard him say exactly seven words in three months.
"Dude!" Charlie yelled. "That is my absolute favorite book! Ayn Rand is a genius, and you have absolutely no idea how much my opinion of you has just shot up simply because you've read her masterpiece!"
Two hours later (and those were two hours chock full of some heavy discussion regarding capitalism and its value in relation to other practices), I walked out the back door of the club, since my car was parked in the alley behind the building. Charlie had headed out in that direction, so I decided to follow her. She was out there, talking on her cell phone. I was annoyed; because she was eighteen (my early estimate had been off), pretty, and standing in a dark alley at two in the morning.
"…but really, I just don't want to talk about that," she was saying. After sparing me the briefest of glances, she continued talking to whoever was on the other line. "We played a show tonight. I know. I know. I know. Even if the band gets a deal, I won't be touring. What do you mean what do I mean? Oh, well forgive me for not wanting to see hot guys from all over the country. I'm not pining, you imbecile, I'm ambitious. Oh yeah, that whole college thing, remember? I'm going to Sarah Lawrence regardless of who thinks that Lance is sexy—disturbing, seriously, by the way. Yeah, fine. Bye, Jill." She flipped the phone shut and, in practically the same breath, said, "You stalking me, Ink?"
"You're an idiot for just standing in this alley this late at night, Charlotte." Her hazel eyes, predictably, narrowed.
"Gee, you're right! Golly, it sure is a good thing I have so many strong boys around to protect me! Isn't that right…Quincy?"
I don't know what temporary insanity had possessed me to tell her my real name the month earlier; I'd regretted it every second since.
My mouth was already open to reply, but Charlie just rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically, cutting me off. "Oh, just admit it, you followed me out here because you're worried about me!"
I raised both eyebrows. "Well, I've been around on this planet longer than you, and I've seen what happens to girls who think they're invincible. Guys are freaks, Charlie," I explained in a deliberately slow voice, just to piss her off.
Unexpectedly, she sauntered towards me, grinning. "Oh really? Now see, here I was thinking that you were a guy this whole time! Well damn, if you're not a guy, that means I've got a thing for another girl. Now I have nothing against lesbians, but I'm not one, so I need to rethink this crush, don't you think?"
I swallowed; she was standing right in front of me, smirking, her hazel eyes sparkling with mischief. "You have a crush on me?" I asked incredulously.
"Brilliant observation, give that man a prize!" she said. I didn't reply, so she looked at me intently for a couple seconds before speaking again. "Fine. Yes, Ink, I like you. A lot. And I think you might have a little thing for me too. So let's just cut the crap," she said in the same slow voice I'd used on her.
A smirk was beginning to find its way onto my face. I leaned my head down slightly, whispering, "Care to be more specific?"
She mirrored my expression, shaking her head slightly. "No."
I dipped my head down and kissed her—hard. Her arms looped themselves around the back of my neck; mine ended up around her waist. When we came up for air a couple minutes later, I shook my head, glaring at her.
"Jesus, you're so stubborn, princess."
Her eyebrow arched slowly. "Ink, you've got the greatest brown eyes I've ever seen, and you've read Atlas Shrugged, and you're a really good kisser, but I swear to God that I have a roll of piano wire in my trunk, and it'd be a shame to ruin any chances to have little Ink-lings running around, don't you think?"
I studied her for a few seconds. "Ink-lings, eh? You've totally been thinking about that since you learned my name."
The bright smile that lit up her face cancelled out the harshness of the next three words out of her mouth: "Oh, shut up."