Rick stubs out his cigarette the moment that he hears a knock on his door. It isn’t a staff-member because their way of knocking is usually followed by them entering with little warning. The person on the other side hasn’t gone in yet.
People aren’t usually allowed backstage after a gig, especially as Rick and his band has gained the popularity they have; a bigger place would never be so care but then again, The Flesh Curtains has played at the old bar where they first performed. The place is as gross as he remembers from his youth. The walls of his backstage room are dirty and the smoking laws haven’t been introduced here yet, hence why he was enjoying an after-gig smoke.
A second knock interrupts his train of thought and he pushes himself to stand. He dreads whatever is behind the door, not being in the mood for fans. Instead, he wants to sip a beer in peace whilst going back down memory lane.
“S-sorry, I’m not-” he says greets the woman on the other side but he stops dead in his sentence. It is Diane, and he is suddenly further down memory lane than he expected. More precisely, he is seventeen and back in high school again. His love for music is at its peak and Diane is sitting on his bed as he plays the guitar.
“Diane,” he says instead and she immediately goes in to hug him. She doesn’t quite feel the same but he guesses she hasn’t since they broke up years ago.
“Rick,” she replies and squeezes him to the point that makes him realise that she is a mother now. There’s something different about the way she hugs, some kind of affection that only a woman with children can transfer in her embraces. When she pulls back, she is grinning, “God, it’s been so long. Look at you.”
“Look at me?” Rick finds that he hasn’t got any other reply for that and gives her a smile in return. He steps aside to motion for her to come in, and then closes the door behind her.
“You look so different from back then,” she elaborates.
“I-I was seventeen,” he argues as he walks back to sit down once again. Rick holds out his hand, gesturing to a poor quality chair for her to sit down as well.
“That’s how I remember you,” she pulls the chair in front of him, close enough for their knees to nearly touch. She leaves her coat on when she takes a seat, and Rick can feel a pang of hurt in his stomach. Why does such a little detail tell you so much? It’s suddenly very clear that there’s no big intentions behind her visit, and when he looks down, he even sees a wedding band on her finger.
“Congratulations,” he tries to make conversation.
“Thank you,” Diane plays with the ring on her finger, smiles to herself as if remembering something fondly at the very touch of the gold. It’s envy that Rick feels now. He never got to have that with her.
“What do you mean we’re not c-compatible?” Rick snapped as Diane’s bottom lip quivered, “Is this some bullshit that your dad has put in your head again?”
“You know how he is, Rick,” she replied, a tear starting to roll down her cheek after she had blinked. Her blush had wet vertical streaks, “I can’t-”
“Yes you can,” he interrupted. The anger he felt in his body was rising above his head soon, and the very fact that he even considered having Diane be a part of his life as a roadie with an upcoming music career was foolish. She could never be that person because she was a coward, “You can, Diane. You just don’t want to because how dare I try to show you anything that isn’t your parents’ boring life of suffocating domestic bliss?”
“Little miss goody two shoes, give me a break,” he scoffed.
Diane narrowed her eyes, suddenly frantically wiping her tears away. Gotcha , was all he could think.
“Really, Rick?” She spat, and if he did not know her, he would actually feel a bit scared as she stepped forward to poke his chest, “You really think that you could become anything with whatever you think you can do? Striving to work with music? You really think you’re gonna be able to feed your family with a gig at a bar once a month. You’re set up for failure, that’s what my dad says.”
Rick cannot recall the last time he has slammed a door as hard as he did back then.
“Are you happy?” He asks bluntly. A part of her wants to be miserable so his words from back then were true. He hates being wrong but he can tell the answer already.
“We’ve been married happily for two decades now, own a house, two children; a boy and a girl,” Diane’s face lights up when she talks about them in a way that he remembers so well from back when they were dating. She looks prettier when it happens, younger even and Rick wants to smile to acknowledge her happiness in life, reach out to touch her again but the urge fades and the smile barely makes it across his face when she asks him the same question.
She frowns when Rick shakes his head, and something tells him that it was nothing but a formality instead of a genuine question.
“N-not yet,” he quickly adds to relieve her of her awkwardness, “S-s-something can change though, I’m not out of years, you know.”
“Speaking of years,” Diane quickly changes the subject, and Rick has to admit that he feels just as relieved as she probably does, “How long has it been?”
“Since?” Rick leans back into his chair to reach behind him for his pack of cigarettes. He offers one to her but she declines.
“You really think I could tour the world?” Rick asked as he looked up at the ceiling. There was a poster of Mick Jagger, and he smirked at how conveniently it was placed for when you’ were lying here all alone. Additionally, Rick knew it was a hint to why Diane was so crazy about him.
“I’m positive but don’t leave me here. I’ll have to come with you,” Diane curled up at his side, pecking his cheek and didn’t even take a second to look up at Jagger’s face. Rick felt pride when moments went by and she still didn’t look up at the poster but instead kept her nose in the crook of his neck.
“W-what about your parents?” He turned his head to kiss her lips.
“Screw them,” she said between a string of small pecks.
“Why I have never!” Rick clutched his chest dramatically.
Diane giggled loudly, slapping him playfully. Rick grabbed her and pulled her on top of himself, digging his fingers into her sides to tickle her and moments later, she was shrieking and begging and laughing, and Rick felt like his heart was going to burst.
“I don’t care about them,” she said when she finally caught her breath, “I only care about us.”
Us. Rick lights his cigarette to let the word hang in the air for a moment, drags out the moment even further by taking a drag. What he wouldn’t give to go back to that very memory where the word had a different ring to it than it does right now.
“Must be about 30-ish years, right?” Rick blows out smoke, any excuse to face away from her for the brief moment it takes for him to not get all emotional about it. The last thing he wants is to show her how she’s still there, haunting him daily in his thoughts without him even noticing that he is thinking of her.
“34, I think,” she calculates with a tiny laugh, sounding astounded by the mere concept of time. Rick finds it more beautiful than any guitar solo he’s ever heard, “I can’t believe I haven’t bumped into you since.”
“I-I moved away as quickly as I could after graduating,” he shrugs, “Nothing was left for me here, and thank God I got out of this prison. Could you see me here? Working a normal job with n-normal hours?”
“Funny, I stayed. Even live a few blocks down the road,” she doesn’t sound offended by his insults towards their hometown or maybe she just chooses to ignore them, so they don’t have another fight like that one , “I heard you were playing here through a friend from work.”
“You liked it? The show? The songs?” He awaits her judgement. Some songs are about her.
“Some of the slower ones, you know which ones I am talking about, were they about me?” She asks, and finally, there’s something in her eyes that tell him that this was what she came here to ask for because her cheeks go pink and her breathing speeds up.
“Some of them,” he admits without hesitation.
“Naaah,” she says playfully, nearly seems like she is joking and it hurts Rick more than he thought it would, “I don’t remember us quite like that.”
“I remember more than juuu-ust tears and screaming,” he mumbles, and the way her eyebrows go slightly up tells him that she regrets having said it quite like that.
“No romanticising it at all? I don’t believe you.”
“I mean every word I write, Diane, d-d-don’t fucking try and come here to question my work,” Rick suddenly snarls, throwing the cigarette on the concrete floor and stubbing it out with his heel. The ashtray seems to far away right now.
There’s silence for a moment.
“I have to go,” she quickly gets up from her seat, coat never having left her shoulders because it is part of her escape plan not to have taken it off.
She’s out the door in less than ten seconds, and the room goes painfully quiet when she leaves. Something about the encounter seems surreal, as if he is high and has imagined the whole thing.
The next knock on the door is familiar, and sure enough, a broad and tall man enters the room with the bar’s logo on his shirt. He holds onto the doorknob as he speaks, “Sanchez, get up. There’s people out there who would like to get an interview.”
He pauses briefly, then frowns, “Man, you smoked in here? Look at that mess on the floor! We’re gonna need to call the cleaners on your bill.”
The door closes. Rick lights a third cigarette.