"I wasn't sure you'd wanna find me." Mike spoke quietly and moved slowly to put the Gretsch in its stand and turn off the amps, as if a sudden move or too loud a word would send her running away. He moved just as slowly to sit on the edge of the stage, boots barely touching the floor.
"Neither was I."
Bonnie ventured as near as she dared, stopping about six feet distant. She was afraid of what she'd do if she got within reach, his or her own. Standing here just out of reach, seeing the sad, guilty way he looked at her, she could understand what Ari said. He looks like he knows what he's done and he wants to do better. But she could see something else, too… that he was thinking he might not get the chance. To her surprise, as she looked at Nesmith looking at her, she also understood how two people could almost convince themselves to forget every bad thing that had ever happened and be tempted to give in to the notion that nothing bad had ever happened at all. Just touch me, let me kiss you and hang on for dear life, and everything will be okay. But it wasn't that easy. She didn't feel as bleak and final as his eyes told her he felt, but still it just wasn't that easy. The silence lasted so long, and his eyes on her were so steady and waiting, that she shoved her hands in her pockets and shifted a little from one foot to the other to show she was waiting, too.
"Do you want to talk, or listen?" he asked.
"I don't care which. But I promise, no armadillo."
A smile pulled at his mouth. "Good. Did you call Peter?"
"No. It's not fair to put him in the middle of this."
He shrugged in apparent defeat. "Well then I guess I know what comes next, because I don't know what to do that'd make a difference."
He reached for the shades perched on his head but Bonnie was faster, jumping up and grabbing them and slamming them to the floor before stomping on them for good measure, then moving back again. "You can start by not hiding behind those fucking shades!"
Mike looked down in consternation at the wreckage of his two hundred dollar Ray Bans, and then looked at Bonnie. "I was gonna put 'em in my pocket, actually."
Bonnie spun in frustration, gesturing wildly. "I'm sorry, okay? But you know you do that, you use them as a signal that you're ready to talk, or you're through dealing with things. And since you've made it obvious you assume I won't believe anything you say, what else could I think?"
Shades forgotten, he was a picture of disbelief. "You mean you won't just think I'm jiving to save my ass?"
She'd advanced a couple of paces before she caught herself, and stopped.
"Are you high? All the nasty things you've told me about yourself, everything you did, all the kinds of asshole you were, why would I think you'd pick now to start lying? You have no good reputation to save, remember?" She calmed down some and realized she was almost within reach, but couldn't manage to step back. "I meant what I said about Peter, but it's more than just not wanting to put a weight on him. I love Peter, I do, and he's a good friend to me, but he's been more than that to you. He's your witness and your confessor and your ass-kicking anti-Buddha guru from hell. Neither one of you had to tell me that, it's written all over both of you whenever you're in the same room. Everybody needs someone like that, and Pete's yours. It's not right to make him interpret you for me. It doesn't matter if you want him to, it just doesn't feel right to split him like that. Yeah, it sounds freaky, I can't explain it."
"You just did. It makes sense, you putting it that way. But I gotta wonder who do you have for that? Ari? You haven't seen him in years. Genie, maybe someday, but not yet, I can tell."
"Don't you know?" Bonnie looked at the floor, afraid to meet his eyes. "It's been you, ever since I got to L.A. That's why this is killing me. Something like this mess, what happened or didn't happen with Phyllis, a person would go to her best friend and lay the cards out however they fell, and get them read to her just as they are." She raised her eyes to Nesmith's again, willing them to stay dry. "But that's always been you, get it?"
"Aw Morris…" he held a hand out to her, but she stayed just out of reach.
"Besides, I need to hear what's changed, that's what you said, and you were exactly right. But I need to hear it from you, and I need to be looking at you because I'll know where it's coming from then, and because you've never lied to me even about the worst stuff so you won't lie to me about this. But I do need to know, or I don't know where to go from here."
"What's different is that I didn't used to give a goddamn about what I did and who it hurt. Whenever I got busted for all my screwing around it just pissed me off, and I'd tell her to shut up and buy something for herself with the money I was bringing in. When some chick I'd screwed on the road wrote me some sad little love letter, I threw it out. None of it mattered. Damned if I know what did matter to me then, because once I figured out I wasn't getting what I wanted in the contract, partying and paychecks and grabbing easy ass was good enough for me. I don't know why, I really don't, I'm no shrink. All I know is that now I do give a goddamn. And you haven't asked about what happened last night but I'll tell you anyway, some stupid part of Phyllis and me decided that we could make up for a shitty past by getting into the only thing we ever were good at. But it didn't get too far before both of us had the same brain hit… what the fuck is going on here? Why did we think something that led to so much shit could possibly make up for it, especially when I'd be doing to you what I did to her, without even a lame excuse to back it up? So she just asked me to help her put her stuff in the car, and she left. Just like that, like some freaked out acid flashback. Bright, and ugly, and gone in a couple of hours as quick as it came, and leaving me giving the biggest goddamn of my lame-ass sordid life. That is the difference, Morris. Before, whether I drove someone away or not didn't even register. Now it's all that registers. And since I wanna continue the tradition of not lying to you, I'll tell you straight that it surprises the holy hell outta me. I did not think I had it in me." He paused, then invited, "Okay, your turn." He looked painfully resigned to whatever she'd say.
By now Bonnie was leaning back against a table just a couple of feet from the stage. She hadn't expected to hear this, she'd expected to hear a sincere apology and an equally sincere account of the better man he was trying to be, an acknowledgment he'd fucked up badly, but would try harder not to. And all of that was embedded in what he'd actually told her, she supposed, but what he'd said meant so much more.
"My turn, yeah…" she looked at the floor again and then back into his eyes, because he'd had the guts to look her in the eyes and tell her everything. "I'll tell you what's different now, too. When I really, really had to think about how to deal with this, the armadillo in me rolled up but this time it died. Nothing to hide behind this time, even if I pretended there was. That surprised the holy hell outta me. So I started thinking, how did that happen, can't I just blow it off and shut you down like I did before, because this time there's a real reason to?" She took a breath. "After Chicago, when I said we were done, before we even got started… you proved me wrong. In Paris, when I figured it was just another city and another job, and nothing that could happen could push me all the way over the edge to fall for you and really feel what you were doing was for me and for us, you proved me wrong again." She was trying hard to gather her thoughts so they made sense, even though nothing felt like it made sense except to be with him. "I met this girl on the flight here, a fan, she had a copy of the Sixteen that Pam did the Paris article for. And she said something about how her friends all say how great it would be to date a Monkee, have a boyfriend who was one of you guys, but she said nope, not her. That she couldn't handle dating someone that every girl in the world wanted, and anyway what would happen if he found someone he liked better? And she said how hard it must be to have friends in this job we do." She fingered the Lone Star ring on her right hand as she spoke. "I told her she was right. So I've been thinking, that this is hard and it's messy and it's never gonna be perfect, but what if I walk away this time, and I'm wrong again? I'd never know, because you wouldn't be around to prove it."
She ran out of words, and it was getting harder to keep her eyes dry. She could see Nesmith's expression change to the one he wore when all he seemed to want to do was make things okay.
"Tell me what you want me to do," he said plainly. "Whatever it is, I'll do it." His hands were turned palm-up, beckoning a response. Beckoning her.
She went to him then, standing between his knees. She touched his face with unsteady fingers, little tracings in his beard as she cocked her head to one side and looked thoughtful. She could feel his hands on her, not pushing or pulling, just resting on her waist, a little bit of balance with no demands.
"Prove me wrong, okay?" she pleaded. "I'm afraid we won't be able to do this right in the real world, that we're not gonna be any better at it than you were before at being faithful, or I was at not slamming shut at the first bad thing. No matter how hard we try." She looked in his eyes, still holding and touching his face. "Everything feels right for me when we're together, I don't wanna mess it up, I don't wanna fight with you or be pissed off or walk away, I just wanna be wrong again. I wanna wake up tomorrow next to you and we'll ask each other how could we have been so stupid about this?"
She was too close for him to see her face clearly, but Mike could feel the wetness in his beard where she rubbed her cheek against his; now she was pressed against his neck and shoulder and he could feel her breathing deeply and could guess why.
"Bonnie, baby, don't cry, please…" he murmured, "relax, it's gonna be okay, we're gonna be okay. You'll know you're wrong, real soon, you'll know." He lifted her face and rested his forehead against hers. "There's nobody I'm gonna like better, I don't care how many girls there've been or how many are out there, if you believe everything else believe that too."
"Good, good," she half-whispered, half-cried, "I wanna be wrong." It was starting to feel like a mantra.
"You're wrong, I promise," he told her, then kissed her very softly, then pulled back and repeated "wrong." He kissed her again, and again, punctuated each time with a promise of "wrong", until finally he whispered it in Spanish, "errada", the word fading into her mouth in a soft buzz of trilled r's as she wrapped her arms tight around his neck and he reached around her waist to pull her in hard and rock her slowly with him.
Lulu had come in some time before and was setting up the bar as unobtrusively as possible, not that she had to worry much about being noticed. Though nothing was said about it during the day, Lulu could tell Bonnie was wrestling with something formidable. She glanced up from her coffee inventory every couple of minutes to gauge the progress her old friend's rapprochement with her new (and problematic) lover.
He's talking, she's six feet away.
She's talking, and moving closer.
Smashed shades, spin and rant.
Talk and listen, talk and listen.
A look you don't need words to translate.
One sentence from him, and she's all the way there.
Her hands on his face, his hands on her waist.
Bummer re-routed to groovy.
Lulu smiled and went into the office to count-in her cash drawer. It was going to be a good night after all.