He found Lavender crouched on the keg dump, everything above the knees lost in shadow contrast with the sticky room's acidic light. There was a suggestion of abject posture, of worry which could not be blotted out by the odor of stale beer.
Stanley said, "What's up?" He peered and tried to get a sense of her face.
It seemed very long until Lavender responded, attempting detachment.
"I'm becoming very afraid to go on... I'm used to being invisible."
Stanley knew all about that. He reached into the black and found her arm, and pulled at it. "Don't be afraid, okay? These guys just wanna show. 's long as you perform for them they don't care how you do."
"I feel sick."
"I bet they'd get off on that, you should work it into the act."
They both laughed. Lavender sat up into the light. She rubbed her eyes.
"I've observed people for so long, but I haven't interacted with them at all, when I think about it."
"Do what I do. Pretend they aren't really there, pretend you're imagining 'em."
"Is that why you don't talk very much?"
"Yeah... I feel weird talking to my imagination."
Lavender paused. "So am I just in your head, too?"
"Maybe," said Stanley. "But you seem like you belong there."
"Perhaps I'm just a voice in your head. Maybe I'm not really real at all."
A cloud of long hair and cigarette smoke and impatience targeted their vicinity and hovered once it reached them. It spat smoke on them. "What're you doing back here?" A negligible pause. "Are you all set up?" Vulnavia looked between them as though they'd been discovered in conspiracy against him.
Lavender bit her lip.
"Don't be nervous," Vulnavia said like it was an order.
"That's gonna work," Stanley muttered.
Vulnavia began to tell him to shut up, and didn't. "Why are you nervous?"
"I... I don't know," Lavender decided.
"Well, there you go."
Stanley frowned at Vulnavia. "You're so dumb."
Vulnavia threatened him with his cigarette-smoking hand, but his eyes never left Lavender's.
"You think they're gonna laugh at you?"
"Maybe boo you off the stage, some shit like that?"
Stanley got the idea he was just making Lavender more nervous; he was negated by Vulnavia's gesturing.
"Okay. You really have to suck bad for that to happen, and you don't suck, or else you wouldn't be in my band." He paused. "Do you believe me?"
Lavender's eyes picked out Vulnavia's through obscuring locks. "Yes."
"You don't gotta be Elvis or anything," he continued. "Those people want to like you... they'll make an excuse to get off on you."
She spoke through the grate of her fingers, peering over them. "Is that what happens?"
Vulnavia gestured tersely at the stage, again with the cigarette-smoking hand. "Just go out there and take over," he said. "I mean, they're yours. They come here so they can be somebody else for a couple of hours, forget who they are during the day. They want you to take them somewhere."
Stanley watched his friend, his expression carefully neutral... he thought this speech was possibly the most intelligent thing he'd ever heard out of Vulnavia's mouth.
"I'm not sure I can do that..." said Lavender.
"But when you start going you've gotta lead them. Our last singer, he was this dumb rock on stage, reciting poetry. His voice sucked anyway but if you got feeling it doesn't matter, and he didn't. I've heard you sing so I know you can do it." He turned his head at this, breathed out some smoke, desperate to seem uncaring. "Just go there yourself and they'll follow. That's how it works."
"Is that what you do?"
"Yeah, but I'm not the front man so I ain't gotta worry about that." Vulnavia chuckled. He tugged Stanley's lapel askew, and disregarded the short, sharp punch to his shoulder which resulted. "And think about taking up smoking," he added.
"Should I?" said Lavender in a studious tone.
Vulnavia sauntered stageward. "Look how it relaxes me."
Stanley started in with what was recognizably a Hammond organ in sugary-cheerful polka mode, playing four bars of this at the audience before crashing in with the more hideous and characteristic sounds his setup generated, and bringing in the drum machine. Vulnavia provided the more tactile, human sound to Stanley's mechanized, strumming and pounding on the bass as though it had displeased him, but not enough to make him take his smoke out of his mouth.
The lighting had nothing to do with the material, but the club had a decent light man and he could usually make it fit.
The band's sound had changed drastically since the last time they'd played here... they were going to have to change their name. They'd gone from a standard rock band with keyboard accompaniment to a kind of minimalist industrial grind, and from male to female vocals, although Lavender could force a weirdly broad range out of herself. The booking manager thought they were kidding themselves and almost hadn't given them the date. Vulnavia tried to strongarm him, insisting that he 'was the brains in the Defective Rats,' which the manager found hilarious.
Was Vulnavia going to audition this incredible new setup? Vulnavia wasn't sure Lavender wouldn't crack if she though the audition was serious, and he wasn't sure she'd be at her best if she took it lightly. Plus, he kind of wanted to spring her on everyone. So no, they wouldn't be in for an audition... he couldn't get everyone in during the day, was the story. Trust me, Vulnavia said, it'll be great.
Which was what everyone told the booking manager. Come in early evening Tuesday, he said, play during the off days. That'll be your audition. Take it or leave it.
Vulnavia took it, which was why, when they first went on with Lavender, hardly anyone was around.
As soon as Lavender opened her mouth it became all about her.