Special thanks to the beautiful models Pepper Fandango and Ophelia Darc, who helped inspire much of this story, though it is not my intention for it to be an accurate depiction of either. - The Management.
“So much fighting under the sign of the cross. So much hate, and rape, and violence, and subjugation. How apt then that an instrument of murder would only serve to spread more! A one, two, one, two, three, four!”
The band’s name was inconsequential to most in attendance, and was, as was typical, well forgotten by many just after the DJ had proclaimed “presenting…!” So when Pepper stepped out on the stage, genuflected as one only can to the gods of Rock and Roll, legs splayed, arms raised, an uninterested look hidden partly under a devil-may-care quiff, gazing out into a sea of people she couldn’t care for and wouldn’t dare try, she felt a bit like meat and got riled by it. Then as the lights went up, the hammer came down, her fingers hitting the strings with the full force of her arm and all her frustrations. They didn’t deserve it, but Pepper was going to give every last one of them what they wanted anyway – her too long held back electric crash of excitement.
Still, Pepper wasn’t fooling herself. Their sound was not really revolutionary. Post-punk, riot grrl-influenced, Bikini Kill also-rans, the local papers had called them – all rags, the nicest thing they could say was that there might be some talent hidden under all that distortion. But it was a conscious choice, on her, and Leah’s, especially Hundy’s part. They called themselves “The Night’s Templar” – a statement that she and Leah weren’t looking for a knight in shining armor, they were just looking for tonight’s knight in shining armor. Because as Hundy had so succinctly put it, that’s why you joined a band, to get laid, and both Leah and Pepper had said they were down for that. And it was mostly true.
But Pepper had different luck, was maybe looking for different things. And in fairness, with her anger, she could be… intimidating.
After her own, half-screamed intro, Pepper let out a guttural shriek, a series of vowels masquerading as lyrics, and had to concede, at least right then – she was kind of fucking scary. And she didn’t need to look around at her band mates to know that, while musically, they were well in sync her, they were solely enjoying themselves, while Pepper felt she was also working something out. And that was a thing, that was something that happened to her on stage that she could never exactly call fun, even when sweating harder in a way she’d never say out loud, but always thought of as “post-coitally.”
When it came to enjoyment, Leah was having nothing but, working her bass with deceptively strong fingers and never casting her head upwards to the crowd. She learned the instrument just to be in the band, and along with a handful of chords she had also picked up that determined, yet distracted gaze that was the signature affectation of all bass players. It hid the fact she wasn’t entirely comfortable up here – she wasn’t like Pepper, she couldn’t get angry, couldn’t muster disdain for the folks in the crowd just there to see something pretty and dexterous prod at the strings and fulfill some fantasy. But she could get lost in it, fall into her part, and seem as confidant on stage as she actually was off.
Hundy, meanwhile, went wild on the drums, awful and useless as always. Sure, Leah had learned bass just to join the band, but that was respectable - Hundy had some delusion he was good. Really, it was Pepper’s foot pounding [from heart to heel, she always thought], and Leah’s thrum-thrumming that kept the beat, while Hundy just went all out spastic on his pawn shop drum set. Hundy wasn’t a bad guy, just a bad drummer, and a boy in a girl band, but he was necessary, a bass and guitar alone not enough to hold a more raucous crowd’s attention.
Despite his garbage drumming, Pepper still thought things felt… stronger tonight. Not perfection, lord, who wanted that? Feedback, their trademark distortion, every last millisecond of lost time, that was all fine, more importantly, it was their sound. And something about it was just working tonight, and Pepper loved it. Looking over, she saw that Leah was feeling it too, having moved into a near crouch, almost taking a knee, strumming as if paying tribute to the very instrument she plucked, feeling none of the pain her awkward stance suggested.
Pepper joined her best she could. Not going down – people who talked knew Pepper didn’t ever, ever go down – so instead she raised her knee, placing her foot strong on the rented amp in front of her, which, rented or no, in her head she proclaimed “MINE!” thrusting crotch and guitar outward, towards the rhythmically head bouncing crowd. With this gesture, the pants she’d chosen, ratty, threadbare jeans, not lucky, just the most clean [and definitely not clean at that], had strained and split, and Pepper felt cool air and hot breath hit her in one of the many places she usually didn’t show, at least not to quite so many at once. Yet she didn’t care – it felt amazing, every drop of condensation giving her a shiver. She leaned herself back, and threw her pelvis forward, stressing the seams further towards complete release.
It was then, in her moment of extreme exhibitionism, that something else struck Pepper, a rarity, even when the show would go poorly. She noticed a face, not the sopping wet beard Hundy currently refused to shave, not the keen focus on four chords that was Leah. No, this was a face in the crowd. A petite and fair complected girl, stunning in the club’s refracted stage lights, which gave her an almost preternatural glow. She struck Pepper as young, not quite a post-teen, but she’d always been terrible at gauging such things. She was definitely overdressed for the the sweltering venue, a low-cut sweater, a heavy coat, and fingerless mittens, with high boots and stocking legs that made it look like she’d just come in out of the snow. And unlike the rest of the crowd, she didn’t bop, or jive, or sway, in fact, she hardly moved.
Save of course, to raise her cell phone, an older, flip-model thing, attached to a lanyard hung around her neck, which she used to take picture, after picture, after picture. Pepper could see each flash, accompanied by the girl’s unwavering eye contact, and though it was impossible – it certainly should have been, over the blaring music she herself was playing – the rocker swore she could hear each click.
And Hundy’s drumming was still so bad, Pepper found it easy to supplant the tempo.
Just one more thing that made the night feel different. Which was great, even when Pepper missed the chorus, and Leah reached out and playfully backhanded her, thinking their lead was going on auto – which wasn’t odd to think, the way she was staring, mouth agape. She snapped her lips shut so hard she felt her teeth clack together, and to shake off the pain whipped at her sweat-drenched hair, the quiff taking flight only to fall down again, into her eyes.
The girl was pretty. But dammit, she was playing. Like she never had before. No distractions. No exceptions.
At least not until after the show.
There’s this ridiculous, gendered myth that women are somehow more adept at reading signals than men. In Pepper’s case, at least, nothing could be farther from the truth. She rarely had any good goddamn idea what anything anyone ever did meant. Fans of the Templar, if there’d been any, might have noticed this reflected in her lyrics, her writing devoid of any symbolism, and generally focusing only on what she knew for sure – fights, slights, and the revenge fantasies that spiraled out of them. Anger was straightforward, easy, and for Pepper, most honest. All those other feelings, affection, especially, she had problems with.
Leah had no such qualms and in fact quite liked playing the game. Take tonight, for instance, with the show over, she’d already pulled off her shorts and was sitting, her shirt pulled down into a makeshift skirt, bare-legged with all the leather-clad boys. They looked quite silly, trying to be tough with their steel studs and spikes, but all at the beck and call of Leah. Their little metal bits of testosterone were just punk rock bedazzle before her and she liked their attention like this, where she felt in control. And Leah’s smooth, naked legs were more than straightforward in their intentions. Leah was hot, and not just from the set, and was looking for her knight.
Pepper could just picture Leah in front of her mirror earlier that evening, making sure the length of her skirt was just right, comfortable, revealing, but not too much. She’d heard other girls, at other shows, say the same things, but always so catty. Pepper respected it, that Leah could navigate it all, that nothing cool she did was ever accidentally. The split in her pants right now had shifted from liberating to inconvenient, to maybe a touch obscene. Leah’s shorts could have fallen to pieces to get her here, and each glimpse of soft thigh and curved calf would have been well planned. Pepper had to stop herself, from lingering just a little too long on the elegance of her bass player’s knees… complicated thoughts for another time.
After all, she had an admirer to find. And probably, likely, strike out with.
Back against the wall and just the right of the merch table, Pepper found her photographer. With the loud mingling of the room, friends and fans rubbing elbows with the acts that night, everyone well and comfortably in beer ticket mode, the girl stood out in her anti-social stance, totally engrossed in her phone’s phosphorescent glow. Flipping through pictures? Most probably. Unapproachable? Most definitely.
A loud duo of cackles disturbed the tempo of the room, shifting Pepper glance from the solitary photographer and back across the room. Leah’s legs having coming uncrossed mid-story [intentionally, no doubt. This was how Leah tended to weed out the creeps], at least two wide-eyed punkers found themselves unable to do anything but comment on as much. And despite her appearance as a delicate, wispy thing, the bass player was not one to ever let perving stand, and she hauled off and punched the closest offender to her, hardcore crumpling under her secret might. The second cackler fell back as if struck too, pure shock that Leah was not the grinning girl she appeared to be, frightened by the dripping blood where knuckle met stud.
Pepper could have rushed over to help her friend, but knew, despite all this, things were well and in hand, and she was likely still interested in at least one of the better mannered of crew. And anyway, those still standing were so keen on rallying for Leah’s affection that they’d jump to her aid even if it meant blocking another leather and denim brother’s cock. Sans those two boys, she’d completely won the group over, not by exposing her long, soft femininity, but by showing off her own rush of disarming machismo.
And some boys can stand to be taught, Leah had said, some even like it, and now each in this group knew, at least for the moment, hopefully longer, that clothing was never a sign, and that bare legs alone were not an invitation. And while Pepper agreed with this, she did wish it could be, at least, an available signal in the unspoken lexicon between her and this girl. But up this close, Pepper felt like there was a wall between her and the girl that she’d kill to crash down with a physical sign, but no, no bare legs on this one, no Leah-esque hints of a mating ritual, or even light interest, just posh strap-up leather boots, ending just below the knee, and devouring dark colored stockings, paisley on paisley on paisley, whose pattern could have well been tattoos.
As was the intensity of her stoical face, focused so completely on the snapshots she’d taken. She seemed to be frowning, so serious was her focus, yet she seemed to engrossed to be unhappy. And it confused Pepper, so much so that in frustration, she felt resolved to just step up and say hello. But two steps from her target, she was stopped dead, focused eyes glanced upwards and looking right into her, dark pools perfectly framed by ebony hair, complete with bangs like an Egyptian queen. Hair straight like curtains, the whole thing mussed enough to be so fucking twee.
And in most cases, this would be Pepper’s, or anyone’s, chance, now having the attention she wanted, she needed. So calling on her inner wallflower, she turned and fell back, quite effortlessly, landing gently beside the cell phone queen. She let her quiff of hair fall into her eyes, a quaint, reassuring bit of cover she once used when she had trouble getting on stage. And still feeling shy in this moment, she moved it over one eye, and hoping to shift into a look of interest instead of her trepidation.
Photo girl had seen all this, but all purpose behind it was entirely lost on her, and shrugging, she went back to her phone, quickly getting lost in her pictures again. Her focus seemed to increase – ignoring her? Pepper wondered – and the girl’s chin dug deep into a previously unseen dimple on her chest, with a force befitting her concentration. Pepper couldn’t help but notice a growing red flush across the phone girl’s chest, and found herself suddenly self-conscious, never having encountered the hazards of a lovely, pointed chin.
Curiosity getting the better of her, yet again finding herself in that place where she wasn’t ready to speak, Pepper let her eyes fall lower [no, not like that], and noticed on the backlit screen her mystery girl was browsing through a series of photos of Pepper herself, full of power and all screams in her triumphant performance from moments ago. Flattered, Pepper felt the blood rush to her nose, the first place she blushed, and shifted against the wall to try and hide it under her sweat-soaked hanging bit of hair. Yet it resisted the move, and to make the gesture even more futile, the rip in Pepper’s pants, not crossing from crotch to belt-loop, shifted instead, letting one side of her ass hit the grimy, cold stone of the wall, making her yelp in surprise, and jump.
If only she’d been looking to get noticed in the most awkward way possible. She would have succeeded.
To her relief [sort of], the girl once more glanced up, surprised by the other woman’s outburst. She brushed back her hair, looking just a smidge older for a second, and gave Pepper a look that suggested she hadn’t seen her when she’d approached before. As confusion spread, she offered a weak smile, and suddenly then those dark eyes widened, and the slightest rosy hue came to her cheeks, and she let out a simple, breathy sigh.
In a rare moment of clarity, Pepper realized she hadn’t been recognized. To this girl, until the moment, that woman on stage was someone altogether separate from Pepper herself, to her, here, she was just another awkward, sweaty club-goer, there to enjoy the show and stupid or unfortunate enough to leave the house with the crotch of her pants ripped out. And there was a beat, and then more nothing, neither sure how to proceed. And then another moment passed, and the girl’s expression changed, and now looking at Pepper like some rare beast, the girl once more raised her phone.
Pepper was blinded by the flash, so much so she never saw the girl leave. But she did hear the click, and something else.