Mona lingered in the venue as the rest of the crowd trickled out. Only a few people were left now; a teenage boy in skinny jeans with messy, dark blond hair was following the annoyed yet patient bass player around, and a few people were lined up at a folding table in the back buying CDs and T-shirts. Mona thought about buying a CD for Emily–the band had been surprisingly good–but decided against it. She didn’t want to risk getting in trouble if Mr. Clyde saw the CD, and it could be hard to predict what kinds of things he’d get mad about sometimes.
The space had felt small when it had been packed with a crowd, but it felt larger now that only a few people were there. There was no seating or even a bar area; just a small stage and an open area for people to stand. Mona had chaperoned Emily at a few concerts, and there had almost always been some kind of seating, even if no one really used it.
The singer/guitarist walked past Mona, heading for the back of the venue, then stopped, giving her a second look.
“Are you here alone?” said the woman. Melanie Graham.
She was blonde, with messy hair, a lot of bad tattoos, and shiny garish pink lipstick that had smudged while she was performing. On the stage, she’d seemed brash and confident, but now, she seemed almost shy despite her garish clothing, hair, and makeup–her speaking voice was far softer than her singing voice, and her shoulders were drawn inward as though she was trying to hide.
“Yes,” said Mona. “You have lipstick on your face.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Melanie.
She stuck her tongue out, licking under her lower lip and smudging the lipstick further.
Mona frowned. What an odd woman. She was clearly a hardworking, disciplined person–otherwise, how could she become so talented at her instrument? But hardworking, disciplined people weren’t supposed to lick lipstick off their own faces.
Melanie seemed to notice the frown and drew her shoulders further inward. At least she had the good sense to be embarrassed about licking lipstick off her own face.
“How are you getting home?” said Melanie. “Are you headed to the train station?”
“No, I’m… not exactly sure. Someone’s supposed to be picking me up, but I don’t know where or when he’s going to be here. He might be picking me up at the park.”
“Hm.” Melanie’s face knit with concern. “That’s nearly ten minutes from here. It’s really late. I’ll walk with you if you want.”
“That’s… really very kind of you, but you don’t have to.”
“I want to. If I let you go by yourself, and then I heard on the news tomorrow something awful happened, I’d feel like shit.” She turned to call to the bassist. “Dom! You’re coming too!”
The bassist excused himself from the kid who was pestering him and headed toward them.
“Thank fuck. I thought that Lachlan kid would never leave,” he said. “Where am I coming? What’s going on?”
“We’re walking–” Melanie stopped and looked at Mona. “Sorry, what’s your name?”
Mona paused for a minute, not sure if she should give her real name or not.
“Sarah,” she lied.
“Sarah. Cool. I’m Mel and this is Dom,” said Melanie. “Dom, we’re walking Sarah here back to the park.”
“Alright,” said Dominic. “Hi, Sarah.”
“Hi,” said Mona. “Are you sure you have time to walk with me? Aren’t you busy doing… well, I don’t exactly know what bands do after they perform. But I assume you have to do something.”
“We can spare twenty minutes,” said Melanie. “We’ll just tell Jess and Falcon where we’re going.”
Mona followed Melanie’s gaze to the merch table at the back of the room. The drummer and the Stanley fabrication sat together conversing in sign language while a young woman with dyed black hair sold T-shirts and CDs to the last few stragglers.
So Falcon was what the fabrication was calling himself?
She almost hadn’t recognized him. He’d bleached his hair blond and wore a hideous, brightly-colored floral shirt. His expression was animated as he spoke with the drummer, far from the blank-faced Stanley fabs she’d encountered before.
She noticed Melanie and Dominic giving her a strange look and realized she was staring.
“Sorry,” said Mona. “Your friend kind of reminds me of someone.”
They both looked at her as though expecting her to elaborate.
“She spent a lot of time in a bad situation. Where she was treated like she was less than human. When I first met her, she seemed so blank and robotic. Then, when I showed her the smallest kindness, it was like a wall crumbled and all these hidden depths came pouring out. For some reason, I feel like your friend is the same way.”
Dominic gave Mona a long look.
“And what makes you think Falcon’s like that?”
Oh no. Had she said too much?
“Just a hunch,” she lied. “Something in his eyes, I guess.”
Something in his eyes? Ugh, it was such a cheesy thing to say.
It seemed to appease Dominic though.
“You’re pretty perceptive,” he said.
“My friend has better taste in shirts, though,” she said.
“I like his shirts,” said Melanie.
Mona almost said something like ‘you would like them’, but decided against it. Melanie might have been tacky, but she was kind enough to care about a stranger’s safety, and that was worth something.
“Let’s go,” said Dominic. “I want to get back before the pizza gets here.”