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Caramel Nut Cluster
Nick sat at Alex’s drum set, staring blankly at the cymbals. Alex sat on the couch, plucking at the strings of Nick’s Epiphone Riviera. The others had gone off to get some food for them.
“Don’t be shy, Nick.” Alex said. Nick abruptly turned to regard him. Alex had his permanent smile on his face. “I’m attempting your guitar and failing considerably. You go ahead and bang those drums. Or cymbals, since you look so interested in them.”
Nick laughed softly. “Sorry, man, I’m just out of it today.”
“Something bothering you?”
Nick pursed his lips. He didn’t like keeping secrets from his boys, but it was kind-of private. Still, if he didn’t tell them, they might suspect him and think he didn’t trust them. Nick trusted his friends with his life. Or maybe they’d see it was private and leave him alone.
Nick opened his mouth, eyes on Alex. “I…”
Alex saw Nick’s nervousness, and stopped playing.
“No, keep playing.” Nick said. “It’ll get too awkward if you don’t.”
Alex strummed the guitar harshly and comically. It sounded terrible. Nick and Alex both laughed; Alex always knew hot to ease the tension.
“All right.” Nick conceded, still grinning. “Um, it’s … Damien. I think I’m falling in-love with him.”
Alex stopped strumming for a second in shock, but continued when he remembered he had to. Nick told Alex to return his guitar. Alex passed it to him, and Nick played some sweet and gentle chords.
“When? How?” Alex asked.
Nick swallowed. “After the NME awards. He gave me this … look, and I just…” Nick glanced at a silent Alex, “Melted, you know? And I guess it’s – I’ve known him for a long time—“
“You’ve known all of us for a long time.”
“Hell, man.” Alex sighed. “It’s Damien. You know how he is with girls and—“
“I’m not a girl, if you haven’t noticed, Alex.” Nick spat. “And I can’t stop what’s already started.”
“Does he know?”
“Damien? I don’t know—I don’t think so.”
Alex blinked. “Last Sunday, wow. And nobody else knows?”
“I haven’t told anyone.”
The others came back with burgers. Damien plopped down next to Alex, and wrapped an arm around his neck. Alex glanced at Nick, but then kissed Damien’s cheek. They whole band messed around with each other, but these two had always been especially touchy; Nick couldn’t stop the anger from flaring. Those times since last Sunday that Damien was anywhere with another were excruciating to Nick’s heart and torture to watch.
“What were you guys talking about?” Grant asked, sitting on the floor with a burger.
“How Nick’s guitar is better than yours.” Alex said.
“Hey!” Grant exclaimed.
Damien’s arm returned to his side as he chuckled. He grabbed a burger from the bag and called to Nick, “Hey, Nick, catch!”
Nick caught the burger. Despite his hunger, he didn’t feel like eating. He never felt like eating. Still, he didn’t want to look suspicious and Alex was glaring at him to eat, so Nick unwrapped his burger. They played a couple songs, and then dispersed for home.
“Hey, can I help you?”
Alex glanced up to see Nick’s head pop through the door. It was the next time they rehearsed, three or four days later. Damien had called them up and said something about a new song, but he didn’t know if it would be any good or not. Damien usually poked at a keyboard when he got a new song idea, and the keyboard sounded completely different from the guitar.
Alex had to come in early every rehearsal to set up the drums. And though they all knew it was a tough and troublesome job, no one wanted to set up the drums. Still, the second person that came would help him set up, and Alex would give him a fat kiss on the cheek. Another reason they never said no.
Alex asked Nick to set up the hi-hat, which Nick did after setting his guitar on one of the couches. After Alex got the floor tom ready, he called out, “Nice going last time.”
“Last rehearsal. You didn’t act any differently than before you started liking him. No slip-ups in your solos or anything.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Nick mumbled, tightening the neck of the hi-hat. “That’s the whole idea, right?”
Alex had gone to get the crash cymbal, but he paused and watched Nick for a second at this. “Listen, man, do you want him?”
Nick looked up at Alex and tested the tightness of the hi-hat neck. It was just enough time for Alex to remember to move, and he took the crash cymbal to the rest of the drum kit. Nick stood up, and said, “Doesn’t everyone?”
“I don’t.” Alex said flatly. “He flits around and flirts and dates a lot of kids. And, yeah, I’ve seen him in relationships, and he’s fine, but he still throws a wink at the waitress or the bartender behind their back. They never have Damien’s full attention. And you deserve someone’s full attention, man.”
Nick was silent for a couple seconds. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so he took the ride cymbal and started setting that up. Did Nick deserve Damien? No one was perfect. Who didn’t glance at a pretty girl when they saw one? If Damien did want him, then he figured it was okay for Damien to throw a smile at some chick; as long as Damien liked and came back to Nick in the end, it was fine.
No. Nick was just telling himself that. Anytime Damien was with someone else, something would stab at Nick. He figured he’d get pretty protective over Damien if they were an item.
“Anyway,” Alex said, sitting down on his stool. Everything was set now. “If you do want him, you might as well go for it. You don’t seriously think you’re gonna get Damien, of all people, sitting around on your lazy butt.”
“Oh, you know all the consequences, Alex.” Nick sighed, “He might get freaked out. Or awkward. Or hate me.”
“Why the heck would he hate you?”
“I don’t know, because his friend since high school suddenly likes him, and if his friend doesn’t quit liking him, it could screw up the friendship and they’d both lose each other.”
Drew came in sometime mid-rant. Nick and Alex both turned to his frozen stance in the doorway. Nick’s heart stopped. At this rate, Grant would find out, and then Damien, and everything would get messed up a lot quicker.
But Drew didn’t say anything. He just dropped his bass on the couch and started tuning it up. Nick followed suit and tuned his own. Compared to the previous conversation, the talk between the three of them was tasteless. An empty dialogue about the new Daft Punk and Muse album, wondering what Noel Gallagher’s up to, where Julian Casablancas was right now.
Finally Damien and Grant came stumbling through, laughing. If anyone was late at all, it was Damien and Grant, usually together since they lived with each other. (Nick was the last to come once, but that was when he had been in charge of the food and had decided to make something for all of them. Batch after batch, the cookies were burnt, until Nick finally managed. He was 20 minutes late, and they had been pissed, but they instantly brightened when they tasted the cookies. He had been late for a good cause)
Grant apologized for being late, and Damien assumed it was for the both of them, so he didn’t say anything. He just walked over and sat at the piano, and immediately cranked out the new tune for the new song. They all listened carefully as he played it more than once for them to get the feeling, and then Damien started moving. He told Nick what chord to play, and told Grant what riff to do, and told Alex and Drew to do anything they wanted. Alex and Drew could always do whatever they wanted. Well, no, not always. Damien made Drew’s part in “Watch Clock”.
The song was simple and pretty, and confusing at some parts, because it was just a baby and it needed time to grow, to develop into something more mature, readier and more perfect. Somehow, it reminded Nick of what he was feeling. This love, it could work out so beautifully, because he and Damien had known each other for such a long time, and Nick was convinced that they liked each other as much as they liked themselves. But so many things could go wrong at the same time. No one could ever know so early on.
Damien didn’t see or feel Nick’s eyes on him the whole rehearsal. Nick’s fingers got too self-conscious and slipped more than usual. Nick berated himself in his head, because god, it was just an A chord, and a D minor 7. He hadn’t messed up before, so why start now? Still, no one paid too much attention to Nick’s slip-ups except for Alex. Alex kept his steady beat throughout the whole thing, but Nick reckoned all percussionists could do that. No matter what they felt, they could keep a beat if the song needed it.
After two or three hours, they each picked up a part of Alex’s drum kit and took it apart. Taking apart Alex’s drum kit was much easier than putting it back together, especially with everyone helping. Once they stepped out of the building, Alex said, “Oh, dude, sorry,” and kissed Nick’s cheek for setting up earlier today.
Drew approached Nick and said, “Hey, man, you wanna get some ice cream?”
“I want ice cream!” Damien blurted.
“Man, you’ve got too much beer in you to taste the ice cream.” Drew snapped. “Unless you like beer-flavored ice cream.”
“Ew.” Damien said. He slapped Drew on the shoulder, winked at Nick, and then followed Grant and Alex walking away.
Drew had said in an interview once that he liked pistachio the best. It was very true; Drew hunted for pistachio. If they didn’t have it, he wouldn’t get any ice cream at all. In the same interview, Nick had said he liked vanilla milkshakes, which, yes, was true, but Nick would try any ice cream they gave him. He wasn’t much of an experimenter, unlike Damien, but Nick would usually just let Grant or someone choose for him, and Nick would eat it. He’d never stumbled upon a flavor he disliked.
Drew had pistachio, of course, and Nick ended up with something he didn’t even know. Drew had picked it; it was something with nuts and caramel.
“Does only Alex know?” Drew asked. They sat on stairs to some apartments.
Nick tensed. “Know about what?”
“About whatever you guys were talking about.” Drew said. “If it’s a confidence issue, I think you should think it through, and then, you know, man,” Drew looked straight at Nick, and said, “You don’t know until you try.”
Drew went back to horking down his ice cream. Nick looked down at his own dessert, and blinked. Drew had never been one to get involved. He didn’t know it was Damien that Nick was having trouble with. Still, Drew knew how to give a good piece of advice.
It was a week until the next rehearsal. This time, Damien was already there when Nick came. Alex’s drum set was ready, and they were both enjoying a smoke. Damien played “Shrapnel” on the piano, but there was something different about it. It was slower. Nick had never seen Damien’s hand move so gracefully, like how real pianists moved.
Nick rested his guitar on the couch, and then glanced at Alex with an arched eyebrow. Alex shrugged, but nodded his head at Damien. Nick hesitantly sat on the piano bench, to the left of Damien. He watched Damien struggle with a part; it took some time for Nick to figure out that Damien was trying to play both Grant’s and Nick’s part with his left hand. Damien’s fingers were so far apart that it looked like they’d burst.
“Hey, can you hold this down?” Damien asked. His voice was impossibly lower than usual. Nick held down the chord Damien had worked at. Nick had long fingers, so it was easy for him. With his left hand free from its torture, Damien could relax and he played the vocals with his right hand.
Abruptly, Damien stopped playing. Nick kept the chord down, confused, but Damien just leaned on Nick, dropping his head against Nick’s shoulder. This was one of those times where Nick wished he was shorter, because it would probably be more comfortable for Damien to put his head on something instead of against it.
Nick let go of the chord, and wrapped his arm around Damien’s shoulders. He knew Alex was watching, but honestly, Nick could care less. Damien needed and had his full attention.
“Ryan scheduled an interview with me tomorrow.” Damien mumbled. It was so soft that Nick had to strain his ear to hear. Damien hated it when their manager scheduled interviews without consenting with Damien about it first. Especially interviews so close. Tomorrow was close.
“They’re probably gonna ask about the new songs.” Damien whined. “I don’t freakin’ want to tell them about the new songs. Idiots.”
Damien looked up at Nick, and Damien’s eyes had never been so dark and big; they pulled Nick in and Nick lost himself in them. He couldn’t be anywhere else if he wanted to be. Damien reached behind Nick’s neck, and pulled lightly on Nick’s brown locks. Nick wanted to close his eyes in delight, but he couldn’t break off Damien’s intense gaze.
Grant and Drew came in at precisely that time. Damien detached himself from Nick. Nick felt empty without Damien on him, and he was angry at Grant and Drew, because who knew where that could’ve gone?
But Damien felt lighter after the episode, and he could actually sing. His voice was lazy and it was just words and no meanings behind the words if he was sad. Nick liked to think that he was the reason Damien felt better, he healed Damien. He felt like he’d never forget this day, but Nick knew he would forget it, because in a few weeks, it wouldn’t be as important as he felt now.
It was just two days later that Nick felt lonely and desperate. He wanted to see Damien so badly, to hear his voice, how he pronounced some of his words differently because of who he grew up with (sometimes, Nick and Grant would ask Damien a question that forced Damien to say ‘first’. The way he rolled back his tongue used to crack them up. Now Nick just thought it was hot).
Instead of calling up Damien to meet him for some food, Nick drowned himself in music. He blocked out the world, blocked out all thoughts of money and fans and Damien to the Velvet Underground. It was a stupid solution, but man, it felt good.
Nick could barely hear the jingle of his cell phone over the music. He would’ve turned the phone off, but it was Damien calling. Nick would give up the world for Damien.
“Damien?” Nick gasped into the phone after he turned off Lou Reed.
“No, man, it’s Grant.” Nick’s shoulders slouched. “I can’t find my phone, and Damien’s was closer, so I just grabbed his. Listen, man, you wanna come over? I’m really bored.”
“Yeah, sure, just give me a sec.” Nick replied, and turned off his phone. Of course Nick would come over. Damien was over there. The music had eroded his Damien-deprivation, but now it was all back. Nick needed him.
Damien was sleepy when Nick arrived. He was on the couch, his notepad of lyrics on his folded knees, headphones buried in his ears. He barely nodded at Nick before staring back at his pad. His eyelids drooped dangerously.
Grant had ordered some pizza. He led Nick to his room and showed him some cool riffs on his guitar. Eventually, as what always happened when Nick and Grant were alone with their guitars, they engaged in the familiar game of Grant naming songs, and Nick playing them on his guitar. After about 15 songs, Nick finally lost on “Raining Blood” by Slayer.
Damien came in, sat down, and leaned against Nick’s shoulder.
“Man, go to another room to sleep. It’s loud here.” Grant said.
“It’s too lonely over there.” Damien mumbled into Nick’s shirt.
Nick did his best to not move his shoulder too much while strumming at his guitar. They gently played some chords and somehow ended up playing The Strokes’ songs “The End Has No End”, “Alone, Together”, and “Sagganuts”, until Nick got hungry. He ignored it like he usually did, but his stomach growled, and Damien was so close that he could hear it.
“Whoo, Nick, man!” Damien exclaimed. “Yo, Grant, get some pizza for this hungry boy.”
“Get it yourself!” Grant snapped, but he got up anyway. He pushed down on Damien’s head as he walked by, and then ran away before Damien’s hand could slap at his calves. Damien, instead of pursuing Grant, just yelled out an ‘I hate you!” and then went back on Nick’s shoulder.
Nick could see where this went. Nick could see Damien saying he liked Nick back. Damien could kiss him or say something sweet. He could look at Nick with those big, round eyes that said anything and everything Damien felt. But nothing happened. Damien just slept.
And that was how it was supposed to end. Damien and Nick would always be friends, singer and guitarist, writer and reader. In a few months, weeks, days, even, Nick would get over Damien and his cute, pouting lips and his dark, very pretty hair, and even his magical eyes. Nick would meet a nice girl, and so would Damien. And yes, it would be Nick and Damien again, but again, as friends. Nick would never dare lose Damien as that.