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The After Dark Club
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One Thursday in September, near the end of hurricane season, Robbie Hewitt's mom picked us up from school in her silver Mercedes and informed us that, in her opinion, we were ready for a gig at the After Dark Club. This was 1991, when I was not quite fourteen years old. Mrs. Hewitt drove us out of The Woodlands, through the drive-by-shooting area of Houston, and into the parking lot of a squat, L-shaped shopping center. The After Dark Club lay in the corner, between a pawnshop and a State Farm office. She told us to wait in the car while she went inside, and for half an hour the four of us hugged our backpacks, unsure what to say. This had been a complete surprise, this little adventure. I'd only found out about it earlier that day, before lunch, when Robbie met me in the hallway and said, "My mom's lost her mind."

Now she reappeared from the club, put on her shades, and strode toward us. She wore faded jeans and a tank top, and she'd tossed her hair up into a careless knot that I'd always found alluring. It was the way I imagined she would fix her hair if, having spent the night having sex with me, she got out of bed to make me pancakes. Robbie and I had been friends since the second grade, but it was only this year, the year Robbie's dad moved out and his mom let us practice every day at the house, that Mrs. Hewitt had become a central character in my fantasies.

Before she reached the car she smiled and stuck up both of her thumbs.

"Shut up," Robbie said. "I don't believe it." He turned to the three of us crammed in the backseat. "Do you believe it?" Robbie had a baby's face, even for thirteen, and blond, choirboy hair. No amount of leather and chains, if he would ever wear leather and chains, was going to make him look the part of the drummer for the Metal Warriors. That was the name we'd decided for ourselves a few weeks earlier. I wasn't sure I liked it.

Mrs. Hewitt slid in behind the wheel, smelling of exotic spices. "How does Wednesday night sound, boys?"

"You're kidding me," Robbie said. "This Wednesday."

She pinched his chin and wiggled it. "Yes, sir. Wednesday night, ten o'clock. You're opening for a band called the Four Horsemen."

Manuel, our lead guitarist, looked at me. We'd only performed once before, in the summer, at a pool party at Derek's grandfather's house, and it had been a complete disaster. We'd come a long way in the two months since then, but this was the After Dark Club, for Christ's sake—only the biggest nightclub on the north side of Houston.

"Well?" Mrs. Hewitt said. "What's wrong? Are we ready to rock and roll, or what?"

"Mrs. Hewitt!" cried Derek, our bassist, who had passed up trying out for the freshman basketball team to join the band. "You're awesome!"

"Not so bad, huh?" Mrs. Hewitt said. "Say I can't be a manager? Say I'm not cool enough?" She put her shades back on and started up the car. "Oh ye of little faith."

"But what did you do?" Robbie said. "They haven't heard us. They didn't ask to see us."

She rifled through the cassettes behind the stick shift. "I negotiated with the man, baby. I used to be able to take care of myself, you know." She turned in her seat so she could face Robbie directly. "Now listen," she said. "Don't tell your daddy about this."

Robbie looked annoyed. "Why not?"

She took off her shades again. I imagined that she and Robbie had had many exchanges similar to this one, but I could only imagine; Robbie never talked about the divorce. All we got were fragments: a younger woman at the oil company, a new house closer to the city. Mrs. Hewitt explained that his father didn't understand all this like she...

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