Chapter Seventy: “Imagine Russell Crowe takes you to a spa for the day”

Sybil and Chris’ boss, Angry Ron, had given them a new assignment to work on. Things with Tom, the saddest folk singer in the history of music, had petered off slightly. He was working on finishing a few songs for his upcoming album, having decided last-minute to drop “Tidal Waves of Despair” for an even less uplifting as yet untitled track about the death of a three-legged stray dog. In the second verse, the dog got run over by a drunk man in a truck, taking the place of a child crossing the street on his bicycle. He had initially unveiled the song to a very stunned and, frankly, horrified, Sybil and Chris.

In any case, both of them were looking forward to a bit of a break. Besides, they were now working with a rock group, which was a departure from Tom’s weepy, acoustic stuff and the strung-out, atonal harp music of the album they had worked on before. The band was a four-piece glam rock-inspired group called Rattlesnake. Angry Ron had discovered them at a bar while chaperoning his daughter’s first date with a man in a biker gang. Angry Ron’s daughter was twenty-seven years old. It was a bizarre story that had been hard to follow at first and then impossible to follow when the band actually showed up at the studio. The drummer was wearing a metallic blue shirt that turned out to be a poncho when he held his arms out. And the lead singer was Noel.

“Did you know that Noel, love of Jemima’s life, is in a band?” Sybil asked Priscilla, Bernie, and Lawrence later that night. Tallulah was working.

“Of course he is,” was Priscilla’s immediate response. “What other possible reason could he have for dressing like that?”

It was a very good point. Noel had been wearing his usual feather coat when the band had arrived to the studio. He had taken it off to reveal a sequin-covered shirt with a V-neck that descended nearly to his navel. It had three-quarter length sleeves. Sybil was fairly certain it was a women’s blouse. It was the kind of thing middle-aged women named Carol wore to office Christmas parties to drink too much complimentary wine with dinner and ended up making out with Ernie, the weird dude with the goatee from Accounts Payable.

“The band’s not half bad actually,” Sybil continued, grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl and rolling it across the kitchen counter between her hands. “They’re playing a gig on Friday at that new bar on 4th Street, the one with the stupid name and the weird light fixtures. We should go. Obviously we’ll invite Jemima. I don’t think she’d be able to survive the betrayal.”

“That or we wouldn’t,” Bernie said, rolling her eyes. “She can be shockingly aggressive.”

The new bar on 4th Street with the stupid name and the weird light fixtures turned out to be called The Ambivalent Stallion, which was in fact a stupid name for a bar. The light fixtures were bizarrely ornate for a bar that had exposed brick walls and rustic, wooden bar tables. They were small crystal chandeliers, like someone was building a scaled-down set of Dynasty. Sybil and Chris had come to watch the show so that they could get a sense of the kind of vibe Rattlesnake wanted to project, not that their combined glam-rock wardrobe wasn’t a big enough tip. Priscilla, Bernie, and Jemima had come along as well, bringing Lawrence, who looked a little like he didn’t quite know what to do with the sight of Noel. Given that Jemima had spent the entire subway ride to the bar going on and on at great length about how amazingly good-looking she thought Noel was, Sybil was not the least bit surprised by Lawrence’s reaction. There was a slight disparity between Jemima’s description and Noel’s outfit, which looked like he’d stolen it directly off of Elton John’s body in 1976. And that was just Noel’s pre-show outfit.

While in line to buy drinks with Chris, Sybil overheard a couple young women talking about the band. Specifically, they were discussing how sexy they thought Noel was. They thought he was extremely sexy. One of them went so far as to declare him the sexiest man she’d ever seen in real life. Sybil spent the entire course of the conversation staring wide-eyed at Chris, not believing what she was hearing. Chris was giving her much the same expression in return. When the two women brought Sybil and Chris into the conversation, Sybil couldn’t think of a single thing to say in return.

“Some girl in line just told us she thought Noel was the sexiest in the band and I just stood there and stared at her,” Sybil told her friends when she and Chris rejoined the group with their drinks. “Yesterday, he was just Crazy Noel who wore really tight pants and ridiculous boots. Now he’s still Crazy Noel who wears really tight pants, and ridiculous boots, but who random girls call sexy in darkened bars. He still looks like Liza Minelli to you guys, right?”

“Oh my God, thank you!” Chris interjected before anybody else had a chance to answer. “I’ve been trying to figure out who he looks like. Liza Minelli. He looks like Liza Minelli.”

When the band took the stage, the drummer was wearing so much glittery eyeshadow that  his eyes were completely obscured under the lights. The bassist had on a pair of platform boots that even Sybil found ambitiously tall and she was wearing five-inch platform heels. The lead guitar player looked shockingly normal compared to everybody else on stage. Or, as Priscilla said, he looked like a dog-walker. Sybil didn’t know why, but it felt like it made sense. And then there was Noel.

Noel walked out on stage in a pair of the tightest black leather pants Sybil had ever seen. They were obscene. It looked not unlike he’d painted his body to make it look like he was wearing pants. He was wearing knee-high, silver, glitter-encrusted heeled boots, which were even taller than the bassist’s and Sybil’s. He had silver glitter on his cheekbones. His black hair looked feathered. His shirt was black, glittery, and sheer with a low-cut neckline that was typical for Noel. It was spectacular enough on its own, but halfway through the opening number, Noel turned his back to the audience and raised his arms to reveal gigantic feather panels spread out underneath his arms, like a flying bat, but covered in black feathers. The feathers were almost iridescent, shimmering under the lights. He looked otherworldly.

By the time Rattlesnake had come to the halfway point of their set, Sybil had come to the somewhat startling realization that the girls in line had been right and that Noel was in fact the sexiest member of the band. He had a bizarrely mesmerising stage presence. He was incredibly alluring, even in his silver boots and matching eye make-up.

“Unbelievably, Noel is actually the sexiest in the band!” She shouted to the others over the noise.

“I literally can’t take my eyes off of him!” Chris returned. “I don’t know if it’s his raw animal magnetism or his cape!”

“This is amazing!” Lawrence cut in with pure, unbridled, childlike wonder. Jemima was beyond pleased. She kept grinning at all of them, like she had known all along how amazing Noel was and had just revealed her secret to the world. Sybil supposed she kind of had. Granted, she wasn’t sure thinking that Noel looked good in very tight trousers was quite the same thing as knowing he had an unparalleled stage presence.

“I think Noel legitimately has groupies!” Priscilla observed a little while later, nodding to the row of girls fawning over him at the front of the stage. Sybil shot a look at Jemima, who was still grinning, as well as the matching looks of wonder on both Chris and Lawrence’s faces.

“I think we’re some of Noel’s groupies!” She retorted. 

By the end of Rattlesnake’s set, Sybil was out of breath and sweaty from dancing. The entire bar was rowdy and excited. It had been such an amazing set and Sybil was genuinely excited to start working with Rattlesnake. It would be a really nice change of pace from Tom’s weepy folk album. This album would have upbeat, energetic, positive songs and none of the lyrics would be about dying animals. It also seemed extremely unlikely that any member of the band would write her poetry to recite to her at the beginning of recording sessions. It was going to be great.

“I’m just going to go congratulate them on a great show and confirm recording time for next week,” Sybil announced to her friends, hooking a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of backstage. She left her friends, who were getting ready to leave, and hurried over to the backstage area. She just wanted to say a quick good-bye before they all left. She pushed open the door to the one and only dressing room backstage only to walk in on Noel making out with one of his groupies. Two others were giggling on the couch next to them.

“Ah shit,” Sybil said to herself.

Sybil explained her dilemma to Chris on the walk back to his apartment.

“I should tell Jemima right?” She checked, ambling along the sidewalk.

“Dear God, no,” was Chris’ somewhat surprising response.

“What? But she’s going to find out,” Sybil protested.

“Yeah,” Chris nodded. “And wouldn’t you rather she find out from someone else? Imagine Russell Crowe takes you to a spa for a day. You think you have a shot. Then you find out Russell Crowe is making out with a groupie for his glam rock band. Would you like to have heard that from a close, personal friend? Or would you rather be able to hide your disappointment and embarrassment from the random stranger on the subway who told you?”

Sybil considered it for a moment.

“Russell Crowe?” She eventually questioned.

“Hell yeah,” Chris returned without hesitation.

“I have learned so much about you,” Sybil replied. None of it was helpful.

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