Bev says when she’s onstage she feels the world holding its breath for her. She feels electric, louder than a thousand wailing sirens, more powerful than God.
“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” I say.
She says, “Okay. More powerful than the universe, then.”
Bev is the lead singer of a band called The Disenchantments. They aren’t very good, but they play so loud the speakers crackle and the bass makes your bones tremble. And they look amazing.
It’s almost 3:00 A.M. I am so tired I can barely stand, but I have to stand anyway and go out onto the living room couch so Bev can fall asleep. Even though we’ve been best friends since we were nine, she’s a girl and I’m a guy, and there are certain rules neither of us is powerful enough to challenge.
“We need to pay for those tickets,” I say.
“I mean, really soon, you know?”
“Okay,” she says. “Good night.”
She’s getting the way she gets sometimes, all faraway and quiet, so I say, “You’re tired; okay, I’m going.”
I head to the door, but then I remember something and can’t help myself: “I read today that the Stockholm Archipelago has more than twenty-four thousand islands. Isn’t that rad? I can’t wait.”
She kicks the comforter to the foot of my bed, pulls the sheet over her shoulder.
“There’s also this amusement park that’s right in the middle of the city. An old cool one,” I add, “with one of those swing rides that lift over the water.”
I turn off the light and step into the doorway. I can almost picture Bev and me, circling through the sky with islands all around us. Suddenly the room I’ve lived in all my life with its wood floors and high ceiling and single, skinny window feels smaller than it ever has before.
Then, Bev’s voice through the dark: “Don’t forget about the tour. That comes first.”
“I know,” I say. And then, “We’re almost free.”
“Yeah,” Bev says. “Almost.”
In the morning, Bev walks out of the bathroom in her cutoff shorts and the Smokey the Bear T-shirt we got in seventh-grade summer camp, to the kitchen, where my dad and I are eating cereal and reading the Chronicle. She rumples my dad’s hair and says, “Morning, Tom,” then opens the junk drawer and takes out a pair of scissors. She shuffles back to the bathroom.
Dad looks at me from over the Bay Area section.
“My son, going on tour.” He gets a little misty-eyed.
I say, “What about, ‘My son, graduating high school.’ Probably a little more important.”
“That, too,” he says, nodding. “This is a big day. A very big day. Your mother called when you were in the shower. She’ll call again a little later.”
I check my watch. It’s 7:15 here, nine hours later in Paris.
“Bev, we have to go soon,” I call into the bathroom.
“Yeah, I’m just finishing something,” she calls back. “You can come in if you want.”
I push open the door to find Bev with scissors raised and waves of blond hair drifting to the floor. I grab my toothbrush.
“What is this?” I ask. “A symbolic gesture?”
She chops off a long piece by her ear.
“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s just something I felt like doing.”
Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, I brush my teeth and watch her cut until her hair is as short as a guy’s and the tile floor is covered. I go to the sink to spit and she puts the scissors down, steps back, and studies herself. She kind of looks like a movie star and she kind of looks like one of those punk-rock homeless kids who panhandle on Haight Street. In any case, she looks incredible.
“Rad,” I say.
She cocks her head. “You think?”
I lean over the sink to rinse my mouth, and when I stand up again, there we are, standing side by side. Bev’s hair is barely a shade lighter than mine, and now almost the same length. Matching blue eyes, a similar darkness under them.
“We didn’t get much sleep,” I say to her reflection.
“We rarely do,” she says to mine.
The phone rings in the other room.
“I’ll sweep up,” she says, “and then we can go.”
Dad comes into the bathroom with the phone, so now the three of us are crammed into the smallest room in the house.
“Whoa, check you out,” he says to Bev, and Bev laughs, and Dad nods his approval and hands me the phone.
“Bonjour, mon chéri,” Mom says to me from 5,567 miles away. The distance between San Francisco and Paris is one of the many facts I’ve picked up from Bev’s and my nights up late researching Europe. Like the number of islands in the Stockholm Archipelago. Like the fact that in Amsterdam, there are more bicycles than there are people, and Holland supplies seventy percent of the world’s bacon, which is not really something I need to know considering that I’m a vegetarian.
“I’m good,” I say, propping the phone on my shoulder and taking my place at my dad’s desk. “I’m just about to pay for our tickets.”
“C’est fantastique! I can’t wait to see you.” When she switches to English, she sounds more like herself. “I wish I could be there to see you off on your last day.”