by Jake Christie

a story.

Erica fell in love with Billy Shrapnel's guitar. It was one of those all-too-rare cases of love at first sight, when a first electric glance releases a surge so powerful that every other light in sight seems to go dim. Billy's guitar played the first chord of the first song just as Erica turned to the stage, and the sound and vibration embedded themselves in her body like buckshot. Feedback screeched out of the wall of speakers, out of the monitors, off of the walls. People around Erica covered their ears, but she stepped closed to the stage. If this was pain, it was the kind of pain she could embrace. This was what love felt like.

After that note, Erica followed Billy's guitar to every show Shrapnel played. She drove through snow squalls to a rented grange hall where Shrapnel had the only billing and an audience of six. She lied her way into house parties – “My friend told me to come,” she'd say, pointing through the door to a random stranger as she dipped her chin and made innocent eyes – to hear the guitar through a rented amp. She took the bus across state lines to a faraway club, a three-hour ride each way, to catch a forty minute set. She was always in the front row, next to the speaker, where she could feel every note. Billy Shrapnel noticed her, of course, and began to sing some songs directly to her. He thought she was their biggest fan, but she never made any attempt to talk to the band. She was only interested in his guitar.

With every song the guitar became more solid in her mind, as if the right number of notes would allow her to will it out of her imagination and into her hands. She could almost feel the smooth red body under her palms, the strings under her fingertips. The notes stayed with her in the aching way a kiss remains on one's lips, fading like a photograph in the sun. She more Erica saw the guitar, the more she heard it whine and screech and shout her name, the more she knew she had to have it.

After their set, Billy Shrapnel made his way to the bar. Erica was leaning over the counter with a drink in her hand. Billy placed his fingertips on her shoulder. “Hey,” he said.

“Not interested,” said Erica, shrugging away from his hand. She didn't recognize his voice. Why would she? Besides, she did she had other things on her mind.

“Really?” said Billy. “You seemed pretty into me five minutes ago.”

Erica turned. Billy smiled. His teeth were crooked and he knew it, but for years he'd been relying on the bravado of his performance to overshadow his superficial imperfections. He didn't even bathe most days. The colors of his tattoos changed depending on the amount of sweat and grime he accumulated on stage. Women were still drawn to him, eager fans falling into the clichéd role of hypnotized groupie, but there was one girl who came to every show and seemed to stop caring about him the moment he put his guitar away.

“That was five minutes ago,” said Erica. “I was really into the music.”

“I noticed,” said Billy. “I always notice you.”

Erica rolled her eyes. She was turning back to the bar when her leg bumped into Billy's guitar case. She looked down and her knees went weak. Billy's guitar, closer than ever. The hardback case was scratched, covered in bumper stickers from different bars and rest stops. She conjured the guitar in her mind, and the case and her body both seemed to hum. She stared. She set her drink on the bar.

“Yeah?” she said absently, staring at the case.

“Totally,” said Billy, blissfully unaware that it was his guitar she was staring down at. “Do you want me to play you something?”

She looked back at Billy. He smiled again, his two front teeth straining in different directions, and breathed the scent of rum into her face. Erica thought of being in a room with just Billy and Billy's guitar. She thought of how much force it would take to knock Billy out completely in his already inebriated state. She thought of how long she could go to jail for theft and assault. She though of never being able to go to a Shrapnel show again. But mostly, Erica thought of finally holding Billy's guitar in her hands and not letting go.

“Sure,” she said. “Let's get out of here.”

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