This is an unauthorized (and insane!) novelization of the 1996 film “Vibrations,” starring Christina Applegate, James Marshall, and Paige Turco. You can watch the trailer below, and the full film is available on Netflix Instant Watch. This is the first chapter in a series.
“Well, he has great hands,” is what she told her friends when they asked why she put up with it. The endless weekends at the bar, watching the band abrade through yet another jangled song. The long Tuesdays and Thursdays on the plaid wool couch in the garage, feeling the nubbles scratch through her tights as the boys tried to pull together a hopeless tangle of chords. He liked it when she came to the practices, for some reason, and so she went, sitting dutifully on the couch (though the iron bars of the pull-out bed pushed at her through the disintegrating cushion foam, though there were winter nights when the snow-bit air soaked through the cracks in the walls, and numbed her feet through three layers of socks.) Sometimes, she did homework; sometimes, she braided her hair into a hundred tiny snakes; and always, she tried not to flinch at the countless moments when they lost the plot and the music clattered to the floor.
There were other things, too. He wouldn’t go to any of Donna’s parties, because Donna’s boyfriend “wore polo shirts.” Every week at the end of their shift, Donna asked her over, and every week, it got more awkward for Lisa to say no. It was starting to drive a wedge. Finally, one rain-strewn Friday evening, Lisa skipped the gig and went to Donna’s by herself. She spent half the night shoving an increasingly drunk Tony Montello off, culminating in a terrible kitchen scene where he ripped the collar of her blouse (and it was a lace collar, too.) Panicked, she called T.J., and he came to pick her up.
He had a little pea-green hatchback, and as it zoomed up, she could tell he’d already pounded the better half of a six-pack. His eyes, hooded and strangely pale, had a dangerous glint. He hadn’t wanted to leave the after-party early; he hadn’t wanted her to come here in the first place. She realized she could already hear him; she already knew everything he’d say. She hesitated a moment, shifting her weight onto her left stiletto, almost enjoying the way it strained her ankle, the pain traveling all the way up her calf. She looked at his cheekbones, preternaturally high and wide, gleaming in the streetlights, and walked towards the car.
He didn’t get out, just looked at her. She was conscious, suddenly, of her torn collar, the mascara streaks that had settled beneath her eyes.
“I told you what happened.”
“Yeah.” He paused a moment, raking her in. “Can’t blame him. You look like a skag.”
“Was that skirt for Donna? Or did you want him to rip your shirt down? I bet you did–I know you.”
She kicked the side of the hatchback, leaving a satisfying dent. “Fuck off, T.J.”
Every step she took into the cold concrete cut into her feet, the cheap leather rubbing her ankles raw, the impact shooting from her heels to the base of her spine. A winter’s hammer, drumming out the rhythm of her sins, measuring them against her fogged breath. He idled along beside her for a few blocks, and then took off. At best, she thought, a token effort. When she got home (and how it felt, to peel her shoes away from her blisters, the sticky sound as the leather separated reluctantly from her flesh), she resolved never to talk to him again.
But her hand, a treacherous bird, flew at the phone when it rang the next morning; her shoulder meeting her ear to cradle the receiver between them, to listen not so much to what he said as how he said it.
Donna thought she was an idiot, and said so. But Donna didn’t know, not really. In her room (redone in dusty pinks and grays just last year, with satin sheets to keep her face from creasing in her sleep, her hair from shredding itself against the pillows), he maneuvered her hips, pulling her closer to him, his fingers so long they almost met across her belly. His hands, large and callused, so warm it seemed as if they generated their own heat. Their roughness against her skin, with the sheets smooth beneath her–it almost made it all worth it. She wondered at herself sometimes, practicing telling her story to an imaginary audience to see what it sounded like: My name is Lisa Fleming. I am a 24-year-old waitress. I’m dating an asshole for the sake of his fucking hands.
In her more lucid moments, she decided it was insane. She’d free herself of it all–his strange cop father, his eyes following her above his oddly oily mustache; the eight-hour stints at half-empty clubs, tossing mike stands across shoulders still sore from a full day of slinging seafood platters. T.J.’s face, so empty when he came, alien in its beautiful planes and grotesque proportions. She’d leave this little Pennsylvania mill town, go to one of those postcard cities, like London or Paris . . . But then he’d call, and again and again, she found herself saying yes, pulled along in the slipstream of his will, his certainty that she would be at the show, and he would come over afterwards, and she would make him breakfast, and so on, and on, and on. Standing in her tiny kitchen in one of his old T-shirts, scrambling eggs for him at the stove, she would take deep breaths, forcing herself to notice the medicinal scent of the minced parsley, to listen to the roiling burps of the coffee maker, and she’d promise herself that this was the last time.
But it never quite was.
And then, one day, something different. She’d skipped practice this time–she was getting better at that, she’d noticed, which was making Donna somewhat hopeful–and so she hadn’t heard the news. Instead, she’d slept in, enjoying the sprawl of an empty bed, the cocoon-like stillness of a space occupied only by herself. And then he came in, face glowing like the ice rings of Saturn.
He brandished a newspaper. “Look at this.”
In 15-point type of the front page of the Daily: “Local Band on Hot Track.” And a picture beneath it of T.J. at the keyboard, wearing that stupid leather jacket and gripping a guitar, every bit the abstracted rebel artist.
“Do you know what this means?”
“That you were in the paper? They should have put your band name in the headline.”
“No, stupid. Don’t you get it? There’s going to be an A & R man at the gig tonight. This could be the break we’ve been waiting for!”
“Oh. Well–that’s great. Shouldn’t you, um, be getting ready, then?”
He looked deflated. “What’s your damage, Lisa?”
She looked at his hands, clenching at his sides. There was a pit at the center of her stomach, hard and cold. She tried to dissolve it, to smile for him, but her face wouldn’t stretch.
She swallowed. “No damage. I’m happy for you.”
“Well, let’s celebrate then.”
He raked his hands through her hair, and she found herself unbending. The pit was still there, but it was getting soft at the edges. “Maybe.”
“Come on.” He was hard to resist when he was like this–open, eager, like a little boy. And so she went.
When she awoke, it was close to seven. She knew his sound check was at seven-thirty; even if she woke him this minute, he’d be late. And yet she hesitated. She’d begged off the going to the show earlier, hardly knowing herself why she lied. And now, watching him, she knew.
She’d never be rid of him unless he wanted to be rid of her. He wasn’t the type–even if he found somebody else (and he would, especially with her missing gigs), he’d try to keep her in the picture, mollifying her with little gifts and soft words. At first she’d almost liked this possessiveness, but now it scared her. She’d been saying yes for so long. She could see herself saying it, again and again, becoming smaller and smaller. Disappearing into him.
She would, she realized, have to do something unforgivable. And so she slowly rose from the bed, being careful not to jar him, and slipped into her clothes. And left. It was 7:10 p.m. Drifts of maple leaves had pasted themselves to the streets, and she kicked through them happily, never minding the finish on her suede boots. It was a wet Pennsylvania fall, but she could feel spring in her bones.