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"So maybe we'll see some sun this week," the D.J. said, dragging me out of sleep. "Now, some words from the folks payin' the bills."
I knew a commercial break segue when I heard one, so I slapped off the clock and groaned my way upright.
"Uh, fuck," I intoned dully, rubbing my eyes and face.
I felt drawn and thin. I was sweaty and tired. Fear and horror were fresh and potent. I almost wished I had taken a little yellow pill last night. I stretched, almost enjoying the sensation it caused on the burns.
The usual thoughts began screaming through my head. The loss of Jeff's closeness, the possible loss of him altogether, the loss of Tom's closeness, the possible loss of him altogether, the almost certain loss of the Circle, the possible loss of Eric, lying to my parents, Erich and what was going to happen with him, if he was Puppy Dog or not, the crappy Plymouth, finals, the band, changing and the locker aisle in gym, and no other gay guy wanting anything to do with me. There were more worries, but they didn't stand a chance against the most horrible ones.
I got started. The new normal of every shower being a tiring chore continued, but I forced myself to move as normally as I could. I sat on the toilet toweling myself, almost panting. I got dressed, fighting to finish the chore physically, while fighting the usual horrors mentally.
I gathered my books and packed them into my pack. I removed the Alan Parsons album and put it on the shelf.
I plodded down the stairs and walked into the kitchen. I saw the pills on the table along with the bandages and ointments. The doorbell rang. I dropped my pack on the table and walked to the front door.
"Heya, Doctor Tom," I said, knowing that he had been given a heads-up by my mom about the bandages.
He grinned and walked in, saying, "Ya know the drill, let's get it done and head out."
I led him to the kitchen, sat down, held up my shirt with one hand and popped the pills mom had left out with the other as if they were Pez. He applied the ointment with a careful touch, asking how the burns felt. I told them they were doing fine and asked how they looked.
"Like a sunburn."
"Cool. Be gone in a week. Don't really have to do this today, but you know how mom is."
He laughed an affirmative as he placed a dab of the antibiotic ointment over the scar on my temple, then put a bandage over it.
"Looks like the stitches are missing in a couple places," he said flatly.
"They fell out. Was told they might. Dissolvable. Probably be putting that bandage on for another week. Glad I didn't have to wear that big, plastic one to school."
"No shit. Have breakfast?"
"Yes, Mommie," I lied.
"Did dishes, then?"
"In the dishwasher. Wanna check?"
Being done with my burns, he walked to the sink and washed his hands. I waited for him to open the dishwasher and count dishes. When he didn't, I picked up my pack. He gestured at the pills. I groaned and took them, glad they were the very last of the morning pills I would have to take.
After wrapping up against the Chicago March morning, we headed out the door. I was worn out, dead tired, exhausted. I couldn't stop thinking about losing Jeff to the jocks and the baseball team. And losing Tom to his car and work, and whatever else was coming between us.
The drive to school was boring, and tense, and I had to fight to stay awake and out of a funk. I hated the quiet between us, though, so I forced myself to speak.
"Workin' tonight?" I asked during a commercial.
"Going to make it over, later?"
He shrugged, said, "Dunno. Hope so, but a lot goin' on with work and everything."
He finally looked over at me. He looked stressed, and tired, and worried. I knew there was something major going on that he wasn't sharing with me. I wished he would let me in on it, but I was in no mood, nor did I have the energy, to fight any harder.
"Stoppin' for gas," he said as he pulled into the Citgo.
He killed the engine and hopped out with the keys to unlock the fuel cap. With the key off, there was no radio, so it was quiet as I sat there, waiting for Tom to fuel the Green Monster. I laid my head back and wondered if I should tell Tom about Erich, the band, cute David, the twins joining, practicing at their place, going to a gig tonight, going back to the student union tomorrow - which was news enough all on its own, but being even more surprising as it was with the band. Not to mention what I had learned about Toby, and death.
The sound of gas pouring into the tank was faint but audible. I got a whiff of the gasoline. My stomach turned. For a moment I felt dizzy and hot, and then I felt my heart beating faster. Suddenly my breath was short, then I couldn't breathe. I rolled down the window, almost reaching for the handle to open the door instead.
I sat there and made two fists, ignoring the pain in the fingers of my left hand. I fought the urge to pant and gasp for breath. I knew I was safe, that there was plenty of crisp, cool, winter air to breathe, but that made no difference. I started to sweat.
That raw smell was unavoidable. I knew that I could get out of the car at any time, but I was nearly in a panic. I kept reminding myself that I could get out of the car anytime, that there was nothing to fear.
I jerked the door handle and threw the door open. I jumped out of the car. I leaned on the top of the door and began sucking in the cold air. The smell of gasoline grew stronger. I needed to get away from it.
"Grabbing a coke," I said, swinging the door shut and walking away.
I almost jogged into the store, praying that it smelled of anything but gas. Once I was inside, surrounded by the smell of cleaners, I relaxed. My breath began to slow and my heart no longer beat against my ribs. I wiped my scarf across my forehead to remove the cold sweat there. After paying almost a buck for two bottles of ginger ale and then opening them at the counter, I waited at the doors for Tom to pay for the gas before handing him one on our way out. The soda had helped with the taste in my mouth, but not the tightness in my chest.
The panic was receding, but I still felt trapped in the now-moving car. The radio was playing "Come On, Eileen," and I tried to sing along to it, if only to seem normal to Tom. The usual good feelings that came with the song were being damped by the more recent and current sense of danger.
By the end of the song we arrived at school. I was calmer, but still very glad to be out of the car. We broke up, swapped books at our lockers, and met in the cafeteria with fifteen minutes until the bell. I thought about asking Tom if he would be coming over Saturday night, or if he knew if Jeff was. That tension or separation was still between us, though, even at the table, and I didn't feel like fighting my way through it to talk. I wondered if the Circle was finally closed. I felt certain of it, and again wished I had taken a little yellow pill, so that the idea wouldn't bother me so much. I wondered again what Toby had meant when he said not to worry about the Circle, that they go 'round and 'round.
This one's not, I lamented, falling into a grand funk.
The breakfast table was the new normal. No Jeff. I tried not to think about him, but failed miserably. I wondered where he was spending the mornings with his new jock friends. I wondered if he would ever come over for the weekend again. I decided to run to one of his later classes to ask. I was sure of his answer, but I wanted to know. It hadn't been easy or gone well the last time I had purposely run into him like that, but we had talked since then, and things had changed between us.
I tried not to think of there having to be other gay guys in school. I tried not to wonder why none had come to talk. With more than ten of us at the table, there was a chance one was gay, and it appeared it was me, and only me. Especially with Jeff no longer there. I tried not to think of him yet again.
Tom seemed impatient and worried. He hardly had anything to say. He seemed nervous and on the edge of his seat. For the first time, I seriously wondered if he was going to leave the table, too. I figured sitting with the class fag was just too much to ask.
Erich seemed in very good spirits. I had to be careful not to be caught looking at him.
I watched Cooley watch Marcus. I watched Thomas fill in notes in his small, tight, neat lines. I watched Erich glance up at me from time to time from his book and notepad. We grinned when it seemed cool to.
The bell rang, and not too soon for me. We broke into the usual groups and moved in the usual directions.
Physics was as hard and as boring as normal. Chris gave me some help, as he usually did. I was more grateful than usual, and wondered why he bothered risking himself to help the fag.
German went well. Erich's help with the new words, and his foresight in doing the newest words first, proved a boon indeed. When I read my paragraph from the textbook, I didn't make a single mistake.
When we were walking to Erich's next class, Algebra, me carrying his books as was the new normal, Kevin and Terry ran into us. Our Geometry class wasn't far down the hall.
"Hey, Raymond. Hear from the twins? Can they do it?" he asked breathlessly.
"We're go," I said with a sudden grin.
"Awesome! So, we gotta get over there and practice for the gig tonight, right after school. Okay?"
"Sure," I said, before wondering how Erich would take that news.
I would have been happier going to my place and messing around, but I had just had that taken away.
"Great! See ya after classes! Pick ya up where you usually wait for your bus?"
"Fine with me."
He jogged off with a wave.
I expected Erich to ask what that had been about, but, instead, he said, "Good luck tonight," with a grin.
I was so surprised that he didn't ask what Kevin was talking about that I didn't wonder about what he did say.
I only replied with, "Thanks," as we entered his class.
We had no time to talk, as I had to get to my class. I was deep in thought about the band, and playing, and all the other things, as well as sleep deprived, or I might have thought of the several things that I should have noticed.
Geometry was horrible, but that was normal. I was almost catching up, though some of it was still vague and unfamiliar. Rick asked if I was going to make his party. I told him I didn't think so, as I couldn't get out of what I had to do tonight. He seemed disappointed. I felt like a heel. I wondered how many Circles I was trying to square.
Lunch was normal. I knew Jeff's lunch was after mine, and I wanted badly to ask him a question. As lunch ended, I handed Erich's books to Wes and said that there was something I had to do, and I'd see them in class in a few minutes. They walked off, and I hung around the entrance to the lunchroom, waiting. I knew it would make me late to class, but I was driven.
Soon enough, I saw him walking up the hallway with two jocks. It was hard to read what all he felt when he saw me, but I saw surprise, shock, embarrassment, and resignation or regret flash across his face and body. I nodded at him as he walked toward me.
"Hey," he said quietly, not meeting my eyes, not even looking at me.
I almost wanted to make a scene of some sort, to get us noticed and cause him more anguish, but spoke quietly instead.
"Uh, was wondering if you was coming over this weekend, any."
It had been much harder to ask than I had thought that it would, but I got it out. Now, I had to face his answer, and I could tell what it was before he voiced it. The aching pain so closely associated with him of late returned.
"Um, can't. Gotta do a lotta stuff."
That was all he offered, and all I knew I was going to get. It was disappointing, but I had expected it. Now I knew. I tried not to let it show.
He couldn't even look at me. I could tell that he was impatient to get away from me.
"Okay. Guess, see ya 'round."
He nodded, turned, walked away.
I swallowed, turned, walked away.
It was the last hope I had for there being any kind of Circle meeting, of any type. And the last hope I had that Jeff and I would remain friends.
Both hopes were firmly dashed, now only bloody, broken ruins. I felt like hiding in a stall in the bathroom for the rest of the day and crying. I resolved myself to not do so. Being more adult, and less of a wimpy cry-baby was at the top of my list of things to change about myself, and I was going to make that list a reality if it killed me. I pushed the pain and hurt down, deep into some place where I wouldn't have to deal with it for now. The back burners were no place for it.
The bell rang long before I reached chemistry class. The teacher didn't even ask where I had been, only gestured to my seat as I entered the class. Erich asked if I was feeling alright. I told him, using some German, that I was fine, just feeling a little behind and stupid. He used a few puns and jokes to try to lighten my mood. They worked, for the most part, but only because I was willing for them to. He asked me if I would still want to study German at my place after school Monday. I nodded, grinning for the first time.
I walked him and his books to his next class, and then jogged as quickly as I could to my own. Literature was dull. I wasn't interested in any books. I fought to not hear Jeff's words, or see his face as he told me he wasn't coming over any during the weekend. I fought, but lost. Repeatedly.
In gym class, Erich, Carl, and I sat on the bleachers, as was the new normal. When Carl ran to the bathroom, Erich had me find a folded piece of paper inside his jacket pocket.
"Some more little whites. Ya might need 'em."
I nodded and thanked him, wondering what to say about missing out on sex after school. I wanted to talk to him about it, to apologize for not getting together, but it felt terribly odd.
The rest of the period I tried to chat normally with Erich and Carl, but I could only answer or reply, unable to think of anything to say otherwise.
I was also occupied with concerns about Monday; I was to start changing in gym again. I couldn't stop wondering who, if anyone, would still be in my locker row, and what would be said. Would they try something? Would I find something awful in my locker? I was even more worried about showering the next week. My guts churned at just the thought, making me wonder just how bad it would be by then.
The rest of the day went normally. Class after class, I struggled to stay awake, struggled to get caught up or stay caught up, to prepare for finals next week. I usually failed. I usually dozed off.
I spent my free class in the little computer lab by the shops, trying to get caught up. When I had approached the little lab, I noticed the same guy leaning against the same door to the auto shops. He watched me, I was sure. He didn't stare, but he kept looking my way, and at me, over and over. And again, many of those walking through the area seemed disturbed by my proximity. It was as if the school faggot had no business anywhere near their macho, studly, straight shop classes.
In the little computer room, I tried not to think of Jeff. Or Tom. Or Erich. Or the band. Or David. Or changing in gym class next week, or showers the next. Or how no other gay guys wanted to talk to me. It was hardest not to think of Jeff and what I had heard him and the jocks saying. It had been just there, behind that door, that I had learned that Jeff was going to distance himself from me so that he could gain the trust of the members of the baseball team. I had sat against that wall, back there in that dark corner behind the door, nearly crying.
I tried to shake off the memories, but they found ways into my thoughts, slowing my progress.
When the bell rang, I jogged part of the way to my locker, wanting the exercise, hoping to build up my stamina. I was panting when I arrived. I swapped books and waited for Kevin. He wasn't long. We met the others outside, and they agreed to follow Kevin to the twins' house to see where it was, and then go get their gear and return for practice. I asked Kevin to run past my house, which wasn't far out of the way, while the others got their gear. He did, and I retrieved some pot from my box, some papers, and the rolling machine, and took one of the speeders that Erich had given me. I put some with the other one from last night into the dragon statue, which I was sure even Mom and Dad knew nothing about.
Back out in Kevin's car, my guts were swirling inside me, in an uproar over the idea of hanging out with an actual band. Not only was I about to spend time with a band, they had a gig to play later, and I wondered if I was supposed to go with them or not. The sweats started. I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew. And would I choke on it?
There was more than enough room for everyone's cars in the parking area behind the twins' house where the staff seemed to be expecting us. Kevin and I got his gear upstairs, where some of the guys were getting set up. He talked me into playing the synthesizer while they practiced.
"You don't have to tonight, but I want to hear what you can do. That's all. No pressure. Okay?"
I tried to pretend it wasn't a huge deal. The shaking was just from how cold it was in the room, that's all. The sweaty palms are just from how hot the room is, is all.
They all chatted about the songs they would be playing at the gig tonight. The twins were excited and obviously looking forward to it.
When Brian May walked in, I almost physically jolted. He was with a guy I didn't know who had a massive, black footlocker on wheels. Brian was carrying a large, black guitar and another huge black case. I knew he was in with the band scene and musical guys, but I had never expected him to be part of Kevin's band. The other guy was introduced as Adam Singleton, the sax player and sound engineer.
Brian was one of the very few redheads in school. He was a class clown, skinny, with a thick afro of red hair. His face was narrow and his nose was large, and his pale skin was freckled and pimply. His bright blue eyes always twinkled. I always would have loved to get to know him, but my shyness prevented me from talking to him. He wasn't nearly as attractive as David, but I found myself looking his way from time to time as we got set up.
Adam was attractive. To me. Probably too nerdy and musical for most girls. Blond, my height, a little slim but with broad shoulders, broad features, and a nice smile. His dark eyes were warm and mellow. His voice was smooth and almost a perfect pitch. He moved gracefully.
Riley Kensington arrived, and was introduced as second bass and first harmonica. Riley was the cutest of the band members so far. Other than the stunning David. He was shorter than I was, slim, very much like David and Thomas, but with bright blond, short, wavy hair. He had a great smile, and wore rose-tinted glasses. He was sharp and angular, and cute. Nerdy.
None of the three of them seemed to know that I was gay. Or they knew, but didn't give a fuck. Or they knew, were just hiding their disgust well. I wondered which.
The twins almost seemed to glow with pride and energy. This was the most people they'd had over at the same time since their birthday. The Circle was never as big as this group.
It took nearly an hour for everyone to arrive, plug everything into the mixing board, deal with the wires, then set up volumes. Adam seemed to know what he was doing. A total of ten microphones, five guitars, six pedals, and two keyboards were wired up, making for an incredible nest of wires and cables across the floor.
I didn't wonder if anyone else was gay, as I knew one of us was, and another was at least interested in both sexes. I glanced at Ryan, wondering if anyone could tell that about him. I hadn't, and I had had sex with him. More than once. And his brother. They all had to know that I was. I figured we accounted for more than the statistical average, so no others were.
Once the hubbub over the twins' drum sets died down, they matched volumes with Adam's board. Kevin handed out sheets of paper with the names of songs on them. He announced it as the playlist for tonight. I knew I could play the Styx songs, probably not without practice, but most of the others were of no hope without extensive practice. I said so, and Kevin told me to play what I could during practice. None of them had keyboards as prominent pieces, only background, and could even do without them. David offered to cover most of the songs that had piano, and I was glad of that.
They figured out which songs the twins were familiar with. Brent and Ryan said they were comfortable with almost every one, and felt almost comfortable trying the few with which they weren't, so long as they could listen to them a few times. Kevin ruled that out, and asked if Bill could play them instead. Since it was his drums being used for the gig tonight, the twins had no problem with the idea. The twins and Bill discovered that when they switched drummers during the gig, they would have to move several drum positions. Songs had to be rearranged so that the difference between Bill's setup and what the twins used wouldn't get in the way too often. Brent's set was rearranged to match Bill's.
While they worked that out, Kevin asked if it was okay if they smoked pot. I grinned and closed the double doors to the room. I told him that I didn't think the coke would be cool. Kevin walked over and whispered something to both twins, who looked doubtful. He spoke some more, obviously talking them into something they didn't like very much. Kevin gave them a high-five, and then Brent walked over to the intercom and said into that they weren't to be disturbed except through it.
Kevin then produced three joints, lit them, and handed them out. The guys I hadn't smoked in front of yet went through the usual surprised stages as I took my first turns. I watched as I produced a joint and slipped it into the flow. I enjoyed their reactions.
There was a lot of joking, but mostly talk about music. I joined in some, enjoying myself a lot. I didn't think about the usual depressing things.
When the last joints were roaching out, Kevin stood and said, "Love Is Like A Rock."
It was one of the songs Kevin had specifically asked about yesterday, and the twins had assured him they could play it.
They all moved to appropriate places and then practiced the song three times, once with each drummer. It was obvious that all the others had been practicing the song. The twins played it far better than Bill, and were impressing everyone. They sounded great, and were dead on time. That third time, Ryan threw in some extra hits, and Kevin nodded enthusiastically. Kevin and Wil seemed to have the song down pat the first time. Wil took lead and Brian did rhythm the second time. Riley and Terry both did very well with the bass, taking turns and dueling on the third pass.
After fifteen minutes, they had the song down well.
Then Kevin took the twins through several songs which were heavy with drums. Each time, the twins not only did well, they did very well. Though they hadn't played with anyone other than me, they seemed comfortable and practiced. The band members had little trouble playing with them as long as they played on Ryan's set that wasn't rearranged like Bill's.
"Okay, guys. What do you think of Brent and Ryan's drumming?"
They all thought the twins had done well.
"Good. How about you tell me after they do their thing with Rockin' The Paradise if they're in."
The twins began returning Brent's set to his usual arrangement.
"Alex is gonna do most of the song on keys and show David how."
Kevin nodded at me. I nodded, stood up, and feeling like they were all watching my every step, my every breath, I approached the Oberheim. It looked strange, like I had never seen it before, as if I had not spent almost three years playing it. As if I hadn't played it just yesterday. But that had been with just Kevin, which had been bad enough. Now, with all of them there, that Oberheim, once as close to me as any object in my life, seemed a stranger.
My nerves were back, my stomach knotted, my brow already sweating. I sat down. David sat next to me, just not as close as Toby always had.
"'Kay, show me how this goes."
He smiled sweetly. His glistening eyes tried to draw me in. I tried not to melt.
Concentrate on the keys. The keys! Play it. I'm really going to do this?
I was in a mixed state of awe, joy, and dread, with a good chunk of embarrassment as well. And I had lust raging in the mix, too. I had to work to swallow. My hands shook as I turned it on.
I set up both rows of keys. I tested them both. I nodded. Everyone watched me.
I'm not going to fuck this up. I can do this. I did yesterday. I did with the twins for months. Two years. Played it since it came out. Played the keys since as far back as I can remember. I can do this. It'll help get the twins in the band. They deserve it.
I felt my shoulders around my ears. I relaxed them, which helped immensely. I felt my back arched forward. I pulled myself upright. I found my breath short and rapid, I slowed and smoothed it. I closed my eyes. I thanked the teacher.
"On dice," Kevin said, then tapped time, and yelled, "At the Par-r-ra-a-a-a-a" They all dropped in suddenly. "D-i-s-e!"
Kevin sang, played guitar with Wil, Ryan drummed. Then I ran up and down the keys with my fingers. I played the piano part with my right hand, my left ready for the synthesizer toward the end of the intro. They were both short parts, but they needed quick, rapid movements. I had nothing to do from time to time, so I listened, not believing it was a band of high-schoolers and not a professional group. Their guitars and voices rang out clear and loud, almost perfect. They sounded good. I grew even more nervous.
I'm gonna screw this up so bad. No, damn it. I can play this. Gotta get the twins in the band. They'll fucking love being in a band. I can do it for them. I owe them for all their friendship. Damn it. Relax. Enjoy it. You're playing Styx with real musicians. Have some fucking fun, ya stunod!
Toby's phrase had come from nowhere. He had used it on rare occasions to make me smile. I did, right then, sitting in the twins' familiar music room, at the increasingly familiar keyboard, playing the always familiar song, with a bunch of unfamiliar guys, and the newly familiar David right there next to me.
And they're the only thing different. Ignore them. Don't listen. Don't work on it. Let it just be familiar. Just play it.
Everyone joined in the chorus, sounding full and wonderful. I let my fingers go, let them do what they knew how to do, even if months had passed. I wasn't as fast and clean as I once had been, but I didn't let that bother me. I played as well as I could, letting my hands and fingers play, not my head. It was one of the easiest songs for the keyboards: it just took a lot of fingers at the same time, moving quickly, in short, multiple bursts.
It went well, though I had to continually forget that there were others there. Every time I had any time to think, I would think of that and I would mess up. I did make mistakes, but they weren't too bad.
The ending was the hardest, with the piano banging along, and then predominantly the synthesizer. The song came to its pounding end and I felt great.
"Not bad!" someone said enthusiastically.
I knew they were good enough. I felt great for them.
"So, they in?" Kevin asked.
Nods and affirmative answers all around.
The twins glowed, blushed, and grinned. They laughed nervously. They gave me hi-signs. I returned them, grinning widely.
"How about Too Much Time?" Kevin asked.
It took a moment to realize that he had asked me.
"Oh. Slow, few keys at the same time."
"Okay, show us. You take us in."
I nodded, then changed settings, nodded again. Everyone nodded back.
Okay, no biggie. So simple. Slow, too. A few changes. The twins'll have no problem.
I started playing. Repeated notes, over and over, lower and lower, then the cool, hopping, bouncy rhythm. Brent and Ryan played it very well, as usual. Terry started singing, low. The song rolled along, slow and sweet, until it changed, and they all sang the chorus and the twins came in hard on the drums, with Kevin and Wil wailing on guitars. I played, easily. Then Wil screamed that solo, just right. I got chills. They all got the backing chorus just right. I grinned. Then the clapping. Then the awesome wailing guitar, done just right by Kevin, and my chills redoubled.
I almost cried, they sounded so good. It was like sitting in as Styx practiced a final time before recording the track on the album.
I was proud to drop those bells down at the end, helping them sound as good as possible to give proper honor to the song and the band.
"Nice!" I heard David say.
"Yeah. You said it was months since you played?" Wil asked.
I knew that the question was aimed at me, so I nodded.
I finally breathed, needing to almost pant. I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath so often.
"Comes back, I guess."
"I think we got a keyboarder," Kevin stated.
Several were in agreement.
"So, he in, guys?" Kevin asked.
They all agreed.
What? In? In? In the band? As in, in? Playing, in a band? Me? Is he kidding?
"Are you kidding?"
"Hell no," he said simply. "Guys?"
Nods and affirmatives all around.
"You," Kevin said flatly.
"But, I'm just showing David how to do stuff. And helping you guys practice. That's all."
"Oh, you showed me how, all right," David said with an overdone nod.
"You're in. Unless you don't want in," Kevin said firmly.
"I'm just helping out," I repeated. "I'm not a musician, okay?"
"Maybe, but you can play what David can't, and he can play what you can't, and together you guys can play almost everything we want to play."
"Come on, Alex. We dreamed and talked about this a thousand times," Ryan whined.
"Yeah. This is your idea. Now you gonna wimp out?"
Wimp out? Like I would, normally? Run away? Why? I like playing. And these guys are good. Real good. And they want me in their band. Me!
I swallowed with difficulty as I looked around at them all. Not a one of them looked disgusted or revolted. In fact, they all looked like they wanted me there.
In a band? Me? A band? Kevin's band? The band that does almost all the school dances and plays at the student union almost every weekend? The best band at school? Me?
The twins were begging me with their eyes. They were hard to ignore.
"Guys, come on. I can't do this in front of... on a stage. Okay?"
"Okay," Kevin said blandly. "I won't force you."
I grew suspicious. I didn't know him all that well, but I knew a plotting expression when I saw one.
"So, how about we practice Come Sail Away?" he asked the band members. "We've almost got it, so let's polish it some, okay?"
They agreed. One of my eyes narrowed. I sat impassively as they played it. David did well. The piano opening wasn't hard, but it was a little complicated. He seemed to know it, but was relying on the sheet music. It was a complicated piece. I couldn't make heads or tails of the sheet music he glared at. I knew there wasn't anything I could do to show him how to play the piano part of the song, he was doing fairly well.
I immediately missed the soft, gentle tones of the synthesizer that belonged late in the introduction, and then into the increased pace of the song. It sounded a little empty without the synthesized notes holding in the background, drifting slowly along with the pace of the song. They all sounded great. They obviously had been practicing the song extensively. Their combined guitars sounded great.
When they came to the late middle section, and they simply skipped it, I groaned inside.
I knew what he was doing. Kevin, that is. He never looked at me, or in my direction.
They continued the song without the awesome central portion, filled with those almost whale-like cries and the mellow, smooth notes that only a synthesizer could provide. It was a horrifically difficult portion to play on synthesizer, but without it, the song was nearly an empty shell of what it could and should be. They played the next section without pause, as if the entire third-quarter movement didn't exist. I rolled my eyes.
They faded out.
"Not bad, guys. I think we can do that one tonight."
Kevin glanced in my direction, quickly, as if only by accident. He wasn't up to Circle caliber, but he wasn't bad at it at all.
"You play that abomination and I'll stop helping out," I said flatly.
"Why? What's wrong with it?" Kevin asked, equally flatly.
Fuck. Maybe if I can get them to keep the lights off me. I can wear a baseball cap and keep my face down. Baseball. Cripes. Wear different clothes. Just do some small stuff and not get noticed. It's just a band. Who do I know who's gonna see us? Or care, if they do? If they can put up with having a... me, in the band, maybe I can get away with it.
Kevin looked anxious, like someone waiting to find out if he was grounded or not.
"You can always drop out," David said softly.
He looked expectant, too. And was hiding a small grin. Or trying to.
"Fine. I'm in. But only if you promise never to butcher another Styx song like that. Ever."
The twins yelled, "Yes!" together and rolled across their drums.
I suddenly understood how Kevin had come up with such a devious plot. I glared at them. They tried not to look guilty. They tried.
"So you see why we can really use you? We can't do any Styx seriously with only one set of keyboards."
That was obvious. Some, about half.
"Can you actually play it?" Kevin asked.
"With a lot of practice. Give me a while, okay? And not exactly like the albums or even live. And I got enough songs to practice as it is."
Especially if I'm gonna be doing 'em in front of people, I thought with horror.
I swallowed, I hoped not visibly. I sweated, hopefully neither over-visibly nor aromatically.
"Suite Madam Blue?"
I nodded. "Practice," I added, my mouth going dry.
"Don't bother, Kev," Ryan piped up. "You can't name a Styx song he can't do."
"Cathedral organ in, I'm Okay?"
Ryan went, "Pffft. He played that on an old funky electric air organ and totally kicked its ass."
I rolled my eyes. Not at the question, at the answer; at Ryan.
"Sing For The Day?" Wil asked.
"The Message?" Terry asked.
"Not all the parts at the same time, obviously" I answered.
"I told ya, ya can't name one," Ryan said immediately.
"We used to do Lords all the time. Just drums and him on synth. One of the songs without a lot of guitars," Brent told them.
I sighed then nodded. Kevin nodded and grinned.
I nodded, then asked, "Why are you so hot to play Styx?"
I would be, I knew. I'd loved Styx since I first heard their music as a twelve-year-old. Their album Equinox cemented them as my favorite band when I discovered it three years after its release.
"Because they're Styx!" he declared. "And Styx Day is the twenty first next month, and we want to do an all-Styx show for it."
That made sense. I thought the idea was a great one. I just wasn't too keen on the idea of playing in public. Especially not Styx. But this was a chance to see if I could do it. And the twins sure wanted in the band, and with them in the band too, I hoped I could pull it off. Somehow.
"Did you get any practice on, Cold As Ice?"
"Only a little. As much as I had time to."
"Can you do the synth while David does the piano?"
"How is it?" he asked.
"Let's hear it."
I nodded, put the settings on straight piano for the lower row and set the upper to sound as close as I knew how for the synth. I took a deep breath. David counted, and then played those famous opening chords. I swooped the tones in and down. It was a little more difficult sitting off-center with David playing the lower keys, but I managed. Bill came in on drums, then Kevin started singing. I tried not to listen, tried to relax and let my hands play when they were needed. I concentrated on the music without concentrating, as I had learned to do so long ago. I let myself do what I once knew how to do so easily. It wasn't great, but it was clearly decent. It wasn't a hard song, either, mostly the same kinds of sounds over and over. I was feeling okay as we entered the bridge. It sounded good. I began enjoying it. I think I smiled. I almost regretted that it was coming to an end as we trailed out.
"Fucking knew you'd knock the rust off," Brent said, grinning widely.
"How long did you practice it?" Kevin asked.
"Hour or so."
He blinked and bobbed his head on his shoulders.
"Just an hour? Or so?"
"Yeah. All the time I had to."
"How many times through?"
"Again," he said at me.
I complied. I did a little better, playing a little smoother, a little more surely.
I did about the same, better than last night by a noticeable margin, but not that much better than just previously. At least I missed only some notes, and they were in the sections where the piano was hard to hear, anyway.
"Okay, we play it tonight, agreed?" he asked, looking at the rest of the band members.
They nodded. Terry gave me a thumbs-up.
"Good enough to play live?" I asked.
Kevin grinned, then said, "Dude, that was the best I've heard it played except by Foreigner."
I crinkled my brows at him in doubt, but accepted it instead of arguing.
"Alex, that was really good," David said from beside me.
I looked over at him, deep in doubt.
He rolled his eyes, which I found adorable, then shook his head, still grinning so cutely.
"He can do almost all of Foreigner," Ryan said with an evil grin.
I sighed and flipped him off by scratching at my temple.
"He can, don't let him lie," Brent added, gazing at me, scratching his chin with a middle finger.
"Used to," I corrected.
"Can you do the rest like you just did Cold?"
"He can," Ryan said, throwing me another smirk.
"Even the stuff from Records? The new stuff?" Wil asked, looking amazed.
I had learned them as some of the last new songs before I had stopped playing. I said as much, implicating the twins.
"If you can play those songs, man, I will do whatever you want," Wil said in awe.
Kevin was the first to snicker. I didn't get it at first, but then Brent and Ryan snickered, too, and I got it. I blushed. The rest looked confused.
"With or without Vaseline?" Brent asked, laughing, hardly able to talk.
Wil turned bright red, then looked down at his shoes.
"I didn't mean-"
"I know. Get used to it," I said. "Brent and Ryan make bad jokes like that a lot. They're retarded that way."
I felt like some retribution, and badly needed the focus off of me and the entire subject just raised.
"Ya think I'm decent on keys? Ya gotta hear this," I said, looking at the twins. "Do, Candy."
"I Want Candy" was immensely popular, and everyone there knew it, but the way the twins did it, with two amplified and equalized sets of drums, was something to behold. Or, rather, feel.
Kevin had heard it yesterday. He watched the reactions of the others as the twins kicked out their version, their voices ringing out loud and clear, powerfully, full of fun, leering joy. They stretched the song into nearly five minutes, but it passed in the blink of an eye.
"Wow," Adam said softly.
"No shit," Brian added.
Bill bowed at the twins.
"Break," Kevin called with a grin, shaking his head.
Most of them went into the bathroom together. I had no doubts what they were sharing. David, the twins, and I, were left alone, sharing the joint that I provided.
I jumped the twins about how they had volunteered so much information about me, but David took their side, saying I had nothing to hide or be shy about. I found myself unable to argue with him, no matter how much I wanted to berate Brent and Ryan.
"Why are you so shy about what you can do?" David asked.
I could only shrug. I began to wonder the same. I almost put the blame on how intimate some songs were to me, but the other songs weren't that tied to Toby, or any such memories. I only knew that I didn't like the feeling of everyone knowing that I could play. I also didn't like the feeling I got when I thought of playing on a stage, especially the stage at the student union.
When Kevin and the rest returned, and once joints had been smoked, Kevin wanted to practice, "Love Is Like A Rock" again. They sounded great. David and I had nothing to do during the song, so I toyed with the settings and keys, and unplugged from the mixer so that only I could hear what I was doing. The weed and the availability of the instrument during live songs I had long toyed with on radio got the best of me. Eventually I found a complementary melody to go with the song. I was playing along, not looking up or paying any attention other than to play along quietly. I was really enjoying what I was doing as they repeated the song. I had created a melody to go with songs that had no keyboard or piano before, liking the creative side of playing quite a bit. As they played the song loudly that second time, I was playing my new creation over the headphones. I was getting very into the song, enjoying the sound I added to it, wondering if it would be enjoyed by others or if they would find it unpleasant.
When the song came to an end, I had come up with a matching end beforehand, and it sounded as good as I thought it would. In the silence, I looked up, expecting Kevin to turn around and give us the name of the next song to be practiced. They were all staring at me. Even David, when I swiveled my head his way. The twins only looked pleased.
"What?" I had to ask, worrying that I was about to get my first dressing down and a speech about not paying attention while the others were practicing.
"Dude. Can you do that again?" Kevin asked.
"What you just did."
I looked down at the keyboard, then back at Kevin, then around at the rest of the guys. They kept staring at me.
"Play that backing melody," Kevin said in exasperation.
I threw my eyes at the output jack. It was connected. I did a double-take. David snickered, red-faced, unable to meet my gaze. I sighed.
"I, guess so. Why?"
"Just do," Kevin said, throwing an upward nod at Adam. "Give him some up."
Adam nodded, and I saw him turn up my level.
"You sure?" I asked.
He didn't answer, instead threw me an exasperated look, then started the count.
I joined in when it seemed the right time to add the melody to the mix. I hadn't memorized it, I had just played what seemed to fit the familiar song and its melody. I added a very few things as we played this time. And this time, my volume was probably higher than any of theirs. When the song ended, and I hit that same ending series, I felt like it had sounded pretty good. Obviously they did too.
"Dude. I liked that a lot. Can you do that tonight?"
I was taken aback, but nodded, and added, "I guess."
"Do, then. That sounded damned smooth. Huh?"
The last was directed at the rest of the band, all of whom nodded.
"Fucking synth genius," Wil commented.
"Ri-i-ight," I said dismissively.
"Alex, not everybody can make up something on the run like that," David said softly, and with something like respect.
"'Ell, no," he said, a look of incredulity taking over his features. "Not in a hundred takes could I come up with something like that, ya bastard."
I didn't believe him, and it showed.
"Alex, man, you gotta get around more musicians and shit," Kevin said firmly. "Dude, maybe one in a hundred real good players of any instrument can improvise like that."
"If that. More like one in a thousand," Terry said.
I wasn't having my leg pulled by these amateurs. I was a founding member of The Circle, and I'd be damned before I fell for some rank beginners' prank of that low order.
"I sort of threw it together as I heard it on the radio. Tons of times. Just, this was the first time with... " a real band, "ah, others."
"Still, nice work," Kevin said with a nod and a thinking kind of look.
We practiced until Kevin announced it was time to pack up and head to the gig. He suggested we get nice and high, as there wasn't anywhere to smoke at the gig. Before we did, I called home to let them know I would be out with the twins at a birthday party of one of our friends. I hated lying to her, but I wasn't going to tell her I was in a band. Not yet. She gave me until midnight, and told me to call if I was going to be any later.
We tore down everything, then packed it into everyone's cars. I had never moved the Oberheim before, except a few feet around the room; it wasn't too heavy but was very awkward. Bill's drums were already in the back of Terry's Ranchero, covered with a blue tarp. David rode with Kevin, I rode with the twins in the Lincoln Town Car.
I thought how useful that old, large, four-door Plymouth would be. Then I thought how much more useful the van would have been.
I lost most of my elation with those thoughts. And as I considered where I was heading, and what I was going to do, I became severely nervous. I couldn't believe that I was headed to play with a band. A real gig. Not just any band, but Kevin's band. And a band that played a lot of Styx. And the twins were part of it as well. And the lovely David.
The buzz from practice was weakening, but the speed was still working hard, making me tense and jumpy. The twins were ecstatic, and couldn't stop thanking me for getting them involved.
I wondered how I was going to do, if I was going to make a lot of mistakes and make a fool out of myself, if I was going to get caught looking at David in the wrong way, if a thousand things would go wrong. I wondered if I would be allowed to play at the student union, or if that had been forgotten about by now.
Just get through this night, first, I repeated as if it were some kind of a mantra.
We arrived at a massive mansion in the Riverside Historic District. We were directed around to the back, near a massive garage. Once parked, we hauled in gear and were shown where to set up inside an enormous room that had an actual stage at one end. Behind us was a single set of french doors that led out onto a side patio. We were shown which bathroom we were to use, between the doors to the side patio and the doors to the pool, so that we would be out of the way of the party guests. Outside, between the main patio and the covered pool, was a red, shiny, two-year-old Camaro.
"Who the hell we playin' for?" I asked.
"Some rich dude for his kid's birthday," Kevin answered.
There were extensive decorations around the room, outside around the patio area, and a happy birthday banner over the pool and car.
Lucky son-of-a-bitch, I thought.
We were nearly set up when the butler who had shown us where to set up returned with a large black man in a suit.
"Hello, boys. You ready?" the well-dressed man asked Kevin.
"Sure are, sir," Kevin said in a voice I had never heard him use before.
"About twenty minutes. You got the songs ready to go in order? Birthday song when you see the lights come on?"
"Sure enough. We were about to test our gear, if that's okay?"
"Sure. Let's hear it."
"Sure. Okay, guys, plugged and hot?"
Everyone responded affirmatively.
"Okay, birthday song, on one, two, three..."
They sounded fine, but not as if they had practiced.
"Sorry, we'll be better with the songs we usually play," Kevin said.
The man nodded, asked, "How about the song I requested?"
"Love Is Like A Rock," Kevin announced, then counted down.
"Not bad, I guess" the man said after signaling the song to an early end. He looked at his watch and said, "About ten minutes," then turned away with a nod at his butler.
The butler told us where to get drinks and snacks, gave us a rundown of the house rules, nothing surprising, then turned off most of the lights as he left.
"You heard him, less than ten minutes. When the main lights come on in here again, I'll drop my hand and that's the mark. We're getting fifty bucks apiece, so let's not fuck this up."
"We're gettin' paid?" I asked.
"I didn't mention it?" Kevin said matter-of-fact, without even looking at me.
He shrugged, then turned and grinned at me. I knew that grin, having seen something similar on the faces of my friends at the conclusion of some Circle prank or similar activity.
Ass-hat, I thought.
We took turns using the bathroom. During my turn, I took the folded paper out of my pocket and looked at the little white pills. I had felt tired all day, as was normal anymore, and weak, as was normal anymore. I had gained something from the first, and had felt better, but still not good. I knew I wouldn't get a chance to take one if I got worn out during the gig, so I took the second one, used the toilet, and let the next guy have his break.
We waited, and eventually the lights inside the house came on and Kevin gave us a shushing gesture. In moments, there were voices, and the shadows of several people moved outside the double french doors to the hallway, then they opened all the way and the lights came up. Kevin brought his hand down, Bill hit the cymbals hard, and the guys joined in.
The group of guests sang the words, clapping and laughing as the song ended.
Kevin nodded at us, readying us for the first song, "Love Is Like A Rock."
Rick's favorite song, I thought.
I was suddenly startled. I winked and my hand jerked.
No way. But, it was a black guy who talked to us. Still... no way. Too big a coincidence even for... who am I kidding. I bet it is.
I stared, trying to see through the crowd, but it was no use. There were stage lights shining on us, and that made it impossible to see the crowd.
The man from earlier stepped up to the microphone.
"Well. Welcome everybody."
He paused for the applause.
"Happy birthday, son. Come up here."
I saw another shadowy figure approach the microphone. As he approached, I couldn't see his face or any details because of the lights aimed at me, but he was the right size and stature, and walked the right way.
"Folks, my son is sixteen today. A rite of passage. He's now old enough to drive, making me old enough to turn gray at just the thought."
And the right age.
"And even more so at the expense."
Expense? He could afford a fleet of the cars. Just like Rick's family.
More than enough pieces of that part of that puzzle came together, forming that part of that image rather clearly.
I sighed in resignation, defeat, and recognition.
"I've looked forward to many of his birthdays. His first, his second, his third... "
Laughter. This time, I joined.
"But, this is his sixteenth. I don't have to tell you what a milestone that is. Son, I'm proud of you. You've become a fine son, one to make any father proud, and I am."
Polite applause and soft laughter.
"Now, if everyone will step up to the doors for a moment, I have a last surprise for the birthday boy."
The two of them stood at the microphone, talking softly as the crowd gathered around the many french doors to our left, facing the main patio and the pool. Many hushed, Ooos," and, "Ahhs," as they saw the car outside.
The two waited a moment, then walked toward the doors, the party guests parting for them.
I couldn't clearly see him as the father led his son toward the doors, hands over his eyes.
"I hope you like it, I can't return it."
"Dad! No way!" I heard Rick exclaim.
One of the doors opened, and much of the crowd filed outside.
"Lucky dude," Terry said.
We all nodded.
It was a few minutes before the crowd returned and Rick and his dad returned to the microphone.
"So, tonight is your night, son. The car does not move, though. I had it washed, it doesn't need to end up in the pool."
"Okay band, let's hear that song he won't stop playing all night long," his father said, waving over his shoulder at us.
Billy tapped time, then we played Rick's favorite song. I almost did my little additions, but I didn't want to mess with Rick's favorite song on his birthday and ruin it.
Father and son walked back into the crowd. I almost got up and walked out there to look for him, but I didn't know how to explain my being there. So I sat quietly at the keyboards, hoping that he wouldn't notice me sitting so far in back.
We played through the first set. The speed had me nervous and wired, almost unable to sit still. David, the twins, and I shared the little couch beside the stage or walked down the short hall to the bathroom and backdoor while they played what Kevin called polite party background songs. There was little hard work done by anyone for nearly an hour as the guests were at the buffet and seating available in the room to the left. Bill drummed as the other guys played slow, easy songs.
Later, as a few folks began filing out of that room, the butler told Kevin to take a break after the the guests had moved across to the other room. We were taken into the buffet room and treated like guests along with house staff by the catering crew. The food was great. After a few minutes, the butler asked us to take back to the stage on the top of the hour, when the guests would return for dancing.
Ten minutes to the top of the hour, I went with Kevin, Terry, and Wil, at their direct request, to the bathroom. They began sorting out lines of cocaine on the marble sink top.
"Dude, why didn't you do your thing for Love Is Like A Rock?"
I didn't have an answer ready, and had never considered that they would even miss me playing during it. I shrugged.
"Dude. We're gonna do it again, last song. You better throw in. It sounded great. Okay?" Wil asked, obviously being sincere.
"What if the kid don't like it?"
They grimaced in doubt.
"Dude, everybody who notices is gonna like it. We're all gonna improvise with it, anyway. Make it harder and rock it. So toss in with us. Okay?" Terry asked very seriously.
I nodded. I was persuaded to do a line of coke. It stung, and I nearly sneezed. I knew that it was very bad form to sneeze out a fresh line of coke, so I fought it down, holding my nose. They laughed, but in good humor, congratulating me for not wasting it.
We headed back to rejoin the others. As we played, several guests told us that we were playing well, and we were offered another job doing another birthday party in two weeks. Kevin accepted, and terms were discussed. I wondered if I would be involved or not. Or if I would want to be, or not.
We played another hour as the guests slowly drew down in numbers. I was extremely wired. My leg bounced constantly, I felt as if I were ready to run cross-country, and my heart seemed to be beating its way out of my chest. I was sweating like crazy, a little dizzy, and I knew nausea when I felt it. And I was just sitting behind a keyboard next to David, hardly playing a thing.
We played few songs that needed David on piano, so the two of us mostly sat and enjoyed the show. They were good. Bill played the slower songs, the twins taking over in turns for the faster songs that they knew. Brent and Ryan were in hog heaven. They grinned without pause, played with their usual energy, sung with voices I found pleasing and smooth.
When I knew that "Cold As Ice" was coming up next, I felt as if I could jump start a power plant. David bumped me with his shoulder and gave me a reassuring grin. It didn't calm me down at all, in fact, did just the opposite.
I went through my routine to slow my breathing and relax. It helped some. I watched Kevin and worked on remembering to breathe as he gave time. David had the hard parts, all I had to do were the occasional tones and swooping notes. It would have been easier if we each had our own keyboard. It was both awesome and horrific to sit so close to David. After the song, I sneaked to the bathroom, then sat on the little couch or stood in the little hallway. Bill offered us a line of coke when Ryan and I were there together, and much to my surprise, Ryan accepted. We went into the little bathroom. I watched Ryan do his first line of cocaine and I did another.
I was extremely wired on both the cocaine and the last effects of the speed, sitting on the couch with Ryan and Bill as the band ended the last song and Kevin spoke over the mike. The room lights were raised while he wished Rick a happy birthday, and thanked his dad for the chance to play the party. Then he thanked the crowd for their participation, and asked them if they were ready to really sing. They responded with loud cheers and applause.
"Awesome!" Kevin said. "So, how about we give Rick his favorite song, and we all sing it with him?"
Kevin gestured to Brent on the drums, then counted.
Brent began the start of "Love Is Like A Rock," pounding the beat. Terry strummed his bass, nearly vibrating the floor of the stage. The drums did vibrate the stage floor. Kevin gestured to Brent, making a drawing out gesture, which Brent understood. They stretched the intro of the song, working the crowd.
Kevin threw his hand across the strings of his guitar and broke into a loud, rough version of the song. This time they all improvised a bit, making the song even more rowdy and energetic. I thought it sounded great. Kevin saw that I wasn't at the keyboards and gestured at me as Wil played. Ryan shoved me off the couch and I reluctantly sat down at the Oberheim. I came in with my part, and I listened as I played, enjoying how it added another level to the song. Kevin worked the crowd, making them sing the song at the top of their lungs. The guys stretched the middle section, repeating the chorus for the crowd to sing several times. Then they drew the ending out as well, making the crowd breathless.
Kevin and Wil stopped playing, letting Brent on drums and Terry on bass repeat the last part of the song over and over as the people standing in front of the stage sung until they were panting. I had long ago lost their pace and was just enjoying the show. Eventually Kevin swung his arm over his head several times, and then brought his arm down in a cutting gesture. They cut off cleanly.
The crowd exploded into applause and cheers, several girls were jumping up and down and yelling. I was amazed. Not only at how well they had played the song together, almost improvising, but at the reaction of the listeners as well.
The rest of the lights in the room came on, illuminating the entire room brightly for the first time since we were getting set up. The stage lights went out. Once the blinding glare ceased, and my eyes adjusted, I saw that there were about twenty kids standing at the front of the stage. I was stunned to see a dozen guys from school mixed in the crowd. I recognized several friends. I was suddenly paralyzed.
I realized then that I should have expected that. I had found out it was Rick's party, and I knew almost everyone from the tables at school had been invited and were there.
"Thanks again for letting us play for you, Rick. It was our pleasure. Happy birthday, man, and many more."
Kevin clapped, instigating another round of applause, this time directed at Rick.
Rick was standing in front, smiling, laughing, applauding the band. Standing around him were Kevin Thorne, Marcus Dolby, Cooley Black, and Scott Swenson from the breakfast table. Brian Collier, Danny Paulson, Paul Toomee, Jeremy Wischtein, and Wesley Howard from our lunch table. There were more guys from school, but I didn't know all their names. Several girls were there, too, half of which I knew by name.
Now the applause felt personal, real, shocking.
We began breaking down everything, and Rick and the guys and girls I knew approached me. I was surrounded by a dozen people from school. I had never expected such a situation when I had agreed to play with Kevin's band, nor while we had practiced at the twins'. I hadn't even thought of it even while we played, once I had figured out that it was Rick's party. I had no idea how to act, how to feel, what to do, or say. I felt as if I had been caught doing something wrong by many of my friends as they closed in on me.
"Dude! No wonder you couldn't make it! And I was trying to find out what you were doing that you couldn't come!" Rick said, grinning.
"I couldn't say anything, ya know?"
"So cool! I didn't know you were in a band! And a kick-ass one, too!" Danny said loudly.
I shrugged, growing even more embarrassed.
"Oh, look, he's shy about his music," Cooley teased with well-intended humor.
"I didn't even know you played," Marcus said with awe.
Scott looked as if he had just caught me solving the black matter problem. Wes punched me on the shoulder and simply said, "Damn."
"You played beautifully. Did you make that up?" Kathy asked, grinning at me.
"That was better than the original, guys," Rick said.
"They are rather good," Rick's dad said, walking up to the crowd. "They started a little rough, but they played very well once they got started."
"Well, the birthday song isn't requested all that often," Kevin said from where he was wrapping wire.
"Dad, they kicked butt. Serious."
"Think they deserve a bonus?"
"Hell yeah! Uh, yes, sir."
His dad laughed.
"I might agree with you."
He turned and rejoined the few remaining adults.
"I'll get him to give ya guys one," Rick said with a grin.
The group of party-goers and I continued to talk as we broke down the equipment. I tried to get the conversation off music, but they would drag the topic back up by asking me how long I had been playing the synthesizer, if I could play this song or that one, if I could make this sound effect from this movie or that one from that song. Soon, but not soon enough, it was time to haul everything out to the cars. Rick pulled me to the side.
"Dude, hey, can't you stick around? Got pizza comin' in a bit."
I hadn't expected that, and wasn't sure if I should. Or if I even wanted to. I wondered if the twins wanted to stay the night at my place, or if I could stay over at theirs - both ideas stirred my libido. I was sure that Ryan would be willing. It was after ten, and I had told my parents I would be home before midnight.
"I don't know. I didn't tell my parents I'd be gone all that late."
"Call 'em," he offered.
I shrugged internally.
I agreed, and after packing most of the things in the cars, I asked Rick where a phone was. Mom answered right away, causing images to play in my mind of her sitting by the phone, waiting for the police to call about the horrible accident I had been in. She was fine with my staying over at a friend's for the night. I told her I would get a cab home sometime tomorrow. She told me to call her for a ride when I was ready. I mentioned going to the twins from where I was. She told me to call her for a ride. I said that one of the guys at Rick's birthday party could drive me there. She said to call her for a ride. I sighed.
Back with the band and the group from school, Kevin said that he wanted to start practice at noon at the twins' place. We all agreed. I told them that Rick and I were good friends at school, and had been asked to stay. The twins seemed a bit surprised and let down.
As we finished loading the cars, I nodded the twins toward the little bathroom, and handed them the largest bud and some papers from the baggie in my pocket. I wondered if I would even be able to find a place or the time to sneak off to twist and burn one before arriving at the twins' place tomorrow.
There are few things as pleasing as the smiles of the twins when you give them some pot. They swore they would find a way to pay me back for it, and I waved it off.
"You know Tim left a metric butt-load of it for the Circle, not just for me, so forget it."
As we turned to leave the little bathroom, I felt a hand on my ass, which roamed a bit, then a firm squeeze. I knew who.
The twins and the rest of the band left, leaving me in a massive mansion with a large circle of fellow geek and nerd friends from school, and a very few adults. And a pocketful of pot.
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The Circle 3 will be available around January 2014.
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