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Delayed Reaction
By musicxorxmisery

 


Delayed Reaction

Rian Ross- Eighteen years old, singer/ guitarist

Emily Hooks-Eighteen years old, singer/ guitarist

Pete Smith-Nineteen years old, singer/ bassist

Jon Urie-Nineteen years old, keyboard

Spencer Walker-Sixteen years old, drums

“Let's all scream and shout

We're just kids with big dreams and broken hearts

But, oh, I swear one day we'll make it out

And when this is over

When we go

I just want you to know

That I'll stand by your side”

-“Miles to Go”, by Rian Ross

PART I

The dim light from the bar barely lit the dark alley, in which I was standing with Pete, waiting for the rest of the guys to bring out the equipment. It had been a long, hard day, and it was too late to be doing stuff like this. I was finally ready to relax, unwind…

“We were amazing tonight!' I heard Jon exclaim from the shadows, carrying his overused keyboard in our direction.

“Finally,” I sighed, glancing at Pete while catching the keys that had just been thrown my way.

I began unlocking our battered old pick-up while Spencer followed Jon, carrying a drum that looked much too big for his tiny body.

“What took you guys so long?” Pete asked incredulously, helping to load the instruments in the back. The two of us had been waiting out here for twenty minutes, not a very fun thing to do at the end of October in Chicago.

Emily, who had just walked into the alley to join us, answered excitedly, “You know that guy William Beckett?”

I nodded. We had played a couple shows with his band.

“Well,” she went on, “His band just got signed to this new label, and they are hosting a Chicago area Battle of the Bands. He's gonna judge, and says that we should try out!”

Jon smiled and added, “And he said that the winner gets signed!”
“Are you serious?!” I asked excitedly, but also disbelievingly. It was hard to be convinced of someone actually liking us enough to sign us.

“He is!” Spencer replied, joining the conversation, “He said that the song was written exceedingly well, and he hasn't heard such brilliant vocal harmonies in a long time. Plus,” he continued, now looking proud, “He told me that he hasn't seen a drummer as talented as me, ever. Not even his own.”

This was true. No matter how young he is, his drumming skills are amazing. I sighed again, this time in relief. Getting real recognition was definitely a good thing that hasn't happened very often lately. I've always known we were good; it was just hard to get any attention in a city this big. We just happened to get extremely lucky tonight.

Jon and Pete proceeded to talk animatedly about how to prepare for the Battle of the Bands, which would take place in two weeks-on November 15th. I quietly continued to load the truck, wrapped in thought.

All five of us share a tiny, two bedroom apartment four blocks away from Wrigley Field. Pete and Jon work full time at the grocery store down the street, both of them being nineteen and out of high school. Lucky them. Emily and I are both eighteen, juggling part time jobs at the smoothie shop on Broadway with finishing our senior year. The four of us were living there by our own will, but our drummer…

Spencer is sixteen and in his junior year. A job is out of the question, because he is already on the verge of flunking. I mean, he's a brilliant kid, but he just can't do stuff like that. The fact that we go to a Chicago public school doesn't help, either. The teachers don't have much time to worry about teaching, considering they are paying too much attention to the mini gang wars that might break out at any moment. Kicked out by his violent, drug- abusing father, he was forced to move in with his band mates.

Together, we are Delayed Reaction, and nothing in any of our lives matter more than our music and each other. Sure, living two and three people to a room gets really cramped, and we bicker back and forth constantly. But we are a family, closer to one another than we are to any of our true, flesh-and-blood family members.

So as we all piled into the truck, finally ready to retire for the night, I couldn't help but be thankful for this chance. It would be amazing if we could win this, to be able to afford a better home; maybe even separate ones. Even with four of us working, it was still extremely hard for us to get by. Most of the money went to our instruments and recording space.

Squished between Jon and Emily, I decide to join the conversation.

“What do you think we should play?” I asked

“I'm thinking `Only Regrets' or `Lying Games',” Emily replied.

“I don't know,” I said doubtfully, “maybe we should write something new.”

“Why?” Jon asked, confused.

“Well, I mean, our stuff's good and all, but I don't know if what we already have is good enough to beat out every band in northern Illinois.” The guys and Emily just looked at me doubtfully.

So I just kept quiet for the rest of the ride, listening to them talk. We were right by Lake Michigan, and I began watching the people running along the beach, exercising at one in the morning. The boats were rocking gently in the wind, lights reflecting off the black water. It was times like these, just driving past the skyline, that I truly felt the magic of this place, the reason why we were doing all of this.

When we finally arrived in the parking garage, the attendant hurried out of his little office with a cart, well prepared for our arrival. I mean, it's about time for him to realize that we would need one every time we all left together. We played about four shows a night, not the best thing for people who have to wake up at six the next morning for school.

After putting our stuff in the cart, we trudged through the hallway to the elevator. As usual, Spencer and Pete raced to press the silver “12” button on the control pad. Also like always, Spence won. We rode up, cramped again, making faces into the camera. I'm sure the security guards need some entertainment every once in awhile.

Once we got to our hallway, Jon and I raced to our apartment, trying to unlock the door first. Jon won, and I sighed as I put the instruments on the couch in the living room, which had a beautiful view of the city and the lake. We all started getting ready for sleep, it being Monday a night.

Emily and I made our way into the smaller bedroom. I collapsed onto my twin sized bed across the room from hers, planning on falling asleep in my regular clothes. I took my iPod off my nightstand and listened to some of our earlier demos.

She's putting on that make-up

For only her to see

When she passes

Broken glasses

Like her shattered dreams

I must've fallen asleep before I could finish even that first song, because the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off. The light through my window was dim through the curtains and as I stretched, I glanced at my clock - 6:30. Slowly I stood, still not completely awake, and went through the motions of getting ready.

At 7:15, with my red hair straightened and black hoodie on, I went to the boys' room to wake up Spencer. When I saw him, though, I didn't want to; he looked so at peace while he was sleeping. I sat at the edge of his bed, running my fingers through his light brown, shoulder length hair. He stirred.

“Wake up, Spence,” I said softly, leaning in to kiss his forehead.

Before you get any ideas, let me just explain my relationship with Spencer. He's almost three years younger than me, and I love him, but like my little brother. It's the same with all of us in this band, towards anybody.

He opened his eyes, startled, although I'm the one to wake him up every morning; Pete and Jon don't have to wake up for another hour.

“Oh, hey,” he said, relaxing, his brilliant blue eyes looking up at me sleepily.

I patted his arm and looked at him for another moment before leaving the room. He worried me, because he seemed so fragile. I was always scared that it was only a matter of time before he would break. Not only had he been kicked out at fifteen, but also beaten for all of those long years by his cruel father. He's so sweet, and has done nothing wrong. People are so cruel…

So now, he's always struggling at school, most likely due to the fact that he never had any help as a kid. It seems like the only thing he finds peace in is our music.

Once we were all ready and had eaten our vegetarian breakfasts, we made our way down to the truck; Pete and Jon could walk to work. Emily got in the driver's seat, and Spencer and I took the back.

The drive was relatively quiet, except for when I had to help Spencer study for his science test. When we finally pulled in and I saw who was waiting for us in the parking lot, I sighed. We stepped out of the truck in our normal formation- Emily on the left, slightly ahead of Spencer, and me on the right, slightly behind him. It was our defensive position.

As the tall, burly figure of Patrick approached us, I knew that the torture was starting early today. The familiar feeling of dread quickly seeped into my veins as Patrick smiled and began to say, “Well, look who decided to show up today!”

Automatically, Emily and I stepped in front of a scared looking Spencer, prepared to fight if we had to.

“Go away, Patrick,” I snarled furiously.

“Shut up, scene girl,” he replied coolly, “Its time to make this little girl into a man.” He was pointing to Spencer.

“No!” Emily shouted, jumping at Patrick. He was too strong, though, and he threw her off. Not before I could get my chance at him.

I kicked his shin and then his knee, causing him to collapse. It gave us just enough time to run into the school building.

“I'm so, so sorry,” Spencer said to us, shaking.

“Don't worry, we're fine,” Emily consoled, pulling her sleeve down over the scrape she had just received.

The boy looked mad, though.

“I can't ever stand up for myself! No wonder they beat me up. I'm such a coward,” he went on to say, pulling his books from his locker.

I rolled my eyes, “Don't say that. He's such a closed-minded loser. Just because you can't play sports and you aren't an idiot…” I was the angry one, now.

“I am stupid! I'm gonna flunk, Rian. They don't like me because I'm a loser. I can't do anything right!”

Emily burst in, “You aren't stupid, Spencer, you have a brilliant mind! Can't you remember what William said to you last night? There are lots of girls that would like a guy like you, why can't you see that??”

“Oh yeah, like who?” he asked coolly.

Flustered, she stuttered out, “I- I don't know any juniors! But I definitely know that there are lots of people that could like you, Spencer, or that already maybe do...” Her cheeks were flushed, and she seemed glad to not have to speak anymore. Luckily for her, Spencer was turned around.

I gave her a questioning look as we left him to get to our hallway. It almost gives me physical pain, to have to leave him behind like that. Anything could happen. Thinking about next year, when he would be here alone, was even worse…

She sighed, still blushing slightly, and said, “I don't know, Rian, but… I think I might…I… I like Spencer.” She rushed to get the last words out, looking at me expectantly.

“…Oh…” was all I could manage to say, not returning her glance. I never would have guessed…

“Yeah, but of course I'm not gonna do anything about it, I swear!” she added hurriedly, “Because I know that could mess everything up.”

Still pondering, I simply answered with a nod as I made my way to my own locker. Emily likes Spencer? How strange… I thought we'd all been on the same page, that we all felt family-like feelings toward each other. I guess not…

As I got to my first hour class, which also happened to be my least favorite, I started to think again. Only not about the boring math problems.

Emily and I had met the summer before eighth grade at a summer camp in the suburbs. We were thirteen, the oldest kids there, but we were a year too young to be counselors in training(CITs) . The first time we talked, it was about each other's t-shirts - she had Green Day, and I had Guns N Roses. It seemed like we were immediately best friends, mostly due to the fact that we had almost everything in common.

The end of summer was hard, though, because she lived on the south side of Chicago, in a different district than me. It seemed like even through the distance, though, I was still closer to her than any of the people I knew at my school. After school was out, we both decided to volunteer at the YMCA camp we had gone to before. We were finally able to be CITs, and the counselors here were only one year older than us. The first one I was assigned to was Mr. Jon Urie. Our job was to watch a group of screaming seven year olds run around the field by an old church. Let me just say, it was the beginning of the best time of my life. I had a lot in common with him as well, and he was very skilled musically - he could play six instruments. All we did all day was talk, and we never ran out of things to say. Whenever I would have problems, his deep brown eyes would penetrate mine, understanding everything I said.

When we got reassigned, I was almost heartbroken. Almost. Emily and I, who I had still seen and talked to every day, both got assigned to Pete Smith. If the boy could do one thing, it was make us laugh. The stories he would tell would keep us entertained and asking questions for hours. Plus, he was extremely smart and almost as insightful as Jon. It's sad to admit, but both Emily and I had huge crushes on the guy.

Then, near the end of summer, the four of us got assigned to a group of twelve year olds. In it was Spencer Walker. At that time, he seemed even frailer. I was always scared to touch him, because he seemed so fragile. Looking into his eyes could cause people physical pain. But at the end of the summer, anyone who saw him could see a little more light in his eyes than before. The four of us had taken care of him, and watched out for him because nobody else would.

When that fateful summer ended, nothing could keep the five of us apart. All of us, except Spencer, all attended the same high school. On the weekends, we would take Spencer over to one of our houses, so he could escape.

I don't remember when exactly it happened, but somehow we had all just started randomly playing music together, nothing really special. We soon began to have real practices, and we finally named ourselves.

By this time, Spencer was a freshman, Emily and I were sophomores, and the other two were juniors. We didn't become really serious, playing gigs and all, until their senior year. When they graduated and moved into their own place, I followed, tired of living with parents who did nothing but constantly scream and shout at me and each other. Emily came soon after, with reasons identical to mine, around the time Spencer got kicked out. That was kind of a relief to all of us, actually; we wouldn't have to worry about not seeing him the next day after one of his dad's drunken rages.

So now here we are, struggling to get by, but happy as we do so. If we win this, it would honestly mean the world to us. We obviously have nothing to worry about leaving behind here, other than each other, and that wouldn't happen.

As the bell rang and I walked to my next class, I passed Emily.

“Hey,” I said, grabbing her arm to stop her, “It's fine, you know, that you like Spencer.”

She looked at me with relief. “Thanks, Rian.”

I smiled back. “No problem.”
As usual, the day dragged on slowly until the final bell rang. I walked out to the truck where the other two were already waiting.

“Hey,” Spencer greeted me, looking a bit sad.

“Hi,” I replied, smiling. He seemed to lighten up a bit.

We piled in, me taking the driver's seat, and headed home. It was only 3:30, so the other guys would still be at work for another hour. Once we walked through the door, each of us automatically grabbed an instrument. As far as I knew, there was no show tonight, so all we had to do was practice. The other two were playing one of our newer songs, “This Place”, but I was in the mood to write something new. Acoustic guitar in hand, I began playing something softer than usual, prettier. I hummed along, but I didn't have any lyrics. Writing down the notes, I began to think of some…

When the other two walked in, I was still concentrating on the new song. I wasn't sure where it was coming from, but I knew that it would take awhile to finish. Writing was a long process for me. Being a perfectionist, it took me at least a week just to make revisions. But it was what I found peace in, what I enjoyed doing. If I wasn't a musician, I would've focused on being an author.

“Aloha,” Pete said as he jumped onto the couch, right next to me.

“Hey,” I replied, not looking up.

“Watcha doin'?” he asked childishly.

“Writing a song,” I replied in the same sing- song voice.

He looked at my tattered black notebook for a minute, reading my jumbled lyrics.

“They look good,” he finally said, serious.

“Thanks,” I replied.

After a few minutes he left my side, going over to join the other guys. From what it sounded like, we would be playing `Contridictions'.

“Rian, come on and play with us!” Emily said from the other end of the room, holding out my guitar. I sighed, setting my pen down beside me. I had written the lyrics to this song awhile ago, and although they weren't very happy, the music itself was very up beat.

We opening riffs, and my frustrations immediately melted away.

Every single time you've said those three words…

You flung them at me

Tried to make me happy

Even if you actually cared

All I can feel is empty

That was my opening part, and then Emily took over until the chorus.

I'm so sorry that finding out love isn't real

Is turning into such a big deal

I can't hold this in…

Why are you leaving?

Does this mean nothing at all?

Pete joined in at this part, and then I had a guitar solo. I loved this, just playing all together. The feeling still doesn't get old, and I doubt it ever will. There's just something about feeling the heavy bass in your chest, hearing everyone play all together, that made me feel all floaty inside. It feels like I can just fly away and leave everything bad behind.

After the last note, all of us were smiling. There was no doubt that music had the same effect on all of us. So for the rest of the night, we kept playing the same song. Never having realized how many flaws were in the guitar parts alone, Emily and I had to repeatedly change them as we played. After dinner and a couple breaks, it was time for us to turn in, and we were still nowhere near done.

The next day went by in the same fashion, except there wasn't a fight. I worked all during math and science on fixing the lyrics to the song, which I thought were very, very bad, once I got to thinking about them. We practiced again, and Pete had to rewrite the bass parts while Jon rearranged everything he had written on the keyboard. By the end of the week, we were all completely burnt out.

It was the night that we all accidentally fell asleep in the living room from exhaustion that I realized how completely scared I was. Not only a perfectionist, but a pessimist, too. We only had six more days until the Battle of the Bands, and I couldn't do anything but worry. While everyone else was asleep, I made every single tweak possible to the music, testing out whether or not to speed it up, or slow it down. By the 12th of November, it was barely even the same song anymore.

The contest was going to be on Sunday, and it would take place at some school downtown. We all skipped school and work on Friday to practice, and did nothing else for the rest of the weekend. Every day of those practices kinda blended together, except for Saturday. Saturday definitely stood out.

The day started out pretty normal. I was already in the living room practicing, while everyone else was still sleeping. The Battle of the Bands was in just one day, and I couldn't concentrate on anything else. I didn't hear him coming until he was right next to me, blue eyes staring intently into mine. Spencer.

“Hey,” I said quietly, not looking away from my work.

“Hey, um, could I talk to you for a minute? I mean if you aren't too busy…”

“Oh, yeah, that's fine,” I replied, setting my worn out acoustic guitar on the floor, “What's up?”

He looked down at his hands, suddenly preoccupied with them. “Rian, I've known you…what? Five years?”

I nodded my head, not sure where he was going with this.

“Well, there's really not a way to say this that's not awkward, but… Rian, I… Rian, I really, really like you,” he looked up, hopeful. I just looked back, completely shocked. I couldn't even register what I had just heard. There was no way, no way on this earth…

“Rian?” he asked, confused, after a few moments of my unresponsiveness.

“Um…um… Spencer, I'm so sorry, I just… don't think I feel the same way about you,” I finally stuttered out, not completely sure if I meant it…

“Oh… well… that kinda figures,” he muttered, somewhat angrily, while getting up.

“No, wait!” I said, pulling him back down by his arm. He looked at me questioningly, but took a seat anyway.

I took a deep breath, not sure at all of what I was going to say. “Spencer, I'm sorry. It's just that, well, I do love you, but like a brother. And with the whole Battle of the Bands thing, I haven't had any time to think about anything. And I just… I can't like you…” This was hard to say. Harder than I had ever imagined.

He sighed again, all traces of hopefulness gone. I felt so bad; I wanted to do anything in my power to make him feel better. Without thinking, I leaned in to hug him. He was so warm, so gentle… I started to pull away, but he wouldn't let me. The next thing I knew, his lips were on mine.

For those few seconds that seemed to stretch forever, I felt… whole. Like I'd found something I didn't know I had been looking for. Still locked in his embrace, I finally pulled away, smiling. At this sight, he smiled, too. I bit my lip hesitantly, thinking of something to say, as I looked up to see who had joined us…

With a horrified expression, Emily was standing in the doorway.

“How… how could you?” she whispered before turning and running back into our room.

“Crap,” I muttered, staring after her, letting go of Spencer completely.

“What's going on?” Spencer asked with a confused expression.

“Um,” I began, not sure how to say anything without making this situation worse, “Emily likes you…”
“Oh…” he replied, not needing any more explanation.

We sat in awkward silence for a few moments, both of us trying to figure out what we could possibly do to fix this. I stood up soon, heading to my room. I wasn't sure what to say, though.

“Emily?” I asked when I stepped in.

“Go away!” she replied from under her blanket. I could hear a few sobs, too.

“Em, please… just let me explain.”
“Explain what?!” she spat furiously as she sat up, looking at me with puffy, red eyes.

“I didn't mean to do that, honestly. It wasn't my fault! He kissed me, and…”

“Oh, yeah, you definitely seemed to have a problem with that,” she replied sarcastically.

I sighed as I took a seat on the edge of my bed, no doubt in my mind that this would take awhile.

I began to explain slowly, “Ok, so when he said he liked me,” I could see her cringe slightly, “I tried to tell him that I didn't feel that way, and that he's like my brother, ya know? Then he looked so… sad. I couldn't help but feel bad, so I hugged him and… he kinda kissed me. I completely forgot everything when that happened, I swear!”

She finally looked up and I said, “Emily, we've been best friends for four years. I wouldn't ever do something to purposely hurt you.”

Twiddling her fingers, she took a few moments to reply, “Well… I guess I understand, but… it still really hurts. I can't believe that something like this happened. I thought that you didn't like any of the guys!”
“I didn't until about ten minutes ago,” I confessed. It was useless to try and hide my newfound feelings for Spencer.

“Thanks for being honest, at least,” she replied, “I guess it doesn't really matter that much. All we should be worrying about right now is the band, and I have no intent to break us up just because of this. Just… please… don't be kissing him and stuff when I'm around…”
I cut her off with, “Oh, don't worry about that! I honestly don't think me and him are going anywhere soon. And…” I added, “I'm sure when we get signed, you'll meet plenty of guys you like more than Spencer.”

She sighed, seeming a little bit happier now.

“Oddly, this really isn't bothering me. As long as Spencer is happy, I think I'll be fine,” she said laying back, staring at the ceiling.

“Yeah… thank you so much,” I said, completely relieved. That was MUCH easier than I thought it would be.

“You're welcome. It's really no big deal.” She shrugged nonchalantly.

So we went back into the living room to join the others; Jon and Pete had just woken up and were talking to Spencer in hushed voices.

“Hey, guys,” I said obliviously. I had a pretty good idea of what they were talking about, anyway.

“Oh, um, hey!” Pete said just a little too loudly.

“Sup,” Emily acknowledged, sitting on the couch next to me with her beautiful les Paul already on her lap. Spencer still looked confused.

So, for the rest of the day, we had a huge practice session. Spencer, Emily, and I said nothing about what had happened this morning, so it wasn't really all that awkward. Honestly, the song was really getting on my nerves. We would be able to play it perfectly, if anything.

Finally, around midnight, we decided it would be a good idea to turn in earlier than usual. We would all have to wake up at seven to get ready and be there by nine. But of course, I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep, due to nerves. I was surprised to see that the three guys were already awake and showered, cleaning up and fixing their instruments. I joined them, switching my guitar strings and polishing its bright red paint. Finally, running out of things to do in there, I decided to start getting ready. After taking a shower, I straightened my hair, which was now bright red with black extensions underneath. I chose a pair of black skinny jeans, a red t-shirt, and a black vest. I applied my eyeliner carefully, and then put on my worn out Converses. At about that time Emily woke up and started getting ready hurriedly, realizing that it was almost eight.

Once she was done, we all looked ready to go. We were all wearing almost the exact same pants; Jon was wearing a green and white striped button down, Pete had on a purple hoodie, Spencer's shirt was red, black and white, and Emily was wearing a shirt like mine, only blue instead of red. I have to say, at that moment, we really did look like we could be rock stars. Hopefully, we would be soon.

So then, deciding to head over to the school early, we began to bring our instruments down to the parking garage. For some reason, the mood seemed solemn, which felt very wrong.

As we got closer and closer, I began to feel extremely nervous, which is really strange, because I NEVER get nervous about performing anymore. When I looked at Emily's face for reassurance, I found that her expression mirrored mine. Not good.

When we pulled into the parking lot, we found that there was a HUGE line of people standing outside in the freezing cold, holding their instruments. Our competition. I'd known that there would be quite a few bands playing today, but this was way more than I was expecting. The fact that we were early didn't help my nerves much, either. Even worse, once we got out of the truck, even the guys seemed fearful. What was going on with us?

So we pulled our stuff out of the bed of the truck, preparing to hold it all while standing in line for at least an hour. I ended up carrying my guitar in its bag on my back, my amp, and a bass drum. Fun. The line wasn't so bad, though, and we got to see who we would be up against. Directly in front of us were six mime-looking people, and in front of them were people dressed completely in black, including black sunglasses and lipstick. The worst part was the huge, scary-looking guy who was wearing lipstick as well.

Soon, we could actually see the frantic looking woman at the table in front of the line, attempting to get all of the bands signed in. I felt kinda bad for her, what with the somewhat menacing guys I'd seen in the line in front of us. Like lipstick dude. Finally, we were up.

“And what's your name?” she asked warily.

“Delayed Reaction,” Jon said proudly.

She sighed with relief. “Good, finally a band that's already signed up.”

We all looked at her, confused. I couldn't remember signing up for anything.

Seeing our faces, she added, “You must be the one's Will put down, then.”

As we walked in, I felt strangely optimistic. William Beckett had signed us up. Out of all of the bands he had seen, he remembered ours. That's definitely a good sign.

She gave us a little map of the building and showed us the room our band had to go into and wait. We pushed through the crowded hallway to get to room 26B. When we opened the door, we found that we weren't alone. Inside were two guys and two girls, who were all dressed kinda like us. The classroom was completely plain white with old-looking linoleum floors and really dim lights.

“Hey,” one of the girls said when we walked in.

“Hi,” Pete replied, sighing as he finally put the heavy equipment down.

One of the guys, who had extremely light blonde hair, said, “Hi, I'm Andy. This is Emily, Abby, and Chris.” He pointed to each of them.

“Our band's called Deep Waters,” the other guy, Chris, added.

Jon stood back up and said, “I'm Jon, this is Spencer, Pete, Rian, and we have an Emily, too. Our band's called Delayed Reaction.” Like before, he seemed really proud when he said our name.

Their Emily smiled at this, and then they went back to tuning up their instruments. We did the same, and I asked casually, “So, do you have any idea when you're playing?”
“Yeah,” the girl named Abby answered, “Both of us are supposed to go down at two, which is in,” she checked her watch, “Three hours.”

I nodded my head and went back to my work. The other band seemed nice, but I didn't want to get distracted. Instead, I focused on doing vocal warm ups and scales on my guitar, to get my fingers loose. My nerves melted away as the music flooded throughout the room. Soon, though, I became distracted, because the other band was so… good. I mean, extremely good. They had no keyboard, and one of their guitarists was playing on an acoustic guitar. It sounded so natural, so beautiful. Only the girls sang, and their harmonies were amazing.

I looked over and saw that Spencer was watching, agape. He saw my glance and returned it, looking slightly afraid.

Sooner than I thought possible, it was 1:30. Emily and I both went to the bathroom to touch up our makeup while the guys stayed behind to re-tune the guitars.

“Okay, that other band… they really scare me,” Emily said as soon as we were out of that cramped room.

I just nodded, not sure if I could even speak. My face in the mirror was unusually pale, even for me, and I could actually see the fear in my eyes. What's going on with me?? We're going to win, we're going to win…

I said that out loud, and Emily nodded. I attempted to smile into the mirror, but it looked more like a grimace. I took my overused eyeliner out of my pocket and traced my eyes shakily. It came out looking alright, though. Luckily, my hair was still fine, because I didn't know if I would have the patience to do anything with it. The both of us got done at about the same time, and we silently exited together.

When we got back to the room, it was time to start heading down. We all stood in a circle, trying to find a little bit of composure in all of the nerves and fear.

Still looking down, I said, “Okay, I don't have a doubt in my mind that we will win this. I mean William Beckett, the head judge, really likes us. But, if we don't make it… it's not over. Right?” I looked up at the last part. Everyone nodded, still closing their eyes. Pete didn't seem very with it, though.

Without speaking, we formed a group hug, me in between Spencer and Jon. It felt so nice, to be with them. I hoped, hoped so bad, that we wouldn't have to give this up…

The lady who had been at the front table suddenly came in, causing us all to jump a little. “Okay guys, it's your turn. Please bring everything you need with you, we will be going to the gym. Deep Waters will be playing first.”

So we gathered our instruments, following her down the long hallway that was not nearly as crowded as before. In the huge gym were at least one hundred people other than the judges sitting in folding chairs in front of the stage. This gave me some comfort, because it was always easier to play for a crowd than for just a few people. So as the other band began setting up, we started on our paperwork. They were all basic questions: names, addresses, ages, music style, how long we'd been together. By the time we were done with that, it was time for us to perform. I'd been trying as hard as possible to block out the sound from the stage as the other band played.

The curtain was closed as we hurriedly set up in our usual positions: Spencer in the back, Jon on the far left, me next to him, then Emily, then Pete. We all gave each other one last hopeful, nervous glance as the curtains reopened, revealing the audience. I was instantly calmed by the sight of this crowd; it was just like any other show.

“One, two, three four!” Spencer shouted as he hit his drumsticks together. I started singing my part, my voice coming out more perfectly than ever. When Emily took over, she sounded just as great. Pete's screaming part came out stronger than ever, and by the chorus I hadn't messed up once.

Now you're leaving me behind

It's finally time

I should've seen it coming…

This isn't helping

Please just hold me close

And lie just one last time…

Say, “Everything's all right

At that part, mine and Emily's harmony sounded perfect, and Pete joined in at just the right time. The crowd was pumped and singing along, although I'm sure most of them had never heard this before. Definitely a good sign. Jon was getting as into the show as usual, doing the normal handstands and flips over his keyboard. Spencer was drumming like mad, but not having to struggle at all to keep up with the fast paced beat. I screamed out the last note at exactly the same time as the other two, the static from the amps coming in at exactly the right distortion.

With one last note from Jon, we were done. I honestly couldn't feel anything but my heart beat as the crowd went absolutely wild, although they sounded very far away. Glancing over to Emily, I saw that she seemed similarly dazed. The curtains closed, and we picked up our instruments even faster than we'd set them up. We were met by an ambush as we exited the stage, and I couldn't help but smile. Never had a crowd been so enthusiastic.

Front table lady led us back to the classroom, where we'd have to wait in until 6 o'clock. We weren't allowed to see any of the other bands perform; I guess they were scared that we would ambush each other.

Jon was the first to speak, saying, “We were amazing out there! The crowd LOVED us, there's no way that we didn't win.”

Spencer replied excitedly, “I know! We've never played a show that well. I don't think any of us messed up once!”

After a few more minutes of conversation, Pete and Emily decided to find a vending machine and buy us whatever they could find. Jon turned on his iPod, tuning everything else out; it was just Spencer and me. It took him a minute to register that we could finally talk about what was going on between us without the rest of the band listening. He scooted closer to where I was, which was on the floor in the corner.

“Hey,” he said quietly, sitting down.

“Hi,” I replied, honestly not sure of what else to say.

“Um,” he began, “About yesterday morning…”

Cutting him off before I was even sure of what was coming out of my mouth, I said, “It was perfect.”

Taken aback, he stuttered out, “Wha… what?”

Eyes closed, I took a deep breath and continued, “It took until you kissed me for me to realize that I… well, I like you, too. A lot.”

“Oh,” he said, stunned. He seemed pretty happy as well.

“Yeah…” I trailed off, not knowing what else to say.

We sat in silence for the next few minutes, contemplating what should happen next.

Spencer began, “Rian, I think-”

“We finally found it!” Pete exclaimed, bursting through the door with a small feast in his arms.

I sighed, knowing that we'd have to wait until much later to finish this conversation. Spencer was biting his lip, looking as if it was very hard to hold in what he had to say. Maybe it was.

Until the time that we could finish working out what was happening between us, I decided to just chill out and have fun. That's definitely something I hadn't done for awhile. Emily and Jon had brought back six mini bags of chips, a few packages of pop tarts, and way too many candy bars. We threw it all in a pile and sat in a circle, talking and laughing like we had when times had been simple, when our futures didn't depend on our music. It was amazing how little we knew about each others current lives, although we all live together. We spent at least an hour talking about work and school. Followed by that was poker, which we played with an old deck of cards found at the bottom of my purse and Doritos.

Before any of us knew it, the clock read 5:30, and it was time to head back down to the gym. I felt happier, bubblier than I had in such a long time. It felt like summer camp again. The faces of all of my band mates told me that they all felt the same way. This day was perfect, and I didn't even know the outcome yet. It seemed as if nothing could go wrong…

The gym was packed, allowing us a space that normally only held three people. We squeezed, although Emily ended up practically sitting on both Jon and Pete's legs. I could practically feel all of the excitement radiating from all of us in the room, anticipating the information that we would be receiving.

Suddenly, the curtain opened. I screamed along with everyone else as out onto the stage came William Beckett, the reason our band was here. After the deafening roar quieted, he began, “Hey, everybody, thank you so much for coming out to the first Decaydance Chicago-area Battle of the Bands!”

Another deafening applause began, and William just smiled, waiting it out.

He continued, “Each and every one of you are very talented human beings. I'm sorry that we can only sign one band, even though all of you are more than worthy of being signed. Before I announce the top three bands, I would just like to congratulate you all, and remind you that this is in no way the end. You should all continue your musical careers, and I will most definitely buy all of your records.”

With this, he was handed a plain white envelope, which he seemed to be opening remarkably slow.

“Okay,” he began, “In third place, we have a band straight from St. Louis! It's Deep Waters!”

The band we had shared a room with stood up, elated, and walked to the stage. Both of the girls hugged William as the guys were handed their $500 check. I think I even saw their Emily cry, out of happiness. They were MUCH more pleased with that outcome than I would've been.

“Okay, second is,” He cringed, “This is honestly my favorite band I've seen all day. I know they're going somewhere, but sadly, I'm not the only judge. Here you have them, Delayed Reaction!”

The second he said our name I couldn't… feel. It was like all of my senses were completely knocked out, and I was watching a silent movie. A horror movie. Pete's eyes were frozen open, and Spencer couldn't seem to bring his jaw back up. I couldn't even bear to look at Emily, because I knew that her face would look similar to mine - tear stained.

I stood, as if in a trance, and walked out the door. I saw William's face. It was confused; he must've been wondering why we didn't go up on stage and take the check, which would be worth $1000 this time. The rest of them followed, none of us looking back. We ran the rest of the way to the room where our instruments were, and I could tell that more of us than just Emily and I were crying. I snatched up as many instruments as I could see, not paying attention to anything; I honestly couldn't.

Once we got out to the parking lot, I heard Pete curse loudly. I turned around in time to see him hurl his $6000, 1965 vintage Fender Precision bass onto the blacktop. His prized possession, completely ruined.

Concerned, I threw all of the instruments into the back, just as he opened the door and took the driver's seat.

“Pete, I don't think you should drive,” Jon said calmly. Or maybe just apathetically.

“Don't tell me what I can and can't do!” he shouted, eyes gleaming with some sort of malice.

“Pete…” Emily whispered.

His expression softened, but not by much. It was still bad enough to make me cringe.

Not sure of what else to do, I opened the door to the passenger seat. I wanted to be scared but… I just couldn't. Everyone else took their seats as well, looking just as upset as I must.

The car jerked out of the parking space, slamming my head into the back of my seat. There weren't any lights, so I was sure that Pete couldn't see anything he was doing.

I remember turning out of the parking lot, too fast for him to check whether or not any cars were coming from the other directions. I also remember it suddenly getting very bright, and hearing Emily's painful scream…

PART II

Now… now it's just… darkness. I can't see anything, and it's like I'm drowning. What's happening?

Beep beep beep beep

The sound is getting really annoying. It's really hard to think with it, or even put two thoughts together. My eyes must be glued closed, and my mouth sewn shut. It feels like there's cotton stuffed in my ears, and I can only pick up the dull beeping and a far away voice saying “… five days…” and “…might pull the plug”

“… can't take it. Not with Pete…”

Pete. Pete. There was a new noise now, but I couldn't stop thinking about the name that had just spoken. Where was he, anyway? Was he drowning, too? I couldn't place any of the voices around me, so that made me wonder where the rest of my band was. I hope they're safe, and that they can actually feel their legs, unlike me. Then I heard a sob. No, a sob and a moan. What's going on? Am I dead?

I desperately wanted to find out, didn't want to be consumed in this coldness any longer. With what seemed like a great exertion, I forced my eyelids open, although they were still partially closed. The first thing I saw was a blonde, blue eyed angel, crying. Why? The room I was laying in was completely white, and standing by the wall was a dark haired angel, turned away from the painful scene. The only one who seemed to notice my struggle was sitting right next to me, looking stunned. Emily. Why were they all here with me, suffering too? I know I didn't do anything to deserve this, but I would definitely take their place to save them from this. This… pain.

“Rian…” Emily whispered, not moving.

The blonde one, Spencer, lifted his tear stained face up to look at mine, which must not have been a very pretty sight. I saw him mouth a few words, which I couldn't understand in my delirious state. The dark haired man, Jon, came closer, mouth wide open in shock.

“Oh my god,” I could hear him whisper.

I was suddenly crushed with three bodies lying on top of me. I didn't mind, though; it felt good.

“Rian… Rian…” I heard Spencer mutter, not finding anything else to say.

Although this made me feel a little bit more alive again, something was missing. I searched my groggy mind and forced out, “Pete?” It came out as a whisper.

Three things happened simultaneously. Jon straightened up, drawing in a sharp intake of breath and looking as though he had been punched in the stomach. Spencer took my hand in his, stroking it with his own. The one I took most notice of, though, was Emily's shaking head, and the tears that were suddenly streaming down her face.

It tool me a moment to register what had just happened, and another few to understand what they all meant. It suddenly dawned on me. Pete is dead.

I could feel moisture on my dry cheeks, my half closed lids fighting to hold them back. The water must've woken me, and I could suddenly feel everything. The sharp IVs in both of my wrists, the tubes hooked up to my nose, and the pressure on my arm from the band measuring my blood pressure. Most of all, though, I could feel the sudden stinging in my chest. No, the burning. Pete, my best friend, Pete, the one man who could make me laugh, even when it seemed as if my world was ending… Pete, who is now… gone.

“He's… dead?” I whispered.

Emily nodded her head sadly, not meeting my gaze. Spencer rested his head on my shoulder, not wanting to show any more tears.

This is the end. I remember thinking. This is the end, and we can't go back.

But even through the darkness, the sadness… light will come again, sometime. It just took until after the funeral, where we all saw our parents for the first time in a year. It took until after Jon gave up on us and took off for college, to “help him make sense of this messed up world.”

It took until after the day that Emily, Spencer, and I had to sell everything, which meant our apartment, our truck, and most of our instruments.

It took until the day when, deciding to leave our new, one-room apartment to get some air, I wrote a song on a napkin in the coffee shop, where I only had enough money to order water.

That was the day Spencer came home from his new job to find Emily and I playing music for the first time in months on our secondhand acoustic guitars. Spencer joined in on his drums, not rusty at all.

It took until we rushed to book a spot at our favorite club, the one that William had discovered us at, in fact.

Finally, with the newfound rush of adrenaline in my veins, and a rare smile on all of our faces, we began to play for the small crowd.

This is it, I thought as we began playing the slow, soft, sweet music. It was much different than before, seeing as there were no electric guitars, and we didn't have a keyboard. It felt more… real. Only Emily and I sang, switching off until the chorus, where we sang together, completely in harmony.

What's the weather like where you are, my dear?

Oh, just the same as right here

These little things make you seem so close

Although the distance is great

I can still hear your voice whisper my name

See that smile grace your face

Even after all this time

Your warm touch still burns on my skin

Oh, things would've been perfect, we were so close…

Chorus:

But then you had to go away, and

I know we both wanted you to stay

Fate must've been against us

As soon as I leaned to trust

You were pulled back into your own world

And out of my life

With nothing but your memories to keep me alive

Remember that time, that fateful day

You said that you loved me, just not the same way

So I put on a smile, never gave up hope

These feelings continued to grow…

Oh, things would've been perfect, we were so close

Rpt. Chorus

Just slow down, love (things could've been perfect)

Don't leave so soon, love (we were so close)

Everything could've happened differently

And now I miss you terribly!

I love you, I miss you, you've hurt me so much

I miss you, I still want to kiss you

And feel your touch

But things will never be the same

Oh, things will never be the same…

At the end, I almost cried. Even though it was me who wrote it, when the music and vocals got faster, more powerful, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by what I was singing. The song is something you'd have to really hear to understand what was so special about it. What surprised me the most, though, was the crowd. At first, they did absolutely nothing. I started getting very worried, scared that we were horrible. But then… then they broke out into the absolute loudest applause I had ever heard at any of our shows. Mind you, there were about a hundred less people here than there were at the Battle of the Bands. I smiled the biggest, most real smile I had since those few last hours with Pete in the classroom, before we found out we hadn't won. Before our lives had changed so drastically. Emily looked just as surprised and relieved, and Spencer walked right up to me and gave me the biggest, most loving hug I had ever received from him. He kissed the cheek that the audience couldn't see, and went up to my microphone.

“Thank you so much,” he said to the crowd that automatically quieted.

“It means so much to all of us that you liked that song. Our band is Forever Summer.” He stopped for a moment to let the crowd clap again, “And that song is dedicated to Pete Smith.”

We walked off the stage, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. Silently, we had a group embrace, hugging each other with all our might. We didn't stop until I felt a tap on my back. A familiar, slightly smiling face was in front of me.

“Hey,” William said, holding out his hand to me. I shook it, as did the other two.

“I'm so, so sorry about your loss,” he said, all traces of humor gone.

“Thanks,” Emily whispered quietly. We still weren't healed.

He shuffled his feet for a moment, then looked back at us. “Well, I actually came back here to tell you something really important, that I think will just about make your year.” He was smiling again.

“What is it?” I asked eagerly. Anything to get my mind off of… Pete.

“The head of the record label just gave me the power to sign any band of my choice. I chose Forever Summer.”

Into the light

Your face shines so bright

Could this just be a dream?

Shared by you and me

If what we had was happiness

This is complete joy

I love you

You love me

That is really all we need

20

 

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