6/05/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 9: Earth Blues




In the Thursday morning rain, Johnny sat by the doorway that led into the cafeteria, which was sheltered by the brick structures above.  There were only a few days left before Christmas break and everyone was winding down for it.  He was practicing the riff for the power ballad, "Truthful Lie" only playing it without his amp.  He was fine doing without it, after all during the times that he couldn't have the amp in his possession, like the few years before he finally purchased one, this was how he would play normally.  The band hadn't practiced in a very long time and he was getting worried that when the time came for them to record in Marty's friend's studio, they wouldn't be ready.  He was the only one who still owned an instrument and none of the others had gotten the chance to play anything since the carjacking.  More unfortunately, Joey lost his Bass, so any chances of Johnny working with him in more of those private sessions were nonexistent.  It was a shame.  He was starting to make progress.

Joey and Chase were accompanying him.  They had become a collective group of comrades since the forming of their band and the idea of actually maintaining a friendship outside of their professional music pursuit seemed plausible for Johnny.  A wise man once told him that it was better to create a friendship through the pursuit of business than to create a business from a friendship; it makes the friendship more genuine and minimizes the chances of betrayal.  That was all Johnny truly wanted; the peace of mind that the people by his side would stay by his side until the end.

They were the only ones outside because of the rain.  It didn't bother Johnny but he was sure that the others were only out there with him to keep him company, not because they enjoyed it like he did.  It was cool of them to do so and Johnny appreciated it.  As he sat, he tried to come up with a way to shorten the length of the riff in the song to fit the cut-off point by the bridge when Chase tapped him on the shoulder.

"Dude," he said relentlessly poking away at his arm.

"What, what?" Johnny asked, getting annoyed.

"Look over there.”  He pointed to a location somewhere in the parking lot by the school.  Johnny got up from where he was sitting to get a better view.  There was someone walking onto the campus and making his way into the building.  "Look closely....looks familiar, doesn't he?"

Johnny squinted his eyes and saw immediately what Chase was referring to.  It was a skinny guy in all black with wild hair.  His hands were in his pocket and he walked with a hunch.

"Holy shit," Johnny muttered.  "That's the guy from the Battle of the Bands."

"No way," Joey said in disbelief, standing up to take a look for himself.  "The guy who's band carjacked us?  He goes to this school?"

"Go fucking figure, right?" Chase said, shaking his head.  "I saw him in the hallway this morning.  I was going to tell you a bit earlier but now you see for yourself.  I never noticed him around until I saw him that night.  Now I've been seeing him everywhere."

The guy proceeded into the building from another entrance gave a quick but unnoticeable glimpse in their direction before disappearing behind a wall.

"We've got to get him," Joey said, starting off after him.

"Hold on, man," Johnny said, grabbing him by the shoulder.  "We've got to be tactful.  Let's investigate a little more and see if we can tail him one of these days after school, then see where that leads us.  Followin' him now won't get us anywhere but to his classroom.  Right now, he doesn't think we remember him.  We've gotta keep the element of surprise.  He'll get his, don't worry."

Johnny began to sit back down by the doorway again, when it suddenly opened and the three of them were greeted by Hal and his group of friends, hostility in the air spiking at their very presence.

"Oh shit," Joey exclaimed as the group approached.  Hal was glaring at Johnny with a stare that could break an average man's spirit, although it was apparent that Johnny was anything but average.  The cold weather had stricken all of Ladyland in these coming winter months and combined with the rain, the entire environment was near freezing, yet Johnny was the only one still wearing a T-shirt and shorts without being phased.  No one could understand it.

Hal stood, exhaling the cold air heavily as he stared at the three of them without saying a word.  His crew was only there to back him up this time.

"You gonna say somethin' or can I just walk away 'cause this staring shit is gettin' annoyin'?" Johnny said with his head tilted back casually.

"You've humiliated me for the last time," Hal said in a whisper seeping with hatred.

"You humiliated yourself," Johnny chuckled.  "You're lucky nobody was there to see it happen, so you should be happy."

Hal's lip twitched slightly as if he were actually about to growl at Johnny.  This only amused him.

"Jeez, who raped you the wrong way?" Johnny said, briefly turning to Joey with a smile, who laughed along side him.  When Johnny turned back, Hal had his fist clenched and delivered a powerful blow to his face.

It sent Johnny back a few feet into the rain, holding his jaw from the jolt.  He hadn't anticipated this.  Actually, he did anticipate the punch, he had deliberately provoked it to get a rise out of Hal and get him to be the first to go on the offensive again.  But Johnny hadn't anticipated the punch hurting this much.  He felt the side of his face.  He was bleeding.  That was no ordinary blow.  Johnny glanced up at Hal and saw that his fist was equipped with metal.  Brass knuckles.

Johnny spit blood on the ground beside him and chuckled.  "Now we're talkin'.  Time to put that pent-up sensitivity to use."

Hal charged at Johnny swiftly and tried to send another blow at his head with the Brass knuckled-fist.  Johnny obviously saw it coming and ducked out of the way, following up with two strong blows to Hal's stomach and a finisher in the face.  Hal drew back but retaliated quickly.  He tackled him around the abdomen and began to push him toward the grass.  Johnny had a good grip on him but suddenly, a loose bank in the ground caused him to lose his balance, sending the two of them falling onto the mud-strewn grass.  Dirt and water flew into the air as they began to tussle on the ground.  In a matter of minutes, several students from inside who happened to be sitting by the window hopped from their seats and made their way outside.  Soon, the entire lunch room followed them to bare witness to these two tough guys battling it out in the rain.

Johnny was briefly stunned when Hal attacked again with the Brass knuckles.  He punched him in the gut with his equipped hand, followed with a punch to the face with his bare hand, and sent a blow twice as devastating with the brass.  The blow knocked Johnny into the crowd behind him, who pushed him forward to continue the fight.  Everyone was surrounding the two of them.  They were laughing and jeering at him.  They wanted a show.  He briefly thought of stopping the fight so as to not play into the demands of the people he hated so much.  But then he remembered who started the fight.  And he realized he had to finish it.

Hal swung forward with the equipped hand once again but Johnny knocked it away, stepping up and head-butting Hal in the face.  Hal stepped back, holding his nose as the crowd reacted to the blow.  Johnny took Hal's moment of incapacitation to rip off his muddy wet shirt as quickly as he could.  When Hal turned back to him, Johnny began to swing the wet shirt at him, which, soaked with rain water, was much heavier and served as a powerful tool in the fight.

Hal was temporary blinded by the flinging water and his skin was turning red from the blows of the t-shirt.  He tried to block frivolously and the crowd began to back away as the mud and water began to sling in their direction as well.  After a while, Johnny stepped back with the shirt and just as Hal looked over to see if Johnny was letting up, he tossed the shirt onto Hal's head, obscuring his vision.

Now with an open target, Johnny dashed forward and sent several blows to Hal's covered face before reaching around to his back and kicking his feet out from under him.  Hal hit the ground face first.  Johnny grabbed his shirt-covered head and began to slam it into the hard ground, splashing mud and water up with every move.  He grit his teeth furiously as he continuously ducked Hal's head into the ground with force, the crowd cringing audibly with each blow.  Their amusement over the fight was quickly turning to uncertainty; they weren't sure if Johnny was just trying to win or if the two were actually trying to kill each other.  A group of security guards, who had been several minutes too late, were the only ones that could stop Johnny from continuing to unleashing his anger again.  They pulled him off of Hal and dragged him away from the crowd, who all stared at him with awkward and nervous smiles on their faces.  Johnny returned the smile and filled the air with laughter as he was carted away, leaving a chilling testimony for the students, ensuring them that he was indeed a force to be reckoned with, on and off the guitar.

--------------------------------------------------

Because Johnny had provoked the fight with Hal, both of them were suspended.  He could have gotten away with a self-defense plea but the information gathered by those interrogated about the incident were against him.  Johnny was sent home early with Uncle Chuck, who was proud of him for finishing the fight himself.

"I still gotta punish you though," Uncle Chuck said losing the enthusiasm he'd gathered praising Johnny for his actions.

"Why?"

"I was talking to your mama on the phone before I came to pick you up," Chuck said cautiously.  "I accidentally let it slip that I needed to go pick you up 'cause you got suspended.  She wants me to put you on punishment."

"So?" Johnny said with a smile.  "She won't know any better."

Chuck turned to Johnny with a raised eyebrow.  "We're talking about your mother, boy.  She'll know."

Johnny shrugged.  "Whatever."

Chuck and Johnny turned into the neighborhood and pulled up the driveway.  They got out of the car, entered the home, and Johnny started to go up into his room when Chuck began to lay down his punishment.

"Alright now, uh....no TV, no computer, no games."

"I don't watch TV, use the computer, or play video games," Johnny replied before entering his room.

"Right....that should be good enough anyway," Chuck said to himself before walking into the living room.

Johnny had been without a shirt since the fight and he started to grab one from his closet and put it on, but he felt like it was warm enough in the house for him to be comfortable without one.  He did however have to get some ice from the kitchen and apply it to the bruises on his ribs and jaw.  His room had been slightly decorated now, complete with several music posters from an array of different bands and musicians of Johnny's liking and a couple of random decals that he felt would liven up his habitat.  He was about to break out the Night Bird and just reminisce over his day, when thoughts began to hit him like a locomotive.  He remembered the guy he'd seen at lunch and began to contemplate a means of how to go about receiving retribution for his actions.  Now that Johnny was suspended until sometime next year, due to the upcoming Christmas break, there would be little chance of him getting the van back before those idiots ruined or got rid of it.  There had to be some way they could keep tabs on him without blowing their cover and without Johnny being there to supervise the whole operation.

In the midst of thought, someone knocked at Johnny's door.

"Come in."

Uncle Chuck opened it.  "You got a visitor, boy."

"Let 'em in."

Chuck opened the door wider and Marty came into view with a vibrant smile.

"Hey Marty, whats goin' on, man?" Johnny greeted warmly.

"Hi Johnny, nice to see you,” he said as the door shut behind him.  “Cool tattoo."

Johnny looked over at the Black Fender Wild-vine tattoo he had on his left arm.  "Oh thanks."

“What’s with the ice?  You get into a fight today?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, shuffling the bag of ice on his jaw.  “I won though, so its all good.”

"What the hell are you doing without a shirt on?  It's like 30 degrees in here."

"45 actually.  And that's warm to me."

"You're from Louisiana, one of the warmest places in the country, and 45 degrees is warm to you?  You're something else, man."

"Entirely," Johnny said with a smirk as he took a seat on his bed.  "So what's the word?"

"Got great news, man," Marty said, his face lighting up.  "I'm going to be able to get you guys into the studio earlier than I thought."

"Oh really?  Nice, when?"

"Whenever is good for you guys."

"Well, we haven't gotten time to practice since our stuff got stolen, so we need to hold one with those instruments they have at the studio before we can officially record.  Can we schedule a practice at least, before the real thing?"

"Doesn't sound like that'd be a problem to me, but I'll check just to make sure.  My dad will be there to see you guys.  He's paying for the studio time so he wants to make sure its a good investment."

"Nice nice," Johnny said, thinking it over.  "I think this Saturday would work best for us."

"Alright, well if you want, I can go ahead and call just to make sure."

"That's fine with me."

Another knock came at the door.  "You got another visitor," Chuck said, opening the door.  "It's your girl.  You know I'm thinking maybe I should make one of them punishments no visitors.  What do you think?"

"Sounds like a bad idea.  You can let her in now."

"Oh yeah, all right."  Chuck stepped out of the way and let May enter the room, who greeted Johnny with a smile.  She had her hair tied back and wore a black beret over it.

Johnny smiled at the sight of her and walked her way.  "Hey babe," he said as they embraced and kissed.

"Whoa," Marty chuckled with raised eyebrows.  "I can tell I probably need to make this call outside."

He took out his phone and walked out of the room, leaving the two of them alone.

"Chase told me about what happened at school today," May said, her eyebrow raised suspiciously.

"Oh yeah," Johnny said, rubbing the back of his head.  "I didn't start the fight, I just finished it."

"That's what they all say.  Never took you for the fighting type."

"No?  I fight all the time."

"Yeah I can see by your many battle scars," May joked as she sat down on Johnny's bed.  "Why are you shirtless anyway?  Did you know I was coming?"

Johnny chuckled.  "Yeah, I'm tryin' to be Jacob from Twilight," he teased.

"Here we go again with that.  I certainly hope not.  Besides, I think you need to work out a little more to get to that point, honey."

"That's cold," Johnny said, grabbing his guitar off of the bed and sitting down on the floor by her feet.

"So where'd you learn how to fight?"

"My dad.  He taught me how to fight, taught me a bit of how to play guitar, a lots of things.  He's the reason why I am who I am today.  He was the toughest man I ever knew.  I used to get whipped by him pretty often."

"Isn't that kind of abusive?"

"Not really.  There's a difference between abuse and discipline.  I was wrong and I got punished.  I knew he still loved me.  The whips made me tougher, I respected him more for it as I got older.  I remember one time, I was cuttin' the grass in our front yard and I passed out from the heat.  He came outside, poured some lukewarm water on my face and told me to get up and keep goin'.  I'll never forget that.  I passed out three times that day."

"Wow, that's pretty harsh."

"Yeah, but that was his way of telling me to never give up, no matter what happens.  No matter what obstacles I face, I can't ever give up, never half-step on anythin' I do.  Tough times never last, but tough people do, was what he said.  I'll never forget that.  We struggled, but we lived a good life.  We lived in a log cabin in Louisiana that was constantly surrounded by evergreens.  Statistically speakin‘, we were living below the poverty level, especially after my dad died.  I remember I could never afford a guitar case, so I used to carry the Night Bird around in a gunny sack everywhere I went."

“No way.”

“Yeah, you can’t imagine how hard it was to keep it tuned in that thing.  As hard as things were though, it was always a little bit easier having my pops around.”

"What about your mom, you barely ever talk about her," May asked curiously.

Johnny sighed.  "Before my dad died, she never did much to help me do anythin''.  My dad helped me get to where I was before he died.  And when he did, she thought she could replace him and become a hard ass about everythin' I did, blamin' me for why he died, doin' all this stupid shit that I didn't care for.  After a while, I lost all respect for her.  I still love her, but honestly, I don't give a fuck if I ever see her again.  She doesn't believe in me like he did."

May looked away in surprise.  She never knew that his relationship with his family was so strained.  It was interesting to wonder what kind of man Johnny's father could have been to create such a strange and complex human being like his son.

"My dad taught me a lot of stuff about life that I'm really grateful for.  I remember one time, I had a crush on this girl and I felt like I'd never get with her 'cause she was way out of my league, much like yourself.”  May snickered dismissively as he continued.  “Its true.  All of the people who knew kept tellin' me that kind of thing.  But when I told him about my predicament, he told me that there's no such thing as a 'league'.  It's all an illusion, created to establish dominance for certain people in the social status quo.  A modern day hierarchy, only its all an illusion because not everyone has to except it as reality and as long as I choose not to, I'll forever be one of the ones that stand out.  I'll always be the one to see reality and see these disguised people for who they really are.  I think that I still do see like that, but....my teen years, my high school years were the worst years of my life.  They were the years when everyone I trusted turned their backs on me and I had no one else to turn to, so I went on my own.  That's the reason why I can be aggressive sometimes.  Sometimes, I feel like maybe....maybe if he was still alive, he could have helped me get through it.  I could have had a foundation to lean on instead of falling on my face with no one to help me up but myself.  I'm sorry, I don't mean to rant.  I just never got the chance to talk like this out loud."

May was silent while she listened to Johnny talk.  When he was finished, she finally spoke.  "What do you think your father would say to you if he saw you today?"

Johnny sat and thought for a minute.  "I think he'd beat the livin' shit out of me, to be honest," he said, laughing.

May smiled.  "I think he'd be proud of you.  Proud that even though he wasn't there to help you when everyone was against you, you survived on your own.  And now you're going somewhere with your life, I mean aside from getting expelled and suspended all the time.  You've got talent and a bright future."

Johnny turned to May and smirked.  "You know, you should be a therapist."

May rolled her eyes.  "Please, I can't handle hearing people's problems all day.  I can barely handle hearing yours."

"God, you need to re-evaluate yourself, I swear," Johnny said playfully.  "You are so mean, you should get your life together."

A knock came at the door and it opened slightly.  "You guys aren't doing anything I shouldn't be seeing, are you?"

"No, come on in," Johnny answered.

"Okay," Marty entered quickly.  "Well the thing is, my dad and the producer at the studio want to have a meeting with you guys first to see where your heads are at right now, you know, as far as dedication goes.  They're available tomorrow and if everything goes well, they can get you guys in to let you practice as many times as you need before you record.  Should be pretty awesome."

"Sounds great, bro.  So everything's set?"

"Yep.  Just let the rest of the band know what's going down and everything should be handled smoothly.  I've got to go now, but I'll be back around 4 tomorrow to pick you and whoever else you want to go with you to the studio up."

"Yeah, I've got to go too," May said, standing up.  "I just wanted to drop by and see how you were doing.  I've got to go run some errands for my mom."

"Alright, that's cool," Johnny said, saluting to them with a quick farewell.  "I guess I'll see you guys later then."

"See ya, man," Marty said, walking out of the door.

"Bye Johnny," May said, kissing him on the lips before following Marty out of the room.  When they were gone, Johnny yawned and stretched vibrantly before noticing that his phone had been ringing on the table by his bed.  It was a new phone, replacing the other one that was stolen during the carjacking, but it still carried the same number as his old one.  He picked it up just as it stopped and saw that he had gotten a missed call from Ramsey.  Johnny grimaced and dismissed it, leaving his phone on the table.  Ramsey had supposedly been on a "vacation" and hadn't been seen at school or by Johnny since their last practice.  He never bothered to get in touch with them after the incident.  Johnny's decision was final.  Ramsey was out of the band.  He wasn't committed to it from the beginning and they didn't need him anyway.

Another knock came at the door.  "Yeah?"

The door opened and Uncle Chuck walked in.  "You know what?  I can't do enough to punish you without messin' up the stuff you got goin' here, so I think I'm just gonna whoop your ass instead, how's that sound?"

"I'm 17, I'm too old to be whipped," Johnny said with an awkward smile.

"I didn't say I'd be giving you a whipping," Uncle Chuck said, cracking his knuckles.  "I said, I'd be whoopin' your ass."

"Oh....ah shit," Johnny said with a sigh as Uncle Chuck moved in to deliver the pain.

--------------------------------------------------

Marty took Johnny and Joey downtown to a large Community Center that happened to be right across the street from his house.  The main building had several rooms rented out by various people for specific purposes, one of which would be the location of their studio destination.  They walked down a hallway of doors and Marty stopped at one.

"This is it," Marty said, knocking on the door.  Someone from inside opened it up and the three of them entered.

The room was relatively large and appeared to be a legit studio.  There was a large soundboard with three large computers that sat on top of it.  In front of the soundboard was a large window that displayed a soundproof recording room with several mics, chords, and headphones set up on the other side.  It was just as professional as Johnny had imagined.

"OH-HO-HO SHIT!" exclaimed the figure greeting them at the door.  It was Arnold Berry, the guy who'd witnessed his fight with Hal after their first practice.  He'd given him a card to his studio a few months earlier.  This must have been the set-up he mentioned, Johnny realized.  "I didn't know you was bringin' Johnny B up in the building, Mart, damn!"

"You know, Johnny?" Marty asked in surprise.

"Yeah, we met a few months ago when we were first startin' out," Johnny informed him.
"Wow, small world."

"Fa sho, Fa sho, brah," Razzberry greeted, shaking hands with Johnny and Joey.  "Man, I saw that fight you had witcha boy, Hal, the other day, man.  Eh brah, this the dude that was fightin' yesterday at lunch, brah, he was killin' that dude, brah."

He was talking to a guy sitting in a chair by the soundboard who watched silently as they entered.  He was a young light-skinned black man in equally baggy clothing, his eyebrow raised at them when they walked in.  His eyebrows were shaved sharply at their ends and his skin was only a shade darker than Johnny’s.

"Eh yo, this is Ball-Z, ya feel me?" Razzberry said, introducing the group to him.

"Uh Ballsy?" Joey repeated in confusion.

"Yeah you know, Ball-Z, like Dragon Ball Z?"

Ball-Z got up and shook hands with Johnny and then Joey.  "Nice to meet you," he said in a monotone voice, sizing them up.  Johnny could tell that he was making his judgments silently.

"Yeah, he a rapper," Razzberry continued.  "I'm just finishin' up the mixin' on his tracks and then after that we'll get into yo shit, fa sho, man.  Just take a seat."

There were two couches set up in the room.  Razzberry took a seat in front of the soundboard beside Ball-Z, who both had their own individual rolling chairs.  Johnny, Joey, and Marty took seats on one of the couches by the wall and sat in silence for a while, as Razzberry and Ball-Z finished the touch ups on his demo.  After a while, Ball-Z turned to Johnny.

"What kind of music you doing, brah?" he asked curiously.

"Classic Rock with a touch of blues and some other genres," Johnny answered simply.
Ball-Z smacked his teeth and looked away with a smirk on his face, muttering something under his breath.

"Excuse me?" Johnny said, his eyes squinted suspiciously.

"I said I knew it."

"You knew what?"

"Knew you was tryin' be white."

Johnny and Joey exchanged looks.  "I'm not tryin' to be anythin', man.  I don't know what you're talkin' about."

"You don't know what I'm talkin' about?  Okay, Mr. Uncle Tom.  Why you tryin' to make rock music, why you tryin' to appease these white folk?"

"I'm not doin' it for white people, I'm doin' it because that's the music I choose to write, that's how I choose to express myself.  What, you're gonna hate me because I don't rap like you?"

Ball-Z chuckled.  "I don't even need to worry about that, I know you can't rap anyway.  The problem I have with you is that you tryin' to be somethin' that you not."

"You don't know who the fuck I am, so who are you to tell me who I'm tryin' to be?" Johnny asked, raising his voice.

"Eh eh eh, settle down now," Razzberry said, turning to them.  "It ain't that serious, brah.  He just sayin' what he feelin'."

"Yeah that's the problem," Johnny said, glaring at Ball-Z.  "If you got your facts straight, you'd know that black people pioneered Rock N' Roll through Jazz and Blues.  Don't think you can pass judgment on me because we're the same race.  I don't need to be anythin' like you or anybody else.  I'm not fake, no matter what you want to assume.  So why don't you just do you and let me do me and we'll all be happy."

"Aight, whatever you say, brah," Ball-Z said dismissively, turning back to the soundboard.  A few minutes passed and he turned back to Johnny once again.  "I got one question though."

Johnny sighed in annoyance.  "What?"

"Your girlfriend white?"

"Yes, she is."

"Well that just confirms everything I've been talkin' about.  You a Uncle Tom and your girlfriend's a snicker licker."

"A 'what the fuck was that' now?" Joey asked, intervening.  Everyone turned to Ball-Z in confusion.

"A snicker licker.  Girl who only likes black dudes.  Tryin' to piss off daddy."

"My girl's dad is dead," Johnny responded coldly.

"Well, tryin' to piss off mama or somethin', I don't know what the deal is.  Point is, she ain't whichu because she likes you, she's whichu because you black."

Johnny laughed humorlessly and got up from his seat.  "Okay, you run your mouth too fuckin' much, buddy."

"Eh eh eh, you don't need to stand up, brah," Razzberry said cautiously trying to calm him down.

"Nah, let him," Ball-Z said getting up to face him.  "I ain't scared.  He gettin' mad because he know I'm right.  She only wit him 'cause she want to lick his snicker.  Is your girlfriend lickin' your snicker, boy?"

Johnny stepped up into Ball-Z's face and whispered menacingly.  “If you ever call me 'boy' like you're talkin' down to me like that again, I will put an end to your life."

Ball-Z snorted slightly holding back laughter.  "Okay," he said, sitting back down and turning back to the soundboard.  "This dude....cracka-lovin' nigga."

Johnny instinctively grabbed a set of headphones and wrapped the wire around Ball-Z's neck, pulling as tightly as he could.  Everyone reacted immediately as Johnny closed his hands in around the wire, cutting off Ball-Z's air supply quickly.  Ball-Z's eyes were wide with fear as Joey and Marty pulled Johnny off of him.  Ball-Z jumped up and charged at Johnny, but Razzberry pulled him away.

"What?!  What?!  You think you bad 'cause you caught me off guard, fake nigga?  I show you how a real nigga roll.  Come on, where you at wit it?  Come on!"

"Brah, get the fuck out of here with that, man!" Razzberry shouted, getting in between Johnny and Ball-Z.

"Why?  He the one who attacked me!"

"Yeah, cause you startin' shit, Ball-Z," Razzberry said loudly.  "Quit bein' fuckin' racist man, I don't appreciate that kinda atmosphere in my studio, damn!  Just leave, we'll get this shit fixed up on Sunday.  Just go!"

Ball-Z turned around and headed for the door.  "Pussy nigga," he muttered before slamming it behind him.

Johnny was breathing heavily, blinded with rage.

"You all right, buddy?" Joey asked cautiously.

"Wish you would've waited a few more seconds before pullin' me off," Johnny muttered.  He turned to his side and saw a bit of soundproof foam laying on the wall.  He roared with force and punched it as hard as he could, denting the foam where his fist was positioned.

"Get it all out, man, I know how you feel," Razzberry said, lying back in his chair casually.  "Ball-Z's a bitch, he wasn't gon' do nothin'.  He was probably scared of ya.  Closed-minded prick."

"I'm not even mad at him right now," Johnny said with clenched teeth.  "I'm mad at the fact that there are so many people in the world that think like him and there's nothin' I can do about it.  That's what I'm mad at."

"I feel ya man, but that ain't nothin' new," Razzberry said, clicking away on his computer.  "People like him have been walkin' this Earth for years.  Some of 'em are only alive because its illegal to kill the mothafuckas.  Way I see it, you just gotta keep movin' and doin' yo thang till the day you die and leave this fucked up place."

"Yeah, you‘re right," Johnny said with a deep sigh, sitting back on the couch and cooling down slowly but surely.

A few seconds later, a call came from Razzberry's phone, which was laying on the table by the soundboard.  He reached over and answered it.  "Speak....oh okay, we'll see you in a minute."  He hung up and turned to Marty.  "Mart, ya dad just pulled up, he'll be up in a sec."

"Ah okay," Marty said, getting up to open the door, which locked when it closed.  "You're really going to like my dad.  He's cool, I know he'll like you guys."

A few minutes passed and soon they were greeted by a tall middle-aged man who entered the room.  His stride was smooth and natural, as if every joint in his body was juiced with confidence.  He wore a leather jacket and torn jeans with a chain wallet on the side, topping it off with a pair of steel-toed boots at his feet.  His in-grown beard, shoulder length brown hair, and aviator sunglasses which were hanging over the bridge of his nose displayed an image that was definitely not expected from the father of such an average fellow like Marty.

"'Ello Razz," he nodded at Razzberry, who waved in recognition.  Marty's father spoke with a thick British accent.

"Sup, Mr. Mcfly."

"What do we have here?" he said vibrantly, surveying the two visitors.

"Dad, this is the guy I was telling you about, Johnny B," Marty said, introducing him.  "He's the band's lead guitarist and singer.  And this is Joey, he‘s the bassist."

"Okay, and what're you still doing here, Martin?" Marty's father asked, pulling out a cigarette from his jacket pocket and lighting it between his lips.

"Well," Marty stuttered.  "I-I'm their manager."

Marty's father chuckled.  "Please.  Go out to the car and leave us to talk."

Marty started to speak but hesitated.  Instead, he obeyed, walking past his father and out of the room, visibly flustered.  Marty's father stepped forward and raised his hand to shake.

"I'm Paul McFly," he said as Johnny got up to shake his hand.  "Martin speaks highly of you."

"Yeah, he's a pretty cool guy."

"If you say so," Paul laughed, as he shook Joey's hand as well.  "So you say your name is Johnny B. Goode, right?"

"In the flesh."

Paul took the cigarette out of his mouth and rubbed his chin curiously.  "What was your father's name?"

"James Marshall Goode."

Paul smiled brightly.  "I thought so.  Unbelievable.  And your uncle's name is Charles Goode, right?"

"Exactly, how do you know?"

"Un-fuckin-believable, mate," Paul said incredulously, shaking his head as he laughed in disbelief.  "What a small world.  Your father and your uncle formed a band together called Guardian Avenue.  I was in that band!  I was the drummer!"

"No way," Johnny exclaimed in utter surprise.  "That's incredible!"

"I know, isn't it?  Yep, first job I got in the States was joining the Goode brothers' band.  Jimmy and Chuck.  Your father, Jimmy was on lead guitar and Chuck was on rhythm.  Or was it the other way around?  I don't even remember, its been so long.  I was about your age when we were together."

"I actually didn't even know my dad was in that band," Johnny responded, a bit overwhelmed.  That's....absolutely amazing."

"Oh yeah, more than you could imagine," Paul said with excitement.  "I mean we used to jam all the time.  We made dozens of records, got signed, had a nice following.  We had one song that was a hit on the radio, over here and overseas.  I imagine we probably have a cult following by now.  I was at your father's funeral.  I remember seeing you, but you were just a little bugger back then.  Now look at you, you're just as tall as I am!"

"So why'd you guys break up?" Johnny asked curiously.

"Ah, complications with our label and some other nonsense, I don't want to get into the details.  We remained friends afterward but I lost contact with your father after he moved to New Orleans to get married to that dreadful old bird....oh no offense!"

"None taken, believe me," Johnny said with a smirk.

"Your uncle Chuck and I have kept in touch for a while.  He said something about his nephew moving in with him, but I never expected that'd be the talented fellow I'd be meeting here today.  So you're thinking about getting into the music biz too, huh?"

"Yeah," Johnny smiled, taking a deep breath.  "I know its a hard business but I'm totally ready for it."

"That's a good sign, mate, you've prepared yourself, I like that," Paul said, nodding in appreciation.  "What does your friend here play?"

"Bass guitar, sir," Joey said, speaking up.

"How many of you are there?"

"Five," Johnny answered.

"What kind of music?"

"Classic Rock N' Roll; Blues, Psychedelic, Progressive, you name it."

"Interesting," Paul said, rubbing his chin once again.  "And you call yourselves...."

"Class of '70," he stated proudly.

"Ah, I like that," Paul smirked.  "Homage to the end of the Free Love era, very original.  I like where this is going.  How often do you guys practice?"

"Well we used to practice every few days or so, but some of our equipment got stolen a couple of weeks ago and we haven't gotten the chance to work on any new material.  I think everybody's pretty much got the notes in mind though."

"Well how many songs would you want to put on a demo?"

“We have like three or so finished ones."

"Perfect," Paul said, nodding his head.  "Okay, tomorrow I want you to be here with your band, bright and early.  I'll give you guys an hour to practice and I want you to perform everything you have, that means finished songs, riffs you're working on, all of that.  I want to hear it all.  If I like what I hear, you've got big things in store for the future."

"Okay," Johnny said, looking back at Joey who gave a nod of approval.  "Thanks for the consideration, Mr. McFly."

"Yeah, no problem, mate.  Anything to help the son of an old friend.  You know, Jimmy used to talk a lot about how he knew you'd be going somewhere with your life.  I never thought I'd be one of the people to help you get there.  Let's make this legacy happen."

--------------------------------------------------

Joey, Chase, Shelly, and Apricot all met at Johnny's house at about 7am on a Saturday morning to discuss exactly what they would be doing and how it would be done.  This was one of their most important pre-practice meetings yet.  This mini-performance would determine whether the band would get the funding they needed to record, buy new equipment, and work on the promotional process of the band's image.  They would be performing all of "North Nicole", "Magma Dance", and "Crossover."  They would do their absolute best on "Truthful Lie," which was the song that they had just begun to develop before the Battle of the Bands but it still needed a bit of work, and they'd do the first half of "Landscape," which was their least completed song at the moment.  If everything was done right, they'd impress Paul well enough to get a decent sponsorship.

At 8am, Marty pulled into the driveway and the band entered his van, pulling off and heading to the studio.  Everyone's head was in a different place, so the car was relatively silent on the ride there.  None of them had even eaten breakfast.  They were completely focused on the job at hand.  That is until Chase noticed something that drew their attention away.

"Holy shit," he muttered as he sat in the front beside Marty and pointed up ahead.  "Check it out!  Look in that guy's driveway!"

Everyone turned to the window and spotted a ragged dilapidated house with trash and broken items strewn across the lawn.  In the driveway, there were two vehicles; one was a broken down truck with bricks under the wheels and the other was....a psychedelically-colored Volkswagen van with an American flag decal painted inside of a peace sign on the front.

"It's the Retrovan!" Joey exclaimed.  "Holy shit, it's right there.  Right before our eyes."

"We've got to go get it," Chase exclaimed.  "They probably still have our stuff and everything."

"We can't go get it now, we've got to meet up at the studio," Shelly warned.

"We may never get another chance!  We're lucky they haven't sold it or ruined it by now.  That thing is vintage, a classic from the era, not just some knock off.  We have to get it back."

"It's your call, Johnny," Apricot said, turning to him.  "Should we go after it now?"

Johnny sat silently in thought for a minute as Marty circled the block, waiting for them to make a decision.  "When's your dad gonna be there, Marty?"

"He said, he'd give you guys an hour to practice, which means he should be there at like 9:30.  But he always seems to be fashionably late, which means he'll probably be there at like 10 or 10:30.  Thing is, he's a busy man.  If he happens to be there on time, he won't hesitate to leave you in the dust if you're not there."

Johnny thought hard about this decision.  Was it worth it?  These were obviously dangerous people they were dealing with.  They could just call the police and have them repossess it from them.  But then again, there was no guarantee, seeing as Chase's family didn't have insurance on it and there were no legal records claiming that it was theirs, making the carjacking the worst possible thing that could have happened to the van.  It was worth a lot, and on the off-chance that Paul didn't like their music, selling the van would be something to fall back on for profit, as well as a last result.  Chase was right.  If those other guys sold the van, there would be no getting it back and no getting retribution either.  Chances of getting a sponsorship would come again, especially with Paul.  Johnny was sure he'd give them another chance to meet again if they missed this one, since the two of them had an obvious connection from their first meeting.  But having an opportunity to retrieve the Retrovan at that very moment would be a one-time occurrence.  The pros were outweighing the cons.

"Fuck it," Johnny said finally.  "Drop us off around the corner.  Half of us can go after the van, half can stay with Marty.  The ones going after it will get to the studio via the Retrovan or not at all."

Earth Blues by Jimi Hendrix

6/04/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 8: Purple Haze




Johnny's phone and MP3 were gone.  All of their possessions were gone.  They walked the dark streets in silence with nothing but the Night Bird held tightly in Johnny's hand and the clothes on their backs.  Chase was still in sniffles and none of them felt like talking, which was highly understandable.  A strange atmosphere of disbelief was still hanging in the air, obscuring their thoughts like a cloud of emotional mist.  Johnny walked a few feet ahead of everyone else with one hand in his pocket and the other gripped to the neck of the Night Bird hard enough for his veins to be visible.  Joey jogged ahead of the band and caught up with him.

"Dude, I have to take the fall for this.  I hadn't talked to Ramsey at all for the last two days; I should have called him earlier today to make sure he knew.  This was partially my fault-"

"Don't, don't fuckin' defend him, you had absolutely nothin' to do with this!” Johnny exclaimed.  “Everybody managed to remember the dates and times for this gig with ease.  There's no excuse.  He doesn't have anythin' wrong with him mentally, he's not going through anythin' stressful, he's just an unreliable, selfish person who only thinks about himself and you had nothin' to do with his actions.  He was bound to let us down anyway."

Joey turned away from Johnny.  "Yeah, I guess you're right."

There was a brief silence as they continued to walk.  A car sped by them, its high beams on, nearly blinding them as it came around the corner.  It was a weird sensation to Johnny, feeling it fly past him so fast, sending a gust of wind blowing by that felt as if it was taking part of his soul with it.

"I think this band was a mistake," Johnny muttered for only Joey to here.

"Don't go there, man, we've already discussed this-"

"I don't know, man.  I dragged you guys along on a journey that I thought would lead somewhere, but its just been one misfortune after another.  I'm not a good leader.  I held practices and we made music, but nothin' came out of it.  I don't even feel like I'm worthy of bein’ around you guys right now.  I mean jeez, I've done SO much to help you.  I helped get your hopes up just to see it all dashed away, I helped get all of your valuable equipment stolen, and now I'm helpin' you walk deeper into a dark street that probably leads to no where.  Talk about tryin' to change someone's life with music."

Joey sighed.  "Johnny, I'm not an advice-giver.  I can sit here and let you rant about how bad the situation is and I can agree with it, we can point our fingers at you for this mess and we could beat the shit out of you and throw you into that field over there and it'd all be over.  What will that change?  You didn't hold a gun to our heads and yell for us to join this band.  When I first met you, you asked me for help and I helped you.  I put these people in your life and you did the rest.  You gave them the peace of mind to let them know that being in your band would be a good investment.  We volunteered for this and you didn't let us down.  The world did.  The world is the reason why we're walking in the darkness in the middle of the night.  The world turned its back on us and now its just us.  It's just you.  We're all looking to you right now to be the strong one and lead us through this.  At this point, you're the only thing we really have left, so you should be grateful.  We have your back so don't turn it on us."

Johnny chuckled and shook his head as he took in Joey's words.  "You know, when I first got here, I knew that one thing I'd keep when leavin’ this place was the preservation of my own mind.  I wouldn't let anybody influence the way I thought or anythin' like that.  Never once did I think about anybody influencin' me for the positive.  I guess me and you guys have like a symbiotic relationship; you help me and I help you: we both benefit from each other."

"You're right, man.  I mean, that's at least how I feel about it.  And your emotions reflect the emotions of the band, so if you have a positive outlook on this, we will.  I don't think any of these people would rather be in this situation with anyone else."

"I'd rather they not want to be in this situation at all, with whoever," Johnny chuckled.  He looked over the horizon and saw a light and a structure in the distance.  "That must be the gas station there."  He turned around to the group.  "We're almost there."  Their faces lit up a bit.  Maybe it was the way he said it.  The hint of hope and positive emotion that he was only feeling vaguely was now fueling them.  Maybe Joey was right, Johnny thought.  Damn, this is weird.

A few minutes later, they were no longer walking in a straight line, but as a group.  May was only a few feet from him and he caught her glances at exactly the right times.  The inside of his chest heated up every time their eyes met.  He couldn't help but chuckle pathetically.

As they began to walk across the hill that overlooked the station, May asked, "So who're we going to call?"

"Ghostbusters?" Chase interjected and nearly everyone smacked their teeth.  Joey was the closest to him and smacked him on the back of the head, causing him to raise his shoulders in late defense.

"We could see about your uncle, Johnny," Joey suggested.

"No, he's not very reliable in that department.  He didn't even pick me up from Port Electric when I first got here and it was four in the mornin'.  I had to walk to his place.  Besides, there are six of us and he can only fit five people in his car.  What about May and Chase's mom?  She has a van."

"Yeah but she's out of town," Chase confessed.  "We were supposed to go with her but we couldn't miss out on this, so she got a supervisor to watch us.  We actually weren't supposed to leave the house because"-

"Chase!" May called, giving him a dirty look.  He quieted down.

"We just couldn't leave, but we did anyway.  Now we lost the Retrovan, all of the equipment, and still didn't get to do what we came out here to do.  Fucking Ramsey, man."

"Well what about the rest of you guys?" Johnny asked, looking between the three of them as they walked under the light of the station, past the gas pumps.  "Neither of you guys have anybody?"

"My parents are always out," Joey mentioned.  "That's why we always have those one-on-one practices at your place."

"My father works at night and I know for a fact that he can't get off," Shelly said.

"My mom just got a new cellphone, and I didn't get to memorize the new number yet, so no on my end," Apricot said, shrugging.  “I had it in my phone but now that's long gone.”

"Shit, I don't know what to do then," Johnny declared.  "I guess we should just call the cops, tell them what happened.  They can take us home and find out what those guys did with the van."

"That seems like the best idea," Joey said as they walked past the gas pumps and entered the convenient store.

"I've got to use the bathroom," Chase said, walking past them to the restroom.

"Me too," Shelly replied, who was then followed by May and Joey, leaving only Johnny and Apricot standing in the store.

Johnny walked to the Hispanic clerk at the counter.  "Do you have a phone?"

"Over there," he said lazily, pointing to Johnny's left on a wall between the bathroom and a Slushie machine.  Johnny walked to it but stopped to grab a napkin from a dispenser by the machine and wiped the blood from his head as he started for the phone.  Before he could reach it, Apricot put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.

"Johnny," she called loudly.  He turned around in a bit of surprise.  "You can't call the police."

He was confused.  "I have to, we don't have any other way of gettin' out of here."

Apricot hesitated then walked closer to Johnny and whispered, "If you call the police, there's a chance we might all be arrested."

"What?  Why?"

"Those carjackers didn't take everything," she said, showing him her handbag and partially pulling out a relatively large bag of weed, which had been hidden inside.  Johnny's eyes grew wide at the sight of it.

"I'm guessin' you can't just get rid of it, can you?"

"No, too expensive.  This is enough for a group of people."

Johnny paused.  "So what're you tryin' to say?"  Apricot shrugged.  "You want us to-" she arched her eyebrows.  "You want us to...get rid of it for you before I make the call?"

"I'm not seeing any other way, Johnny," she said, putting the handbag back at her side.  "You know how they get.  They'll arrest me and then the rest of you guys for being accessories."
"They'll arrest us if we get into their car smelling like Mary Jane too."

"I'm not stupid, Johnny.  I've got Febreeze Air and eye drops to go with it."

"Febreeze?"

"Johnny, come on-"

"Alright, alright," Johnny said and paused for a bit, rubbing his chin in thought.  "What kind is it?"

"Headies.  Do you smoke?"

"Did it a few times in the past and I know the terminology.  That shouldn't be too potent or get us too smashed to suspect anything."

At this point, everyone was exiting the bathroom one at a time and if he was going to tell them, it had to be now.

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Everyone stood in the alleyway behind the store with one streetlight illuminating the area.  Apricot had a crumpled up sheet of paper and poured the contents of the bag on, rationing it out for everyone.  Johnny kneeled down across from her and the others crouched around the area.

"Okay," Chase said breathing heavily in exasperation.  "I can't believe we're actually doing this.  Our parents would kill us if they knew this was going on."  Johnny smirked at him.  "Your conscious isn't burning you right now, Johnny?"

"Not really," he said, chewing on a toothpick he'd gotten from inside the store.  "I just didn't feel like convincin' you guys, but Apricot handled that already.  I could get away with this pretty easily.  Only reason why I don't just do this on the regular is because its not as excitin' for me and I don't have the funds to get my hands on it."

"Man, why can't we just sell the stuff to somebody, get some money, and then maybe we can call a cab service.  We could use the money to get home and maybe even use the rest of the money to buy new equipment.  Simple."

"Yeah, simple, Chase," May said with annoyance.  "Why don't we go find someone to sell this to?  Do you see anybody here?  This place is virtually in the middle of no where; the chances of us finding someone to sell this to, who won't turn us into the police, are not in our favor.  That's why there are dealers, the deals are made prior to the meeting.  You don't just walk up to somebody and ask 'hey, you want some drugs?'  Those are the stupid ones that get arrested."

"Well excuse me if I don't want to endanger my health by smoking, May."

"Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, Chase," Johnny said, pulling the pick out of his mouth.

"Then why is it illegal?"

"People like to manufacture the stuff, adding other types of drugs into it that actually are harmful," Apricot said, continuing to organize the piles.  "It's only the pure herbs straight out of the jungle that are harmless.  The only way people get that these days is by growing their own or if their really connected, importing from Columbia or South America."

"Well, why is it all illegal if there are some that don't hurt you?"

"Because the law is stupid.  To them, pot is pot, no matter how its made.  Do you know how many years you can do for growing plants?  That's why people have to sneak it around."

"So this stuff right here," Chase said, pointing at the piles.  "Is all herb?  No side effects?"

"Oh, there are side effects," Johnny informed.  "You'll get kinda high, especially with this particular batch, but not too high.  Plus, you'll get really hungry for anythin' and you'll start thinkin' about some of the craziest shit that will only make sense to the rest of us because we'll be high too."

"But will I get addicted?  I mean, I don't want this to ruin my life."

"They aren't cigarettes, Chase, its not hard to quit the stuff.  No nicotine."

"Then why do people continue to do it?"

Johnny looked around in annoyance before snapping at him.  "Because they just want to, Chase.  It's simple as that."

Chase took that as his cue to shut up.  Everyone watched as Apricot took a box of blunt wraps out of her bag and started making enough joints for everyone.

"Ap, I've got to be honest," Chase spoke up again.  "I've heard that when you try this shit, creative people get a massive case of writer's block for about a month.  This shit could put me in a stand still for a while and I was just thinking about writing some songs for the band."

"Oh we're sorry, Chase," Shelly said with sarcasm.  "Would you rather be able to write music while getting fucked up the ass in jail?  I'm sure that could produce a nice song."

"I'm just saying, we don't all have to get high.  You guys can just do it and I'll watch, then we'll leave."

"Look, I've already made enough for six people and nobody can smoke a second one or else they'll be going to the cops fully baked," Apricot said, as she finished up the last joint.  "We need to get this stuff out of our system and that'll take about an hour per joint, so we'll be here for a while, especially if someone backs out.  You've got to do this or everything will be screwed up."

"Damn it," Chase said, as she passed him the first joint, then gave the others to the rest, handing Johnny the last one.  She reached into her bag, pulled out a lighter, held the joint in between her lips, and lit it.  She took the first puff smoothly before flicking the light for Johnny and then the rest of the group.

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Joey sat against the wall behind the store and blew bubbles with his mouth.  Out of no where, Chase screamed at the top of his lungs and everyone burst into laughter.  Johnny hadn't laughed so hard before in his life.  He sat between Joey and May, finishing off the last of the joint that he'd been given, then flicked it ahead of him and watched as Chase jumped around in front of them, entertaining their relaxed but absent minds.  He was strumming air guitar and singing the lyrics to "North Nicole" as dramatically as possible as the rest of them sat with their backs against the wall, almost completely out of it.

"We should get out of here," Joey whispered to Johnny.

"What?" Johnny asked.

"What?"

"What'd you say?"

"Um....I forgot....oh yeah, we probably should go."

"Go where?" Johnny asked, retaining some of his conscious high.  "We're higher than a motherfucker.  Cops could arrest us on sight.  That stuff had a little more kick than I expected."

"When's this shit supposed to where off?" Shelly asked in a lazy voice, leaning over May to talk to Apricot.

"I don't know, it depends on the person," she said, taking the last puff of her joint.  "Maybe an hour to a few?"

"No way," Shelly said, getting up.  "I need to be getting home before my dad does.  What time is it?"

Joey looked down at his watch.  "12:34am."

"He gets home at 2am," Shelly said, rubbing her hands on her face and shaking her head.  "I need to be home and straight by then."

"Yeah, I guess we should be headin' out," Johnny said, trying to stand up.  He struggled.  "Somebody help me up."

Chase skipped in his direction and pulled him up swiftly.  Johnny shook his head and blinked hard several times.  "God, I think I'm fucked up.  Are you sure there weren't any other things mixed with that batch, Ap?"

"Not that I know of," Apricot said lazily as she got to her feet.  "I searched through it myself before I rolled them."

"I'll go call the cops," Johnny said, hearing only half of what Apricot said before turning around the corner to head inside the gas station.

"I'll come with you," May said drowsily.  She seemed to be the most out of it, almost falling when she stood but laughed it off, sending Johnny and the others into a frenzy of giggles.

"Alright come on," Johnny said, heading off and walking abnormally slow.  May followed him as they walked around the store and entered.  Johnny smiled brightly and waved at the clerk as he went by but was caught off-guard when May hugged him from behind.  "Whoa, what're you up to?"

"I don't know," she said in a muffled voice, her mouth buried into Johnny's shoulder.  She giggled and turned him around to face her.  With no regret, she grabbed him by the shirt and stepped up on him, pressing her lips against his.  This time, Johnny had been somewhat expecting it and kissed back, his eyes closed and his mind swirling.  Before he knew it, he and May had stumbled backwards, knocking over a rack of chips on their way to the floor in the middle of an aisle.  They laughed wildly as May lay on top of Johnny and they continued to kiss with an undeniable passion that had been deep-seeded until now.

Suddenly, May crossed her arms and lifted off her blouse, throwing it aside and revealing a large set reinforced by a pink bra.  She slid down and began to unbuckle Johnny's pants.

"Whoa, slow down," Johnny said smoothly.  "We're in public."

"So?" she asked deviously, unbuttoning and pulling down his zipper.

"So, we could get arrested," Johnny chuckled.

May paused and crawled up Johnny's chest with a strange look on her face.  "Do you love me?" she asked with all seriousness in her voice and expression.

Johnny paused.  The question caught him off-guard.  "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?" she asked with force.

"I don't know if I love you.  At this point, I barely even know you.  I know I want to have sex with you.  If we weren't here, I'd have sex with you right now.  But I can't tell you I love you, not at this very moment.  Just bein' honest."

Their eyes met and Johnny felt awkward now that he had pretty much killed the mood.  "Do you love me?" he asked cautiously.

May continued to stare at him, their faces as close as they could possibly be.  Her's was void of expression.  She slid back away from Johnny, laying against a display of candy beside them in the aisle.  She looked away in thought and after a few seconds, she began to laugh again, resting her elbows on her knees.

"Of course I don't love you," she said, giggling.  "I have feelings for you, I guess.  I mean, I think you're cute and I like your music, but that's about it.  I guess you're right, I don't know you well enough to go farther than that."

Johnny sat up casually staring at May.  She smiled.  He was glad he was high and not drunk.  At least he'd be able to remember what was happening that night.  He didn't love May but the feeling he was getting at that moment sure did feel like what the older folks would call love.  Maybe it was.  Maybe it wasn't.  That's where the experience comes in.  Johnny looked beside him and grabbed one of the fallen bags of chips that had scattered across the floor, folding his legs Indian Style, and opening the bag to dig in.

"What are you doing?" May chuckled.  "I hope you have money to pay for that."

"Nope," Johnny smiled, eating one of the chips.  He crawled over to May's side and offered her some.  She took one gracefully and winked before crunching down on the chip.  "So do you want to be my girlfriend?  Like officially, no bullshittin'?

"Well I'm kind of out of it right now," May said, lying her head on Johnny's shoulder.  "Maybe you should ask me when I'm in my natural mind."

"Nothin' more natural than this," he said, through a mouth full of crunched chips.

"True, true.  Well in that case, yes, I'd love to be your girlfriend.  But just so you know, I might change my mind later."

"Fair enough, but I doubt it."

A few minutes passed and soon they were accompanied by Joey, who walked in with the Night Bird in his hand.

"Look what I found clipped onto your guitar," he said, handing him a folded piece of paper.  It was Marty's number, given to him two days earlier in the hallway of Garfield High.  Johnny had clipped it inside the string feed on the back of the guitar, in order to keep track of it and forgot that he'd left it there when he put it back in his case.  Johnny took the slip of paper and read the number.

"Maybe we don't have to call the cops after all."

"Maybe I do," said the clerk with his arms crossed and a sour expression as he stared at the trio.  "You're paying for those chips, right?"

"Oh yeah, of course," Johnny said with a bit of sarcasm.  "Let me just make this phone call and I'll get right to you."

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Johnny called Marty, who was eager to find the gas station and pick them up as quickly as possible.  Johnny picked up a bunch of other snacks and handed them to the rest of the gang, promising the clerk that he was going to pay for the lot of them, plus damages to the rack in full.  But the second he saw Marty outside the station, he yelled for them to break out in a run and the crew fled the scene, jumping into Marty's van and speeding away as soon as everyone was in.

Marty was more than generous and confessed that he was grief-stricken when he found out why they couldn't perform.  He was even more upset when he learned that they'd been carjacked shortly after leaving the Center.  Johnny had trouble convincing Marty that none of it was his fault but Marty felt as if he was somewhat responsible, since he was supposed to have potential managerial skills that he hadn't used in the situation.  Johnny decided to take advantage of the moment and ask an important question.

"All of our stuff was stolen in the attack.  Now we need new equipment.  Do you know how we can get some without having to pay too much?"

"Oh definitely," Marty said brightly.  "I have a few friends that will allow you to borrow their equipment.  They won't let you take it out of their studio, but you can record some songs with it.  My dad can help sponsor you guys but not before he hears you and since he can't be at the studio all the time due of scheduling conflicts and we can't take the instruments to him, recorded music is the next best thing.  I know he'll like you guys.  He's really into old school rock music."

"That's the best news I've heard tonight, man.  I've got to hand it to you, if what you say is true, I think you have a great opportunity at bein' our manager.  What do the rest of you guys think?"

Everyone spoke at once, instantly agreeing with him, which made Marty smile brightly inside.

"So when can we get into that studio?" Joey asked curiously.

"Ah," Marty cringed.  "I'm afraid they've shut it down for the holidays.  You won't be able to get in there until early next year."

"So I guess that means we're on hiatus until then, huh?" Shelly asked somberly.

"Yeah, I guess so," Johnny responded without enthusiasm, knowing that time was winding down for them to get something done before school was over and people started to go their separate ways for college.  That and the still-present possibility of Johnny getting thrown out on his 18th birthday.  That was still on the table as well.  "But you know what they say though.  Patience is the companion of wisdom."

"There you go with that philosophical shit again," Joey said with a laugh as they continued down the road.

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Johnny was the first to be dropped off at the front door of his house.  The time was 1:06am.  He was let out of the van and he asked May to follow him to the front steps.

"It's been a fun night but don't take your time," Shelly said anxiously.  "My dad will kill me if I'm not at home by 2."

"Yeah, yeah, we know," May said, following Johnny out of the van.  "I'll be back in a minute."

Johnny and May walked up to Uncle Chuck's doorstep and conversed.

"At least there's somethin' I can thank Ramsey for tonight," Johnny chuckled.  "Are you good now?"

"You mean back to normal from the stuff?" she asked.  "Yeah I guess the buzz is gone by now."

"And you still haven't changed your mind?"

May thought for a moment.  “No, I guess not.  So it seems like you and I will work well together."

"I certainly hope so," Johnny smiled.  She smiled back warmly and Johnny felt the inside of his chest heat up again.  "You sure are prettier than the girls back home."

"Right," May said with a smirk.  "I think you're letting your guard down a little too much, Mr. Goode.  You might want to put your heart back in your chest and off your sleeve."

"Yeah," Johnny said, leaning forward a bit.  "I might want to do the opposite with you though.  Question is are you worth the risk?"

May stepped up to Johnny.  "That's for you to decide," she said just before their lips met.  Now that Johnny could fully understand what was going on around him, he embraced her and felt every bit of emotion that she gave him.  If love was anything like this, he was ready to welcome it as much as he welcomed the rock star lifestyle.

"Whoa," Joey said, looking out of the window of the van.  "Check this out."

He nudged Chase who was deep into the music being played on the radio and turned to see his sister locking lips with Johnny.

"….the fuck is this?"  He reached across Joey to get out of the van, but Joey pushed him back gently, waiting for the two to finish.

May finally broke away from Johnny after a few minutes and asked, "How was that?"

"Felt like...."  Johnny thought for a moment.  "Like kissin' the sky."

She smiled warmly and walked off the porch, waving at him.  He returned with a small salute in her direction and winked as she got into the van.

Joey rolled down his window.  "All right, dude.  Thanks for making us go through that herbal experience for nothing," he teased.  "See you at school Monday?"

"That's the plan."

"All right, later bro"-

"THAT WAS A DIRTY MOVE, JOHNNY!" Chase yelled from the window.  "YOU CAN'T DO"-

Before Chase could finish his rant, Marty had pulled off from the house and they were half-way down the street as Chase belted out his displeasure for Johnny at the present moment.  What a night, Johnny thought.  None of them seemed too upset that they had to get rid of a rather large amount of pot for no particular reason but he hoped that none of them had been corrupted by it.  He needed everyone at their top form by the time they got into that studio.  Right now, the band seemed to be at a point where they were floating in the middle of the ocean with an island of salvation not far from them.  The question was, would they get there before the sharks pulled them under?  There was no way of knowing.  But it was obvious that Ramsey's absence and the carjacking were both blessings in disguise.  With that in mind, Johnny wouldn't let any of his usual rebellious thoughts ruin such a wonderful night.

Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 7: In From The Storm




"Do you believe in God, Johnny?" Joey asked, staring up at the ceiling of Johnny's room.

"I believe in somethin'," Johnny replied as he leaned against the side of the bed, strumming through a few chords on the Night Bird.

"Seriously though."

"If you're askin' if I'm religious then no.  Religion is man-made.  I believe in a God, just not the one men created."

"So what's your vision of God?"

Johnny stopped playing to think.  "I guess he's some sort of celestial entity that watches over me, helps me on occasion when I ask for it, but mainly wants to see me do it on my own.  Kind of like a parent."

"So you believe in prayer?"

"To an extent.”  Johnny turned to look at him.  “What's with all of the religious questions?"

"Well, I don't know, I'm a Christian," Joey said, his hands behind his head as he lounged in the bed.  "But I'm having trouble with my faith.  I mean, Apricot is an atheist.  That's sort of a turn-off for me.  Plus my religion says she'll go to hell when she dies.  And I'm afraid that she might try to deter me from my Way."

"I don't think Apricot is like that.  She probably respects your faith.  I don't think she would get into talkin' about that unless you try to force your religion on her."

"I know, but that doesn't stop my thoughts about the situation.  Just being around her makes me subconsciously think about how her beliefs might be true.  Its like she's religious radiation, slowly deteriorating my beliefs when I'm around her.  The way I see it, I just want there to be a heaven, a place for me to go when I die.  I could give up believing in religion if I had to, but I won’t, because I want to believe that the people I know that have died have gone on to a better place and I will still see them one day.  That‘s all I want."

"Joey, if you're strong enough in your faith, you should be able to handle it.  But if it bothers you that much, you should talk to her about it."

"What if I'm just wasting my breath?" Joey asked, leaning up from the bed on one arm to look down at Johnny.

"The only breath wasted is the breath not taken," Johnny said simply.

"Where do you come up with this shit, dude?  Do you sit around all day thinking up philosophical shit to say when people have a problem?"

"Sometimes.  Mainly it comes from recycled song lyrics," Johnny said, going back to his guitar.  "Speakin' of, we need to get back to work on those riffs."

"Dude, I've got them down already," Joey complained, laying back on the bed.  "You don't have to drill sarge it out of me."

"Trust me, I do.  Let's get started."

Joey grabbed his bass guitar from the side of the bed and the two began to work on another repetitive composition in hopes of producing a better performance out of Joey than what was heard during their last practice.

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Many weeks passed and the band had successfully put together two songs with several others half-way through completion.  Neither of the first two were considered finished, as everyone seemed to have a new idea that they wanted to add to the song every practice.  Their primary goal at this point was having the songs ready for the Battle of the Bands.  The band had gotten the chance to perform “North Nicole” and a brand new song at the audition for a single judge, who was impressed and agreed to sign them up as part of the first night line-up.  After spending the entirety of November preparing, the show was set to go down in two days.

A few of the practices were held at school in the auditorium.  Unfortunately, soon after they started to practice, a security guard entered and told them that they couldn't be in there after hours as part of some new school rule.  They somberly left with all of their equipment and migrated to the cafeteria, which was completely empty.  They set up in a corner and started to practice.  In order to mask the amateuristic playing that came from Joey, they unplugged his amp when he wasn't looking, praying that he wouldn't notice.  Other than that, Ramsey's singing and memorization of the lyrics were exceptional, despite his tendency to be tardy or completely absent from several of the practices; Shelly found interesting ways to switch up the primary melodies; Apricot was able to add a diverse array of synthesized sounds to the selections giving it an authentic in-studio feel and Chase was able to adapt a catchy beat to whatever they played and kept it at perfect tempo.  Johnny led the crew with a different solo for every performance, letting the others judge each one and choose which would work better for each individual song.  Team effort was through the roof and most importantly, they were having fun doing it.

As they played, Johnny looked out of the corner of his eye and saw someone watching from outside the cafeteria.  After a few minutes, the guy entered and stood with his arms crossed, nodding his head to their current song, "Crossover," a piece they'd been working on recently which came together more impressively than expected and this was why they chose to work on it continuously until it was near completion.  "Crossover" and "North Nicole" were their two strongest songs at the moment and were also the songs they would be performing at the Battle of the Bands.  Johnny peered up and saw that the curious teen was average looking with shaggy, dirty-blonde hair that fell over his ears and a silk jacket zipped up to his neck which looked like it hadn't been worn in years and had been pulled out from deep within his closet fairly recently.  He smiled, obviously impressed with their work.  When the song was over, he clapped enthusiastically.

"Fantastic," he said, smiling brightly.  "Best stuff I've heard in a while.  Who the hell are you guys?"

"We're called Class of '70,” Johnny greeted, speaking up for them.

"'70?  Like 1970?  Cause that's kind of what your music sounds like.  Its got that retro vibe."

"Exactly.  My name is Johnny B. Goode, Lead Guitar," Johnny said, turning to introduce the others.  "This is our Singer: Ramsey Sharpa, Rhythm Guitar: Shelly Quartermaine, Bass: Joey Flits, Keyboard: Elizabeth Apricot, and Drums: Chase Walker."

"Cool, nice to meet you guys," the guy said, walking up to shake Johnny's hand.  "My name's Martin.  Martin McFly.  Friends call me Marty."

"Sounds familiar.  Are you famous or somethin'?  From a famous family?"

"Not really.  My father did a few interesting things back in the eighties but nothing too big.  What's the name of that song?"

"It's called 'Crossover'."

"Right, right.  Chorus was 'Crossover to the other side, there's nothing left here for you but the heat of the night.'  Very creative and catchy, plus its a light-hearted smooth track with the ironically dark twist in the lyrics.  I really like it, but I noticed that I couldn't hear your Bass at all."

"Really?  I could hear it just fine," Johnny said innocently, looking back at the band, who shrugged as well.  Joey was the only one who was genuinely confused.

"Are you sure the Bass Amp is plugged in right?”

Joey looked down at the amp and saw the cord from his guitar hanging out of it slightly.  "Oh, no wonder."

"Shit," Johnny whispered under his breath and noticed that the rest of the band were visibly upset as well.

"There you go," Marty said with a smile.  "Should sound much better now."

"Yeah, thanks," Johnny replied with a touch of sarcasm.

"Have you guys heard about the Battle of the Bands at the Park and Rec?  Its supposed to be the day after tomorrow."

"Yeah that's what we're preparin' for right now actually."

"Oh awesome, you guys are going to tear that place to pieces.  A friend of mine is hosting it so I'll put in a good word for you guys.  Maybe you can get signed from this."

"Maybe so," Johnny said, preparing to get the band back into work mode.  At that very moment, two janitors entered the cafeteria with a rolling trash can and a rack of equipment.

"You all can't be in here,” One of them said.  “We're about to clean up."

"We won't bother you."

"Rules say you can't be in here at all."

"Are you serious?" Johnny asked with annoyance.

"Yep."

"Son of a bitch...."  Johnny unplugged his amp, picked it up, and started off for the exit bitterly.  "Come on guys."

"Where do we go now?" Chase asked, distraught that he was going to have to haul his set across the school yet again.

"I don't know, we'll find somewhere to go.  Just leave the set here until we find a suitable place."  The band, accompanied by Marty, relocated to another part of the school.  They searched hallway after hallway, asking the teachers that were supervising vacant classrooms if they could possibly practice there.  All of them refused.  Johnny found a hallway where none of the teachers were still occupying their classrooms.  He spotted an outlet by a wall, one adjacent to it, and a few more leading down the corridor.  This will work, he thought.  He pointed them out to the band and they began to set up, while Chase and Ramsey ran back to get the drum set.

"How ghetto is this?" Shelly said, plugging in her amp.  "Setting up to play in the middle of a high school hallway.  This will make for a hell of a success story."

"Yeah, I can see that happenin‘," Johnny laughed as the other two came back with more equipment.

"Oh by the way, Johnny," Chase said, running up with a cymbal in his hand.  "My sister's going to be driving us to the Rec Center.  Our mom's letting us take our old Volkswagen van out.  Its legit shit, I'm telling you.  Its just like the kind of vans they had in the 60's and 70's, tie-dyed and everything.  I call it the Retrovan."

"Sounds epic, can't wait to see it," Johnny said with a smile.

"Hey, I’m just wondering, but do you guys have a manager?" Marty asked curiously as he watched the band set up.

"Nope," Joey said, sitting on his amp, strumming a few notes.  "Not unless you count Johnny, who founded the band."

"Well how about making me your personal manager?" Marty said hopefully.

"Eh, I don't know," Johnny said cautiously.  "How do we know you have what it takes to be our manager?"

"Well I'm passionate about you guys' music already and I can hook you guys up with some good gigs.  I'm talking legit venues.  I can also help promote you guys and my dad's pretty loaded so if he likes you, which I'm sure he will, he'll back you guys with a sponsorship."

"Mr. McFly!" screamed a male teacher from down the hallway.  "Are you going to return to my tutoring session or are you finally giving up all together?"

"All right, I'm coming!" Marty called to the teacher.  "Crap, I've got to go.  How 'bout it, guys?"

Johnny looked back at the band who shrugged uncertainly.  He turned back to Marty.  "We'll think about it and get back in touch with you.  Do you have a number or card?"

"Yeah, I do, actually," Marty said, reaching into his pocket.  He pulled out a few strips of torn pieces of paper and handed one to Johnny.  "Had them to give to some girls but uh....ran into a few snags in that department."  He rubbed the back of his head and chuckled lightly with an awkward smile.

"Mr. McFly!"

"All right, I'm coming, man!" Marty said, running in the teacher's direction.  He looked back at the band and waved as they waved back.

"Good kid," Johnny said, loud enough for the band to hear him although he was mainly thinking out loud.  "Might be able to actually help us out in the long run."

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Johnny sat on the stairs of Uncle Chuck's house in a leather jacket and fitted jeans with the Night Bird lying beside him in its case.  His leg was shaking up and down and he was staring off into space in anticipation for two reasons.  One was that the show was in an hour and this would be the first time anyone other than the rest of them, the judge at the audition, or Marty had heard them.  The response from this crowd would be where it all counts.  The second reason for his angst was the idea of seeing May again.  After their last encounter, things were “different” between them and if she was going to be around with the rest of the band, contact would have to be kept at a minimal.  Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that could only be described as awkward and unwanted excitement when he thought about her, so seeing her again would be an interesting experience to say the least.

Amidst his thought, he saw a light flash by the front window.  He looked curiously but didn't get up, as he'd gotten up for the last twelve lights that passed by as well.  It wasn't until he heard a retro-sounding car horn from the other side that he figured it was them.  Just to make sure, he checked the window and saw the tie-dyed Volkswagen pulling up by the driveway, which confirmed his speculations.  He walked back and grabbed the amp and his guitar case, swinging the latter over his shoulder.

Johnny walked past the living room and waved to his uncle.  "I'm out, Uncle Chuck."

"Where you think you going?" Uncle Chuck asked, turning to him from the couch where he sat.

"To the Park and Rec for the Battle of the Bands.  I've told you several times already."

"Oh right right," Uncle Chuck said, turning back to the television.  "I remember now.  Don't be long."

"It's till' 11.  You don't want to come?"

"Nah, I'll check out the next one.  If you're good enough, there'll be a next one.  Love you, boy."

"Yeah, yeah, Love you too.  I'll see you later," Johnny said as he headed towards the door and exited out onto the driveway.  From there, he could see May in the driver's seat and Joey in the passenger's.  The rest of the band sat in the two back rows.  The van itself was decorated with various psychedelic flower and bird decals and was topped off with a peace sign in the very front with an American flag designed within it.  Johnny walked up and Chase, who wore a straw hat, white t-shirt, and torn jeans, slid the door back for him to enter.  "Sup guys," Johnny greeted, settling himself in the middle of the van beside Chase.  In the back was Shelly (who had dyed part of her hair a shade of blue, spiked it up, applied a large amount of make-up on her face, and wore some earrings, as well as tight, black punk-styled clothing.  Her whole attire seemed to be much more feminine than usual) and Apricot (who was wearing a tie-dye shirt, bell bottom jeans, and a pair of circle-rimmed red-tinted sunglasses), who greeted them along with the rest of the group.

"Where's Ramsey?" he asked curiously.

"He said he'd meet us there," Joey said as he turned back to him, sporting a gray t-shirt with an array of different designs and some punk-styled fitted jeans with a chain wallet on the side.  "He didn't think there would be enough room for him to ride in the van, so he's driving to the place."

"As long as he gets there, I have no problem with that.  So the equipment's in the back, right?"

"Yep, everything is ready, although you don't need it," May informed, looking at him through her rearview mirror.  Johnny noticed that the dark-colored blouse she had on was slightly revealing.  He caught himself leaning forward trying to catch a glance, but realized that he was being dangerously obvious and sat back normally.  "They're supposed to supply the equipment for you guys.  No harm done though.  Better to have it and not need it."

"Alright cool, but I'm goin' to be playin' the Night Bird either way,” Johnny said, as they drove off.  “Let's do this.”

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The crew pulled into the parking lot of the Parks and Recreation Center about 30 minutes before Showtime.  A bright light show danced and lit up the area from inside the building, spilling out on the patrons that lined up outside, waiting to enter.  There were no good parking spaces up front so May dropped the band off at the entrance of the building and they exited.  Johnny walked over to the side of May's window.

"Are you comin' in to see the show?" he asked, cautious of how he spoke and gazed at her as he was still wondering whether they were still playing the game she'd forced on him.

"Yeah, I'm going to go park the van and I'll be in.  There's a $500 prize, so you guys better win."

"Wouldn't be here for nothin' less," Johnny said, winking and tapping on the top of the van as he walked off.  That was all the flirting he could do with May in such a short amount of time but it would do.  It felt weird.  He wasn't sure if he should continue to hate her or make a pass.  Because of the secrecy she'd forced on him, he wasn't even sure if the conversation they'd had in the mall had even been real.  He could have dreamed it; weirder things have happened.  It had been a long day and the shock was a bit disorienting as it was.  That didn't make any sense though.  She didn't completely shun him or give him dirty looks anymore so there had to have been something there.  Oh well.  Now isn't the time to ponder on it, he thought.

Johnny led the band to the back entrance of the building, where a line of musicians were having their names read off by a bouncer at the door.  When they reached the line, he turned back to the rest of the band.  "Somebody call Ramsey and see where he is."

Joey pulled out his phone and dialed his number as the line began to reduce in size.  Johnny looked back at Joey to see that he still had the phone to his ear.  Soon, he put it back down.

"No answer."

"Try him again.  Keep tryin' until you get a hold of him.  We need him here for the gig."

"Well if he doesn't show, we can just let you sing his parts," Apricot spoke up.  "I mean you can play guitar and sing at the same time, can't you?"

"Yeah but the rules say 'No sudden changes to the performance that we did for the audition'.  I put him on the list of band members and if he's not here to get checked off, I don't know if they'll let us in."

"I'll try him again," Joey said, dialing Ramsey's number once more.  The line was narrowing down and there were only a few people standing between Johnny and the bouncer.  Joey tried Ramsey two more times before they reached him.

"Band name," the Bouncer, a large black man with a deep voice, stated firmly.

"Class of '70.  I'm Johnny B. Goode.  This is Joey Flits, Shelly Quartermaine, Chase Walker, and Elizabeth Apricot."

The Bouncer gazed at his clipboard.  "List says you're missing one: Ramsey Sharpa?"

"Yeah he's not here yet, but he'll be here, I promise."

"Well rules say I'm not supposed to let you guys in if everybody's not here, but its nice to see a young black man like yourself doing more for music than just being a rapper.  I can tell by your accent that you're not just another Uncle Tom too, so you're good with me.  Come on in, but if that last member doesn't get here, we can't let you stay.  That's the rule."

"Alright, that's fair enough, thank you," Johnny smiled as he walked past the bouncer and into the building.  The band followed as they walked through a white-walled hallway and a female guide with short hair led them to the stage.

"You're Class of '70?  You guys are on in about 10 minutes.  Where's your singer?"

"He's comin'.  10 minutes, you said?"

"Yes."

"Try him again," Johnny said, turning back to Joey, who already had the phone on his ear as they walked.

"Nothing."

"Give me his number, maybe he'll answer mine."

Joey showed Ramsey's number to Johnny from his phone as he pulled out his own and dialed it, putting it to his ear.  He waited a few seconds.  There was a click.

"Hello?"

"Where the fuck are you?" Johnny asked aggressively.

"Who is this?"

"It's Johnny B, where the fuck are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You said you'd meet us at the Parks and Rec!"

"That was tonight?"

"Yes, it was tonight!!  DECEMBER 1ST!!  DECEMBER FUCKIN' 1ST!!  If you'd made it on time to any of our fuckin' practices, you'd hear that that was all we fuckin' started off talkin' about!!"

"Dude, its not my fault, how was I supposed to know?"

Johnny pinched the bridge of his nose, nearly overcome with stress.  "Joey called you seven or so times and you didn't pick up, that's how you were supposed to know!" Johnny yelled into the phone.  He was sweating at this point and the butterflies in his stomach had turned into hawks trying to claw their way out of his abdomen.  "Listen, you live closest to the Parks and Rec and we're on in ten minutes.  Get here.  They've got a mic and everything.  It only takes five minutes for you to make it here, if that.  Just get here.  Do you hear me?  Just get here."

Johnny hung up his phone abruptly as the band, who had walked ahead of him worriedly when the conversation grew heated, headed through the double doors that led to the stage.  Johnny followed them in and the atmosphere quickly changed as they heard loud metal music playing from the other side of the curtain.  Lights spilled through, painting everyone with colorful shades from the strobe lights while they watched the current band rock out on stage.  Johnny peeked past the edge of the curtain and saw people moshing in front.

"They sound like crap, how can anyone actually like this mess?" Shelly asked Johnny.

"Hey, respect the other performers," said the guide, pointing at Shelly threateningly.

Shelly held up her hands in defense.  "Sorry."

The selection was finished and the band bathed in the applause, which was considerably weak, and walked off-stage in their direction.

"We rocked that shit!" yelled the lead singer, a dark-looking guy who's long hair obscured his face.  He bumped past them obnoxiously.  "You guys don't stand a chance."

"I wonder how you can stand at all with those nuthuggers," Shelly responded, insulting his skinny jeans.  "Get the fuck out of here."

The 3-man set disregarded Shelly and the rest of them as they walked by, all except for the drummer, a wild-haired light-voiced teen, who turned back to them.  "Is that your guitarist?" he asked, pointing at Johnny.

"Yeah, he is," Joey said, locking eyes on him with a challenging look.

The teen looked back and forth between Johnny and Joey and burst into hysterical high-pitched laughter before walking away.  Johnny didn't let it bother him, not when the only chance for retaliation was no where to be found when they needed him there.  He pulled out his phone and called Ramsey again.  The guide tapped him on the shoulder.

"You're the next ones up, are you ready?"

"Yeah, we're ready."

"Where's your singer?"

At that very moment, Ramsey's voice mail was played and Johnny closed his phone.  "I'm singin'."

"I'm afraid you can't do that.  No changes to the performance you did for the audition."

"Why make a rule like that when there's a whole month between audition and performance?  Anythin' could change."

"That's why we held auxiliary auditions 5 days before today, in case of any changes.  It's too late now.  I'm going to have to ask you all to leave."

"Look, its the same performance," Johnny insisted.  "Its just gonna be me singin' instead.  Nothin' is changin'.  Just let me do the songs."

"Security!" the guide yelled, directing her voice behind them.

"Son of a bitch!" Johnny yelled, as someone grabbed him from behind.

"This doesn't make any sense!" Joey yelled as he was dragged off.

"Get your fucking hands off of me, Prick!" Shelly struggled.

"All we were trying to do was play music," Apricot said somberly, as she was escorted away without making a scene.

Out of all of them, Chase was making the most noise.  The security guard had trouble handling his small skinny body, as he wiggled out of his grip and ran towards the guide.  He was grabbed just before he was able to tackle her to the ground and the guard hauled him over his shoulder, carrying him off.

"You BITCH!" he screamed in a high-pitched screeching voice.  "YOU UNFAIR LITTLE BITCH.  YOU LET US PLAY!  YOU DIDN'T DO SHIT TO PREPARE FOR THIS BUT WE DID!  WE DID ALL THE WORK AND YOU GET ALL THE MONEY, YOU CAPITALISTIC WHORE!!"

The security guards tossed the band out aggressively into the alleyway behind the Center and closed the door behind them.  They all lay there for a second on the hard cement ground, taking in what had just happened.  Suddenly, Johnny got up, grabbed the chain-linked fence behind him and shook it violently, growling at the same time.

"This is unbelievable, un-fuckin'-believable!" he yelled into the night.  He ran over to a trash can and kicked it as hard as he could.  "FUCK!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs.  "I can't believe this shit!  All that work for fuckin' nothin'!!"

"Its not all for nothing, man," Joey said, trying to calm Johnny down.  "We don't need a stupid Battle of the Bands to get us noticed.  We can do other venues."

"Not if we can't rely on people!  I can't rely on Ramsey to make it to our first gig, how am I supposed to rely on you guys to be at every venue we get?!  You can't rely on anybody in this business, I swear!"

"Hey, don't take this out on us," Shelly said, stepping up.  "Ramsey has always been unreliable, that's not going to change, but we're dedicated to this.  We wouldn't have spent two months working on a few songs just to let it all end here at some lame Battle of the Bands.  We've been behind you from the very beginning and you could see from how Ramsey treated you, how he treated ALL of us tonight, that he wasn't.  Now I don't know about the rest of these guys, but I'm your friend, Johnny B.  And I can guarantee that we will all team up and beat your fucking ass if you give up on this right now.  Now pull yourself together."

Johnny had been on the verge of a mental breakdown before Shelly had stepped in.  He was calm now.  This just wasn't meant to be.  For a short time, he'd let his thirst for fame and getting noticed overcome his dreams of making music.  Their time would come and when it did, he'd look back on this day and laugh.  This was their origin story, after all, he thought.  If someone made a movie of their upbringing, this would only sweeten the experience.  That's how he had to treat the situation.  Let every obstacle they face hit them in stride and keep going, as if his life were one long ass movie.

"Chase, go get your sister and let's get out of here," he said in a near whisper.
"You okay, B?" Chase asked delicately, as he got up and started to walk by.

"As good I'll ever be."

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The Retrovan zoomed down the road in silence.  There was a bitter taste in everyone's mouths as the heat of the moment was still in the air.  They mostly felt emptiness at losing out on a great opportunity, but they weren't done.  Not by a long shot.  As a treat to cheer them up, May was driving them to a Zaxby's restaurant where they could, for the most part, celebrate and/or drown away their sorrows of a missed opportunity so that they could move on from it.  Even still, they were somber on the way there, so May tried to strike up a conversation to loosen the mood.

"So Johnny, what's with the hair, man?" she asked playfully.  "How long have you been growing it and how'd you get it curly like that?"

The question caught Johnny off-guard, who had been sitting in the back, listening to the MP3 he'd had in his pocket.  He pulled one headphone out of his ear so he could hear a bit better.

"Well, I've been growin' it since I was 14, so 3 years now, I guess.  I wash it and condition it every day.  I don't know how it came out curly.  My grandfather was biracial though.  Maybe that's why."

"Interesting," Shelly said.  "You know I have some black in my family."

"Really?" Johnny said, turning back to her.

"Don't say anything, Shelly!" Chase cut in.

"Why?"

"You're trying to make a racist joke!" Chase accused.

"No I'm not, I'm serious."

"You were going to say that they were still hanging there."

"What?" Shelly asked in confusion.

"The ‘joke’ is that the person says they have some black on their family tree and that they're still hanging there," Joey intervened nonchalantly.  "Shelly only said she had some black in her family, she said nothing about a tree, Chase."

"Oh," Chase said with a bit of embarrassment, realizing his mistake.  "Sorry."

There was a brief silence before Johnny spoke up again, chuckling.  "Here's a funny race joke.  A skinny white guy goes into an elevator, looks up and sees this huge black guy standin' beside him.  The big guy sees the little guy starin' at him and he says '7 feet tall, 350 pounds, 10 inch penis, 3 pound left testicle, 3 pound right testicle, Turner Brown.'  The white man faints and falls to the floor.  The big guy kneels down to wake him up and asks 'what's wrong with you?'  In a weak voice, the little guy asks 'what EXACTLY did you say to me?'  The big guy says 'I saw your curious look and figured I'd just give you the answers to the questions everyone always asks me.  I'm 7 feet tall, I weigh 350 pounds, I have a 10 inch penis, 3 pound left and right testicle, and my name is Turner Brown.'  The white guy sighs in relief and he says, 'Oh thank God.  You said Turner Brown, I thought you said Turn Around.'"

It took a few seconds, but everyone understood the joke after a while and soon the car was filled with laughter.

"You know that description is how I imagine Johnny's dad to be," Joey joked.

Johnny chuckled.  "Its close, but the part about the penis is spot on, I know from inheritance."

"Alright, no need to impress anybody here, Johnny."

"Hey, I'm black.  It comes with the race."

"I'm sure that's a popular misconception," Apricot said jokingly.

"No, its true....Nah, its not true for every black guy, I'm messin'...its true for me though."

Chase burst into laughter and gave Johnny a fist bump in acknowledgment as the band began to liven up a bit.  It was a nice experience for Johnny, seeing that these people that had been chosen to join him on the road to creating something new for the world to enjoy were cool and amusing folks that he could actually call his friends.  In that same respect, that night was a momentous occasion, marking the first time in his life when he had more than one friend to call his own.

They conversed for a few more minutes, before May suddenly spotted something out in the road.  No, it was someone.  She stopped the van abruptly, lurching everyone in the van forward.

"May, what the fuck?" Chase exclaimed.

"Sorry, there's somebody in the road."

Johnny leaned forward and recognized who it was.  The drummer with the crazy hair from the competition.  He stood in front of the van with his hands forward on the hood of it as soon as it stopped.  What was he doing?  Suddenly, the van began to shake and several shadows surrounded it.  They were holding weapons.  One was right by Joey's window yelling, "GET OUT OF THE CAR!!" and one broke in one of the backseat windows with a bat.  He unlocked the door and slid it open himself, pulling them out of the van and throwing them onto the pavement.  They were on a dark road, surrounded by trees on the left side and a large field on the right.  There was no light but from the moon above them.

Johnny was pulled out aggressively but he didn't fall to the ground like the others.  He turned around, swung a blow, and dug the middle finger of his fist into the back of the head of the assailant that manhandled him, instantly knocking him unconscious.  He slammed face first into the door of the van just as two other men, both band members that Johnny recognized, came at him from opposite sides.

He delivered a devastating blow to one of the shadowed figures and turned to deliver a kick to the one standing behind him, however the blow failed.  His foot was caught by the figure, who took it and flipped him onto his back.  He then swiftly picked up the fallen bat from the ground and clocked it across Johnny's head, knocking his lights out.

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"Johnny!  Johnny!"

Voices were yelling at him in a psychedelic swirl of dream-like sounds swimming in his head.  He opened his eyes and was greeted with the sight of a group of people, huddled together as they hovered over him.  The voice that was yelling his name was a female.  It was May's.  With this realization, he blinked several times to get his blurred vision to clear and shook his head as he got up.

"Whoa, slow down, buddy," Joey said, leaning by his side.  "You're bleeding."

"I am?"  He reached up, feeling the corner of his head with his fingers and pressing at the spot where he'd taken the blow from the bat.  After feeling the sting on contact, he looked at his fingers and saw that they were soaked with blood.  After a while, he could feel it dripping down the side of his face.  "Shit, where'd they go?"

"They're gone," May said as she was closest to him, her face inches from his.  "Long gone.  We've been car jacked."

"No way," Johnny said in disbelief.  He could hear sobbing behind him.  He turned and saw Chase sitting on the gravel-covered sidewalk beside the white lane marker, his arms on his knees and his head down out of view.  "Chase, are you all right?"

"Everything," he sobbed.  "Everything's gone.  My drum set, the amps, the guitars...."

"No...." Johnny said, jumping up.

"Easy," May said, grabbing him.  He pulled away, grabbing his hair tightly in distress, staring down at the road, wishing to God that he could somehow force that van to come back around the corner from which it disappeared.

"The Night Bird....they took the Night Bird!!"

"Actually no," Shelly said.  He hadn't noticed her before, but she had also been standing over him along with Apricot.  "I saw it over there."  She pointed with her thumb over her shoulder and moved out of the way.  Johnny saw it's shape a little ways down the road.  He sprinted after it faster than he‘d ran before, moving off into the street to see it laying in the middle of it.

There were scratches all over it, including a jagged and unimpressive batman symbol, which looked to have been carved into the body with a sharp rock.  The strap was gone.  Johnny's heart was beating tremendously.  He checked the strings.  They all seemed to be intact.  He examined the volume knobs, whammy bar, and chord inputs, which all seemed to be unaffected.  He held it under his arm and strummed a few chords.  Aside from being horrible out of tune, it still felt and sounded the same.

"Still works....thank God," he whispered.

"Johnny," Joey shouted in his direction.  Johnny didn't turn to him but Joey continued anyway.  "There's a gas station about a mile from here.  They took our phones so we're going to have to call from there.  Maybe we can get Ramsey to pick us up since-"

"Fuck Ramsey," Johnny snapped harshly, turning to Joey.  "Its his fault we're in this mess.  He's out of the band."

The whole group turned to him with this declaration.  Johnny walked towards them sharply.  "We have no money, no equipment, nothin'.  How are we even supposed to do this?  Whatever, let's just go."

In From the Storm by Jimi Hendrix