6/03/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 6: Crosstown Traffic




The first guy sprinted up and tackled Johnny by the waist, followed by several other guys ready to get a crack at him.  Johnny pushed his weight forward to keep himself from falling then hugged the guy's torso and flung him aside.  At the same time, he used his momentum to spin to his opposite side and kick an oncoming enemy in the stomach, knocking him back.

As another guy prepared to charge in, fists at the ready, Johnny grabbed at one of them just as he launched forward, ripped it back and punched the guy swiftly in the face three times, before a chest blow sent him to the ground.  In retaliation, the guy thrown away earlier began to creep up behind Johnny, who immediately reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground beside the sidewalk.  Just as his opponent grabbed for him, Johnny turned around and tossed it into his face.  The guy stumbled about, disoriented.  Johnny took advantage of the moment.  He grabbed the guy's head aggressively with both hands and proceeded to bounce it on his knee, throwing his leg up and slamming his enemy's face onto it.  He then repeated the process several more times.

"Come on, you motherfuckers!" Hal exclaimed.  "He's pulverizing you!"

Johnny kneed his enemy in the face one final time, letting him fall back from the impact with a severely bloody nose.

"Whoo!" Johnny exclaimed with joy.  "'Pulverize'?  Who uses that word anymore?"

He turned around to see the last two double teaming to take him down.  Johnny was feeling an exhilaration rivaling the thrills of playing his guitar.  He found it hard to give up an opportunity to act out.  This time, he didn't even have to bring it into fruition; these guys did it for him.  He decided that he should have fun with this.

He ran in the opposite direction, making it seem like he was attempting to flee.  The two chased him down the path.

"Look at him!" Hal exclaimed in laughter.  "He's running away!"

Johnny smirked in his head as he began to execute.  An adjacent brick wall beside a door that led into the building was his destination as he charged straight on.  He slowed down a bit, making sure that the two guys behind him were within contact range.  When he could sense them coming from behind, he ran up the wall then pushed off, turning around for a roundhouse kick delivered to the closest of them.  Striking him directly in the face, the student flew through the air, flipped, and collided with the ground hard.  Johnny spun as he landed, spotting the second guy that was after him.  He was squatting, still spinning across the ground when he noticed him and time seemed to slow down.  In an instant, once the last man was in range, Johnny balanced himself on one hand and propelled both of his feet directly into his face, knocking him unconscious instantaneously as he fell like a tower onto the ground in defeat.  He seemed to have defied the laws of physics or at least that's how it seemed according to Hal's terrified eyes.  All of his men were down.  Now he had no one to protect him.

Johnny got up and dusted himself off.  "That was fun," he said with a smile, strolling closer to Hal.  "Its just you and me now, Hal.  Don't you feel special?  What are you gonna do now?"

"What am I gonna do?" Hal repeated showing obvious signs of horror and disappointment behind a mask of apathy and confidence.  "I don't need to waste my time with somebody like you.  I'm out of here."

Hal started to turn around and was instantly struck in the face by someone's vicious headbutt.  Hal threw his head back, grabbing his face as he fell to the ground.  Joey stood over his unconscious body triumphantly.

"Nice one," Johnny approached, giving him a thumbs up.

"When he gets up, he's going to have my ass.  I'm glad I'm on your side."

"Me too," he said, shaking hands with Joey.  "I appreciate that.  These guys won’t be getting up for a while.  So did you do the deal?"

"Yeah," Joey said reluctantly.  By the look on his face, it didn't seem like it went very well.  He looked down somberly.

"Well?"

"Well....we're hanging out together on Saturday, after practice."

"My man," Johnny said with a congratulatory smile, patting him on the shoulder.

"Whoo-Wee!" exclaimed a voice from another side of the building.  "Brah, that was so boss, I swear.  That was the trillest shit I ever seen in this place."

The voice was coming from someone exiting the building.  He was dark-skinned guy with an almost perfectly-shaped symmetrical face, aided by a well-trimmed hairline and goatee.  He was wearing a black suede jacket, baggie jeans, high kicks and two large earrings in both ears.  He walked with a peculiarly slow rhythmic stroll, as if he had all the time in the world and didn't care about inconveniencing anyone that might be waiting on him.  His hands were clasped together and he licked his lips excessively, which made the two slightly uncomfortable.

"Yo, I seen the whole thang from the window.  That was straight pimpin, dawg, real talk.  Ain't never seen notin’ like that up in here, no sir."

"Thanks," Johnny said suspiciously.  "Who're you?"

"Yo, I'm Arnold Berry, Brah, but they call me Razzberry, nawimsayin'?"  He reached out to shake Johnny's hand.  Johnny took it and Arnold began to do an elaborate and complicated handshake, to which Johnny limply allowed.  He exchanged strange looks with Joey, who shrugged.

"Uh, My name's Johnny B and this is Joey," Johnny introduced.

"Right right right, I heard a ya....so whatcha'll gettin' into?  What them boys do to ya?"

"Messin' with us, that's all," Johnny replied.

"Oh yeah, I know how dat is.  Mothafuckas be all like 'Yo I heard you a bitch' and I'm like "Brah, I ain't no bitch, why you tryin' me bruh, you betta check yoself.'  But you know how they be runnin' off at the mouth, you gotta fuck 'em up.  Real talk, brah."

"Yeah, I agree," Joey said, trying to interject with good intentions.

"Bruh, shut up, you ain't do shit, you just caught him off-guard-"

"Hey man," Johnny intervened.  "Right now, you're the one runnin' off at the mouth, so you might wanna knock it off.  This is my friend."

"Yo, my bad bruh, don't mind me, somethin' wrong wit my head today, but check it.  He stopped for a moment, rubbing his chin in thought.  "I heard you was startin' a band'a somethin', right?"

"Yeah, a rock band."

"Well check this, I'm into that headbangin’ shit, nawmean, I ain't into the devil worshippin' shit but I like that good shit, so if you need something," he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. "let me know when ya'll wanna record or need a manager or somethin' cause I can hook ya'll up."

"Oh, thanks man," Johnny said, taking it.  "I'll keep in touch."

"Aight, bruh, that's wassup," Arnold said.  "I gotta head out, bruh, but I'll check ya'll later."

He once again grabbed Johnny's hand and began another complicated handshake that eventually involved Joey's participation.  When he was finished, he walked away very slowly and took forever to disappear around the corner before Johnny and Joey were able to speak again.

"That was weird," Joey said.

"Right," Johnny agreed.  "Well, I'll see you later, man."

"All right, see you," Joey waved as they parted ways.  He had just stepped over an unconscious student before he turned around and called out to Johnny.  "Hey, you thought of a name for the band yet?"

"Not yet," Johnny shouted from a distance, still walking.  "I'm cyclin’ through a few of them.  I'll let you know soon though."

Within a few minutes, Johnny had made it to Uncle Chuck's car in the back parking lot, only to see him standing by it with his arms crossed.  As soon as he turned to see Johnny, he began to walk towards him.

"Hey, Uncle Chuck," Johnny greeted with a smile before it faded when he noticed the hostile look on his uncle's face.  As he approached, Chuck slapped Johnny in the face with excessive force and grabbed him by the shirt.

“....the fuck did you leave me stranded in the middle of an empty parking lot for 3 hours for?!" he yelled forcefully into Johnny's face.

"It's only 3:30," Johnny said cautiously but with authority.

"What-the-fuck-ever!"  Why ain't you call me?"

"I texted you."

"You what'ed me?  Boy, don't you dare curse at me in front of my own car or I will-"

"I didn't curse at you.  You don't know what textin’ is?"

"Hell no, I don't know what that is," Uncle Chuck said, letting him go.

"Let me see your phone."  Johnny beckoned for it with his hand.

"Boy, you better ask," he replied threateningly, grabbing his shirt once again.

"Can I please see your phone?"

Uncle Chuck let go once again and reached into his pocket.  "That's better," he said, pulling out his cell phone and handing it to Johnny.

"Uncle Chuck...." he murmured with surprise, examining it.  "This is a Nokia 8110!"

"What about it?"

"This phone is almost 15 years old!  No wonder you couldn't get my text.  I'm surprised this still even works."

"Why didn't you just call, boy?  That's what it's for."

"You have a plasma screen TV, a state-of-the-art computer, and a Honda Modulo!  I assumed you'd have an up-to-date phone."

"Hey!" he exclaimed stepping into Johnny's face again.  "I don't waste my money on useless crap like phones that do extra shit when all I need to do with it is make a phone call.  Now lower your fucking voice before I strike you in the balls and make it higher."

Johnny looked away in annoyance as Uncle Chuck shouted for him to enter the vehicle and they traveled back to his house.  On the way, Uncle Chuck asked what business Johnny had actually gotten himself into at the school and he informed him of his plans to start a band.  He filled him in on the individual members and their talents but brought up the faults as well, including how one of them happened to be a sibling of Maybelline's, which led into the confession of what really happened during the car accident.

Uncle Chuck's response was heartily laughter at Johnny's expense and all Johnny could do was sigh and shake his head in annoyance.  "Damn, so you let that ass go, just like that?"

"Not really," Johnny replied as they pulled into the driveway.  "I don't take nothin' for an answer.  Especially no."

Uncle Chuck chuckled.  "You should put that in one of your songs."

"I just might," Johnny said just before exiting the car.

"So why wasn't that dude riding with them when we got into the accident?"

"He prefers to walk to school."

"Idiot, does he know how far away that damn school is?” Chuck said, unlocking the door for them to enter.  Truth was, it wasn't too far at all, at least not from Uncle Chuck's house.  The distance was only lengthy from the Music Store/Strip Mall and Chase lived relatively close to the school as it was.  Johnny couldn't help but laugh at how his uncle had the tendency to exaggerate every little thing.

Johnny spent the rest of the day in his room writing music.  He was unnaturally excited about this new band, mainly because he was aware of the talent that he was now going to be interacting with.  As much as they respected him just the same for his talents, he needed to make sure, as the founder of the band, that he was a step ahead.  He sat back on the bed with his guitar, his notebook, and his phone, which he used to record his riffs and melodies and play them back for himself to memorize.  After a few hours, he took a break and walked around the house for a little while.

"You can check out the garage if you want," Uncle Chuck said as Johnny walked down the stairs.  "I got a lot of memorabilia and shit that you might be interested in."

"All right thanks," Johnny replied, walking away.

"Don't fuck anything up though."

"I will."

Johnny entered the garage and began his exploration.  He dug through the collection of boxes that filled the wide-open space, discovering a slew of interesting items, including vintage records, broken guitar parts, old clothing, trophies, g-strings; remnants of the past.  In one particular box, he discovered an old high school photo and a few records from a band called Guardian Avenue, which Johnny had never heard of.  At the very bottom of the box, he discovered an old dirty t-shirt covered in dust that took a bit of strength to pull out.  It jerked from the bottom of the box, shifting everything inside and causing it to fall over.  The overwhelming amount of dust flew into Johnny's face, causing him to cough aggressively.

"Is my stuff okay?" Uncle Chuck shouted from the living room at the sound.

"Yeah, I'm fine too, thanks," Johnny called back with sarcasm.  He picked up the shirt from the ground and set the box back upright.  The shirt was red with black lettering.  He opened it up and read the words designed on it, which said, "GARFIELD HIGH SCHOOL, CLASS OF 1970."  Johnny looked up and saw a mirror opposite the spot where he was standing.  He smiled to himself.

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After some unfortunate circumstances, the band was forced to cancel their practice for that week because of complications with Joey's household interfering with his availability, as with Shelly and Chase due to the importance of the Senior Project to their parents.  Certain qualifications had to be met in the progress of the project before they could waste time with other nonsense.  That was something along the lines of what was said.  For the time being, Johnny and his band were forced to practice over the weekend at a predetermined location, which happened to be Chase's house, since he was the one with the drum set and that was the most difficult item to transport.

Joey picked Johnny up from Uncle Chuck's house and drove him to Chase's place, where the band was already setting up in his garage.  When Johnny got out of the car, he realized exactly how fast things were coming together.

"You guys already have amps and stuff ready?" he asked, after the greetings.

"Yeah," Shelly nodded.  "Its all equipment from our last band.  We're just dusting them off and seeing if they work as good as they used to."

As of yet, only Shelly and Apricot had arrived.  Johnny looked at his watch and saw that it was exactly 12 Noon.  All they needed now was Ramsey.  They waited.  Johnny looked at his watch again.  It was 12:30.  The band conversed for a while.  Johnny expressed plans of going over some of the music and band name ideas, but only when everyone arrived.  He looked at his watch once more.  It was 1 O'clock.  Johnny asked Chase to call him but there was no answer.  When Ramsey's car finally stopped at the front of the house, it was 1:45.  They had wasted nearly 2 hours.

"What the hell, man?" Johnny said as Ramsey approached the garage.

"I know, I know, I'm sorry," he said with his hands up defensively.  "I totally forgot and didn‘t remember until like thirty minutes ago.  It won't happen again though."

"I hope not.  We wasted a lot of time.  Set up your mic and lets get started."

"Actually, I forgot my mic.  Sorry."

Everyone groaned and shook their heads in disappointment.  Johnny sighed and rubbed his face.  "It's okay, it's okay.  We'll just work on the music today and go over the lyrics later.  Next time, be prepared, Ramsey."

"Right," he nodded.

Johnny went to Joey's car and opened his trunk to pull out the two guitar cases that were stashed in the back.  He closed the trunk and carried them to the garage, handing one to Joey and unzipping his own in the middle of the floor.

"So, names guys," Joey said while unsheathing his bass, which was a glistening red and black Fender.  "For the band.  Anybody got anything in mind?"

"The Executioners," Chase brought forth.

"No!" Everyone said in unison.

"What’s wrong with that?"

"That name is so overused in so many different things," Apricot said.  "We need something original that sticks to people."

"No, what we need is a crazy off-the-wall name like these bands out today," Shelly said in thought.  "Like I Am Ghost or Iwrestledabearonce."

"Those names are already taken, Shelly," Chase replied annoyingly.

"I know that, Chase, I was stating examples," Shelly responded with attitude.

"How about Sacrifice," Chase suggested.  "That's pretty cool."

"It is but its a bit emo, don't you think?" Joey said, hands in his pockets.

"Yeah," Apricot agreed.  "Maybe something that's symbolic.  Like....I don’t know, ‘Melting Pot.‘"

"Right, since we're all different," Ramsey said, considering it.  "But that might be too obvious-"

Johnny snapped his fingers twice to get their attention, then reached down into his case and pulled out the red class reunion shirt that his Uncle once owned, displaying it for the band.
"Garfield High School - Class of 1970," Shelly read aloud.  "What about it?"

"That should be the name of the band.  Class of '70.  Alludin' to the fact that our music is classic and psychedelic, payin' homage to that time period.  That's what we're goin' for."

"Class of '70," Joey said in thought, staring at the shirt intently.  "That sounds pretty legit.  Where'd you find that shirt?”

“It was in my Uncle's storage.  It's not his, he found it a long time ago, but I happened to stumble on it by accident.”

“Interesting.  What do you think, guys?"

"Its cool," Shelly said with a smile.  Everyone else nodded their heads in agreement.

"Awesome, awesome," Johnny said.  He folded the shirt back up and shoved it back in the case.  "Alright, I've got some songs that I want to run by you guys, see if you dig it."

Johnny sat on the couch in the garage beside Ramsey and pulled out his music notebook, flipping through it quickly.  He began to sing the lyrics that he'd written and simultaneously played the riff ideas he had for each.  The lyrics were symbolic in nature while maintaining a level of realism and identity.  Among them was a song called "Landscape" which detailed the thoughts in one's mind as if they were the geography of an actual map.  Another was a song called "Magma Dance", about the flow of one's imagination and its comparison with the beauty of a woman.  Another was a rather somber but intense song called "North Nicole", a song he'd written in response to his cheating girlfriend, Rebecca, back in Louisiana, using Nicole as a placeholder name and a symbol for his displeasure towards her, while the full title was an allusion to the North Pole in how he accuses her of being cold-hearted.  The final song that he presented to the band was the one that stood out the most.  It was called "Truthful Lie" and it was a hard-hitting Power Ballad that was sung through the point of view of an individual who warns their lover not to get involved with them and when read between the lines, it depicts the individual as a dangerous drug speaking to its user.  All of the songs were catchy and became favorable among the group.

"These are just four of the songs, but I have a bunch more,” Johnny said, closing his notebook.  “I just don't wanna unload them on you all at once."

"That's a beast line-up, man," Chase said, sitting in his seat behind the drum set.  "Let's see what we can do with that one, what’s it called, 'Landscape'?  You said that was percussion heavy, right?"

"Don't be selfish, Chase," Shelly said in annoyance.  "He could want to do 'North Nicole'.  It's got the best rhythm."

"Chill, guys," Johnny said, standing up.  "Let's start with 'Magma Dance'.  It's supposed to have a lot of bass and I want to hear what Joey's got now."

"Right, cool," Joey nodded, going over to plug his Bass into one of the amps.  Shelly and Ramsey exchanged nervous looks that Johnny noticed fairly quickly.  Once Joey was ready, Johnny walked over to him and they stood facing each other.

"Okay, now I want you to follow my lead with this riff.  Just keep it steady, we‘re gonna freestyle it," Johnny instructed as he plugged his guitar into his amp, flipped it on, and began to play a simple riff.  After a while, Johnny noticed that Joey was staring at the Night Bird intently, not making a move to continue the rhythm on his Bass.  Johnny stopped playing.  "There a problem?"

"No," Joey said, shaking his thoughts away.  "Just play it again."

Johnny started the riff again and expected Joey to come in but once again, he didn't.  He moved in to play but hesitated.  When his hands and fingers were finally in place, he began to strum and had a rhythm going for about five seconds before the tempo changed and Joey began to go faster than Johnny.  Johnny gestured with his head to get Joey to slow down and keep the tempo steady but this distracted Joey and caused him to make a mistake.

"Shit," Joey said, shaking his head again.  "Sorry, start over again."

Johnny started the riff again and Joey began to correspond with a different bass line than before.  It wasn't nearly as good.  Plus, this time, he began to slow down considerably while Johnny stayed on tempo.

"Pick it up," Johnny said, trying to coax him into speeding the riff.  It was unsuccessful.  "Alright, this isn't working."

"I know, I'm just not feeling this particular riff," Joey complained.  "Let's try another."
Johnny sighed in annoyance.  "All right."  He began to play a slower riff but it was slightly more complicated than the first.  Joey began to play along with it and kept up the tempo but the bassline was simple and boring.  Joey smiled as if he were actually doing a good job.  Johnny looked at him with worry.  "All right, let's stop," he said finally.

"What's the matter?" Joey said with concern.

"Uh," Johnny stuttered looking at the others, who gave him looks of disapproval.  "Everybody take five."

The others took that as their cue to get up and leave the garage.  A door at the end of the garage led into the kitchen, which they entered to give them privacy.

"You feelin' all right today, Joey?" Johnny asked sincerely.

"Yeah, I'm fine.  Why?"

"Your playin' is a bit off.  I mean if you're just not feelin' it today, I understand"-

"No, I-" Joey stuttered, getting a bit flustered at the same time.  "I mean yeah, I'm a bit off, I know.  Its just the timing, you know, I haven't gotten the chance to actually brush up on my skills since the old days.  I should be good if I practice a bit."

"Alright, cool," Johnny nodded, though not convinced.  "You stay in here and practice for a bit.  I'm gonna go get somethin' to drink."

"Sure, okay," Joey said, sitting on his amp and plucking through a few chords.  He handled it as if he were playing it for the first time.  This wasn't good.  Johnny went into the house, closing the door behind him.  He walked into the kitchen, where he was confronted by Shelly and Ramsey.  "He said he hadn't practiced in a while so I think he"-

"Sucks," Shelly said simply.  "We know.  We've known for a while."

"Wait, you knew he wasn't good?  Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because he was always around," Ramsey said, gesturing at the door.  "We'd never admit this in front of him, but we weren't reluctant to join the band because of Joey's leadership skills.  He was great with that.  We had our doubts because we knew how bad of a bassist he was.  I mean, I've been singing since I was six, Shelly's been playing guitar since she was 11, and Chase has been drumming since he could walk.  Joey had just picked up on the bass around the time our band started.  We sort of hoped he would have gotten better over the years, but it's obvious that he hasn't been practicing since then.  We figured that you probably had the skills to help him or at least the balls to tell him because we sure don't.  He gets sensitive about shit like that."

"Damn, no wonder you couldn't continue the band.  It was just you two in the end."

"Personally, I don't think he's that bad," Chase said, walking into the kitchen from the living room as he bit down on a peeled banana.

"He's not," Johnny said, grabbing a glass from the dish rack, walking into the refrigerator, and pouring himself some Pepsi that had been lying inside.  "But he's not good enough for this band.  We're all pretty skilled at our instruments, he's the only anomaly.  Still though, he helped form the band by findin' you guys, so I can't just kick him out."

"We could make him our manager or something," Ramsey suggested.

"Yeah, but that's a risk," Shelly replied.  "If we ask him to switch over to that, he'll wonder why and we'll have to explain that we think he sucks at Bass.  Maybe we should just hold on to him and hope that his skill will grow."

"I agree," Johnny said, taking a sip of his Pepsi.

"Cool," Chase said, nodding.  "Well I'm glad you find this house homey enough to go into my fridge without permission, but we better go back to Joey before he suspects that we're talking about him."

The band started to head back outside, when Johnny noticed that Apricot was missing.  "Anybody know where Apricot went?" he asked, looking around.

On cue, he heard female laughter coming down the stairs on the other side of the kitchen.  Walking down them were Apricot and Maybelline, engaged in conversation.  They were both smiling but as soon as the rest of the band came into view, May's smile faded quickly at the sight of Johnny.

"Alright, let's go guys," Johnny said, rushing them out of the garage as quickly as possible.

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The practice lasted for a total of three hours with only one break in between, not including the previous one.  Johnny had specific ideas for how he wanted the Bass to sound in each songs.  He tried his best to coach Joey through them, but it just seemed too complicated for his playing skills.  Joey complained, stating that the bassline wasn't good enough to put in the song, to which the whole band disagreed and a vote of using it overruled Joey's protests.  After a while, they gave up on the song "Magma Dance" and moved on to "North Nicole.”  He went through the melodies with Shelly and Apricot and they were able to master the intro, the first verse and the chorus.  Johnny was forced to downgrade the complexity of the bassline he'd had planned for this particular song and it didn't sound as good as he wanted, but it was still decent.  The song itself was slow and soul-chilling, leading with a catchy harmonizing guitar riff between Johnny and Shelly and powerful lyrics driving it along.  The drums were heavy and carried the beat where the bass was falling short, keeping the song balanced.  For what they were putting together, it was coming across nicely.

"All right, I think we're good for today, guys," Johnny said finally, switching off his amp and pulling the chord from his guitar.  "Good work.  We'll meet up after school on Monday from 2:30 to 4:30, finish up 'North Nicole', and add in some new things before we move on to the next song.  We should have all four of them perfected by the end of the month based on the work ethic today."

"Possibly," Shelly said in a near whisper, eying Joey, who was playing a collection of uncoordinated notes on his Bass.

"Don't forget to practice when you guys get home.  If you need help memorizing some of the parts, try to record them on your phones while they're still fresh in your memory.  I'll see you guys next practice."

Johnny took off his guitar and put it in its case, zipping it up and slinging it over his shoulder.

"Good work, man," Joey said, walking up to him.

"Yeah, uh," Johnny stuttered.  "Likewise."

"So, you ready for that date?"

"Me?" Johnny asked with an eyebrow raised.  "It's your date."

"Oh I forgot, I didn't tell you!" Joey exclaimed, hitting his head for betraying him.  "I wanted to ask if you'd come on a double date with me and Apricot."

"Why do you need me?"

"Because you make me look good by comparison," Joey said enthusiastically.  "Wait, that didn't come out right.  What I mean is that we look good together.   As a duo.  Plus, it's easier for people to click when they're with a group because the tension is taken off of the main two.  Once I get to know her a bit, then we can go on dates when it's just us.  I just need your help this one time."

Johnny sighed.  "Alright, I'll help.  I'll go ask Shelly if she wants to go."

As he walked out of the garage to speak to her before she left, he was stopped by Joey.  "Uh, that won't be necessary," he said cautiously.  "Apricot already asked someone to go with her before I asked you."

"Who?"

"May."  Johnny's eyes squinted into a glare as he gave Joey a dangerous look.  "Its not my fault.  She did it before I could stop her, otherwise I would have just told Shelly to come along.  Come on, I'm asking you to do this out of the kindness of your heart.  You're not even technically going with her, she's going with Apricot."

"But Apricot's going with you.  So I'll be by myself."

"Right.  You like that, don't you?" Joey asked with a smile.

"Yeah I do, so if you still want it to seem like a ‘duo,’ you're gonna be disappointed."

"That's okay," Joey said, rubbing the back of his head.  "As long as you guys are there, that'll help me out."

"See you, guys!"  Shelly and Ramsey waved from their cars as they drove away.  Johnny waved back and got his stuff together.

"You guys leaving or something?" Chase asked, adjusting his drum set.

"No, we're hanging out at the mall," Joey said, packing his things up.  "Your sister is coming with us."

"Whatever," Chase said, walking back into the house from the garage door.  "Just make sure Johnny doesn't start feeling on May or something while you're there."

As he said this, May walked past him on her way into the garage.  Johnny turned away, slightly embarrassed, knowing that she had heard the whole thing.  She walked in with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm going with him?" she asked Apricot, who was packing away her keyboard set.

"No, you're going with them, I'm just taggin' along," Johnny said quickly with his arms crossed.

She shrugged.  “Fine with me.”

"Alright, let's go."

"I call shotgun," Apricot said, running to Joey's car, much to Johnny's dismay because Joey would be the one driving, leaving him in the back with the demon chick from hell.

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Johnny, May, Joey, and Apricot walked through the Mall together.  Actually, it was more like May, Joey, and Apricot walking through the Mall together, with Johnny somewhere else, noting that earlier they'd determined that they'd meet up in the Food Court sometime later.  Joey was discouraged by this, as he wanted Johnny with them the whole time, but at least he didn't have to worry about stirring up conversation, as May and Apricot were already decent friends and could handle that on their own.

Johnny scoured the Mall, talking to others about any upcoming shows that may be taking place in the next month or so.  He wanted to sign up for something as soon as possible.  However, no matter what he tried to occupy his head with to avoid addressing the elephant in his mind, there was no mistaking it.  Joey was the best friend he'd made here, possibly the best friend he'd made in his life by comparison.  That was regarding his relationship with him.  But this band was business.  A business where he could not deliver.  Johnny appreciated the help with building this band; it wouldn't have existed without him.  But it seemed that Joey was able to provide him with all of the exceptional band mates he needed except for a bassist.  It was baffling to think of how someone with Joey's level of skill could think they were good enough in their craft to meet the band's current standards without so much as a self-evaluation.  Everyone in the band seemed to be clicking and progress was being made very quickly, but he was easily the weakest link.  Johnny decided that it would be beneficial if he had some private sessions with Joey to catch him up.  That was the best he could do at this point.

After a while, Johnny walked to the Food Court to see the Joey, May, and Apricot sitting at a table together.  He took a seat beside Joey, directly in front of May, avoiding eye contact.  When they greeted him by he simply nodded and looked away.  As he ignored most of their conversation, he took out his phone and pretended to look busy as he scrolled through his contacts.  He was in the R section when he realized that he still had Rebecca's number in his phone.  He briefly thought of texting some sort of obscene insult to her in retaliation for her actions, but he figured it wouldn't help the situation.  He decided to just delete her as a contact all together and move on with his life.

He wasn't even paying attention when May called his name.  "Johnny!"

"Huh?" he said, looking up.  She handed him something.  He reached out and took it, seeing that it was a flier for a local Battle of the Bands competition at a Parks and Recreational Center not far from their school.  The dates were from December 1st to the 3rd, the first two days being band showcases, and the third day being a performance of the bands that made it to the finals.  Audition dates were on November 3rd, early next month.

"Thought it might be something you'd want to get into," May said normally, as if everything that had happened between them had been nonexistent.

"Thanks," Johnny said, laying the flier down on the table and going back to his phone.  Joey and Apricot looked at each other.  Joey winked and Apricot smiled.

"Ah shit," Joey said in an obviously fake display of frustration.  "I left my phone in the car.  I've got to go get it.  I'll be right back."

"I'll go with you," Apricot said, getting up with him.

"I'll come too," Johnny said, preparing to get up.

"No its fine, Johnny, me and Apricot have got it.  We'll be right back."

"You sure?"

"Positive.  I'll be back."

Johnny turned and watched the two walk away, giggling.  They were up to something.  He turned back around and briefly made eye contact with May before going back to the contents of his phone.

"So are you going to go for that Battle of the Bands show?" May asked, leaning forward casually.

"Maybe," he said, not looking up.

There was a short silence.  "My brother Is really psyched to be working with you.  He says you're the best thing to come out of rock music since Jimmy Page."

Johnny chuckled softly then just as quickly, his smile faded.  May rubbed her hands together and began to look around.

"Well obviously you're not in a talking mood so I'm going to"-

Johnny looked up with his eyebrows raised.  "Talkin' mood?  Why would I be in a talkin' mood with you?  Did you forget what you said to me?"

"No," she said nonchalantly.  "I didn't think you'd take me that seriously."

Johnny tossed his phone onto the table and leaned forward threateningly.  "You are un-fuckin'-believable, May.  You insult me, my band, and everythin' that I stand for and expect me to forget?  I don't forget shit like that, lady.  No, you're are so on my bad side right now."

"So suppose you never saw me again.  Suppose you never knew who I was; I said that to your face and after that, I disappeared.  I'm just your average critic.  How would you react to me then?  Would you let what I said effect you like it did?  Would you go up to your room, cry, and write sappy emo songs to pass the mood by?  I bet you'd be the type to listen to stuff like that when you get sad, sit in your room and eat ice cream, watching Spanish soaps."

Johnny sat up and whispered critically, "Do I look like the kind of guy that would do something like that?"

May leaned back confidently.  "No you don't.  Yet you still get upset at me for saying it.  If it were true, that's when you should be upset.  Otherwise you're just wasting your time and brain energy worrying about what people think of you"-

"I don't like being lectured by hypocrites," Johnny said without blinking.

"Johnny, I know that I've been a hypocrite, I don't deny this anymore.  But you still do.  Why walk around looking like a bad ass, saying 'I do my own thing, fuck everybody else, I can't trust anybody, and everybody sucks but me' when you can't even hold true to these principles?"

"Why would you care what I do with my life?" Johnny asked, shrugging.

"All I'm saying is, I may be a hypocrite, but at least I realize it.  I hardly doubt you even know how much of one you are sometimes.  I mean EVERYBODY can see right through you when you do it.  The principles I just mentioned aren't good ones to live by.  Not everyone in the world is against you and you don't need to be against everyone in the world.  You are a bad ass, okay, we get that.  But you want to be a leader of a band too.  That means you have to give your bandmates a reason to trust in you, other than them liking your skill or being scared of you.  That's how you gain their loyalty.  You show that you appreciate them for more than just their talent or skill.  You have to form a bond with them, which is what I see happening with you and the others, even when you still try to sport that 'I'm always alone' attitude.  That bond you're creating is sacred and soon its going to come down to you keeping one or the other, your bad ass attitude or the band itself.  If I were you, I'd ditch the attitude and keep the bond with the band."

"And what if they break that bond like people always do?"

"Then you do exactly what you should have done with me and kick their ass to the curb.  Start new, meet new people, form a bond with them.  The previous person may break the bond but they don't break you; You move on."

"Did your mom tell you to tell me this?  Or did my Uncle pass the message along from her to you or somethin'?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Apparently, your mom and my uncle are talking or some shit like that."

"Ew," May said, grimacing before shaking her head dismissively.  "Well anyway, no this is all me....with a little help from talking with Apricot and Joey, just to clear my perspective.  So you see what I'm saying?"

"You still didn't answer my question.  Why do you care all of a sudden?"

May hesitated slightly before answering.  "Because I see the potential.  I saw it when I first met you and I ignored it.  I saw it in the auditorium and I ignored it there too.  I thought I would ignore it again at the practice but now my perspective has changed, especially after having a talk with the others about you.  You were inadvertently trying to teach me something and I wanted to return the favor."

Johnny was baffled.  He'd never in his life met anyone like this girl.  She had completely changed his perception of her in a matter of minutes.  This was a girl who wasn't afraid to admit her mistakes.  She was full of the wisdom and intelligence that Ladyland was so deprived of.  She was....there was no way to describe her at this point.  She was now what Johnny wanted Garfield High to become.  Johnny couldn't help but smile and shake his head.

Suddenly, his phone rang and he looked down at it, this time with a purpose.  It was Joey.  He answered.

"Hello?"

"Yeah dude, weneed to go.  I forgot I've got some errands to run after this.  I'm sure you're ready to get the hell out of there now anyway, huh?"

"Uh," Johnny stuttered, staring up at May, who smiled warmly.  "Not that much....anymore."

"Sure," Joey said awkwardly.  "Well when you're ready, meet us outside.  Hurry it up though, I've really got to go."

"Alright alright, I've got ya," he said, hanging up.  "Joey wants us to meet him outside.  He says he's got some errands to run."

"Cool, I've got to get home soon anyway.  But look, I know it probably looks like I'm an alien in the real May's body or something, but this is me, I'm a genuine person, and I wanted to show you that."

"Well now there you go caring about what others think," Johnny said, leaning forward with a chuckle.  "Maybe you should have kicked my ass to the curb."

Johnny had done something he hadn't done in a long while.  He'd let his guard down.  His emotional guard.  Therefore he was the farthest from ready any man would have been for what she did next.  May reached across the table and kissed Johnny on the lips.  It lasted for three seconds exactly; Johnny counted them in his head as his muscles tensed in complete shock.  Then she pulled away and looked him in the eye, inches from his shocked face.

"Tell anyone about that and I will," she said with a smirk before getting up and walking away from the table.

Johnny blinked several times.  He shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and sighed with an ironic smile as he got up and followed her out of the food court.  “Fuck this city.”

Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix

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