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."
"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."
"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.
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.
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'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."
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.
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