A local news report flashed across the screen drawing Johnny away from his guitar. He sat in the living room, with the television left on for its comforting white noise behind his playing. It was the first time he'd watched the news in a while and he was hearing things about the world that he was previously unaware of while it was probably common knowledge to most. This was no exception. The first thing that caught his attention was the face of the suspect they displayed. It was a middle-aged man with black and gray hair to his shoulders and a thick scruffy beard. Johnny recognized him immediately. It was Will from the bus station. His face normally appeared young at first glance but from the looks of this mugshot, he appeared to be almost ten years older.
"Wanted serial killer, Wilford Miles, also known as the 'Silencer,' has been spotted here in Ladyland, California after a series of murders committed across the country in the last decade, the latest of which include the murders of Cornelius and Autumn Whitley in New Orleans last summer. After his release from prison in the early 90's for the murder of his brother-in-law, Miles has been on a ruthless killing spree for nearly 15 years, earning him a reputation as 'The Silencer', due to his use of a silencer pistol as his primary murder weapon. His reappearance here in Ladyland has put local authorities on full alert. They urge the public to stay calm and be aware of your surroundings in this difficult time-"
The television suddenly clicked off. Johnny whipped around and saw Uncle Chuck walking around the sofa with the remote in his hand. Johnny jumped up.
"Hey, I was watching that!" Johnny said in annoyance.
"You think I care?" he asked, putting the remote down on the table beside the sofa.
Johnny ran up and grabbed it, turning the television back on to see if there was more to the report he'd been watching. Uncle Chuck tackled him from behind and he hit the floor hard as Chuck pried the remote from his hands, turning it off again. Its okay though, as he was able to see that the report was over before the assault.
"...the fuck do you think you are!" Chuck said, pressing Johnny's head onto the carpet. "This is my house and that's my TV! When I turn it off, it stays the fuck off, you got that?!"
"Yeah," Johnny muttered. He had no reason to resist. These physical attacks had become a daily occurrence in his Uncle's household and he was getting used to it.
"Alright," Chuck said, getting off of him, but not before yanking him up to his feet by the collar. When Johnny was standing, Chuck wiped his chest and straightened his shirt for him. Johnny was slightly taken aback by the somewhat thoughtful gesture. "Now, I'm goin' over to that fine lady's house we crashed into a few months back. She keeps callin' me like I give a damn, so I gotta make it worth it."
"You're talkin' about Kathy Walker?" Johnny asked curiously. “May and Chase's mom?”
"Oh, that's her name. I thought it was Vivian or somethin'. Anyway, yeah she's got some Christmas party goin' on or some shit she wants me to go to. You goin' with me, I don't care how much you protest."
"Why would I protest?" Johnny asked with confusion. "My girlfriend and a band member of mine are gonna be there."
"Wait," Uncle Chuck said with a look of realization. "What band?"
Johnny looked at Chuck with disbelief. "You're kiddin' me, right? What do you mean 'what band?' You don't remember me mentionin' my band to you?"
"This is the first time I'm hearin' about it, yeah," Chuck said with his hands on his hips, looking at Johnny intently.
"I told you about this months ago. I told you about Battle of the Bands and how we got our van stolen and everythin'. I had my friends over here the other day to go to the studio and see our sponsor. I told you I had the Demo CD and I wanted you to hear it. Do you ever listen to me when I'm talkin' to you about this stuff?”
“Apparently, you haven't been straight. You said you were GOING to Battle of the Bands, like goin’ to see it. Everythin’ you told me about this so-called ‘band’ has been abstract shit that sounded more like you were gettin’ it ready for it than doin’ shit. I mean, damn, how vague can you be around your own uncle, I could have seen you perform or somethin’.”
Johnny rubbed his face, as if some of the stress his uncle was splashing in it would wipe off. “Uncle Chuck, I asked you if you wanted to come and you said that if we were good, you’d see us another time. That meant that at some point, you had to have known that I started a band. I told you about the band on the ride home from my first day at Garfield. I’ve told you-”
Uncle Chuck turned around and walked out of the room. And Johnny simply stood there, dumbfounded at the tragically short nature of his uncle's attention span. It was like talking to a brick wall. Suddenly, his phone began to vibrate on the sofa where he’d been sitting, jogging him out of his daze. He grabbed it along with his guitar and walked out of the room, answering the phone.
“It's Johnny,” he greeted.
“Yeah, hey, it's Paul,” said the man with a British accent on the other line.
“Hey Paul, what's goin' on?”
“I just came up with the biggest idea,” Paul said with enthusiasm. “This is something that, based on where I know you're going with this music thing, will be the subject of bio-pics based on your life when you get famous.”
“Okay,” Johnny said with a chuckle. “Sounds pretty epic.”
“Oh it is, mate, it is. Now, I want you to imagine this with me, okay? Imagine yourself on stage with your band performing in front of a crowd of like hundreds, okay? Imagine, you rocking out, the crowd going bloody nuts, everybody that talked about you and your mates are crying their fucking eyes out, praising you for your musical genius; the whole works. Now imagine that in that gravel area behind your school. And imagine that in the next couple of months or so!”
“Um, okay, it’s in my mind now. Where is this goin’ exactly?”
“It’s going to the skies, my friend. Imagine that fantasy as a reality because I can make that happen. I’ve got the right equipment, the right resources, and everything.”
“And the school is okay with this?” Johnny asked cautiously, as he walked up the stairs to his room to get dressed.
“You sound down, love, what, are you not up for this? I mean, we don’t have to do it, we can downgrade a bit-”
“No, no, its not that. I really want to do this, believe me. I REALLY want to do this. I’m just thinkin' about it realistically though, I mean, how is it supposed to happen? How are we gonna get the school to agree to somethin’ like that?”
“That’s the beautiful thing, Johnny, that’s the thing that’s going to make this the most priceless event in rock history. We’re going to do this completely rogue style.”
“You’re not talkin’ about havin’ an illegal concert at school, are you?”
“No that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about having the most epic, life-changing, ear-drum busting, professionally-put-together-so-well-that-the-students-think-it-was-planned-by-the school illegal concert, Johnny. Something conceived only in fantasy by a young musician like yourself. It'll be one of the most epic events in rock history since the Rite of Passage Rock Festival I attended in '78.”
“This is going to cost a lot with no money in return,” Johnny said, changing in his room while having a few second thoughts about his new manager’s idea. “Not to mention we’ll be gettin’ into a shit load of trouble for it.”
“And this is coming from the guy who got expelled from his last school and yes, I’ve heard the story. Marty told me all about it. Listen, Johnny, this isn’t about the money. This isn’t about breaking the rules either. It’s about sending a message. It’s about leaving a mark that no one ‘clique’ or cock head administrator from your school can erase. This is something that could possibly plant a seed in the minds of every one of your classmates and make them realize that the world is much larger than the pointless drama of that school. Make them realize that being different isn’t as bad of a character flaw as they believe, that it actually leads a person to a place that few get to experience and that everyone else envies. I’m talking about success, my friend. And the majority of the musical artists that they adore so much started exactly where you're at. This concert will show them that greatness begins in the most unlikely of places. That underestimation and ambition breeds pure unadulterated greatness. This concert will show them just how much of a fucking animal you are, mate!”
“Okay, I see where you’re goin' with all of this now,” Johnny replied, as he walked down the stairs with his guitar case. He was beginning to see the bigger picture. It would be nothing less than ground-breaking but it was still only a pipe dream at this point. Anything and everything could and probably would go wrong. It only took one person or one thing to screw it all up. And with a group of enemies that were now seeking his downfall, it was apparent that someone was, without a doubt, going to try to put an end to their plans. But still, something about an event as epic as this made it seem like it was worth the risk. “What exactly do you want me to do to prepare for somethin’ like this?”
“All I need from you is to keep it secret. Only let your band members know, but none of you can tell a soul or the whole operation could fuck up. I’m thinking sometime near the end of the year would suffice to ensure that you all still graduate should the administration get a bit happy with their punishments. Other than that, you lot need to keep practicing and make sure you can deliver where it counts. I'll call you back for updates or changes."
"Alright, sounds good."
"This is going to be absolutely amazing, Johnny, I promise you," Paul said with much enthusiasm.
"I wouldn't doubt it," Johnny replied, walking up to the front door where Uncle Chuck was standing, waiting for him.
"Alright, Johnny, take it easy."
He hung up his phone and put it in his pocket as he walked by the living room counter on his way to the door. He spotted the Demo CD that he and the band had recorded a few days ago. The tracks sounded amazing, but he'd left the CD there for his uncle to listen to and Johnny could tell by the position it was in and the dust that was gathering over it, that it had been untouched. He grabbed it on his way out.
"What's that?" Uncle Chuck asked, spotting it.
"It's the Demo CD for my band. I want you to listen to it."
"You're kiddin' right?" Uncle Chuck snickered as he let Johnny walk past him outside. "You know how long of a drive it is to that woman's house? If you think we're listenin' to your mess on the way there, you're stupider than I thought."
As Chuck closed the door behind him, Johnny spun around on the front step and confronted him sternly. "Uncle Chuck, this is my band. This is the music I make and I am very proud of it. You're my family, but if you're not even gonna give it a chance, I don't need your support for anything, okay? I can find help elsewhere."
Uncle Chuck raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. "So what you're sayin' is, I listen to your Demo or you're leavin'?"
"Exactly," Johnny said plainly.
Uncle Chuck looked off in thought then back at Johnny. "You're lucky your momma would kick my ass if I let you leave like that. Get in the car and turn that shit down while it's playin'. I don't feel like goin' deaf. And there better not be no fuckin' cussin' either."
Johnny and Uncle Chuck pulled up into the Walkers' driveway several minutes later; Chuck, as always, exaggerated the length between the two destinations. They had rode in silence as the two soaked in the music that was being played through their stereo system. Every instrument could be heard clearly, especially the Bass, which was digitally added after each recording session. Johnny's voice blared through the car speakers, a sensation that could only be described as mesmerizing for him. He never truly cared for his own voice, but hearing it in such clarity in its entirety made him truly appreciate his own work much more. He watched Uncle Chuck closely, checking his reaction to every little change in each song. There were a total of five tracks on the Demo: "North Nicole," "Magma Dance," "Crossover," "Truthful Lie," and "Landscape," the latter of which had been completed that day in the studio and recorded that evening.
Uncle Chuck didn't seem to react to any of it, a response similar to Paul's. Johnny hoped that this was a good thing. As they arrived at the Walkers' home, Uncle Chuck continued to listen to the last song, refusing to turn off the car's until it was finished. When the outro faded out, Chuck pulled out the key and sat there for a few moments.
"That'll go," he said, turning to Johnny and making direct eye contact with him.
"Yeah?" Johnny asked, a smile forming on his face.
"Yep." Chuck gave him a smirk and stepped out of the car. Johnny felt the pride swelling up inside of him. He took the CD out of the radio, got out, and quickly walked to Chuck's side with child-like excitement.
"Which one was your favorite?" Johnny asked anxiously.
"Uh," Chuck said, thinking it over. "The one with the solo."
"All of them had a solo."
"Oh, well the one with the orchestra sounds."
"Oh, 'Magma Dance.' Yeah, that was Apricot on the keyboard."
"How many of you are there?" Chuck asked, turning toward him.
"Five. There used to be six, but one of them bailed out on us."
"You know, you sing like a fuckin' whale, boy," Chuck said, as they approached the front door. "But you make it sound good. I don't know how you do it, but keep doin' it."
"Maybe some day we can do a cover one of Guardian Avenue's old songs. Like that one hit you guys had back in the day."
"Who told you about that?" Chuck said, pressing the doorbell button.
"Paul McFly. He said he was the drummer for you guys' band. He's the guy who helped us make the Demo."
"Oh yeah," Chuck said, smiling. "McFly, the Rhythm Man. Made a comic book out of himself and everythin'. I ain't talked to him in years."
"How come you never told me my dad was in Guardian Avenue?" Johnny asked curiously.
The smile faded from Chuck's face and he swallowed hard, developing a scowl.
"Huh?" Johnny persisted.
Chuck leaned forward and pressed the doorbell button again. After a few seconds, he reached out and rang it several times in frustration before he heard sound behind the door.
"Alright! Alright!" shouted a woman from inside the house. Eventually, the door opened and the woman Johnny had seen from the accident months ago stood at the door smiling at them. Kathy was quite pretty (Just like her daugher, Johnny thought) and wore her hair in a ponytail with large earrings hanging from both ears.
"Hey!" She exclaimed enthusiastically, coming out of the house and hugging Uncle Chuck tightly, Chuck looking around awkwardly as he kept his arms by his side. "It's so good to see you! Don't stand out in the cold, get your sorry asses in this house!"
The two of them took that as their cue to enter. Johnny had been there several times to practice and got the chance to explore the house during his visits to see May, although he had never actually gotten the chance to interact with Ms. Walker, due to her frequent absence. The entrance led them into the living room, where Chase sat on the sofa playing video games on the plasma screen in the center of the room. He turned around and smiled when he saw Johnny.
"Mom, why didn't you tell me Johnny was coming over?" he said, getting up and hopping over the sofa in their direction. He shook hands with him and pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the video game.
"Early Christmas," he said with enthusiasm. "Want to play?"
"No thanks," Johnny said modestly. "I'll watch."
"Cool," Chase replied, leading him over to the sofa. Johnny sat down and looked back at Chuck, who walked into the kitchen conversing with Kathy. Before turning the corner, Chuck gave Johnny a quick glance. Johnny wasn't sure why Chuck had avoided the mention of his father's involvement with Guardian Avenue. Had the two fallen out? Chuck never spoke ill about Johnny's father, so this sudden refusal to discuss their music career together was strange to say the least.
"So uh, where's May?" Johnny asked turning back to Chase as he got deeper into the game.
"In the shower," Chase said, staring at the television intently. "Don't get any ideas though."
"Oh, don't worry," Johnny smiled deviously, leaning back with his arm around the top of the couch. "My ideas will stay in my head."
"Thank you," he said, returning to the game. He then snapped back at Johnny. "Hey!"
Johnny pointed at the screen, just as Chase's car smashed into a wall.
"Son of a....Fuck you very much, Johnny."
"Only if you promise to make breakfast," Johnny joked, standing up and walking out of the room.
"Where do you think you're going?" Chase said suspiciously, pausing the game.
"Relax, Scarface, I'm not after your sister. I'm tryin' to find my Uncle. I need to talk to him."
"Get back soon," Chase said, unpausing the game and giving it his attention.
"Yeah, yeah," Johnny said as he continued into the kitchen which was currently vacant. No sign of his uncle or Ms. Walker. The stairs were right ahead of him, so he decided to follow them to get a glimpse of what might be up there. As he walked up, there were several doors down a small hallway and Johnny carefully walked by them.
That's when he heard sound coming from behind the door to his left. He leaned in closer until he recognized it. In realization, he suddenly drew back violently and fell on his back, crawling away from the door as quickly as he could. As soon as his back made contact with the door behind him, it opened and May stepped out of the bathroom, drying her hair with a towel.
Johnny turned around to her with wide eyes and found himself completely paralyzed. His tongue was almost literally hanging out of his mouth. May stood, looking at him curiously as she wiped her hair with the towel. The towel that was not covering her body.
"What's the matter, you've never seen a naked girl before?" she said, smiling slyly.
He immediately got to his feet and shoved his hands in his pockets to prevent them from moving toward her on their own. He tried to redirect his gaze elsewhere but found it difficult. More than difficult. More like impossible.
"Hey," Johnny greeted awkwardly.
"Okay, I'll make this easier for you," May said, pulling the towel from her stringy wet hair and wrapping it around herself. "It's obvious that that's what you came up here for, I don't know why you're so shy all of a sudden."
"Well I was actually lookin' for my uncle but it looks like he and your mom are havin' their Christmas gifts early too," Johnny said, pointing over his shoulder to the door across the hall where he'd heard the sounds of people getting into it.
"Are kidding me?" May said with disgust. "That's so gross."
"So anyway, how have you been?" May asked, walking past him and heading for her room at the end of the hallway.
"Pretty good," Johnny said, following her in. The room was black and there were a variety of movie posters plastered across her wall. Johnny had watched the majority of them before and had a deep appreciation for each as well. The two had discussed their interest in film a few times before when Johnny had come to visit and often compared them to music, in how both were effective means of expressing one's self in the most genuine of ways, when not corrupted by record labels or hollywood. They had come to realize that they had much in common in that they valued each other's opinions and often shared the same ideals and philosophies. "We finished our Demo CD."
"I heard. I wanted to hear some of it but Chase won't let me listen to it for some reason. He's being a stubborn asshole as always."
"Do you have something I can play it on? I have a copy I could play for you."
"Sure," May said, pointing to the stereothat was on top of her dresser. "It's over there."
Johnny walked to it and ejected the CD tray, putting the Demo CD in, and closing it. He went over and sat down on May's bed as the first track, "Magma Dance" began to play. Johnny laid back on the bed with his hands behind his head. He was trying to focus on the music, but suddenly, May pulled off the towel and began to pull clothes out of her closet while standing completely naked. He was amazed with how comfortable she was in front of him. He admired her body as the song, which was notorious among the band for comparing one's imagination to the beauty of a woman's body in vivid detail, amplified every inch of it.
Before he knew it, May was fully dressed in a black and green t-shirt, stretched at the shoulder in an 80's-like fashion, with tight blue jeans. She sat on the bed and laid her head on his stomach as they listened to the entire Demo. She was silent for most of it but her reactions were obvious; Johnny could tell that she was enjoying it. When the Demo was finished, she sat up and looked at Johnny.
"I liked it," May said with a nod and a smile. She got up and walked to the chair by her mirror, beginning to do her hair with the equipment she had on the table. "I really do. Although, there were a couple of parts where your voice got a bit muffled and I didn't know what you were saying, especially when you used the distortion in that one song, 'North Nicole'. I think that needs to be clearer. Also, I'm not a big fan of the bassline in 'Crossover'. I can tell what you were trying to do there, but it doesn't really work with the rhythm of Shelly's guitar. Just tweak that a bit and it should be perfect. I really liked the bridge in 'Magma Dance', that solo you did was fantastic. My favorite out of all of those is probably that one track, 'Landscape'. I love the lyrics, but I think you should add in some female harmonies into the chorus of that, possibly in the second chorus all the way to the end or something. See if Apricot could do that, I think it could really amplify the originality of the song. Those are just my suggestions, you don't have to act on any of them 'cause it's your music; I'm just saying."
Johnny was silent for a while as he heard May's review of his music in full. When she finished, he smiled proudly. "What?" she asked, turning to him after a while. "You didn't think I knew anything about music, did you?"
Johnny got up from the bed and walked towards her. "You are incredible." He leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. As he leaned in closer, their kissing grew more passionate and she held his face as he kneeled by her seat. Soon, it grew intense and Johnny could tell that something was about to happen.
May broke away from him briefly, smiling. "Johnny, I just put on clean clothes."
Johnny chuckled. "That's all right," he said, still making lip contact. "You look better without them."
They started embracing each other and Johnny reached back to lift up May's shirt when suddenly there was a knock at the door. The both of them sighed with frustration as May went to open it.
"What?" She said aggressively to the person standing at the door.
"What're you guys doing?" Chase said quickly, his eyes darting around the room suspiciously.
"None of your business, Chase. Now go away."
"May," Chase said, his expression growing serious. "You heard what the guy said. Don't get attached. You never know what's going to happen."
"Chase, it's my life, I can choose to do what I want," May spat angrily. "Stop bothering me."
She slammed the door in Chase's face, turning back to Johnny.
"What was that?" Johnny said, squinting with confusion. "What guy was he talking about?"
"Nothing. Chase is a dumb ass, you should know that by now."
"He looked serious."
"Look, Johnny," May said, flustered with emotions. "It's none of your business, all right? Just drop it."
"May, I've told you a lot about me. I've told you more than I've told any girl I've been with. I've basically poured my heart out and I still barely know anythin' about you. Why can't you just be honest with me for a change?"
"Johnny, I didn't ask for you to do any of this," May said, approaching him sourly. "You came to talk to me. So don't get mad when you get into something and nobody's around to help you."
"Who said anythin' about gettin' mad? I don't see anybody gettin' mad here but you."
"What do you want from me, Johnny, huh?!" May said, throwing her arms up in exasperation. "What, do you just want me to make myself vulnerable to you so you can break my heart? Is that what you want? Why do you want to know so much about me?"
"Because I lo-" Johnny started, hesitating immediately but he closed his eyes and forced himself to start over. “Because I'm pretty sure I love you now.” Johnny had to stop himself and giggle inside at how stupid that had to have sound. Dismissing it, he looked back up at her. “I just want the truth.”
He walked up to her and put his hand on her shoulder, but she shifted it to get him to release his grip. "Why are you resisting?" he asked frustratingly.
"Because I'm not supposed to love you," May said, calming down. "I don't want you to get mixed up in this mess I pass off as a life. And at the same time I want you to stay. I'm being selfish and now I just don't know what the hell to do."
"May, I can make decisions for myself," Johnny said, giving her his full attention. "It wouldn't be fair to me or you if you didn't let me make the choice. Whatever you're goin' through, you don't have to shut me out of it. That's what I'm here for, okay? Stop worryin' about me, I'm gonna be fine." May closed her eyes and nodded, smiling finally. "That's what I'm talkin' about. Now. You don't have to tell me what's going on now. Just tell me when you're ready, there's no rush. But right now you're gonna go over there and lock that door. I'm gonna go over to your stereo and start the demo CD over. And then we're gonna do it. Okay?"
"Wow," May said, laughing. "Could you be any more blunt about it?"
"You should prefer me no less," Johnny said with a broad smile. "And if my Uncle or your mom catches us, we'll just say we were tryin' to copy them because we think they're awesome."
May shook her head in amusement as she walked to the door and locked it. Johnny started the stereo again and the two embraced each other, kissing and slowly relinquishing their clothing until they were engulfed in sexual paradise.
"A concert for the school?" Shelly repeated with skepticism.
"Exactly," Johnny said, sitting on the chair backwards, his arms folded on the top of it. They were in their Theatre class on Johnny's first day back from suspension. It was January now and it was raining furiously outside, a substitute for the ever-so-absent California snow. The bell for 4th period hadn't sounded yet, so Chase and Apricot were there to join them before leaving for their own classes.
"Do you know exactly how much we'd be risking by doing this?" Chase asked with a raised eyebrow. "We've got a lot to lose and nothing to gain."
"We can gain a reputation," Apricot said, shrugging. "But that's about it. There's no money involved or anything."
"It's not about the money," Johnny explained. "It's about sendin' the message to the school that there's more to life then changin' who you are to fit in. That stickin' to your own course can lead you on the path to self-awareness, a new level of thinkin'."
"These people are going to discover that as soon as they leave here," Chase said dismissively. "They'll figure out that nobody wants to be friends with them because these assholes frown upon everybody that's not them and then they'll turn to a life of drugs for the 'new level of thinking'."
"I agree with Chase," Shelly said, shaking her head. "For once in his life, he's right. These people don't care one way or another about what we do with our lives or what they do with theirs for that matter. How is one bold ass concert supposed change their minds?"
"Guys," Johnny said firmly, leaning up on the chair. "Why did you join this band? Did you do it for the money or the fame? Because if so, that's a big risk, not knowin' where the band's gonna go in the first place. Why exactly would you waste several months doin' this?"
"Because we want to make music," Apricot said with a bit of annoyance, as if it should have been common knowledge. Johnny was quiet and looked to Chase and Shelly, gauging their reaction. They both nodded in agreement.
"Exactly," Johnny said with a nod. "We're doin' this for the music. We're doin' this concert for the music. Music trumps money. Music trumps authority. Music trumps society. So if music is what we're gonna stick by till the end, we're doin' this concert. Are you in or out?"
Apricot, Shelly, and Chase exchanged looks with each other and turned back to Johnny. "I guess we're up for it," Shelly said, speaking for them all.
"You guess or you're sure?"
"Alright, good deal," Johnny said, smiling with satisfaction.
"What about...." Chase muttered, edging his head in the direction of Joey, who sat by himself on the other side of the room absently. "Is he still with us?"
"Yeah, as soon as he cools down. I went over there to try and talk to him but he ignored me completely. I'm sure he'll come around though."
"I don't know, man," Shelly said with worry in her voice. "I've never seen him like this. He's always been an optimistic fellow or at least in a good mood most of the time. I've never seen his pride get shattered so viciously before. I mean, Paul didn't have to be that rough."
"He did," Johnny said plainly. "I wish Joey could've grown up in my environment. My dad would've broken his pride into a million pieces on a daily basis and made him glue it back together himself. It's why I can take that kind of criticism. In fact, I did. My dad never told me I was good at the guitar. Never gave me any encouragement. Not until I went up to him and proved that I was good, then he told me he was proud and I realized what he was doin'. If I couldn't take criticism from my own father, how was I supposed to take it from the rest of the world? He made me tough enough to endure it, though I spent so many hours in my room practicin' that I made sure no one could criticize me like that. Joey's just a bit too sensitive for his own good."
Johnny noticed that Apricot was staring down in thought with a look of anguish. "Ap, what's wrong?" he asked sincerely.
"Oh nothing," she said, smiling transparently. "I was just - it's nothing, really."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine."
Johnny looked at her suspiciously but suddenly the warning bell sounded. Apricot and Chase stood up and headed for the door.
"Remember," Johnny shouted. "Practice tomorrow at 2."
"Gotcha," Chase said, waving as he and Apricot left the room.
The final bell rung and Mr. Nelson went over to close the door, when suddenly a hand emerged through the doorway to stop it. Mr. Nelson pulled it back then stepped away slowly in a bit of shock. Johnny looked up to see why and noticed immediately.
Ramsey walked into the room, his hair down to his shoulders and his once handsome face peeled and shriveled horrifically, the top of his head bald from the scolding hot water that Shelly had poured on his face.
Johnny leaned over to Shelly and smirked. "Nice one," he said, giving her a high-five, which she returned with a smile.
Ramsey stepped into the room, the eyes of the students around him glued on him with surprise. He smiled at them and spun around, displaying himself like a model.
"Well?" he said with energy. "Am I the most interesting thing in the room or what?"
He walked over to Johnny and Shelly, who exchanged confused looks as he closed in. He took his seat in front of them and nodded with a smile, as if their previous confrontation hadn't transpired. When he turned forward, the class started. Mr. Nelson had them take notes on Theatrical History and various techniques that had been used and passed down through many generations in order to enhance an actor's performance. Right on schedule, as with every class, Mr. Nelson prepared to put them through an improvisational exercise.
"Alright, let's see who we can victimize today," Mr. Nelson said, putting his two index fingers up to his lips in thought. "How about...Joseph, Johnny, and uh...the beautiful Ramsey."
The students chuckled cautiously in a bit of shock at Mr. Nelson's bold shot at Ramsey, but he got up with a crooked smile on his face as if it didn't phase him. Johnny and Joey, however, were reluctant to get up but did so anyway and stood in front of the class patiently.
"Alright class, Setting?" Mr. Nelson said, as they began to set up the scene for the exercise.
"Bar," someone yelled from the crowd.
"Okay, a bar, and what's going on?"
"Joey is a poor stressed guy who's wife just left him and he has a nervous breakdown at the bar," another student contributed.
"Very clever," Mr. Nelson said. "Alright, Johnny can be the bartender that he breaks down to and who's Ramsey going to be?"
"A successful business man who gloats about his life," called out the same student.
"Alright, we've got a scene," Mr. Nelson said turning back to the three of them. "You guy's ready?"
"To be honest, Mr. Nelson, I'd rather sit this one out," Joey muttered with little emotion.
"Okay, that's fine, I won't force you," Mr. Nelson said awkwardly. "But can I ask why?"
"Just not feeling it today."
"Oh come on, man," Ramsey said, hitting him in the stomach playfully. "There's nothing to it, you should have all the inspiration you need for this scene, right? Don't worry about it, Mr. Nelson, he'll do it."
"Joey?" Mr. Nelson said, gauging Joey's reaction and Joey, a stern expression and deepening hate for the boy next to him, nodded back at Mr. Nelson mysteriously. "Alright....Scene."
Johnny took a table by the wall and used it as a pretend bar, mixing invisible drinks behind it as Joey sat down in the chair in front of it and laid his elbows on the table. Johnny pretended to pass him a shot glass to which he downed quickly and began to pour his heart out to him, almost genuinely as he cried and admitted the reason for him being there. After a while, Ramsey's character joined the scene, laughing and moving about confidently.
"Boy, I love a good drink after an excellent deal," Ramsey said, taking his pretend drink from Johnny and drinking it quickly. "But neither of you guys would know anything about that. Just made a ten million dollar merger with Goods Cargo. The banking industry will never be the same. Got a good job, a good wife-"
"And she decided to stay with you after all of that up here?" Johnny asked in a perfectly normal American accent, diverging from his usual white Louisiana dialect, while making circular motions over his face with his finger. "She must really love you."
The students reacted to Johnny's below-belt blow at Ramsey with surprise and laughter. Ramsey gave him a subtly annoyed look. "Johnny," Mr. Nelson called out to him. He turned to Mr. Nelson who shook his head, warning him. Johnny gave him a thumbs up and turned back to the scene.
"Yeah, me and my wife have a genuine relationship. We'll always be together. Hey, cheers to a good wife, eh?" Ramsey said, lifting his drink and turning to Joey, who was somber at the announcement.
"Nothing to celebrate," he said slowly. "My wife left me."
"Hey, cheer up man. At least, she's not screwing somebody else like she's probably doing with this ugly fool," Johnny said smiling deviously. The students chuckled once again in shock as Mr. Nelson called out to Johnny once more, this time with a bit of force. "I've got this, Mr. Nelson, don't worry," he whispered back.
"Well you know, it doesn't even matter if that's true, there are plenty of other women out there who want me," Ramsey said, returning to the scene. "I've got a natural charm. Same goes especially for my son. He's in a band, you know? Plays Bass. Thing is though, I don't have the heart to tell him he's not cut out for it, I mean, I don't think any of them are going anywhere soon. He's too bad to even waste money spending lessons on, you know? So much for being the next Paul McCartney, eh? How about you, kid, you play an instrument?"
He nudged Joey, who got up from the chair and began to walk back to his seat. "I'm done, I can't do this anymore."
"What's the matter, Joe?" Ramsey said, hopping up after him. "Did I strike a chord, I mean, nerve? Sorry about that, I don't think you know anything about striking a chord anyway"-
"Ramsey, shut the fuck up!" Johnny shouted to stop him.
"No, you shut the fuck up, Johnny!" Joey screamed, pointing directly at him, as Johnny backed down in surprise. "Stop acting like you don't agree with him!"
"Whoa, whoa, what the hell's going on?" Mr. Nelson intervened, trying to stop the confrontation from getting out of hand.
"I'm tryin' to help you, you ungrateful bastard!" Johnny shouted, approaching Joey quickly. "Why are you bein' so fuckin' difficult!?"
As Johnny got within a certain distance of him, Joey pushed him back, causing Johnny's impulses to follow up into a full-on punch that sent Joey collapsing into the students seated in front of them. They gasped at the blow and Mr. Nelson grabbed Johnny from behind, who was shocked at his rare inability to maintain self-control. He hadn't meant to deliver the attack at all. Ramsey began to hackle maniacally.
"Nice one, Johnny!" he said laughing as if the move was made for his entertainment.
"I will rip the rest of the skin from your ugly face if you don't shut the fuck up!" Johnny screamed at Ramsey, knowing the punch he gave Joey was meant for him.
"Alright, I think you need to cool off," Mr. Nelson said with an unnatural calmness as he pulled Johnny out of the room. "You too, Joey."
Joey got up and followed Johnny and Mr. Nelson out of the door as the students began to talk amongst themselves worriedly. Mr. Nelson closed the door behind them and the three stood out in the hallway breathing heavily.
"Alright now," Mr. Nelson started, taking a deep breath. "What is the problem here?"
"I don't know," Johnny said, turning to Joey. "Tell us, Joey, what's the problem?"
"You were the one that hit him, Johnny, I'm looking at you right now," Mr. Nelson said, pointing at him.
"I didn't mean to-"
"Alright," Joey said, his belligerence dissipating slowly. "He didn't mean to punch me, I know it. I was being difficult. Just let us talk this out for a minute."
Mr. Nelson was hesitant. "What about Ramsey?"
"We'll settle things with Ramsey, outside of class," Johnny said with authority. "That won't happen again, I promise."
Mr. Nelson raised an eyebrow. "I sure hope so. Knock when you're done and I'll let you in."
He turned around and re-entered the room, leaving Johnny and Joey to talk one-on-one in the hallway.
"Apricot doesn't like me," Joey admitted bluntly, looking away.
"She doesn't like me, not the way I like her. I told her how I felt and she didn't return it, that's why I've been in such a bad mood. I still haven't gotten over the Bass thing but I've cooled down from it. The whole thing with Ap only fueled my anger and Ramsey threw me over the edge."
Johnny suddenly realized why Apricot grew distant from the conversation when they mentioned Joey earlier. "Aw man, I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Joey said somberly. "I'm sorry I tried to use you as a scapegoat. It's just that I really liked her, you know? I thought we really had something going on. And after the whole thing at the studio, I thought maybe hooking up with her would actually make me feel better. So when I talked to her about it, things didn't go in my favor and it just made me feel worst. Couldn't have been a worst time to do it."
Joey walked to the side of the wall and slouched down, his head leaned upward dismally.
“To tell you the truth, the real reason why Hal hates me is because of something I did a while back that I never told you about. I knew Apricot smoked and I knew where she was getting her supply from.”
Johnny thought for a moment. “Hal,” he said simply.
Joey nodded. “He's a drug dealer or at least he used to be. Last I heard, he quit the business about a month ago. He was her supplier, that's why he wanted that seat you were in when you first met her. He was about to make a deal. Anyways, I tried to buy some from him and give them to her as some kind of present or some shit. I don't know, I know it's the farthest from the most romantic gesture ever, but in this generation none of that shit really matters. Anyway, someone caught wind of our exchange and before I could even approach him, he was getting arrested by police. Fortunately for him, his father got him off and he immediately accused me of ratting him out. Basically, I nearly got arrested for her."
Joey took a deep breath after his confession. After a while, he put his hand over his eyes and continued. "I don't think I want to do this anymore. This whole band thing. I'm not skilled enough for it and after the thing with Apricot, I don't think I'll feel comfortable around her anymore, I'm sure she'll feel the same about me. It's not like you guys need me anyway."
Johnny thought carefully about his next words before he spoke. "Joey, we've finished the Demo. It's got your part digitally added into it. I can let you have a copy and you can start learnin' it. You can still be with us, man. You can't quit on it all now, not after all we've been through. You can get over Apricot and you can get better at the Bass. You're my friend and I believe in you, that's why I spent my time tryin' to help you get better."
Joey chuckled apathetically. "Like that helped anything."
"It did, you were makin‘ progress."
"What about what Paul said? He's obviously not going to be up for managing a band with a weak link."
"Don't worry about Paul, I'll get him to come around. You worry about gettin' better so Paul won't have shit to say next time he hears you."
Joey thought for a few seconds, then chuckled and shook his head. "Whatever you say, man," he said, holding out a hand as Johnny took it and pulled him to his feet. Johnny was glad he'd gotten through to Joey, but knew he had a lot of work to do if he wanted to be good enough to compensate for the rest of the band. Johnny went over to the door and knocked on it as Mr. Nelson let them back in.
Later that day, Johnny received a call from Paul, as he sat in his room writing new music in one of his many notebooks. Johnny laid his guitar to his side and grabbed his phone, answering it.
"Shire Village, Tomorrow at 10pm," Paul explained through the phone. "Make sure your band is ready to perform and don't be late. I'll see you there, but I've got to go now, bye."
"Oh wait-" Johnny muttered before the call ended and he was left staring at his phone, rather impressed. Paul had set up a gig for them within a matter of days since their Demo was created. It was only a matter of time before the ball would finally start rolling.