Part 2 - Caution: Lose Yourself

May 2008

"And welcome to the school board's district-wide song writing competition!" a young Hispanic woman shouted energetically, her silky walnut curls bouncing about.

The audience, scattered around Deus Academy's colossal auditorium, cheered. This only increased the heart rates of the waiting contestants.

"I'm so excited to see the last ten finalists perform their original compositions! How about you guys?" her question was answered by another boom of incoherent noise. "As headmaster of Deus Academy, it warms me to see students from twelve different secondary schools in the same room…"

Behind the velvet curtains, the finalists were either busy tuning their instruments or prepping their instrumentalists. Gabriel Hatcher, the audience favourite, was perched on a stool, strumming several chords on his acoustic guitar. His eyes were shut as he hummed his wordless melody. The dim backstage light gave his handsome face a serene glow. The curl of his golden lashes froze every girl within his vicinity.

About ten metres away was Adrian Bates, who was huddled in a dark corner next to some miscellaneous stage props. He was wearing black skinny jeans, a tucked arsenic-coloured dress shirt, and a thin pink tie. The tiny contestant was the complete opposite of Gabriel, who wore a red plaid shirt, which exposed a bit of his muscled chest, and destroyed blue jeans. Adrian lounged against a Styrofoam Roman pillar and stared blankly into the poorly lit backstage.

"Adrian?" a girl in a shimmering turquoise halter dress tapped the thin boy on the shoulder. "Aren't you going to practice or something?"

Adrian tilted his attention towards the girl, his eyes obscured in the shadows. "I can hear your heart beating. Are you nervous?"

"N-not really," she stammered, taken aback by this abnormal response. "Okay, maybe."

He leaned into the surprised girl's chest and pressed his ear against her heart. "Shhh…we'll both do fine."

"Adrian," she whispered and yet another female was taken by his unexplainable charm.

"First contestant, Amelia Atkinson, you're up in two minutes," announced the backstage manager.

"Meet me next to the flagpole after this," Amelia's round green eyes and her high cheek bones gave her desperate expression an ethereal feel. "Promise me."

The five feet tall boy frowned and looked away almost guilty. "I'm…"

"Promise me," she repeated.

"I…all right," he replied.

"Let's all welcome Deus Academy's Amelia Atkinson!" declared the headmaster in her enthusiastic voice.

"Good luck, Amelia!" Gabriel's voice overpowered the cheering coming from the audience.

Adrian took one last look at the sixteen-year-old girl, as she flitted through the curtains. He sighed and glanced back towards the backstage. Gabriel Hatcher's steel gaze caught him square in the chest. Adrian inclined his head. The masculine teen pretended not to see the gesture and turned back to his guitar.

Amelia's mezzo-soprano voice sang,

"A little bit of ignorance

I lied to my soul

That one time I saw you

Wasn't enough for me to know

I didn't think that I'd love you

I didn't think it'd be real

I didn't think that I'd love you

My feelings suddenly too real."

However, for the other contestants, her lyrics simply blurred in the back of their minds along with the other thoughts that ran circles in their heads.

"I had lived those days without you

Then you just left me alone

And now I don't know what to do."

***

Gabriel began to jog in place as the eighth contender slipped on stage. Another burst of hollers and applause rang painfully in his eardrums. Smoothing his short blond hair back, he tossed Amelia a composed grin. The young girl, who was nervously kneading her fingers, sat in a foldable plastic chair mutely. He sat back down on the stool, self-assured.

Unfortunately for him, Gabriel missed the frequent bashful side glances his crush sent in Adrian's direction.

Adrian Bates, inhabiting the same depressing corner, lay on a solid wooden chest that he claimed contained his instrument. Oddly enough, he had not retrieved it once to practice or to even tune it. The only movement that came from him was a muted chuckle that happened from time to time.

"It's probably a kazoo or something weird like that," Evan MacKenzie appeared next to Gabriel and tossed him a water bottle. "Emos."

"Didn't think my strongest competition would be Mr. Prepubescent," Deus Academy's idol took a swig.

"And everyone was surprised that the hobbit could save Middle Earth from impending doom," his friend laughed harshly. "Same idea."

The drummer on stage aggressively smashed the crash one final time and the audience cheered with delight. Gabriel jumped up, invigorated by his impression of certain victory, and shouldered his guitar. Evan clapped his buddy on the back with a smirk.

"Master Bates doesn't have balls like you do."

The cheering momentarily subsided as Deus Academy's headmaster cleared her throat on the microphone. "Terrific performance by Maeriton House's Kirsten Holloway. Great job! Now, it's time for the much anticipated performance by Deus Academy's talented Gabriel Hatcher! Let's all welcome Gabriel on stage!"

The auditorium was immediately drowned by a torrent of loud noise that almost literally made the walls tremble. People were on their feet waving "I Love You, Gabriel Hatcher!" signs and throwing articles of their clothing onto the stage. Even the male audience members pumped their fists in encouragement.

Gabriel jumped onto the chair located centre stage and he flashed his trademark grin at the audience. The girls went wild again.

"How you guys doing today?"

The paint on the walls of the auditorium practically peeled off from the second onslaught of cheering.

"Thanks to everyone for supporting me. I hope you guys will like my song," Gabriel spoke with suave poise.

"We love you Gabriel!" someone yelled.

He chuckled throatily. "This is my song, 'Honest Lies'. Best regards."

He played a slow, melancholy bar before launching into his alternative rock song.

"Caution to the honest ones

All your secrets come undone

You can try to merely run

But they judge you from the skies

I'm frightened by their ugly stares

Only coming off as unaware

But really knowing that they're there

They're causing my demise."

Adrian idly sat up on the chest when Gabriel strummed heavily to emphasize his hook.

"All these troubles will arise

They quash my truthful person

When they disapprove

These endless doubts worsen."

A soft hoot circulated the crowd, but they quieted down when his Oasis-esque song drove into the chorus.

"Find those shadows to hide in

You can't critique me

Perfect in my perfect lies

Find no one to confide in

I'm alone in my worries

I exhale another sigh."

Gabriel had his eyelids closed together as he played every note and sang every word. There was something strangely unguarded about his face that, despite the academy having already thought of him as a handsome gentleman, made him appear even more harmless, and perhaps vulnerable. He appeared so at peace, so content. This was the real Gabriel Hatcher.

"Warning to the naked ones

All your layers have come undone

You can try to find someone

But they all advert their eyes

Find those shadows to hide in

You can't critique me

Perfect in my perfect lies

Find no one to confide in

I'm alone in my worries

I exhale another sigh

As I exhale another sigh

As I exhale another sigh

Another part of me dies

As I exhale another sigh

So long, Real Me, good-bye."

With his final chord, Deus Academy's auditorium sent him their approval in the form of a ear-bursting roar. There were the sounds of feet stomping and flesh smacking against the wood of the armrests. Gabriel Hatcher, who was at the top of his grade, had done it again.

"What a fabulous song written by our very own Gabriel Hatcher. The academy's extremely proud of you," even the headmaster seemed won over by Gabriel's superior stage presence. "Now for our final contestant. May I present to you, Jamieson High's Adrian Bates!"

The audience was almost just as, if not more, eager for the performance of their favourite puzzling Five Feet Flirt. The people traded enthusiastic remarks with one another, saying things like, "This is the best way to end a competition!"

From backstage, the rest of the participants were just impatient to hear the results of the contest. However, Adrian, unconcerned with the stresses of competing, slid off his wooden chest at a sloth-like pace. He wore an unfamiliar smile that seemed almost mischievous. Unlocking the chest, the short male reached in and pulled out his weapon of choice.

Gabriel and Evan leaned against the smooth oak wall next to Amelia Atkinson with half-hearted interest. They were both expecting Adrian to pull out a kazoo or some sort of plastic wind instrument. Though, to their utter surprise, when the black haired boy retracted his arm, he had his small hands closed over a white Gibson double neck guitar.

The two Deus Academy teens gaped at the guitar in shock.

"What the hell is that?" Evan breathed.

"This guy…" Gabriel narrowed his eyes in apprehension.

Amelia Atkinson watched Adrian's every movement in a stupefied state. Her heart pulsed twofold with every step he took. At that moment, she had irrevocably fallen in love with the boy who was at least four inches shorter than she was. She loved the gentle way he stroked his guitar, the way he exhaled contently at the touch of the instrument, and the carefree way he held himself as he meandered onto the stage.

At the sight of Adrian's relaxed figure fluidly manning the stage, the audience hushed. There was something about this little person that erected a mystical atmosphere. Within seconds, the fanatical environment of the auditorium that had surrounded Gabriel Hatcher transformed into a hushed space intrigued with the secrecy that Adrian Bates commanded.

"'Devotion'," his lyric tenor voice chimed through the space, "by Adrian Bates."

The assembly expected him to shred through a bar before singing, but his fingers remained motionless over the strings. His lips parted and he softly sang,

"Where does this man stand?

He's reaching for a hand

He needs a little saving

From today's misgivings

He's made a mistake

He's made a mistake

Yeah, her eyes were nice

Her hands were soft

But after all that I've done

I've never seen someone

As devoted as you

As devoted as you."

His juvenile voice melted into a husky ripple, as he strummed low notes on his electric guitar. His rock ballad was just as attention grabbing as Bryan Adam's soothing pieces.

"Can't I show you my heart?

Just before it broke apart

I'm chasing your back

Weighed down by all I lack

I'm sorry, she was pretty

I'm sorry, she was pretty

Yeah, her eyes were nice

Her hands were soft

But after all that I've done

I've never seen someone

As devoted as you

As devoted as you."

Gabriel, perplexed by the lack of noise coming from the audience, peeked out from behind the velvet curtains. Everyone sat stationary in their seats, their eyes were wide with an astonished gleam.

"So I'll leave you behind

These confessions I've confined

That day that I left you

There was nothing I could do

But I wanted you

Just simply wanted you."

Adrian's angular cheekbones glistened with perspiration, as he squeezed his eyes shut for the final lines for his song. Till this day, those that sat in the first row could not tell if it was because of tears or sweat that made his long eyelashes trickle droplets down his face.

"I'm sorry, she was pretty

What could I do?

She was just prettier than you."

With the final echoing chord, Adrian turned around wordlessly and withdrew from the stage.

The auditorium remained still. Everyone scarcely breathed. Everyone just sat back in their seats, as if absorbing the brevity of the song. Then one by one, the sound of sniffling and sorrowful whining was heard all over. There were girls with hands clamped over their mouths trying to stifle a cry. There were girls leaning on one another's shoulders, mourning. Then there were girls that had their bodies' arched over, their trembling figures letting out violent sobs.

That day, Adrian won the district-wide song writing competition with a unanimous vote by the judges, most of whom were in possession of tear-filled eyes. That day, Adrian met Amelia at the flagpole and told her he didn't date.

…And that day, Gabriel Hatcher, for the first time, felt insecure about his abilities, not only as a song writer, but as a person. He had discovered an emptiness in his heart that he could not fill. He wasn't sure if it had just formed or if had always been there, but Gabriel, as of that day, stopped writing music.

Adrian Bates, the prepubescent womanizer, also known as the Five Feet Flirt, had punctured Gabriel's chest and wrenched his heart out in a single moment. For Gabriel, the hobbit-sized teen had forced him to relinquish his only form of self-expression.

And, hence, the one-sided rivalry between Adrian and Gabriel was born.


Note: Expect part 3 to be up by the end of this week. By what I have so far, this story should have about five parts.