Half of the day had passed and Zane still lounged in his bed, staring at the ceiling between long, slow blinks. He was in a terrible mood. The source of his foul mood was the cell phone that blinked innocently beside him or, perhaps more accurately, the voicemail it had recited some hours ago. Another singer and their frail excuses for quitting the band. It was enough to drive anybody mad, really.
For most problems, Zane simply turned to his guitar for consolation, but this problem couldn't be solved by music. So instead he continued to lay in his bed and contemplate the unfairness of it.
Zane had been playing guitar since he was old enough to strum. His lessons had started at age five and ended at ten, when his parents decided they'd had enough of his obsession with music and his time would be better spent on studies. Through the help of his ever supportive godfather, Zane still managed to learn here and there.
He had organized his first band at the age of fifteen, though hiding it from his parents was quite the ordeal. The practices were few and far between, mostly ending with cancellations from the less than dedicated members he recruited wherever he could. At sixteen he found his drummer and best friend, Sam, who later proved to be the sole reason he didn't give up on music altogether.
At nineteen the tension from home became far too much to handle, so Zane found himself a full time job shortly after graduation and promptly moved out. Now that he didn't have his parents breathing down his back, one would think he would be happier. Still, he couldn't help but feel defeated at the thought that he was so closed to a career as a musician, but the opportunity kept slipping from his grasp. He could not find a dedicated singer to save his life. He knew his attitude had a lot to do with it, but he couldn't help but be annoyed by the lack of dedication he found in new members.
Just when he thought that he might roll over and attempt to nap, a drum solo erupted from his phone and scared him wide awake. He snatched the phone and flipped it open, glaring at the caller ID screen.
"Hello?" Zane propped himself up on his elbow and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
"Hey, it's Sam," his best friend announced if he didn't already know. "What are you doing today?"
"I didn't have any plans." The simple statement held an unspoken desire to remain alone for the night.
"You do now. Just got four tickets to the festival." Zane could almost hear the grin in Sam's voice. She knew he wouldn't want to attend and was going to love dragging him along.
"I'm busy," Zane amended, remembering the pile of laundry he had promised himself he would attend to before the day's end.
"Liar. I'll be there in an hour to pick you up. Be ready."
"Why four tickets?" Zane didn't bother arguing. He knew he was going whether he liked it or not.
"Me, you, Kiba, and my little brother." Sliding from his bed, the guitarist groaned. Sam's little brother was a real treat.
"Fine. See you in an hour." Zane's phone clicked shut and he tossed it on his bed, heading out of his room to get his laundry.
His apartment was small, but well equipped and cozy. His living room, which was more of a music room, was his favorite spot in the place. It was big and open; the black leather couch served as the only wall between it and the rest of the apartment. Past the couch was a TV in the corner and two amps set up to project sound straight to the center. His prized guitars, six of them, were hung decoratively along one wall. He was eternally grateful to his godfather, who had given him a fulltime job so that he could afford his own place. The allowance that his parents grudgingly provided was only enough to buy a few bags of groceries every month.
Humming a tune that he would eventually turn into a guitar riff, he started his laundry and then rummaged through his kitchen to find something for dinner. He didn't trust festival food.
By six o'clock, Sam was banging on Zane's door. He collected his things and fastened his second belt around his hips, then pulled the door open and greeted his friend. Together they made their way to Sam's van, where Kiba and Sam's brother, Liam, were waiting. Zane slipped reluctantly into the back seat and fastened his seatbelt.
As was custom, Sam claimed rights to the radio and put on their favorite rock station. Possum Kingdom by The Toadies was playing- a song that all of them loved. Liam was in another world with his mp3 player tuned to his music that made them all cringe.
"Holland suggested we get ourselves a second guitarist," Kiba mentioned, making a sharp turn. "Like a rhythm guitarist. He had good reasons."
Zane waited for Kiba to continue. When he didn't, he prompted, "Being?"
"He says that having all of the guitar responsibility could hold you back. He figures that you can't do anything too fascinating since you have to keep the rhythm as well. If we had another guitarist, that might give you more room to play."
Zane pondered the suggestion quietly. Holland, his godfather and their band's unofficial manager, had been in the music business for a long time. His ideas were almost always great ones.
"Personally, I think we should be more focused on finding a new singer since that latest loser skipped out on us," Sam commented, chewing her nails and putting her feet up on the dashboard. She must have gotten the voicemail too.
"Good riddance," Kiba snorted, "he wasn't that great of a singer."
"His voice was good enough," Zane offered, "but they all lack stage presence." They needed a singer that wasn't afraid to jump around and show off, but one that could sing and scream as well. The last singer hadn't been much of a screamer.
"Battle of the bands is coming up soon." Sam leaned around her seat to look at Zane. Her short blonde hair was arranged in spiky pigtails that the guitarist couldn't help but find amusing. "We've got to go this year," she pleaded.
"We'll find a singer. Another guitarist too, if that's what Holland thinks we should do." Zane closed his dark eyes and leaned into the cushioned seat, trying to think of places to look for decent musicians.
They arrived at the festival not too much later, but parking was nearly impossible. Sam grumbled that they might as well have walked, for how far away they were forced to park. Upon entering the festival, Liam spied an enormous teddy bear that he required. Sam suggested that they look around first, but Liam insisted with a pouty face that threatened tears. Kiba gave in and agreed to try to win it for him. Zane couldn't understand how Sam and Liam were related. They were both fair skinned with blond hair and light green eyes, but where Sam was tough and mature at the age of seventeen, her twelve year old brother still acted like a baby. Not wanting to stick around in the case that Kiba couldn't win the bear, Zane tapped Sam on the shoulder and pointed to the karaoke stage a little ways down.
"I'll be there if you need me," he announced, giving Kiba a good luck nod. He slipped into the crowd just as Kiba missed his first shot at the game.
The karaoke stands were dotted with people, but not nearly as full as Zane had expected. He settled in at the top of the risers and listened as a drunken brunette wailed into the microphone, nearly losing her top as she danced to her song. Before she could even finish, her boyfriend came and collected her from the stage. He passed the mic on to another girl, whose singing was far better but too quiet.
People came and went; some good singers, some terrible, most average. Zane was tempted to sing once or twice just to show everyone how it was done, but the pink haired girl a few seats away was eyeing him hungrily and making him uncomfortable. After nearly ten minutes of her glancing at him and exchanging excited whispers with her friend, he stood and started down the stairs.
He was more than half way down when a familiar drum beat caught his ear. He paused to listen, moving his eyes to the new singer behind the mic.
The boy was dressed in ripped skinny jeans and a band tee, his electric blonde hair messily spiked. He pulled the mic from the stand and stepped back, bobbing his head to the beat. Finally he took a breath and lifted the mic.
I hold on so nervously to me and my drink; I wish it was cooling me. But so far has not been good; It's been shitty, and I feel awkward, as I should.
Zane felt goose bumps run down his arms, and he eyed the young singer as hungrily as the pink haired girl had looked at him. He watched as the boy paced the stage, stepping in beat with the song, continuing to sing the song that he clearly knew by heart.
This club has got to be the most pretentious thing… since I thought you and me. Well I am imagining a dark lit place, or your place, or my place!
Watching in awe as the boy belted out the chorus of the song, Zane couldn't help but imagine the potential their band might have with him as their singer. He thought about calling Sam and Kiba, but by the time he managed to fish out his phone and find Sam in his contacts, the blonde was done with his song. He put the mic back on the stand and took a grand bow, then headed to the back door that he had come through. A group of giggling girls pushed past him to take their place on the stage.
Zane ran down the remaining steps and along the side of the stage, hoping to find the door that the boy would be leaving through. It turned out to be on the complete other side of the stage. Just as he arrived at the door, he saw a head of spiked hair bobbing through the crowd and heading into the food area. He followed quickly.
He finally found the singer at a ramen stand, ordering a large bowl with a side of crab rangoon. Thinking it sounded good, Zane ordered the same and took a seat. "I heard you singing just now," he stated awkwardly, unsure of how to start the conversation. He truly wasn't gifted in socialization.
"I think I saw you," the boy offered. "There weren't many people there. I wonder if it will be that empty all night. Maybe I'll go back and sing another song."
"Do you sing often?"
The boy chuckled. "Often enough. My friends seem to think I never stop. I don't sing on stage much, though. There aren't many karaoke places around here."
Zane nodded, thinking that he was incredibly talkative. "Ever sing for a band?" he asked, accepting the bowl of steaming noodles that the man behind the counter handed him.
"The crab rangoon will take a bit," he grumbled, wiping his brow. The food stand was quite hot.
Before he answered, the blonde took a moment to slurp down an impossibly large portion of his ramen. Zane picked at his, experimenting with the chop sticks and not succeeding.
"You've gotta hold them like this," his new acquaintance said, making an example and clicking the ends together. Zane shifted his grasp, but still couldn't manage to trap the noodles. "I've never sung for a band before," he finally answered.
"My band is looking for a singer," Zane hinted, scanning the noodle stand for a fork. His dinner would be cold before he managed a bit with those stupid sticks.
"You're in a band? That's really cool! What do you play?"
"I wish I could play the guitar. I can only play guitar hero, the game that is, but I'm really good at that. Is the rest of your band here? I'd love to meet them. By the way, what's your name?"
"Zane, yours?" Zane wondered how the kid didn't run out of breath with all his talking.
"Tyler. Nice to meet you." The noodle man came back with their crab rangoon and, upon request, a fork for Zane. Tyler was nearly done with his ramen, and immediately started on the rangoon.
"You eat fast. Ever breathe?" Zane watch him curiously.
"Of course I breathe. I just do it between bites. It's not that hard, see?" He took a mockingly large breath, then slurped down the remained of his ramen. When he finished, he took another breath. "Easy."
Zane blinked at him with a dull expression and returned to his own food. Tyler was a weird kid indeed, but the Battle of the Bands was coming up and he had a great voice. He would have to do. "So, want to sing for us?" He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched in Sam's number.
"Do you think I'm good enough? I've never really had any professional practice. I don't want to disappoint you. Could I try out first?"
"Jeez you talk a lot," Zane sighed, forgetting for a moment that he needed to be as nice as possible. He punched the 'call' button before he could say anything else stupid. He noticed Tyler eyeing his remaining ramen and slid it his way. "Sam? Hey, I've got someone for you to meet. Yeah. Ramen stand. Blue letters. Yeah. See ya." He hung up the phone.
"You don't talk enough," Tyler countered between mouthfuls of Zane's food.
"Nn. They're on their way." He cracked open a rangoon and popped a piece into his mouth. Before long, Sam, Kiba, Liam, and Liam's oversized bear joined them at the stand.
"What's up? Is Blondie the one you called us for?" Sam ran her eyes over Tyler, sizing him up.
"Yes. You should hear him sing. His name's Tyler." He turned to the blonde, who was now finished with all of his food (and Zane's) and finally looked content. "Tyler, Sam. She's the drummer. Kiba," he pointed, "is our bassist."
"What about him?" Tyler nodded toward Liam, who was still listening to his ipod.
"I suppose you could say he's our roadie," Sam offered, taking a seat next to Tyler and waving the noodle man over. She ordered three bowls, five sodas, and a side of egg rolls.
"He's Sam's little brother," Kiba clarified when Sam offered no further explanation.
"So, you sing?"
Tyler nodded, growing a bit shy with all the attention. "Zane heard me at the karaoke and followed me here."
"I see. No doubt he's already offered you a place in our band?" Sam passed sodas down the row and Zane sipped his gratefully. He hadn't thought to get a drink with his meal.
"I, uh… well, yeah, he did. Is that okay? I mean, if you don't want me to join I totally understand. You haven't even heard me sing. Would there be a tryout? I could sing whatever you wanted me to, I know a lot of songs."
"He talks a lot," Zane noted. Sam gave him a look, and he knew if Tyler weren't between them, she would have kicked him for his comment.
"He doesn't talk much," Tyler retorted, sticking his tongue out at Zane.
"We're, uh, working on that," Sam confessed sheepishly. She handed Tyler one of the sodas. "So, back to the singing. If you want to try out, I suppose you could, but if Zane says you're a good singer, that's all the proof I need. He may not be the talkative type, but he knows a good voice when he hears one."
"I'm fine with it too," Kiba assured him, starting in on the bowl of ramen that had just arrived. "We've got practice tomorrow, so if you're not busy, you could join us for it."
"I'd love to!"
"What's your number? I'll text you the directions." Kiba pulled out his phone and flipped it open.
Tyler started to answer but paused, then frowned. "I don't have a phone," he admitted, touching his pocket absentmindedly. He thought for a second. "Do you have a marker?"
Sam dropped her chopsticks and fished around in her pockets. She wasn't a purse kind of girl; instead, she usually wore cargo pants with pockets that could produce just about anything. True to their talent, they produced a black marker. Tyler grabbed Zane's arm and held it out before him, then uncapped the marker with his teeth and set it to his skin.
'VoxFox', he wrote on the guitarist's arm. "That's my instant messenger name. It's always on when I'm home, so you can send me the address through there. Zane studied the black marks and the slanted handwriting, finding he liked something about it. He wasn't about to admit that he didn't have an instant messaging account. He would have to make one when he got home.
A loud 'pop' startled them all, and they looked up from the ramen stand searching for the source. "Fireworks!" Tyler yelped, jumping out of his seat. "I want to go see them! That's what I came here for, really. I love fireworks!" Zane hadn't even noticed that it had been getting darker. He glanced at his phone, surprised to see that it was almost nine o'clock. "Zane, will you come with me?"
Though he couldn't say he was all that interested in fireworks, Zane nodded and stood. He handed Tyler is soda and took his own, then nodded to Sam.
"We'll catch up when we're done," she replied to his wordless statement.
Zane followed Tyler through the crowd, which wasn't too difficult because everyone seemed to be headed for the fireworks. Tyler jabbered ceaselessly about how cool fireworks were and how he only got to see them once a year. "Last year I came to the festival, but I was really sick and had a fever, so I had to leave before the fireworks. It was really a bummer. That was the last time I got to go with my friends, too." He stopped talking suddenly and Zane wondered if something had happened to Tyler's friends.
He was still pondering this when Tyler grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him into a sales tent. He nearly lost his balance, but managed to stay on his feet. "What…"
Tyler pulled an old baseball cap from his back pocket and crammed it over his head, tucking his hair up into it. As soon as that was done, he ducked his head and started browsing the trinkets for sale.
"What on earth are you doing?"
"Hiding," the blonde mumbled. "I'm sorry. We can leave in a moment."
Assuming Tyler would explain his strange behavior in time, Zane moved away from him and browsed through the store as well. He didn't find much of interest, but he poked around until Tyler seemed to be satisfied. With a nod to the shop owner, the two rejoined the crowd and continued toward the fireworks.
Past the giant wall that surrounded the entire park there was an enormous lawn overlooking the lake where the fireworks came from, and people were scattered about with their blankets and lawn chairs. Zane headed for a small, empty patch of grass toward the back, but Tyler tugged on his arm and led him away. He led them around the back of a building, where they found a few trees standing by the wall. Tyler went to the closest one and wasted no time hoisting himself up.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked, pausing on the branch to see if Zane would follow.
"What are you doing?"
"You'll see. Just follow."
Zane shrugged and followed Tyler clumsily up the tree, snagging his clothes on nearly every branch and almost slipping out. He mimicked Tyler's motions, crawling out on a long branch far enough to hover above the wall, then swinging down and dropping onto it. They walked a few feet down the wall, then Tyler sat and patted the spot next to him. "Best seats in the house," he bragged.
"If you don't break anything climbing up or down," Zane added, examining his hands for blisters.
Tyler didn't respond, he just smiled and turned his attention to the lake. Zane did the same and watched as the sky exploded with colors, each explosion fizzling out only to be replaced by another. He wondered sourly if the fireworks somehow represented his chances in the music industry, supplied to him with great promise only to fizzle out shortly after. He tried not to be too pessimistic.
"Sorry about before," Tyler finally spoke. "I seem to have upset one of the minor gangs in this city, so I try to avoid them. It's no surprise they're here, I guess."
"Upset them? How?" Though they were hardly worthy of being called "gangs", there were several groups of delinquents and thugs that grouped together in the city. Angering any one of them most often resulted in several trips to the hospital; they described it as a learning experience.
"I met a girl in my senior year and asked her out. She accepted, but didn't seem to think it was important to tell me that she was already dating Josh Renton."
Zane frowned. Josh had been a grade above him and they had never gotten along. Luckily Zane valued his hands too much to go punching people, because Josh would have been first on his list. Now the twenty-three-year-old was the self-appointed leader of one of the city's younger "gangs".
"Don't worry," Tyler piped up when he noticed Zane's silence. "They've only caught me twice." Zane stared at the boy with disbelief, but received no further explanation. "So what's your band's name?" the blonde finally asked; a poor attempt at changing the subject.
"Nn, I can't say we have one." The lack of a name was partially because of the risk of singers ripping their name off, but mostly due to a lack of creativity on that topic.
"Well you'll have to call it something," Tyler pointed out. "I'll see if I can come up with anything."
The brightest firework of the night exploded into the air, celebrating the end of yet another spring and the start of summer. Yellow, orange, and blue sparks rained down over the lake and the entire crowd on the lawn began clapping and cheering.
Tyler leapt onto his feet and joined the celebration as well, startling Zane with his fearlessness and good balance.
"Aren't you scared you'll fall?" Zane frowned, eyeing the distance from their perch to the ground.
Tyler only grinned down at him. "What fun is living if you don't take risks?"