In Which I See a Rock Show
“Last names, please?”
“Kingsley,” Jason said. “Gerard Kingsley.” I giggled at that, though no one but us had any idea why.
Thalia and I had already had the are-you-sure-that’s-a-good-idea talk on the drive up, but she insisted I was being paranoid. “It’s one night, Hailee. At a really off-the-radar place, some locally run joint, if anyone works it out, we’ll be long gone.” So, Helena Lawson she was.
“Alright, I’ve got you down. One night, two rooms. Ravenheart, G. Kingsley, Castle, and H. Lawson.”
“That’ll be great. Thank you ma’am.” I took one set of keys, tossed “Helena” the other set. “You’re in twelve. Gerard and I will be in fourteen.”
And that was that. We threw our luggage down on the floor, and crashed. Thankfully, the room had double beds, preventing any potential awkwardness between Jason and me. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have minded terribly, but after what happened with Fred, it felt different. Clearly, it wouldn’t mean anything if I did end up sleeping beside him, but it still felt wrong. That was odd to me. I’d never in the past given a bit of thought to how things were perceived -- if I knew how things were, then who cared? If someone chose not to believe me when I explained things, then that was their problem. But now I was wondering what Fred would think of me sharing Jason’s room, and what Jason himself would think of it if he knew what was going on between us.
Not that I knew what was going on between us. He loved me, that much was certain and obvious. I loved him too, at least I thought I did. It felt like I did, and besides it made logical sense for me to love him. Many lycans choose not to get married, not in the traditionally human sense, but we do take mates. Alphas in particular choose theirs young, but carefully: after all, this is your life partner.
In many ways, Fredrick Roland already was my life partner. He’d been with me through all my worst times, my best times too, and I even felt some of those times were better because he was with me. I would go to the farthest ends of the universe for him, I would sacrifice anything for him, and I knew he would do the same for me.
It was an unusual type of love we had. It wasn’t romantic, not really, not yet, but there was no doubt it had gone beyond platonic. A stab of loneliness and worry went through my heart. I have to stop thinking about this. It hadn’t been a day yet, and already I felt anxious over him.
Maybe that was a sign of love, too.
I couldn’t have thought about it much more, anyway. I threw my jacket over the arm of a chair, collapsed onto one of the beds, and was out like a light just seconds later.
Next thing I knew, someone was shaking me awake. I swatted their hand away, annoyed. “Go away,” I mumbled.
“Hailee! Get up!”
Nashville. Motel room. Riiiiight. I sat up, feeling like I strained every muscle in my back as I did. “Chrissakes, Jason! Good grief, what is it? What?”
He held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa, lay offa me! Vic told me to wake you up.”
“I think she said something about breakfast, if you can call something you eat at two-thirty pm breakfast.”
That got me up. “It’s two-thirty?”
“Geez.” I slid out of bed, put my jacket back on -- I didn’t bother to change, never mind how grungy I definitely looked. Now that I wasn’t tired, we both realized how hungry the drive had made us, and two-in-the-afternoon breakfast sounded awesome. Just our luck, all we ended up eating came out of the vending machine in the motel lobby, and then we were off again.
It started with Jason making a phone call, to his friend Nick. “Hey, dude! Guess what? I’m back in town! You busy?” Pause. “Really? This afternoon? Cool! Mind if I drop in?” Pause. “Excellent! We’ll be right over.” Pause again. “Uh, yeah, I might bring over a few friends. That’s cool? Great! See you.” He hung up. “ATF has practice going on. Nick says we can drop in. Wanna go over?”
“Sure,” I answered, crumbs falling from my mouth.
We got lost again -- more wrong turns and more failed shortcuts -- on the way to Jason’s old neighborhood. Finally, though, we found a little suburb called Everwood, where he started yelling at us to turn in. At the very end of the neighborhood was a smallish house, painted sea-green color mixed with a light blue. “Stop! Stop here.”
We stopped, and Jason let us around the back to the basement door. He knocked. “Brent! Nick! Guys!”
The door opened. Standing behind it was a tall boy, about our age, nebulously Asian-American and definitely looked like a wannabe rockstar: his hair was gelled sky-high, inky and shiny, his clothes were black on black, and his face was stained with sweat. A high-end bass guitar was strapped to his back. “Well fancy that, Jason Kingsley!” he exclaimed. “What’s up, my friend?”
“Hey, Brent.” He gave him a quick hug. “Can we come in?”
“Absolutely.” We walked into his friend’s basement. Inside, the rest of the three-man band was gathered: behind a drum set was another boy who looked exactly like Brent, except for his clothes and a gold ring in his left ear. I assumed this was his brother. Standing at a mic stand, a shabby electric guitar in her hands, was a girl with eyes so green they made traffic lights jealous, dressed in white on white instead of black on black.
“So, Jason,” said Brent, “who’s your friend? All of them?”
He gestured to us one at a time. “Thalia...Victoria...and Hailee.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Brenton Mizuno.” He pointed at the drummer boy. “That over there is my annoying body double, Nicholas Mizuno.”
“‘Sup,” said the drummer boy, a greeting that perfectly fit his attitude.
“And Jason, I don’t believe you met,” he pointed at the girl, “Francis Byrd, our new vocalist-slash-guitarist. Your replacement.”
Jason stared. “You’re Frank? I mean, er, sorry, I just thought you’d be more....”
Jason blushed. “Um, um, um, I didn’t mean that.”
“It’s okay. Everyone assumes that before they meet me.” She shook his hand, then mine. “So great to finally meet you, Jason. Nice to know who exactly I replaced.”
“Who’s your friends?” said Nick.
Jason answered too quickly for me to correct his grammar. “As a matter of fact, that’s what I wanted to discuss.”
“Are you sitting down?”
Brent and Francis took a seat on a false-leather sofa across from the band equipment. Nick stayed at his drums. “Now shoot.”
“Okay.” Jason undid his first two shirt buttons, showing the scars on his chest. “You remember when this happened, right?”
“How could we not? It was all anyone talked about for a while.”
He looked at us. “I know you don’t have any, Hailee, but would you two mind showing yours?”
Thalia pulled up her sleeve, showing a long, thin, straight scar. Nothing to report there -- she had been turned by me consensually, and quite recently. Vic pulled off her hoodie, rolled up her short sleeves. Underneath was a tangled mess of scars, worse than either of theirs. Now, her story was quite different, and shrouded in mystery. Even I didn’t know much of it. But looking at those scars, there could be no doubt it wasn’t good.
“I guess you’ve seen in the news,” he said, “about the people who came forward recently claiming to be werewolves.”
“Everyone heard, Jason,” said Francis. “I, for one, believe it.”
“Well, I’m one of them.” He was a thousand times more confident now than he’d been first telling his parents. “In fact, you might not believe it, but I’m one of that original group to come forward.”
“Really?” Brent asked, fascinated. “So you’ve got some sorta group, then?”
“A pack. Hailee here is our Alpha. Our leader.”
“Wow.” He rubbed his temples. “That’s...hard to digest. We’re talking, like, bad fast food hard to digest.”
“I get it.”
“It’s all good, though,” he quickly reassured him. “Like, don’t get me wrong, Jase. We’re still brothers. I know you’re still a good guy, and you’d never hurt anyone on purpose. It’s not your fault,” and his brother echoed the sentiment. Jason’s confidence wasn’t unfounded, it seemed: his friends were quick to accept him, assure him nothing would change, where his parents called him a hellion and essentially disowned him.
He was sweating, a look of intense relief suddenly overtaking his face. “Thanks, guys. See, that’s why we came up here. We’re looking for someone who can help us.”
“Hey, we’re here for you, man,” Nick, who got up and patted Jason on the back, said.
“Me too,” Francis agreed. “I may not know you -- any of you -- but you need anything, you can call me.”
“Thanks, guys,” he repeated.
Brent brightened up. “Hey, new people, wanna hear us play?”
“Sure!” I said enthusiastically. I loved music, even amateur music. “Go for it.”
Nick slid back onto his drum stool. Francis and Brent scooped up their guitars, and the singer took her place behind the mic. “Mic check, mic check, this thing on?” Her words echoed around the empty basement. “Good. You ready, boyos?”
“Yep yep!” the drummer replied cheerfully.
“Aaalllrighty then. One two three four!” Brent slammed the strings of his bass. Twangy, abrasive notes on the guitar joined him, then Francis’s voice in a feminine baritone, and the crash of a mounted tom. I recognized the tune immediately: “I Love Rock-n-Roll,” an old favorite of mine. “I saw her dancin’ there by the record machine.” A loud, quick series of notes. “I knew she musta been about seventeen.” Now, like I said, this song was an old favorite, and I knew for a fact the pronouns in the first verse weren’t feminine, which suggested Francis was on the other bus when it came to dating.
They finished the song with a flourish, a show-offy little scale on the drums. We clapped, even Jason clapped, though he made it sound overly begrudging. “I’ll admit it,” he said, “you’re good, Francis. Nice choice, guys.”
“You can call me Frank. I’m good with either.”
“You should sing a song with them,” I suggested.
“Oh, no, I really shouldn’t....”
“Oh yes, you should.” Brent pulled him up to where a second, unused mic stand sat. “C’mon, boy. Sing! Sing!”
“Aw, dude.” But, he cleared his throat, and placed his lips to the microphone, muttering “Check, check,” the way Francis had. “You wanna play something original? One of our songs?”
“Dude! Let’s!” He flipped through a stapled stack of notebook paper. “‘Fear Don’t Cost a Thing?’”
“Start it up.”
They blew through the number, a slightly country-esque track with an upbeat sound and slightly off-kilter guitar. It sounded like straight-up seventies rock. When they finished, we cheered even louder. “Man, that was great,” Vic said.
Francis suddenly turned to Jason with a broad grin. “I have an idea.”
“What kind of idea?”
“ATF managed to book a set of shows on the Avenue downtown, in restaurants and stuff. Wanna join us?”
“Yes!” Nick exclaimed. “Oh, please do it, man. We sound even better with you.”
Jason glanced doubtfully at me, and I almost started laughing. He looked for all the world like a twelve-year-old asking his parents for permission to stay out late. “Do it,” I said. “Think about it: it’s an easy ticket into all kinds of places where our kind might hang out. We’ll find Adam Dark so much faster.”
“Well, okay, then.” He looked back to his band. “Sure, I’ll do it.”
Brent jumped in the air. “Yippee! By the way, our first show is tonight. Can you make it?”
I held back a facepalm. “Don’t even ask, Jason. Yeah, we can make it. But, uh, Mizuno brothers? We need to ask a slight favor. Actually, it’s more of a huge, outrageous favor.”
“Until we find our ally, we need a place to stay. Can we crash down here for the night?”
He shrugged. “Sure, sure. Our folks are out of town for the weekend, so we can cover you until Monday night. That’s it, though. Monday night.”
“Monday night,” I said. “That’s good.” I was confident we’d at least have a connection to the Nashville wolfpack by then; it was only Saturday, and if we played tonight and tomorrow, we’d find someone. I was sure.
My stomach growled. “Hey, I hate to overstep my bounds, but do you have anything to eat?”
“Yup. Upstairs, on the right.”