March 16, 1984
“I think this is the place,” Sam said as the car pulled up to a blue house.
“Well, it’s either the place or not the place,” Mr. Kruger said, wiping his nose. “There’s only one 214 Andrews St.”
Sam shook his head.
“I’ll see you later,” he said, opening the passenger door.
“Call me when you’re ready to go,” Mr. Kruger said as Sam stepped out of the car. “If I were you, I wouldn’t stay too late. I’ve had a long day and I’m tired as hell. I may end up falling asleep earlier than usual. If I’m asleep by the time you call, tough luck. You’re on your own at that point.”
Sam walked over to the front door of the house and knocked on it. He couldn’t help but shake a little as he did so. After a few seconds, a man with short brunette hair answered the door. He was wearing a blue t-shirt and black basketball shorts.
“Hello,” the man said. “Are you Sam?”
“Umm…yeah,” Sam replied. He began to twiddle his fingers a little bit.
“Awesome! Come right in.”
The man smiled and held the door open for Sam as he walked inside the house. At that moment, Sam felt his chest jump in excitement.
“Umm…thanks,” he said, walking inside the house.
“No problem,” the man replied.
Sam couldn’t help but stare at everything as he walked into the house. It looked like an average home, with a living room, kitchen, and dining area, but he couldn’t help but feel amazed and excited. He still could hardly believe that all of this was happening.
“Sorry for the mess,” the man said as he and Sam walked through the living room. “My sister likes to leave her clothes all over the house for some reason. I really don’t know why.”
“Ah, it’s nothing I’m not already used to,” Sam replied, still staring at everything. “You should check out my house. It’s like a hundred times worse than this.”
“Geez, I can’t even imagine.”
Sam snickered and continued to look around.
“Oh, I never introduced myself,” the man said, holding out his hand. “I’m Jason.”
“Nice to meet you, Jason,” Sam replied, shaking Jason’s hand. “You have a really nice place by the way.”
“Thanks. Though I can’t help but feeling like you’re just trying to be nice. Anyone with eyes can see that his place is a trash heap.”
“Well, I think it’s awesome.”
Jason shook his head.
“Robbie told me you’re a really nice guy. Looks like he wasn’t lying.”
At that moment, Sam heard a door open from a nearby hallway. A very skinny woman with long black hair and a gray tank top walked into the living room. She was holding a string of keys.
“Jason, I’m heading over to KFC,” the woman said. “You want anything?”
“No, I’m good,” Jason replied. “We’ve already ordered a few pizzas.”
“Oh, okay them.”
The woman suddenly noticed Sam. She looked at him and smiled.
“Hi,” she said. “Are you another one of Jason’s friends? Or did he just invite you to watch him and the guys play?”
“Ummm…both?” Sam replied.
“Oh, really? Well, you’re gonna’ be quite amazed. These guys can really play.”
“You need to higher your standards a bit, Julie,” Jason replied. He then held his hand up and placed his index finger and thumb really close together. “Just a little bit.”
“You’re so hard on yourself.”
“And you’re not hard enough on me.”
Julie rolled her eyes.
“You boys have fun,” she said, walking over to the front door. “Play your hearts out.”
“We’ll try to,” Jason said. “Hopefully.”
Julie then left the house.
“Who was that?” Sam asked.
“My dad’s girlfriend,” Jason replied. “She always acts like our band is one of the greatest bands in the world. I’m really, really not seeing it. I still think we need quite a lot of work.”
“What if you are one of the greatest bands in the world and you just don’t know it?”
“If we were really that great, we would’ve won that freaking talent show. But we didn’t…ergghh…sorry I still get mad when I think about that. Anyway, the garage is this way.”
Sam followed Jason over to a door in the back of the kitchen. Before opening the door, Jason kicked away a white bra that was laying on the floor.
“Who the hell leaves their bras on the kitchen floor?” Jason asked in a very irritated tone of voice. “Seriously?”
“My brother once left one of his undershirts in the cat litter,” Sam replied. “Not in the litter box, but the bag of litter. Don’t ask.”
Sam and Jason walked through the door and into the garage. Robbie and another man were talking to each other and chuckling as Sam and Jason walked in. The other man had blonde hair and was wearing a white muscle shirt and a black backwards baseball cap.
“Sam!” Robbie said as Sam and Jason walked in. He walked over to Sam and put his arm around Sam’s shoulder. “How are you, man?”
“Great,” Sam replied, twiddling his fingers some more.
“Awesome! You’re here a lot earlier than I expected. We’re all just getting warmed up right now.”
“Hey man,” the blonde man said, holding out his hand. “I’m Alex.”
“Umm…hi,” Sam replied. “I’m Sam.”
“Nice to meet you, Sam. Sam I Am.”
Sam grinned slightly. “Yeah, I heard that a lot when I was a kid.”
“Well, be prepared to hear it even more,” Alex said, grinning back.
Robbie patted Sam’s back.
“Sam, it’s really great that you came by. You’re actually the very first person to ever come watch us practice. Like actually show up. We’ve invited people a hundred times and nobody ever bothers to come. Yet they always say yes. Bunch of freaking liars.”
“Oh,” Sam said. “Sorry to hear that.”
“And I had a feeling you would be the first person to actually show up. You seemed pretty eager to come watch us. Back when we talked.”
“Yeah. It’s just…well, I’ve never been invited anywhere before…to hang out, I mean. I…there just…there was no way I way that I was gonna’ pass this up. No way.”
Robbie smiled. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t pass it up. Because I’m feeling pretty good right now. You’re in for quite a practice tonight.”
“Can’t wait to see it,” Sam replied as a smile formed on his face.
“When are those pizzas getting here?” Alex asked in a slightly agitated tone of voice. “I’m freaking starving.”
“They’ll be here in like five minutes,” Robbie said, picking up his guitar. “Relax.”
“I wish I could. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.”
“You didn’t eat lunch?”
“I wasn’t gonna’ eat those disgusting soy burgers. I almost threw up the last time I ate one of those. I’m never eating that garbage again.”
“Okay, I kind of agree with you on that. Those burgers are pretty gross.”
“Finally somebody agrees with me.”
“Do y’all all go to the same high school?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” Robbie replied. “We all go to Madison High. Where do you go?”
“I go to Brackenridge.”
“Brackenridge? That’s interesting. How is it over there?”
“It’s…eh…how’s Madison High?”
“Sucks,” Alex said, taking a drink from a can of 7 Up.
“It’s alright,” Robbie said. “I mean, it’s just high school. You go, you learn, you leave. It’s not supposed to be all that exciting.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Sam replied. “Brackenridge isn’t all that exciting either.”
“You’re life after high school is where the excitement comes in.”
“Yeah, in college,” Jason said. “That’s where the real action is.”
Robbie rolled his eyes.
“Have y’all known each other for a long time?” Sam asked.
“I guess so,” Robbie replied. “Alex and I have been friends since first grade. We’ve had plenty of other friends come and go, but it’s really always just been me and Alex.”
“That’s right,” Alex replied.
“Oh really?” Sam asked. “That’s cool.”
“And Jason, of course,” Robbie continued. “Jason came around in eighth grade. And he’s still with us today. That’s actually the reason why we’ve lost so many friends. They just don’t really care about music.”
“Well, I’m not one of those guys,” Sam said. “I mean, the guys that don’t care about music. I love music.”
“I know. And maybe that means you’ll soon be the next guy that joins the circle and never leaves.”
Sam’s heart nearly jumped out of his chest.
“Y…yeah…maybe,” he stammered.
At that moment, Sam heard the doorbell ring from inside the house.
“Finally!” Alex shouted.
“Got it,” Jason said, grabbing a wallet off a nearby box.
Sam was full of so much excitement that he hardly felt like eating. He took a few bites of one piece of pizza and did not finish it (Alex happily took it for himself). After everyone was finished eating, Robbie stood up and grabbed his guitar.
“Alright guys,” he said. “Y’all ready for some practice?”
“Ugh…can we wait like five minutes?” Alex asked. “Or ten minutes. I need to catch my breath.”
“Alex, how many pieces did you eat?”
Alex covered his mouth and burped.
“Six or seven,” he said. “Maybe eight. I lost count.”
“Maybe eight?!” Jason shouted. “That’s a whole pizza!”
“Alex, why the hell do you keep on doing this?” Robbie asked in an irritated tone of voice. “Okay, new rule. No stuffing yourself before practice. I really think we need to start waiting until after we practice before ordering anything.”
“That sounds like a pretty good idea,” Sam said.
“Thanks Sam. Already on top of things. See, you’re already becoming one of us. Keep it up.”
Sam felt his chest warm up.
“Well, we’ll probably just have to practice without the drums for a little bit,” Robbie said. “I’m not gonna’ wait around just because Alex is on another food hangover. Let’s go, Jason.”
“Alright, I’m coming!” Alex shouted, waddling over to his drums. “Jesus Christ!”
“Try not to suck,” Jason said, taking one last sip of his water bottle.
“I’m not making any promises,” Alex replied, covering another burp.
“Alright then,” Robbie said, turning on his amplifier. “Time to get this show on the road.”
“What song are we practicing first?” Jason asked.
“Let’s start with Madison Avenue. We’re super close to getting that one right.”
“I still hate that name,” Alex said.
“Be sure to give it your all, guys,” Robbie said. “We’ve finally got ourselves an audience. Make sure he has a good time.”
“I think he’s already having a good time,” Jason said.
You’ve got that right, Sam thought, smiling.
“Well make sure he has the best time ever,” Robbie said.
That shouldn’t be so difficult, Sam thought.
Robbie took a deep breath and strummed his guitar.
“Alright Sam,” he said. “Once again, it’s great to see you here. You ready to hear some music?”
“Oh hell yeah,” Sam replied.
“Great!” Robbie said with a giant grin. “Then let’s get this show on the road! Here’s Madison Avenue!”
As the song started up, Sam nearly jumped back in shock. The word “wow” began to flow through his entire body. As the full weight of the guitars, bass, and drums (despite being full of pizza, Alex was giving quite a stellar performance) hit his ears, Sam’s jaw practically fell to the ground. Robbie’s singing voice flowed so well with the music that Sam found himself humming all the words. For a brief moment, Sam completely forgot he was in someone’s garage. He suddenly imagined that he was in an actual concert hall sitting in the front row and cheering loudly with the millions of other fans.
Julie had been right. These guys could really play.
As the song finished, Sam paused for quite a few seconds before clapping. He was still full of shock.
“Umm…wow…,” Sam stammered as he clapped.
“What’d you think, Sam?” Robbie asked.
“Be as honest as possible,” Jason said. “No buttering things up. Don’t waste all the butter.”
Alex shot a puzzled look at Jason.
“Well…,” Sam said. “I…I loved it. I…I…I really, really loved it. You…guys are awesome. Beyond awesome. I just…you guys did amazing. That’s all I can really say.”
Jason rolled his eyes.
“Sam, did I ever tell you that you’re a really, really nice guy?” he asked. “C’mon, where’s the real review?”
“Really Jason?” Robbie asked irritably. “Really? Our very first audience member praises us and that’s how you respond? Seriously?”
“Sorry, I was just asking for his actual thoughts.”
“Those are my actual thoughts,” Sam replied. “I wasn’t exaggerating. You guys literally sounded like an actual band. Not a cheap garage band that you see in all the movies, but an actual band. The ones you would go see at a concert. Y’all are amazing.”
Robbie smiled and nodded.
“Thank you, Sam,” he said. “That means a lot.”
“Well, I guess that’s just your opinion, Sam,” Jason said. “We’re all entitled to our own opinions. I just happen to have an entirely different one.”
“Here’s my opinion,” Alex said. “Get a better song title.”
“Madison Avenue is a great name!” Robbie replied. “Why do you hate it so much?”
“Because it obviously reminds me of Madison High. Seriously, why would you name a song after our freaking high school? I’m trying to escape from there!”
“So, what other songs do y’all have?” Sam immediately asked, hoping to end the argument.
“Well,” Robbie said, taking a breath. “Here’s a song that we came up with about a month ago. You’ll probably like this one even better. It’s called Sea Biscuit.”
“I’m getting a little tired of doing that one,” Jason said.
“Same here,” Alex said. “Can we try out Robots again?”
“Guys, Sam has never heard Sea Biscuit,” Robbie said. “Let’s do it for him.”
Jason and Alex both sighed.
“Okay,” they both said.
Robbie smiled and strummed his guitar.
“You’re gonna’ love this one, Sam,” he said. “If you thought Madison Avenue was amazing, you haven’t heard nothing yet.”
Sam felt a great rush of excitement.
“Let’s hear it!” he said.
“Alright then,” Robbie said, strumming on his guitar some more. “Here it goes. This is Sea Biscuit.”
Not unlike what Sam expected, Sea Biscuit was yet another spectacular song. Sam wasn’t sure if he loved it more than Madison Avenue. They were both equally great songs. Once again, Sam hummed the words as Robbie sang. At this point, Sam legitimately felt like he was attending his first ever concert.
After the song finished, Sam cheered and clapped much harder than before.
“Yeah!!” he shouted. “Wahoo!!”
“I need some water,” Jason said, grabbing his water bottle.
“What’d you think of that one, Sam?” Robbie asked. “You like it better than Madison Avenue?”
“I think they were both great songs,” Sam said. “I like them both equally. Once again, you guys are freaking awesome. Can I…I can come back again next week, right?”
“I never said you couldn’t, did I?”
“Then we’ll see you here next week.”
Sam felt so much excitement flow through his body that he nearly fell off his chair.
“Thank you, Robbie,” he said.
“You’re welcome, man,” Robbie said, strumming his guitar some more. “Practice isn’t over yet, though. We still have a lot more work to do.”
“I can’t wait to hear it.”
“Can we do Robots now?” Alex asked.
“I already knew you were gonna’ ask that,” Robbie replied.
The next couple of hours consisted of nothing but more brilliant music. Sam continued to cheer for the band as they played each song and continued to be amazed. Sam was trying his absolute hardest to come up with some sort of piece of advice with each song, but came out with a blank mind each time. It was almost impossible not to be impressed by how well The White Knights could play. Sam continued to imagine himself in a concert hall as he listened to them.
After Sam finished applauding to a song titled Lovely, he suddenly noticed the clock on the garage wall. It was already past eight. He suddenly remembered what his father had told him earlier.
“Can we take another break?” Jason asked, waving his hands around. “My hands are on fire.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to lose my voice,” Robbie said, coughing slightly. “We’ll take another ten minute break. After that, we can do one or two more songs and then call it a night.”
“Sounds good to me,” Alex said, drinking some 7 Up.
“Hey guys,” Sam said, standing up. “I wish I could stay longer. But I actually need to get going. Like really soon.”
“It’s only eight,” Robbie said, looking at the clock. “Why the rush?”
“Well…my dad told me to not to stay too late. Or else he would fall asleep by the time I call him. He said he wouldn’t come get me if he’s already asleep. And my stepmom is out of town until next week. There’s no one else who can give me a ride. So…yeah, I need to get going.”
“That sucks,” Jason said. “Is your dad related to Garfield by any chance? Because he sounds really lazy.”
“Why would his dad be related to a fat orange cat from newspaper comics?” Alex asked.
“Hey, let me tell my jokes.”
Robbie walked over to Sam and put his arm on his shoulder.
“I’ll give you a ride home,” Robbie said.
“What?” Sam asked.
“Don’t worry about your dad. I’ll give you a ride home in my truck. Also, if you want, I can give you a ride each week. I can pick you up and bring you back home each practice. Just give me your address.”
Sam looked at Robbie and then smiled. The feeling of joy inside would not stop growing.
“Yeah!” he shouted. “Thanks Robbie! That’s…that’s awesome! Thank you, man.”
“Anytime,” Robbie replied.
Sam sat back down on the chair, completely full of thought. He could hardly believe all that had transpired in the last couple of hours.
Thank you, he began to think. Thank you.
“So,” Alex said, taking a seat in another chair. “What songs are we gonna’ finish off with?”
“I kind of wanna’ do Harmony,” Jason replied. “I really need to get better at my bass solo.”
“I have a better idea,” Robbie said, walking over to the nearby piano (which hadn’t been used at any point in the night). He then looked over at Sam and smiled. “I know the perfect way to end the night off. Sam, I remember you telling me back at the diner that you played the piano. And that you sang.”
“Umm…yeah,” Sam replied, shaking quite a bit.
“Well,” Robbie said, patting the piano. “Why don’t we hear some of it?”
Sam turned white.
“Play some music for us,” Robbie said, patting the piano again. “Right here.”
“Yeah!” Jason said, taking a large drink of water. “Let’s hear it!”
“I…I don’t know,” Sam stammered.
“C’mon Sam!” Robbie shouted. “I wanna’ hear what you sound like!”
“Yeah!” Alex shouted. “Show us what you got!”
Sam thought for a brief moment. He began to think once more of all that had happened that day. Were these really the type of guys who would say anything hurtful to him? What’s the worse that these guys could say to him?
Is there really any reason for me to say no? Sam thought.
Shaking, Sam stood up.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll play.”
Robbie, Jason, and Alex all began to cheer loudly as Sam reached into his backpack and pulled out a few pages of his sheet music. He then slowly walked over to the piano.
Why are you so nervous? Sam thought to himself. These guys aren’t gonna’ make fun of you. No matter how badly you screw up. Just relax.
“You got this, Sam!” Jason shouted.
“Let’s go, Sam I Am!” Alex shouted.
“Alright guys!” Robbie shouted, holding out his arm. “Let’s hear it for Sam Kruger!”
As Sam took a seat at the piano, he felt a smile form on his face.
Thank you, he thought. Thank you.