All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

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Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore

“You go first,” I say. Cal shakes his head.

“Nuh-uh. We already agreed you’d go first. No backing out.”

I stare him down - it’s a death glare. If I hold my scowl long enough, maybe he’ll crack and let me go second.

He just stares right back, folds his arms across his chest. We are at an impasse.

“Next up we have Stephanie Rogers, playing an original song on guitar,” Joe, the owner, announces into the microphone. The audience erupts with cheers, whistles, and clapping. I’d only ever dreamed of this. And now it’s really happening. And I’m scared shitless.

I am a chicken.

“Get up there,” Cal says like it’s a challenge. He nods his head to the stage. I get my guitar out of its case and slink through the crowd to the stage. There are bright blue spotlights on the ceiling beaming down on me. It’s so hot. I can see all the faces of the crowd looking at me expectantly, smiles spread across their faces. My knees are shaking. My stomach is roiling.

I settle onto the bar-stool, set my guitar on my lap, and tune the strings. An awkward hush falls over the crowd while I do this. It’s too quiet. They’re just staring at me, and I’m up here not even saying anything. Do something, Stevie!

“Um,” I lean forward and say into the microphone. My voice sounds strange over the speakers. It’s more alto than I expected. My fingers continue to tune as I attempt to make small talk.

“I first wrote this song - well, I guess it was, probably a year ago,” I stutter. They continue to stare at me expectantly. I spot the twins and Cal off to the left. He shoots me a thumbs up. The boys smile. “It was - well, nevermind, you don’t need to know the details. Let’s just, uh, get to it.” I clear my throat. It reverberates through the shop.

I tap my foot and nod my head in sync, trying to mentally get on beat. Then, I start strumming.

It’s dead silent, except for the twang of my acoustic. It fills the room with a stillness, an air of magic. I breathe deep through my nose, open my mouth, and release my voice into the microphone.

What is wrong with me? /

All they do is leave. /

Am I not enough?

Or is giving love too tough /

For some /

I have a heart that loves too deep /

I should’ve never trusted /

It was never yours to keep /

Now I look in the mirror and don’t like who I see /

Can’t change the past /

Can’t wait to be free

I tell myself it’s not my fault /

But I’m the one who took the fall /

Should’ve never let you in at all /

Wish I could take the memories away

It’s like I’m roaming through my darkest dream /

Open my mouth, but cannot scream /

Why’d you have to do this to me /

Wish I could take the pain away

I walk the halls and no one knows /

It’s like they can see through my clothes/

I cover up, don’t let them near /

Should’ve done the same for you, my dear /

There is nowhere I can hide /

There is nowhere I can run /

Feel like a part of me has died /

I want to find a place where I /

Can finally feel the sun

I tell myself it’s not my fault /

But I’m the one who took the fall /

Should’ve never let you in at all /

Wish it would stop raining today

It’s like I’m roaming through my darkest dream /

Open my mouth, but cannot scream /

Why’d you have to do this to me /

Wish I could wash the shame away

I shower and shower /

But never feel clean /

Why even bother? /

I rely on caffeine/

To get through every hour/

That I’m not asleep /

I am a pariah /

I am a black sheep /

I tell myself it’s not my fault /

But I’m the one who took the fall /

Should’ve never let you in at all /

Wish I could sleep the day away

It’s like I’m roaming through my darkest dream /

Open my mouth, but cannot scream /

Why’d you have to do this to me /

Don’t wanna face another day

The song drifts through my lower vocal range, sliding slowly into folkish blues. When I play, it’s like I’m hearing colors. This song, it’s the navy blue of deep waters, the black of a starless night sky. It’s the purple of neon bar lights and the gray of cold, cloudy Saturdays. When I play, it’s like I’m feeling emotions tangibly. This song is my childhood blanket wrapped around me to keep out the chill. It’s the last drop of Yoo-hoo in the bottle when I’m desperately thirsting for more. It’s the knife that stabbed into my solar plexus every time I looked at Justin last year. It’s the feeling of choking, then whatever was stuck finally being dislodged. It’s the furnace being turned on the morning after the first frost.

My fingers pluck the strings, completing the song’s outro. There’s a tightness in my gut that releases when I breath. It’s the pressing stones they put on me being lifted off. Or maybe I put them on myself.

I can’t help it: a smile lifts the corners of my mouth, pushes into my cheeks, parts my lips, reveals my teeth. I look out over the crowd. Peace has wrapped itself around me, across my back and over my shoulders like a knitted shawl. Even if they reject me now, I think I’ll be okay.

I look up and out to the crowd. Do they hate me? Am I dead to them?

They explode into applause, cheers, whistling, and cat-calling. I blush.

As I walk off the stage and wade my way through the crowd, people fist-bump me and thump my back.

“Dang, chica!”

“You go, girl!”

“That’s the shit.”

I’m convinced I’m glowing by the time I reach Cal and the twins. I can feel the light radiating from my body. I’m shocked to see Gunner and Josh with them. When did they get here?

“Man, you got soul,” Josh beams, clapping my shoulder. “That was wicked awesome!”

“I never knew you could sing like that. Shucks, you should move to Nashville,” Tractor says. He wraps me in a bear hug so tight, it squashes my chest and lifts me off the ground. Surprisingly, the gesture doesn’t trigger me. It makes me glow brighter. He sets me down.

“Thanks, guys,” I say. I’m smiling so hard my cheeks hurt.

I turn to Cal. His eyes are smiling. He nods approvingly.

“Next up, let’s put our hands together for Calvin MacIntyre,” Joe says over the speakers.

I don’t know what’s come over me; I don’t want him to leave me for the stage. With guitar slung over his back, he turns to take the stage. I snatch his hand. His head whips around. He looks at me, confusion marring his expression. I scramble to think of what I want to say, but the words have shriveled and dried in my mouth.

“Good luck,” I say finally. I squeeze his hand, then release it. He replies with a smile, then mounts the stairs to the platform.

He plugs his electric guitar into the amp on the stage, pushes the stool out of the way, and stands in front of the microphone. With the guitar hanging from a strap across his back, he clasps the mic in both hands and leans into it. People are already cheering for him, and he hasn’t even said anything yet. He’s just that well-liked.

“I’d like to dedicate this song,” he says, and the cheering rises a few decibels. His voice is husky over the speakers. His eyes rove the crowd, sweeping over the people like he’s scanning for someone. “To a very special person. I hope she knows who she is. Because this song is for her.”

A pang of jealousy shoots through my gut. I knew he was crushing on somebody! She’s probably here, or he wouldn’t have said that.

I rise on my tiptoes and swerve around, looking for the girl. I trace his gaze to the crowd, seeing if it landed on anyone in particular. I can’t tell. There’s too many girls, and too many tall people, and the room is pretty dim, so I couldn’t make her out anyway, even if I wanted to. Maybe I don’t want to know who she is.

She’s probably prettier than me. Nicer than me, too. Figures a sweet guy like Cal would like a nice girl like - like Marie Johnson. She’s just so nice. It’s enough to make you puke. I wonder if she’s here -

Wait, why do I care? I don’t! If Cal has a crush on someone, that’s his right.

Cal twists the volume and tone knobs on his guitar, plays a chord, nods, and begins picking the strings. It’s the intro to “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls. I don’t know why this surprises me, but it does. He’d said to me once that it was the kind of song he’d play for a girl he wanted to marry.

Shit. He must be really in love.

He starts to sing into the mic, and in a split-second decision, I force myself into the crowd to look for the girl. If I see Marie Johnson, I’ll know. I just have to know.

“Could you whisper in my ear

The things you wanna feel

I’d give you anythin’

To feel it comin’

Do you wake up on your own

And wonder where you are?

You live with all your faults

I wanna wake up where you are

I won’t say anything at all

So why don’t you slide

Yeah, I’m gonna let it slide

Don’t you love the life you killed?

The priest is on the phone

Your father hit the wall

Your ma disowned you

Don’t supposed I’ll ever know

What it means to be a man

It’s somethin’ I can’t change

I’ll live around it.”

His voice fills the air. Bodies sway and rock to the beat. Heads bob side to side. I jostle through, looking around. Where is she? Where is the mystery girl?

“I wanna wake up where you are

I won’t say anything at all

So why don’t you slide

Ooh, slide

And I’ll do anythin’ you ever dreamed to be complete

Little pieces of the nothin’ that fall

Oh, May

Put your arms around me

What you feel is what you are

And what you are is beautiful

Oh, May

Do you wanna get married

Or run away?

And I’ll do anythin’ you ever dreamed to be complete

Little pieces of the nothin’ that fall

Oh, May

Put your arms around me

What you feel is what you are

And what you are is beautiful

Oh, May

Do you wanna get married

Or run away?”

I find myself in the middle of the crowd. I don’t see Marie, but it’s so crowded that I don’t know if I’d be able to spot her anyway. I spin around, looking in all directions. It’s futile. Why do I have this compulsion to know? Why does it matter?

Suddenly, the strumming stops. The crowd falls dead silent. It’s just Cal’s scratchy voice, barely above a whisper, pervading the room. I whip around to look at him. In the glare of the spotlight, I can see where his eyes are. They’re on me.

“I wanna wake up where you are

I won’t say anything...”

He stops singing. There is no sound at all. It’s like the whole room is in a vacuum, taking a collective breath. His eyes meet mine - pupil to pupil, iris to iris. It hits me like a suckerpunch. The wind literally knocks out of me. I can feel it in my chest. I can’t breathe.

He shreds the guitar just then, a loud blast that awakens the room, and he’s back to belting the song.

“And I’ll do anythin’ you ever dreamed to be complete

Little pieces of the nothin’ that fall

And I’ll do anythin’ you ever dreamed to be complete

Little pieces of the nothin’ that fall

Yeah, slide between the sheets of all them beds you never knew

Why don’t you slide into my room

Just slide into my room

Oh, we’ll run away, run away, run away.”

The last notes fade out, and I suck in air til my lungs could burst. The crowd explodes in cheers again. There is heat in my cheeks. I touch my sweat-cooled, clammy hands to them. Cal looks at me from the stage, then swings his guitar off his shoulder, unplugs it, and tramps down the steps. He pushes through people to get to me. I don’t know what’s going on; my mind is reeling. The paralyzing fear is back, and I want to run away, but I’m rooted to the spot.

He’s standing right in front of me. My heart is firing like a piston in my chest.

In seconds, he’s pulled me to his chest and his arms are around me - one hand on my back, one on the back of my head. I wrap my arms around his waist and lean my head against his collarbone. He is warm and has his Calvin smell - Old Spice deodorant, laundry detergent, and a little bit of sweat. His old T-shirt, soft from years of wear and washing, presses against my cheek. I am locked in his embrace, firm and secure, fitting like two puzzle pieces that are just the right match.

“We did it.” His voice travels past my left ear. “You were amazing.”

“So were you,” I say.

“Let’s do this for the rest of our lives.”

“Okay.” I find myself nodding.

“Let’s go to California after graduation. Let’s audition for record labels. Let’s tour the country!”

“Okay,” I laugh, still nodding. The laughter is threatening to turn into tears, and I don’t know what’s come over me. Why do I want to cry? Why now? Nothing’s happened.

“Promise me we’ll go,” he says, still holding me. “Promise.”

I laugh again, and the tears are building behind my closed eyelids. What the fuck is wrong with me?

“I’ll go anywhere you go,” I say. “Promise.”

He pulls away, but holds my hands at arm’s length.

“I have something for you,” he grins. “C’mon.” He pulls me to the back the store, amid the shelves of records. Joe announces the next act over the speakers, but who cares?

There are no lights on in this part of the store. He stops where he knows we can’t be seen. My heart is fluttering. I have to tell myself to breathe.

He sticks a hand in his cargo pants pocket and fishes around.

“Here,” he says at last, pulling out his fist and opening his palm. A small gold-colored bird, wings spread as if about to take flight, rests in his hand. It’s no bigger than a quarter. It is mostly tarnished, but still gleams a little. “My granddad found that in an abandoned house in Amsterdam when he was over there for the war. He kept it as a good luck charm, and when the war ended, he came back home and gave it to my grandma. I found it in a box of their stuff in our attic.”

I study it. He picks up my hand, places it in my palm, and close my fist over it.

“I want you to keep it,” he says quietly. I look up, into his face. His expression has turned somber. “You’re as brave as you believe you are,” he says. “And when you are brave, you are free.”

I squeeze the little golden bird. It is warm.

“Thank you,” I say, looking into his kind hazel eyes.

He reaches his hand out and places it along my right cheek, thumb folding over my chin. It, too, is warm. I place my right hand atop it, holding it to my face. He steps in closer. I can feel the heat radiating from him. My legs are turning to jelly.

He bows his head until his forehead touches mine and our noses meet. I gulp. We are breathing together, inhaling and exhaling at the same time. I am certain he can hear my heart beating. It sounds like the hooves of a racehorse galloping down the track. I close my eyes. It occurs to me that I am allowing myself to be intimate and vulnerable. I am allowing myself to trust.

Just kiss me. My mind says it, but I don’t know that I want to cross that threshold. I know too well that once a barrier has been scaled by someone, it can’t be reinforced. He will continue to cross it every time.

I turn my head just in time.

“Hey, where you guys been?” Josh asks, walking up behind me. He jerks his thumb back. “We wanna go grab some pizza. Calvin, you down to drive us?”

“Yeah,” he says loudly, to be heard over the music. “We’ll be right there.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his keys. He tosses them to Josh. “Get everyone loaded in the car. We’ll meet you out there in a second.”

“Sounds good,” Josh says. He turns on his heels and moonwalks away, whistling the tune to “Slide”.

“Calvin,” I say, and it comes out sounding like a whine. I press my lips firmly together. He’s still holding my left hand in his right. I’m about to shake my head and rebuff him, when my mind whispers Be brave.

I look around, and when I feel sure no one’s looking, I stretch to my tiptoes and plant a kiss on his lips, my nose pressing into his. He smiles while I’m kissing him, and I don’t know if that makes the moment better or weirder.

After a couple seconds, I shrink back down to normal height, wipe my lips with the back of my hand, and say matter-of-factly, “That’s all I can give you.”

He’s grinning ear to ear. “I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he says.

With that we head back up front and out to the car. I climb in the back seat with the twins, not wanting to be next to Calvin. I need to process my thoughts. I know he means what he says, but I also know that he is a member of the male species and therefore not immune to certain desires. He knows I can never deliver. He knows that will have to be enough.

While I’m thinking all of this, somewhere in the cab my song with me singing starts playing, only it’s super fast and high-pitched. Then a second later, it’s lethargically slow and octaves lower.

“What the - ” Everyone in the truck - everyone above the age of twelve, I mean - looks around.

The twins are snickering. Axel’s hand is inside his sweatshirt’s large front pocket. I reach inside it and yank something out.

“Hey!” he whines.

“Aha!” I shout. I examine the device. “A tape recorder?!”

“It’s a Talkboy Deluxe,” Bowie says. “Now give it back.” He thrusts his hand across Axel and tries to snatch it from me, but I deflect the move and put my hand on his head, pushing him away.

“No way,” I say, turning the thing over and pressing various buttons. “You guys recorded me? Where did you get this?”

“Jimmy!” Bowie says. “Now hand it over!”

“Wait,” I say. An idea comes to mind, so brilliant that it could change everything.

“If you don’t give it back, we’ll tell Mom you made us come to this thing and she’ll ground you! And that means no football,” Bowie threatens.

“How did you know about that?!” I snap.

“Puh-leez. Everyone knows about it. You’re only the hottest chick at Beufort Middle School. All the guys want us to hook them up with you,” Axel says.

“Uh, that’s disturbing,” I say.

“Yeah. Thanks for making us cool by association,” Bowie grins.

“Okay. Hold on. I’m thinking,” I say. Axel reaches his hand over, but I’m too quick and smack it away. “Okay. How about this: if you let me borrow this tape recorder for an indeterminate amount of time, I will - ” I have to stop and swallow the bile. “I’ll let you charge your creepy little friends to get a kiss on the cheek from me.”

The boys look at each other. Their faces light up.

“Deal!” they say in unison. We shake on it.

I set the tape recorder in my lap, ideas flashing through my mind. I’m going to get Justin on tape admitting that he’s gay. I’m going to play it over the PA during halftime at the Homecoming game. I’m going to ruin his life, just like how he ruined mine.

I smile. Everything is falling right into place.

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