“Okay, girls, just wait a little bit and I’ll have everything ready for you!”
Leonard Venn, the guy who owned the pizza place, was messing with wires and cables of the karaoke machine while Ria and I got ready to perform. We were slightly ahead of schedule. Karaoke didn’t start until 8:30 and we’d arrived before anyone else had entered the place for the event. Most of the seats were empty but we knew that when things got started, the people of the town would start pouring in to watch.
“How do I look?” Ria asked, examining what she could of her Goth make-up in the back of a fork.
“You look like Dead Alice,” I replied, calmly.
“Great! That’s what I was going for!” Ria said brightly. But her bright expression dropped suddenly and she sighed. “Gina…do you ever feel like what we’re doing is completely pointless?”
“Excuse me?” I said, taken aback by her sudden mood swing.
“You know,” she grumbled. “Singing karaoke in a pizza place in a miniscule town, dressed like this?”
“What’s wrong with that?” I said, still not understanding what her problem was. “It’s just for fun.”
“Well, it’s fun, but it won’t…get us anywhere…will it?”
“What is this all of a sudden?” I asked, with a slight laugh, totally bewildered. “People like to see us sing. You look forward to this every week.”
“I do!” Ria insisted, raising her hands and giving me a pleading look. “But…I’m just thinking…we’re never gonna get discovered this way.”
“Discovered? You mean…like being spotted by a talent scout?”
I blinked at her, trying to properly process the information. “You want to be a singer…for real? Wow…”
“You mean “Wow, that’s great” or “Wow, that’ll never happen”?” Ria asked, daringly.
“The former,” I said. “I think that would be an awesome idea. You’re a really good singer! I think you’d do really well.”
“But I’ll never get anywhere just by hanging around here,” Ria sighed.
“What? Are you saying you want to run away to Hollywood or something?”
Ria didn’t reply right away. She just bit her lip and gave me this sideways look. In that instant, I knew that that was exactly what she wanted to do. I sighed and grabbed her shoulder, smiling at her.
“Look, you think you’ll get anywhere without a high school diploma, your parent’s blessing, and being any younger than eighteen?” I asked, seriously. “Give yourself some time, that’s all. Relax. You’re still in high school. This year is almost over, right? In a few more weeks, school will be out. After summer, we’ll be in senior year, then we’ll graduate and then we can start worrying about what to do with the rest of our lives. That’s what being in school is all about, right? Just give it some time…and make sure your parents know what you want to do. They’re gonna want to know.”
Ria shrugged. “They only pay attention to me when I’m doing something they don’t approve of. Otherwise, they ignore me. Why do you think I have to sneak out? So they can keep living in their fantasy world where they have a mindless drone living in the house that does nothing but go to school, eat, and sleep.”
“They’ll understand! Give it some time. You’ll see. Mom says that my grandma and grandpa had attachment issues too, but once the “empty nest” syndrome kicks in, they’ll be dying for a word with you.” I raised my hand and touched her face comfortingly. “A little more than a year, that’s all. You’ll just have to wait until we graduate and then you can do anything you want…’kay?”
Ria gave me a half-grin. “You know…you’re going to make one great therapist one day.”
I laughed. “Well, with you for a friend, I get lots of practice.”
“Ha, ha,” she said, dryly.
“Okay, girls,” Leonard called. “I’ve got it set up. You want to come up and test it for me?”
“Sure,” I called back. I nodded for Ria to come with me and we walked onto the platform with the karaoke machine.
I glanced around the place and it was still mostly empty. I saw that someone had come in while we were talking, but he had his face hidden by a menu and a little kid that I’d seen earlier sitting at a table alone with his head resting on his folded arms. His longish, auburn hair was falling lazily in his face. He looked about eleven or twelve and definitely not old enough be going places by himself. Was he waiting for someone?
“Ladies, whenever you’re ready,” said Leonard, sitting by the machine.
“How about we practice with an Anna Greenburg song before we tackle Aquadeus?” I suggested.
“Sounds good,” said Ria, tapping the microphone to see if it was on.
Anna Greenburg was a singer who did a lot of slow, sensual songs so it was a good idea to warm up with her before switching to the cool rock of Aquadeus. Leonard turned on the music and Ria and I began to sing. We were always a good pair, vocally. Ria’s voice was low and sexy where mine was high and clear. We swayed a little to the song, more comfortable playing it up since there were so few people here to see us in case we made fools of ourselves. That was also one of the reasons that we dressed up when we sang. We could blame anything we did on our characters, not ourselves.
The song eventually drew to a long, drawn-out close and we stepped away from the microphones to the sound of Leonard clapping for us.
“Nice work,” he said, encouragingly. “Very good! You guys are gonna knock ‘em dead tonight!”
We turned to thank him when we noticed that the clapping hadn’t stopped. The sound of slow, loud claps echoed through the nearly empty pizza bar. I twisted back and saw that the guy who’d had his face hidden by the menu had revealed himself and clapped so that everyone could hear.
“My, my, my!” he said. “Bravo! You don’t expect to come in and hear something like that in a place like this. You girls can sing!”
He leaned into the light of the lamp that dangled over his table and I could keep myself from gasping. I knew that guy! But…there was no possible way…it couldn’t be that guy…but it looked just like him…
Ria had noticed too. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. “Ah…Ah…Ah…Ah…” was all she seemed able to say.
The guy at the table, who was now standing up and walking our way, was really handsome in a kind of punk way. He had black hair, the kind of black that looked almost blue in the right lighting and was slicked stylishly to one side so that some of it fell over one of his eyes. He was dressed simply in a white shirt and jeans, but was overly accessorized with metal bracelets, black gloves with the finger tips cut off and metal knuckles, and at least seven necklaces, though he did not seem to have any piercings. There was a white stick protruding from his lips that, at first, I’d thought was a cigarette but upon closer inspection I saw it was a lollipop stick. He looked almost exactly like the picture on one of the CDs I had at home…
“You’re…aren’t you…?” I began, not daring to believe.
“Aren’t I…what?” he asked, removing the lollipop from his mouth to grin at me.
“Ah…Ah…Ah…” Ria kept stammering, pointing at him.
“You’re not going to sneeze are you?” the guy asked her. “Well, if you are, bless you in advance.”
“AQUADEUS!” Ria finally managed to say.
The guy smiled. “Ooh! That’s what this is about…well, yeah, I guess that’s me.”
“R-really!” I cried, feeling myself blush head to toe. “You’re…Aquadeus…for real?!”
“Last I checked.”
Ria screamed. “Oh…OMIGOSH! Omigosh! Omigosh! I…AM…YOUR…BIGGEST…FAN! I love your music! I just LOVE your music!”
“Yes, I guess some people tend to like it,” he said, with an elegant shrug.
“But…what…I don’t understand,” I said, trying to wrap my mind around the idea that a rock star, a real-life rock star, was doing in our small town. “I…um…just what are…are you doing…”
“Here?” Aquadeus finished for me. “Oh, I just came here for a pit stop on my way over to the next city. Hope I’m not being too much of a bother.”
I blinked stupidly. What were the odds that a guy as famous as Aquadeus stopping in my home town? I’d have figured those odds were less than zero and yet…here he was right in front of me.
“Well…um…” I said, having no idea how to properly talk to a celebrity. “Th-thank you for stopping by our town…we don’t…really get that much excitement here.”
Aquadeus smiled and leaned a little closer to me. “Really? That’s a surprise to me. Pretty girl like you should get all kinds of excitement wherever she goes. And the same could be said for your equally charming friend.” He turned to smile at Ria who, if it had been any warmer in there, probably would have melted on the spot.
I swallowed, feeling hot all over. I’d never really been told I was pretty before, especially not from someone like…well, like him. I didn’t know what to think, what to say, or what to do.
“The odds of my coming by couldn’t have been better, it seems,” Aquadeus was saying during my internal war. “We weren’t supposed to make any stops but I think someone might have siphoned our gas. Still, if it hadn’t happened there’s probably no way I would have stopped here. And it’s just lucky that I like pizza…”
The words “no way I would have stopped here” seemed to shake me out of my star-struck trance. “Why’s that?” I asked, glad that I wasn’t stammering anymore.
“Well, I mean, who doesn’t like pizza?” Aquadeus asked with a shrug. “Pepperoni, cheese, what’s not to like?”
“No, no, I mean why wouldn’t you stop in our town?” I clarified. “You said there’s no way you would have stopped here.”
“I said probably no way,” he corrected, staring at me. As I met his gaze, I noticed that his eyes were a very strange violet color. I suspected contacts at first, but no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t see them. “And, well, like you said…nothing exciting happens here. It’s just lucky that this place was on the GPS that we even knew it was here.”
I huffed a little at that. “So, basically, we’re too…beneath you?”
“Gina!” Ria snapped, punching me in the arm. “What the heck do you think you’re doing!? Don’t…”
“No, no, I don’t mind,” said Aquadeus, quickly. He then looked right at me and I suddenly felt like his strangely colored eyes were seeing through me in a way normal people couldn’t. Like he could see right past my face and straight at the wall behind me, like I was clear as glass. “You know…most people don’t normally speak to me that way,” he said, softly. I felt another, unexplainable chill shoot down my spine and I shuddered under his gaze. But the feeling of cold went away and he smiled again. “Keep it up. It makes you look more…empowered.”
I blinked in confusion. Aquadeus finally looked away from me and looked over at Leonard instead, who seemed to have been waiting and waiting for his chance to get the celebrity’s attention. As Leonard was asking Aquadeus to get a picture with him to put on the wall, Ria pulled me aside.
“Can…you…believe that this is happening!?” she asked in an excited whisper. “This is big! Big! Nothing like this has ever happened before! And just when I was whining about never being noticed!”
“Ria, I…I don’t know so much about this guy…” I said, uncertainly.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, he’s famous!” Ria snapped. “It’s his prerogative to be arrogant! And what was with you?! Why were you being so rude to him?”
“I don’t know, he just…something just…”
But before I could finish my sentence and as Leonard’s camera flashed as he took a picture of himself and Aquadeus, the doors opened.
“CAMERON!!” roared the man standing at the door. “CAMERON TITHE I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!”
“Oh boy,” said Aquadeus with a sigh and note of mock exasperation in his voice. “I’m in trouble now.”
The man stormed down to where we were. He was dressed in a beige suit and had curly dark hair and glasses. There was a cell phone clutched in one hand and the other was shaking his fist at Aquadeus. “I told you to wait in the bus! That’s all you had to do! Do you want some kind of mob to come swarming in when they find out you’re here!”
“I was hungry,” Aquadeus said, his tone dull but still with that cheeky smile. “Oh, and I hope you didn’t fire that driver. I already hit him, so…”
“Enough! We got the gas so now let’s GO before the entire town comes swarming down on us!”
“Fine, fine, whatever,” said Aquadeus. The man grabbed Aquadeus’s arm and dragged him out, muttering about money needing to be made and infuriating teenagers. Aquadeus went quietly with him but, just before he went out the door, he turned around and winked before he disappeared completely.
“That…was…” I said, slowly.
“AMAZING!” Ria screamed in delight. “I actually got to meet Aquadeus! This is that happiest moment of my life…” Ria suddenly gasped. “Oh…oh no!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, startled.
“I…I…” Ria turned to me with a heartbroken expression. “I never got his autograph!” she cried.“Now nobody will believe us!”
Ria wailed and I sighed.
The brief appearance of a rock singer in our town didn’t go by unnoticed. People heading to the pizza bar for karaoke night apparently got a glimpse of him being bullied back onto his tour bus by his agent. That night, nobody was really paying attention to the singing at Venn’s but was just gossiping about the supposed sighting of Aquadeus. The way they were talking about it, you’d have thought he was Elvis’s ghost or a UFO (Leonard appeared to be saving that picture he’d taken for a special occasion).
Ria dropped me off at home at around eleven that night and she drove away before I got to my door, determined to get back before her parents noticed her gone. I was happy to be back, shaken from my encounter with the strange guy. I was ready to wash up my make-up, put on my pajamas and go to sleep and enjoy my weekend. But before I could get into the door, I heard someone call out to me.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t go inside just yet.”
I spun around. At first, I didn’t see anyone but then I heard that voice again. “I’m over here!”
The little boy that I’d seen in at Venn’s was standing behind the bushes in front of my house. I stared at him. “Wh-who are you?” I asked. “What are you doing out this late at night?”
The boy shrugged. “I thought it might be easier for us to meet out here than if I just appeared in your room or something. I’m trying to do this in a way that doesn’t completely freak you out.”
“Huh?” I said, staring at him. The boy was pale and with heavily hooded eyes, half-hidden behind longish, auburn hair. He was wearing a dark blue denim jacket over a white T shirt and was staring blankly up at me.
“Who…who are you? And what are you talking about?”
The boy sighed. “I guess it might just be easiest just to show you.” He made to get out from behind the bushes. He moved strangely. It was like he…glided rather than walked. Then I saw why. The boy’s body just stopped below the waist. He was floating in the air…I could see through him slightly…the air got colder as he drew near.
My insides froze with fear. There was no way I was seeing what I was seeing. I wasn’t actually seeing this. I was dreaming…I was hallucinating…!“Yeah,” the boy said, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m dead. Got a problem with it?”