Chapter 3 IN RHAPSODY
Everyone took his own place in the school grounds that morning. The athletes and the cheering squad on the higher grounds and flaunting their perfect bods &clad in their matching jerseys. However, one group has gone AWOL - the wrestling team.
The quarterback couldn’t care less. Those muscled giants steal some of the much-deserved attention from the football jocks. It’s good to take center stage today.
When a bunch of bruised and limping losers walked in, the quarterback and his fellow jocks began to applaud—and jeer the newcomers. It was loud enough to get the other students’ attention. And even if most of them did not know what was going on, they jeered in to avoid looking stupid.
The rest of the day, word about the triumph of D’ Kickers over Tom’s gang in the football field and their losing bout with the wrestling team at the gym went around like an airborne virus. Whispers about the uneven match with the wrestlers, and about how badly the losing team were beaten were passed from ear to ear. Some talked about Mr. Handler and Coach Randy Lawler, and how they were so cruel to subject D’ Kickers to such torture. But it was Mr. Handler who earned the “Worst Bully” award among the rumormongers.
He bullied everyone, some were saying in hushed voices. He doesn’t even spare the popular kids. He hated anyone who is popular simply because he’s jealous of them, they say. “Maybe because he has this grand illusion that he was a popular kid during his time—but he wasn’t!” some gossiped.
Fox was particularly surprised that yesterday’s defeat prompted much sympathy for his group. Suddenly, they are poster boys for the underdogs and pushovers. People were talking about how they ‘fought against the odds’, and ‘never gave up for a second.’ They were officially heroes by the day’s end.
Of course, there were those who still hated their guts and believed they had it coming, and they are arrogant bullies just like Tom and his friends. Yet because of Zardo’s firsthand account of yesterday’s wrestling match, more people sympathized with Fox’s group. “It was obviously a mismatch, but those guys stood there and fought with all they have, especially that Paul,” many heard Zardo say. “That small guy, he didn’t retreat, not even a step backward. He was ready to take my blows.”
Peter’s basement has become the regular meeting place for D’ Kickers not only for practice after school, but also before going to school. They have enemies and haters now, so they all decided the odds are better for them if they walk as a group, and not alone. Funny thing for them was, about three blocks near the campus, another group of students they barely know, would join them as though they were part of their entourage. These were the bullied kids. Maybe they also believe there is strength in numbers, Scott once joked.
Tom and his minions were out of their lunch-money-extortion business, now that the weaklings walk a unified front. They are definitely outnumbered now. Fox, Paul, Joey and Peter did not know how to react nor to handle their newfound popularity—or notoriety. A week after their wrestling misadventure, some of them were still in bandages, still limping in pain. They fidget and get nervous when someone yells “Long live D’ KICKERS!” as they walk along the school corridors, except for Scott and Andy, who seemed to be enjoying all the attention. None of them ever imagined they would hit the popularity jackpot in this lifetime.
Fox and Peter were cautious and sensible enough not to fall into the trap. They still hold their ground, still guarded to make sure that they do not become the bad guys. Paul, on the other hand, was the most uncomfortable among the five. He was getting the most attention from the most unexpected people. Girls waving ‘hellos’, geeks asking him how to kick, and hushed whispers following him as he passes by or the moment he leaves a room. He was non-existent before all these, and therefore not enjoying any angle of this fame. Paul wished the staring, stalking, and all this unwanted attention would stop.
Mr. Handler has gone from hating to pure loathing. Tom and his gang of two were intently waiting for a chance to get even. Coach Lawler and his wrestling team, whose popularity sank after the match at the gym, stood in queue for vengeance against these scrawny kickers.
It was because of their haters that they cannot fully bask in their new school status. In the bleachers that afternoon, the group was almost sulking, knowing that anytime soon, Mr. Handler, Coach Lawler and his wrestling team, and Tom will finally crush them to oblivion.
“It’s not fun, having enemies,” Andy reflected aloud.
“I know, right? Unlike before when no one even notices us… no one bothered us… It’s freaking weird now,” Scott added.
“Sorry, guys,” Paul apologized to the group.
“It’s not your fault, karate kid,” Fox said.
“But it is my fault. If I haven’t kicked Tom, none of this would have happened,” Paul insisted.
“Hey, karate kid, stop taking all the credit,” teased Fox. He started kicking the air, and said, “I’ve kicked Tom in his guts, too… and I enjoyed every second of it.”
“We all did what we did. We all took part in it. We coulda’ chickened out and said no, but we kicked their asses! So be it.” Joey recounted with pride.
“Until we got kicked ourselves and thrown down like rugs in the gym… that… it hurt, man… hurts a lot,” Scott said, looking at his bruises.
They all paused, and broke out laughing.
“Why can’t we enjoy ‘real’ popularity? Ya know, the kind that comes with no hassles?” Peter commented.
“Yeah! Like, ‘We are D’ Kickers, a rock band!’” Scott tried to imitate a cool rock star’s voice, “Kickers, the rock band, not Kicker the Hooligans!” he added in jest.
Fox sat back, and said, “Well, there’s no rule that says we cannot take advantage of our popularity.”
“Fox is right. I bet if we announce that we have a gig, students will come and see us play,” Joey agreed.
“Uhm, did you get beaten up so bad you forgot we could not even play a single song?” Peter interrupted their hallucinations.
“Ah, crap. Well, now is the time to get serious with our music, right?” Fox insisted.
“Yeah, we can’t just be the ‘guys who can kick’. We have to prove we are good at something else,” said Andy. They all gave each other a worried look, and then nodded in agreement.
In Peter’s basement after school, the boys were staring at each other, clueless as to what they are going to do next.
“Okay, let’s think about the last time we practiced. What do you think was the problem?” Fox asked the group.
“Maybe we should listen to the music,” Paul suggested.
“Then what… play again? It didn’t do well for us before,” Fox said.
“No, I think he meant let’s listen again to the music, and then each of us should think about what we’re doing with the song… What we’re doing right or wrong?” Peter explained.
“I guess you’re right. We have nothing to lose if we do that,” Joey followed.
“Okay, then. Peter, can you play Let it be?” Fox asked Peter. The group listened to the song several times over.
“Now guys, any thoughts?” Fox asked.
Paul spoke first, “I noticed, it was only the keyboard playing in the first part of the song. Plus of course the vocals are there. But no other instrument was playing.”
“I think it’s not just about timing. I mean the voice is louder, the focus is on the vocals,” Peter tried to analyze. Everyone started giving suggestions, and somehow, the whole experiment was working.
“In short, we’re not in harmony,” Fox surmised.
“We should listen to the song again and focus this time on studying timing, volume, and so on,” Joey suggested to the group.
“And maybe we should do it per stanza,” Peter suggested.
“Okay, let’s do it that way,” Fox agreed. They all listen to Let It Be one more time, this time pausing after every stanza. Each of them concentrated on his own instrument then they tried to play all together.
Fox was doing both vocals and keyboards. Paul sat and observed what his friends were doing individually and together. After several tries, the group was becoming more confident. It wasn’t great, but they weren’t terrible.
“So how was it?” Fox asked Paul.
“Definitely a great improvement from how you used to play,” Paul commented.
Fox insisted, “But, was it great?”
Paul was careful with his answer, “Well… you are… on the way there.”
“That’s good enough, I guess. For a long time, we were just making noise here,” they all laughed. “At least now we can hear something in tune. This is big, guys,” Fox said excitedly.
“Let’s play a couple more times and check our timing and all,” Peter suggested.
“Okay. Karate kid, pay attention and listen to the melody. Peter is right, it’s a messed doing both vocals and keyboards, if I want to focus on only one thing. You should be playing soon,” Fox told Paul.
Paul was both ecstatic and apprehensive at the same time. He tried to concentrate as he was told, and listen carefully.
The whole night, Let It Be was playing over and over again in that basement. The boys left Peter’s house a bit later than usual. No one noticed the time passing by; they were all enjoying the practice. On the way home, Paul felt an overwhelming joy. Listening to his friends play that song took away all the pain and bad memories of their detention mishaps.
Mrs. Andrews was already waiting by the gate when he arrived home. “Honey, you are terribly late again. Is there a problem? Should I start worrying?” She took one close look at her child, and noticed something different. He was—happy. So she calmed down and said, “Just don’t be late again, okay? If you want, your father can pick you up at your friend’s house whenever you need to go there.”
“Mom…?” Mrs. Andrews stopped talking and looked at Paul.
“Mom, I can’t let Dad pick me up at Peter’s place… It’s embarrassing…”
“Well, at least, ask someone to walk you here. Remember, you’re not just another boy,” she said while oddly looking around.
“Mom,” he insisted. She stopped talking; her worry was too obvious to hide. She can see he is actually happy about something, and she was glad he has friends now other than Tony. And he kept talking about music and songs now.
“Have dinner and get some rest,” she said finally dismissing him.
She paused and just as Paul reached the doorway, she called out, “Honey, one more thing. Can you stop your newspaper delivery now? If you’re always going to be this late because of your music, maybe it’s time to stop the newspaper delivery.”
“Honey, you can’t be coming home late and wake up very early the following morning.”
He needed to appease her. “I’ll think about it, Mom. I can’t stop just like that. I have to give Mr. Perez time to find a replacement. You know how good he’s been to me,” Paul pleaded.
What he couldn’t tell her was that he’s worried about the money, too. The money he earns from delivering newspapers, no matter how small, had been a big help. He didn’t have to ask for school allowance, for one, and he has extra for some things he needs in school or stuff he wants, like that Queen record. He didn’t want to burden his Dad any more.
After dinner, he took a quick shower and immediately fell asleep as soon as he lay on his bed. And just like the other nights before, he did not even bother to open his favorite book. That night, he had a restful, dreamless sleep. When he woke up, he was feeling great.
The group was on a new mission; they need to set up a gig as D’ Kickers. They started asking around if there are parties or events they can go to and play in. After some time scouting for gigs, news of Cindy Cummings’ birthday party reached them. The cheerleading captain will be celebrating her sweet 16 in a month. It was an opportunity they needed to grab.
Although they might be enjoying some level of popularity these days, the boys knew they were not anywhere near Cindy’s circle of friends. So they had to draw a serious game plan to land this gig. The first problem was getting invited. Cindy is one of the most beautiful girls in town. She’s the daughter of a successful businessman who owns several supermarkets and some hotels in the city. The only reason that Cindy was in public school was because of his dad’s political ambition. By sending her to public school, he earns popularity points himself, just like his daughter. Her birthday was another political venue for him, as well. He plans to throw a huge party and invite everyone important in the town.
D’ Kickers knew it was close to impossible to even get invited. So the chance of playing as a rock band is too tiny to even consider. But they just had to get in.
The only thing that they can actually capitalize on is Cindy’s obvious liking for Paul.
“Don’t we know anyone close to Cindy?” Scott suggested.
“Hey genius. If any one of us actually knew someone who is in her circle, we wouldn’t be called losers, now would we?” Fox reeked of sarcasm.
“A lot of kids follow us around now. Can’t we use any of them?” Joey suggested.
“What? Have them follow Cindy around?” Peter joked.
“Precisely,” Joey answered.
“Oh, you serious man?” Peter asked. Making sure he’s not hearing things.
“What do you think, karate kid? Are you okay, to send people to stalk your… ‘girlfriend’?” Fox teased Paul.
Paul groaned. He did not like anyone calling Cindy his girlfriend.
“I don’t know. Sounds too desperate, even for us. Plus, it could mean trouble,” Paul answered, obviously annoyed.
“In case you haven’t noticed, we are desperate. And—if we get into trouble, don’t worry. We’re not gonna get into a fight again. We agreed about that,” Fox tried to appease him.
“So who do we use?” Andy asked eagerly.
“We should ask someone from the cheering squad,” Scott suggested.
“Finally, Scott, your brain is working…working berserk, that is. Do I have to remind you again that the cheerleaders are not really among those who follow us around?” Fox was growing impatient.
“True. But we might have a chance with them. They were the reason we got into a fight with Tom, remember?” Peter explained.
“Yeah, man. We can use our charm with the girls. I’ve got charms, ya know,” Scott teased on. Peter smacked him on the forehead.
Then Peter said, “I don’t think it is right to say ‘who do we use’. It doesn’t sound right, guys.”
“Sorry man. I know you’re right. We shouldn’t be ‘using’ anyone.” Fox agreed.
“So, who can… ‘help’ us?” Paul suggested.
“There you go. Karate kid always has the right words. Who can ‘help’ us then?”
“Who are the newbie in the group?” Joey asked.
“Do you remember, right before the field fight with Tom, there were two girls who were chatting with us? I think they were Cindy’s ‘followers’. I think they fancied us,” Scott reminded them.
“Fancy you? You’re full of yourself, eh?” Peter laughed at his demented friend.
“Well, yeah. They were being cute with us, before the fight,” Scott replied with a teasing grin.
Annoyed now, Peter said “If I remember it right, they were all over Paul.”
“Okay, okay. Doesn’t matter now,” Fox broke the argument.
“Well, the blonde one is Wendy… Wendy Sanders. The other one, the brunette, is Jane Curtis,” Scott started telling the group, leaving everyone confused. How the hell did he know that?
“Okay, great! We now know their hair colors. That is more than enough to get us started,” Fox blurted out, still in sarcasm.
“Scott, Andy, use your charm and go talk to them,” Peter suggested.
Scott laughed, “Yeah, sure… that easy, eh?”
“But remember, no trouble. Be nice to the girls and don’t go pulling any tricks. Do not get your ass kicked!” Fox cannot reiterate more.
Monday morning at the canteen, the boys were already there before everyone else. Scott and Andy stood near the salad bar, where they were sure the girls will head to first. They quickly joined the queue when they spotted the two girls.
Startled at first, the girl said “Hi” and walked on with their trays.
“Hello, pretty girls,” Scott said. Andy elbowed him hard enough to make him shake his tray. “I am Scott. This is Andy, here. Remember us?” Scott asked the girls, as he scooped some greens from the salad bar, trying so hard to hide his disgust at the healthy food he will be forced to eat.
“Of course,” they both smiled. “You were with Paul, weren’t you? Ohm, D’ Kicker? Right?” Wendy recalled.
“D’ Kickers, yeah?” Scott and Andy looked at each other and nodded, beaming with pride at the recognition. “Yeah, we are part of a band—called D’ Kickers.”
“Band…?” Wendy was curious. They were now seated down at a table together, and people started staring, maybe waiting for the boys to be kicked out of the cheerleaders’ way.
“Yeah, we are a rock band,” Andy responded hesitantly.
“Oh. We thought you were…” Jane paused, a slight grin formed on her lips.
Curious, Andy asked, “We are—what?”
“Well, we thought you were… a gang… a gang of some sort who… knows karate. Like kung fu guys,” Jane said in a smug yet puzzled note.
Andy almost choked on his salad.
“Well, we are actually a rock band. We just happen to know karate, ya know,” Scott explained, as he gestured some karate moves with his hands.
Andy took hold of Scott’s hands and said, “No, we’re just a rock band, really.”
“Rock band. Oh. Are you any good?” Wendy asked with a naughty grin still plastered on her lips.
This time, Scott held his fork and knife and started beating the table, as if beating the drums. “Yep. We rock!”
Andy was now too embarrassed to care.
Jane took a bite of her salad greens and said, “Well, maybe we should hear you play one of these days.”
“Where do you play? Do you have a gig?” Wendy asked.
The two boys looked at each other in disbelief—and fear. What will they say?
“Well, right now, we’re actually trying to book some gigs,” Scott replied, trying to hide his panic.
“Book some gigs?” Jane asked again. She threw a look at the table across, where the other cheerleaders were seated. Cindy was among them, and she smiled back at Jane, as if giving a nod of approval.
“We don’t want to be just another rock band. We want to be the best. We are very selective and discriminating with the music that we play,” Scott was in obvious panic, mincing words while trying to look cool, which he had no clue how to be. The two boys began stuffing the salad into their mouths.
“Oh. So what songs do you play?” Jane asked again. Her doubt and distrust was apparent now.
Andy looked at Scott again. “Well…” Andy began, but decided to stop.
“Well, we are perfecting Bohemian Rhapsody at the moment,” Scott said.
In his mind, Andy was already screaming, and by now beating his friend’s brains out.
“Bohemian Rhapsody? Is that the new Queen song?” Wendy asked, not sure if she will be excited or suspicious.
Andy stared at Scott, keeping his anger from showing.
“Yes, yes,” the two boys nodded.
The girls raised their eyebrows. “That’s a great song,” nodding and smiling along. “I heard it once on the radio. Oh, you must sound great,” Wendy said, completely in doubt now.
“We’re okay,” Andy said with modesty.
“If that’s the case, we should really hear you play. Maybe we can visit you, like where you practice and all?” Jane suggested while looking at Cindy and nodding in agreement at the plan they were already brewing in their minds.
“Well,” in grave panic, Andy struggled for words. “We don’t allow girls in our practice sessions. I’m sorry.”
Feigning disappointment, Jane went on, “Why not…?”
“Fox doesn’t like distractions,” Andy replied, swallowing his last forkful of salad.
“Are we distractions?” the girls laughed.
“But you’re a rock band,” now their words were riddled with sarcasm, “Girls are supposed to be waiting for you, and you know, admiring you.”
“Well, Jane, maybe they are not a real rock band after all,” Wendy commented.
“No, no. We really are a rock band,” Scott insisted.
“So why won’t you let us tag along during your practice session? We promise to behave,” Jane said in a sweet voice. “We can even bring Cindy and Kim along, right?” Wendy nodded along.
Scott waved back when he noticed Cindy and Kim waving ‘hello’. He looked like a mindless idiot, and Andy can only look at him in uncomfortable silence. This is a mess, he thought. These girls are smart, and they are on to us.
“So, what do you think? When can we come over?” Wendy insisted.
Without thinking, Scott replied, “We actually practice every--…”
Andy immediately stuffed a lettuce into Scott’s mouth, “Have some, Scott. This is good for you.”
“We see each other every day after class, but mostly we just talk and hang around. No playing, no. We only practice on weekends,” Andy lied, if only to delay the inevitable.
“That’s great, then. We can’t see you anyway during weekdays. We also have our practice. So we’ll see you on Saturday?” Jane confirmed, again, feigning enthusiasm.
The two boys can only nod in agreement.
Jane and Wendy were simply too proud of their accomplishment. These two are too gullible, they thought. Jane put her hands on Scott’s arm and said, “Okay then. Remember, Cindy and Kim might be coming,” glancing at Cindy one more time. She added, “They definitely would want to see Paul play. See you guys on Saturday,” she winked and walked on.
The bell rang. Scott and Andy were left dumbstruck and couldn’t seem to move. Aside from feeling so full, from all the salad they stuffed in their mouths, they both couldn’t believe they have come through with at least half their missions. They talked to the cheerleaders—and they are coming over to hear them play! They’re not very sure though whether their friends would see that as a good news. How are they going to explain to the rest of the guys that they are going to play Bohemian Rhapsody to the cheerleaders?
On the way to Peter’s house that afternoon, the boys quickly asked Scott and Andy. “Spill it, guys. How was your ‘mission’?” Fox asked.
Scott and Andy were quiet. They didn’t know where to start.
“Hello! Earth to you dorks! What happened? What did they say?” Peter couldn’t handle the suspense.
Fox puts his arms around Scott’s shoulders, “Maybe this ‘genius’ put us on a hot spot again,” Fox was becoming suspicious.
Andy nodded and Scott began talking, “Actually… well,” he began to stutter and so he tried to calm down and look for words, “at about this time, the whole cheerleading squad might already know that we are a ‘rock band’.” He stopped, waiting for any violent reaction. Then he went on, “And that we are not a bunch of goons, ya know… and… Cindy and Kim want to hear us play,” Scott braced himself for a smack on the head. He deliberately omitted some of the details that guaranteed a kick on his ass.
“Oh. That’s good. I mean, for a change Scott. Finally, you’ve redeemed yourself,” Fox praised his guts.
“So the cheerleading squad knows that we are a rock band, and Cindy might want to see us. Something is a missed here,” Peter tried to make sense of what he had said.
“It’s impossible, man. That could not be the whole story,” Joey agreed.
Everybody now looked at Andy. “Well, Andy. Tell us the whole story,” Fox’s voice was commanding.
Andy took a deep breath, and proceeded to tell the whole story. Before he could finish, Fox is already red in anger, and looked like he was about to explode.
Both hands in his head like a madman, Fox was now kicking the air, keeping himself from kicking Scott. “Now what…? They’re expecting us to play Bohemian Rhapsody! And with Cindy and Kim there? You….” Fox was furious.
“I knew sending him out there is a big mistake. I knew it!” Peter was yelling.
“It wasn’t easy talking to those girls. They are… very tricky. Scheming. Almost—evil,” Andy said, almost whispering.
“Okay, now. Break it now. There’s no point dwelling on what’s already done. Anyway, it’s true that none one of us would have had the guts to talk to any girl, more so those girls, except for Scott,” Peter assessed.
“So now, what do we do?” Fox inquired.
“We don’t have a choice but to practice,” Peter replied.
“Practice what? Bohemian Rhapsody? Are you kidding?” Fox was still trying to control his anger.
“Fox is right. Bohemian Rhapsody will only embarrass all of us. Even ‘real’ rock bands rarely play that in their gigs,” Peter agreed.
“So, we should just play what we’d agreed before—Beatles songs,” Andy suggested.
“It can’t be just Beatles’ songs. They might think we are just Beatles wannabes,” Joey figured.
“Yeah. If we want to play at Cindy’s birthday and sound like a real rock band, we should play more than just Beatles songs,” Peter added.
“So what other songs then?”
“Let’s choose simple songs from different artists.”
Throughout the conversation, Paul remained quiet. He’s definitely not one to say anything about girls or music. He was sure he was in no position to suggest anything.
Back in the basement again, the group browsed through the piles of rock albums. “We have to find a slow, easy and familiar song, so that hopefully we can learn it quickly,” Peter suggested, throwing an angry look at Scott as he was reminded of the situation he threw them in.
“The first two songs, let’s stick with the Beatles’ Let it be and Hey Jude. We’ve already started with Let it be, so maybe add three more from the others?” Fox was trying to think straight under pressure.
The group nodded in agreement.
“I think I found one,” Joey announced. “Your Song by Elton John?”
“That’s a good one, yeah. Slow and easy. Maybe we can also do Daniel?” Peter suggested.
“What do you think guys?” Fox asked the group, and the group nodded again, as if everything anyone throws in the air is a good call.
Paul remained silent. He didn’t really know the songs they were talking about.
“Okay, we have four now. We just need five,” Fox said.
“Here, Blowing in the wind by Bob Dylan. What d’ya think?” Joey asked, handing the album to Fox.
“Well, yeah. That’s a good one… and the melody is easy,” Peter agreed.
“Okay, let’s do it. Let’s start practicing.”
Everyone assumed position and held their instruments. Paul was left sitting on the couch to observe. “Let’s start with Let it be again, okay?” Fox instructed everyone. “One, two, three…”
After playing a few notes, “Wait, wait, wait… I think we are missing something…” Andy interrupted. “I’m not sure I mentioned this to you,” he paused and looked at Paul. “Besides the fact that they are expecting us to play Bohemian Rhapsody…they also expect to see Paul perform. I mean, that’s the main reason they are even interested—I guess.”
Bang! Everyone shifted their gaze to Fox, who slammed the keyboards so hard they all thought it broke. “What? See karate kid perform? F-ff.…” he kept himself from cursing, and simply said, “Andy, sending you with Scott was definitely a mistake, too!”
“Well, let’s face it. We only got their attention because of Paul. He was the reason they even noticed us in the first place,” said Peter.
“We have no choice, man. We have to let Paul perform with us,” Joey added.
“Perform what? He doesn’t know any piece, but do-re-mi, remember?” Fox answered in frustration.
“Fox, maybe you should start teaching him now. Unless you want to let him do the vocals. Can you sing, Paul?” Peter turned to Paul, who is now speechless. He just sat there, staring at Peter.
“I guess not,” Peter figured. “Hey, kid,” he tried to snap him out of his coma, “you think you can handle the keyboard this time?”
Paul was embarrassed. He didn’t know crap.
“Hey! Kid, those pretty girls, they’re expecting you to perform. Without you, our chance is flushed down the drain,” Fox was almost yelling now.
Paul hesitated, but he had no choice. “I don’t know your style.”
Confused, they all asked, “What did you say? Our style? What does that even mean?”
“I’m not as good as you guys. I can’t play without reading the notes… I can’t play it by ears,” Paul admitted.
“But if you have the chords… I mean the notes, whatever, the music piece—you can play it, can’t you?” Fox asked.
“I think so… I don’t know,” Paul was confused. “This is different, but I guess I have no choice. I’ll try.”
“Actually, only you and Peter are good at playing it by ear,” Andy admitted, too.
“So you’re telling me now that part of the reason we’re bad at this is because you can’t play by ear?”
“Well, some we can play by ear… but others cannot,” Scott said.
“Okay, okay. It will be hard to make music sheets for each instrument and every song. So let’s just buy music sheets for each of the songs we’re going to play. But for now, I’ll try to make one for karate kid here.”
It took Fox a while before he finished the sheet. “Karate kid, try this. Let’s see if you can play it.”
Paul sat in front of the keyboard. He looked at the music sheet and tried to begin. But the minute he placed his hands on the keyboard, the image of the girl playing the piano appeared again. She was beside her father this time. Tears formed in Paul’s eyes, and he froze again.
“Hey karate kid, don’t just sit there. We only have a few days to master this,” Scott yelled out.
Paul wiped the tears from his cheeks. Peter noticed it instantly and asked, “Paul, are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” he lied. “It’s just dust.” He looked at the keys again, and heaving a deep breath, he began to play. The group fell silent. They were impressed, beyond belief. They were expecting Paul to fail, but they were all wrong. He was not ‘great’, but he was good.
After the song, Fox clapped and announced, “We are in business! That’s actually good, kid. This means I don’t have to have a separate session with you anymore. We just have to make sure that the music sheet for each song is ready for all of you.”
Then Peter suggested, “Why don’t we try it all together, Fox.”
“Good idea, man. Okay, back to your instruments.”
The group played with Paul on the keyboards this time, and Fox on vocals. The group sounded better, to their surprise. Fox was singing with his heart and it was obvious. When it was over, everyone felt light. Happy.
“I think we did pretty well, don’t ya?” Peter broke the silence.
“So, what’s with the faces?” Fox asked, wondering why his friends were looking at him like he killed someone.
“Didn’t you hear yourself?” Andy asked Fox, still in awe.
“Yeah, I did. I think I did well, and I think karate kid did well, too. So why are you looking at me like that?” Fox sat down and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Actually, man, you were awesome!” Peter said.
“Wha-? I know I can sing. But I’m not that great,” said Fox trying to appear indifferent.
Peter insisted, “You sound great, and we did well. Good job today, right guys?”
“But we should not be satisfied with just being okay. I still think something’s missing. What do you think?” They all looked at each other as if a bomb was thrown their way. He couldn’t be serious. We sounded great already.
“Guys, I am not saying we suck. We’re okay now, but we need to be better than that?” Fox insisted.
Paul volunteered the first comment, “Fox, I noticed how your voice—floats. Don’t get me wrong, your voice is magnificent. But it’s like it’s up there, ya know. Separated from the instruments.”
Fox hesitated and then said, “Actually, I know that. It’s ‘emotions’, man. Something…I feel disconnected, too.”
“I don’t know about you guys, but I think it sounded great. You rock, Fox!” Scott said excitedly.
“You’re not getting it, Scott. I may sound ‘great’ but where are you? Where are you guys? It’s as if I’m singing alone. We are not connecting,” Fox tried to explain.
“What if someone sings back up for you? Like, sing in harmony with you,” Scott suggested, not really sure if he was making sense. The group was taken aback by the comment, especially coming from Scott.
“Wow. What have you been eating? You are coming up with actual ideas lately. Ideas that make sense,” Fox said in jest, but was half serious.
Scott whispered to Andy, “What did I say right again?”
“Don’t bother. You just suggested you’re gonna be singing, too. He-heh,” Andy chuckled as he left his friend clueless.
“Me, singing? No way, man. I’ve tried it, once actually. But even my Mom can’t take it. She made me promise never to do it again,” Scott said seriously, but everyone just broke out in laughter.
“Good evening, boys. I think it’s getting very late. I’m sure your parents still want to see their kids. They might think I’m interested in adopting you,” Peter’s mom was coming down the stairs in her usual cheerful voice.
“Yes, Mrs. Cook,” Fox greeted her. “Okay guys, we were exceptional today. Hats off to our dear Scott for everything he has done for us today. Him and his big mouth.” They were all laughing now as they went upstairs to the living room and out of the Cook house.
That night in bed, Paul couldn’t sleep. He was too excited to fall asleep. He grabbed his favorite book, but didn’t read it. Instead, he kissed it and said, “I understand what you’re trying to say now. I miss you and I love you always.” He tossed and turned, can’t wait for the next day to come. He can’t seem to stop playing Let it be in his head. He can feel the keys, the hum of the keyboard, Fox’s voice, too. He recalled every minute, every detail of that day’s practice over and over in his mind, until he finally fell into deep sleep.
Then, the girl playing piano appeared again in his dream. Her father was looking at her, elated, and cannot seem to take his eyes off her. He got up and took a woman with her hands, and led her to dance. The girl looked up and smiled, seeing her father dance with her mother.
“Hey. Did you get the music sheets?” No one knew what the hell he was talking about. Fox frowned. “Where is Scott?”
As if on cue, Scott came in, “Sorry if I’m late, sir.”
“Where have you been?” Fox inquired. Scott raised his hand, and started distributing the music sheets.
“Thank you,” Fox and the rest of the boys said in an exaggerated tone.
“You have a few minutes to study it. Before we play, we will sing each song,” Fox explained.
“Wait, wait. You mean to say we’re all going to sing?” Andy inquired.
“Yes. So we can decide who will be the back-up vocals, or who can do melodies with me,” Fox continued.
“Can I be exempted? I’m telling you I sound awful. You’re gonna hate me!” Scott pleaded.
“As much as that I wouldn’t want to hear your voice I can’t. If I exempt one, others will follow. We can manage, Scott,” then he turned to the group, “Okay, who’s first?”
Nobody made a sound.
“O-kay. No volunteers. Let’s do it alphabetically, then,” Fox declared.
“No! Let’s draw sticks… or names,” Andy pleaded.
“No time for that. You go first, Andy.”
“With instrument?” Andy asked nervously.
“Not necessarily, but yes, that could work. Stop asking too many questions. Sing!”
Andy took a deep breath and started to sing. One after the other, the boys braved up and sang in front of the group. When it was Paul’s turn, he was ill prepared and kept on pausing, and stopping in the middle of a verse.
“Paul, just sing from your heart,” Peter calmly suggested.
He looked Peter in the eyes and smiled. That was the second time he gave Paul a confidence boost. Paul had to do this. For himself.
He brought out the music sheet and tried playing the intro several times. He started singing, and was a bit off-key at the beginning. He forced himself to ease up, relax, and finally, he pulled through. His pitch was high, like a little boy’s.
The room was silent after Paul’s song. Fox was the first to comment.
“You can definitely sing karate kid. I just don’t know where to place it. You sound really—good. That pitch…well, you’re good, really,” he paused, and cautiously added, “I just don’t know if your voice is a good back up for mine. Maybe we should find songs for you, too. Like, do a lead, too.”
Paul was surprised, not with Fox’s reaction, but with himself. He sang from the heart. He felt the song deeply. Something that he has never done or felt before. He enjoyed singing as much as he enjoyed playing the keyboards.
But the others were not impressed with Paul’s voice. Only Fox and Peter nodded approvingly. Scott, Joey and Andy thought he is not rock star material. His voice was too soft, too—boyish.
Fox was satisfied with how the day turned out. The “singing audition” was a good idea, he told the guys.
“Don’t you forget it was my idea,” Scott beamed with pride.
“Scott, we owe our future success to you!” Fox threw a crumpled paper at him, just as Andy gave him a smack on the back of his head.
“What are you waiting for? It’s your turn to impress us even more. Sing now! Let us hear your impeccable voice,” Fox bossed him jokingly. He couldn’t even finish the second verse because everyone has been already laughing and falling off their seats in hysteria.
“Stop! Oh God, please make him stop!” everyone begged, but Scott went on. Andy and Joey tackled him to the ground to make him stop singing.
“I admit now, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t…have let you….” Fox was dying of laughter and agony over Scott’s voice.
When everyone gained a second wind, they talked business.
“Now that we’ve heard everyone sing, we can assign voices,” Fox began. “Peter and Joey will do the backup vocals, and Paul, we’ll look for songs that you can sing as a lead, so brace yourself.” Paul smiled, secretly happy with Fox’s decision.
“Now let’s proceed.” The boys practiced several times over until they all have learned the beat and melody. From upstairs, even Mrs. Cook was surprised. For once, the boys sounded like they were actually holding and playing musical instruments, and not just clanking on to some metals and tin cans. They were making music together, she thought.
“Boys, I was about to give up on you, honestly. I even thought I cannot tolerate it any longer. But I love you boys,” she hugged Peter. “But tonight, well, well, you’re doing well now. Is this young man your new secret weapon?” She walked over to Paul and held her by the arm. “You’ve finally stopped making noise, and started making music,” she said happily. “I can’t wait to tell your Dad. He would be glad that this basement is now being used for something productive.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Peter blushed.
“By the way. As much as I would want to listen to more of your music…” The boys knew the rest of her line. They bid goodbyes and headed home, feeling proud of themselves.
Mrs. Andrews no longer asked why her Paul was late again. She immediately saw the glow in his eyes, and wondered about that instead. “Why are you so happy? You look like you won the lottery,” she inquired.
Paul smiled. He was proud of what had transpired that day, but also embarrassed to tell his Mom.
“Honey, you know you can tell us everything.”
“Okay, um—I played the keyboards today, at Pete’s. And I did quite well.”
“That’s good to hear!” She was genuinely happy. “Maybe you should let us hear your music one of these days. Are you any good?”
“I—guess so. Peter’s mom said we were getting better now, compared to before.”
“That’s great, honey. Okay, now eat your dinner so you can freshen up and rest.” As she was fixing his dinner, she noticed Paul was still smiling, as if lost in some happy thought. “What is it, dear? You look… elated.”
“Mom…” he hesitated for a moment, and then went on. “I sang… I sang and I felt it. It felt really good!” His mom smiled and put her arms around him.
“Fox said I can really sing. The others weren’t so impressed, but I don’t care what they think, really. I felt so good singing.” Paul was running out of breath, as he tried to recount everything to his mom.
“That’s good to hear, honey. Now, can you let us hear how you sing? Sing for us dear,” she requested.
Mrs. Andrews called her husband into the room excitedly.
“Mom,” Paul was quite embarrassed. “Not now. I don’t mean now,” Paul insisted.
“What’s the difference, honey? Please do it for me… please?” his mom begged. Mr. Andrews came into the room in the middle of their small argument. “What’s this all about?” he inquired.
“James, our child is going to sing for us,” Mrs. Andrews couldn’t keep her excitement.
“Really?” Mr. Andrews was in disbelief.
It took quite a while before Paul could muster up the guts to begin. Paul stood in the middle of their living room and looked into his mom’s eyes. He started to sing Elton John’s Your Song. They were in awe. Neither one of them ever imagined he could actually sing. It was like “magic”. They were both moved to tears and didn’t even realize the song was over. Sobs upon sobs dominated the quiet air in the living room.
“What’s wrong Mom? Did I sound that bad?”
“No, honey, you sounded like an angel!” Mrs. Andrews can no longer hold back her admiration for her child. “You are truly a gift for us, from God. Oh, I love you honey!”
“I love you, too, Mom. Dad.”
“Can you sing one more song?” Mrs. Andrews asked.
“An encore seems to be in place, our dear child,” his Dad insisted.
He stood in place again and belted out Let it be. He felt more confident this time, and glad that he’s making his parents happy. They concluded the night with a family hug, and called it a night. His parents talked in hushed voices that night in bed. They were very happy. Proud and happy.
At school the following day, the boys were having snacks. Jane and Wendy jumped in to join them. “Hi guys! How are D’ Kickers doing? Your band, I mean,” Jane asked Scott.
Scott was about to speak, but Peter covered his mouth “We’re doing fine, how are you guys?”
“We are pretty well.” Jane answered. “Guys, I’ve spoken to Cindy and Kim about Saturday and they said they will take the time, anything for Paul… so are you ready for Saturday?” Jane added.
“We are getting there.” Peter answered.
Sounding surprised, but equally negatively amused, “You are still getting there? How long have been you been doing this, did you just start being a band?”
“Ah no, we’ve been doing it a long time,” Scott butted in.
“A long time ha…?” Jane teasingly said with a smirked.
The boys kept silent.
“So we’ll see you on Saturday?” Wendy reiterated.
“Yeah, sure” Peter answered.
“Okay guys… ah by the way, Cindy is looking forward to hear from you Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s her new favorite song, bye…” Jane said finally with much glee for an awful prospect of their upcoming embarrassing performance.
“Oh Scott… look at the trouble you got us into, Bohemian Rhapsody? You are right those girls are tricky.” Peter acknowledged.
“Don’t worry about Bohemian Rhapsody we’ll deal with it once we are finished with the agreed songs, just like Peter said we are getting there.” Fox said this to the group to booze their morale, there was no point of talking about ‘over spilled milk’.